Onstage / Holiday shows galore
Steve and Kelly Copps
It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play
Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710
Adapted by Joe Landry
Director: John Hurley
Cast: Kelly Copps, Steve Copps, Charmagne Chi, Phil Farugia, Anthony Alcocer, Gregory Fisher
Steve and Kelly Copps are fixtures in the Buffalo theater community; he frequently appears on stage, she less so these days, now that the couple has two children under the age of three, and Kelly has become artistic director of her own company, Second Generation Theatre (SGT). Given all this, they haven’t been onstage together in more than three years, so when the opportunity arose to play George and Mary Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play—a stage adaptation based on the classic film starring Jimmy Stewart—they couldn’t pass it up.
Spree: How did this come about?
Kelly: Well, as you know, Buffalo theater is super organized these days. People are casting so far in advance, [son] Noah has some gig lined up for 2032. I was intending to take the year off from performing since our kids are so young, and I’m very busy with preparing for SGT’s move to the Shea’s Seneca Theatre. Steve, on the other hand, is working like crazy at MusicalFare. [Road Less Traveled artistic director] Scott Behrend asked him to come in and, when I was asked, too, I was hesitant. But we haven’t done a show together in three years.
Steve: Not since January 2014 at MusicalFare, The Who’s Tommy.
Kelly: And I absolutely missed it, so I said “OK, Steve. If we both get cast, we can do this.” And lo and behold, here we are.
Who’s making this happen from a practical, i.e., babysitting perspective?
Kelly: We are the luckiest people in the universe. We have an amazing network of family here that loves to spend time with our sons, as well as some amazing babysitters who keep coming back despite my messy house. Steve’s parents just moved to Buffalo in July, and their presence here was a big factor in deciding we could do a show at the exact same time.
What are your own histories/background with It’s A Wonderful Life?
Kelly: It was a staple in the Jakiel household, primarily because every Christmas day, my father [actor Steve Jakiel] would answer our home phone with “Merry Christmas to you... in jail!” giving his best Mr. Potter impression. I have to be honest, it isn’t my favorite show; I’m more of a Muppets Christmas Carol and White Christmas kind of gal, but this script is charming.
Steve: Home Alone, A Christmas Story, and Elf were staples in my household. I watched It’s A Wonderful Life in college a few times. I’m a very big fan of Jimmy Stewart, so it’s going to be hard not to do an impression of him.
Explain how a radio play works when it’s on the stage and not on the radio.
Kelly: This particular adaptation is for the stage, so everyone is dressed in their 1940s garb and you’re essentially the studio audience at a radio station. It brings an added dimension of fun and excitement to the piece and pulls you right in.
Steve: It will be cool to come up with the idiosyncrasies of Jake Laurents [the character who plays George] and his world before and during the play. The script actually calls for us to enter during preshow and interact with the studio audience.
Kelly: Like any stage show, you have to use your imagination a bit more than in film. No one will be jumping into any real rivers or anything, but it’s exciting to watch the magic happen. Phil Farugia is composing and playing original music, and the cast will be doing their own sound effects.
What happens when you run lines at home?
Steve: The boys are used to all kinds of silliness and theatricality in our house. Milo is only ten months old so he mostly smiles and claps, but Noah is three, and he’s a little parrot. We have to be careful what lines we run in front of him or he starts repeating them to the neighbors! I’m hoping by Christmas, I can get him to repeat “Get me, I’m giving out wings!”
Have you worked together as a married couple before? How does it change your work?
Kelly: We actually met doing a show where we were sort of opposite each other, Sunday in the Park With George at MusicalFare. Since then, we’ve done a lot of shows together but we rarely play opposite. In Oklahoma, I played Laurey and Steve was Jud. This was when we had just started dating, and introducing him to my family after the show was hilarious; they were mildly terrified. We played Cliff and Sally in Cabaret, and, to this day, I still enjoy quoting the review that said we had “absolutely no chemistry.” Working with Steve in a show where we aren’t paired together is great fun; we drive to work together, do our thing, and then drive home. Steve likes to stay up late and I keep old lady hours, so I look forward to those twenty minutes in the car on the way to and from the show where we can just sit and talk.
When we’re playing opposite each other, its twofold. I’m always more relaxed and comfortable around him, but sometimes it can be tougher to achieve that “newness” when you’re working with the person you’re most comfortable and at ease with. Also, Steve is one of the best actors I know, so I’m [always] afraid of working with him in case I mess up!
Steve: Aw, she’s making me blush. I usually have to chase after her in the storyline. It’s nice to actually get her this time!
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Radio Play finishes its run at Shea’s 710 on December 10 (roadlesstraveledproductions.com; 629-3069).
Raíces Theatre Company
Desde el Puente: La Parranda
Raíces Theatre Company
Cast: Lissette DeJesus, Melinda Capeles-Rowe, Marta Aracelis, Smirna Mercedes Pérez, María Pérez-Gómez, Rolando Martin Gómez, Alexia Guzmán
Originally, Raíces Theatre Company presented Desde el Puente, an evening of ten-minute plays culled from an open submission call. “We were very specific with the guidelines, which said to be culturally specific and dealing with the Latino experience,” says cofounder and artistic director Victoria Perez. “We just didn’t receive the quality of plays we were looking for, and then we looked inward and said, ‘We are set up to be an ensemble theater company. We have writers in the ensemble, so why not do it ourselves, and we can develop our skills?’”
And so the company wrote drafts, reviewed them, gave each other feedback, workshopped them with actors, wrote more drafts, and ultimately produced them—and found it to be a rewarding process for the company. This year, they’re doing it again, only with a holiday theme—“Christmas, New Year’s, Three Kings Day all encompassed the holidays for us,” says Perez. “It’s a big deal, over a month of festivities and celebration. It’s a gathering at someone’s house every single day, it’s food, tons of food, it’s live music. Like in many cultures, the holidays bring out the best, and sometimes the worst, in people. We really want to explore that time.”
In other news, Raíces welcomed four new company members in September: Artie Award winners Anthony Alcocer and Melinda Capeles Rowe, Lissette DeJesus, and Alexia Guzman. Ensemble member Steve Brachmann has been promoted to managing director. “Expanding the ensemble brings us great pride,” says Perez. “As a theater company, we are only as strong as the people with which we tell our stories. With the addition of these four new members, we are stronger than ever.”
Perez is also happy to report that the Voces Latinas reading series has returned to its roots in Road Less Traveled Productions’ space at 500 Pearl Street. It began with The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity October 8, and continues with Mojada on January 28, and Gorditas on March 18; both readings are on Sunday at 6 p.m.
Raíces presents Desde el Puente: La Parranda, a Christmas-themed version of Raíces’ annual one-act festival December 1–17.
Miracle in Levittown
By Michael Fanelli
Director: Michael Fanelli
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus…but even he can’t get equal opportunity housing in Long Island. In Michael Fanelli’s newest off-the-wall play, the young heroine of Miracle on 34th Street gets Santa to turn her into an African-American to test the racial exclusion policies in America’s first suburb in postwar Long Island.
“The untold story of Miracle on 34th Street is that African-American girls could not dream of a new house in the suburbs with a swingset in the backyard,” says playwright Fanelli, who calls the script a Yuletide satire. “The United States Government stacked the deck against African-American housing in the twentieth century through blatant discriminatory statutes and more subtle but cynical means such as denying FHA-backed mortgages to real estate developers who desegregated.”
Seven-year-old Zazu, the main character of Miracle In Levittown, reads a contract her parents must sign for their new house that stipulates that they are banned from selling it to negroes. Outraged, she asks Santa Claus to turn her black so she can understand segregation better; Santa, a Puerto Rican, grants her wish.
“The family of Maureen O’Hara and Uncle Ned must face homelessness because the movers who were to take them to Levittown are coming to evict them,” previews Fanelli. “They are visited by three ghosts who have contributed significantly to racial segregation: FDR as Ghost of Segregation Past, Robert Moses as Ghost of Segregation Present—this is 1947—and Runt as Ghost of Segregation Future, Donald Trump with his sidekick KaKa Conway. The family learns the reasons for their predicament and struggles to find a place to live. Santa, also homeless because the North Pole has melted, finds them a place where all are welcome: the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina, where Zazu organizes food distribution.
“I had never written a Christmas play before,” Fanelli continues. “There was a hole in Subversive schedule and I had just read Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. It was the time and the place to dramatize how urban ghettos originated by design, not by accident.”
The reading of Miracle in Levittown takes place three days only December 21–23 (subversivetheatre.org, 408-0499).
ALSO PLAYING (in order of closing)
MusicalFare closes Violet December 3 (musicalfare.com, 839-8540).
O’Connell & Company presents The Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society’s Production of A Christmas Carol: a Comedy at Shea’s Smith Theatre December 1–3 (oconnellandcompany.com, 848-0800).
Cinderella’s final performance at New Phoenix is December 16 (newphoenixtheatre.org, 853-1334).
Theatre of Youth presents A Charlie Brown Christmas December 2–17 (theatreofyouth.org; 884-4400).
The Night Before Christmas returns to Lancaster Opera House December 15–17 (lancopera.org, 683-1776).
Alleyway continues its A Christmas Carol tradition December 8–23 (alleyway.com, 852-2600).
It WAS a Wonderful Life returns to Forest Lawn Cemetery with dates through December 31 (forest-lawn.com [events by month]; 332-2233).
OPENING THIS MONTH
The Lion King opens December 13 at Shea’s (sheas.org, 847-1410).
Playwright Donna Hoke’s “Christmas” play, The Couple Next Door, opened last month in Turkey, and opens this month in Colorado Springs.