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  • Writer's pictureJavier

Buffalo Theater News - March 2024

Stagefright by Javier

two people
With Genevieve Ellis

Seeing Genevieve Ellis play the role of Fantine on the opening night of Les Misérables at Shea’s was thrilling. Ellis is part of the first-rate ensemble and an understudy for Fantine. A WNY native and a Fredonia alum, this is her national tour debut. Locally, she previously starred in the Second Generation production of Songs for a New World, and in the Theatre of Youth production of Beauty and the Beast. Artie Career Achievement Award winner Tom Loughlin was one of her many professors at Fredonia. The tour is now headed to Schenectady, and to the Princess of Wales in Toronto, March 26th through June 1st. By the way, the fabulous Josie DiVincenzo has joined the faculty at Fredonia, teaching acting for the camera.

Two people in front of a brightly lit theater marquee
With Genevieve Ellis again. Wait! No! That's her mother! We're standing in front of the Shea's marquee

Whenever I see Les Miz, I remember the parody of the rousing and irrepressible tune, “At the end of the play you’re another year older!” from Forbidden Broadway. And now, the hilarious musical revue will finally play on Broadway! Merrily We Stole a Song will open at the Hayes Theater in July.


Forbidden Broadway debuted in 1982 at New York’s 130-seat Palsson’s Supper Club. The Broadway production will be directed by the show’s creator, Gerald Alessandrini.  In addition to a five-person cast, to be announced, the production will also welcome weekly guest stars. I have not yet been asked. Just an aside, the Hayes Theatre used to be known as The Little Theatre. It’s a beautiful and intimate Broadway house. With 597 seats, it's the smallest theater on Broadway, and was renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre in honor of the great Helen Hayes (1900-1993), First Lady of the American Theatre in1983 after the original Helen Hayes Theatre, was demolished in 1982 to make way for the Marriott Marquis Hotel. It pains me that so few people remember Helen Hayes that they’re now just calling the theater “The Hayes.” The wonderful Helen Hayes, who had to retire from the stage in 1971 because she developed an allergy to theater dust, won the Oscar twice, first in 1931, and then, later in her life for Airport.


Renaming theaters, oh yes. On Broadway we now have the August Wilson, Neil Simon, Stephen Sondheim, James Earl Jones, and Al Hirschfeld.  A theater was finally named after a woman of color in 2024 when the Brooks Atkinson Theatre became the Lena Horne. Might I suggest that Broadway could use a Chita Rivera Theater


Well, in Buffalo we had the Manny Fried Theater, home of Subversive Theater Collective. Last minute dish! I heard that Kurt Schneiderman and his company are planning a comeback. It seems that Kurt is still sitting on that big capital grant he got, but it’s reimbursement money, so he’ll have to find a space and renovate it first. Fingers crossed! Kurt was not the source of this story, but I did bump into him at Wegmans and he looked great! Does anybody know of a space?

Meanwhile, over at Shea’s, they're ready to announce the 2024-25 season. They think it’s Buffalo's best kept secret, but with over 1,000 people in the know….  (It takes a lot of people to coordinate stops all over the country). Still, the buildup to the announcement is a handy excuse to throw a party. The Shea’s Buffalo Theatre Five Star Bank 2024 – 25 Broadway Season Announcement event will take place on Tuesday, March 19th at 7 p.m.. So, what will it be? Many theaters around the country have already announced their seasons and there is not a lot to choose from. The new national tours announced for this season are Back to the Future (which premieres in Schenectady in June), & Juliet, Kimberly Akimbo, Shucked, and Some Like it Hot! All would be great choices for Shea’s. Although I personally loved the dark revival of Oklahoma when I saw it on Broadway, I thought it was a poor choice for the Buffalo audience at Shea’s, where the audience prefers shows that are more carefree and up-lifting.


As luck would have it, up next for O’Connell & Company will be a traditional production of Oklahoma -- no bloody wedding dress, just old values and homespun charm, as Curly happily gets away with murder so those two crazy kids can go on their honeymoon!  Well, there is one little twist, the production, under the direction and choreography of Joey Bucheker, will be set in an insane asylum (no comment). It will star Merrick Allen, Ahsleigh Chrisena Ricci, Michael Wells, Colleen Pine, Vinny Murphy, and Pamela Rose Mangus as Aunt Eller. The show opens May 3rd.  And rumor has it that the company will kick off the next season with Pippin. Bucheker is rumored to be playing the grandmother, now that he is age appropriate. Is there no end to this man’s talent?

four people
With Kelly Copps, author of "The Bowling Play," Connor Graham who starred in the Second Generation world premiere, and the show's director Amy Jakiel

So, Second Generations Theatre’s The Bowling Play was a huge hit for the company. I hear there’s already talk of a sequel or two. It may be this century’s Nunsense, but in bowling shirts. Brilliant script, direction, and cast. Congratulations! BUA is planning a new play as well, The Bathhouse Play -- oh no, they already did that musical, years ago. (No joking. They really did).  Coming up for Second Generation is the seldom produced and always challenging Sondheim musical, Merrily We Roll Along. Wouldn’t you know it? The show is also running on Broadway starring an A-list cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Jonathan Groff, and Lindsay Mendez. The local production, directed by Michael Wachowiak boasts an A-list Buffalo cast: Jordan Levin, Josh Wilde, and Alexandria Watts. As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Hedwig and the Angry Inch will be part of the company’s 2024-25 season (just look at the full cast list for Merrily and you may spot Hedwig). The company will open with the always funny The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Years ago, Hedwig was directed by Michael Walline, starring Loraine O’Donnell in the title role.

Buffalo’s best kept secret is revealed. I turned 70 (not 17) on March 14.  Yes, my husband is younger. My favorite bartender always remembers my birthday; he says it’s Pi (3.14, get it?)

three women
Lanie Shannon who plays Claudius, Stefanie Warnick who plays Hamlet, and Alyssa Walsh who plays Gertrude in Lara Haberberger's production of "Hamlet" at Brazen-Faced Varlets

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Tom Loughlin as Claudius, William Gonta as Hamlet, and Barbara Link LaRou as Gertrude in the Shakespeare in Delaware Park 25th Anniversary production of "Hamlet," directed by Saul Elkin in 2000

It is not your regular Hamlet at Brazen-Faced Varlets just as it wasn’t your regular Macbeth at Shakespeare in Delaware Park a few years ago. There are no men! Hamlet is briskly paced and is very enjoyable, with great performances all over, particularly by Stefanie Warnick in the title role, and maybe I am biased, but Buffalo’s Grande Dame of comedy Caitlin Coleman -- who I discovered many years ago (NOT!) is also terrific. You should have seen her in Paula Vogel’s The Minneola Twins!


While seasons are being planned, we hear director Lara Haberberger, who recently passed the artistic reigns at Brazen-Faced Varlets on to Stephanie Warnick but maintains executive leadership, is looking to branch out and is talking to Matthew LaChiusa at American Repertory Theatre of WNY about a script. 

ART seems to be on a roll. Their recent production of London Calling – Theatrical Works Based on the Music of the Clash was sensational.  The buzz is that Charles McGregor’s production of John Webster’s The White Devil is shaping up nicely. We also hear that LaChiusa himself has been working on a stage adaptation of Irish writer Liam O'Flaherty's 1925 novel, The Informer, and that a new play by Mark Humphrey and a new musical by J Snodgrass are in the works for next season.

After a great performance in Torn Space’s production of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming,  Jack Hunter will be moving to the directorial chair for the upcoming Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre production of Norm Foster’s The Melville Boys. Foster is one of Jay Desiderio’s favorite playwrights, having produced several of his plays over the years while  establishing a friendship. The play’s first production was in October 1984 at Theatre New Brunswick, and it will now celebrate its 40th year with a production August 15-25 at the Foster Festival in St. Catherines, Ontario. Interestingly, it was Hunter who first brought the play to Buffalo’s attention. Under the direction of Neal Radice, the play opened at the Alleyway Theatre in September 1989 starring Hunter, Mark Warwick, Joyce Stilson, and Loraine O’Donnell. This time, the cast will star Trevor Dugan, Marc Ruffino, Marie Costa, and Allyssa Grace Adams. The show will open of April 25th and run through June 23rd. The shows at Desi’s have the longest runs of any theater in the region.


Great news for fans of Torn Space’s Mainstage Performance series (and that includes me!). The next production will open in February 2025. The company will present an innovative interpretation of a dramatic classic. Yeah! By then the space on Fillmore Avenue will have a new lobby, new green rooms, new technical booth and a brand-new theater space.

And back on the subject of Alleyway, Buffalo Quickies is back! Now in its 33rd edition with plays by some of my favorite local people: Annette Daniels Taylor, Mark Humphrey, Justin Karcher, and Bella Poynton. That's four world premieres -- don’t you love that term? WORLD premiere -- through March 30th. Kate Olena and Michael Starzynski return. They are the Queen and King of the Quickies. I saw the 1st edition! It was (and still is) a great concept, and it was so elaborate back in the old days. There were many more plays, actors, directors. They had three sets of plays, a different one each night. You had to go back three times to see them all. Those were the good old days. And the logo! Two buffalos supposedly having a quicky. People are intrigued by Alleyway’s upcoming production (a last minute replacement for the previously announced musical), Death of a Streetcar Named Virginia Woolf. The title alone sounds fascinating. It reminds me of Blanche Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire, which BUA did, starring Jimmy Janowski a few years ago. But I digress, Death of a Streetcar will be directed by Kevin Leary, starring Peter Horn, Nick Lama, Lindsay Hunter, Jacob Albarella, Anna Krampoltz, and David Mitchell. Leary was nominated for the Artie Award last year for his brilliant choreography for Kragtar – The American Monster Musical at Alleyway.


Speaking of the Arties. They will be held a week later than usual in order to accommodate May openings (yes, now they tell me. Anyone? Remember Sunset Boulevard?) I heard from an impeccably reliable source that the ceremony will take place on June 10th.  Quite a relief for the members of the theater community who also belong to (or are supporters of) the GLBTQ community. It was a very long weekend for us. The Pride Parade is on June 2nd. So, it was always back to back. You try to look your best after partying all weekend! Remember to buy tickets early -- the Arties were sold out last year! There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that "Intimacy Coach" has been added as an Artie Award category. That's an interesting idea, though. Imagine the production photos they'd need on the slides for the nominated moments of intimacy.


Well, there is so much to celebrate in the Didios household these days. Brendan Didio will get his MFA from D'Youville University in May, He recently starred in Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, the D'Youville MFA showcase, opposite Shannell Dixon, Araia Healthcott, and Kodi James. It was a wonderful evening directed by Katie Mallinson. In addition, Didio has just been appointed as the business development manager at Shakespeare in Delaware Park. Does that mean he doesn't have to set the chairs up on the hill anymore? I said "Didios" in the plural, so let’s now talk about Gretchen. She was fabulous in Legally Blonde, which is coming back for all you people who waited too late to see it, or for those who want to see it again (I do!). That means, she won’t be available for Waitress. That's okay; I know several women who are really happy about that. And, I almost forgot, Gretchen was also fabulous in one of my favorite shows of the season (in a supporting role) Beautiful.  Maybe that will come back in a few years too.

two people on a stage
Gail Golden sings The French Song" in the original 1992 BUA production of "A... My Name is Alice," accompanied by music director Theresa Quinn


The show must go on, right? That's the euphemistic distillation of true first rule of theater: "No refunds!"  My dear friend Mary Kate O’Connell (Norma Desmond, remember?) took a nasty fall, mid-performance, on the opening night of Grumpy Old Men. She was playing Punky. Michael Starzynski (I just call him "Star"), Michael Galante, Anne DeFazio (oh my, did she play up that good time role), and everyone in the cast was superb. I digress. Gail Golden (I think I discovered her too. We go way back, anyway) was in the opening night audience. So what do you know, she went on the next day with one hour rehearsal and she was off book! I don’t know if it's true but people say she called the Artie Committee that morning to alert them to her performance. Seriously, what a wonderful save-the-day effort. She accomplished a similar feat back in 1992 when another actor fell ill during the original run of A ... My Name is Alice at BUA and Golden learned two of her songs over night. Years ago, Darleen Pickering-Hummert saved the Studio Arena production of Lake Effect: Over the Tavern Part III after another actor was injured, with less than a week of rehearsal -- also off-book. Anthony Grande accomplished the same feat when he saved the BUA production of The Boys Upstairs in one day. And for the record, Mary Kate is recovering nicely and will be suing the theater.

three people at a step and repeat
with Keelie A. Sheridan and Jorge Luna

It seems that the Irish Classical Theatre Company is actively looking to expand its audience (they should be!). Under the artistic direction of Keelie A. Sheridan, they have secured rights for Dracula A Comedy of Terrors to star Sheridan and her husband, actor Jorge Luna.

Partying with the boys of Les Miz. I had to show them my star in the Theater District Plaza of Stars. (Hi Rick and Mike -- my star needs some polishing). I am thrilled beyond everything, that my dear husband of 44 years, Anthony Chase, will be the next inductee when his star is unveiled at a ceremony on September 9, 2024. Save the date!

Celebrating my birthday with some fabulously fun members of the "Les Miserables" national company: director James Powell, Major Domo Kyle Adams, Preston Truman Boyd who plays Javert, and Devin Archer who plays Enjolras. This fun group stopped by to visit my star in the Plaza of Stars.







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