Onstage: Family ways
Get up close and personal as local theater explores familial relationships from the cradle to the grave.
Kaleidoscope closes out its 2011–12 season with Baby, which features music by Western New York native David Shire. For Kaleidoscope artistic director Beth Gerardi, this musical about three couples of different generations dealing with pregnancy was an easy choice.
“We have been getting numerous requests for the past several seasons to do a musical again” she says. “Our patrons loved both installments of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, and we think Baby possesses many similarities in structure, relevancy, and style. Most of all, there always needs to be relevancy to the lives of our patrons and our own lives as artists.”
Gerardi, who recently gave birth to her second child (with husband Keith Wharton, Kaleidoscope’s managing director), appears with Bobby Cooke in Baby as half of the “middle” couple. The college couple is played by Jake Albarella and Amy Jakiel, who both recently appeared in MusicalFare’s Avenue Q. The “older couple” are Greg and Mary Gjurich, who actually played the youngest duo in a production of Baby in the 1980s.
Lisa Ludwig, who is directing the Kaleidoscope show, was there the night the Gjuriches got engaged on stage (both as the characters and in real life). “It was a beautiful moment,” she says. “And now, here they are years later, reliving the production as the older married couple. It is really going to be special.
“Returning to [Baby] more than twenty-six years—and two of my own children—later, my thoughts of the piece are totally different now from what I felt then,” Ludwig adds. “Not better or worse. I am just at a different place in life—and that is what is neat about the show. All three of the couples are at different places in their ‘baby’ journey, and that is why I think audiences will enjoy and relate to a certain couple.”
Featuring music direction by Thea Fenton Wheeler, Baby plays June 8–23 at the Lecture Hall Theatre at Medaille College. (716-479-1587)
The Irish Classical gets historical this month as it presents Da by Hugh Leonard. The company produced it seventeen years ago under the direction of Chris O’Neill, the brother of ICTC artistic director Vincent O’Neill, at their old Calumet space.
“Da is, without a doubt, one of the most eminently popular of all modern Irish plays, and is revived regularly at the Abbey and at other Irish theaters,” says Vincent O’Neill, who directs this time. “It is truly a modern classic, and one of our favorite plays from the Irish repertoire spanning all periods and genres.”
O’Neill says Da is “a play of extraordinary human warmth which deals with the struggle in the 1960s between the new Ireland of the central figure Charlie Tynan (based on Hugh Leonard himself), and the old Ireland of his parents, his ‘Ma’ and ‘Da.’ Through the device of Charlie sharing his thoughts with the audience, we are brought into the struggles of his inner world and his efforts to leave the old Ireland behind.
“When Charlie returns from England for his father’s funeral, his Da returns to haunt him, and despite all his efforts, Charlie cannot shake him off. The ‘Da’ of the title is a delightfully unique and humorous character, whose ghost refuses to leave, and spreads anarchy and glee in equal measure throughout the play. Leonard uses memory as a device to make all the stage locations fluid, as Charlie’s thoughts range from present to past and back again.
“He also introduces the character of Young Charlie, who represents Charlie when he was a callow teenager, and so the conflict between the world that was and the new Ireland is made more poignant. Da is a beautifully human comedy, which carries a universal message about the bonds of family, and our inability to break completely from our past.”
ICTC vet Gerry Maher plays the titular role of Da, Josephine Hogan is Ma, and Patrick Moltane has the central role of Charlie, who narrates throughout. “Much like the Stage Manager in Wilder’s Our Town, [Charlie] guides the audience through all the changes,” O’Neill says. Other cast members are Wendy Hall, Jim Maloy, Kevin Craig, Genevieve Lerner, and Joe Liolos.
The June production is dedicated to Chris O’Neill, who passed away in 1997. His history with Da goes beyond the Irish Classical production he directed long ago, says O’Neill: “Chris in fact played the role of Young Charlie in the world premiere of the play in Dublin, so it has a very special significance for the O’Neills, and for the Irish Classical Theatre.”
Da opens June 7 at the Andrews Theatre at 625 Main Street. (716-853-4282)
Memphis, which swept the 2010 Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critic Circle Awards for Outstanding Musical and other categories, is coming to Shea’s. The energetic musical set in the 1950s tells the story of struggling young white DJ Huey Calhoun, who defies convention by embracing both the new rock and roll music that has hit the scene and a beautiful black singer named Felicia.
Featuring original music and lyrics by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan and Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), Memphis captures the musical and cultural revolutions with refreshing tunes like “Someday,” “Underground,” “Stand Up,” and “Memphis Lives in Me.” Fans of Jersey Boys should find Memphis equally appealing. The touring production of Memphis hits Shea’s Performing Arts Center from June 5 to 10. (800-745-3000)
For more sounds from yesterday—the 1940s to be exact—O’Connell and Company offers USO Coast to Coast: From the Hollywood Canteen to the Stage Door Canteen, which celebrates the seventieth anniversary of the USO with a patriotic, sentimental journey in the inimitable O’Connell and Co. style. The nostalgic tour runs through June 17 at Gleasner Hall at ECC North in Williamsville. (716-848-0800)
For more reviews and news about WNY theater join Spree and Forever Young theater previewer Darwin McPherson on Eyewitness News This Morning on WKBW-TV.