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GRANNY BIRD at the Alleyway Theater

THE BASICS:  One performance left (Saturday, October 03, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.) at the Alleyway Theatre, “One Curtain Up Alley” (a hundred feet north of Shea’s, enter the alley from Main Street or Pearl Street) or enter from the Alleyway’s Main Street Cabaret, 672 Main Street. Run time 90 minutes with one 10 minute intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Bill Fogerty has moved his family back to his grandparents’ house in the country in order to care for the old folks and let his children get to know their only remaining great-grandparents. Grandpa ultimately had to be placed in a nursing home, though, where he died. Granny does not want that same fate, and so conspires with her great-granddaughter (against her grandson and her great-grandson) to end her days in the old family treehouse in the woods.


With the exception of costumes and properties designed by Todd Warfield, the entire musical is the creation of the Alleyway’s Founder and Executive Director, Neal Radice (playwright / composer / lyricist / director / set and lighting designer). It is based on THE POWER OF BIRDS, a play by Robin Rice Lichtig. This is the Alleyway’s 142nd production.

As you enter the theater, you are met with recorded bird songs to create an outdoor, woodsy ambience. The small bare stage is dominated by a tree house, somewhat neglected, but with a roof and minimal furniture. The twins’ father, Bill Fogerty (David G. Poole), gives us the back story about moving his family to the country to be with his grandparents and even though he’s a practical guy, and doesn’t believe, sings that “Something magical happened here.” Note: all 12 scenes end with a fade to black. Then great-grandson, Zack (6th grader Shawn Calmes) who is not happy that his grandfather died in a nursing home and sorry that his grandmother will soon be sent there, explains to his younger (by 7 minutes and 28 seconds) twin sister that “There’s Nothing You Can Do.” In the third scene Granny (Terry Braunstein) elicits help from her great-granddaughter, Zoe (7th grader Allison Barsi) with “I’ll Follow.” And then Granny and Zoe bring Zack over to their side, who promises, if not to help Granny, then at least not to tell anyone that she has run away to the treehouse “Everything I Need” and “The Blood Oath.”

After intermission, most of Act II takes place in the treehouse. Through a clever ruse, Granny has escaped detection and we now understand that she has a plan up her sleeve, which will be revealed once she has completed knitting her afghan. Granny is changing. Her eyes are becoming beady, her fingers are more like bird claws, feathers are beginning to take the place of hair, and her voice sounds more like the screech of a crow or a hawk.  And then she is gone. When Zack and Zoe search for her in the dark, all they hear is the screech of a bird.  The play ends with the dad reprising “Something magical happened here.”

All the elements are fine, as far as they go. The book is good, but perhaps less literal back story early on might allow for some more fantasy later. And the dialog is good, with many clever bird references casually dropped along the way. Nice touch, but there is an awful lot of talking.

Every composer has a certain style and Neal Radice certainly has his, but most of the melodies sound like either Tom Petty’s 1991 “Free Fallin’” or the 1979 Academy Award nominated “Rainbow Connection.” Great song models, but in 2015 I was hoping for some more musical diversity.  All the songs were accompanied by electronic orchestra which I understand was necessary for cost considerations, but I’d still rather have one live musician than an electronically created orchestra.

The direction was clever, and blocking must have been a bear in the confines of the tree house, so kudos for making all that seem very natural.

The kids were great. They seemed fresh and natural, never fumbled their lines, and were able to move and handle props in the middle of dialog. If that weren’t enough, their diction was clear, even, and understandable at all times without every once seeming forced. Keep an eye on Allison Barsi and Shawn Calmes.

I have only two big quibbles. One is with the makeup and hair for Granny. When we meet her, a great-grandmother, she has black hair, but walks hobbled and needs a cane. That was odd. Gray hair would have been better. And, then it would have been more dramatic if she had sprouted black feathers in the middle of a gray head.

The other quibble is with the final transformation of Granny. It seemed clunky and a bit sudden.

But, all in all, it’s live family entertainment and these days anything that gets kids’ noses out of their mobile phones is a blessing.


*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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