Theater Talk

Theater reviews with Jim Santella and Anthony Chase.

MusicalFare

Audiences love being "in on the joke." Sometimes a character "breaks the fourth wall" and speaks directly to us. Another "meta-theatrical" device is the "play within a play" where actors take on roles as, well, actors putting on a play. A superb example is Sara Ruhl's hilarious STAGE KISS currently at The Shaw Festival's Royal George Theatre. And then there's something else, where the jokes come from the fact that everyone is aware that it's a play but nobody openly acknowledges that. It tickles something fierce in BASKERVILLE, a comedic re-telling of the Sherlock Holmes story, with only five players taking on dozens of roles.

Road Less Traveled Productions

If you think that theological discussions are a bore, wait until you see THE CHRISTIANS where the debate on the question - "Is there a hell?"  - will keep you in your seat. WBFO reporter Jay Moran had a conversation with director Scott Behrend. And actors Dave Hayes as the pastor, Lisa Vitrano as his long suffering wife, Aaron Moss as the young minister, Steve Jakiel as the elder, and Victoria Perez as the congregant with big concerns will get you thinking. For something a little more soap opera/melodramatic try BLACKBERRY DAZE at the Robeson, for zany comedy try the Kavinoky's THE FOREIGNER, and for a swirl of graceful aerial charm, try STELLALUNA at Theatre of Youth.

MusicalFare

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Shea's features the stellar designs of the late, great Maria Bjornson. In between shows many cast members went next door to the Alleyway Theatre for a revue to raise money for the WNED|WBFO Artie Awards' favorite charity, the ECMC HIV/AIDS and Immunodeficiency Services. The Tony Awards nominations are out and there are some surprises. And ONCE, at MusicalFare, blossoms on a smaller stage, just the size for which it was originally intended. Renee Landrigan as "Girl" and Amy Jakiel as "Reza" are outstanding in a very talented cast.

Kavinoky Theatre Facebook page

PHANTOM UNMASKED, a benefit concert and part of the fundraising efforts of the WNED/WBFO Artie Awards to benefit ECMC’s HIV/AIDS Immunodeficiency Services, ($20 donation minimum) featuring cast members from the touring company of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, “singing songs they’re totally not right for from their favorite 1990s Broadway musicals” is up one night only, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at the Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (852-2600).  Tonight's openings are THE CHRISTIANS at Road Less Traveled, THE FOREIGNER at the Kavinoky, and of course PHANTOM at Shea's, while last night it was WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (another Yazbek musical) at UB.

www.uchicago.edu

Polish-American playwright Martyna Majok just won the  2018 Pulitzer for Drama with her COST OF LIVING. She's in excellent company. The past four winners have been: SWEAT, by Lynn Nottage; HAMILTON, by Lin-Manuel Miranda; BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, by Stephen Adly Guirgis; and DISGRACED, by Ayad Akhtar. Gratulacje Martyna!

Subversive Theatre Collective

The Subversive Theatre's tradition of exposing life's inequalities continues with THE FULL MONTY, opening tonight, based on the 1997 movie. It follows six unemployed men, four of them former steel workers, who decide to form a male striptease act that will be better than The Chippendales because they will go "the fully monty" (strip all the way). The Subversive Theatre connection is that it deals with serious subjects such as unemployment, fathers' rights, depression, working class culture, and suicide. But it IS a comedy.

Shea's Performing Arts Center

All three Shea's venues are busy, busy,busy. Andrew Lloyd Webber's new (2017) Broadway musical SCHOOL OF ROCK is on tour at SPAC;  Anthony remembers when Buffalo's Suzy Benzinger was an intern at the old Studio Arena, now Shea's 710, where Buffalo Opera Unlimited is presenting a Bernstein Tribute tonight; and Shea's Smith Theater is the venue for LIT 401: A School Shooting in One Act (a reaction to the Virginia Tech slayings) a play still relevant which opens on Thursday. It turns out there's quite a story behind the fabulous bridal gowns on stage during SIGNIFICANT OTHER (BUA at the Alleyway) and Peter finally got out to Desiderio's Dinner Theatre.

It was a shock to the theater community when we learned of the passing of Michael Lodick, beloved member of the Buffalo theater community, director and designer associated with the New Phoenix, American Repertory and Subversive theaters, who died of an apparent heart attack on Friday at the age of 68. He will be missed. But, "the show must go on" and meanwhile, the Alleyway stage is chock full of talented young people putting on a zany, high energy show called SIGNIFICANT OTHER, wonderfully directed by Chris Kelly. Then another troupe of even younger performers will be at Shea's for Andrew Lloyd Webber's SCHOOL OF ROCK (based on the movie starring Jack Black) which opens on Tuesday.

Anthony had great fun at the red-carpet opening of the Jimmy Buffet musical ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE and some fun (but wanted more laughs) at Ken Ludwig's adaptation of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in Hartford. Also a tip: When in NYC, visit "Feinstein's 54 Below" for performances by Broadway's greats. Back home Peter was impressed by Pulitzer prize winning THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON (lots of testosterone over at the New Phoenix) as well as Theatre of Youth's latest Junie B. Jones adventure, and both Anthony and Peter are looking forward to BUA's production of SIGNIFICANT OTHER with a younger cast, as the script demands, at The Alleyway (opens tonight).

Local theaters large and small are hitting their stride this March, with exquisite productions of dramatic works, including some one acts that begin innocently and then augur down into deep despair, such as DISGRACED at Road Less Traveled and 'NIGHT MOTHER (Brazen-Faced Varlets). Even the musicals have endings that, while we know what's coming, are still tragic, including the wait-listed JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at American Repertory and SPRING AWAKENING at Shea's 710. But no matter where you go, you will be impressed with the productions.

Buffalo Challenger

The Paul Robeson Theatre's 50th anniversary season continues with Mikki Grant’s 1970’s musical revue DON'T BOTHER ME, I CAN'T COPE on stage through March 25, 2018 (note that several shows are already sold out).  It's a particularly fine month for theater in Buffalo with excellent ensemble performances from the Robeson, to the Kavinoky (BEN BUTLER), to the Irish Classical (THE NIGHT ALIVE), to Shea's (Anthony found the touring production of SOMETHING ROTTEN much more engaging than the original Broadway show).

Public Radio WBUR, Boston

S-M-L describes the stages mounting musicals (which take us back in time) discussed on this week's Theater Talk. There's the smallish but always intense Paul Robeson Theatre's DON'T BOTHER ME, I CAN'T COPE, created by Micki Grant in the turbulent early '70s; the medium sized Musicalfare Theatre's SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE with songs from the '50s by Lieber and Stoller, and the large Shea's Performing Arts Center's SOMETHING ROTTEN, about the first musical created in the '90s (the 1590s). 

www.shawfest.com
David Cooper

The three openings this week are BEGINNING AGAIN ("sounds existential") at the Alleyway Theatre, FAR AWAY ("creepy") at Torn Space, and MASTER HAROLD...AND THE BOYS ("a very short run") at Shea's 710 Theatre. And, Anthony reports on stars on and off Broadway: Mark Rylance, Uma Thurman, Blair Brown, Marsha Mason, Donna Murphy, and Buffalo's own Roslyn Ruff.


Joan Marcus

Marital infidelity is central to the plots of the two big theater offerings on Main Street, but the doctor-waitress affair is steamy at Shea's in WAITRESS while the infidelity in THE CONSTANT WIFE at the Irish Classical seems to lack any passion. For a good "family drama" drop in on the four employees at a soon-to-close auto plant as they balance self-interest with concern for their break-room "family" in the very powerful SKELETON CREW at the Paul Robeson Theatre. For more on WAITRESS, listen to a story by WBFO's Eileen Buckley about the character "LuLu" played by two local girls.

While things slowed down considerably over the holidays, the theater community came back with a one-two punch and a number of thought provoking dramas about uncomfortable subjects, many written by and directed by women.

Young Simon's life is way over-scheduled while The Boy at the Edge of Everything is bored. Their lives intersect at Theatre of Youth. And, while the wife may be constant at Irish Classical, her husband is anything but. Coinciding with the #MeToo movement, Paula Vogel's tale of predatory older man/younger woman opens at Subversive Theatre with "How I Learned to Drive", and in the netherworld of VR and avatars, if they're not "real," are heinous crimes and misdemeanors of any consequence?

After directing a fabulous THE PRODUCERS at the Kavinoky, Lynne Kurdziel-Formato brings her talents to MAMMA MIA!, the 1999 juke-box musical set to songs by ABBA, now extended through February 3! Across town, at O'Connell & Company, Victoria Perez has directed AN ACT OF GOD.  And (see listings below) both The Shaw Festival and The Stratford Festival have announced their 2018 seasons.

Gregory Costanzo

As one year closes and another begins, we look back on whom we have "lost" the previous year, but did we really "lose" folks? Truly, their legacy continues to inform us, educate us, and entertain us. 2017 saw the passing of local actor, director, and impresario Tom Dooney, as well as co-founder of the Theatre of Youth, Rosalind Cramer, and one of Buffalo's favorite sons, playwright A.R. "Pete" Gurney.


There are still very good shows to catch, with both A CHRISTMAS CAROLs wrapping up Saturday, December 23; MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM going to Sunday, Christmas Eve, and, at Shea's THE LION KING with all of its swirling movement goes until January 7th in the New Year.


As Buffalo continues to welcome immigrant communities, it needs more theater diversity, but right now we do have two established organizations: the younger Raices Theatre for Puerto Rican and other Latino cultures (currently showing DESDE EL PUENTE: CHRISTMAS EDITION) and the more established Paul Robeson Theatre, Buffalo's oldest continuing theater, part of Buffalo's African American Cultural Center, currently offering MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM through Christmas Eve.


RCM Photography

This week's topics include the A CHARLIES BROWN CHRISTMAS, HELLCAB, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A LIVE RADIO PLAY, and Raices Theatre's DESDE EL PUENTE features 10 short plays with Latino themes, but you don't have to speak Spanish to enjoy this Christmas show.


Road Less Traveled Productions

The Christmas Season continues to provide dozens of  area productions, with several yet to open, from the high art of Mozart' s MAGIC FLUTE to the dark comedy of HELLCAB and three (3!) takes on IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, from the one night only SHOW UP at Nietzsche's, to performances of A CHRISTMAS CAROL at both the Alleyway and the Shaw, right up through "Christmas Eve Eve" (December 23).

New Phoenix Theatre

This week Peter and Anthony talk about the February 24th trip to Toronto to see KING CHARLES III,  the flights of fancy in CINDERELLA, the appeal for children (of all ages) of THE NUTCRACKER, and Anthony reflects on the theatrical career of David Cassidy.

This week Peter and Anthony discuss three plays still up this weekend: THE CRUCIBLE with stellar performances by Adriano Gatto and Aleks Malaise at the Kavinoky Theatre; MINDING FRANKIE, a heartwarming, funny play (but take a tissue, too!) with Kristen Tripp Kelley and Christian Brandjes, and PAINTING CHURCHES at O'Connell & Company with many themes, including "you can't go home again."

Eileen Elibol, WNED|WBFO

The 25th anniversary celebration for Theater Talk at the WNED|WBFO studios was a huge success Monday as hundreds attended to enjoy various stars of local stages perform songs and skits to honor Anthony Chase and his long-time co-host Jim Santella.  Around town, THE CRUCIBLE at the Kavinoky moves beyond the same old (remember reading it in high school?) into powerful "adult" territory and VIOLET perfectly fits the MusicalFare space with a stunning cast.

Eileen Koteras Elibol

Buffalo's theater community turned out Monday night to honor the 25th anniversary of "Theater Talk" on WBFO and the show's co-host from the beginning, Anthony Chase.

WNED|WBFO is celebrating 25 years of Theater Talk and you're invited! Join members of the theater community as we congratulate Anthony Chase on a a quarter century of showcasing Western New York theater. For reservations visit wbfo.org or call 1-800-678-1873. On this program, Peter and Anthony discuss STRAIGHT which is closing this weekend, STUPID * BIRD at A.R.T. and Road Less Traveled's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS.


There are almost too many choices, again! for Buffalo audiences. THE BODYGUARD at Shea's has excellent singing and dancing, but for an intimate two-hander, VISITING MR. GREEN at Jewish Rep has Saul Elkin back on stage with a very warm, human presence.

Toronto born Deborah Cox has a voice and personality big enough to fill Shea's Performing Arts Center, which you can enjoy starting next Tuesday in THE BODYGUARD. Meanwhile, over at the very tiny (18 seat?) Rust Belt Books performing space, three women with personality - Jeni Arroyo, Caroline Parzy-Sanders, and Stefanie Warnick - present a different view of Shakespeare's play OTHELLO.

BUA

In Shakespeare's OTHELLO Desdemona is the frail victim of false accusation, but Pulitzer Prize winning Paula Vogel puts her in charge, sleeping with the Othello's entire encampment, in DESDEMONA: A Play About a Handkerchief which Brazen Faced Varlets opened at Rust Belt Books.

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