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PRETTY FUNNY at MusicalFare is home grown and pretty tasty.

THE BASICS:  PRETTY FUNNY, a new musical by Buffalo’s Marisa Guida and Philip Farugia, directed by Randall Kramer, starring Arin Dandes as “Genny,” Amy Jakiel as “mom,” Lou Colaiacovo as “dad,” and Nicole Cimato as “Imogene Coca,” along with a variety of roles played by Brittney Basset, Rheanna Gallego, Leah Berst, Marc Sacco, Dan Urtz, and Michael Wachowiak opened July 12 and runs through August 13, Wednesdays and Thursdays 7:00 p.m., Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 and 7:30, and Sundays at 2:00. Full service bar with coffee and snacks in a beautiful lounge. MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main Street, Amherst (best bet is to approach via Getzville Road). (839-8540). www.musicalfare.com Runtime: over two hours with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  7th grader Genny is at that awkward age where once comfortable relationships with parents, friends, and teachers, not to mention herself, are not so much fun anymore. For a school project her father suggests researching Imogene Coca, a comedienne popular during the 1950s’ “golden age of television.” The spunky spirit of Coca helps Genny to overcome her problems.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This musical has been in development for two and one-half years and on opening night you could tell that time has been lavishly spent on rehearsals. The four leads were at the top of their games. Arin Dandes, recently seen at Theatre of Youth as “Fern” in CHARLOTTE’S WEBas “Piggie” in ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE: WE ARE IN A PLAY and as “May Murkee” in JUNIE B. JONES IN JINGLE BELLS, BATMAN SMELLSplays kids with no condescension or irony and she, once again, completely inhabits her role, in this case Genny who is trying on the name “Jennifer” because it sounds more grown up. Her rush to grow up is a bit ironic, given that adults in this musical are, shall we say, not exactly role models. Well, mom and dad are doing their best to cope with life, and, while a bit “out of it” at times, are pretty sympathetic characters, played with skill and charm by Amy Jakiel and Lou Colaiacovo. Nicole Cimato just nails the role of Imogene Coca with energy and wit with the most charming “magical realism.”

Nicole Cimato just nails the role of Imogene Coca with energy and wit with the most charming ‘magical realism.’

In most local productions the leading roles are well covered, but what elevates this production are the supporting actors who play multiple roles, squeezing into costumes and characters in a nano-second, giving it their all, then whoosh, off stage only to reappear moments later re-incarnated as another character. In sports terms, this production has a “deep bench.”

Nicole Marrale Cimato
Brittany Noel Bassett singing “Who Cares? It’s Mouse.”

Brittney Basset, Rheanna Gallego, Leah Berst are, among other things, the “mean girls” in school, and Basset also plays the “despicable” boss in the beauty enhancement industry who, upon hearing that the new formula of “BeautyMax 1400” is killing the lab animals sings “Who Cares? It’s a Mouse” with vocal accompaniment by…. mice! (When cast member roles are listed as “various” they aren’t kidding.)

And talk about depth of talent, Marc Sacco just won the Artie Award for “Outstanding Actor in a Musical” (“Che” in EVITA at MusicalFare). He won! And in PRETTY FUNNY he is playing “Various.”

Here’s another example. Leah Berst was just the lead, “Eliza Doolittle” in UB’s production of MY FAIR LADY.

The lead! And here she is playing “Various” with some subtle, nuanced role changes, one of which, like our heroine Genny, is “Sasha,” also a 7th grader trying to find her place in life. Is she “Sasha” the best friend? Or is she a “mean girl?”

Arin Lee Dandes as Genny gets a makeover.

Lines were internalized and delivered convincingly, the timing was even tighter, and the many moving parts moved together smoothly.

So what’s not to love? Well, the thin sound of the band, for starters. It’s not for lack of talent. These guys are good. But this musical demands more than four players, a richer sound, and why didn’t they use MusicalFare’s baby grand piano? Why an electronic piano? Or why not both? The “real” piano with a second player adding “sweetening” from the electronic keyboard. Also, the band is hidden and where we were sitting on the left the loudspeaker was annoyingly loud. So, when you go (and you really should go) try to get seats in the middle.

If I were asked for “notes” (which I wasn’t) I might also suggest to Marisa Guida (conception, book, and lyrics) something that I personally find very difficult: hold something back for next time. Wow. This is one jam packed show.

Lead image: Nicole Marrale Cimato and Arin Lee Dandes

*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 Classical 94.5 WNED and on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists to get at answers. On “Theater Talk” his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" In every situation he's in Peter wonders: "What's the big picture here?" And, "if I had to teach this, how would I break it down to explain it?"

That's why he loves writing reviews. A show with a strong message that makes him laugh and cry and think about life is a good show. Heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM "Theater Talk" repeats Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED, the radio station where Peter is currently the afternoon drive host as well as producer and host of “Buffalo Philharmonic Live” (Sundays at 5 p.m. repeating Fridays at 10 p.m. on WNED). For the Buffalo Chamber Music Society he moderates on-stage pre-concert chats with the artists and is on-stage host of the Falletta (classical guitar) Competition.

Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business. He is currently a member of the "Artie Awards Committee."

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