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Thursday Theater Roundup

Time again for our weekly list of the finest productions playing in theaters across Western New York (and, in the summer months, Southern Ontario). Here they are:

Greg Howze as Dawud, left, and Xavier Harris as Insidious in rehearsal for Insidious at the Road Less Traveled Theater. Photographed on Monday, July 12, 2010.  Photo by Bill Wippert

"Insidious," through July 10 in the Road Less Traveled Theatre, a repeat performance from the show's 2010 run. From the review: " 'Insidious' manages to investigate bisexuality, addiction and recovery, infidelity and self-delusion, all while sustaining a level of suspense that keeps audience members leaning forward in their seats. Though the play occasionally strikes a moralistic tone -- especially as it applies to the dangers of unsafe sex, an area where a didactic approach is understandable -- it stays largely focused on the heartbreaking plight of its protagonist." --Colin Dabkowski

At the Shaw Festival:

Corrine Koslo as Constance Constantia and Thom Marriott as Hector de la Mare in "Drama at Inish: A Comedy." Photo by David Cooper.

"Drama at Inish: A Comedy," through Oct 1 in the Court House Theatre. From the review (coming tomorrow): "The production, directed by Jackie Maxwell with an innate understanding of the piece's lighthearted nature and its need for a light touch, is as appealing as the script. Maxwell coaxes phenomenal comic performances from Corrine Koslo and Thom Marriott, the self-besotted actors who take their mission with deadly seriousness. Mary Haney's performance of the put-upon innkeeper Lizzie is a brilliant, frenetic combination of Kristen Wiig and Lily Tomlin transported unawares to the Irish seaside." --Colin Dabkowski

Gray Powell as Brick, Jim Mezon as Big Daddy and Corrine Koslo as Big Mama in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Photo by Emily Cooper.

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," through Oct. 23 in the Royal George Theatre. From the review: "Jim Mezon, the actor who plays Big Daddy, imbues his character with a special mix of nasty, unbridled rage and crazed hope, the two poles between which any production of "Cat" worth its spit violently and relentlessly swing. This production, directed with a passionate sensibility and the odd flicker of restraint by Eda Holmes, allows Williams' characters to lay themselves bare without the interference of a "fresh" interpretation. The play... bastes itself in the sweat of its own melodrama until it cooks into something far greater than the sum of its ingredients." --Colin Dabkowski

Members of the Ensemble in "My Fair Lady." Photo by David Cooper.

"My Fair Lady," through Oct. 30 in the Festival Theatre. From the review: "Molly Smith, director of the Shaw Festival's new production, seems bent on jazzing all this up in ways we've never seen before. Much of it works very well. Benedict Campbell carries the role of the aloof, scholarly, self-centered Higgins with marvelous consistency, striding the stage in well-practiced patterns that still seem spontaneous, and singing with fine projection of both voice and emotions. Opposite him, Deborah Hay makes Eliza's gradual conversion to a faux aristocrat very convincing. She succeeds dramatically, visually and vocally, in both Cockney squalor and upper-crust elegance." --Herman Trotter

Michael Ball as Captain Shotover, Robin Evan Willis as Ellie Dunn and Patricia Hamilton as Nurse Guinness in "Heartbreak House." Photo by David Cooper.

"Heartbreak House," through Oct. 7 in the Festival Theatre. From the review: "In Christopher Newton's engrossing, impeccably staged production, the play's skeleton crew of eccentrics amble around their vaguely nautical environs for three hours and wax poetic on subjects ranging from the use of one's soul to our conflicting desires for pleasure and purpose. No need to get seasick at the prospect of sitting through the show, though. That Shaw's weighty themes remain so captivating across the evening is a testament both to the comic force of his writing and the talents of Newton's cast, who bring characters that might have been stodgy bores in lesser hands to scintillating life." --Colin Dabkowski

DMC to open for Our Lady Peace

DMC with orange background Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of Run DMC will open for Our Lady Peace on July 2 for the Hard Rock Cafe's Saturdays at the Falls concert Series.

The free show starts at 6 p.m. on Old Falls Street in Niagara Falls, adjacent to the Hard Rock. For more information, call 282-0007 or visit

Winfred 'lumia' makes rare appearance in 'The Tree of Life'

Tree of Life
Brad Pitt stars in "The Tree of Life."

This week's opening of "The Tree of Life," which Jeff Simon reviews in Thursday's paper, is generating plenty of excitement around town. It's also raised the eyebrows of many in the art world for its inclusion of one of Thomas Wilfred's famed "lumia compositions" ("Opus 161," shown here in a YouTube video) in a sequence that has been hailed by critics for its apparently transcendent beauty.

This week's issue of The New Yorker has a piece about how the film's director, Terrence Malick, came to include the piece in his film. It's well worth a read (though available only to subscribers.) An excerpt:

A piecemeal transcendentalist, Wilfred sought to represent the 'universal rhythmic flow' in his art. He produced roughly 40 works before his death, in 1968. Only eighteen lumia pieces have survived... One of these is 'Luccata, Opus 162,' which is currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The piece is on loan from the collection of Eugene Epstein, a retired radio astronomer, and his wife, Carol, who own about half of the extant Winfreds, including the one featured in 'The Tree of Life.' 'These are rarely seen,' Epstein explained the other day. 'If you haven't seen one in person, you're totally unaware of them.' This is largely owing to the fact that Winfred resisted attempts to record the lumia. 'I have never permitted any of my works to be filmed,' he wrote in 1962. 'We have experimented with the process here and the results have been too poor to be considered.'

That is, until now.

--Colin Dabkowski

It's a circus


I am psyched for the return of the UniverSoul Circus to Buffalo.

The first year it was here -- yikes, I just looked it up, and it was back in 2003! -- I went to it, with three friends, on the spur of the moment. It was a riot. All I could think was, it was like going back to vaudeville days, around 1910. The UniverSoul Circus operates the way I believe circuses did back then. They pull into town and they pitch a tent wherever they are able to pitch a tent. And the crowds come.

The circus has one ring and a lot of old-time vaudeville humor. There was a skit revolving around a mule that kicked anyone who tried to ride it. The elephants were so close you could smell them. There were tigers too! Above is a picture of the Tigers of Soul performing with the UniverSoul circus here at Martin Luther King Park in 2008. Our photographer Derek Gee took the picture. Hahaha... I love the look on the face of the tiger on the left.

I hope those bars on the cage are strong!

What I remember most were the gymnasts and tumblers and contortionists. They were wonderful. There was one couple who did a magnificent kind of dance while climbing up and down two ribbons. I remember just sitting there with my mouth open, looking up. There were times I could not believe what I was seeing. They were that good.

The ringmaster joked afterward: "Couples, lovers, don't try this at home. You will save your romantic moments for Home Depot."

I was in love with the show's atmosphere. The show that year was in Martin Luther King Park and here we were, this big crowd, all sitting there fascinated. Little kids, teenagers, old people. There were people going around hawking popcorn. The music, I guess they had some hip-hop, but it ended with an old-fashioned gospel show. It was a night that I have say I will always remember.

The year after that, the UniverSoul circus pitched the tent on the site of the old Sattler's, across the street from the Broadway Market.

This year they will be at UB's South Campus, from July 7 to July 10.

I can't wait!

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


Russell out, Zadora in at Seneca Niagara Casino

The Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel in Niagara Falls announces that the 8 p.m. Aug. 6 concert by Leon Russell in the Bear's Den Showroom has been canceled. Tickets can be refunded at point-of-purchase.

Now scheduled for Aug. 6 in the Bear's Den is singer and actress Pia Zadora, who will be accompanied by conductor Vinnie Falcone and his orchestra. Tickets start at $50 and go on sale at noon June 23 through the casino store, by phone at (800) 745-3000 or online at

For more information, visit

Opera off the record

Ruminskitrov I had a fun putting together today's story about Nickel City Opera, Buffalo's still-new opera company. They were holding rehearsals out at St. James' School in Depew and it was such a treat, to be able to hang out there instead of at my desk. The windows were open, the summer breeze was blowing in, and a couple of hours passed as I watched the cast of "Il Trovatore" work through a couple of delightfully violent scenes.

The picture at left shows NCO Creative Director Valerian Ruminski, left, who sings Ferrando; and John Packard, who sings the tormented and jealous Count di Luna.

It is fascinating to observe the camaraderie the singers share. They see each other here and there, at different opera companies, and they have worked together, and a lot of jokes fly back and forth. "I don't trust him. I've been married to him," Victoria Livengood joked about Valerian Ruminski. "On stage, of course," she added.

In opera, anything is possible!

My only trouble was, I had to cut more than I wanted. Why can't I have all the room I need? I want the entirety of The Buffalo News turned over to Verdi ...


... and Puccini!


Well, that is why we have The Gusto Blog. Here are a few things I had to leave out that I wished I could have fit.

Victoria Livengood, who is a mezzo soprano, made me laugh when she explained the mezzo soprano repertoire. "Witches, bitches and boys," she said. "It's the truth."

But Victoria sees the human side of her character in "Il Trovatore," who -- well, Valerian summed her up as "an old witch." Victoria told of a time she was on stage singing with Eduardo Villa, who plays the man who thinks he is her son (long story).

"You had tears in your eyes," she said to Eduardo, who nodded, remembering. "How could any performer, or any mother, not react to that?"

Eduardo said of his role: "This is the 112th, 113th time I've sung it. But each time must be like the first time." He is especially struck by the moment in the opera when he realizes he is not the son of the gypsy woman played by Victoria. In reality, he is her enemy's son. (This is opera, remember?) He imagines his character's panicked thought: "If I'm not her son ... then who the hell am I?"

The opera is bold and it's gritty. Something like Nickel City Opera itself. NCO makes great copy, as we say in the newspaper business, because of all its colorful ideas.

With which, one more thing I had to leave out: I got a hold of Dan Hart, the executive director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, at the last minute to ask him about Ruminski's embryonic plans to stage "I Pagliacci" in a circus tent in the parking lot of Kleinhans Music Hall.

"It's crazy," Hart said. "But you know what? It's so crazy that it might work."

Nickel City Opera presents "Il Trovatore" at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, 8 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


'Unnatural Causes' to screen as part of new film series

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Theatre of Youth, the Buffalo housing group Heart of the City Neighborhoods will host a screening of "Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick?" The documentary, part of HOCN's new "Building a Movement: A Nickel City Film Series," takes a look at the effect of various types of inequality in America on the health of its citizens. Judging from the clip (above), it seems to be a somewhat less sensationalized version of the argument Michael Moore made in his own doc, "Sicko."

After the screening, at about 8 p.m., the theater will host a panel discussion on issues raised by the film featuring a variety of local experts.

This screening of "Unnatural Causes" follows last week's launch of the series, which kicked off with a screening of Linda Goode Bryant and Laura Poitras' excellent, even-handed 2003 documentary "Flag Wars," which looked at the struggles of a Columbus, Ohio neighborhood with gentrification.

Three more films are schedueld in the summer series: "The Garden" (June 29); "Welcome to Shelbyville" (July 13); and "Waiting for Superman" (July 20).

--Colin Dabkowski

UniverSoul Circus Returns to Buffalo

"The Awesomest Show Ever" heads to Buffalo as the UniverSoul Circus sets up on the University at Buffalo South Campus (Main Street at Bailey Avenue) for performances from July 7 through 10.

The single-ring show features an interactive combination of circus arts, theater and music with acts including the Modern Biker Girls Troupe from Dalian, China; Russian Swing act from Belarus; the Caribbean Heat dancers from Trinidad and Tobago; and the Globe motorcyle daredevils from Colombia.

For more information, show times and schedules, visit

Forecast: sultry


The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra is not taking much of a summer break. Today the orchestra announced a night of Spanish music, to take place 7 p.m. July 8 at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Matthew Kraemer, associate conductor, is leading the orchestra in the overture to "West Side Story, followed by tangos by Astor Piazzolla and a whole bunch of Latin numbers including that old favorite, "Tico Tico." The great late Capitol Records bandleader Carmen Dragon had a hand in the "Tico Tico" arrangement so that makes it doubly Latin.

That is a Carmen Dragon classic album up above. Sorry, I couldn't resist!

The concert has a catchy title: BP-Ole.

I like these impromptu BPO concerts but I wonder how many people want to go inside on a summer night. Well, I guess that depends on the weather. If it's hot enough, people might like the cool of Kleinhans. Not to mention those cold drinks at the bar ...

BP-Ole takes place at 7 p.m. July 8. Admission is $35.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman


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