• Anthony Chase

WE’RE BACK

Buffalo's theaters reawaken

While the return of live theater has, at times, been tentative and halting, there is no denying that Buffalo’s theater scene has gotten very busy. There’s a lot happening!


It is most heartening to see the return of curtailed or postponed shows: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." "Hand to God" at Road Less Traveled. Jim Marzo's "Something Wicked" at ART.


Here's a quick riff on some of what's been going on.


TRIBUTE

Desiderio’s Dinner Theatre was first out of the gate, using their status as a “restaurant with theater,” rather than being a “theater with food,” they were able to use the restaurant protocols for covid, which are far more relaxed than the protocols for theater. Jay Desiderio quickly returned to his audience’s comfort zone, first with Neil Simon’s “God’s Favorite,” starring Jimmy Janowski and David Marcinak, followed by Bernard Slade’s “Tribute,” starring Greg Gjurich. Lisa Hinca played long suffering wives in both.


“Tribute” was a 1978 Broadway vehicle for movie star Jack Lemmon, who also appeared in the 1980 film, getting a Tony nomination for one, and an Oscar nomination for the other. That’s the role Gjurich plays. Hinca plays a role created by Rosemary Prinz. Zachery Gammel plays the son, employing eye-glasses in a failed effort to make himself less cute. Lisa Ludwig plays Gjurich’s physician (Tresa Hughes on Broadway; Colleen Dewhurst on film). Robert Insana and Marie Costa play devoted friends of the main character. Jennifer Toomey Starr continues a family dinner-theater tradition as Sally Haines, a character created by Catherine Hicks. Starr is the daughter of actor Sue Toomey and granddaughter of dinner theater legend Dolores Mendolia.


Darryl Semira and Gabriella McKinley in "Camelot"

The cast of "Honky Tonk to Protest"

CAMELOT and HONKY TONK TO PROTEST

Innovation and response to the times characterized the first two musicals of the season. MusicalFare reflected the new urgency to embrace diversity with a new and playful look at Lerner and Loewe’s classic, “Camelot” with a tropical setting and orchestration, and a racially diverse cast. Darryl Semira was Arthur; Gabriella McKinley as Guinevere, and Alejandro Gomez was Lancelot. Carlos Jones and Victoria Perez provide quick-witted direction with inventive musical direction by Theresa Quinn.


Meanwhile, the Kavinoky took a fresh look at country music from the perspective of women, directed by Lynne Kurdziel Formato, and following executive artistic director Loraine O’Donnell’s personal journey. The evening was propelled by the talent of first-rate country singers: Dee Adams and Kathryn Koch, along with theater folk Renee Landrigan, Annette Daniels Taylor, and O’Donnell herself. The production, which made use of dancers in pre-recorded video, was devised with the thought that covid restrictions might fluctuate.


SPEED OF DARK

Mark Humphey’s play, “Speed of Dark” thoughtfully examined ways to confront racism in an American Repertory Theatre of WNY production at TheatreLoft. Hugh Davis, Monish Bhattacharyya, Vincenzo McNeill, and Quentin Gray played four men who miscalculate the time, and find themselves hiding in a building after dark in a “Sundown Town,” where there is a special curfew and hell to pay for people of color.


ALL THRU THE NIGHT

Brazen Faced Varlets hit its stride with “All Thru the Night” by Shirley Lauro. Directed by Lara Haberberger, this brave feminist troupe took on the holocaust, in a show that was alternately horrifying and darkly comical. Kaeli McGinnis played a cheerful gentile woman with a front row seat to the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany. This evening, she seeks to recount and to make sense of this bit of history. Also employing the talents of Sarah Emmerling, Jessie Miller, Kathleen Rooney, and Stefanie Warnick, the show drew clear parallels to recent events in the United States and asked the obvious but disturbing question, “Where did all the Nazis go?” as we see those who perpetuated atrocities disappear into a fabric of lies and self-delusion.

a scene from "American Son"

AMERICAN SON

Ujima Company delivered a powerful production of Christopher Demos-Brown’s play, “American Son,” directed by Aaron Mays. Set late one night in a Miami-Dade County Florida police station, we watched as a mixed-race couple try to cope with the disappearance of their 18-year old son. Tanika Holmes played Kendra, the mother. Christopher Guilmet played Scott, the father, in the newly named Lorna C. Hill Theater. Mike Benoit played a rookie cop. Tuhran Gethers played a season veteran of the force.


SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD

First presented as on online experience in June, Second Generation brings Jason Robert Brown's song cycle to the stage at Shea's Smith Theatre, directed by Amy Jakiel. "Fueled by a small, yet powerful cast led by Michele Marie Roberts, Brian Brown, Steve Copps, and Genevieve Ellis replacing Cecelia Snow, who had appeared in the online version. "Songs for a New World transports us throughout the last century with effortless ease and nothing but music to guide us. Full of stories that examine life, love, and the timelessness of self-discovery, this production is a joyful celebration of the stories we weave." Videography by Chris Cavanagh is notable.


A CHORUS LINE

O’Connell & Company dispelled any doubt that they could deliver a large book-musical with an exuberant production of “A Chorus Line” that plays through this weekend. Using a cast of mixed ages, varied body-types, and dancing ability, director Dewayne Barrett was able to draw the characters out of each person. Among the new faces to watch in this large cast, was Anna Fernandez who played Diana. Cami Clune, a finalist on “The Voice,” played Val. Donald Jenczka was the music director. The precision dancing was impressive.


Kristen Tripp Kelley as Rosalind Franklin

PHOTOGRAPH 51

Jewish Rep provides entertainment for grownups with their engaging production of “Photograph 51” by Anna Ziegle. Kristin Tripp Kelley plays Rosalind Franklin, the scientist whose photography led to the discover the structure of DNA, but whose contribution was ignored by the men who published. Directed by Katie Mallinson, the show also features Jacob Albarella, John Profeta, and Adam Yellen as the odious men in her life, Ray Boucher as the nice one, and Dan Torres as her well-intentioned lab assistant. The show continues through November 14.


This weekend sees the opening of four shows:


CURIOUS INCIDENT

All for One finally gets to open “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” at Shea’s 710. The play is by Simon Stephens based on the novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. This is the second collaboration of MusicalFare Theatre, the Irish Classical Theatre Company, Theatre of Youth, Road Less Traveled Productions, and Shea’s Performing Arts Center. “Fifteen-year-old Christopher has an extraordinary brain; he is exceptionally intelligent but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. When he falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog, he sets out to identify the true culprit.” David Oliver directs, Anthony Alcocer, Wendy Hall, Jake Hayes, Candice Kogut, Sara Kow Falcone, Pamela Rose Mangus, Dave Marciniak, and Ben Moran.


LOOPED

Julie Kittsley takes on the persona of Broadway and Hollywood legend Tallulah Bankhead in this play by Matthew Lombardo at the New Phoenix Theatre. Tallulah is in the recording studio to re-record a single line from her last film, "Die, Die, My Darling." Of course, Tallulah, arriving late and inebriated, this simple task takes eight hours and involves a battle of will between herself and her director. It's based on a real life event. The show also features James Cichocki and Elliott Fox. Richard Lambert directs.


SOMETHING WICKED

ART is finally able to present "Something Wicked" by Buffalo’s James Marzo, which was originally scheduled for last season. “The year 1825 was a momentous one for Buffalo, New York. The Erie Canal opened, connecting Lake Erie to the Hudson River, a celebration honoring the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution was held in Buffalo, and the city held its first and only public hanging. At least 20,000 witnesses gathered in Niagara Square to watch three brothers-Nelson, Israel, and Isaac Thayer-hang from the same gallows.”


That’s the background. “Through his weaving of tight dialogue and dark humor, Marzo crafts a loose history of this macabre story how the Thayer brothers hatched a nefarious plan to murder money lender John Love in a desperate move to eliminate debt and avoid prison.”

Suzanne Hibbard portrays the narrator. Justin Pope, Charles McGregor, and Joshua Leary play the Thayer brothers. Other cast members include John F Kennedy, David Wysocki, and Michael Breen. Matthew LaChiusa directs with music direction by Len Mendez. Through November 20th.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK

The Kavinoky brings us “The Woman in Black,” adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from Susan Hill’s acclaimed ghost story.

“One of the longest running plays on London’s West End, this chilling gothic ghost story has terrified audiences since its first performance in 1989. Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor, is sent to a small English town to attend the funeral of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow, where he sees a young woman with a wasted face, dressed all in black, standing in the churchyard. He ultimately discovers the dreadful secret of the Woman in Black – to his own terrible cost.

David Lundy plays “Arthur Kipps.” Peter Horn is “the Actor.” Kyle LoConti directs.


REMNANTS

Theatrical, if not theater, Torn Space is presenting “Remnants,” an immersive installation experience, combining sound, light, film, virtual reality, and sculpture, exploring the original mythology of Torn Space, through November 13th.


THE 30TH ANNUAL ARTIE AWARDS

And finally, for those in the mood to celebrate it all, the 30th Annual Artie Awards will finally take place, this Monday November 1, 2021 at D'Youville's Kavinoky Theatre. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m. Proof of vaccination, or negative covid test required. Patrons must wear masks in the building, except when drinking, eating, or appearing on stage. Tickets are still available at https://www.wned.org/community/screenings-and-events/artie-awards/ for $25 plus fees. Tickets to stream the event remotely are also available for $10.


Neal Radice, founder of Alleyway Theatre, who will be honored with the Career Achievement Award at the 30th Annual Artie Awards