At the recent first read-through of the new musical “Buddy’s Tavern,” at the Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich, we heard for the first time the actors speak their lines and heard the words and music of this much anticipated new American musical.
Although this reading was done around a table placed stage center and without benefit of fully realized scenic, lighting, sound and costume design it was apparent this show is going to have a long and happy life on stages everywhere, maybe even Broadway or Off-Broadway.
The reading immediately revealed that the libretto/book was extremely well-structured, truly funny, inhabited by fully fleshed out and complex characters that are sure to win the hearts of audiences – even the antagonists will engender a bit of sympathy. This show is rare because it has long been said by the creators of America’s most successful musicals that shows are not written, but rewritten and rewritten during tryouts.
The production is being directed by Brett Bernardini, Founding Artistic Director/CEO of the Spirit of Broadway Theater. He has directed more than 200 productions in his career including a new musical, “A Hundred Years Into The Heart,” as part of The New York Music Theater Festival. Brett was named Distinguished Arts Advocate by the Connecticut Commission on the Arts and received a Commendation for Achievement in the Arts from the State of Connecticut’s General Assembly. His passion is producing and directing the most promising new musicals such as “Buddy’s Tavern.”
Some of its excellent songs were presented on a CD while others were played live by the show’s two-time, Emmy Award-wining composer Kim Oler. Seated next to him was the equally accomplished and acclaimed lyricist, Alison Hubbard. The words and music were played during the table reading in the show’s current running order to enhance the characterization and help drive the plot.
And what terrific words and music — each one a unique and tuneful glory. Oler and Hubbard have written a score that is in a league with the best of Broadway musicals. Lovely melodic ballads, “novelty” witty razzmatazz numbers, and story-songs that soar. They will be delivered by a multi-talented cast of Equity and non-equity performers. You’ll be humming these tunes instead of the scenery on the way out of the theater
The cast is headed by Broadway actor/singer Brad Heikes as Buddy. A member of Actors Equity, Brad performed in Shaw’s "Pygmalion," starring Claire Danes, on Broadway, among his many theater, film and TV appearances, including major commercials — see them on YouTube.com.
Brad is joined by other accomplished performers: Dana DellaMonica (Estelle Visalo), Rebecca Barko (Mary O”Neary), Christopher Conte (Chip DiPalma), Shawn Rucker (Laura DiPalma), John Marion (Angelo, Brancaccio, Jim O’Neary), Candance Routh (Marie Vacco, Gloria, Miss Diminjuk) and Christopher Faison (Barkeep).
No theater producer or director expects all actors to give a perfect reading at auditions, table reading or even in early rehearsals. That said, we were greatly impressed with three actors in the reading of “Buddy’s Tavern” who immediately wrapped their respective characters around themselves and gave remarkable performances.
We’ve seen two of these superb actors, Brad Heikes (Buddy) and Rebecca Barko (Mary) before and both have the talent, stage presence, looks and personality to become major stars in the immediate future. The third actor to get a strong response from the audience for her strong reading was Candance Routh as Marie.
Now that doesn’t mean the other seasoned actors came in "second;" they also could be outstanding as they approach opening night. We’ve seen them in previous turns at SBT, and know they give consistently fine performances.
No fully realized show is successful without the contributions of the major theater crafts that create the world in which the show and the music come to life. For this production, Brett has engaged musical director Daniel Brandl, lighting designer Glenn J. Michaud, and set designer Tyler Menard.
To give all this talent something to work with in the first place is a first-rate libretto/book written by Raymond DeFelitta, based on his motion picture, “Two Family House.” It was shown at The Sundance Film Festival followed by release in New York City, Los Angeles and The Austin Film Festival. The same year, the film was honored with The Sundance Film Festival Audience Award and The National Board Of Review Special Recognition Award. Auspicious beginnings for an independent film.
DeFellitta is the writer/director of a merrie film comedy “City Island” starring Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies that was the cause of much buzz at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
His “Buddy’s Tavern” begins in present day and quickly flashes back to 1956 Staten Island, New York where Italian-American Buddy buys a rundown two family house, intending to convert it into a bar where he can sing for his customers. His wife, Estelle, is not pleased. Irish tenants who are living in the house refuse to vacate. The Irish woman, Mary, gives birth, and is abandoned by her husband. Buddy is forced to make some difficult choices. This new musical comedy about love and tolerance is “one in which two people discover that happily ever after can come from the most unlikely places.” It’s got the witty lyrics, hummable tunes and big laughs to keep ‘em rolling and humming in the aisles too.
The casting of Buddy couldn’t have been better. Previously seen in “Glimmerglass” at The Spirit Of Broadway, Brad Heikes is cut from the mold of Paul Newman. He’s got the good looks, masculinity and charm required for matinee idol status, and is at the same time vulnerable and extremely likeable. And, like Newman, Brad’s other half is an accomplished actress/director, Sarah Shahinian. Watch for this dynamic theater duo to go places in the entertainment industry. One of our friends in the hierarchy of theater once told us; “there doesn’t have to be a gay theme to make a play relevant for publication in Metroline…..isn’t the fact that it’s about the theater enough?”
During the run of the show, Spirit will be selling special rate tickets at African-American Night on May 21, High School Night on June 3 and a Single Parents Matinee on May 17th.
A couple of weeks after the show’s May 13 opening, a VIP Red Carpet Gala will be held on Sunday, May 31st. Join the writers, the cast and production team of “Buddy’s Tavern” for an evening of Champagne, specialty beverages, Hor d’ourves and amazing gourmet foods. This will be a true gala, complete with red carpet and special surprises.
Immediately following the performance, the party will continue with sumptuous desserts and gourmet coffees. All seats for this special gala only are $75.00
The musical runs May 13 – June 14, 2009 with performances Wednesday through Saturday evenings 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets, directions, and special events are posted on www.spiritofbroadway.org. Or call the box office at 860.886.2378.
There is plenty of free parking at all times in and around the theater. The clubby lobby has food and beverage service at all performances.
Although there is no curtain in this handsome, antique brick firehouse, Critics On The Aisle predict this show will get 10 curtain calls out of 10 from audiences and critics alike!
© Copyright 2009. Critic On The Aisle. All rights reserved.
6 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.
This is an incredible movie that had me pinned down on my chair, we need more movies like this that help teach or remember us the important things in life ! Thank You and... Bravo !!! :)
Saw the movie last night on tv, 9-20-10. A truly heart warming story.The hero, Buddy was played beautifully. Loved story, music was great for those of us who still like to hear the lyrics of what we listen to.