Peter Hall

Theater Talk co-host

After the holidays, the theater scene takes a moment to get back in gear, but this weekend, BANG!, we're back and running with seven, count 'em, seven openings. We have a play with incidental music (AMADEUS), an operetta ("PIRATES"), and an actual modern musical (42nd STREET). We have a scary play, familiar because of the Hitchcock movie, (DIAL M FOR MURDER) and scary play familiar because of many, many movies (FRANKENSTEIN), as well as a not-so-familiar drama about a family's coming apart (MARIELA IN THE DESERT). And we have a play about something that scares us all.... getting older, less vital, and more marginalized, with STEVE, presented as part of the Buffalo United Artist's 25th anniversary year. For a conversation between Theater Talk's Peter Hall and Irish Classical's Vincent O'Neill and Fortunato Pezzimenti, click here.

In FRANKENSTEIN, on stage from January 20th through February 12th Director David Oliver has adapted Mary Shelley's classic gothic novel to the turn of the twentieth century, where the conflicts of "child vs. parent", "God vs Man", and "man vs. machine" take on new meaning. Meanwhile, over at the Kavinoky the unnamed "Pilot" in GROUNDED, staring at a computer screen, starts to blur the boundaries of "woman vs. machine" as modern drone warfare has its affect on her psyche.

Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News

The Kavinoky Theatre is the first out of the gate for 2017 with an opening tonight, an intense 90-minute one woman play written by George Brant, GROUNDED, directed by Kristen Tripp Kelley, starring Aleks Malejs [say "malaise"] as an Air Force jet fighter pilot who is grounded due to pregnancy and spends her days in a windowless trailer piloting drones. And the Kavinoky has announced the opening of their 2017-2018 season with THE PRODUCERS starring Brian Myslivy and Norm Sham (as Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock, characters brought to the big screen by Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane).

African American playwright August Wilson wrote a series of 10 plays, one for each decade of the 20th century, and finally one of them has become a major motion picture, schedule for wide release on December 25.

If it's on stage this week, it's a holiday show, for sure, but some are better than others.

Moving from the East Side (the African American Cultural Center) to the West Side of Main Street (at Shea's 710 Main Theatre) the Paul Robeson Theatre opened CHRISTMAS IS COMIN' UPTOWN, a musical based on "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Scrooge is now a Harlem slumlord about to foreclose an apartment house, a recreation center and a church when his late partner and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future take him on their rounds. There's one addition to the classic tale-- a rousing gospel number in a baptist church.

It turns out that magic and the supernatural, not to mention dark themes, often the basis for children's stories, inform a number of holiday offerings on our stages.


This week Peter and Anthony discuss a recent social media flap over HAMILTON, the uses of theater as a political weapon, the opening of BUFFALO PINOCCHIO set in a dystopian Buffalo of the future at the New Phoenix Theatre, two runs of the ballet THE NUTCRACKER, this weekend at Shea's Performing Arts Center (Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.) and next weekend at UB Center for the Arts, and, for Shakespeare fans (sort of) A MIDSUMMER DYKE'S CHRISTMAS (in celebration of the 400 years since Shakespeare and the 10th anniversary of the lesbian troupe Brazen-Faced Varlets) has all sorts of funny references.

Superb performances make for a "must see" at MusicalFare (TENDERLY up through December 4), HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM at ART, 330 Amherst Street, closing this Saturday night, and TRUE WEST with  outstanding performances by David Mitchell and Matt Witten (at Road Less Traveled, 500 Pearl, but only thorough Sunday at 2 p.m.).

Kelly Meg Brennan holds the eerily lit venue at 44 17th Street in Buffalo for 80 ripping minutes as she portrays over 20 characters in a one-woman monologue portraying the last night of Jack the Ripper's final victim, Mary Jane Kelly. Speaking to an unseen person (Jack, himself?) she describes her life and the circumstances that brought her to her present situation, an "unfortunate" as the Victoria press called sex workers. It's not about Jack, though. It's about Mary and Ms. Brennan has the audience wrapped around her little finger in wrapt attention. If they don't extend the run, it will close on Saturday.  Meanwhile, on Main Street three first rate productions keep audiences in their seats.  MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION takes on the topic of sex workers and presents various ethical points of view at Shea's 710 Theatre,  EQUUS presents repressed sexuality at Irish Classical, and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS beautifully weaves the music of George Gershwin through the Broadway musical with stunning sets at Shea's. And, for an evening of nostalgia with a few surprises, treat yourself to Debbie Pappas's beautiful voice in TENDERLY: THE ROSEMARY CLOONEY MUSICAL.

This last week 4000 MILES opened at Jewish Rep, the first of three Amy Herzog plays, in a delightful production, but strong productions abound at WNY theaters, including EQUUS at Irish Classical with a very, very strong supporting cast (e.g. Vincent O'Neill, Greg Gjurich, Wendy Hall) surrounding PJ Tighe as the troubled young man Alan Strang, and TRUE WEST at Road Less Traveled pits David Mitchell and Matt Witten as two brothers in a love/hate relationship. All the above deal with adult subjects, but even darker, perhaps, are THE UNFORTUNATES about Jack the Ripper's victims at Red Thread Theatre (on 17th Street) and HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM  which is, actually, a comedy presented by ART of WNY at 330 Amherst Street.

Shaw Festival

It's another big week for openings in Western New York. The Jewish Repertory Theatre opened 4,000 MILES by Amy Herzog (whose plays will be featured all this season). Tonight's openings include TRUE WEST by Sam Shepard at Road Less Traveled Productions (500 Pearl Street) and EQUUS by Peter Shaffer at the Irish Classical Theatre. Next week, the Shaw sends down MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION for a run at Shea's 710 Main Theatre. Anthony recalls speaking with Nicole Underhay who plays Mrs. Kitty Warren.

This week's Theater Talk conversation starts with GIVE 'EM HELL, HARRY (originated by Buffalo's own James Whitmore) these days starring David Lundy at the New Phoenix Theatre, but only through October 29. Meanwhile, CHRISTMAS IN JULY at the Alleyway concerns a group of gay men who meet at a summer resort and become fast friends. The playwright, Matthew Crehan Higgins, is director of Buffalo's Pride Center, and the cast is all gay, but interestingly, the director is not, it's Lisa Ludwig, and Anthony has some thoughts on why that is. And there's also a story or two about Sophie Tucker, the last of the "red hot mamas" whose career is, basically, a history of 20th century entertainment, from an Edison wax cylinder through vaudeville to television.

FINDING NEVERLAND's national touring opening at Shea's was a long time coming, starting back in the 1990s when outgoing President of Shea's, Anthony Conte, and producer Albert Nocciolino, raised the money to build a backstage large enough to handle touring Broadway shows. Another piece of the puzzle was getting state tax relief for producers willing to technically rehearse their shows in NY State. Then, it helped that the producer of FINDING NEVERLAND (based on a Miramax film) was UB graduate Harvey Weinstein. Add in award winning director Diane Paulus who has a wonderful, creative and critical eye for spectacle, and pretty soon you've got magic, fairy dust, and all. It's a very good night at the theater.

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Michael Murphy, formerly of the prestigious the Old Globe in San Diego picked up the reins this week from Tony Conte who left the organization in great financial shape and with three viable venues - Shea's PAC, the Smith theatre, and Shea's 710 Main.

photo courtesy of Jim Bush

Red Thread Theatre's presentation of Robert Waterhouse's LOUISIANA BACCHAE, based on the Euripides play, sets the Greek classic in the mysterious bayou backwaters, the land of gris gris and voodoo with a very sensual depiction of Dionysus (played by Greg Howze) and his Bacchae cult.

Richard Lambert

What is a dramatic comedy? Well, it's a drama that tackles serious issues, but has a healthy dose of laughs to keep things moving along. LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART deals with social isolation, suicide, and AIDS, but, there ARE laughs, in a fine production with a stunning set by 2016 Artie Award winning Paul Bostaph. Meanwhile, Ujima Theatre and Buffalo United Artists collaborate on a story of a white playwright pretending to be black in THE SUBMISSION. And the Irish Classical Theatre presents Tennessee Williams' SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, about a gigolo/drifter in the company of a faded movie star attempting to win back the love of his youth. DEAR LYDIA, at the Alleyway, a new play about a house-bound advice columnist, is also mentioned this week.

Mary Kate O’Connell, a vivid presence in the Buffalo theater scene with a magnetic stage presence and a luscious soprano voice, has long been known as Western New York’s First Lady of Musical Theater. The guiding force behind O’Connell & Company, Mary Kate, accompanied by Rosy, her ever-present little dog, will be honored this Friday evening, September 16, with a star in the "Plaza of the Stars."

Photography by David Hou.

At the Stratford Festival in Ontario, THE HYPOCHONDDRIAC,  based on THE IMAGINARY INVALID by Molière, is a new version of that classic by Richard Bean with lots of gags and a bit of history, too, as Argon is being played by "Moliere" himself.

Photography by David Hou.

Antoni Cimolino's direction of Shakespeare's MACBETH at the Stratford Festival has been so well received that it's been extended to November 5.

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The Stratford Festival is in full swing and, like The Shaw Festival, continues well into the early fall. Ibsen's play JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN was a highlight of a recent visit. Occasionally Theater Talk mentions particularly fine acting moments in the movies, and FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS has several, and not all by Meryl Streep! Locally, Buffalo hosted a prestigious theater critic, Bonnie Marranca, at Hallwalls, and you can hear about that as well.

By coincidence, two regional theater companies have presented Shakespeare's THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, at the same time, and both close this weekend. Chautauqua wraps up their "gender bender" take (the shrew is a guy) tonight. Shakespeare in Delaware Park concludes Sunday evening with their "pirate" themed version.  Meanwhile, check out Torn Space Theater for some pushing-the-boundaries performance art this weekend (see below for details).

Michael Murphy of the highly regarded Old Globe Theatre in San Diego has been chosen as successor to Anthony Conte, president of Shea's Performing Arts Center (and the Smith Theatre and Shea's 710 Main). 

Up at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, the delish serving of revenge in meat pies that is Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET was fulfilling to a bit-too-ecstatic opening night crowd. Meanwhile, Chicago's Goodman Theatre is trying out WAR PAINT, a new musical starring Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole as cosmetics titans Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden. The back and forth sparring will get tightened up, says Anthony, and in the meantime the music is Broadway worthy.

MASTER HAROLD AND THE BOYS packs a lot of drama into 90 minutes at the Shaw Festival's Courthouse Theatre in a play, set in the 1950s, that looks at many issues, including apartheid.  Classically trained but a "behind the scenes" Hollywood star, Marni Nixon, who sang for stars who couldn't, passed away this week. And the Buffalo Infringement Festival 2016 has too many offerings to list, so you'd be wise to visit the website.

This week we have three openings to celebrate! Tonight, it's THE PROFANE, a play by Zayd Dohrn, presented by Chautauqua Theater Company, directed by Vivienne Benesch.

This Tuesday, Shakespeare in Delaware Park uses their "down time" between shows (The Winter's Tale ends Sunday night, July 17 and The Taming of the Shrew opens on July 28) to "put on a show" with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

If you want to see strong women on stage, this is the time. Michele Marie Roberts stars in Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber's EVITA now at MusicalFare Theatre in Amherst through August 7. Across town, Lisa Vitrano takes charge as Paulina who speaks truth to power in THE WINTER'S TALE at Shakespeare in Delaware Park (through July 17).

If you like the expression "Winter is coming" then you'll want to know that in Shakespeare in Delaware Park's THE WINTER'S TALE (now through July 17) there are at least two deaths, although both off stage. Death by grief and death by bear.

THE WINTER'S TALE by Shakespeare, a late comedy/romance is sometimes called one of the "problem plays" because Act I is so dramatic and sad while Act II is miraculous and uplifting. It opened last night at Shakespeare in Delaware Park. And you have only three days to catch DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS with an all star cast who bring their "A game" and oodles of energy to the Lancaster Opera House. Lots of fun.

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