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MY FAIR LADY offers first rate musical fare UB’s Center for the Arts

MY FAIR LADY, the musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s play PYGMALION, with book, music and lyrics by Lerner and Loewe, is presented by the UB Department of Theatre & Dance at the UB Center for the Arts Drama Theatre (smaller but just as beautifully appointed as the main stage) and features a cast of 25 students from UB’s Department of Theatre & Dance directed by Vincent O’Neill, Artistic Director of the Irish Classical Theatre Company (and UB Professor), with choreography by Doug Weyand of MusicalFare Theatre, accompanied by Dr. Alison d’Amato and Allan Paglia on two grand pianos with a percussionist.  It’s only up through Sunday.

Because local college alumni (Buff State, Niagara University, UB) are so often seen on local stages, often before graduation (as will be the case with several NU seniors recently seen in THE PAJAMA GAME) I decided to take a half day and see the current UB Department of Theatre & Dance Music Theatre program’s MY FAIR LADY in a special Tuesday morning 10:30 a.m. presentation. I went not to review it, but just to see who is up and coming through the UB program. I thought “well, it’s only a student production, and, yes, it’s accompanied only by two pianos, not a full orchestra or pit band, but let’s check it out anyway.”  Well, I had a great time. And I think you will too. Don’t dismiss it as “just a student production.” You’ll miss a lot of (very affordable by the way) fun.

MY FAIR LADY is the romantic comedy of the cockney flower girl transformed into an elegant lady on a bet. It has one of musical theater’s greatest scores including “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?,” “With a Little Bit of Luck,” “The Rain in Spain,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “On the Street Where You Live,” “Get Me to the Church on Time,” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”

Full disclosure: I knew that I would have to leave the theater around 1:00 p.m. to get to work on time and the promotional email gave a running time of approximately two-and-a-half hours, so it all should have timed out. But, even with The Embassy Waltz cut in the morning production, I ended up having to leave after “Get Me To The Church On Time” to get me downtown to work on time, so I would guess that the show runs more to three hours (including one 10 minute intermission).  

I can say that the faculty and professional staff here seemed to lavish the proverbial “110%” on this production.

I can say that the faculty and professional staff here seemed to lavish the proverbial “110%” on this production. The direction by Vincent O’Neill is really first rate and according to an article in the UB student newspaper, he really worked these kids in rehearsals. The hard work paid off. (I recall a “talk back” at the Irish Classical Theatre several years ago when the actors said that director O’Neill insisted that they stay in character speaking with the accent whenever they were in the theater space for any purpose. I’ll bet he did that here, too.)

The choreography by Doug Weyand matched the production seamlessly and used the talents effectively. Where there was great talent, there was great choreography, and it was clever and funny. As to the music, you might think as I did before the show that piano accompaniment would sound as if you were at a rehearsal. Well, when you’ve got Alison d’Amato (whom you might not know is a major player in the classical music world) along with local musical veteran Allan Paglia and they are playing on two nested grand pianos, not little dinky uprights, after about ten minutes, as soon as we got to “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” I completely forgot that there was no orchestra. Kudos, by the way to an un-credited percussionist.

When I wrote that this is not a review, it’s because I don’t believe that student work should be reviewed in the regular way. Student productions exist primarily to serve educational goals, to give everybody who wants one a job in the show, and because often the casting pool is limited by enrollment, so it would be unfair to be critical of student shows. But, honestly, in this show there’s precious little to criticize. I’m writing this piece just to let you know that this is really good theater with especially strong performances from all the cockney characters, including the “Cockney Quartet” – Thomas Evans, Bobby MacDonell, Matthew Rittler, and Justin Bowen – not to mention Joe Wood as Alfred P. Doolittle (what a great smile he has) and the star of the show, Orchard Park High School graduate and UB senior Leah Berst, as Eliza Doolittle.

And all forty (40!) students in production positions should feel very proud. It’s a very busy stage with plenty of fast set changes and lots of properties and it all went smoothly.

Remaining shows are Friday, May 5th at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 6th at both 2:00 and 7:30, with a final performance Sunday, May 7th at 2:00. Tickets may be purchased at the Center for the Arts Box Office which is open Tuesday-Friday, from noon to 6:00 p.m. and 90 minutes prior to events. For your convenience there is 10-minute parking in the loop in front of building (easily accessible by using the Coventry Entrance off Millersport Hwy) to run in and get tickets. You can also purchase through, but those hefty service fees you’ll see there are not charged at the Box Office. Tickets (open seating) are $20 general, $10 for students from any school and also for seniors. (716)645-2787

Remember that I said that I wanted to see folks today who will be on area stages tomorrow? According to a UB student newspaper featureLeah Berst will be appearing in Second Generation Theatre’s upcoming production of the musical THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, Friday June 2 through Sunday June 18 in the Lancaster Opera House.

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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