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A Wicked Top Ten
By Darwin McPherson

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While considering the upcoming theater season, I notice that across the board, the selections appear more daring than usual, without too many familiar titles or crowd-pleasers. The rule of the day seems to be “challenge and change,” not just for the audience, but the companies themselves. Studio Arena is collaborating creatively with local theaters on major productions, not just hosting. O’Connell and Company is doing plays (rather than simply revues). Despite the hardships out there, Buffalo’s theaters are doing full productions of creative, compelling material, and I commend them for that. Not that there’s anything wrong with lighter fare. After all, theater is a form of entertainment, and whatever tickles one’s fancy or stirs one’s heart is a worthy pastime.

That said, I offer ten picks for 2007-08.

Wicked
Shea’s Performing Arts Center
June 18-July 13


Though I like to think I’m a big booster of homegrown theater, I must admit I’m looking forward to this show more than any other. For everyone’s sake, I’m pleased Shea’s had the forethought to book a nice, long run for this musical take on the relationship between the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz mythos. While I haven’t seen the show, its rousing score has made me a fan from afar.

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A Moon for the Misbegotten
Irish Classical Theatre Company
November 2-December 1


The second show in ICTC’s Eugene O’Neill retrospective promises, like last year’s Long Day’s Journey into Night, to be another evening of deep, penetrating theater. This Long Day’s sequel of sorts features the incomparable cast of Brian Riggs (A Man of No Importance), Catherine Eaton (The Cobbler), and Gerry Maher (A Chip in the Sugar). Presenting atmospheric drama with a tangible sense of time and place is what the Irish Classical does best, and I can’t wait to follow them on this fascinating journey along the road of human relationships.

Twelve Angry Men
Kavinoky Theatre
January 4-February 3


A decade ago, I had the good fortune to get the last available seat (front row in the corner) of the last performance of the Studio Arena production of Twelve Angry Men, which featured Buffalo’s own Jack Hunter (along with Emanuel Fried and Saul Elkin). Hunter was impressive as the Foreman in this jury room drama that took on racial prejudice with Sherlock Holmes-ian precision. I’m sure the Kavinoky will deftly cast this production and offer a classic interpretation for the twenty-first century.

Altar Boyz
MusicalFare Theatre Company
September 12-October 14


The premise of this musical, featuring a Christian “boy band,” is both amusing and intriguing to me. I’m not a fan of Christian music, but I understand this show is good-spirited—in the best sense of the word—and has some fun with the religious theme without being too irreverent. I suspect the antics of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan, and Abraham will be a sleeper hit like Pageant, another unexpected comic gem from MusicalFare.

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Avenue Q
Shea’s Performing Arts Center
April 29-May 4


My subversive side loves the idea of this Sesame Street-inspired musical with puppet performers. Its decidedly adult approach to modern issues, with songs like “If You were Gay,” “The Internet is for Porn,” and “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” tells you that this is not for kids, but the puppets add an extra, accessible layer of fun. The word hilarious comes up often in describing this play, and its multiple Tony Awards lead me to believe this hip and creative show could be the future of American musical theater.

Thrill Me
New Phoenix Theatre
September 6-30


Even though the Leopold and Loeb case, involving two privileged young men who killed a young boy as an intellectual exercise, is over eighty years old, it remains one of the world’s most intriguing true-life crime scenarios. I’m curious to see how this Off-Broadway musical transplant, starring its creator Stephen Dolginoff and our own Joseph Demerly, plays out on the New Phoenix stage.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Studio Arena Theatre
January 29-February 22


Racial prejudice and the judicial system is the cornerstone of To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s legendary novel that Christopher Sergel adapted into an equally compelling drama. I’ve never seen this story on stage, but my greatest anticipation is seeing how Studio Arena and Road Less Traveled will work together.

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The School for Scandal
Irish Classical Theatre Company
September 13-October 14


It’s always a pleasure to see Vincent O’Neill and Josephine Hogan sharing the stage, especially for Curtain Up! This delightful eighteenth-century period piece is another demonstration of the Irish Classical doing what they do best. Derek Campbell directs a show that O’Neill says is “very funny ... a great piece of theater.”

On Golden Pond
O’Connell and Company
September 13-October 14


I’ve never seen the movie, but I think this venture into plays from the usually musical O’Connell and Company is an interesting move. Passion proved that they can handle more than plotless revues, and it’s nice to see them tackling the wide world of “straight” drama and comedy.

Halpern and Johnson
Jewish Repertory Theatre
February 21-March 17


This list can’t end without mentioning the Jewish Repertory Theatre, which consistently produces outstandingly riveting and poignant work. I’m particularly looking forward to Lionel Goldstein’s comedy-drama for its inspired pairing of Saul Elkin and Joseph Natale as two men who loved the same woman.

HONORABLE MENTION — Side By Side By Sondheim
Studio Arena Theatre
April 22-May 18


You can’t go wrong with Sondheim, and this collection offers the best from the Broadway legend with a generous selection from Company and other nice numbers like “Can That Boy Foxtrot” and “Send in the Clowns.”

Darwin McPherson is Director of Corporate Communications at WNED.


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