We have two quite different musicals on two quite different stages. Continuing into December, in the ‘burbs, we have the nostalgic salute to the 1960s called BEEHIVE, targeted to MusicalFare’s comfortable Baby-Boomer audience. In the city, using the funkier former “TheaterLoft” space at 545 Elmwood Avenue, we have the scrappy “Brazen Faced Varlets” in a show targeted, I would say, more to Gen X. Let’s start there since it closes this weekend.
THE BASICS: TITUS XX, (say “ex-ex” as in the female chromosome) is a punk-rock musical, with book (after Shakespeare), music, and lyrics by Shawn Northrip, directed by Lara D. Haberberger, with musical direction by Lucas Colon, presented by The Brazen Faced Varlets (Buffalo’s Feminist Theater Company), featuring: Rachael Buchanan, Corey Gorski, Kaeli McGinnis, Jessie Miller, Danette Pawlowski, Davida Tolbert, and Stefanie Warnick. It runs through November 20, Thursdays – Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays – Sundays at 2:00. Thursdays are pay-what-you-can. All performances at the Compass ART Space, 545 Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo 14222. varlets.org 716-598-1585
Runtime: Two hours with one intermission (Adult beverages available which as they say from the stage “you will need.”)
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: As explained in an insert in the playbill, Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audiences were hard to shock, but they did love their public executions and animal fights to the gory death. So young Shakespeare was willing to provide some similar entertainment. The plot of the original play is as convoluted as anything Shakespeare invented, but, to give you an idea of what you’re in for, a key scene is the rape of Titus’s daughter, Lavinia, after which the rapists cut out her tongue and cut off her hands so she may neither speak nor write their names. Titus later turns the bodies of the rapists into pies and serves them to the Emperor.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Shawn Northrip, who wrote the Varlets’ first production, RAMONA AND JULIET, apparently enjoys modernizing Shakespeare, although here it seemed as if he lifted lines of the original dialogue, adding the occasion “f**k” to make it contemporary, inserting more of the original as well in about 30 musical numbers, most of which are in a punk-rock vein, but fortunately (at least for me) not all.
I particularly enjoyed three ballads, “Titus’s Grievances,” “I’m Sorry Dad” and just “Ballad.” Rachael Buchanan has a lovely voice that reminded me of Natalie Merchant while the songs reminded me of the 10,000 Maniacs (a favorite group). Kaeli McGinnis is also very listenable. But the rest is “punk rock,” not my favorite genre, with a lot of shouting and for the most part, unintelligible (to me) lyrics.
Although I enjoyed certain funny moments (Davida Tolbert has great comic timing as does Stephanie Warnick, who is also the fight coordinator) I had a very hard time following this show. I’ve never seen TITUS ANDRONICUS, nor did I read it prior to this musical (something I try to do before going to Shakespeare in Delaware Park or the Stratford Festival.) And this play is a doozy with 30 characters in the original, 14 in this adaptation played here by 7 actors. That was confusing. And, of course, Shakespeare’s English can be hard to follow 400+ years later.
When you enter the theater you are given a wristband, I guess to give you the feeling of being at a club, and you are also provided with earplugs. I found that I couldn’t understand anything with the earplugs in, and, honestly, the band was loud, but not all that much. So, I put them in my pocket. The band, by the way, is excellent as conducted by Lucas Colon and consists of Dillon Slater, guitar, Yamilla Tate on electric bass, and Tyler Will, drums.
Another reason to pocket the earplugs is the general acoustics of 545 Elmwood which have been improved (and the actors all wear body mics) but the space could use some upgrades.
By the way, if you’d like to help ART improve the theater space, you can join their current fundraising efforts here.
I think that if you like punk rock, are a Millennial or Gen Xer, and had a moment to read up on the plot of TITUS ANDRONICUS before you go, you might get a big kick out of this.
Meanwhile, out in Amherst, there’s something that requires no homework… BEEHIVE.
THE BASICS: BEEHIVE: The 60s Musical, by Larry Gallagher, directed and choreographed by Carlos R.A. Jones, presented by MusicalFare Theatre, runs through December 11th, Wednesdays – Thursdays at 7:00 pm, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3:30 pm and 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm. On the campus of Daemen College, MusicalFare Theatre is located at 4380 Main Street in Amherst, NY (tip: enter off Getzville Road). Meet-the-cast talkbacks take place after all Wednesday performances. THERE IS NO PERFORMANCE ON THANKSGIVING DAY (THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 24th). 716-839-8540 www.musicalfare.com
Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes with one intermission (full-service bar)
Download and read the detailed playbill here because in the theater you’ll only get a one-pager pager.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Starring Brittany Bassett-Baran, Stevie Jackson, Lily Jones, Sabrina Kahwaty, Kristen-Marie Lopez, and Timiyah Love, six women sing the rock-n-roll music of the 1960s while moving about a multi-level stage with such hits as “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “It’s My Party,” to “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Natural Woman” in addition to two multi-song tributes to both Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: This 1986 Jukebox/Revue (yes, it’s been around a while) was directed here by Carlos R.A. Jones, who directed the very popular HAIRSPRAY across town, also a “history of rock’n’roll” musical, so who better to take us, as one of the song lyrics says, “from bobby socks to blue jeans”? Before the show began, MusicalFare’s founder and Artistic and Executive Director Randall Kramer took the stage, as he does before every show, to welcome the audience and to tell us that, given the past several years we’ve all been through, it’s time for some easy, relaxing entertainment.
And that’s what we got. While there have been great musicals that had depth and resonated with important messages, such as STEAMBOAT or SOUTH PACIFIC or in our time DEAR EVAN HANSEN or HAMILTON, most Broadway musicals are merely entertainment, and this is one of those.
If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
I thought for a moment that we might get a narrative that would walk us through the history of rock’n’roll, or a chronicle of the struggle of women and girl groups in a male-dominated industry, but that wasn’t the case either.
Three of the songs were made famous by Janis Joplin (“Cry Baby,” “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder), and “Me & Bobby McGee”). I have always had great respect for Joplin ever since early 1969 when I waited too long to get tickets to her show at the legendary Fillmore East and had to attend the following show up north of NYC in the suburbs. I thought that after the Fillmore she might just phone it in. She absolutely did not. The woman was a born performer. If she were on a stage, she was ON. However, in this production, she was parodied, more than honored, for her contribution to rock’n’roll.
The show was Assistant Choreographed by Robin Barker, with Music Direction by Philip Farugia, Set, Lighting & Sound Design by Chris Cavanagh, Costume Design by Kari Drozd, and Hair, Wig & Make-up Design by Susan Drozd. And there’s good news for MusicalFare fans. The new theater space project is moving forward, the Town of Amherst is fully committed, and work should begin next Spring. You can read more in the digital playbill (see link above).
*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!