show is not a review.
O’DONNELL: I love that bloggers
have tried to make up for the lack
of coverage, but what are their
QUINN: People reading think
[the reviewers] know a lot more
than they do and that opinion really
O’DONNELL: I once heard a
“critic” go on about how they didn’t
understand how a musical theater
performer could be so good in a
straight play. This is a question that
an audience member may wonder,
but when someone giving their
“professional” opinion doesn’t have
the basic understanding that an
actor is an actor with or without
music, it’s terrifying to any theater
company hoping for a well-thought
QUINN: It’s better for arts
community when you have someone
with an opinion you can glean
O’CONNELL: Any time theaters
can get publicity through reviews,
blogs, posts, or whatever is good.
Not being mentioned or included is
what hurts us. The times they are a
changing, and we have to adapt or be
O’NEILL: The changeover is
already happening. We use social
media more and are conscious of
reaching to a younger demographic
in that way.
BEHREND: It certainly can’t
hurt to have more people talking
and writing about your show, but
I am concerned that when new
theater patrons want information
about shows and even reviews,
what’s going to become the hub?
The Buffalo News has always been
the hub, and if we’re going to have
smaller outlets, do we need to make
a concerted effort to create that hub
O’NEILL: Thirty pro and semipro
theater companies and not a single
journalist assigned or even shared
with art criticism. The television
stations don’t really cover the arts.
That’s a huge lack of respect. The
cultural scene is a big strength of
the renaissance; to not recognize
its weight is a massive mistake. It’s
almost as if theater doesn’t exist.
QUINN: I don’t know how
it shakes out, this reflection of
everybody giving their two cents
about everything. Maybe people only
want to know, was it fun? Reviews
are not as defined and obvious as
they used to be. There’s impact, but I
don’t know how we navigate it.
Three Williamsville East alumni have joined forces to create STARRING BUFFALO, a program that brings Broadway
performers to Buffalo for concert events that also feature area talent from professionals to students. The initiative
launches this month with The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Buffalo State’s Rockwell Hall on October 19 and 20.
“City Center in NYC puts on a series called Encores!, which is short run, unstaged versions of musicals
starring superb Broadway performers. The series draws a huge following and is able to secure fantastic casts
because the schedule is short enough to fit in between other gigs,” says artistic director Drew Fornarola, an
award-winning playwright/composer who has written for Dream Works’ Shrek and Veggie Tales franchises
and headlined concerts around the world. “I realized this would be a great model for bringing NYC
performers to Buffalo and would allow busy Buffalo actors to fit more musicals into their calendars as well.
The final twist was to make the professional performances a participatory opportunity for students.”
Armed with the idea, Fornarola approached former schoolmate Laura Brodie, vice president and general manager of
Burt Rigid Box and CDD Millwork, two custom manufacturing businesses headquartered in Buffalo and operating in
Central New York. Brodie previously worked in development and education at the American Symphony Orchestra.
“We quickly brought in Michael Russo, the arts administrator for the Williamsville Schools, and Steven Tartick,
fellow Williamsville East grad and creative director of NYC Broadway marketing firm RPM, as partners,”
says Brodie, who became board chair. “The group is working to strengthen the bridge between Buffalo
and Broadway, expanding connections between the acting and professional communities of the two cities,
and illuminating a path for WNY students interested in a future in musical theater. Everyone involved, from
the musicians and actors to the choral teachers and board members, are the kind of motivated, on-the-go
people with at least two full-time jobs already, so the toughest part has been coordinating schedules!”
Nonetheless, with Brodie and Fornarola spending five to seven days a month in town, they were able
to schedule STARRING BUFFALO’s first concert, secure top-notch Buffalo talent, and bring on four high
school choruses—Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, Fredonia, Tonawanda High School, and
Williamsville East, natch. Broadway performers are Alex Wyse and Dan’yelle Williamson, with two more
to be announced. Residential talent includes Leah Berst, Charmagne Chi, Arianne Davidow, Keith Ersing,
Matthew Iwanski-Jackson, Dudney Joseph, Ben Michael Moran, Katy Miner, and Raphael Santos.
“We wanted to choose a show with wide appeal and real musical integrity,” says Fornarola of their choice to begin
with Hunchback. “The score shares music with the Disney film, which makes it approachable and exciting for families,
but it hasn’t been on Broadway or on tour lately, which makes it equally interesting to musical theater buffs.”
If all goes as planned, Brodie envisions selling out three to four shows in the series each year, with an
expansion into other artistic genres. “There could be choreographed dance routines from high school
or college performers, poetry readings during intermission, and art shows in the lobby, all related to the
performance,” she says. “The key dream is that the performance experience and master classes given by our
visiting actors can contribute meaningfully to launching Western New Yorkers into the Broadway world.”
To learn more, visit StarringBuffalo.org.
WNY NATIVES CONNECT BROADWAY AND
BUFFALO THEATER COMMUNITIES
BY DONNA HOKE
Broadway performer Alex Wyse plays Quasimodo in Hunchback.