MOON OVER BUFFALO
by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Byron Holder
Assistant Director - Linda Fullhart
Stage Manager - Chuck Barlow
Set Design - Byron Holder
Costume Design - Libby Rotan
Sound Design - Abel Casillas and Byron Holder
Lighting Design - Nikki Smith
Prop Design - Abel Casillas
Fight Choreography - Joe Murdock
George Hay - Clayton Cunningham
Charlotte Hay - Sherri Small
Ethel - Barrie Alguire
Rosalind - Shannon Jones
Howard - Jeff McGee
Eileen - Heather Sturdevant
Paul - Edward Houser
Richard - Kenny Green
Reviewed Performance: 2/9/2018
Reviewed by Rachel Elizabeth Khoriander, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Moon Over Buffalo playwright Ken Ludwig is a two-time Olivier Award-winner whose work is performed throughout the world in more than thirty countries in over twenty languages. He has written twenty-five plays and musicals, with six Broadway productions and seven in London's West End. Some titles you may recall: Lend Me a Tenor, which won two Tony Awards and was called "one of the classic comedies of the 20th century" by The Washington Post, and Crazy for You, which spent five years on Broadway and won Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Musical.
Moon Over Buffalo originally opened in 1995 and marked the return of Carol Burnett to the Broadway stage after a 30 year absence. It also earned her a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Play.
The script itself is full of misunderstandings that generate more than a few laughs. Set in 1953, the play centers on George and Charlotte Hay, married and fading stars of the stage who are on the brink of a disastrous split-up due to George's latest romantic entanglement. While playing rep in Buffalo, New York, they learn that Frank Capra is coming to town to see their matinee and realize they may have one last shot at stardom. But the road to fame and fortune promises not to be a smooth one as nearly everything that can go awry does.
The directing and technical design for Runway's production are exceptional. Scenes are expertly staged, choreographed, and timed, and the audience has so much fun that the show seems to fly by. In fact, several of the audience members sitting near me verbally expressed their shock when intermission arrived.
Set designers have succeeded in capturing the feel of a mid-20th-century theater green room-albeit a stylish one, featuring wall art by Alphonse Mucha and the occasional glint of glass. Lounge sofa - check. Upright piano with exposed soundboard ribs - check. Ironing board strewn with multi-colored costumes in an array of fabrics - check. Doors to dressing rooms, stage, house, and the street - check. Of particular interest is the texturing of the walls of the green room and area that exits to the street; the set painting must have taken some time and lends a level of realism rarely seen in smaller sets.
Lighting design is complimentary. While in the green room, lighting is realistic, yet not overly stark. And the occasional spot and enveloping dimness that indicates the actors are performing on stage contribute to mood while also allowing for some surprises.
Costume design is spot-on with various stereotypes of the 1950s in full swing. Women who are more upright wear neatly tailored dresses or skirt and blouse with A-line skirts, while tartier roles call for pencil skirts and more streamlined fashions. A nerdy visitor wears a suit with a particularly narrow tie, a suave lawyer wears a power suit, the creative "leading man" material wears dress pants, bright button-down, and matching geometric-blocked sweater vest. All clothing appears to be tailor-made for each actor and small touches are all era-appropriate. Choreography is immediately evident in this production, but in a good way. The stage is a constant swarm of activity since much of the comedy is physical, but does not seem contrived. Timing is rather impressive, which promotes a smooth, engaging show, and cast members appears to be enjoying themselves.
And this is, I think, indicative of what is most captivating about Runway's production of Moon Over Buffalo-the cohesiveness of its cast and creative team. The ensemble has particularly excellent chemistry; it's rare to find a group of actors so in sync. In addition, the sheer talent of the cast is astounding. They all give knock-out performances, and each has impeccable comedic timing.
As George Hay, Clayton Cunningham evokes our sympathy and amusement with his pure physical comedy. The comedic timing of the actor who plays George is particularly important to this play, and Cunningham delivers in spades. In particular, a rather long chain of events that occur after George has been at the bottle, are both believable and hilarious. Though the character of George has its rough patches, Cunningham's bluster and vulnerability make him instantly likable.
Sherri Small as Charlotte Hay is similarly genius. Since Charlotte is the portion of the duo who is particularly captivated by the possibility of Capra-esque Hollywood stardom, Small has her work cut out for her in expressing a thousand different coexisting emotions, and she handles this with great aplomb. Her energy and focus on the ultimate goal never falter, yet she simultaneously is able to express a wistfulness and softness toward Cunningham's George.
Barry Alguire as Ethel, Charlotte's hard-of-hearing mother, often steals the show with her gruff affability, curt delivery, and striking facial expressions. While originally I wondered what kept Ethel's character attached to a world in which she seemed too often get the short end of the stick, Alguire soon makes it clear that Charlotte comes by her theatricality honestly.
Rosalind, the daughter of George and Charlotte, is played by Shannon Jones. Written as more of a foil for the madcap antics of her parents, it's possible for the character to be overpowered in the hands of a less talented actor than Jones. Happily, that is not the case here; Jones holds her own on the tumultuous stage, and her Rosalind is smart, spunky, and likable.
Howard, Rosalind's fiancé, is played by Jeff McGee who toes a fine line with a character who could easily become a caricature. McGee's physicality shines in the role-his manner of walk, the way he draws his shoulders and elbows into his body-as does his ability to emit tension through the slightest of facial expressions.
Paul, Rosalind's ex-fiancé, is played by Edward Houser with all the charisma of a classic Hollywood starlet. Houser has mastered the smolder, surging power of a young Rock Hudson and the rounded vocal intonations of Sinatra. Even more impressive is his ability to evince vulnerability and a clear abiding love for Rosalind while maintaining the rhythm of their verbal sparring.
The cast is rounded out by Heather Sturdevant as Eileen, George's paramour, and Kenny Green as Richard, the man waiting in the wings for Charlotte. Sturdevant projects a demeanor of feistiness and calculation, but not deviousness, which makes even her character one the audience can embrace, while Green's Richard is smooth and justifiably impatient. Both have excellent timing and play beautifully off the talents of the other cast members.
Excellent direction, a dedicated technical team, an energetic and cohesive cast, and a witty script make this show a must-see. I have rarely laughed so hard at a show or been so disappointed at having a show end. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up; fine holiday fun.
MOON OVER BUFFALO
215 N. Dooley Street
Grapevine, TX 76051
Runs through February 25th.
Friday and Saturday at 8:00 pm, with matinees on Sunday at 3:00 pm.
General ticket prices for all performances are $20.00. Student (with ID) and Senior (60 & better) tickets cost $17.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.runwaytheatre.com/, or call the box office at 817-488-4842.