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Theater Talk: LET'S PLAY HOUSE closes soon, Viola Davis achieves EGOT status, WICKET and TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE continue, and we find out who plays "Thing" on "Wednesday"

LET'S PLAY HOUSE has Kelly Mongan, Austin Gallego, and Madison Sedlor in DO THE SPIRITS CONVEY
Bob Rusch
/
First Look Buffalo
LET'S PLAY HOUSE has Kelly Mongan, Austin Gallego, and Madison Sedlor in DO THE SPIRITS CONVEY

This week on Theater Talk we recognize Viola Davis, who, upon receiving a Grammy Award for best audiobook, narration, and storytelling recording for her memoir, "Finding Me," at the 2023 Grammy Awards, has achieved EGOT status.

The honor follows her Emmy win for "How to Get Away With Murder" (2015), an Oscar for "Fences" (2017), and a Tony for both August Wilson plays "KING HEDLEY II" (2001) and FENCES (2010). She's only the third Black woman to claim EGOT status, and the 18th person to receive the honor overall. She said: "I wrote this book to honor the 6-year-old Viola — to honor her life, her joy, her trauma, her everything."

Anthony was charmed to find that "Thing" (the hand) on Netflix's series "Wednesday" (an Addams Family spinoff) is played by Romanian Actor, Victor Dorobantu, who is a magician and illusionist. It's not CGI. It's a real person behind the illusion.

Josh Groban will be on Broadway next month playing "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Peter thought that Groban might be too sweet a guy for the role, but Anthony pointed out that before Judge Turpin cruelly messed with Todd, he was a nice guy. Remember that sometimes "Bad Things Happen to Good People." Will that be the new tagline on the poster?

Anthony is more looking forward to the performance of Tony Award-winning Annaleigh Ashford as Sweeney Todd's partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett. On Broadway, she's played Lauren in KINKY BOOTS (2013–14), won her Tony as Essie Carmichael in YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU (2014–15), and in 2017, Ashford starred in the critically acclaimed, limited-run revival of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE opposite Jake Gyllenhaal.

WICKET (a musical send-up of the "Star Wars" film franchise) opened last week at O'Connell & Company's "second home" at the Smith Theatre downtown. Anthony reports that it's highly enjoyable "lowbrow burlesque" and was particularly impressed by actor Sam Crystal in the title role of an Ewok named "Wicket." See the listings below.

LET'S PLAY HOUSE (lead image) is a fast-paced short play festival (8 plays in 90 minutes) presented by First Look Buffalo at the Park School in Amherst. It's only up through this weekend. Read Peter's review here. See the listings below.

And, at the Jewish Repertory Theatre at the Jewish Community Center on North Forest in Amherst, Adam Yellen plays Mith and Jack Hunter plays Morrie, the professor, two superb actors, in TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, wonderfully adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher to make compelling theater with momentum and even suspense out of a memoir novel of a man succumbing to ALS. See the listings below.

Don't forget to subscribe to Anthony's free website theatertalkbuffalo.com.

LISTINGS ARE PRESENTED AS FOLLOWS: CLOSINGS (this weekend), then OPENINGS (this week), CONTINUING, and OPENING LATER THIS MONTH.

CLOSINGS (alphabetically by title)

ANN, a play by Holland Taylor, directed by Lara D. Haberberger, presented by the Brazen Faced Varlets, starring Priscilla Young Anker as Ann Richards. January 27 - February 11, Fridays - Saturdays at 7:30 at the Alleyway Theatre's Cabaret Space, 1 Curtain Up Alley (between Pearl and Main north of Shea's). 716-852-2600 alleyway.com Runtime: About 2 hours with intermission.

ANN BLURB: "Tough as nails, funny as hell" ANN is a no-holds-barred portrait of Ann Richards, the legendary late Governor of Texas who said, "I'm not afraid to shake up the system, and the government needs more shaking up than any other system I know." PLaywright Holland Taylor is known to many for her role as Evelyn Harper (Charlie's mother) in the TV sitcom "Two and a Half Men."

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LET'S PLAY HOUSE: EIGHT SHORT PLAYS. ONE EMPTY HOUSE, by Drew Fornarola, Jeff Goode (2), Adam Hahn, Donna Hoke, Samantha Macher, Wendy Marie-Martin, and Avery LaMar Pope, presented by First Look Buffalo. February 3 - 12, Fridays-Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 2:00. At The Park School of Buffalo Theatre, located on the school’s campus at 4625 Harlem Road in Amherst, NY. Parking is free. FirstLookBuffalo.com

LET'S PLAY HOUSE BLURB: This production features eight short world premiere plays that all take place in the same setting, an empty house. The plays are all written by members of First Look Buffalos playwright wing and feature a variety of both comedies and dramas, with topics ranging from the loss of a loved one, the paranormal, and even time travel.

First Look Buffalo is a company of thirty-seven ensemble actors, seven directors, and nine playwrights. Its founders, Bob Rusch and John Patrick Patti, will present a series of staged productions, readings, and workshops throughout the year in the 110-seat theatre.

THE EIGHT SHORT PLAYS ARE AS FOLLOWS:

JUST SIGN by Wendy Marie-Martin, directed by Vanessa Shevat. Starring Susan King and Anthony J. Grande.

THE MEAN BOY ON MOVING DAY by Donna Hoke, directed by Vanessa Shevat. Starring Jesse Zappia, Madison Sedlor, Shanda Gardner, Nick Lama, Kari Becker, and Jacob Applegate.

RECIPES ON USED NAPKINS by Avery LaMar Pope, directed by Kayla Victoria Reumann. Starring Steven Maiseke, and Shawnell Tillery.

THE FUTURE FORMER HOME OF THE TIME TRAVEL MUSEUM by Jeff Goode, directed by Mike Doben. Starring Weston Young, Kari Becker, Shanda Gardner, and Jon Cesar.

QUIET CONNECTION written and directed by Drew Fornarola. Starring Kaylie Horowitz and Jacob Applegate.

DO THE SPIRITS CONVEY by Samantha Macher, directed by Drew Fornarola. Starring Madison Sedlor, Kelly Mornan, Austin Gallego, Jon Cesar, Sarah Waechter, Shawnell Tillery, Anthony J. Grande, and Kari Becker.

OPEN HOUSE OF THE DAMNED by Adam Hahn, directed by Mike Doben. Starring Steven Maiseke, Kaylie Horowitz, and Weston Young.

ELF SPACE by Jeff Goode, directed by Kayla Victoria Reumann. Starring Nick Lama, Sarah Waechter, Kathleen Rooney, Shanda Gardner, and Jesse Zappia.

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OPENINGS THIS WEEK (alphabetically by title)

THE ALEPH COMPLEX, a play by Deborah Yarchun, directed by Robyn Lee Horn, presented by the Alleyway Theatre, starring Caroline Kolasny, Sara Kow-Falcone, and Josh Wilde. February 10 - March 4, Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30 at the Alleyway Theatre, 1 Curtain Up Alley (between Pearl and Main north of Shea's). 716-852-2600 alley.com

Additional Information: Pay What You Can Previews, most at 7:30: February 10, 11, 14, but Superbowl Sunday 2/12 at 2 pm.

Playwright Chats February 12 & 14 following the 7:30 performances

Opening Night: February 15 at 7:30

Industry Monday: February 20 at 7:30

Afternoon Matinee: February 25 at 3:30

THE ALEPH COMPLEX BLURB: To save herself from her chronically incessant thoughts, Nicky converts them into sounds so she can fall asleep to the sound of rain. This works until, during a bout of crippling social anxiety at college, a thought about her mother turns into a vicious storm. Nicky outruns the storm all the way home, where she returns to her old job at the Container Store and to Mom… who hasn’t left the apartment in five years. While searching for self-help books at the Last Borders Bookstore on the Planet, she meets Borders Guy, the Last Borders Employee on the Planet, who introduces her to the mysterious Aleph, a Borges-inspired point of overwhelming omniscience he guards in the back of the store. Through a chain of “self-help” both comic and poignant, Nicky, her mother, and Borders Guy struggle to smash down the walls that enclose their lives. A fantastical new drama about the power of human connection, THE ALEPH COMPLEX is the 2020 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Award Winner.

CONTINUING (alphabetically by title)

IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY, a play by Ray Cooney ("Britain's Master of Comedy/Farce"), directed by Jay Desiderio, presented by Desiderio's Dinner Theatre at Bobby J's, starring Dave Marciniak, Lisa Hinca, Dan Greer, Lisa Vitrano, Margo Davis, Jeremy Kreuzer, Brendan Cunningham, Len Mendez, Bill Baldwin, Katherine Parker, and Bob Lohr. Through March 12, shows run most Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and some Wednesdays Sundays fluctuate between matinee or evening performances). Dinner at 6:00 with the show at 7:30 - Matinees dinner at 1:00 with the show at 2:30. Desiderio's Dinner Theatre is in the back of Bobby J's Italian American Grille 204 Como Park Blvd. Cheektowaga, 14227.

716.395.3207 or visit mybobbyjs.com/desiderio-dinner-theatre

IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY BLURB: Dr. Mortimore is up for a huge promotion as he prepares to deliver the most important speech of his life when an ex-girlfriend, a punkish son (whom he never knew he had), his wife, a cop, and other all appear on the scene wreaking havoc at St. Andres Hospital.

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TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, a play by Mitch Albom and Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by Josie DiVincenzo, presented by Jewish Repertory Theatre, starring Adam Yellen as Mitch and Jack Hunter as Morrie. February 2 - 26, Thursdays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2. The Maine and Robert Seller Theater in the Jewish Community Center, 2640 N. Forest Road

Amherst, NY 14068. 716-688-4033 jccbuffalo.org/jewish-repertory-theatre

TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE BLURB: Based on the 2006 best-selling memoir, TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE is the autobiographical story of Mitch Albom, an accomplished journalist driven solely by his career, and Morrie Schwartz, his former college professor. Sixteen years after graduation, Mitch happens to catch Morrie’s appearance on a television news program and learns that his old professor is battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Mitch is reunited with Morrie, and what starts as a simple visit turns into a weekly pilgrimage and a last class in the meaning of life. Starring JCC Director of Performing Arts, Adam Yellen, and Buffalo acting legend Jack Hunter. Directed by Award Winning JRT actor Josie DiVincenzo (DAI, WHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW, and others).

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WICKET - A Parody Musical: The Untold Story of the Ewoks of Bright Tree Village, book and lyrics by Travis Sharp, music and lyrics by Haddon Kime, directed by Joey Bucheker, musical direction by Lucas Colon, presented by O'Connell & Co. (at the Smith Theatre), starring Sam Crystal, Corey Bieber, Marissa Biondolillo, Jeremy Catania, Jake Hayes, Nathanial Higgins, John Kreuzer, Jetaun Louie, Megan Mahaney, Vincent Murphy, Rylie Randall and Stefanie Warnick. February 3 - 19, Fridays - Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 3:00, at the Smith Theatre, 658 Main St, Buffalo 716-848-0800 oconnellandcompany.com

WICKET BLURB: Wicket- A Parody Musical does for Star Wars what Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz; it’s a loving homage and cutting parody combined. Wicket spotlights one of George Lucas’ most dubious creations—the fuzzy space teddy-bear Ewoks—to explore the love/hate relationship between creators and fans while calling Lucas to task for the racism, sexism, and maybe even sizeism of the original Star Wars trilogy.

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OPENING LATER THIS FEBRUARY (alphabetically by title)

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HADESTOWN, a musical by Anaïs Mitchell, directed by Rachel Chavkin, a national tour presented by Shea's Broadway Series, starring Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes, Lindsey Hailes as Persephone, Chibueze Ihuoma as Orpheus, Matthew Patrick Quinn as Hades, Hannah Whitley as Eurydice, and Buffalo's own Dominique Kempf as one of the Fates. February 21-26, Tuesday - Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00, Sunday at 1:00 & 6:30 at Shea's Buffalo Theatre, 646 Main Street, Buffalo 716-847-1410 sheas.org/buffalo-theatre/

WARNING - Hadestown is recommended for ages 8+. Runtime: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.

HADESTOWN BLURB: Loosely based on various Greek myths, Hades (god or here king of the underworld) has taken Persephone to be his bride, but when she is in "Hadestown" with her husband, the world is cold and barren, so she is allowed to return to earth for 6 months of fertility. But Hades keeps coming to take Persephone back earlier and earlier, throwing the seasons out of joint (think climate change). Meanwhile, Eurydice is in love with a musician (poor girl) named Orpheus, but when he seems more interested in his music than her (what a surprise), she leaves to get a job in Hadestown. When Orpheus travels to win her back, Hades is impressed by his commitment to true love (who could have known?) and makes a deal with him. He can leave with her, but if he has doubts and looks back, she stays in Hadestown forever. Tip: The Shea's website is quite robust with all sorts of detailed background information.

AWARDS: Winner of eight (8!) Tony Awards in 2019 including Best Musical, Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre, and Best Orchestrations. "SUMPTUOUS. GORGEOUS. AS GOOD AS IT GETS." – Jesse Green, The New York Times,

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INTO THE WOODS, Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by James Lapine, Direct from Broadway, 2 shows only, Saturday 2/18 at 8 and Sunday 2/19 at 1:00 at Shea's Performing Arts Center,

INTO THE WOODS BLURB: Direct from Broadway, the critically acclaimed and much-beloved production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Tony®-winning triumph is coming to Buffalo with its Broadway stars to boot. Into the Woods features Montego Glover as The Witch, Stephanie J. Block as The Baker’s Wife, Sebastian Arcelus as The Baker, and Gavin Creel as Cinderella’s Prince/Wolf – all reprising their Broadway roles – in a production called “radiant” (Variety), “enchanting” (The Wall Street Journal), and “a priceless revival with a perfect cast” (The Washington Post). Directed by Lear deBessonet (Hercules), this theatrical event honors Sondheim’s legendary memory and his Broadway masterpiece like never before.

Choreographed by Lorin Latarro, Music Supervisor Rob Berman, Directed by Lear deBessonet.

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MERCY SEAT, plays by various local writers, inspired by the music of Nick Cave, directed by TBA, presented by American Repertory Theatre, starring TBA. February 16 - March 11 at the Compass Performing Arts Center (formerly Theatre Loft), 545 Elmwood Avenue. (716) 697-0837 artofwny.org

MERCY SEAT BLURB: Throughout the past 15 seasons, ART/WNY has highlighted local playwrights through a one-act showcase in which works submitted were influenced by a specific musician or a band. These works are incorporated into a broader narrative that weaves these one-acts together. MERCY SEAT now follows the same artistic vision by highlighting the music of Nick Cave through well-crafted works submitted by regional artists.

The background of MERCY SEAT is a tent revival in which souls entering the revival seek redemption, forgiveness, understanding, and all other elements found in Nick Cave's narrative and lyrical music. Works must be geared to interact with other pieces submitted including intro & outros of the scene. Leading the revival will be a wild-eyed, brimstone and fire Preacher who, with his choir, will determine the outcome of each poor soul.

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THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, a play by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer, directed by Michael Galante & Adriano Gatto, presented by D'Youville University's Kavinoky Theatre, starring TBA. February 24 - March 19, Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30, Also Saturdays at 3:30, Sundays at 2:00 at the Kavinoky, 320 Porter Ave, Buffalo, NY 14201 716-829-7668 kavinokytheatre.com

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG BLURB: This long-running West End and Off-Broadway smash hit follows the antics of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are trying their very best to stage a production of a 1920s murder mystery. As the show's title might suggest, this is not as easy as it sounds with everything that can go wrong doing just that.

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TELL ME ON A SUNDAY, a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black, directed by Doug Weyand, presented by MusicalFare Theatre, starring Leah Berst. February 15 - March 19, :

Wednesdays - Thursdays at 7:00, Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 & 7:30, Sundays at 2:00, on the MusicalFare Theatre mainstage, c/o Daemen College 4380 Main Street, Suite 123, Amherst, NY 14226 (716) 839-8540 musicalfare.com

TELL ME ON A SUNDAY BLURB: One of Andrew Lloyd Webber's (CATS, EVITA, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) earliest hits with music by Webber and lyrics by Don Black. A one-woman show, it has been performed by a number of female singers/actors, most notably Marti Webb and Bernadette Peters. A one-act song cycle, it tells the story of an ordinary English girl from Muswell Hill, who journeys to the United States in search of love. Her romantic misadventures begin in New York City, lead her to Hollywood, and eventually take her back to Manhattan. Brimming with optimism, she sets out to seek success, companionship and, of course, love. But as she weaves her way through the maze of the city and her own anxieties, frustrations and heartaches, she begins to wonder whether—in fact—she’s been looking for love in all the wrong places.

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THE TEMPEST, a play by William Shakespeare, in collaboration with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti with musical direction by JoAnn Falletta, starring Aleks Malejs as Prospero/a. February 24-26, Friday 2/24 at 7:30, Saturday 2/25 at 7:30, Sunday 2/26 at 2:30. At Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle. 716-882-5000 bpo.org

THE TEMPEST BLURB: ICTC and the BPO unite once more for a unique theatrical experience. Thought to be one of the last plays William Shakespeare authored alone, The Tempest tells the story of the sorcerer Prospero/a and his daughter Miranda, as they intervene in the lives of shipwreck survivors after having been stranded on a remote island for twelve years. ICTC Associate Director Fortunato Pezzimenti and Award-Winning BPO Conductor JoAnn Falletta team up once more to present this special one-weekend-only performance of fantastical theatrics, magic, and the music of Sibelius.

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THE THIN PLACE, a play by Lucas Hnath, directed by TBA, presented by Road Less Traveled Productions, starring TBA. February 23 - March 26 Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00 at the RLTP theatre, 456 Main Street, Buffalo 14202 (716) 629-3069 roadlesstraveledproductions.org

THE THIN PLACE BLURB: Everyone who ever died is still here, just in a different part of here. Linda can communicate with them. And if you believe, she can make you hear them, too — in the thin place, the fragile boundary between our world and the other one. With acuity, relentless curiosity and a bit of magic, Lucas Hnath’s play transforms the theater into an intimate séance, crafting an unnerving testament to the power of the mind, which has a mind of its own.

Hnath was Tony Award-nominated for his play A DOLL'S HOUSE, Part 2 in 2017. He is also the writer of THE CHRISTIANS (produced at RLTP in 2018 (and later at Chautauqua), A PUBLIC READING OF AN UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ABOUT THE DEATH OF WALT DISNEY (which was, actually, produced at RLTP in 2015), and ISAAC'S EYE. Awards include the Whiting Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, Kesselring Prize, Outer Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, Obie Award for Playwriting, Steinberg Playwright Award, and the Windham-Campbell Literary Prize.

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OPENING IN MARCH (partial list):

THE NICETIES, a play by Eleanor Burgess, directed by Yao Kahlil Newkirk, presented by the Paul Robeson Theatre, March 10 - 26. Opening night reception at 6:00 with the show at 7:00, all other Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00, Sundays at 2:00. African American Cultural Center, Inc., 350 Masten Ave, Buffalo, NY 14209. paulrobesontheatre.org

THE NICETIES BLURB: A Black female college student and her White female professor each make profound discoveries about themselves, each other, and the power of social media. CONTENT ADVISORY: Contains strong language and themes of race, prejudice, and social injustice.

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The M&T Broadway series at Shea's for 2022-2023 includes:

BEETLEJUICE Mar 21-26, 2023

SIX Apr 25-May 7, 2023

JAGGED LITTLE PILL Jun 6-11, 2023

and

DEAR EVAN HANSEN June 20-25, 2023 (a "special engagement")

Listen for Theater Talk, Friday morning at 6:45 and 8:45 during Morning Edition.
Even though "semi-retired," Peter Hall continues to wear many hats. He is the Sunday afternoon host on WBFO’s “sister station,” WNED Classical where he has produced over 1,000 radio interviews with musical artists. If you see him at a theater with a pen in his hand, he’s probably getting ready to co-host “Theater Talk” with Anthony Chase (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO) or to write a review for www.buffalorising.com. He is also a member of the "Artie Awards" committee (think “Tony Awards for Buffalo theaters”).
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