We constantly see stories about Broadway theater, movies, television and the like discussing their "Buffalo connection." People from the area who go on to "make it" in the outside world are bound to have stories produced about how well they have done. "Nickel City Treasures," presented by O'Connell and Company, is devoted to giving us the best music produced and performed by former Western New Yorkers. The evening consists of 46 songs from former area residents performed by a cast of six with one narrator.
The biggest problem I had was deciding what it was that I was seeing. It was not theater -- in my mind theater has to involve the telling of a story, which this certainly does not. I am not certain the cast even knows what kind of a show they are in; is it a concert, a staged reading, an evening of cabaret or a musical revue? Since no decisions were made on what type of performance this was meant to be, the performers drift between numbers without precision or snap. Given the intimate setting of Cabaret in the Square, the lack of willingness to engage the audience directly through song is baffling.
Frankly, the form this show best exemplifies is that of an infomercial from K-Tel. The dialogue consists entirely of biographical minutiae read by Dean Goff and planned spontaneity between cast members, most of which fell flat. While the factoids were interesting, using them as the segue into the musical numbers was sloppy and served little purpose. Indeed, narration is used as the ending for each of the acts, incomprehensible in an evening of music.
But beyond the structure of the evening is the music itself, the works of Michael Bennett, Ray Henderson, Harold Arlen, David Shire and Jack Yellen and the performances of Lucille Ball. There is much to celebrate among these talented individuals, and there are several performances of individual songs worth mentioning. Chief among them are Kerrykate Abell's renditions of the Sophie Tucker standard "Hardhearted Hannah" and Ray Henderson's "Bye Bye Blackbird." Abell's powerful alto belt filled the space with sound and she found the emotion in the music that was generally lacking during the rest of the evening.
Also worth noting is Arlinda Marrano's performance of "It Goes Like it Goes," from David Shire's Oscar-winning "Norma Rae" soundtrack. In one of the few times during the evening that the singers weren't holding their scores in front of them, she delivered a touching version of this ode to working people. Marrano also had quite a bit of fun with "Animal Crackers in My Soup," going back in time to sing as Shirley Temple. Christian Riso also has a fine voice, which was underutilized.
Nickel City Treasures
Rating: * 1/2
A salute through song to famous Western New Yorkers.
Thursday to Saturday, through Sept. 30 in the Cabaret in the Square Theatre, 4476 Main Street, Snyder. For information, call 839-3949.