By ANTHONY CHASE
The first thing that comes to my mind when glancing at the Shea's 2019-2020 M&T Bank Broadway season line-up is "Wow! That's a lot of shows!" It looks exciting.
The increasing success of the popular Broadway series has inspired the addition of another show, bringing the total to seven; and rolling out the 710 Main and Smith Theatre seasons at the same time, showcases the abundance of the downtown offerings.
You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to predict the lineup. The series is entirely dependent on the ebb and flow of Broadway, and what's out on tour. Each year, we just wait to see how Buffalo will rank in the touring universe. Will we get the hottest shows right away? Or will we be obliged to wait until Toronto has had them.
We all knew that Mean Girls was coming, because it will tech, rehearse, and launch its national tour here.
This year was not especially suspenseful. There isn't a Hamilton in the mix. We finally get Come from Away, the Canadian sensation about a small town, and the passengers of a grounded play on 9/11. It is currently enjoying an extended run in Toronto, but now the show comes to us.
Hello Dolly! is currently on the San Francisco leg of its tour with Betty Buckley and Lewis J. Stadlen, but there is not mention of who will descend the staircase at the Harmonia Gardens when Buffalo says "Hello" to Dolly.
The Band's Visit is a glorious show and winner of 10 Tony Awards ... including Best Musical, but such an elegant and cerebral musical might not have as much lowbrow appeal as many audience members prefer. The advertising underscores this challenge with a poster, featuring Tony Winner Katrina Lenk with a beaming smile, backed up by an apparent marching band (except of course for the string instruments), making the show look like an Israeli/Egyptian Music Man. It's not.
By contrast, even at the Broadway opening night party of Jimmy Buffet's Escape to Margaritaville, I heard people openly opine that if it tanked on Broadway (and it did) it would still be a surefire hit on the road. I will admit, Escape to Margaritaville is one of the most lovable turkeys of a show I have ever seen. Entirely unpretentious, it delivers every promise with a full evening of Jimmy Buffet's irresistible music and a hokey show to glue the songs together. In announcing the title, Shea's sought to inoculate the show from naysayers with a warm video greeting to Buffalo from Jimmy Buffet himself. They also reminded patrons that Rich Entertainment Group of Buffalo produced the show. Escape to Margaritaville would seem to have been designed for the road, and should be good for a sellout week in June. (And if you personally don't want your tickets, you won't have any difficulty finding enthusiastic takers).
Similarly, Anastasia should prove popular and gives an obvious choice to grandparents who want to introduce grandchildren to Shea's.
Jesus Christ Superstar is coming in to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show, and the announcement elicited the excited response that familiar titles do for Shea's audiences.
In brief, the lineup is as follows:
Mean Girls - September 21-28, 2019
Come from Away - October 15-20, 2019
Jesus Christ Superstar - February 11-16, 2020
Hello, Dolly! - March 10-15, 2020
The Band's Visit - April 14-19, 2020
Anastasia - May 5-10, 2020
Escape to Margaritaville - June 2-7, 2020
The Special Engagements, or those shows not included in the subscription are:
Jersey Boys - November 14-17, 2019
Les Misérables - December 10-15, 2019
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Raindeer - December 19-22, 2019
The Shea's 710 Season finally began to look interesting when the locally produced shows upped the quality and designers started to find ways to fill the stage on small budgets without looking apologetic. Almost Maine and Christmas at Pemberley both maintained high theatrical standards, and looked fabulous.
I am pleased to see the play selection becoming incrementally more substantial for this venue.
Road Less Traveled Productions will return to 710 with Tracy Letts's play Superior Donuts. We will see a production of the quirky and clever off-Broadway musical, XANADU. MusicalFare will bring back its big hit of last season, Tom Dudzick's musical, Christmas Over the Tavern; as well as the glorious and under-appreciated musical, by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Bright Star.
Most intriguing in the line-up is the return of All for One Theatre Productions, a partnership between Shea's, MusicalFare, Road Less Traveled, Irish Classical, and TOY, which debuted this year with The Three Musketeers. Their choice for this season is Simon Stephens' stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This was a substantial London and Broadway hit in 2015, based on a book by Mark Haddon that has been a favorite with book clubs. It tells the story of young Christopher Boone, who is on the autism spectrum, as he investigates the killing of a neighbor's dog. Admired for its visual elements and its use of stage technology, this script might benefit from the joining forces of the partner theaters. In other words, together, the five theaters might be able to offer a stronger production than any of them could do alone. The script is rather predictable and seemed to run about half an hour more than it needed to in New York. The challenge will be to bring the play down to the human dimension of Shea's 710 while still engaging an audience. The strength of the show is the manner in which it shows us the world through the mind of a boy who sees it very differently. This may be one of those occasions when, if handled cleverly, a show can benefit from a more intimate staging.
At Shea's Smith Theatre, it might seem like theatrical schizophrenia, with highly commercial offerings from O'Connell & Company; and highly ambitious offerings from Second Generation Theatre. Click down further into Shea's website and the arrangement makes sense. This is two separate seasons from two dissimilar theaters. These seasons should neither be marketed together, nor mentioned in the same breath! They are as follows:
From O'Connell & Company:
A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline - Nov 29-Dec 8, 2019
Nunsense, A-Men! -- Jan 24-Feb 2, 2020
Betsy Carmichael's Hawaiian Luau -- Feb 27-Mar 1, 2020
From Second Generation Theatre:
The Toxic Avenger: the musical - Oct 25-Nov 10, 2019
Three Tall Women by Edward Albee - Mar 20-Apr 5, 2020
Cabaret - Jun 12-28, 2020
The O'Connell line-up is heavy with men in drag; Second Generation is the second theater to announce Cabaret in the season, which is intriguing. In any event, every show adds to the expansive mix.