THE BASICS: CHRISTMAS OVER THE TAVERN, the world premiere of the musical by Tom Dudzick, based on his earlier play set in 1959 Buffalo, directed by Randall Kramer, runs through December 19, with every performance, even the extra performances SOLD OUT, Wednesday and Thursdays at 7 (no performance on Thanksgiving), Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at both 3:30 and 7:30, Sundays at 2 at MusicalFare Theatre, 4380 Main Street, Amherst (839-8540). www.musicalfare.com Runtime: 2 hours, 15 minutes, including one intermission
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This musical brings back the Pazinski family, growing up in Polonia, Buffalo’s East Side, first introduced in one of this city’s most beloved plays, OVER THE TAVERN. It’s Christmas time, and we have Chet, father of four and owner of a tavern, suffering the quiet desperation of a man whose dreams were never realized, his devoted wife Ellen, and their four children, including the wise-cracking Rudy who reimagines the Nativity in terms of popular 1950s television shows, with Ed Sullivan introducing the Holy family surrounded by “The Three Stooges” as the shepherds. Sister Clarissa is not amused.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: With a pitch-perfect 1950s kitchen, right down to the wallpaper, and an exposed back wall depicting the Buffalo skyline, once again Dyan Burlingame has worked closely with lighting designer Chris Cavanagh to produce yet another impressive MusicalFare set.
The actors were full of energy on the opening weekend, including Jacob Albarella (Chet), who has been in a wide variety of productions, but usually as a “character actor,” rarely as a dramatic lead. His rendition of “What Happened?” was very impressive. I can see a wider variety of roles and juicier roles too for Mr. Albarella in the future.
And, Wendy Hall (the mom) and Pamela Rose Mangus (the nun) delivered their usual professional product. As I’ve often said, I’m not particularly amused by children on stage, but here Michael Scime as Rudy, although sometimes hard to understand, along with Caroline Schettler, Isaac Fesmire, and Samuel Fesmire as Rudy’s siblings did very well.
There is a continuum in the offerings of Buffalo theaters who wisely practice what is called “niche” marketing, and with few exceptions, depending on the venue, each “brand” delivers on its promise and you know what you’re going to get. On the “outer fringe” we have Torn Space, Subversive, American Repertory, and Road Less Traveled Productions. Like a lot of Netflix and HBO series, I would read a review or three before I involved grandma or the kids. At the extreme other end, there’s O’Connell & Company, which is perfectly suited to the silver-haired set, as is MusicalFare. These two venues are not usually my cup of tea, but, just as with “The Hallmark Channel,” their fans are loyal. How loyal? Even after adding extra shows, CHRISTMAS OVER THE TAVERN is 100% sold out. So, good for them.
Even after adding extra shows, CHRISTMAS OVER THE TAVERN is 100% sold out. So, good for them.
Some minor costume and set quibbles: Most nuns in the 1950s wore Rosaries as well as cinctures (the rope around their waist) but not Sister Clarissa, and a guy named Chet Pazinski who owned a bar on the East Side in the 1950s would never have worn a button-down shirt. Also, every parochial classroom wall featured a crucifix, but not here, and the choice of podium in the classroom instead of a desk was unusual.
UP NEXT: Tony Award winning RAGTIME, the musical, based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel, at MusicalFare, February 13 through March 17, 2019.
*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!