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ONCE at MusicalFare much better than touring production at Shea’s.

THE BASICS: ONCE, the musical by Walsh, Hansard & Irglová, directed by Randall Kramer, starring Steve Copps and Renee Landrigan runs through May 27, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 3:30 & 7:30, and Sundays at 2:00 at MusicalFare Theatre on the Daemen College campus, 4380 Main Street, Amherst (tip: enter off Getzville Road) (839-8540). Full service bar in a stylish lounge. www.musicalfare.com

Runtime: 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Guy, a depressed Dubliner who works in his dad’s vacuum cleaner shop with dreams of making it big in music until his girlfriend left him to go to New York meets Girl, a Czech immigrant, who also has a past, who keeps Guy’s eye on the prize and with her zest for life brings him (and many others) out of their shells in this bittersweet rom-com.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: So, after sitting through ONCE at Shea’s several seasons back, ONCE once was enough for me. Then, a friend, who had also come away from that national touring company production thinking “What the hell was that all about?” told me: “Go see it at MusicalFare. It all makes sense this time and it’s very moving.” And I thought “What the hell; we’ll try it.” Yes! That’s what friends are for.

I’m going to give Director Randy Kramer a lot of credit here for making the story hold together so that all (and there are many) of the supporting characters are just that – wonderfully supportive of the story of Guy and Girl.

My friend also posited that perhaps the smaller stage (set, lighting, and sound design by Chris Cavanagh) and the intimate venue itself helped draw us in. I must say that the choreography (Michael Walline) to move 15 people and props in and out of scenes on that tiny stage (well, in comparison to Shea’s which is intimidating in its size) was very entertaining. Costumes, hair, wigs, and make-up designed by Kari and Susan Drozd were quite amusing. And musical direction by Theresa Quinn, out on stage with her accordion (yes!) coordinating all 15 players, several of whom exchange instruments from number to number, must have kept her up at night, but it all works. In fact, Quinn was so energized that she and cast members were out in the Premier Lounge, playing a post-show cabaret.

Quinn was so energized that she and cast members were out in the Premier Lounge, playing a post-show cabaret.

Renee Landrigan excels in roles where she must be sweet and vulnerable one second and feisty / get out of my way the next. As Girl, her tender duets with Steve Copps as Guy were moving.

Other highlights were a male A Capella choir in Act II; Bob Mazierski, who is actually a great musician, playing the world’s worst heavy-metal-Czech-hyper-caffeinated drummer; funnyman Jacob Albarella as the banker singer-songwriter wannabe; and Amy Jakiel, who is actually a cellist (yes!) as the sexy Reza, a vamp on the bar top who unzips in the service of true love.  

The rest of the very able ensemble were Ryleigh Grace Cavanagh, Mia Cimato, Katie Clark, Philip Farugia, Robert Insana, Andrew J. Reimers, and Nick Stevens. They act, they sing, they play, and they are ALWAYS ENGAGED! So we in the audience were too.

Again, if you enjoyed ONCE before, you’ll enjoy this ONCE again. If you didn’t before, you probably will this time around.

UP NEXT: MusicalFare returns to Shea’s 710 Theatre with Ken Ludwig’s BASKERVILLE – “A Sherlock Holmes (comic) Mystery” – directed by both Randy Kramer and Doug Weyand, May 10 through May 13, with two performances “added by popular demand” on May 18 and 19. This is a “special event” and tickets are sold through the Shea’s 710 Theatre box Office (847-0850).

 MURDER FOR TWO, starring Joseph Donahue III and Philip Farugia, billed as “an irreverent theatrical riff on the classic whodunnit…with a twist: one actor investigates the crime, the other plays all of the suspects, and they both play the piano!” At MusicalFare July 11 through August 12, 2018.

*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 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, 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?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

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 has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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