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Video: 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever' on stage at 2 area theaters

"The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," is on stage through Dec. 16 in separate productions at Theatre of Youth (203 Allen St., 884-4400) and the Lancaster Opera House (21 Central Ave., Lancaster, 683-1776). Theatre of Youth tickets are $24 to $26; Lancaster Opera House tickets are $13 to $20.

It’s a testament to the popularity of this holiday children’s theater stand-by that two local theaters are taking up productions of this adaptation of Barbara Robinson’s popular 1971 book. It tells the story of the out-of-control Herdman children, who enter a church seeking free snacks and inadvertently become a part of a Christmas pageant — much to the initial annoyance of the other children. It’s a great showcase for aspiring young actors, of whom there will be many in both productions.

Artistic director Meg Quinn says TOY's production is great family-friendly entertainment:

'Nickel City Vandals' stirs controversy on Buffalo's graffiti scene

Nickel City Vandals from Aaron Ferguson on Vimeo.

Last night, I stopped by Daddy's Garage (a sweet new graffiti gallery and shop on East Ferry Street) for a packed screening of Aaron Ferguson's new film "Nickel City Vandals." which Ferguson was kind enough to let us embed above.

(I had to miss this panel on the future of culture in Western New York at Daemen College in order to attend the screening. But this look at a small subsection of Buffalo's active street culture that's just beginning to inch out from the underground turned out to be well worth it.)

The documentary project, completed as a part of Ferguson's studies as an MFA student at the University at Buffalo, considered this moment on Buffalo's graffiti scene. The filmmaker and many of his subjects -- including the hilarious and insightful legit graffiti artist known as Brakes as well as Sam Lunetta, director of the city's anti-graffiti task force -- painted a picture of a graffiti scene in a kind of holding pattern. The scene lacks the artistic sophistication of some years ago, the film suggested, but was beginning once again to pick up steam as a crop of new graffiti artists with unique styles beginning to rise through the ranks.

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Novelist Elise Blackwell to read at Medaille College tonight

Novelist and short story writer Elise Blackwell--the author of four highly-regarded novels that have been shortlisted for numerous awards--is the guest of The Write Thing Reading Series tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m. in the Academic Commons, located on the Fourth Floor of the Main Building on the campus of Medaille College, 18 Agassiz Circle in Buffalo.  The reading is free and open to the public. 

Blackwell is perhaps best known for her 2003 debut novel "Hunger"--the story of  an aging Russian émigré and former botanist recalling World War Two's 900 day siege of Leningrad by Hitler's Wehrmacht, and how he betrayed his own personal commitments and professional principles in order simply to survive.  "Hunger" has been credited by songwriter Colin Meloy as one of the inspirations for his band The Decemberists' song "When the War Came" on their acclaimed "The Crane Wife" album.

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Thursday Theater Roundup

Our weekly theater roundup features shows recommended by our reviewers as well as a listing of what's opening on major stages this weekend.

"Cloud 9," through Dec. 22 in the New Phoenix Theatre. ★★★½

From the review: "The New Phoenix Theatre has just opened [Caryl] Churchill’s early career sex farce, 'Cloud 9,” a wild, erotic, gender-bending story that crosses oceans and centuries. It’s a hilarious, obscene romp populated with unforgettable, cartoonish characters, situational foolishness, sight gags and chase, but leaves room for messages: know thyself, respect others, ditch preconceived notions about people, be on the alert for double standards." --Ted Hadley

"Other Desert Cities," through Dec. 16 in the Kavinoky Theatre. ★★★½

From the review: "Baitz’s play, unlike far more simplistic living room dramas like Yasmina Reza’s 'God of Carnage,' is overloaded in the best possible way with emotional and political ammunition. It can be read from a strictly political angle, a strictly emotional one, or any combination of both. It says important things about mental illness, about apathy, about the need for a broader perspective than one was raised with, and about the use of dishonesty as the means to a laudable end – a deeply political notion if ever there was one." --Colin Dabkowski

"It WAS a Wonderful Life," through Jan. 5 in the chapel at Forest Lawn Cemetery. ★★★½

From the review: "The one-hour-plus presentation is less revue and more monologue cycle. It is built on the premise that the long-term residents of the famous Buffalo cemetery have come to share their holiday memories. What sounds like a morose, potentially morbid display of friendly ghosts and black-and-white nostalgia, is actually a delightfully salient little piece." --Ben Siegel

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Live video chat: Critics' Corner with Simon & Miers at 1 p.m.

News critics Jeff Simon and Jeff Miers answer reader questions on music, movies, TV and more.

Video: 'A Christmas Carol' opening at Alleyway

English actor John Smeathers, who has been playing Ebeneezer Scrooge in the Alleyway Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol” for the past 15 years, has decided to call it quits after this year's production, which opens tonight. Look for Colin Dabkowski's Gusto cover story about Smeathers in tomorrow's Buffalo News.

Alleyway's Joyce Stilson talks about Smeathers' legacy in the role of the grumpy London banker turned yuletide proselytizer:

Buffalo and Dave Brubeck

I read Jeff Simon's Gusto Blog post about Dave Brubeck and that was how I found out Brubeck had died. I feel bad.

We are lucky to have gotten to know Brubeck a little here in Buffalo. Besides playing with our great local saxophonist Bobby Militello, Brubeck was friends with Father Jack Ledwon over at St. Joseph University Church. Brubeck was in town once to perform a Mass he had written. I remember that because I was sick and could not go. My mother went, and my brother George. They both loved it. Except George said it was kind of weird when you went to Communion, because Brubeck was up there looking at you closely.

Brubeck told me once when I interviewed him not to say he was a Catholic convert, to say that he "became Catholic." And this is funny, ever since then, I use that rule for everyone. I do not say "converted to Catholicism," I say "became Catholic."

When I interviewed Brubeck I remember Jeff helped me get ready by telling me that story he told on his Gusto blog post, about how Brubeck broke down on the Ken Burns jazz series.

Brubeck was such a genuine man, wonderful music and wonderful beliefs. He led a long and full life, but it is hard to let go, you know? Above is a link to my favorite Brubeck song.

If I can choose just one.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

Dave Brubeck 1920-2012

Dave Brubeck, I think, gave all 19 hours of Ken Burns' "Jazz" on PBS its finest and most moving moment.

Brubeck grew up in the West. His father was a cattle rancher. It was his pianist mother -- who had been herself a pupil of Dame Myra Hess -- who taught her sons to play piano, but even there, Dave's poor eyesight as a child caused him to fake it (i.e. improvise) to fool his mother into thinking he could read music better than he did.

Brubeck told Burns' cameras that it was his father, though, who taught him as a very young boy about race in America. When a young Brubeck asked his father about the terrible scars he'd seen on the body of one of his father's black ranch hands, his father explained the racist burning incident that caused them. And then he told his young son "this must never happen" again.

At which point, an aged Brubeck -- he was 80 at the time of Burns' interview -- suddenly welled up and openly cried on camera from the memory -- of the original injustice or his father's adamance about eradicating it, we'll probably never know. (Probably both.)

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McKinley Mall Cinema to drop prices; become second-run theater

Moviegoing will soon become more affordable at the Dipson McKinley Mall Cinemas.

Starting Dec. 14, the McKinley Mall Cinema will feature $1.75 tickets for all non-3-D movies as it becomes a second-run house. Movies in 3-D will cost $4.

"Economic times are more difficult than ever and we are glad to be doing our part to offer another great form of entertainment at a greatly reduced price," a Dipson press release said in announcing the change.

Dipson Theatres has owned the six-screen cinema, located at the McKinley Mall in Hamburg, for  nine years. As with all of the Dipson Theatres, the McKinley Mall Cinema will continue to offer half-price concessions on Tuesdays.

Video: 'Cloud 9' on stage at New Phoenix Theatre

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If you think "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," Jim Sharman's uproarious cult fantasy starring a crooning Transylvanian transvestite, is the absolute apex of time-traveling, gender-bending theatrical eccentricity, you have not seen "Cloud 9."

Caryl Churchill's 1979 theatrical experiment, in which time, space and sex become pliable as putty, takes audiences on a journey from colonial Africa in the Victorian age to London in the late-'70s. Its characters are, to say the least, confused about their identities, desires and needs. The first local production of Churchill's unorthodox play opened Thursday in the New Phoenix Theatre (95 Johnson Park). It's directed by Kelli Bocock-Natale and stars New Phoenix founder Richard Lambert, Chris Kelly, Diane Curley, Kelly Moore, Eric Rawski, Pamela Rose Mangus and Steve Copps.

"Men are played by women; women are played by men," said Lambert. The show, he added, features "great cross-pollination, great disappointed sex, some fragrances of happily ever after, but mostly longing for something nobody's ever gonna get."

The production runs through Dec. 22. Tickets are $15 to $25, with info at 853-1334 or www.newphoenixtheatre.org.

Ted Hadley, in his review for The News, said, "Director Kelli Bocock-Natale, who always sees more, feels more, hears more, about plays she assembles, has worked yet another miracle at The Phoenix."

Hear more about the production from Lambert:

—Colin Dabkowski

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