Jamestown Gals Delights Full House at MusicalFare

Jamestown Gals, a playful revue of the careers of Lucille Ball and Peggy Lee is the latest creative effort from veteran choreographer Michael Walline. The show is now playing at MusicalFare at Daemen College in Amherst.

Kathy Weese and Kelly Jakiel played Lucille Ball in her various incarnations while Terrie George and Arin Lee Dandes appeared as Peggy Lee. John Fredo and Marc Sacco played Desi Arnaz and most any other male roles called for.

Walline cast the actors as the “essence” of Ball and Lee, his goal being to capture the spirit of the performers without impersonating them exactly.

“By the Waters of the Minnetonka” will delight fans of “I Love Lucy”. It’s the familiar shtick of Lucy trying to weasel her way into Ricky’s act at the club. Fredo, as Ricky, manages to capture Ricky Ricardo’s accent and attitude without being campy.

Those only familiar with Lucille Ball’s comedy may be surprised by her musical background. Jamestown Gals features songs from her starring role in the movie version of Mame and her Broadway performance in Wildcat.

Peggy Lee received an Oscar nomination for “Bye Bye Blackbird” from Pete Kelly’s Blues and won a Grammy for “Is That All There Is?”

Walline’s father, who served as the catalyst for this musical once mused to Michael that these two talents were both from Jamestown- Lee was from Jamestown, ND and Ball from Jamestown, NY.

With his father’s inspiration, Walline studied the musical histories of the two legends and put together this revue.

Walline said that he “tried to be true to the original choreography” which runs the gamut from samba to cha-cha to waltz.

The performers were accompanied by a five-piece band led by saxophonist Jim Runfola under the musical direction of Allan Paglia.

The costuming was a collaborative effort, according to Walline, with Loraine O’Donnell and Olivia Ebsary. “I tried to give them a silhouette and a color (red for Ball, yellow for Lee) and trust Loraine creatively”. Each female character had five dresses; each male had two tuxes and six vests, Walline said.

“It was really hard to let go after living with it for a year,” Walline said. His biggest challenge was “staying true to my dad’s vision while still making original entertainment.”

The closing of act one is priceless. It seems that it can’t get any funnier that the duets “Friendship,” “Sisters,” and “Bosom Buddies,” but “I’m a Woman” is worth the price of admission on its own.

The show continues through December 7. Performances are staged Wednesday through Sunday with “meet the cast” talkbacks after Wednesday performances. Tickets are available at www.musicalfare.com or a by calling the box office at 716-839-8540

Originally appeared in buffalo.com

Love Triangles Span a Century at RLTP

Jon Elston’s Elliptical, the highlight of Scott Behrend’s concept production, Triangles, is now playing at the Road Less Traveled Theater in Buffalo’s theatre district.

Elliptical is a fast-paced journey thorough the lives of three twenty-something friends who began their relationship in high school.

The dynamic, ever-reconfiguring friendship between Ches (Todd Benzin), Michelle (Bonnie Jean Taylor) and Camille (Kelly Meg Brennan) begins during high school drama club. Here the awkward Ches has finally found his home away from the jocks and popular kids. Lifelong friends Michelle and Camille compete for roles and boys, with Camille the usual victor.

The relationship takes unexpected twists and turns over the years that are alternatively intriguing, funny and cringe-worthy.

Triangle opens with the haunting guitar chords of Buffalo’s local musician, Alan Kryszak from behind the dark scrim. The actors enter through three triangular openings recite a series of monologues that tie the trilogy together. This triangle theme is repeated throughout the show.

The first one act play is The Stronger by August Strindberg set in the late nineteenth century. Lisa Virtanen plays Madame X, who alternately harangues and cajoles Madame Y (Kristen Tripp-Kelley) who remains stubbornly silent. Madame Y boasts about winning her husband away from X, but who has struck a better bargain?

Emanuel Fried’s Triangle follows, a fifties era piece with Tripp-Kelley as Mary Ann, the other woman, and Vitrano as Jackie, the long-suffering wife. Mary Ann tries to convince the wife she should give over her husband and return to New York. Like Tripp-Kelley in the previous sketch, Vitrano frequently says more with stony glares and rolling eyes than her pacing co-star does with rambling monologues.

In both plays the third character is the conspicuously absent husband.

Jon Elston’s contemporary Elliptical closes the trilogy.

The grouping of the three plays was the brainchild of Director, Scott Behrend. According to Elston, “Scott gets the credit for conceiving of the trilogy. Manny wrote Triangle as a response to The Stronger, and Scott suggested a third, modern piece to give the evening its third angle.”

The show continues through December 7th. See www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org or call (716) 683-1260 for more information.

Originally appeared in buffalo.com

Old School Punkers Rock The Town Ballroom

NOFX fans packed The Town Ballroom in Buffalo Thursday night, many of them younger than the twenty-five year old band.

Fans sported facial piercings and black clothing and hairstyles ranging from mohawks or spikes to the classic emo bowl-cut.

Ontario punkers Ceremonial Snips opened the sold-out show followed by The Toronto-based Flatliners. The Flatliners signed last year with Fat Wreck Chords, the independent punk label founded by Mike Burkett of NOFX in 1991.

Chris Cresswell, The Flatliner’s lead man on guitar, performed as the crowd erupted into an awkward mix of skanking and slam dancing, some skank dancers shuffling off after a few slams too many.

Cresswell, backed by Scott Brigham on guitar, John Darbey on bass and Paul Ramirez on drums, spoke about a recent trip home to Toronto. After a brief stop at a local Tim Horton’s, the band headed to the border where they were pulled over by customs for inspection, “They didn’t find any drugs,” said Cresswell, “but their dog ate Jon’s bagel.”

Minnesota-based Dillinger Four appeared next. Vocalist Patrick Costello did everything he could to keep the audience’s attention, from fellating the microphone to invoking the name of Joe the Plumber, but the crowd began chanting “NOFX” only fifteen minutes into the Dillinger Four performance.

Band mates Erik Funk and Bill Morrisette on guitar and vocals, and drummer Lane Pederson also shared the stage.

Much of the audience remained in Town’s bar during the set, watching the Buffalo Sabres defeat the band’s home team Minnesota Wild on the big screen.

Security was beefed up considerably before NOFX took the stage. A total of seven bouncers lined the barrier, prepared for the enthusiastic crowd surfers who lunged for the stage.

NOFX Front man and Fat Mike (Mike Burkett) joked that guitarist “El Hefe likes playing here even better than selling oranges” but he was “lonely because there are no Mexicans” in Buffalo.

The band, including founding member Eric Melvin on guitar and drummer Erik Sandin, played a mix from their considerable play list featuring both older music and songs from their latest CD, released in November 2007, “They’ve Actually Gotten Worse Live”.

NOFX next heads to Baltimore and Richmond before beginning their European tour.

Originally appeared in buffalo.com

Eclectic Improv Electrifies Opening Night Crowd

“When you’ve been together as long as we have, you learn to trust each other,” said Don Gervasi, when he was asked about his ten plus years of working with the members of the Eclectic Improv Company. Todd Benzin, who has known Gervasi since college said that they have to be ready to do anything. “It helps that we share the same pop culture references.”

The Eclectic Improv Company opened their season Saturday night to a packed house at Shea’s Smith Theatre. The troupe started the show with an improvised sermon by Peter Cumbo. They said they begin the show with the sermon to promote audience interaction and drive up the energy that is crucial to a good perfomance.

After sequestering Cumbo offstage, Don Gervasi and Todd Benzin asked the audience for a multi-syllable noun, verb and adjective. When Cumbo returned, he discerned, with help from Gervasi and Benzin, that he was to perform a sermon about an organic, filibustering parallelepiped (a geometric shape not covered in fourth grade class).

The structure of the show is short-form, game-based improvisation, according to Cumbo. They can’t prepare jokes, but Gervasi writes down a list of the gimmicks or games on a white board prior to the show. “It’s like a set list you would see musicians with at a concert,” Gervasi explained.

Basic principle of improv is “yes, and?”, meaning that you have to accept whatever premise you are given (in this case by the audience) and build on it. You can’t say no or the scene dies.

Cumbo noted that you can never just relax back stage like you might in a conventional stage show. “In a regular ongoing stage show, you might see people backstage reading, but in improv you have to always be aware of what is going on onstage, even if you won’t be in that scene.”

The audience laughed their way through a song about eggplant, accompanied by pianist Mike Hake and a Spanish version of Goldilocks. The group also performed a musical about foot augmentation in which Todd Benzin spontaneously created a character named “Mr. Galumpers” a funny/creepy clown who taught Peter Cumbo that his tiny feet made him special.

The Eclectic Improv Company will be performing at Shea’s Smith Theatre the last Saturday of every month through June. See www.eclecticimprov.comfor tickets or additional information.

Originally appeared in buffalo.com

MusicalFare Sondheim Production a Success

Sunday in the Park with George, written by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine is a fictionalized account of the life of French Pointillist Painter George Seurat based on his painting “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”

The MusicalFare production is the second Sondheim musical featured at the theatre on the campus of Daemen College in Amherst.

Directed by Randall Kramer, the story centers on Seurat’s obsession with “design, composition, tension, balance, light and harmony” to the exclusion of genuine human relationships.

George Seurat, played by Paschal Frisina III, meets the love of his life, Dot (Jenn Stafford), but their relationship is hampered by his inability to see past the tip of his paintbrush. While his art was best viewed by stepping back and looking at the whole, Seurat lacked the perspective to do so with the rest of his life.

Act One begins with a petulant Dot modeling for George and longing for his attention. Jules (Doug Crane), a rival painter, stops by frequently as do Jules household staff, Franz, (Louis Colaiacovo) and Frieda (Leah Russo), who provide much-needed comic relief along Jules’ bratty daughter, Louise, played by Anne Roaldi.

There is a marked difference between the first and second acts, the former set in the 1890s and the latter in the 1980s. “It was initially written as only the first act,” said Director Kramer, “Sondheim and Lapine tried to write act two quickly. The second act was drubbed by critics, while the first act was considered brilliant. But the whole show is what won the Pulitzer.”

While Seurat is known to have painted from life, the back stories are fiction. “The People that he sketched were actual people in the park, most of them lower class,” said Debbie Pappas, who played Jules’ wife, Yvonne. “Dot is the only real thing in his life. The others need the painting to exist,” added Frisina.

Chris Schenk’s set design is minimalist, but evocative of Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon.” He employs a painting-sized scrim that allows the artist to work while facing the audience. Costumes, by Loraine O’Donnell and Olivia Ebsary, are remarkably true to the painting.

The show continues through April 5. See http://www.musicalfare.com or call the box office at 716-839-8540 for tickets or information.

Originally appeared in buffalo.com

Buffalo Quickies Titillates Alleyway Audience

Buffalo Quickies 2009 is a one-act play festival presented by Alleyway Theatre. Director Joyce Stilson has assembled this annual show for 18 years.

This year’s festival, billed as “The Sex Edition,” included one-act performances mostly about relationships. Stories ranged from Jay C. Rehak’s “Marinated Steaks and Socks” about marital communication problems between Francine (Sheila Connors) and John (Christopher S. Parada) referred by therapist Dr. Watts (Louise Reger) to Alex Broun’s “Saturday Night Chippewa, Sunday Morning Lackawanna” on the perils of an alcohol- laced one night stand. Michael Seitz and Tammy Reger played the mismatched pair.

“The selection of pieces is extremely difficult,” said Stilson, “because there are so many factors: casting, content, set, and of course if it’s any good and how it relates to the rest of the evening.”

This is the fourth year with a unifying theme. Most years the festival has been an eclectic mix. Previous themes have been love, theatre and Greek Mythology.

The one-acts transitioned seamlessly into one another, the actors moving their own props and set pieces, sometimes changing costume right on stage. The set itself was a plain black box. Scenes were set with chairs and other moveable pieces.

The evening moved quickly, fitting 10 plays into 90 minutes. The actors were well-utilized – Carlton Frankin played everything from a frustrated suitor to a death row inmate equally well. Seitz was a charismatic presence when he stepped on stage and Parada always provided a laugh.

The climax of the evening was “Jump!” by George J Bryjak, the 2008 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition One Act Winner. It was about a young philosophy student (Seitz) and his no-nonsense neighbor (Louise Reger). The philosopher was experiencing existential depression (ED) and was interrupted while attempting to jump from the roof. The laundry hanging neighbor pressed him to make a decision, but he was unmoved until the arrival of a Birkenstock-clad flash poet (Sheila Connors) who shared her art with him.

Next appearing at Alleyway Theatre is Hell Hole Honeys, a world premiere musical, directed by Todd Warfield. Show dates are April 23 through May 9. See http://www.alleyway.com for information or tickets.

Originally appeared in buffalo.com

Hell Hole Honeys Bawdy Fun at Alleyway

Hell Hole Honeys, written by Ben Budick, Steve Mackes & David Ogrin opened Thursday at Buffalo’s Alleyway Theatre and continues through May 9th. This World Premiere Musical is directed by Todd Warfield.

The show begins as cable access journalist Mary Jo Huntsinger (Kim Piazza) is jailed for refusing to reveal her source in a controversial story. MJ’s investigation uncovered city corruption, making her the target of the powerful people she crossed.

Naive young MJ is thrust into Bellpole Women’s Maximum Security Prison and quickly learns to adapt. Her fellow inmates appear to be hardened and heartless, but most are just afraid and making the best of what is sure to be their home for some time to come.

Cutter (Stephanie Bax) shines as MJ’s deranged cellmate. Her crazy behavior is mostly her method for coping with a disturbing childhood. She tells MJ her story and soon becomes her protector and confidant.

Scratch (Victoria Perez) is the tough chick on the cell block. She chose the wrong man and took the fall for his crime. Tragically, she was pregnant when jailed and her daughter is being raised without her. Scratch is willing to do anything the corrupt Warden Beaumont (Jeff Coyle) asks of her hoping to get out to raise her child.

B_tch (Mercedes), Ho (Jasmine Ramos) and Squeaky (Kate Wolff) round out the cellblock. The song “B_tches and Hos” is one of the musical highlights of the evening. The music, under the direction of Michael Hake crossed a wide range of styles from rap to ballads and was consistently well done.

“Most of the cast has worked with me before,” said Warfield, “But, Jasmine Ramos and Kate Wolff are making their professional debut.”

Warfield makes remarkable use of the small Alleyway space, with jail cells hung on a scaffold base and a couple of moving set pieces.

The show is bawdy throughout, not suited for children or teens, but a fun night of adult entertainment.

Hell Hole Honeys continues through May 9. Contact Alleyway theatre at 716-852-2600 or http://www.alleyway.com for tickets and information.

Originally appeared in buffalo.com