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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Saturday night was date night at the Bacon household. We got a babysitter (which with four kids can sometimes be difficult) and went to dinner and “An Evening With the Stars” at the Historic Palace Theatre. Last year, George Fritz was kind enough to give us his tickets to the same unveiling event. At the end of that show, Wendy and I purchased Palace season tickets for the first time. We have incredible seats — Row B, Seats 20 & 21 — and have made it to all the shows of the season so far, including seeing two of our daughters perform in a couple of the musicals.

Palace Theatre actors perform Broadway tunes during Saturday night's 
season announcement show. (PHOTOS BY HEATHER N. GRIMMER / ENP
For this year’s show, we arrived early, just before 7 p.m. I like to walk around the theater before the show speaking with old friends that have also made the Palace their occasional Saturday night destination. I also like to sit with Wendy and have a few minutes to talk without a chorus of questions coming from the shorter residents of our home.

Upon arrival at our seats, speculation began as to how the new season could unfold. Noticing palm plants lining the pit, I immediately guessed “South Pacific.” I made a joke to Wendy that it could also be “Muppets Treasure Island.” Of course, that was a joke, but I had myself convinced that we’d be seeing that Rodgers and Hammerstein classic.

At 7:35, the lights went down and Geoff Koplas welcomed us to the performance. He announced that the troupe would be performing a medley of Disney’s Broadway hits. As an ensemble, a solo, or duet, they performed eight songs from some of our favorite Disney hits:

“Circle of Life” — The Lion King
“We’re All in This Together” — High School Musical
“Step in Time” — Mary Poppins
“Be Our Guest” — Beauty and the Beast
“Beauty and the Beast” — Beauty and the Beast
“Can You Feel the Love Tonight” — The Lion King
“You’ll Be In My Heart Tonight” — Tarzan
“She’s in Love” — Little Mermaid

This kickoff was outstanding. The male singers are simply amazing. Their tenor and tone filled the theater with warmth and conviction. And just when I thought they couldn’t be outdone, the women in the troupe proved me wrong. The compassion with which they sing stirs emotions and entrances the viewers to their presence on the stage. I cannot commend enough the talents of these volunteer thespians.

Palace Board President Ellen Schratz is congratulated for being named the 
PRIDE Magazine "Citizen of the Year."
Once the singers and dancers completed their first medley, Board President, Ellen Schratz and Executive Director Christopher Parada took the stage to introduce themselves to the crowd. Recently named PRIDE Magazine's “Citizen of the Year,” Ellen was presented a display of her title and a bouquet of flowers. There was a rousing round of applause for Mrs. Schratz.

After the short interlude, we were treated to our second medley of hit Broadway music. This time, they honored the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber. We were treated to nine musical numbers from shows we all know well. The mesmerizing melodies and lyrics will be stuck in our heads for days. Included numbers were:

“Superstar” — Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)
“Everything’s Alright” — Jesus Christ Superstar (1970)
“Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” — Evita (1976)
“Memory” — Cats (1981)
“Light at the End of the Tunnel” — Starlight Express (1984)
“Unexpected Song” — Song and Dance (1982)
“Think of Me” — Phantom of the Opera (1986)
“Love Changes Everything” — Aspects of Love (1989)
“Phantom of the Opera” — Phantom of the Opera (1986)

The curtain fell as the last notes of “Phantom of the Opera” faded into the corners of the darkened theater. People around me were murmuring on how spectacular the first act of the evening was. For me, the music from Phantom of the Opera took me back to my honeymoon, when Wendy and I saw a performance in Toronto back in 1997. As I stated earlier, the selections would leave the songs stuck in our heads for a bit after hearing them again.

The second act was what we were all waiting for. We were going to learn what the Palace had in store for us for the upcoming season. As the lights went down, people scurried to their seats in anticipation for the announcements. I love the way the shows are announced. Members of the board take the stage, introduce themselves and talk a bit about the show as an image of that show appear on the large screen at the back of the stage.

Beth and Jo from "Little Women" perform "Some Things
Are Meant to Be."
Becky Wilson made the first unveiling, Little Women. This is an old book with a fairly new renaissance as a musical. Louisa May Alcott wrote the original novel in two parts in 1868 and 1869. The musical first appeared on Broadway in 2005 and in Sydney, Australia in 2008. This semi-autobiographical show focuses on the lives of four sisters during the Civil War. My wife was excited to see this pop up on the screen. Having four daughters, and one even named “Jo,” she holds Little Women in a special place. The show will run October 1-4.

The performance for this show was a scene with Beth and Jo. Beth is dying of scarlet fever and sits in a wheelchair. She and Jo sing “Some Things Are Meant to Be” as they say goodbye to each other. While the scene was set to be a bit sad, the song soars with the joys of the childhood they spent together. It was a bittersweet moment as the performers left the stage.  You could feel the joy and pain behind the lyrics and the sight of Beth sitting in the chair.

It was about this time that the woman sitting next to me asked if I was doing homework as I scribbled notes furiously as the show went on. The second show of the season was announced by Debra Franko. The Lockport holiday tradition Scrooge returns for its thirteenth consecutive year. Written by David H. Smith, Jr., of Corning, I think this show has actually been requested by the people of Lockport. Two of my daughters performed in the 2014 showing of Scrooge, and they’ll probably audition again. The show will run December 4-6.

The evening cast performs a number from "Scrooge the Musical," now in
its 13th year at the Palace.
The troupe performed two songs from this musical. “It’s Never Too Late to Say Merry Christmas” and “How Can a Woman Like Her ( Love a Man Like Me?)”  While I am familiar with both songs, I have heard the first one countless times as Patience and Corliss practiced and practiced and practiced that song in the weeks and days leading up to the show this past December. The second song, speaks of the regret Scrooge has over leaving the love of his life behind in the pursuit of more riches.

The Honorable Bill Watson unwrapped the third show of the season, Blithe Spirit. It is a 1941 play by Noel Coward, which reappeared on Broadway in 2009. In this play, Charles Condomine, wishes to learn about the occult for a novel he is writing, and he arranges for an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to hold a séance at his house. Arcati channels Charles's first wife, Elvira, who has been dead for seven years. Only Charles can see or hear Elvira, and his second wife, Ruth, does not believe that Elvira exists until a floating vase is handed to her out of thin air.  Angela Lansbury starred as Madame Arcati in the 2009 revival on Broadway. The show will run January 15-17.

Mary Poppins was the next musical announced, by board member Scott DeLuca. Ironically, I just finished watching Saving Mr. Banks, which detailed Walt Disney’s efforts to convince P.L. Travers to allow the Disney studios to make the movie. The original story of Mary Poppins is very different than the Julie Andrews version we have all come to know and love. That movie was always one of my favorites, probably because of Ms. Andrews, and it is very exciting to get a chance to see the musical performed on a local stage. The show will run April 15-24.

Mary Poppins may be at the top over everyone's must-see list for the 2015-
2016 season at the Palace.
Katie Merrill portrayed Mary Poppins for the teaser performance. She is a fabulous actress and singer.The rest of the troupe blew me away with their rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The choreography for this song was above and beyond what you expect to see for just a tease of the real thing that is a year away. Everyone’s arms and legs moved in perfect unison as they sang the song in both words and semaphore. There must have been a great deal of time spent on perfecting this performance. I can’t stress enough on how fantastic the choreography was for this song. Kudos to the entire team. This was definitely the highlight of the entire show for me.

Ellen Schratz returned to the stage to tell us about the next show. The 2016-17 line-up unveiling, “An Evening With the Stars returns on May 7, 2016. Next year, she said, the format will change. There will be a party with food and fellowship among the corporate sponsors and season ticket holders followed by the announcement of the 2016-17 season. Our stage performers then sang “Seasons of Love” from Rent reminding us that it is only 525,600 minutes until the next “Evening With the Stars.”

At the conclusion of that song, Ellen and Christopher returned to the stage to present the Shining Star Award to one of the biggest supporters of the Palace dedicated to “keeping the lights on.” As the cast stood behind them, no one knew who would receive the award this year. Ellen read a letter that the recipient’s wife wrote as a biography. Immediately, Geoff Koplas’s reaction was one of disbelief. It was obvious to all watching that he had no idea that he was this year’s recipient of the Shining Star Award. He received a standing ovation for his efforts.

Geoff Koplas was honored as the theater's "Shining Star."
As they said in the presentation, Geoff, is an unassuming person. He simply loves his hobby and wants to do well and have the Palace be successful at the same time. He was genuinely humbled about receiving the award, and declared that he would need to speak with his wife after the night was complete. I have seen him perform in many events at the Palace and he always knows his lines and hits his marks. It was noted that after a glitch with the Wizard of Oz, he wrote all his own lines as narrator and had them memorized almost instantly. After twenty-five year of community theater he is well-deserving of the Shining Star award, and will be a staple of the Palace for some time.

The final show of the season was given to us by Ellen Roth. All Shook Up is a 2004 musical based on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and set to the music of Elvis Presley. Set in the 1950s, this comedy looks like it could be a lot of fun, even for the most casual theater-goer. Elvis is still very popular in this country. That alone should make it a draw a big crowd. Songs that we all know should make it a pretty good show, and draw some of its viewers back to their own youthful exuberance. The show runs July 7-17, 2016.

The cast sang one of my favorite Elvis songs ever — “I Can’t Help Falling In Love (With You).” They took turns singing various parts of the song with what was reminiscent of a slow dance at a sock-hop. It made me think of the wonderful songs and scenes from another favorite, Grease.

An Evening With the Stars concluded with a sneak preview at the upcoming show to close the 2014-2015 season, Guys and Dolls. The troupe sang the title song from that musical. I must admit, Guys and Dolls is my all-time favorite musical. As they sang, I was singing along with them. I am very excited for the show July 9-19. I may even see it twice.

At the conclusion of the show, I spoke with some of my seat neighbors. As Scott noted in his earlier article, Erik Bernardi was talking about auditioning for Mary Poppins. Erik’s son, Anthony asked his mother if he could try out for Scrooge. That’s what a local theater is all about; getting locals not only into the seat, but also on stage.

Wendy and I purchased our season tickets for the second year. We love being able to have a date night every couple months and seeing local actors and actresses perform on a community stage. With at least two of our children catching the acting bug, we’re sure to be regulars at the downtown theater for many years. In a time where season tickets to sporting events can run into the thousands of dollars, tickets for the Palace are very affordable at $110 per seat. And a big plus is that it’s right downtown, in our neighborhood, featuring our neighbors. How can you go wrong?

+Craig Bacon reviews books and the theater for East Niagara Post. Follow him on Twitter @hippieboy73


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