• Anthony Chase

Reviews Reviews Reviews

By ANTHONY CHASE

people dancing in a show
"Nice Work if You Can Get It" at MusicalFare

In Buffalo, it seems to be a jolly sport to complain about the "Buffalo News" – it’s gotten so thin; there’s so little local content, etc. The reality is that in a world where daily city papers have been disappearing at an alarming rate, we are lucky, still, to have a daily paper, especially one that is committed to local reporting and editorial content that holds power accountable. We are also lucky that the "Buffalo News" still considers the local arts to be worthy of coverage. And frankly, we are lucky that the writers at the "News," though fewer in number, continue to be of such high quality.


Some people, who prefer not to subscribe to the paper, complain that they cannot see theater reviews and articles in the "Buffalo News" for free. So much web content is, of course, available for nothing, and oftentimes, that’s exactly what it’s worth.


In the spirit of supporting your local daily newspaper, I call your attention to an offer that allows you to see the "Buffalo News" in digital format for six months for just $1. https://myaccount.buffalonews.com/offers. I hear tell that if you decide to cancel after your six months are up, the circulation department will contact you to ask why, and if you say, “the cost,” they will ask, “How much would you be willing to pay?” You can then name your price ... so I hear. In any event, a six-month subscription for one buck will get you through most of the theater season and will connect you directly to Mark Sommer’s excellent coverage of the Shea’s story – as well as my own "Buffalo News" reviews of local shows, which I hope might be worth a buck to you.


In the meantime, while you’re mulling that over, here is my take on a few shows that I did not review for the "Buffalo News."


The quality of the Curtain Up! offerings has been impressively high and diverse. For the "News," I wrote about Paradigm Bomb at ART; Doubt at Irish Classical, Rock of Ages at the D’Youville Kavinoky; and Once on this Island at Shea’s 710. Here is a quick roundup of the rest.


John Kreuzer, Rachael Jamison, and Sabrina Kahwaty in "Church and State"

CHURCH AND STATE


Sitting at Afro-centric Ujima, watching four white actors in a dopey, superficial political comedy about a redneck southern politician and his wisecracking wife interact with their hardboiled Jewish campaign manager from New York, I thought, what’s going on here? And then, very abruptly, we get a total reversal. Comedy turns to searing social commentary, and a dozen little Easter egg clues from earlier in the play return to resonate powerfully. The play was chosen as a comment on the Tops Market shooting on May 14th. More than that, I will not give away.


The play, by Jason Odwell Williams, is called “Church and State.” We meet Senator Charles Whitmore, who is running for re-election in Raleigh, North Carolina, after a school shooting in his district. John Kreuzer plays the role, balancing comedy and earnest commentary artfully. Sabrina Kahwaty plays his driven campaign manager, similarly giving the role driving comedy, and the perspective of a person who yearns to bridge the divisions between people. As the senator’s wife, Rachael Jamison is handed some of the show’s most delightful comic zingers. She executes these perfectly. Vincent DeStefano plays a variety of characters, often employing an extreme southern accent to great effect.


Under the direction of Ross Hewitt, the action of this play, told in a single act, moved briskly and builds effectively. The set is by Dylan Regan. Light and sound by Nicholas Quinn. Costumes by Gerald Ramsay. The play continues through Oct. 2.


Wendy Hall, Nick Lama, Ben Michael Moran, and Greg Howze in "Mysterious Circumstances"

MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES


It is joyful to see how Dyan Burlingame’s remarkable set, John Rickus’s bold lighting design, and Katie Menke’s elaborate and inventive sound design conspire to take us hurling through the shadowy and unstable world of Michael Mitnick’s play, “Mysterious Circumstances.” Based on a true story, chronicled in an article by David Grann and published in the "New Yorker" magazine, the play follows the life and puzzling death of Richard Green, the world’s foremost authority on Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.


Using a clever jigsaw puzzle motif, Burlingame has devised an environment in which walls are always moving, and we are perpetually alternating from blinding light into blinding darkness. This world is heightened and augmented by light and sound by Rickus and Menke. Tossed into the mix are fanciful costumes, designed by Lise Harty, which exploit every manner of gray plaid – or since the aesthetic is very very English, shall I say, “grey” plaid.


The Look is very stylish, and the feeling gives us the whimsical urbanity of the original “Avengers” television show. The central mystery of the plot is a legendary box of unpublished manuscripts, including an autobiography and some unknown short-stories by Conan Doyle. (“Conan,” incidentally, was one of the writer’s middle names and not part of his surname. He was knighted as “Doyle,” and the Library of Congress lists him as “Doyle.” The author, however, seems to have preferred “Conan Doyle”). This cache of paper was the holy grail of every Holmes enthusiast. Locating the collection is only the first mystery of the plot. When, after the death of Doyle’s daughter, the materials show up for auction at Christie’s, a treacherous game is afoot, in which guileless Mr. Green ends up dead. How and why is the unplumbable mystery of the play.


Ben Michael Moran is delightful as nerdy-hot Richard Green, a man obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. His palpable sweetness and vulnerability endear us to the character immediately and lure us into the maze of inscrutable twists and turns.


The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent and a true ensemble of character chameleons: Wendy Hall as a variety of characters, including Conan Doyle’s ailing wife and his elderly daughter; Peter Palmisano as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself; David Marciniak as several characters, including Mr. Watson and as an oversexed disco queen; Greg Houze as Mr. Green’s superficial Holmesian nemesis and as other characters; Nicholas Lama as several characters, including an especially memorable taxi driver; Jeremy Kreuzer as various characters, including Jean Conan Doyle’s severe and humorless butler.


The play is an amusing and insightful exploration of obsession and the high value people place on the objects of those obsessions. The production, under the precise and lively direction of John Hurley, is truly thrilling.


Marc Sacco, Emily Yancey, John Kaczorowski, Charmagne Chi, and John May out clown each other in "Nice Work if you Can Get It"

NICE WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT


Witty, lush and delicious.


Kristy E. Cavanagh. Kristy E. Cavanagh. Kristy E. Cavanagh. Such choreography!


Chris Kelly’s direction keeps the action swift and the humor unrelenting.


Glorious Gershwin music under the direction of Theresa Quinn.


An urbanely sophisticated deco setting by Chris Cavanagh with costumes by Kari Drozd.


That sums up the MusicalFare production of "Nice Work if You Can Get It."


The cast is stupendous. Marc Sacco is a true musical comedy star! He and John Kaczorowski are dynamite together. Sacco as Jimmy Winter, a wealthy socialite in search of love. Kaczorowski as the bootlegger masquerading as Winter's butler while hiding a boatload of illegal booze in the basement of his long island mansion.


Renee Landrigan maintains her title as one of Buffalo’s foremost clowns as bootlegging Billie Bendix, the Tomboy love interest who gets to belt some of the Gershwins’ best tunes.


Nicole Cimato exhibits limitless talent as social climbing Jeannie Muldoon, a chorine who just wants to be Queen of England.


Charmagne Chi summons her inner Margaret Dumont, and then ups the ante by going full on Beatrice Lillie before the night is over. (Those are huge compliments, which two or three true theater geeks will appreciate).


Bobby Cooke is adorable as Chief Berry the tireless cop, determined to ferret out the bootleggers, who finds love along the way.


Emily Yancey is daftly de-lic-i-ous Eileen Evergreen, the reluctant fiancé of Jimmy Winter. John May perfectly embodies her overbearing cliché of a father, a self-righteous man with an unholy past.


Preston Williams deftly channels the 1930s screwball comedy style as Duke Mahoney, a lovable thug of a guy.


Just as the rest of the company is about to collapse from exhaustion, Pamela Rose Mangus enters, late in the evening, to save the day with her imperious performance as Jimmy’s no-nonsense mother.


The ensemble is wonderful. The show is delightful and chock-a-block full of great Gershwin songs. I gloried in every s’wonderful (sorry, how could I resist?) moment.


It's a real good time.


A scene from "Dogfight"

DOGFIGHT


Bellissima Productions is one of those youthful theater groups that pops up periodically to help those who are newer to the theater scene get cast in the roles they want in the shows they want to do. It’s a collection of newer faces, including some current and recent theater students, each and every one of them talented, forging their own way. They perform in the Marie Mayday Theatre on the Canisius College campus.


With “Dogfight,” a musical with book by Peter Duchan, and music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, they have landed a solid production of a provocative script with excellent music. They will have played their final performance on Sunday, but it is worth chronically some excellent performances.


Set in 1963, a group of marines throw a party before shipping out. Each kicks in a chunk of money and whoever is judged to have brought the ugliest date, wins the pot. It’s a loathsome idea, and we watch Act One in dread as sweet and loving Rose Fenny is seduced into this trap.


Karen Harty gave a winning performance as Rose, singing exquisitely and imbuing a fragile and vulnerable character with exactly the right dose of Moxy at the most gratifying moment.


Luke Weber is Eddie Birdlace, a young marine who turns out to be more vulnerable than Rose and a much nicer guy than he ever intended to be.


Aaron Saldana and Kevin Deese are also excellent as Bernstein and Boland, the odious buddies of Birdlace.


Taylor Lee Hall gives an affecting performance as Marcy, a world-weary woman, doing her best to play the dirty deal she’s been dealt by life.


I had previously seen the Bellissima production of “Spring Awakening,” also at the Marie Maday Theatre on the Canisius Campus. They are a company to watch.