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Ghost story; Lambert's second part of trilogy puts city in the spotlight

For Richard Lambert, the actor, director and creative guru behind the New Phoenix Theatre, the busy spring theater season has tossed him into a bit of a conundrum.

His original musical, "Fillmore," opens Thursday at the New Phoenix. At the same time, Lambert will be appearing in the Kavinoky Theatre's production of "The Grand Manner," which opens today. The result is that, after many months of hard work guiding his own production to fruition, he will not have the opportunity to view it.

Such is the life of the actor/director/playwright in demand. And as problems go, as Lambert's buoyant mood during a recent interview suggests, this is not a bad one to have.

"Fillmore," an unconventional show with original music by Steve Borowski and elements of a ghost story, is the second in a trilogy of musicals Lambert has written about his adopted home of Buffalo. The first, "Sweet Street," was a musical look at the men and women who queue up outside of a soup kitchen on Wadsworth and Hudson streets, which combined original music with photography by the late Milton Rogovin.

"Fillmore," Lambert admits, is a somewhat darker and more heavy-handed affair. It is set in a dilapidated boarding house on Buffalo's East Side inhabited by a motley collection of not-quite-mortal residents whose only escape will come when the building they call home is finally torn down.

Lambert makes no bones about the fact that the show is a critique of Buffalo's inertia on public projects large and small, all couched within a gripping story about the decline of the East Side's architecture and the spirit and vitality it symbolized.

In the show, he says, "the ghosts of Fillmore continue to haunt and hover and wait for some bit of proactiveness to free them from the hood and from the hell that they're attached to on Fillmore."

Also at the heart of the piece, Lambert said, is "the idea of Buffalo talking about a problem and then talking about a problem and then talking about how you're going to talk about it and nothing getting done."

The show's cast includes Kathleen Ashwill, Wendy Hall, Mary Moebius, Marshall Maxwell, Crescenzo Scipione, Carmen Swans and Jenny Kulwicki.

The final piece in Lambert's long-brewing Buffalo trilogy, currently slated to close out the New Phoenix's 2012-13 season, is titled simply "Buffalo." As currently envisioned, that show will tell the story of Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, the controversial figure who was the subject of one of the largest manhunts in the history of New York State.

That sort of unconventional subject matter is just up Lambert's alley. And with "Fillmore," as with "Sweet Street," he's aiming to match it with a similarly unorthodox structure.

"It doesn't follow the original code of how a musical should be written," he said. "We don't want to disrupt something that works, but everything must evolve toward something else at some point. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn't work. But there's a great deal of talent behind it."

e-mail: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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PREVIEW    

"Fillmore"    

WHEN: Thursday through May 28    

WHERE: New Phoenix Theatre, 95 Johnson Park    

TICKETS: $15 to $20    

INFO: 853-1334 or www.newphoenixtheatre.org

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