Looking at WNY’s visual art, theater, music, and dance scenes.
Oct 4, 2012
08:54 AMTalk about Arts
Spree Theater with Darwin McPherson: The Last Five Years
Next week, a new theater group takes the stage with a dynamic production staged at the Alleyway. "New Buffalo Productions is a new arts organization focused on producing contemporary works and promoting education in the performing arts,” says Christopher Wietig, who created the company with partner Leah Schneider. “As performers and supporters of the arts ourselves, we understand that in order to continue the growth of our performing arts and education in Buffalo, we must create and nurture these types of musical projects in our community. The importance of educating our local youth in Western New York is the key to keeping the art alive and well in our already thriving community.”
New Buffalo Productions’ first work is Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, a very unique contemporary musical which chronicles a couple’s five-year relationship. Though being told simultaneously, the woman’s perspective is related from the end initially and goes backwards in time. The man’s side is told in traditional chronological order. They intersect at their wedding day (just before intermission, of course). Though it has a complicated set-up, the narrative is quite clear. The songs are even more engaging. Notable numbers include: “Still Hurting,” “Shiksa Goddess,” “A Summer in Ohio,” and “The Next Ten Minutes.”
“I first heard the music from this show when I was in college, around 2002,” Wietig says. “Ever since then, the lyrics, musical styles, and subject matter really spoke to me. The emotions and feelings that the characters go through are things that we have all felt in one relationship or another. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to perform this at some point in my career. When Leah and I started dating in October of 2011, this show came up in conversation and we found out that we both loved the show equally. Over many dinners and late night conversations, we decided that we had enough contacts in the business and experience with production to put the show up ourselves.”
Wietig plays writer Jamie Wellerstein and Schneider is struggling actress Catherine Hiatt. The Last Five Years is directed by SUNY Fredonia Professor Paul Mockovak, who taught Wietig there. “We have kept in touch and he is a great talent,” Wietig says. Also from Fredonia is the production’s music director James Welch, who is on the faculty as a collaborative pianist and instructor of class piano, and was Wietig’s classmate. Joshua Hutchinson is the lighting designer and technical director.
The biggest challenge that Wietig and Schneider faced in mounting The Last Five Years is “the duality of both starring in and producing the show ourselves,” Wietig says. “We are both very organized, driven, ‘Type A’ personalities. But I think the effort/time required really pushed us beyond the limits of what we thought was possible at first. That being said…somehow, here we are.”
Wietig’s performance credits include appearing as Leon Czolgosz in the Dramatis Personae production of Assassins at Ujima Theatre in 2005, Damn Yankees at Fredonia, and Ziegfeld Tenor in Funny Girl with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra last year. Local audiences may recognize Schneider from the lead role in the Alleyway’s Italian Serenade or O’Connell and Company’s Starting Here, Starting Now. She also debuted with the Chautauqua Symphony in Bernstein’s Mass last summer.
Along with the performance component, Wietig and Schneider decided “almost on a whim” to offer a master class with Last Five Years composer Jason Robert Brown. “In thinking about how we could not only put the show on but impact the community, we decided that we wanted to try and bring Mr. Brown to Buffalo and work with some theater students,” Wietig tells.
“Leah owns and operates Mainstage Studios in East Aurora, where she teaches private voice lessons full-time. So she quickly knew the power of bringing him to town to work with some students. We reached out to him through his website, and after a few weeks went by, we heard from his management team and we negotiated terms for him to make an appearance and conduct a master class.”
The master class opportunity for six students filled up quickly and will be held on Saturday, October 13 at Amherst High School on 4301 Main Street in Amherst from 10 am to 12 noon. Witnessing the class is free and open to the public.
“We are thrilled to be a new addition to the Buffalo theater community and we can’t wait to bring more composers to Western New York and impact the careers of more students,” Wietig says.
New Buffalo Productions’ The Last Five Years runs October 11, 12, 13 at 8 pm and October 14 at 3 pm at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo. All tickets are $25.00. On Friday, Oct. 12, there will be a VIP reception with Jason Robert Brown. Tickets for that event are an additional $25.00. Purchase show tickets online or call 1-888-718-4253.