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Neil Wechsler's ambitious 'Against the Grain' theater fest postponed

When Buffalo playwright Neil Wechsler announced plans last year to produce his own outdoor adaptation of "Faust" at Silo City this summer using actors from across the Northeast as part of a new annual theater festival, it sounded almost too good to be true.

Turns out it was, at least for this year.

"Factors beyond our control have forced us to delay the production until the summer of 2015," Wechsler said in an email. "While we are disappointed that we will not be able to present Faust this summer, the extra time will allow us to present it more effectively next year."

Wechsler's Against the Grain Festival is meant to bring international attention to Buffalo's grain silos as potential sites for theatrical experimentation. It's also part of a trend to tie the city's artistic identity to the structures and to employ them as as symbols of a uniquely Buffalonian culture.

--Colin Dabkowski

Thursday Theater Roundup: Last week for Ujima and BPT's 'The Trojan Women'

TROJAN WOMEN 1_revised

Lorna Hill, center, finds inner strength as Hecuba in “The Trojan Women,” opening tonight in TheatreLoft.

"The Trojan Women," through April 19 in a co-proudction of Ujima Theatre and Buffalo Public Theatre in TheatreLoft. ★★★

"A View from the Bridge," through May 3 in a Subversive Theatre production in the Manny Fried Playhouse. ★★★½

"Blanche DuBois Survives Katrina in a FEMA Trailer Named Desire," through April 27 in a Buffalo United Artists produciton in the Main Street Cabaret. ★★★

Stars lining up for Andy Anselmo birthday cabaret

By Mary Kunz Goldman

Buffalo jazz crooner Michael Civisca is making a rare appearance in the limelight on April 24, for a special occasion. The occasion is Life is a Cabaret, which celebrates the 90th anniversary of Buffalo's Community Music School as well as the 90th birthday of the great singing guru Andy Anselmo.

Andy Anselmo, a graduate of the Community Music School, coached such stars as Liza Minnelli, Mandy Patinkin, Joanne Woodward and Regis Philbin.

Civisca is just one part of a star-studded lineup for the party, which takes place in the Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall. Other entertainers include a jazz trio led by drummer Carmen Intorre; and the cabaret duo Eric Comstock and Barbara Fasano, who have performed at such venues as Birdland, the Algonquin and the Metropolitan Room. You can watch Comstock and Fasano in the video up above.

Also taking the stage will be Caroline Jones, Anselmo's New York protegee. Miss Jones is a singer, songwriter, recording artist and radio host. Remember, the last time she sang here, sports legend Ed Kilgore told her she had more range than Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Life is a Cabaret takes place at 7:30 p.m. April 24. Tickets are $40 and all proceeds benefit the Community Music School. VIP tickets are $100 and include preferred show seating and a post-event reception with the performers. Tickets are available online or through the school, 415 Elmwood Ave., by calling 884-4887.

JoAnn Falletta ending contract with Ulster Orchestra

 By Mary Kunz Goldman

JoAnn Falletta will be leaving the Ulster Orchestra in September, news reports have announced. Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, has been chief conductor of the orchestra in Northern Ireland since 2011, when she signed a three-year contract

Her successor, the orchestra's website states, will be Rafael Payare, 33, of Venezuela.

Payare is a former member of Venezuela's famous Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, whose music director is Gustavo Dudamel, also the popular music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Dudamel has done a lot to raise the international profile of "El Sistema," Venezuela's social musical education program. The Ulster Orchestra reports that Payare's agenda includes plans to introduce "El Sistema" to Northern Ireland's children in the coming season.

The Ulster Orchestra has been suffering from financial difficulties and is currently underoing a restructuring. Falletta's tenure with the group, though, has had memorable highlights. She made her debut at London's prestigious Proms with the orchestra in 2011 and also has made four recordings with the orchestra for Naxos, the label that also records her with the BPO. Her Naxos discs with the Ulster Orchestra have included discs of the music of Gustav Holst, the Irish composer Ernest John Moeran and American composer John Knowles Paine. 

The above video shows her leading the orchestra in Paine's "The Tempest."

Primus & Fishbone, The Fray first shows announced for 2014 Niagara River Rocks concert series


(Primus, with guests Fishbone, will kick off this year's Niagara River Rocks concert series in June.) 

The Niagara River Rocks Concert Series, held at Gratwick Park, River Rd., in North Tonawanda, has announced the first two of what organizers hope will be as many as 6 shows scheduled throughout the summer of 2014.

Primus, with guests Fishbone, will kicks off the series at Gratwick Park on Sunday, June 22nd.

The Fray, with guests Barcelona and Oh Honey, will arrive at the same venue on Sunday, July 27th. Both shows are all ages, and start at 4 p.m. (Gates will open at 2 p.m. on the day of the show.) 

The Niagara River Rocks Series, booked by promoter David Taylor, had its maiden voyage last summer, with three shows - including a well-attended appearance by Primus - spread throughout the summer. As the Canal Concert Series in Lockport - which was also booked by Taylor - has been discontinued due to "city funding drying up," according to Taylor, a full commitment to the Gratwick Park site and the Niagara River Rocks Series has been made.

Last year's concerts were free, but this year, admission comes with a price tag. 

"We are going after bigger ticket bookings, and so we are charging a minimal ticket price, in order to both offset some of the costs and to keep the crowd numbers under control a bit," says Taylor. "We're capping attendance in the area of 12,000 people, so that it's confortable for everyone."

Admission for the Primus/Fishbone bill will be $7 advance, $25 week-of-show. Admission for the Fray will be $10 advance, $25 week-of-show. Tickets for both concerts go on sale Friday, April 18th, at 10:00 a.m. for on-line only sales, and saturday, April 19th at 10:30 a.m. through, the Niagara River Rocks box office, (4444 River Road, North Tonawanda) Allentown Music, Terrapin Station, and Record Theatre locations. Additional informnation on the concert series is available here

- Jeff Miers 

Kelly Clarkson performance rescheduled for October

Kelly Clarkson canceled her performance scheduled for Nov. 16, 2013 at the grand opening of the Walden Galleria Microsoft Store due to illness.

Now, both the Microsoft Store and Clarkson confirm that the show has been rescheduled for Oct. 25. The time of the performance, and the venue where it will be held, remain to be determined. 

Kelly Clarkson
Clarkson, the original American Idol winner, made the announcement on her her Facebook page.

This will not be her first appearance in Western New York. In 2006, she brought her show to the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, a concert News Contributing Reviewer Ben Siegel said looked like "a young starlet blossoming into superstardom right before our eyes."

- Jeff Miers

A closer look: 'Fall on me (Route 5)' by Max Collins


Title: "Fall on me (Route 5)" // Artist: Max Collins // Ró, 732 Elmwood Ave. through June 10

Buffalo photographer Max Collins, known for his community-focused wheatpastes throughout the region, is taking on one of Buffalo's most controversial structures: the Skyway. His new series, which shows the elevated highway snaking through downtown Buffalo against weathered wooden panels, was inspired by a recent list of problem highways in American cities compiled by the Congress for New Urbanism called "Freeways Without Futures."

That list, which went viral on Facebook earlier this year and was the talk of local urbanists for some weeks, includes Syracuse's I-81, the Gardiner Expressway in Toronto and Rochester's Inner Loop. Collins' pieces are photographs of the structure wheatpasted to wood panels that have been smeared and scarred with dirt, rocks and cement from construction sites around Buffalo.

The "Freeways Without Futures" list, Collins said, "made me think I should begin to document them simply for historical value, but being also aware that these structures hold a much deeper sociocultural significance." The series, he added, was also partly inspired by the work of Daniel Arsham, a sculptor whose work gives modern objects an ancient patina.

"In a similar vein of how Arsham uses materials to speak to the work, I found it appropriate to utilize more ephemeral materials like wood and paper to create pieces that highlight such permanent structures," Collins said of his new series. Collins' new work also bears a striking resemblance to Catherine Opie's groundbreaking "Freeway" series of the early 1990s, which depicted the concrete structures criss-crossing the landscape from below, bringing out a beauty hidden to drivers.

Unlike the list that inspired them, Collins' pieces take no definitive position. It's possible to see in them all the divergent things people see when they look at the Skyway itself: an unoffensive relic of the mid-20th century, an architectural underdog whose beauty is underrecognized or an assualt on the senses and an impediment to the city's unrealized potential.

--Colin Dabkowski

Award-winning fiction writer Yiyun Li to read at Hallwalls tonight

Chinese-American fiction writer Yiyun Li will read from her much-praised new novel "Kinder Than Solititude" (Random House) tonight at 7 p.m. at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, 341 Delaware Avenue ( at Tupper Street) as sponsored by Talking Leaves Books and the Brooklyn-based literary magazine A Public Space.  A question-and-answer session and book signing with Ms. Li will follow the reading.  The event is free and open to the public.

Li, a Beijing native who came to the United States in 1996 to study immunology at the University of Iowa, but eventually found her way into the Iowa Writers Workshop, is the author of two story collections and two novels.  Her debut story collection "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" (Random House, 2005) won both the PEN/Hemingway Award for fiction and the 2005 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and inspired immediate comparisons of her work to that of Chekhov and Alice Munro. Two of the stories from the collection were adapted into 2007 films, one  ("The Princess of Nebraska") directed by Wayne Wang and the title story, for which Li herself wrote the screenplay. 

Her first novel, "The Vagrants" was set in 1979 during the vestigial stages of  the Chinese Cultural Revolution in a provincial industrial town called Muddy River, and was framed by the public denunciation and execution of two women deemed as counterrevolutionary by the shifting ideologies of the Communist Party.  Far from being a purely political novel, though, it was a finely-crafted and shifting, almost minimalist approach toward the effects the betrayals and brutality had upon family, community, and the inner lives of Chinese citizens of that era.

Li's second story collection "Gold Boy, Emerald Girl" (Random House, 2010) won her an even wider readership and comparisons to an even more diverse range of classic international short story masters, from Guy de Maupassant  to the writer she herself has cited as her own greatest influence, the Irish novelist, playwright and short story writer William Trevor.

She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant in 2010, and named to both Granta's Best Writers Under 35 in 2007 and The New Yorker's 20 under 40 in 2010.  She lives in Oakland and teaches at the University of California, Davis.

Her new novel "Kinder Than Solitude" is set in both the China of 1990's and contemporary China and the United States.  It follows the trajectory of three characters--a man and two women--who were involved in the poisoning and twenty-three year coma of a fourth woman acquaintance in the China of that earlier era, but escaped from detection as perpetrators of the crime, except to one another.  Following the death of the poisoning victim, they re-establish contact to survey, along with the reader, the damage their secret has wrought on their lives and futures.  Like all of Li's writing, the book has been hailed for its subtlety and understatement: her ability to insinuate her   narrative voice into that of her characters without seemingly fixing them to the page.  There is always a certain sense of  mystery and indeterminacy to her characters.  As a reader, you can't know them fully, but that's precisely why you want to.

Ms. Li's reading tonight at Hallwalls is co-sponsored by A Public Space, the Brooklyn-based literary magazine founded and edited by Buffalo native Brigid Hughes, the former Executive Editor of The Paris Review and immediate successor to founder George Plimpton at the magazine. A Public Space was named Best New Literary Magazine by The Village Voice in December 2006 and Ms. Hughes received the prestigious PEN/Nora Magid Award for Magazine Editing for "her commitment to quality literature and for her larger purpose" in 2011.  Ms. Li is a contributing editor to the magazine.

--R.D. Pohl

Bass legend Billy Sheehan will come home with the Winery Dogs in July

Winery dogs

The Winery Dogs, a hard rock supergroup featuring Talas/Mr. Big/Niacin bassist Billy Sheehan, guitarist Richie Kotzen, and drummer Mike Portnoy, will perform at the Tralf Music Hall (622 Main St.) on Saturday, July 26th. Tickets will go on sale April 28th. They're priced $25 advance, $27 day-of-show, and will be available through, the Tralf Music Hall box office, and 

- Jeff Miers

Buffalo Common Council may revive public art program

Coronation Day

Kenneth Snelson's "Coronation Day," from 1980, is the latest large-scale piece of public art in downtown Buffalo. Picture from Buffalo Arts Commission.

A longstanding and long-ignored provision requiring the city to set aside 1 percent of the money for capital projects over $1 million for public art may be revived on Tuesday by Buffalo's Common Council.

According to News Reporter Jill Terreri, councilman Michael LoCurto has drafted a resolution that calls for the program -- officially incorporated into the city charter in 1999 -- to be fully enforced. The resolution "supports reviving the 1% for Art in Public Places Program, and requests responsible City officers and departments develop and coordinate internal processes and mechanisms that will help ensure this law is enacted to the fullest extent by the beginning of fiscal year 2014-2015."

It also requests that Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak compile a list of current and future capital projects that qualify for the program and submit it to the council by May 27.

"It not only adds to the urban experience and what makes city living interesting, but it’s also supporting local artists, which is always a good thing," LoCurto told me in an interview about the stalled program last year. "We have such a vibrant arts and cultural community that I think it’s important for the city to do what it can to support it."

The council may vote on the resolution as early as Tuesday, or at its next meeting on April 29.

Here is a copy of LoCurto's resolution:

--Colin Dabkowski

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