Javier's Theater News
The STAGEFRIGHT Column
Although New York city’s theater district is not yet quite the same as it was, there are signs that the theaters are coming back! The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, home of the Manhattan Theatre Club, has posters out front promoting, at long last, the Broadway debut of Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Lackawanna Blues, with Ruben himself starring and directing. Postponed from last season, previews will begin September 14th prior to a September 28th opening. The play had its world premiere back in 2001 at the Public Theatre in New York. It has been performed all over the country, ever since and was made into an HBO movie in 2005. Santiago-Hudson, who is a Lackawanna native, and went to high school with another Lackawanna native Jimmy Janowski (now temporally in residence at Desiderio’s in Cheektowaga), has since become a prominent director and actor, earning a Tony award in 1996 for his performance in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars. For years, Ruben wanted his play to be produced at Studio Arena, which would have been such a hometown tribute! We hear that there are plans for a Lackawanna Theater Walk of Fame. Hudson and Janowski are shoe-ins. Doesn’t Pamela Rose Mangus also live in Lackawanna?
By the way, Santiago-Hudson will direct the second production of Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2021-2022 season, Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew, starring Phylicia Rashad. The play was produced locally at the Paul Robeson Theatre.
More good news for our summer theater scene. MusicalFare returns to live performances on its main stage this summer with the musical Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter. Directed by Norman Sham, with music direction by Theresa Quinn, the production will star Debbie Pappas as Linda Lee Thomas (aka Mrs. Cole Porter) recounting, through song and story, her life journey with Mr. Porter. The production runs June 23rd – July 18th and it will feature plenty of Cole Porter’s classics. Yes, you’re right. Cole Porter was gay as a picnic basket, but Linda became his confidante and companion, and they were devoted to each other and remained married from 1919 until her death in 1954. She was eight years older than he was.
And regarding the 2021-2022 season, Musicalfare will kick off on September 15th with the classic Lerner & Loewe musical Camelot. The season continues November 10th - December 12th with All is Calm, a musical about the historic Christmas day in 1914 during World War I when the Allies played a peaceful game of soccer with enemy German troops before returning to fight in the morning. Local playwright Gary Earl Ross wrote a play about this event called The Guns of Christmas. It premiered in December 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of this day of truce. A revised version of American Rhapsody plays February 23rd – March 27th. Randy Kramer wrote and directed the original version which premiered in 2009. The musical features song and dance, highlighting the music of Scott Joplin, Stephen Foster, W.C. Handy, Irving Berlin, Eubie Blake, George Gershwin, and others. Then there is The Other Josh Cohen, a 2012 musical comedy with book, music, and lyrics by Steve Rosen and David Rossmer, about a good guy caught in a lifelong battle with bad luck. Both Rosen and Rossmer were in the original 2013 New York production that won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Musical. The show played at Geva Theater in Rochester in 2018. Rosen, who is from Rochester, recreated his part, under the direction of Hunter Foster.
Just as had been planned before the pandemic, To Kill a Mockingbird will launch its national tour at Shea’s, this time on March 27th, 2022. This means the show will be rehearsing and teching in Buffalo for a few weeks prior to that date, and will then go to Boston for the official opening of the tour on April 5th. Emmy winner Richard Thomas will still star as Atticus Finch. The musical Tootsie will also launch at Shea’s, as had been planned last year, but with a cast different from the one originally announced. Add to the list, the relaunching of the Frozen tour on September 12th. By the way, To Kill a Mockingbird will resume performances at Broadway's Shubert Theatre on October 5th. The production, which has been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic, will welcome the return of two of its original stars: Jeff Daniels as Atticus and Celia Keenan-Bolger in her Tony-winning performance as Scout.
O’Connell & Company is likely to produce some of its shows at Shea’s Smith Theatre again next season. There is no truth to the rumor that they will be opening with an all-female version of Naked Boys Singing!
The Kavinoky is getting ready to announce its 2021-22 season which will likely include shows that had been in the planning for last year before all theaters were shut down. Among them, the Victorian thriller The Woman in Black, the classic Pride & Prejudice, the British play People, Places & Things, and the musical Rock of Ages. The Woman in Black first opened in London in 1989 and is still being performed (the show will re-open in September), making it the second-longest-running play in London, behind The Mousetrap, which opened in 1952. The Kavinoky first produced the play back in 1996. The show finally made it to New York in an immersive production that played at the Club Car Pub inside the McKittrick Hotel in January 2020. Its extended run was cut short due to the pandemic. The upcoming Kavinoky production is slated to be directed by Kyle LoConti, starring David Lundy and Peter Horn. Both LoConti and Kavinoky Executive Director Loraine O’Donnell were spotted at a performance of the show at the McKittrick last spring.
You don’t need to ask me where I will be on September 16th when the Alleyway Theatre opens its 2021-22 season with Nassim Soleimanpour's White Rabbit Red Rabbit, with a star I cannot name because of spousal privilege. The play is designed to be read by an actor who arrives at the theater never having seen the script before, and explores the relationship between actor, character, and audience. By the way, September 16th is also Mexican Independence Day, contrary to popular belief. Cinco de Mayo, or May 5th, commemorates the anniversary of Mexico's victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla. It is appropriate to drink tequila and Corona on both days.
The much-anticipated movie version of the 2008 Tony-winning musical In the Heights finally reached the big screen last week. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the score and created the central character of Usnavi on stage, appears in the film as Piragua Guy. Taking on the role of Usnavi is Miranda’s onetime Hamilton costar Anthony Ramos. Only Olga Merediz gets to recreate her stage role of Abuela Claudia. Daphne Rubin-Vega who was the original Mimi in Rent, gets to play Daniela. Back in March, Rent celebrated its 25th anniversary with a virtual gala. Other movie musical versions set to be released this year include the remake of West Side Story; Dear Evan Hansen; and Tick, Tick…Boom! -- directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda!
Off Road with Peter Palmisano, a Road Less Traveled Productions podcast has unveiled the first of eight episodes of the series A History of Buffalo Theatre. After months of research and interviews, Episode 1 (1814-1906) was released this week with new episodes to be released every week covering Buffalo theater until the present day. In this first chapter, Peter is joined by Steve Cichon and Ron Ehmke.
In case you missed it, past Shea’s Performing Arts Center President Patrick Fagan received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 8th Annual Spark Awards presented by Arts Services Inc. (formerly known as Arts Services Initiative). Created in 2011, the organization is now celebrating its10-year anniversary. Congratulations to both!
Ujima will present the last one act play in their virtual series, Big Butt Girls & Other Fantasies: The Remix, this weekend June 11th & 12th at 8 p.m., and June 14th at 6:00 p.m. Director Sarah Norat Phillips collaborated with playwright Marsha Estell to present the final version of this autobiographical piece. Ujima Company member Shanntina Moore will star as Marty, a woman trapped by hot flashes, varicose veins, and that “middle age middle.” For tickets go to ujimacoinc.org
Torn Space Theater will present Intersection/Prototype, a new site-specific installation performance designed for the rainbow-striped parking lot at Artpark, June 18th & 20th at 8 p.m. Torn Space will collaborate with a local Bengali cricket team to stage a live cricket match at dusk (Believe it or not, I mastered that sport when I was in my early teens). This performance will then be re-staged on an open city lot behind Torn Space for a July 16-18 show run.
Happy Pride! Legendary sound-designer Joe Schuder is alive and well, and still living in Buffalo. The ardent gay rights activist stepped out to celebrate Pride. It’s hard to believe that Schuder retired from the Kavinoky back in 1992-1993 season, after their production of Shadowlands! starring Saul Elkin as C.S. Lewis and Eileen Dugan as Joy Davidman. Good to see you again, Joe!