STAGEFRIGHT by JAVIER
It seems that Mike Randall is aiming to set a Guinness world record with his one-man shows. It was just last year that Randall celebrated his 50th anniversary playing Mark Twain in his one-man show Mark Twain Live! Now, his beloved holiday entertainment, Charles Dickens Presents: A Christmas Carol will be playing this weekend at the Kavinoky, Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 3:30, Sunday at 2:00. First presented in 2007, there have been over 180 performances all over WNY over the last fourteen holiday seasons. In case you hadn’t heard, Charles Dickens performed in Buffalo in 1868 as part of his American tour, reading from two of his most popular stories, “The Pickwick Papers” and “A Christmas Carol." The performance took place at St. James Hall, located where One M&T Plaza now stands. Admission price was $2.00, a hefty price by then.
Yes, it is that time of the year and there are plenty of shows to help put you in the holiday spirit. Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Alleyway’s annual presentation of the classic A Christmas Carol, adapted and directed by Neal Radice, now in its 41st year! Suitable for the whole family, the play runs through December 24th. Not suitable for the whole family is the Charmagne Chi Christmas Special Blu Xmas, which will play December 15th through December 30th at the Alleyway’s Cabaret.
The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers, which was recently presented at the Alleyway Theatre is heading to New York, off-Broadway. The play is set to begin performances at New World Stages on February 14th with the opening set for February 22nd. Part interactive game show, part memoir, The Life and Slimes of Marc Summers follows the show host from the set of the children's game show Double Dare to the Food Network. The play was written by two-time Tony Award nominee for Best Actor (School of Rock; Beetlejuice, The Musical), Alex Brightman who was most recently seen on Broadway portraying Richard Dreyfuss in The Shark is Broken, a comedic yet moving exploration of the behind-the-scenes drama that took place during the filming of Jaws. In January, Brightman is set to take over the part of Lancelot in the Broadway revival of Spamalot, a part he originated in the out-of-town tryout at the Kennedy Center.
O’Connell & Company is presenting Plaid Tidings, a charming musical revue at Shea’s 710 Theatre, with classic and parody Christmas (and Chanukah) musical renditions and lots of comic antics, featuring a brilliant ensemble composed of Robert McKnight, Matthew Rittler, Christopher Wagner, and Michael Wells. Directed and choreographed by the tireless (or should I say unstoppable) Joey Bucheker, with music direction by Jill Neuhaus, the show runs through December 17th. Great accompaniment by Patrick Towey at the piano and Jay Wollin on bass. It is particularly exciting to see Wells holding his own after having been a solid ensemble performer in past O’Connell & Co. productions. He will be back starring as Judd in the upcoming Oklahoma. Mary Kate O’Connell could not attend opening night as she was appearing as Mother Superior (she is Buffalo’s original Mother Superior) in the company’s remount of Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical, which is being presented at the company’s home on Bailey Ave. in Amherst (4410 to be exact). That production, directed by Michael Galante, is starring Mary Craig, Susanna Breese, Mercedes, and Michael Starzinski.
Not to be left behind, Desiderio’s is presenting its own Christmas fare, The Twelve Dates of Christmas, a one-woman tour de force starring Lisa Ludwig portraying a woman who catches her fiancé kissing another woman while she is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. La Ludwig portrays all the characters in the play with great aplomb and perfect comic timing, including all her suitors, all the relatives, and the little boy who plays Tiny Tim opposite Ludwig’s character in the role she was born to play, “The Ghost of Christmas Pissed.” The action keeps moving with celebratory musical numbers (that sometimes serve as ironic commentary) performed by Kerrykate Abel with Nathaniel Higgins at the piano. Desiderio’s returns to its more usual fare with Neil Simon’s I Ought to be in Pictures, opening January 25th, starring David Lundy, Reagan Zuber, and Lisa Hinca.
For some non-holiday themed productions, Ujima is presenting the WNY premiere new of 12 Mo’Angry Men, a reimagined version of Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, written and directed by Buffalonian TaNisha Fordham, now playing through December 17th. Fordham served as the Associate Director of the recent production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical Bad Cinderella and the latest Broadway revivals of Company and Death of a Salesman. Save the date! Ujima’s 45th anniversary celebration will be held on April 19th.
We hear that Steve Henderson attended a recent performance of Torn Space’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming which closes this weekend after a very successful run directed by Dan Shanahan and Melissa Meola, starring Jack Hunter, Tracie Lane, Russell Holt, Stan Klimecko, Talon Powell, and Kalub Thompson. Henderson, who was in the first acting class at Juilliard, was one of Lane’s teachers when she attended the prestigious school as part of Group 48. Next, Lane is off to Florida to star in a production of Venus in Fur.
Chautauqua Theater Company (CTC) will produce the world premiere of Kate Hamill’s new play, The Light and The Dark. CTC presented the first public reading of The Light and The Dark in Summer 2023. The world premiere will be directed by the company’s Producing Artistic Director Jade King Carroll, running June 22nd –August 25th, 2024. The play focuses on Artemisia Gentileschi, a trailblazing artist, who was the most successful female painter of the 17th century. Hamill is the author of Pride and Prejudice, an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, which was presented at the Kavinoky in 2022, directed by Kristen Tripp Kelley; as well as the adaptation of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility seen at Irish Classical in 2019, directed by Chris Kelly.
And, the fabulous Renée Fleming will be performing with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on Saturday, July 27th in the Amphitheater. Fleming is the recipient of this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, alongside Billy Crystal, Queen Latifah, Dionne Warwick, and Barry Gibb. The ceremony will be broadcast on December 27th on channel 4. By the way, Chautauqua Institution is celebrating its sesquicentennial on 2024 (that is 150 years!).
And another not so common word for you, on January 1, 2024, the Lancaster Opera House will be hosting a Demi-Semi Formal in honor of the demisemiseptcentennial of the Village of Lancaster (that is 175 years!), beginning at 6:00 p.m., or, we could also say, at the hour of the evening Angelus.
Buffalo’s own Ani DiFranco will make her Broadway debut as Persephone in the musical Hadestown at the Walter Kerr Theatre beginning February 9th. DiFranco first sang the role on the original 2010 studio album of the Tony-winning musical, which was released on her record label, Righteous Babe Records.
Richard Maltby and Buffalo’s David Shire’s new musical The Country Wife will be presented as a benefit concert on December 11th at the Red Bull Theater in New York. The musical is adapted from the classic restoration comedy by William Wycherly. UB’s Theater Department graduate Nathan Winkelstein serves as Associate Artistic Director of the prestigious off-Broadway company. Locally, Winkelstein has acted for Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Irish Classical Theatre Company, Torn Space, and Road Less Traveled.
On Saturday, December 16th from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Shakespeare in Delaware Park will hold an audition information and workshop session, open to both new and veteran Shakespeare actors. Expect to meet the company staff and season directors Kate Powers (The Winter’s Tale) and Larry Smith (The Comedy of Errors), The directors will share their visions for their productions, explain the audition process and facilitate acting exercises with Shakespeare’s text. To reserve your spot, call (716) 856-4533 by Dec. 11th.
It was just announced that the movie version of the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman is in the works with Jennifer Lopez set to play the title role. Rights for stage productions of the musical had been on hold for years because the late Terrence McNally, who wrote the book, and his husband producer Tom Kirdahy were hoping to produce a Broadway revival starring Audra McDonald, one of the couple’s favorite performers. Kirdahy is now one of the producers signed up for the movie version. Stage rights are now available and one local company already has them. If Kiss becomes a movie, it would join a select few which were first a non-musical movie, adapted into a stage musical, and made in to a movie musical.
In a late addition to this column, it was just reported that televison and screen actor Ryan O'Neal has died at the age of 82. When I met him, we talked about his work on the television show, "Peyton Place," and about his co-star, the Oscar winning actress Dorothy Malone.