Onstage / Three to see
Photo of Dashaun Young courtesy of Shea’s and Dashaun Young
Opening This Month
Theatre of Youth opens The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe March 11 (theatreofyouth.org, 884-4400).
Fully Committed opens at Irish Classical Theatre March 11 (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 853-4282).
The world premiere of Safe opens March 11 (roadlesstraveledproductions.org, )
Buffalo Quickies opens March 24 at Alleyway Theatre (alleyway.com, 852-2600).
New Phoenix opens Of Mice and Men on March 25 (newphoenixtheatre.org, 853-1334).
The world premiere of The Mark of Cain opens at Subversive Theatre March 31 (subversivetheatre.org, 408-0499).
Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
By Douglas McGrath
People outside the theater community may not be aware that Buffalo has its very own Fame school, Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. And if you see this month’s production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at Shea’s, you’ll see Dashaun Young, one of the school’s success stories, on stage.
“Performing Arts was the start of everything for me,” says Young, who grew up on the East Side and still keeps in touch with most of his teachers at Performing Arts. “I try to see them when I’m in town. Claudia Marshall, the acting teacher, is the one I keep in contact with most.”
Students at Performing Arts see every show at Shea’s, so performing on the stage is a treat for Young, who has also been on the Shea’s stage with tours of Hairspray and Sister Act. “It’s crazy,” he says. “It feels so much more special and emotional in a way, to be on the stage that I remembered sitting and watching when I was younger.”
Of course, Young’s friends and family will be in attendance at Beautiful, where Young plays one of the Drifters. “We do a few numbers together,” he says. “My favorite part is when the Drifters and the Shirelles sing, because we get to perform all the showy show-stopping numbers, and it’s almost like a concert when we get on stage, so it’s fun to do that every night.”
Even so, Young emphasizes that Carole King and her story are the heart of the show. “Technically, it’s a jukebox musical, but the story is what sets it apart from most jukebox musicals that force the story to go with the music,” he says, adding that, “Until I got in the show I didn’t realize how much Carole King music I actually did know, and that I’d grown up listening to people doing covers of her songs. I didn’t know I was a fan, and now I’m a huge fan.”
Like Young, a lot of people come to the show not really knowing what it’s going to be about, and leave as fans of both King and her music. “Audiences leave so excited and happy,” he says. “This leaves people on their feet; I don’t think there’s one show where we haven’t had a standing ovation. It’s kind of amazing.”
See Beautiful: The Carole King Musical at Shea’s for one week only beginning March 15 (sheas.org, 847-0850).
The House of Blue Leaves
American Repertory Theater of Western New York
By John Guare
Director: Drew McCabe
Cast: Thomas LaChiusa, Diane DiBernardo, Rick Lattimer, Heather Reed, Scot Kaitanowski, Maura Nolan, Virginia Brannon, Lisa Sember, Erica Lorenzetti
“The House of Blue Leaves is about change in one’s life in the pursuit of a dream,” previews director Drew McCabe. “All the characters may be different ages or from different places/positions in life in the piece’s world, but essentially, each one is trying not to lose whatever dream has become important to them.” More specifically, the play focuses on zookeeper Artie Shaughnessy, who’d rather be writing songs than tending to the animals. His dreams and reality collide on the day Pope Paul VI visits New York City.
Though the play is set in 1965 and had its first performance in 1966, McCabe sees it as merely period, not old, “at least not in my heart,” he says. “The idea of being in a place in your life where you hit a wall and you need a change to keep your dream alive is a situation that has been shared among all generations. I was directing fairly nonstop, but I started to tire and I took a year off to reflect. The conclusion I came to is, I’m just a twentieth century man stuck in the twenty-first century, so from my POV, this play isn’t old but more like visiting an old friend. Its universal themes just make it feel timeless.”
Though ARTWNY’s mission is to stage American plays and musicals, McCabe sees this fulfilling the subtle aspects of what makes a good ARTWNY play. “It plays to a lot of what the company has become good at, things that at times have a slightly dark edge, that can work in smaller spaces, yet are still funny,” he notes. “I like wit, I like dark humor, and certainly Guare in this, and in his other works, embodies that.”
The House of Blue Leaves reunites McCabe with leading man Thomas LaChiusa (as Artie); they last worked together on ARTWNY’s production of The Crucible. “Folks wonder why they’ll see a play or a film and notice a director has used an actor or actress several times in a row,” McCabe says, “and a lot of that comes down to electricity that grows between them. If this was a studio system and I could lock him in paired with me on an eight-show deal, I’d take it. We built the rest of the cast around his charisma. Diane DiBernardo will play his wife, Bananas; Rick Lattimer, his son, Ronnie; Heather Reed, the ‘other woman’ who lives below him; Scot Kaitanowski as his old friend Billy; Maura Nolan as Hollywood star Corrinna; and Virginia Brannon, Lisa Sember, and Erica Lorenzetti as a trio of nuns who get mixed up with them on this fateful day.”
American Repertory Theater of Western New York opens The House of Blues Leaves March 11 (artofwny.com, 634-1102).
Compulsion or The House Behind
Jewish Repertory Theatre
By Rinne Groff
Director: Saul Elkin
Cast: Peter Palmisano, Anne Roaldi, Ray Boucher
In 1955, Jewish Repertory Theatre artistic director Saul Elkin saw the original Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank. “I had just gotten out of the army at the end of the Korean War and, literally, the day I got home I went down to the theater district just to wander about and soak it all up, saw the marquee for the play, and bought a ticket for the matinee that afternoon,” he recalls. “A few years later, I played Otto Frank in summer stock—I was far too young at the time—and then, years later, here in Buffalo in a production that Meg Quinn directed for TOY in 2000, I played Otto again, this time with my daughter, Rebecca, then fifteen, playing Anne. This is a production that will always live in my mind and heart.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Elkin would be intrigued by Compulsion or the House Behind, which chronicles the journey of Sid Silver—who represents journalist/author Meyer Levin—from discovery of Anne’s diary through his ultimately fruitless efforts to share her story. “Levin read the diary in France after World War II, lobbied to have it published in the United States, wrote a front page article for the New York Times Book Review and hoped to have his stage adaptation produced,” Elkin shares. “His play, however, was passed over by the Broadway producers and Otto Frank in favor of the version which was ultimately produced. Compulsion follows Silver’s—Levin’s—unsuccessful attempt to have his version of the play produced, a version that puts the Holocaust and the diary’s ‘Jewishness’ front and center as the Broadway production did not. Silver’s obsession with his version of the story is at the heart of this play.”
Aside from the subject matter, Elkin was drawn to the play because it uses puppets to portray Anne and her friend, Peter. “These will be designed and rendered by Michelle Costa and operated by puppeteers and voiced by Anne Roaldi and Ray Boucher, who also play a variety of other characters in Silver’s life. The puppets give an extra dramatic dimension to the story, and I have always felt that they allow us in the audience to project emotions onto these fixed faces and figures in ways we don’t anticipate. They allow us to hear Anne’s voice directly, both in selections from the diary and in comment on the issues the play raises.”
Jewish Repertory Theatre opens Compulsion or the House Behind March 31 (jewishrepertorytheatre.com, 888-718-4253).
Also Playing (In Order Of Closing)
Wiesenthal runs March 3–6 at 710 Main, 847-0850).
The City of Conversation runs through March 20 at Kavinoky (kavinokytheatre.com, 881-7668).