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'Buffalo Zings' lampoons the local scene

Imagine Alfreda Slominski, in quilted housecoat, curlers and flat Polish accent, as Eva Peron. As her fans crescendo-chant "Alfreda! Alfreda!" she turns and bursts into song. And it's "Don't Cry for Me, Erie County." ("The truth is, I was your watchdog!")

Skip to an elegant crown-wearing Kevin Gaughan, smugly singing his own praises to the tune of "Camelot" and finishing with the famous every-tooth-visible grimace/smile.

Or, best of all, a vamping vampire Joel Giambra, strutting and swirling his velvet cape as he croons, "When You're Good to Giambra," to the tune of "When You're Good to Mama" from "Chicago."

Then there's Byron Brown bustin' out the bling, Nancy Naples ensconced on boxes of files, Victor Getz driving a hobbyhorse, Crystal Peoples, a Cellino-less billboard Barnes, Chuck Swanick's new sweater, Dr. James Williams, Gavin Cameron Webb acting out plays, a battle among TV weathermen -- and, heck, just about everybody else of note.

"Buffalo Zings: Hot, Tedium and Wild," a vaudeville-style collaboration between O'Connell & Company and the Buffalo Ensemble Theatre, provides all that and more in a fast-paced 90-minute current events variety show that skewers, sizzles or shouts out to everybody from the Deer Lady to the Huge Guy.

The highlights of the show were many, the flaws few. In one brilliant skit, a quartet of players wearing huge, light-encrusted bridge design headpieces (think an architectural "Aida") stepped forward one at a time to boost their Peace Bridge plans. In verse. Sung to the tunes of bridge-related songs, from "Bridge Over the River Kwai," to "London Bridge," to "59th Street Bridge Song," to "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." It succeeded on every level.

Most of the show was technically good, with some parts excellent. Musical highlights included the ensemble in pajamas singing "In the Council, the Common Council, the vote goes down tonight," to the tune of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and a series of tuneful, witty and precisely enunciated carols for and about Buffalo neighborhoods.

In its opening three days at the under-renovations Town Ballroom (formerly the Sphere), some members of the cast were difficult to hear and the piano occasionally overwhelmed the words, rendering the incisive political humor moot. That was frustrating. The acoustics and musical balance will certainly be better when the show moves to the Cabaret in the Square in Snyder.

It's unfortunate that the only "tedium" in the show creeps in during the opening and closing numbers. The flaws include a few absurdly tortured rhymes, an obscure premise, a bad-bad (as opposed to funny-bad) French accent and a suddenly serious attack on anti-Islamic racism.

Mary Kate O'Connell and Loraine O'Donnell Gray stood out vocally, bringing energy to every number and shining in the group performances. Tim White handled some of the most challenging parts with panache, while Pat Armstrong brought both grace and goofiness to her roles. Michael Tosha did his best turn as Kevin Gaughan, but also stood out as a Sky Masterson type who sang "Casino" to the tune of "Maria" from "West Side Story."

But I don't think I'll ever completely erase the mental image of David Butler as Joel Giambra as Dracula. Wicked, spot-on and just priceless. Giambra may never live it down.

Buffalo Zings! Hot, Tedium and Wild!

Review: 3 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

Vaudeville-style variety show presented by O'Connell and Company.

Continues through Oct. 30 in Cabaret in the Square Theatre, 4476 Main St., Amherst. 839-3949.


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