Onstage: Notable in November
Michael Jablonski, dance captain and member of swing ensemble in "Matilda the Musical."
Photo courtesy of Michael Jablonski
Matilda the Musical
Music and Lyrics: Tim Minchin
Book: Dennis Kelly, based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Choreography: Peter Darling
When Matilda the Musical, winner of fifty international awards including four Tonys, hits Shea’s this month, it will mark the first time West Seneca native Michael Jablonski has stepped foot on his venerable hometown stage. A graduate of West Seneca East and University at Buffalo, Jablonski is the show’s dance captain and swing ensemble member, and while this is his eighth national tour, it’s his first to Buffalo.
“As a swing, I understudy all the ensemble tracks in the show, but my main job as dance captain is to maintain the integrity of the original choreography of all the dance in the show,” Jablonski explains. “When a show’s been running for a while, sometimes somebody changes something and they don’t even realize they’ve changed it, or, over time, something starts to move in a different way, and it’s my job to not let that go in the wrong direction and to keep Peter Darling’s choreography intact. His choreography is driven from intention first, and another part of my job is to make sure all the movement behind the intention remains.”
Jablonski came late to dance, as he says many men do, but his athleticism—he was a mid-distance runner in high school—helped him with the moves, and the technique came with practice and classes. When he made the postcollege move to New York City, Jabonski says his athletic background came in handy there, too: “When a race didn’t go well, I couldn’t wait to get to the next track meet, and with auditions, that attitude helped me early on: if I wasn’t successful, I really wanted to get to that next audition,” he says. “And I soaked in any information from older actors and used it to move my career forward and, before I knew it, I was living in New York as a working actor. I did four national tours back-to-back for five and a half years at the beginning of my career.”
And yet never to Buffalo. “I’m very excited,” Jablonski says. “I’ve never walked on Shea’s stage for anything. And I truly have a love for Buffalo—food, culture, people. I’m a bit of chicken wing snob. I love to go to Niagara Falls casino and golfing with my dad, and I’m a huge Bills and Sabres fan, so I always ask if there’s a game we can go to; last year, I took my wife to her first Sabres game. I miss Buffalo when I’m not there.”
Jablonski is equally excited for Buffalo audiences to see Matilda the Musical, which maintains the original staging, songs, book, and choreography from the London and Broadway productions. “The only thing that sometimes changes from Broadway is the set, because it has to be adjusted for travel and being broken down and put on trucks,” he says, “but that’s nothing the audience would even notice.”
Adapted from the Roald Dahl novel, Matilda, the musical tells the story of an extraordinary girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny. “People always ask, ‘Is it a kids’ show?’” Jablonski says. “And I say it’s a show for all ages, because there are such great themes in the show. We want kids to walk away with a sense of confidence and we want adults to remember what it’s like to be a dreamer.”
Matilda runs November 3–8 at Shea’s (sheas.org, 847-1410).
By A. R. Gurney, Director: Taylor Doherty
Cast: Todd Benzin, Marisa Caruso, Wendy Hall
“It’s very, very funny,” says Buffalo Laboratory Theatre artistic director Taylor Doherty about Buffalo native A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia, which opens this month at 710 Main Theatre. “It’s a really cool comedy about the love we have for our pets. How they become parts of our lives and families in a very real way. It also hits you right in the heart and has a really bittersweet, emotional ending. But mainly, it’s really funny.”
Doherty chose to bring Sylvia to 710 this season to strengthen 710’s “Buffalo” season, which features another Gurney play—Love Letters—as well as a play set in Buffalo, For Heaven’s Sake!, which was the season opener. At the time, Doherty wasn’t aware that Sylvia would be opening on Broadway not even two weeks earlier, on October 27.
“Cool coincidence, though!” he says. “The BLT’s production will obviously be infinitely superior to that thing on Broadway. And they’ll probably have product placements all over their set. Sylvia wearing a Purina t-shirt all show and randomly saying how much she loves Arby’s. But us? We’re pure.”
More seriously, Doherty says he’s a fan of the show because of the way man’s love for his dog becomes a “slightly surreal metaphor for the traditional male midlife crisis trope. Man feels old, like life has passed him by, kids are off to college and his wife is busy with her fulfilling career, and he fills the void in his life with the unconditional love of a dog. Except this dog is played by a pretty young woman, who can talk and dance and sing and lots of stuff. And getting Sylvia makes things... let’s just say life gets a tad confusing for our poor middle-aged couple. Hilarity ensues!”
Though rehearsals had not yet begun at press time, Doherty was confident that Marisa Caruso, who plays Sylvia, is up for the task. “I purposely cast an actress who has no fear, a really funny comedic actress both physically and with the text.”
Sylvia runs November 5–15 at 710 Main (sheas.org, 847-1410). For more info click here.
By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Director: by Scott Behrend
Cast: Lisa Ludwig, David Mitchell, Lisa Vitrano, Renee Landrigan, Dan Urtz, Aaron Krygier, Kelsey Mogenson, Simon Mysliwy
As part of Road Less Traveled’s commitment to diversity, artistic director Scott Behrend is always looking for plays written by underrepresented voices, and up-and-coming African American playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins—a writer who likes to stir the pot—seemed right up RLTP’s alley. In 2014, Jacobs-Jenkins won the Obie for Best New American Play for not one, but two plays, one of which is Appropriate (the other is An Octaroon).
“Especially since August Wilson passed, I don’t feel like we’ve had a major African American male voice for a long time,” Behrend says. “I read this article about Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and this play, and then I got a script and was just so impressed by his writing. He’s got great dialogue and characters and lots of stuff for people to chew into, along with a great undercurrent of social commentary and big ideas, which is something that we’re always interested in.”
Some of those big questions surround race, which RLTP has recently explored with David Mamet’s Race and Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, and which Appropriate manages to address without a single African American in the cast of eight. “He wrote a play that takes place in the deep South, with a white family, that is set against some really important themes about identity and race,” Behrend says. “The basic premise is that the patriarch of this family has passed away, and all of the children come back to take care of his house. They uncover some things about who their father really was, and it’s very confusing how they individually deal with this question. It’s a plotline about how much you actually know your family, which I hadn’t really seen explored in the way he explores it.”
Behrend is excited about the ensemble nature of the show, as well as the chance to introduce another hot, young writer to Western New York, as RLTP did with Annie Baker and Lucas Hnath. “I’m also excited about his great explosive language, stuff that makes you cringe, and also cheer at the same time,” Behrend says. “The title is Appropriate, but none of these people is necessarily appropriate all the time.”
Appropriate continues through November 22 at Road Less Traveled Productions (roadlesstraveledproductions.com; 629-3069).
(In Order Of Closing)
Buffalo United Artists closes Daniel’s Husband November 7 (buffalobua.org, 886-9239).
Jewish Repertory Theatre closes My Name Is Asher Lev November 16 (jewishrepertorytheatre.com, 888-718-4253).
Outside Mullingar closes November 22 at Irish Classical Theatre (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 853-4282).
Subversive Theatre continues Joe Hill’s Last Will through November 28 (subversivetheatre.org, 408-0499).
Opening This Month
MusicalFare presents Pageant beginning November 4 (musicalfare.com, 839-8540).
Paul Robeson introduces Stompin’ at the Savoy November 13 (africancultural.org, 716-884-2013).
Both Your Houses opens November 13 at Kavinoky (kavinokytheatre.com, 881-7668).
Harvey opens November 20 at New Phoenix (newphoenixtheatre.org, 853-1334).
My Fair Lady opens November 27 at Lancaster Opera House (lancopera.org, 683-1776).
O’Connell & Company presents Uh Oh! Here Comes Christmas starting November 27 (oconnellandcompany.com, 848-0800).
Playwright Donna Hoke writes regularly for Spree and edits Spree Home.