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CRITIC'S CHOICE

THEATER
Neighborhood watch
Joseph G. Giambra -- who, 'tis said, has a mile-high stack of plays, theatrical fragments and screenplays in reserve -- will launch another evening of entertainment in verse, music and storytelling based on the Buffalonian's rich memories of his lower West Side Sicilian origins. Last year it was the wildly successful "Bread and Onions: The Last Neighborhood." Now the irrepressible Giambra is back with more Bread and Onions, this one called "Bread and Onions II: Valvo's and Beyond." It opens Sunday evening at 7:30 in the Calumet Arts Cafe.

Strung together by titles of old Humphrey Bogart movies, the stories will recount Giambra's coming of age in the colorful West Side neighborhood where he grew up in the 1940s. The Valvo's of the title is, according to Giambra, a coffee shop that opened in the mid-1920s. "It was a bastion of strength in the neighborhood," says Giambra. "It's still there as Carol's Little Corner. The neighborhood has changed but the coffee's the same."

Giambra, who has had various careers as cop, jazz musician, restaurateur and actor -- he's currently appearing in the Irish Classical Theatre's production of "The Threepenny Opera" -- says the evening will consist of "five people talking." But what talkers they are!

On the Calumet's small stage will be Neil Garvey, Phil Knoerzer, Constance McEwen and Susan Toomey, all directed by Jason Trost. Piano man Richie Mecca accompanies with the great tunes from the era, and tenor Frank Marschello will sing in a pre-performance show at 7. Repeat performances, also at 7:30 p.m., will be held on successive Sundays through Oct. 17.

-- Richard Huntington
MUSIC
Dance recital
After the sigh of relief that greeted Saturday's Grand Gala by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, following the last-minute signing of a new contract between the BPO and its musicians, the orchestra and Music Director JoAnn Falletta now can look forward to the regular season's concerts without the uncertainty that had hovered over the Gala. The first pair of Classics Series concerts will be held in Kleinhans Music Hall next Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 2 at 8 p.m., with a post-concert party for subscribers in the Mary Seaton Room. Please note the earlier starting time for this season's Friday concerts.

One hour before each concert, Falletta will be on the Kleinhans stage to present "Musically Speaking," an informal preview and discussion of the evening's musical menu, which for the opening pair of concerts is called "Shall We Dance?" The title is apt, because there are connections with dance in three of the four works on the program, quite obvious in the concert opener, American composer John Adams' "The Chairman Dances." This extremely popular concert piece is extrapolated from a scene in Adams' opera "Nixon in China," during which Chairman Mao Tse-Tung and his wife dance a foxtrot during a small diplomatic gathering. Dance influence is equally obvious during the closing work, the Suite from "Der Rosenkavalier" by Richard Strauss, with its absolutely irresistible, intoxicating waltzes. But the choreographic connection with Debussy's dreamy, sensuous and evocative 1894 "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" was not intended by the composer. It was added in 1913 when the great Nijinsky's erotic choreography and performance caused a dance scandal equal to the musical brouhaha Debussy had created in 1894.

There are no known dance associations with Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, but it is unequivocally one of this century's great works in that form, combining alluring themes, touches of whimsy and a beguiling set of variations in the slow movement with a Finale whose building excitement almost always has the audience on its feet. The soloist in this concerto is Andre-Michel Schub, an artist who has been known to make listeners leap out of their seats. Winner of the 1981 Van Cliburn International Competition, Schub has played the Beethoven Concerto No. 3 with the BPO and in 1989 gave a knockout performance in the old QRS Series of Bartok's "Out of Doors," a work that requires of the pianist the same blend of fire and poetry needed in the Prokofiev Concerto No. 3.

-- Herman Trotter

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