Onstage: Letting the sunshine in
While most of the major companies are dark this month, there’s light on the stages of MusicalFare and Artpark.
MusicalFare is ending its season the way it started—with a “reconceived” version of a classic musical directed by Chris Kelly. The 2011–12 season opened with Oliver!, which won audiences and praise for retelling Charles Dickens’ Victorian tale in the context of America’s Great Depression without betraying the spirit or tone of the story. Now the iconic 1960s musical Hair, considered by many to be the first “rock musical,” is getting the Kelly treatment.
“Hair would traditionally be performed with a much larger cast and ensemble. We have only fifteen cast members. That immediately makes the experience very different for the cast and the audience alike,” Kelly says. We are taking what is usually an incredibly ensemble-driven show to the extreme. Expect a very physical piece of theater.”
The company previously produced Hair in 1994 at the 350-seat Pfeifer Theatre downtown. “This production, at MusicalFare’s intimate 136-seat theater in Amherst, will be very different. We think it will be more direct, more personal, and ultimately more impactful,” says Randall Kramer, MusicalFare’s artistic/executive director.
Kelly plans to closely follow the Claude character, who serves as a leader to a band of free-spirited young people. “I see the piece beginning from a point of reflection, where many of the songs and quick scenes are almost fragments of memory, specifically Claude’s memories. I also strongly believe that the audience’s immersion in the world of the show should begin the moment they step through the doors of the theater,” Kelly says.
“While we will still have all of the big numbers and music, the goal will be to maintain an intimacy and connection to Claude—hence making the story resonate for any audience member regardless of their feelings about the war and the hippie movement. I think the music will excite people and fill them with joy, but the story we tell will be like a punch to the gut.”
Claude is played by Patrick Cameron, who had a particularly powerful turn in American Repertory Theater of WNY’s Killer Joe earlier this year. Cameron, like nine others in the cast, is making his MusicalFare debut. “A fresh approach calls for new energy, so I was surely open to the idea of faces that would be new to the MusicalFare audience,” Kelly says.
The director wanted “a young cast that could believably be of the draft age in the sixties (eighteen to twenty-six). I think our oldest cast member is twenty-six and our youngest is about to turn seventeen,” Kelly notes. “The cast must really become this tribe depicted in the show. I was careful that the chemistry was excellent between the various members of the cast.”
Along with Cameron, Hair includes Olivia Gjurich, Anthony Alcocer, Cecelia Barron, Sarah Blewett, Frankie Campofelice, Arin Lee Dandes, Kurt Erb, Cassie Gorniewicz, Christina Golab, Maria Graham, Dudney Joseph Jr., Jordan Levin, R. J. Voltz, and Jonathan Young.
Kelly is also concerned about the music. “On my iPhone, I currently have a mix that contains all of the music from both the original cast album as well as the Broadway revival from a couple years ago. There are things I love about both. However, the new cast album has a decidedly Broadway sound that doesn’t seem as authentic as the original,” he says. “My goal was a mix of folks with rock voices as well as folks with a musical theater background. Very happy to say we achieved just that.”
Of course, along with familiar songs “Aquarius,” “Hair,” “Where Do I Go?,” “Good Morning Starshine,” and others, Hair is known for its controversial nude scene. Kelly says, “We are not doing the traditional nude scene, but we’re also not going to totally eliminate that moment as we think it’s important. I will say the production will be visceral and sensual and push the envelope and folks’ comfort level. You will have to come see it.”
Working with Kelly on Hair’s mood and atmosphere are choreographer Bobby Cooke and musical director Phil Farugia, with Chris Cavanaugh, Chris Schenk, and Kari Drozd providing lighting, set design, and costume design, respectively.
Kelly has been helping the cast understand what the characters stood for and believed: “Their activism and insistence on love in the face of atrocity is the foundation of the show. I trust it will be a summer of love these kids will never forget. I hope the same will hold true for the patrons. The show and its message are far greater than any one of us.”
Hair continues through August 11 at MusicalFare Theatre on the campus of Daemen College in Amherst. (716-839-8540)
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
If you haven’t had enough Rodgers and Hammerstein with this season’s offerings of A Grand Night for Singing at MusicalFare and South Pacific at Shea’s, there’s Artpark’s Cinderella to sate your appetite. In 1957, the already legendary duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II adapted the fairy tale as an original musical for television; it was later made into a stage production.
Over the years, that production has continued to develop, via Richard Rodgers and others, for the stage and broadcast. The original broadcast starring Julie Andrews is probably the most popular version, but subsequent versions starring Lesley Ann Warren (with Stuart Damon from General Hospital) in 1965 and Whitney Houston and Brandy (from 1997) are also well known.
The decision to put on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella as Artpark’s Broadway presentation was made by Artpark president George Osborne and the Artpark board. “I think they picked Cinderella because it is a show for all ages and is the type of show that Artpark can do very, very well,” says Randall Kramer, who is directing the production. “This particular version of Cinderella is much closer to the 1990s movie than the original Broadway show. So, there is plenty of humor and a certain modern sensibility that keeps it relevant for today.”
The main difference between working at his native MusicalFare and Artpark is the scale, Kramer says. Artpark offers “bigger sets, bigger casts, [and] bigger gestures and pictures. But it’s still theater, so much of my approach is the same at Artpark and MusicalFare. You still have to create conflict onstage, which creates audience interest, which allows you to tell a story.”
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella is “going to be grand,” Kramer insists. Featuring “top notch designers” for “costumes, lights, and magic,” the production utilizes a beautiful set purchased from the Ordway Theatre in Minneapolis and has a twenty-one-piece orchestra with music direction by frequent Kramer collaborator Jason Bravo (Something So Right, Avenue Q, Fame the Musical).
Kramer is also excited to be working with choreographer Anne Biancofiore Beck, a WNY native living in Indianapolis who has performed on Broadway and in national tours. The cast includes local actors Debbie Pappas, Paschal Frisina, Sheila Connors, and Charmagne Chi.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella runs August 9–17 at Artpark in Lewiston. (716-754-4375)
For more reviews and news about WNY theater join Spree theater previewer Darwin McPherson on WKBW-TV’s Eyewitness News This Morning on and buffalospree.com.