Reviews by Anthony Chase
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is a perennial object of fascination and consternation. The story of a corrupt leader who condemns a man to death and offers to spare his life in exchange for his sister’s virginity is not funny in any way. Nonetheless, Shakespeare carries us through all the tropes of comedy, including disguise and multiple marriages in the final moments. How do we interpret this?
For the current Shakespeare in Delaware Park production, director Virginia Monte has elected to lean into the comedy full throttle. More than that, she buoys the night aloft with music, provided by the skillful hand and ear of Philip Farugia. The result is a delightful and even thoughtful concoction, in which Isabella, the beleaguered convent girl in question, claims more agency than I have seen before as she navigates a world of self-serving and sometimes evil men.
The sleaziest, but certainly not the most evil of these jokers is Lucio, played with wickedly delicious enthusiasm by Omen Thomas Sade. A secondary character, Lucio is given a central role in this production as narrator, including major musical numbers. The text supports this decision, and Monte amplifies the choice by highlighting the antics between Lucio and Mistress Overdone, the bawd, played with unstoppable full Ethel Merman force by Buffalo’s First Lady of Cabaret entertainment, Kerrykate Abel. (On the opening night, her microphone failed. It didn’t inhibit her at all. In fact, I suspect she removed the battery herself). Sade keeps pace and offers many of the evening’s highlights.
Gretchen Didio plays Isabella and is innocent without being naïve and gentle without being a pushover. The final scene of the play always creates a dilemma for the actor playing this role. After putting her through horrible agony, the duke proposes marriage to her. Then Shakespeare gives her exactly nothing to say. Didio’s response is brilliantly satisfying.
In addition to its focus on entertainment value, among the virtues of the production is the clarity of its brisk storytelling. There is a lot going on here, and this is not the most familiar of Shakespeare’s plays for many people. Fear not. We are in steady and capable hands.
Daniel Lendzian gives a fine performance as the Duke who goes into disguise.
Luke Brewer is splendid as reprehensible Angelo, who tries to broker the despicable bargain with Isabela.
James Anthony Caposito is affecting as Isabela’s poor abused brother, Claudio.
A certain sameness among the men is mitigated by the casting of Lisa Ludwig as Escalus, giving the role contrast and distinction. She brings distinct dignity to the character, and interestingly provides a second grownup female voice to the story. (The men are all children).
Lucas Colon, in his farewell performance in Buffalo before departing for NYC is impressively and playfully entertaining as Mistress Overdone’s perpetually compromised bartender, Pompey.
Solange Gosselin distinguishes herself, particularly in her musical numbers, as Mariana, the woman deployed in the comic device of the old bed-switch.
It’s a wonderfully enjoyable evening and a great opportunity to add a less familiar Shakespeare play to your repertoire. Romeo and Juliet is up next!
MEASURE FOR MEASURE by William Shakespeare, presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park, directed by Virginia Monte, starring Daniel Lendzian, Gretchen Didio, Luke Brewer, Lisa Ludwig. Through Jul 16, Tue-Sun at 7:15. Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park (856-4533). www.shakespeareindelawarepark.org
For years, half the theaters in town have been applying for permission to produce Chicago, Broadway’s longest-running American musical. Apparently, O’Connell & Company was the most relentless in that pursuit. Their tenacity was rewarded this year when they were given the go-ahead for eight performances. They tried for ten. No way. Concord Theatricals is keeping a tight grasp on this hot property.
Chicago tells the Jazz-age story of Roxie Hart, a bored housewife and chorine who kills her lover and works to leverage the scandal into a vaudeville career. In prison, she meets murderess Velma Kelly, Matron Mama Morton, and criminal defense attorney Billy Flynn.
O’Connell & Company was not about to miss this opportunity. Reportedly, calls went out in the night to bring in their A-team: Nicole Cimato as Roxie; Aimée Walker as Velma; Mary Coppola Gjurich as Mama Morton; and Dan Urtz as Amos. Gregory Gjurich was brought in as an 11th hour replacement to play crooked lawyer Billy Flynn.
Under the direction of Joey Bucheker, the project was worth the effort. The performances are energetic and fully committed. The recreations of and the variations on Bob Fosse’s choreography are spirited and precise. This is a first-rate and enthusiastic production of a well-loved show.
Images of Roxie and Velma, created by Gwen Verdon and Chita Rivera, are iconic, and recreating them is unforgiving. I am glad to report that Cimato and Walker are heavenly in the roles. Walker has had an especially rich run with O’Connell & Company, where she has also played Lola in Damn Yankees (originally played by Gwen Verdon), Cassie in A Chorus Line (originally played by Donna McKechnie), and Angel in The Rink (originally played by Liza Minnelli). She adds to her roster of impressive triple-threat performances here. Cimato walks Roxie’s fine line between innocent and sociopath with great skill.
Gregory Gjurich plays the Billy Flynn role with confidence, nailing every show business gesture with perfection. Mary Coppola Gjurich is hilariously appealing as butch and self-serving Mama. D. Pieffer is actually terrific as soprano journalist Mary Sunshine. Dan Urtz is adorably vulnerable as Roxie’s devoted loser of a husband, Amos. Bryan Sharry capably takes on narrator responsibilities as murder-victim Fred Casley. A talented and hardworking chorus populates Chicago: Vinny Murphy as Sgt. Forgarty and others, including the entire jury; Lizzie Arnold; Ella Kroening; Alyssa Bischel; Alexandra Grace Nowak as the innocent Hungarian; Ashleigh Chrisena Ricci; Jessie Miller; David P. Eve; Jack Catena; Johnny Kiener; David P. Eve; Johnny Kiener; and Timmy Goodman.
Director / choregrapher Bucheker draws on his great knowledge of the Broadway lexicon and evokes the style of Chicago most effectively. If not for the limitations of licensing, this production, which is selling out night after night, could probably have played all summer.
CHICAGO, musical by Kander & Ebb presented by O’Connell & Company, directed by Joey Bucheker, starring Nicole Cimato, Aimee Walker, Gregory Gjurich, Dan Urtz, Mary Gjurich. Jul 7-16. Jul 7 at 7:30, Jul 8 at 3 & 7:30, Jul 13, 14, 15 at 7:30. Jul 16 at 3 & 7:30. O’Connell & Company Theater, 4110 Bailey Ave., Amherst (848-0800). www.oconnellandcompany.com
Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night famously begins with self-absorbed Orsino’s exclamation, “If music be the food of love, play on!” In the incarnation of the timeless tale, now at MusicalFare, conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, with music and lyrics by Taub, Twelfth Night literally becomes a musical. On top of that, Shakespearean cross-dressing has never seemed more contemporary.
The Twelfth Night story was always slim, and the comedy was always devoid of subtlety, which means this musical concoction, first produced at New York City’s Shakespeare in the Park in 2018, can add music and a whole lot of tomfoolery, and still stay quite close to Shakespeare.
This is a story of mistaken identities. When a twin brother and sister, Sebastian and Viola, are separated by a shipwreck and find themselves wandering as strangers in Illyria, Viola dresses in the clothes of her brother and learns how much her identity and her options in life are defined by being a woman. Masquerading as “Cesario,” she will meet and fall in love with Orsino; she will also meet grieving Olivia, who, thinking Viola is a man will fall in love with him. In a subplot, Sir Toby Belch and Maria will set out to humiliate Olivia’s uptight and imperious servant, Malvolio.
This production, under the direction of Susan Drozd, is fast-paced, animated, and joyful.
Maria Pedro serves as the master of ceremonies. She sings, plays the accordion, tells lame jokes, and keeps the action moving with appealingly insouciance.
At the heart of the show, of course, is Viola, here played by the perennially charismatic Gabriella Jean McKinley who has had a year of gender-bending, taking on Viola in the same year in which she was Artie-nominated for playing Toni Stone -- a Negro League baseball player, who was the first woman to play as a regular on an American major-level professional baseball team. McKinley expertly navigates Viola’s perplexing journey through Illyria, romance, and gender identity, singing well, and clowning brilliantly.
It is partly a tribute to McKinley, but mostly a credit to Alex Anthony Garcia, the actor to plays romantically clueless Orsino, that we find the frustratingly obstinate man so appealing. Orsino is in love with and determined to marry Olivia. She is a wealthy countess who is grieving for the brother she has lost, and who could not be clearer in her insistence that Orsino does not interest her at all. Garcia, who has been playing a succession of increasingly prominent roles on Buffalo’s stages lately, imbues the man with a kind of innocent charm. His obstinance becomes a kind of sweet boyishness, and we can easily see the pleasant fellow he might become once he forgets Olivia and sees Viola. It should be mentioned that Garcia, who is handsome, has a strong singing voice, and a graceful stage presence, has been excellent in every role he has played this year from Once on this Island to Alley of the Dolls to Sondheim on Sondheim. He is delightful here.
It is easy to forget, within the Shakespeare cannon, what a marvelous role Olivia is. Happily, Stevie Jackson is here to remind us. She gives a bravura performance as the alternately exasperated beloved of Orsino and ardent lover of Cesario. Her sneers and sideways glances are hilarious perfection. Her giddy joy is irresistible. She scores one of the biggest laughs of the evening with a simple shrug to Orsino. This is a performance to be savored.
In the happy mix of playful antics, Louis Colaiacovo is a consistently droll and engaging addition as Malvolio. Lissette DeJesus is winning and captivating as Maria, Olivia’s mischievous servant. Nicholas Lama gives a hilariously contemporary vibe to drunken and incorrigible Sir Toby. They have wonderful chemistry together.
Augustus Donaldson cuts a stalwart and appropriately manly figure as Olivia’s twin brother, Sebastian. His continuous escapades into the unwitting world of mistaken identity are augmented by the zealous support of his overly devoted servant, played by Christian Hines.
A talented crew of actors fills out the world of Twelfth Night. A single child fills in for the two youth choruses that populated the original New York City production. Young Christopher Houston acquits himself admirably with a most professional performance.
Thomas Evans, Kristen-Marie Lopez, Ricky Needham, Dave Spychalski, Ember Tate, and Daniel Torres are all fabulous, singing, clowning, and generally making merry. The creative team, in addition to director Drozd, includes impeccable music direction by Theresa Quinn, and jubilant choreography by Carlos R.A. Jones. A handsome and versatile set is by Chris Cavanagh, and costumes are by Kari Drozd. At the evening’s end, we are sent off into the night on a cloud of music and love.
TWELFTH NIGHT, musical conceived by Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub, music and lyrics by Taub, directed by Susan Drozd, starring Louis Colaiacovo, Lissette DeJesus, Thomas Evans, Alex Anthony Garcia, Christian Hines, Cordell Hopkins, Christopher Houston, Stevie Jackson, Nicholas Lama, Kristen-Marie Lopez, Gabriella Jean McKinley, Ricky Needham, Maria Pedro, Dave Spychalski, Ember Tate, Daniel Torres. Jul 5-Aug 6, Wed & Thu at 7, Fri at 7:30, Sat at 3:30 & 7:30, Sun at 2. MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main St., Amherst (839-8540). www.musicalfare.com