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Onstage / A February snapshot

Preview of WAITRESS plus this month on Buffalo stages

WAITRESS image courtesy of the tour




by Jessie Nelson (playwright) and Sara Bareilles (composer/lyricist)


When the film Waitress premiered in 2007, stage rights were acquired the same year, though it took six more years to put a creative team together. The musical version bowed on Broadway in 2016 and made history, as the four top creative spots—playwright, composer, choreographer, and director—were women. It garnered multiple nominations for major awards, including the Tony, and a tour began shortly afterward, in October 2017. Naturally, Buffalo—with its reputation for a top earning destination—was one of the first cities to receive the show.


Desi Oakley, who plays the lead, Jenna, has previously been on the Shea’s stage as Eva Peron, during the national Evita tour, and she’s excited to return in this story about an average woman on a journey of self-acceptance. “Jenna’s an expert piemaker at a pie diner, she’s in a loveless marriage, she doesn’t face reality well; she buries her problems in her pies,” previews Oakley. “She’s stuck, and Waitress takes us on her journey as she meets people and her eyes are opened. She’s faced with choices and forced to consider if she’s worth something more, worthy of her dreams. It’s very real; Jenna is the girl next door. It’s a beautiful story of self-acceptance, but, at the same time, we’re singing Sara Bareilles songs and eating pie. What more could you ask for?”


Oakley says having women around not only meant that someone like director Diane Paulus could explain exactly what a contraction feels like, but also that the story, lyrics, and text reflect a vulnerability that is poignant.


“A lot of it is raw and full of emotion and has a bravery that is needed to tell that side of the story for a woman,” Oakley explains. “That’s what is so compelling, that’s why audiences can’t take their eyes away. The women behind the script and score and direction and choreography have made it a beautiful and open canvas that I can paint on. It’s subtle, not in your face, and the end result is just exquisite.”


>> Waitress opens February 6 at Shea’s (sheas.org, 716-847-0850)



Master Harold photo by David Cooper


DON’T MISS: Master Harold…and the Boys

at Shea’s 710 Main

A transfer from the 2016 Shaw Festival season, Master Harold… and the Boys was far and away my favorite show from that slate. A classic that’s still taught in college classrooms, it hasn’t lost its appeal onstage. Largely autobiographical, Master Harold was first produced in 1982, forty years after the incident the playwright has dramatized: a schoolboy argues with and ultimately spits in the face of his “most significant—the only friend,” a black waiter at his mother’s tea room.


Fugard has publicly confided it took those forty years for him to “deal with the shame.” And it’s that honesty, that painful reality—as well as Fugard’s beautiful writing, which takes center stage as the play slowly unfolds—that makes this piece hit so hard. With all the new plays on race currently in circulation—it’s a zeitgeisty topic after all—there is something about this one, even though its set in South Africa (where it was initially banned) during 1950 apartheid, and its naked exposure of privileged racism that makes it feel like the unflinching grandfather of them all.


The Shaw production was pitch perfect, earning critical accolades across the board for its fine performances and flawless tone. And while Shea’s 710 might deplete some of the intimacy that enhanced the production at the Court Theatre, it’s still a second chance to see a superb production. How often does that happen?


>> Master Harold… and the Boys opens February 15 at Shea’s 710 Theatre  (sheas.org, 847-0850).



Quick six: The Diary of Anne Frank

at Lancaster Opera House

Dramatization by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman,


Synopsis: Based on the best-selling The Diary of Anne Frank, the play follows the lives of eight people hiding from the Nazis in a concealed storage attic.


Also called The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne’s original manuscripts now reside, per her father’s will, in the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation. They have been translated into sixty languages.


The original adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank opened at the Cort Theater on Broadway in October 1955, transferred to the Ambassador in 1957, and finally closed after running 717 performances. It won the Tony for Best Play.


This adaptation, written more than forty years after the original but now twenty years old itself, focuses on the characters’ humanity and the claustrophobic realities of their daily existence. It used additional writings from Anne as well as survivor accounts to fill in more details. It was nominated for a Tony in 1998.


Another play, Compulsion or the House Behind, by Rinne Groff, chronicles playwright Meyer Levin’s attempt to get his own adaptation—one he wrote after discovering Anne’s diary and lobbying to get it published in the United States—to the stage. Anne’s father, Otto, sided with Broadway producers in supporting the more sentimental, “less Jewish,” version presented by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Jewish Repertory Theatre produced Compulsion in 2016.


What they said: “A simple mention of Anne Frank is enough to cause one to lower one’s voice in a kind of reverence. Seeing the work staged, however, reminds us that the Frank family and their friends weren’t just hallowed names out of history but something far more complex: human beings, who held the usual measures of anger, warmth and confusion.”__ Ken Jaworowski, The New York Times, 2015



Opening This Month

>> Jewish Repertory Theatre opens Rose February 1 (jewishrepertorytheatre.com, 888-718-4253).

>> Way Back When begins at New Phoenix February 2 (newphoenixtheatre.org, 853-1334).

>> Waitress opens February 6 at Shea’s (sheas.org, 716-847-0850).

>> MusicalFare opens Smoky Joe’s Café: the songs of Lieber and Stoller February 7 (musicalfare.com, 839-8540).

>> The Diary of Anne Frank hits Lancaster Opera House February 9 (lancopera.org, 683-1776).

>> Alleyway introduces Beginning Again on February 15 (alleyway.com, 852-2600).

>> Master Harold… and the Boys opens February 15 at Shea’s 710 Theatre  (sheas.org, 847-0850).


Also Playing

(in order of closing):


>> How I Learned To Drive wraps up at Subversive Theatre Collective February 10 (subversivetheatre.org, 408-0499).

>> O’Connell and Company continues An Act of God through February 11 (oconnellandcompany.com, 848-0800).

>> The Constant Wife by W. Somerset Maugham finishes February 11 at Irish Classical Theatre Company (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 853-4282).

>> Skeleton Crew finishes at the Paul Robeson Theatre February 11 (aaccbuffalo.org, 884-2013).

>> Road Less Traveled Productions closes The Nether February 11 (roadlesstraveledproductions.org; 629-3069).                  


Playwright Donna Hoke writes about theater for Spree and Forever Young.


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