From Buffalo to Broadway
by Anthony Chase
Anthony Chase previews three shows now on stage in Buffalo: Road Less Traveled's production of Ancestral Voices, Speed The Plow at the Manny Fried Playhouse, Irish Classical's A Delicate Balance, and two shows on Broadway: Evita and Newsies.
It’s a plot that A. R. Gurney has visited a number of times before. In Children and in The Cocktail Hour, there are echoes of a tale in which the grandmother of an elite Buffalo family walks out on grandfather to be with another man. Reportedly, the episode is plucked from actually family history. For years, Gurney would not allow The Cocktail Hour to be performed in Buffalo at all. It was finally seen at the Kavinoky Theatre, which has had a continuing love affair with Gurney. Studio Arena did Children with the great Nancy Marchand and a haunting set by John Lee Beatty.
Finally, Buffalo will get a production of Ancestral Voices. It’s a readers’ theater piece, not unlike Gurney’s Love Letters in that regard, but with a larger scope. We see three generations of a Buffalo family as they sit in chairs and read from the script. Director Scott Behrend has assembled a capable group for this Road Less Traveled production: Bob Grabowski, Lisa Vitrano, David Hayes, Joe Natale, and Kathleen Betsko-Yale.
The show will play at Road Less Traveled Theater, Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre (639 Main Street, 629-3069) through May 13.
Speed the Plow
Hollywood intrigue in a play by David Mamet. That’s the focus of Speed the Plow, presented by Subversive Theatre in cooperation with Trajicom Productions, and directed by Christopher Standart. The play is a replacement for another tale of Hollywood, Charles Busch’s Red Scare on Sunset, which was to star Mr. Standart.
Instead we will see Timothy Patrick Finnegan with Kevin Craig, and the lady in question will be played by Andrea Andolina. The setting may be Hollywood, but the themes of ambition and betrayal are universal.
I recall the original 1988 Broadway production, which starred Madonna, who was, for the record, quite good (opposite Joe Mantegna and Ron Silver). As I left the theater, three elderly patrons were walking in front of me. Observing the Madonna fans assembled, I overheard the elderly woman explain to her husband, “Well, she’s a singer.” He responded, “Yes, but who is she?”
Broadway is a world unto itself. The memory still makes me chuckle.
Speed the Plow continues at the Manny Fried Playhouse (255 Great Arrow Avenue, third floor, 408-0499) through May 13.
A Delicate Balance
It tickles me to see Josephine Hogan announced for the Irish Classical Theatre production of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance that opens this week at the Andrews Theatre, under the direction of Derek Campbell. Vivien Leigh was in rehearsals for the London production with Michael Redgrave at the time of her death. Hogan, a Leigh look-alike, portrayed the great actress earlier this season at the New Phoenix Theatre.
At ICTC, Hogan’s co-stars are Vincent O’Neill, Maureen Ann Porter, Peter Palmisano, Colleen Gaughan, and Morgan Chard. The play follows a couple who live with the hilariously alcoholic but unbearably disruptive sister of the wife. Old friends arrive and announce that, fearful of the world and life itself, they’ve decided to move in. Soon the couple’s adult daughter also arrives with the same intention, and is distressed to find her place supplanted.
This is one of the great plays of a great playwright. Its original production was showered with honors that arguably should have gone to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—had the theater world been ready for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
This production will continue at the Andrews Theatre (625 Main Street, 853-ICTC) through May 13.
The current Broadway revival of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical serves to remind us that Hal Prince is a genius. His original 1978 staging helped shape the material and propelled Patti LuPone to stardom.
In its current Broadway incarnation, it is difficult to imagine how this tedious show could have made anyone a star. You might think it would be impossible to make Eva Peron’s rise to power in Argentina a bore—or to make Ricky Martin, who plays Che, seem less than sexy. This production manages both.
Elena Roger, the Argentine actress who previously played Evita in London to great acclaim, and was praised for her portrayal of Piaf in a more intimate setting, recreates her performance here. She lacks the stage presence, the vocal prowess, or the grace that the role requires. I am grateful for my memories of Patti LuPone and of Saundra Santiago. I never saw the film, which featured Madonna singing in keys that make me cringe.
Ricky Martin excels when the unimaginative director simply allows him to stand and sing. This is seldom.
Whereas Hal Prince took the play as the political tale of a monstrous woman and her fascistic rise to the top amidst a non-realistic landscape of memory, this production treats Evita like clumsy Italian operetta and suffers as a result.
The delightful surprise of my week is the Broadway production of Newsies, the uplifting tale of the New York newspaper boy strike of 1899. The show is based on the flop 1992 movie and I did not expect to like it.
I loved it.
Director Jeff Calhoun guides a fluid and engaging production with a winning score by Alan Menken and Jack Feldman and book by Harvey Fierstein.
Jeremy Jordan, who was similarly marvelous as Clyde Barrow in the ill-fated Bonnie and Clyde musical earlier this season, emerged as a true Broadway star in the role of Jack Kelly, leader of the strike.
The set by Tobin Ost, a series of steel units that glide into a variety of urban landscapes before squaring off with the audience as a living newspaper at the climactic moment, are wondrous.
I especially enjoyed the exuberant choreography by Christopher Gattelli, which combines acrobatic tumbling with classical ballet.
The audience response was explosive and adoring. Every number was greeted with cheers. Newsies is slated for a limited run, but it looks to me like a great big hit!
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