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Theatre Beat: Jim Santella's Mini Reviews

Jim Santella reviews The Girl in the Frame at Musicalfare, Crowns at Studio Arena and Lobby Hero at the Kavinoky. By Jim Santella

Buffalo, NY – The Girl in the Frame with book, words and music by Jeremy Desmon, now on stage at MusicalFare, 4380 Main St., Snyder, through February 6th. Telephone: 839-8540

Plot: This romantic comedy takes as its premise, the magical appearance of Evelyn (Kathy Weese), an ideal girl in a picture frame who lavishes extravagant attention upon Alex (Louis Colaiacovo), an otherwise hapless male.

Remarks: Buffalo?s homegrown talent Jeremy Desmon has crafted a tight romantic musical comedy that delivers a strong book, music and lyrics.

Directed with flair by Dough Weyand, the story starts with an incredible premise and never looks back. Alex and Laney (Lisa Ludwig) are a contemporary pair that want it all and neither one wants to pick up the check.

When Evelyn magically appears to fulfill, Alex?s every fantasy (encyclopedic sports knowledge, kinky sex and extravagantly cooked meals), the plot settles into a comfortable comedy about commitment.

The appearance of Tomas (Adam Zelasko), Laney?s fantasy lover greases the tracks and speeds the story to its predictable happy ending.

The cast is more than up for the excursion into fantasy and Desmon has a light touch with the ?90s styled ironic humor.

The music and lyrics, especially in material Like the opening "Dinner at Cenzo" which features Alex and Laney bickering is highly polished, effervescent and clever.

Desmon?s musical roots seem to be is an extension of the Stephen Sondheim style favored by young, contemporary composer/lyricists like Jason Robert Brown and Adam Guettel.

If the content is not as strong as the form, that can be attributed to experience. I truly enjoyed the interplay of words, music and story. Desmon seems to have the ?right stuff.?

The cast is perfect. Colaiacovo shines in solo numbers like "Do You Dance Evelyn" while in "That?s What Fantasies Are For," he is joined by Weese (adorned in a white "Seven Year Itch" Marilyn Monroe dress).

Ludwig and Zelasko wring the comic bejabbers out of the entertaining script and cull the audience?s favor successfuly.

Summary: It?s hard to criticize this light romantic comedy that has it all. A Saturday evening MusicalFare audience was delighted. The future would appear to be bright for the young Jeremy Desmon. Rating: Four Stars (Five Star System)

Crowns: A Celebration of Black Female "Hatitude," a musical by Regina Taylor at the Studio Arena, 710 Main Street, 856-8025, through January 30th.

Plot: A musical and social history of black church women who sing their songs and tell their tales of pride and growth spurred on by the hats that define them.

Remarks: Wear a hat make a statement. That?s the pennywise catch-phrase of Regina Taylor?s marvelous Crowns.

To miss this feisty assertion of Black female pride is to lose the opportunity to see one of the best productions to grace Studio Arena in some time.

Yolanda (feisty Roz Beauty Davis) is a Brooklyn hip hop teen who is sent by her mother to her grandmother in Darlington, South Carolina after her adored brother Teddy is killed on the mean streets of New York.

Yolanda is looking for answers to her brothers unnecessary death but what she gets is a schooling by her grandmother, Grandma Shaw (the ebullient Barbara D. Mills) and her church-going lady friends.

Yolanda is too hip for the rural, gospel- singing women... But, through their stories and songs Yolanda absorbs the cultural heritage of Black America.

The journey starts in Africa, overcomes slavery in America and ends up by "crowning" these women?s African roots. "Our crowns have been paid for; all we have to do is wear them."

The Studio Arena stage is resplendent in Costume designer Emilio Sosa?s hats that tilt, swagger and comment on the action.

Not all women can wear hats comfortably says one of the ladies. One needs "hatitude" to wear one?s "crown" properly asserts one of the other women.

While another warns that "I?d lend my children before I?d lend my hat. My children know their way home!"

The inspired cast also includes Rob Barnes, the lone male, Gretha Boston, Lavon D. Fisher, Angela Karol Grovey and Joy Lynn Matthews. They provide an unchallengeable orchestration of hand-clapping and foot-stomping performances that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

Even percussionist Romero Wyatt and key board playing Music Director e?Marcus Harper perform as characters.

Summary: Ultimately, playwright Regina Taylor?s work married to the talents of a great cast directed and choreographed imaginatively by Marion J. Caffey delivers the message of Black pride. African Americans paid for the right to wear their crowns but at a high price. Rating: Five Stars (Five Star System)

Lobby Hero, a dramatic comedy at the Kavinoky Theatre, D?Youville College, 320 Porter Ave., 829-7668, through February 6.

Plot:In this charming comedy that explores high moral issues, Jeff is an Everyman who works as a security officer in the lobby of a Manhattan high rise. He?s an easy going, wisecracking, thirty-something doofus who strives to do the right thing in a world that doesn?t place a high value on principles. He gets involved in the family problems of his security captain, a well-intentioned disciplinarian who sees all moral issues in black and white choices and who sees Jeff as his own reclamation project. When Jeff gets a crush on Dawn, a rookie cop with a randy police partner, he discovers that life is anything but simple or black and white but infinite shades of grey. The two rent-a-cops and the two real cops lob moral questions at one another like a drunken clown juggling hand grenades.

Pros & Cons: Michael Karr as Jeff is perfectly cast as the reluctant hero who, like television?s "The Great American Hero," does the right thing despite his lack of heroism.

With a compulsive swipe at an unruly lock of hair, Karr spins out a tapestry of ironic comments and jerky movements that spotlight playwright Kenneth Lonergan?s exploration of good and evil.

Even Jeff, the reluctant hero is not above lying to save his job. Richard Satterwhite, as Jeff?s supervisor/captain William, is almost tragic as he topples from grace.

Drew Kahn as Bill the macho cop who?s not above doing the right thing for the wrong reason to get his detective?s gold badge is by turns oily and dangerous.

Katie Ann McDermott gives a strong performance as the rookie cop who admires the strength of her partner only to discover her hero has feet of clay.

Although, the play becomes chatty at times while it moves from moment to moment, the strong cast keeps the overall performance riveting as well as entertaining.

Director Michael Koegel takes full advantage of his talented crew to exploit the ironic comedy of Lonergan?s play which explores such serious issues as justice and the American judicial system.

Summary: In a world that challenges even the most heroic to acknowledge the impossibility of making pure moral choices, Lobby Hero serves up a tough minded morality play to chew on. Rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars (Five Star System)