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Buffalo Theater News - April 2024

Stagefright by Javier


Two women about to kiss
Katie White and Ellen Opiela in the 2000 BUA production of Diana Son's "Stop Kiss"

How time flies! Diana Son’s Stop Kiss premiered at the Public Theater in 1998, starring Jessica Hecht and Sandra Oh (pre-Grey’s Anatomy).  Those two original cast members will reunite for a One-Night-Only Public Theater reading of the play directed by Son on April 29th.  A 25th anniversary reading was planned for last year (2023) but scheduling proved to be difficult. The boundary-breaking play won the GLAAD Media Award for Best New York Production and was on the Top 10 Plays lists of The New York Times, Newsday, New York Daily News, and other major publications. The BUA production in 2000 starred the fabulous late Ellen Opiela and Katie White, with Don Gervasi, Lydia Baynes Al-Amin, and the late Carlton Franklin. By the way, that was not Gervasi’s first stage kiss. That was with Chris Kelly in The Dying Gaul. You’re welcome, Chris.


With Sandra Oh and with Jessica Hecht

And speaking of time flying by, we are fast approaching the end of the theater season and companies are already busy planning their 2024-25 offerings!  Road Less Traveled Productions (RLTP) concludes its outstanding 20th anniversary season with The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence (April 18th-May 19th), a playful time-traveling drama by Madeline George. Four Watsons in three centuries unite to tell one tale, and you will certainly have to see this in order to arrive at the improbable truth. The play was a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist, along with the musical, Fun Home. Adored by most critics, Annie Baker’s The Flick was the winner, even though there were plenty of empty seats after intermission at every performance of that three-hour long play. The RLTP production of The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence is directed by John Hurley, starring Brendan Didio, Emily Yancey and Dave Hayes (he’s back!). By the way, playwright George is now a writer and executive story editor for the Hulu comedy Only Murders in the Building.

 

In other news, RLTP has introduced the RLTP VIP Experience, a special night out for two which includes: transportation from your home to a luxurious meal at Bacchus Wine Bar & Restaurant, transportation from the restaurant to the Road Less Traveled Theater, two tickets to see an RLTP show, complimentary drinks at the newly expanded RLTP Lounge Bar before and after the show or during intermission, 2 drinks per person (does that mean two before, two at intermission, and two after?), transportation back to your home after the show. All this for only $550 per couple! Count me in, if I can select the driver!

 

Next at the D'Youville Kavinoky, Gutenberg! The Musical! the uproarious musical comedy that just closed on Broadway in January. Directed by Loraine O’Donnell, with music direction by Chuck Basil, the show stars Ricky Needham and Zak Ward, bringing to life the hilarious and improbable story of Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press. It runs April 12th – 28th. Season 45 at the Kavinoky will kick off this fall with the brilliant comedy POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, October 4th-20th. This truly irreverent comedy opened on Broadway in April 2022 directed by Susan Stroman. The show centers on a PR nightmare for the White House while seven women try to keep the President out of trouble. The cast featured such familiar names as Lea DeLaria, Julianne Hough, Julie White, and Vanessa Williams. The 45th Kavinoky season will also include the classic Sweet Charity, the Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields, and Neil Simon musical about how one good-hearted woman copes with dumbass men. Chita Rivera lead the first national tour of Sweet Charity and appeared in the movie as Nicki. The closest Chita came to Buffalo in that tour was at the O’Keefe in Toronto.  There is an online petition to rename a Broadway theater in her honor. Please join at https://chng.it/C9XPpmmtbT


With POTUS stars Lea DeLaria, Julie White, and Vanessa Williams

Coming up next at the Paul Robeson Theatre, concluding its season of new plays, A Pitch from Satchel Paige by Loren and Jim Keller. Paige was an American professional baseball pitcher who played in the Negro National League and the Major League Baseball. His career spanned five decades (1927-1965) and culminated with his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Directed by Verneice Turner, the play had early readings at Buffalo East and at the New Phoenix. Roosevelt Tidwell III stars on April 5th & 19th weekends. Russell C. Holt start on April 12th & 26th weekends.


with Zhanna Reed and Naila Ansari

Musicalfare has gone all out for its next production, Crowns, a moving and celebratory musical play in which hats become a springboard for an exploration of Black history and identity. Written by Regina Taylor, based on a book of photographs by Michael Cunningham and journalist Craig Marberry, also called Crowns, the play is filled with gospel music and a little rap.  Directed by Thembi Duncan, choreographed by Naila Ansari, music direction by Karen E. Saxon, and costumes by Phylicia Robinson Dove, the production runs April 17th – May 19th,  starring Breston Brown, Danielle N. Green, Latosha Jennings, Janae Leonard, Zhanna Reed, Ember Tate-Steele, and Davida Evette Tolbert. I’d just like to take a moment to say that Amherst is lucky to have a cultural and economic asset like MusicalFare.

 

After proving herself as a playwright with The Bowling Play, a brilliant first outing, Kelly Copps will return to the stage to play Ulla in the Lancaster Opera House production of Mel BrooksThe Producers, which opens June 7th, directed and choreographed by Eric Deeb Weaver. Together at last, David Bondrow will be Max and John Kaczorowski will be Leo. The star-studded cast includes Steve Copps as Franz, Matt Rittler as Carmen Gia, and Greg Gjurich as Roger Debris. Gjurich is excited to be making his RLTP debut next Fall (on the stage, not as a driver). The Opera House is considering the classic Arsenic & Old Lace for its opening slot next season. Looking for two old ladies?

 

Second Generation Theatre’s one-night-only concert fundraiser is back! Broadway Bucket List will take place on May 19th at 7 p.m. at Shea’s Smith Theater. Your $50 ticket includes the show, light appetizers, access to raffles and silent auctions. Seats are limited so grab yours today! This year’s star line-up includes Michele Marie Roberts, Austin Marshall, Nick Lama, Ricky Needham, Stevie Kemp, Amy Jakiel, Lily Jones, and Joe Russi. Directors are lined-up for next season, Kristin Bentley will direct The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee;Gabriella McKinley directs The Niceties; and Michael Gilbert-Wachowiak directs Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which is set to star Vanna Deux as Hedwig.

 

Trying to fulfill her goal to have her plays produced by every company in Buffalo, (except Shakespeare in Delaware Park) Donna Hoke’s Brilliant Works of Art will be presented by Bellissima Productions in Winter 2025, directed by Sabrina Kahwaty. I guess Hoke and Kahwaty had a good experience while working at Buffalo State, where Kahwaty directed Hoke’s play Teach. Bellissima will present Bonnie & Clyde, The Musical in the Fall and Lizzie the Musical in concert, in the spring.

 

Up next for Ujima, opening May 5th, one of my favorite plays and one of my favorite theater memories, The Wedding Band by Alice Childress. Ujima has produced the play twice before. Company founder Lorna C. Hill played the lead the first time, but it was her fabulous comic performance as Fanny, the landlady, that I remember with so much affection. In fact, I recall her every inflection and gesture, and Lorna used to enjoy my impersonation of her when I recreated moments from the show.  (And for the record, when she played Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit at BUA, she impersonated me!) This time, the production will be directed by Sarah Norat Phillips, starring Gabriella McKinley, Ben Caldwell, Tanika Holmes, Jacquie Cherry, Brian J. Brown, Nathania Sampaio, Nakia Broughton, Claire Takacs, Marissa Biondolillo, and a much welcome return to the stage by Mary Moebius. The show will be performed at the Lorna C. Hill Theater. We hear that Norat Phillips will be returning to Detroit after this show. Who will be taking over?


Lorna C. Hill as Madame Arcati in the BUA production of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit." Michele Ninacs as Elvira; Richard Lambert as Charles; and N. Regina Jackson as Ruth.

O’Connell & Company will open the season with another spoof, Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier. It is Aladdin’s story from Jafar’s perspective. Directed by Drew McCabe, starring Nick Lama and Amanda Funicello, the show will play at Shea’s Smith Theater. (It seems that Lama has become the face of the Smith). The company’s main stage season will open in October with Pippin, directed and choreographed by Joey Bucheker, starring Aimee Walker as the Leading Player, John Kreuzer as Charlemagne, Kelleigh Murray as Frastata, Ashleigh Chrisena Ricci as Catherine, and Vinny Murphy as Lewis. More casting to be announced. I am not sure if this will be the classic version or the latest circus revival version where there was a trapeze number. I did see Bucheker at a Ringling Brothers show, talking to some of the aerialists. Incidentally, it is not true that we are suing the upcoming Broadway revival of Sunset Boulevard, which is a very scaled down version of the original. Or should we?

 

Changes are going on at the Kenan Center’s Taylor Theater. I hear that Darryl Hart and Elaine Roberts (HARP Productions) who took over after the Carriage Players dissolved, are no longer involved. The Center has announced auditions for two shows for the 24/25 season, The Last Five Years, and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Coincidentally, Musicalfare will also mount The Last Five Years at the Premier Cabaret in January.

 

So, the movies keep providing inspiration for the Broadway musicals. Back to the Future is doing very well. The Outsiders, adapted from S.E. Hinton's novel and Francis Ford Coppola's film version is now previewing on Broadway. (Right before the pandemic, TOY presented a thrilling production of the play version, directed by Chris Kelly. I suggested at the time that they should bring back TOY After Dark with that cast). I’m sure you’ve heard that The Devil Wears Prada is headed to London starring Vanessa Williams after a tryout in Chicago, where it was decided that the show was not yet ready for Broadway. The stage musical adaptation of Death Becomes Her begins previews April 30th at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre. The original film starred Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn. And, what is the status of The First Wives Club which had its first run at the Old Globe in San Diego years ago starring the fabulous Sherryl Lee Ralph.


With Sherryl Lee Ralph at the Old Globe in San Diego

 

 

 

 

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