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Afrobeat, Behan, Quickies, and Big Plans for MusicalFare

Michelle Williams, formerly of Destiny's Child, in "Fela!" (photo by Carol Rosegg)


Fela! is a stage representation of Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti (1938-1997). The show, which was an off-Broadway sensation that made a successful transfer to Broadway in 2009, represents a performance at the Afrobeat pioneer’s compound, known as “The Shrine.”

When I first saw Fela! on Broadway, I did not know what to expect. The show won me over instantly, transforming me into a fan of Afrobeat and of Sahr Ngaujahfela, who starred as Fela. The charismatic personality and musical virtuosity of the title character permeates every moment of this thrilling stage production, which is on stage at Shea’s for two nights only, Friday and Saturday of this week with Michelle Williams, formerly of musical group Destiny’s Child in the cast. April 5 & 6 at 8pm. Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street. (1-800-745-3000).

Buffalo Quickies

This week, Alleyway Theatre opens the 22nd annual installment of its festival of short works, the Buffalo Quickies. Directed by Joyce Stilson, the event features actors Darryl Hart, Rebecca Pitcher, Bethany Sparacio, and Roger Van Dette, April 4-27, ThursdaySaturday at 7:30pm.

This year’s lineup features seven short plays, suitable for adult and teen audiences. The shows are: Misfortune by Mark Harvey Levine, where a Chinese restaurant is the setting for some unsettling fortune cookie messages; Charming by Mark Harvey Levine, in which dating is a particular challenge; Full Circle by Donna Marie Vaughan, in which a distraught man struggles to make sense of an unimaginable tragedy bestowed by a drunk driver; Pet Envy by Camilla Maxwell, in which a pet owner loves her pet…even if no one else does; The Poe-ster by Judy Klass, in which a lit major looks to Edgar Allen Poe for romantic advice; Face Time by Donna Hoke, in which two women are dependent upon Facebook; Heart and Soul by George J. Bryjak, in which adapting to a new life of retirement is not easy when you are missing essential pieces of life’s puzzle. Alleyway Theatre, One Curtain Up Alley (852-2600).

Rendering of plans for MusicalFare's $900,000 expansion.

The Next Stage

This week, MusicalFare announced details of its “Next Stage” campaign, representing a $900,000 investment in the expansion of their facilty on the Daemen campus in Snyder. Plans are going forward for an enlarged lobby and cabaret space with funding half from individual, corporate, foundation, and government sources; and half from the company’s earned income.

So far, the New York State Council on the Arts has awarded the project its maximum Facilities Grant of $50,000. Premier Center gave $25,000 for naming rights to the “Premier Center Cabaret Stage;” and additional commitments for the naming rights for the bar, box office, and the American Songbook Cabaret Series have also been secured. M&T Bank has committed $65,000 and, with the John R. Oishei Foundation, will be part of a dollar-for-dollar matching fund campaign.

The project includes a new cabaret lounge that will be three times the size of the existing lobby, with a stage for intimate performances, table seating and a new concessions/bar area, coat check area, as well as an art gallery space. A new entryway will be created, and the box office will be relocated and expanded for easier access. Artist’s renderings of the project are stunning.

Vincent O'Neill and Joe Liolos play the older and the younger Brendan Behan. (photo by Gene Witkowski)

Being Behan

Director Peter Sheridan is currently giving Buffalo a lesson in how to make dynamic use of an arena space, or a theater where the audience is seated on all four sides. Specifically, he makes brilliant use of at the Andrews Theatre, home to the Irish Classical Theatre Company.

His brother, Jim Sheridan’s play, Being Behan, takes us into the world of Irish playwright and international rascal Brendan Behan, beginning with the moment of his death. Behan must account for his wayward life in a playful sequence of episodes. When it’s through, the audience votes on whether to send him to heaven or hell—though one suspects the vote comes out the same way at every performance.

Under Sheridan’s direction, actors Vincent O’Neill, Joe Liolos, and Adriano Gatto are in top form, taking on numerous characters and giving kinesthetic performances that send them hurling through space with spontaneity and excitement. There is neither a moment that lags, nor an instant when we feel that this play belongs anywhere but in the intimacy of the Andrews arena. We are treated to an irreverent yet thoughtful assessment of the life of a remarkable man. The production continues through April 14 at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street, (853-ICTC).