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Celebrate Spring at the 11th Annual Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival

For over a decade, enthusiasts of the Buffalo History Museum and Japanese culture have been flocking to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Each year, thousands of visitors to the Festival are treated to all sorts of culturally significant surprises, including displays and activities that revolve around the traditions of bonsai, origami, folk dolls, and Kanazawa (Buffalo’s sister city in Japan).

During the weekend of April 27 and 28, festival hosts – the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, The Buffalo History Museum, Friends of the Japanese Garden, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, and Music is Art – invite the community to attend this one-of-a-kind celebration of the spring season and cherry blossoms in the Japanese Garden in Delaware Park.  

Visitors to the 2024 Buffalo Cherry Blossom Festival can expect to find:

Pink boats on Mirror Lake

Music is Art’s stages of live music in the Japanese Garden

Pop-up tea ceremony on the museum’s upper portico.   

Two Japanese Tea Ceremonies and Tea Tastings at The Buffalo History Museum on Wednesday, April 24 (now sold out)

Food trucks

A sold out fundraiser, benefitting the residents of Kanazawa, which suffered a devastating earthquake in January of this year – the sold out event is a testament to the strong bond between Buffalo and Kanazawa

Festival details are as follows:

Saturday, April 27th – Sunday, April 28th | 11:00am – 3:00pm  

Japanese Garden in Delaware Park and The Buffalo History Museum 

One Museum Court, Buffalo, NY 14216 

FREE Admission

For a full schedule, visit: www.buffalocherryblossomfestival.org 

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Quickies: A Different Kind of “Speed Dating”

On Thursday, April 25 from 7pm to 9pm, Our City Action Buffalo (OCAB) will be hosting a community building event where attendees might find a new love, friend, or even business collaborator. Considered “the most out-of-the-box networking/speed dating event you’ve ever been to,” Quickies will allow people to make introductions via team building exercises, in a setting that is both relaxing and comfortable.

This is the perfect event for anyone looking to make new friends, through socially engaging exercises. Proceeds from the community building initiative will benefit OCAB – a grassroots, member-driven organization that is dedicated to building a more equitable and racially just Buffalo.

“As an organization, we’re trying to build deep and meaningful connections in order to create a more just, equitable, and resilient Buffalo. This event mirrors that mission by inviting Buffalonians to get to know each other in a more relaxing and fun environment,” said Leighton Jones, OCAB’s Communications Coordinator. “Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking for a new business collaboration, new to the city and looking to meet really good people, or you’re someone who is looking for love, you’re in the right place. This event is for you.”

Quickies: A Different Kind of “Speed Dating”

Thursday, April 25, 2024

7pm to 9pm

The Lunch Box @ Lafayette Court – 465 Main Street Buffalo, NY 14203

Tickets are $35 presale through Eventbrite or $40 at the door. Admission includes all the evening’s festivities along with prepared foods from The Lunch Box. There will be a cash bar available as well.

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2024 Juneteenth Festival Goes Green

Festivals can produce a lot of waste. Just think of the boatloads of single use plastic cups and bottles, and the food containers. Not to mention the litter in our parks. That’s why the Juneteenth Festival organizers are asking attendees to bring their own reusable water bottles, as well as canvas bags to carry the items that they purchase. As the Festival approaches its 50-year anniversary in 2025, the message is clear that the condition of the planet is of utmost importance.

“As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2025, our goal is create a majorly impactful event,” said Jomo Akono, Juneteenth Festival’s Executive Vice President. “We are excited to embark on this sustainable journey towards zero waste and set a new standard for community celebrations, while also, of course, sparking change towards practices that preserve our planet for future generations.”

People who support this inspiring green initiative are invited to volunteer for the Festival’s newly formed Green Team and Clean Up Crew. To sign up as a volunteer, visit www.buffalojuneteenth.com (Join Our Team). Additional contact information, including a QR Code, can be found on the flyer below.

The 2024 Juneteenth Festival will be held at Martin Luther King Park on June 15 and June 16.

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Can Buffalo resurrect Calvert Vaux’s lost works?

Anyone that is aware of Calvert Vaux’s architectural legacy in Buffalo can tell you what an incredible impact he made upon this city. Unfortunately, almost all of the intricate structures that bore his name are all but lost. The structures that I am referring to include The Parade House, a Rustic Bridge, Boat Landing Seating, The Farmstead, and Spirehead House. The only structure that remains standing, though still at risk, is The Vaux Barn.

Boat Landing, The Park

For anyone who ever thought about the possibilities of recreating one or two of Vaux’s lost works, Eugene V. Debs Hall will be hosting a Jane’s Talk – Vaux Revival – on Tuesday, April 23, 6 pm.

From Chris Hawley, owner of Eugene V. Debs Hall:

The talk will explore the significance of Calvert Vaux, the lesser known partner of Frederick Law Olmsted and co-designer of Buffalo’s park and parkway system.

Debs Hall is proud to host two speakers for this event.

Frank Kowsky, SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Buffalo State University and author of Country, Park, and City: The Architecture and Life of Calvert Vaux, will tell us everything we ever wanted to know about Calvert Vaux.

Brandon Kennedy, lead preservationist at Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN), will update us about PBN’s efforts to save the Vaux Barn, 1119 Genesee Street–the sole remaining Buffalo structure designed by Vaux.

Finally, they’ll have a discussion about a prospect that has been successfully pursued elsewhere but has long eluded Buffalo: reconstructing Vaux’s lost works. Can Buffalo do it?

Doors open at 6 pm, with presentations beginning at 7 pm. Jane’s Talk, modeled after the international Jane’s Walk in honor of urbanist Jane Jacobs, is Eugene V. Debs Hall’s ongoing speaker series on topics related to cities and the human habitat. 

Eugene V. Debs Hall 483 Peckham St, Buffalo, NY 14206

Lead image: Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted

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BEETHOVEN’S EMPEROR with pianist Stewart Goodyear has both audience and musicians excited at Kleinhans

He’s an internationally in-demand pianist, a composer himself, and a very busy recording artist.  He makes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, the “Emperor Concerto,” sound as fresh as a new work.  You can hear for yourself when the BPO concert repeats this Sunday, April 21, at 2:30 at Kleinhans Music Hall.  The “Emperor,” by my count, is historically the BPO’s most often performed piano concerto, more often heard than Tchaikovsky’s first or Rachmaninoff’s second.  It’s a winner, and so is the piano soloist Stewart Goodyear, who is just 46 years old.

Everything about Stewart Goodyear is energetic.  Beethoven’s tempo markings are notoriously fast and often debated, but, since the metronome was invented during Beethoven’s lifetime, it’s hard to argue with numbers that are right there on the page.  Goodyear, along with guest conductor David Lockington, charges right in with lightning-fast runs and a performance that leaves you breathless.

Well, not strictly out of breath, judging from the approving shouts of Saturday night’s audience.  The orchestra was happy too.  When they like a guest soloist, they wave their bows.  When they really like a soloist, they put down their instruments and applaud.  They really like Stewart Goodyear with whom they’ve recorded, with JoAnn Falletta, music by African-American composer Adolphus Hailstork.  On his own, Goodyear has recorded all five of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos and other Beethoven as well.  In fact, Saturday night’s encore was the second movement of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata (familiar to older audience members as the theme music to Karl Haas’ radio program “Adventures in Good Music”).

The last symphony concert I attended, featuring “The Planets,” was conducted by JoAnn Falletta during the eclipse weekend when Kleinhans was packed with out-of-town visitors.  The atmosphere in the house was electric and I wondered if that enthusiasm would continue.  Well, it has.

It’s been four years since COVID-19 sent a chilling ripple, and sometimes it feels as if, like Sleeping Beauty, we’re just now finally out of a trance.  Speaking of which, the opening contemporary work at the concert was created during COVID-19 by Canadian-born, Juilliard-trained, now California-based composer Vivian Fung, also in her 40s.  Her “Prayer” was inspired by the music of the 12th-century Benedictine nun/composer/mystic Hildegard von Bingen.  It’s beautiful reminding me of the best gaming music being heard today.

As conductor David Lockington told us from the podium, “Prayer” was originally composed to be performed during the COVID-19 shutdown by a virtual orchestra made up of 35 musicians representing 28 orchestras across Canada and intended to be heard not in a concert hall but over your mobile phone.  You can hear that premiere orchestra, on your mobile phone if you’d like, conducted by Yannick Neget-Seguin:

 

As conductor Lockington said, it’s better in the live concert hall.  But isn’t that true of almost all music?  The big work in the second half was the stirring Symphony No. 2 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.  With its pulsing rhythms and brilliant use of woodwinds in the first movement along with the glorious brass-intense finale, it was an inspired choice to pair with the “Emperor” by Beethoven, another composer who, like Sibelius, championed personal and political freedom.

That winning combination of Beethoven with Sibelius will be heard again at another Saturday night – Sunday afternoon BPO series on May 11 and 12 when JoAnn Falletta conducts the BPO and Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, the choral symphony which ends with the “Ode to Joy.”  Also on that concert, the BPO’s astounding concertmaster, Nikki Chooi, will perform the ice-cold windswept Sibelius Violin Concerto.

Speaking of Nikki Chooi, before that he’ll also be out in front of the BPO with his brother, Timothy Chooi, playing an audience favorite, the Bach “Double Concerto” before Timothy solos in Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, a 20-minute work that has it all – sweet solos contrasted with wild musical romps.  Also on that program is one of Falletta’s (and probably everyone’s) favorite symphonies, Brahms 3rd.  That will be one of those Friday morning “coffee concerts” (with donuts!) / Saturday night affairs on May 3 and 4.

The runtime of most BPO classical concerts is 2 hours with one intermission.

Kleinhans Music Hall is at “3 Symphony Circle” Buffalo, 14201 where Porter Avenue, Richmond Avenue, North Street and Wadsworth meet at a traffic circle.  Visit www.bpo.org or call 716-885-5000.  Full-service bar in the lobby or across the lobby in the Mary Seaton Room.  Masks are optional.

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“The Price” at Irish Classical Theatre: Powerful Performances Create A Gripping Family Drama

The Basics: The Price, a play by Arthur Miller, directed by Fortunato Pezzimenti, produced by Irish Classical Theatre Company starring Ben Michael Moran, Kate LoConti Alcocer, Tom Loughlin & Todd Benzin. Running Friday, April 19 through Sunday, May 12. Curtain times are 7:30 pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; 3 pm Saturday Matinees; and 2 pm Sundays. The Theatre is located at 625 Main Street ,Buffalo ,NY 14203.

Tickets are $45 and can be purchased online at www.irishclassical.com, by phone at 716-853-4282 or in person at the ICTC Box Office. See Box Office hours on ICTC’s website.

Runtime: 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission

Jorge Luna Photography

Thumbnail Sketch: One of Arthur Miller’s rarely produced but powerful plays, The Price introduces us to Victor and his estranged brother, Walter, as they reunite after 30 years to sell their parents’ estate. Surrounded by the individual motives of Victor’s wife and an octogenarian antique dealer, tensions rise as Victor must face the sacrifice he made for his father.

The Players, The Play, and The Production: There are four actors in this play and an exquisite set (by David Dwyer) the whole production draws you in from the moment the play begins. I attended the Friday Night (4/19) performance, and the audience was fully engaged with many leaning forward and intently hanging on every word uttered for the full duration of two hours and twenty minutes.

The Price was written in 1968 (the year of my birth) nearly fifty six years ago, holds up very well and especially in the extremely capable hands of its director, Fortunato Pezzimenti and this exceptional cast. 

This is the fourth production of this lesser produced play of Arthur Miller works that I have been lucky enough to experience. The last time I saw this play it was at The Roundabout Theatre Company’s 2017 production with a truly star studded cast (Mark Ruffalo, Danny Devito, Jessica Hecht and Tony Shalhoub) It was a hit, garnering several theatre award nominations and accolades for Mr. DeVito, in the role of Gregory Solomon, the 89 year old Jewish furniture dealer that comes to possibly buy the entirety of the brother’s inherited estate.

Walking in to this production, the bar was set high. I had great expectations for this production here in Buffalo. Confidently, I can say that The Irish Classical Theatre Company has once again exceeded my expectations.

This piece demands the actors have presence: the quality that compels and suspends the watchers. These fine actors not only hold our attention, but make us feel like we are eavesdropping in on this intimate conversation so much so that at times we forget we are watching a play. As the audience, we become invested in the characters’ lives and their unfolding story.

Ben Michael Moran as Victor Franz

Ben Michael Moran is our protagonist, Victor Franz. This is the third show I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Moran in, and I am impressed by his chameleon like ability to morph into different characters so authentically. I almost didn’t recognize him at first when he stepped silently onto the stage in a police uniform, and we see him root through Victors’ Fathers furniture and belongings. As Victor waits for Mr. Solomon, preparing for the sale and you can see each piece he holds evoke untold memories. His emotions play across his handsome face and you are instantly hooked. You need to know more. Ben is exceptional in this role, I would gladly watch him in anything.

Kate LoConti Alcocer as Esther Franz

Next, Esther Franz enters the room, played by the stunning Kate LoConti Alcocer. Kate commands the stage and is a striking performer. You can feel Ester’s anxiousness for Victor to get a great price for the lot of furniture so they can live a more comfortable life. They are waiting for the furniture dealer to evaluate the items and it becomes clear that the cost of what his Father left him is much harder to nail down than Victor had anticipated.

Victor & Esther seem solid, the actors feel very natural as a couple as you would imagine a couple who have been married a few decades.

Tom Loughlin as Gregory Solomon

The letter-perfect Tom Loughlin as Mr. Solomon, we are told after climbing a long flight of stairs and enters the mix. He is short of breath, seemingly feeble, but exuberant, long-winded, and exhausted all at the same time. Honestly, he was so delightful and mesmerizing in this role and the perfect foil for Victor. Their scenes together are certainly a highlight of the play.

Our final player, Walter, Victor’s older brother, arrives next on the scene played by Todd Benzin. I have never seen Todd on stage before, but I am so glad this was my first introduction. He matches the incredible cast on stage and really raises the stakes. Victor struggles, trying to reimagine his life choices through his brother’s perspective and we as the audience struggle along with him. 

Todd Benzin as Walter Franz

The brother’s arguments begin to center around their late father’s unoccupied chair (the fifth abscent character). The exchanges are tense and emotional. These are some of the most gripping scenes I have ever witnessed on a Buffalo stage.

Equally impressive, Esther (Played by Kate LoConti Alcocer), I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, as she was on the verge of tears and fear that Victor was going to blow up all of the opportunities and possibilities for the two of them to embark on a new chapter of life. 

There is as much emotion in Miller’s words, as there is in the silent reactions by these fine actors. This play is set in the 1960’s in New York City, it’s a very specific place and time, however in the steady and sure hands of its director, Pezzimenti, there is a commonality to the exploration of memories, shared experiences and even money problems. 

In the end, each of the characters has paid a price and it is both fascinating and devastating to watch. If you’re looking for a fine night of theatre that leaves you on the edge of your seat, literally, don’t miss a moment of The Price at ICTC.

5 out of 5 Buffalos

HERD OF BUFFALO RATING SYSTEM

FIVE BUFFALOS: Exceptional quality – a rare rating. Whether it’s a hilarious comedy or a touching drama, if this is your kind of show, missing out would be a mistake!

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of exceptional quality. If the genre and content match your preferences, it’s worth seeing.

THREE BUFFALOS: Despite minor drawbacks, it’s a solid production and a pleasant evening at the theater. Keep your expectations in check, and you’re likely to have a good time.

TWO BUFFALOS: If you’re a self-proclaimed theatre enthusiast who simply adores attending shows, go ahead and give it a try. However, if the genre and themes don’t resonate with you, you might want to explore other options.

ONE BUFFALO: This might not be the best choice for everyone unless you have a compelling reason to attend, like having family or friends involved in the performance. It’s probably a good idea to skip this one.

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The Art of Cheese at Meet & Eat Charcuterie

Kristen Cronyn, owner of Meet & Eat Charcuterie / Photo: WNY Photos (Facebook)

The art of charcuterie has become such a trend that there are cookbooks, classes, and guides on how to create a piece of edible art for your next party, event, or girls night. A good charcuterie board has a little sweet, a little salty, a variety of cheeses and meats, and a range of spreads and accoutrements. Food art isn’t everyone’s forte, but Kristen Cronyn is here to help the Buffalo community become board masters. It all started a few years ago…

“I was an executive at M&T for 10 years. Three years ago, during the pandemic, I started playing with my kids’ food, making boards out of pancakes,” Kristen said. “I’d post them on Instagram and people would just go crazy because I would arrange them like a charcuterie board. A well-known Peloton instructor named Ally Love shared one of my pancake boards and from there I got all of these followers.”

After that, Kristen was at a bachelorette party when she decided to make a board. “I’m at Mom, so I was the first one awake. I came downstairs and thought I would make one for the girls,” Kristen said. “I made a board and one of the girls was a wedding planner. She’s like, ‘this would be really cool to have for when the bridesmaids get ready’” she continued. “The bride was like, ‘I’ll have you do this at my wedding and I’ll pay you’. I was like, ‘you’re going to pay me?!’” The morning of the wedding she did the board for the bride and her bachelorette party, and the make up artist actually ended up booking her for her own wedding a year later. That’s when things really started to snowball.

Photo: Meet & Eat Charcuterie (Instagram)

Photo: Meet & Eat Charcuterie (Instagram)

Photo: Meet & Eat Charcuterie (Instagram)

“I started doing this more and more on the side, doing Reels and tutorials on Instagram, and started sharing what I was learning with other people,” Kristen said. She even partnered with Shea’s during the pandemic to do a virtual charcuterie class. “I personally delivered the kits and we had 65 people sign up. We did Buffalo shaped boards and raised $2,000 for Shea’s! That moment really gave me a feeling that I’ve never felt before and I needed to do that again,” Kristen explained. She’s gone on to do around 100 classes, many of them fundraisers, even before the grand opening. 

Kristen softly opened Meet & Eat Charcuterie this year, with the grand opening happening on April 20th. Meet & Eat was created as a way to bring the culinary community of Buffalo together, sourcing local products, mustards, jams, cheese, and more for beautiful charcuterie boards. The beautiful mural of Kristen’s Buffalo skyline made of cheese, art sold in store, and the charcuterie earrings are all thanks to the talented Christy Francis of Avery & Harlow. She sells Weber’s Mustard products, Sadie’s Hot Relish, Top Seedz crackers, cheese blocks and knives by Seven One Six Design Co., Latina Boulevard Foods, Tis the Season NY, and much of the cutting boards and furniture in the store were made by Nickel City Woodworking. In addition, Leslie Zemsky even created her custom charcuterie board wallpaper (the same woman behind the customized wallpapers in places like Space on Seneca Yoga Studio, Toasted, Hydraulic Hearth, and Swan Street Diner, among others).

Meet & Eat Charcuterie’s wallpaper designed by Leslie Zemsky / Photo: Jess Kelly

Charcuterie board earrings by Christy Francis of Avery & Harlow / Photo: Jess Kelly

“I’m big on community over competition. We put the community first and ask what the community needs? I partner with a ton of other charcuterie people in the area, so that if I can’t do something, I’m happy to send them to someone else, so we can serve the community.”

One of those partnerships meant teaming up with a former Buffalo Bill. Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patti, produce a wine named Choose Love. Every bottle that you buy goes back to the Buffalo Urban League. “We’re going to soak the cheese in the wine and create a Choose Love Cheese with Eden Valley Creamery Cheese,” said Kristen.

When it comes Meet & Eat’s experiences, not only will Kristen create the boards for you, but you can learn the craft yourself in her event space – the Western New York Cheese Academy. 

“I had a dream that I carved the Buffalo skyline out of cheese. It was a vivid, lucid, freaky dream, the kind when you wake up and wonder if you really just did that. I came downstairs, grabbed a bunch of Swiss, cheddar and provolone and carved the skyline out of cheese, using a Buffalo cookie cutter in the brie, and it went viral,” Kristen explained. She ended up with around 60 orders just for the skyline board alone. “Then I started doing classes – a lot of corporate team building – teaching people how to do the Buffalo skyline carving. I decided to stick with classes because that’s really what I enjoyed, and from there it just kept growing,” she said.

Kristen teaches a charcuterie class at M&T Bank / Photo: Meet & Eat Charcuterie (Instagram)

Eventually leaving her previous career behind, she poured her heart and soul into the charcuterie business after Chef Darian Bryan and his wife Jessica, of The Plating Society and Bratts Hill, told her there’s a retail space open next door, inspiring her to take the plunge and bring something new to the Larkin neighborhood. She connected with the Zemsky family about the property and the rest is history. The doors are open and the Cheese Academy has plans to expand.

“For the classes, it’s going to be industry training and consumer training. For industry training, my goal is to use it as a community asset for the next generation of cheesemongers, restaurant staff, and also potentially sell them wholesale cheese,” Kristen said. 

“I offer different kinds of consumer classes. The newest one is the wine and cheese pairing,” she said. “It’s 4 glasses of wine that we serve with a cheese and meat for each glass for $50 per person,” said Kristen. “For $64, there’s a ‘Charcuterie 101’ class where you’ll cut, prep, and learn about what makes a good charcuterie board.” The third class costs $110, and attendees get a 9×12 Nickel City Woodworking board that you can customize and engrave. Plus, the class comes with more food. You can even rent the space out for your own event and Kristen can do a graze table and a wine package, working with you to plan your next happy hour, bachelorette party, shower, and more.

Meet & Eat Charcuterie at 799 Seneca Street, Buffalo / Photo: Meet & Charcuterie (Instagram)

“Don’t Worry, Brie Happy” / Photo: Meet & Charcuterie (Instagram)

Cheese skyline mural by Christy Francis of Avery & Harlow / Photo: Jess Kelly

“Meet & Eat Charcuterie is about coming together, eating and sharing experiences. I want people to be able to come back a million times and not feel like it’s overdone. You can come make a board, take a class, buy products, or hang with your friends on the patio,” explains Kristen.

She’s had a lot of mentors throughout this process that have helped her along the way including Pete Cimino from Lloyd Taco Factory, Mike Tobin from Fresh Catch Poke, and Mark Mahfouz from Pita Gourmet. With the help of mentors and her community, Kristen is rolling with this new journey.

“I focus on progress over perfection. By doing that, you’re focusing on the journey. If I chose an end goal for this, I’m limiting it in my opinion. When you can open it up to possibilities, that’s when things start to really grow, change, and evolve into beautiful things.”

Meet & Eat Charcuterie
799 Seneca St., Suite A, Buffalo, NY 14210
(716) 861-6738
Instagram: @meetandeatcharcuterie

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Kennedy raised another $952,826 in the first quarter of 2024; total receipts for all 25 NY House incumbents are $75.7 million

With the latest filing with the Federal Election Commission State Senator Tim Kennedy has once again demonstrated his fundraising prowess.  He reported campaign donations totaling $1,697,729 since announcing his NY26 candidacy in mid-November, including $952,826 since his previous filing for the period ending December 31.

Kennedy is the Democratic and Working Families parties candidate for NY26 in the April 30 special election.  Kennedy’s Republican-Conservative opponent, Gary Dickson, raised $35,431 through April 10 and reported cash on hand of $14,362.

Here are some highlights about Kennedy’s haul for the period from mid-November through April 10:

533 itemized individual contributors have donated.

The average itemized donation from individuals was $2,330.

An additional $61,905 was received in unitemized individual contributions.

Donations from PACs and other committees totaled $369,100.

$24,713 was received as transfers from other authorized committee.

The filing reported expenses of $1,043,812.

Kennedy’s cash on hand as of April 10th was $653,917.

Kennedy, as of mid-January, still had $1.3 million left in his state campaign account, which cannot be used for a congressional race.

The 25 House incumbents from New York State collectively raised $75.7 million in the first quarter of 2024.  When the receipts of House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries ($12.7 million); Republican Leadership team member Elise Stefanik ($8 million); and Tom Suozzi’s special election ($6.9 million) are removed from the group, the total raised among the remaining 22 incumbents was $48.1 million; that is an average of $2.2 million.

In Western New York Congressman Nick Langworthy (NY23) raised $1,124,565 in the first quarter of 2024; spent $392,299; and has cash on hand of $822,735.  Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY24) raised $1,693,739; spent $1,087,127; and has a balance of $668,061 available.  Also in NY24, Republican Mario Fratto raised $506,444 and has $472,475 cash on hand.  The Democratic candidate in NY24, David Wagenhauser, raised $15,887 and has $11,330 available.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a candidate for re-election this year, raised $12.4 million and had slightly less than $10 million cash on hand as of March 31.  The endorsed Republican candidate for the Senate, Michael Sapraicone, raised $714,699 and had cash on hand of $299,118.  Both of the candidates might have primary elections in June.

Kennedy’s first quarter receipts place him ahead of five New York House incumbents in collections, although because of different reporting deadlines for regular and special elections, he had an extra 10 days of financial activity to report compared with the incumbents, who operated under a March 31 financial cutoff date.

All of this demonstrates the incredibly large role that money plays in politics these days.  It takes a lot of a candidate’s time to raise $2.2 million in three months.  That comes out to nearly $24,000 each and every day.

X/Twitter @kenkruly

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CROWNS at MusicalFare delights with talents from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND and THE COLOR PURPLE.  

THE BASICS:  CROWNS, a musical by Regina Taylor, adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, directed by Thembi Duncan, choreographed by Naila Ansari, with music direction by Karen E. Saxon, produced by MusicalFare starring Preston Brown, Danielle N. Green, Latosha Jennings, Janaé Leonard, Zhanna Reed, Ember Tate-Steele, and Davida Evette Tolbert. 4/17 – 5/19 Wed – Thu 7:00 pm, Fri 7:30, Sat 3:30 and 7:30, Sun 2:00 at MusicalFare Theatre, c/o Daemen College 4380 Main Street, Suite 123 Amherst, NY 14226 (716) 839-8540 musicalfare.com  Live entertainment in the lounge after Friday and Saturday evening shows. 

Printed Playbills (yay!) are available.  Or see the digital playbill here:www.flipbookpdf.net

RUNTIME: 2 hours including one intermission

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Uniting many of the team that brought A COLOR PURPLE to Shea’s 710 last fall, and ONCE ON THIS ISLAND before that, CROWNS is inspired by the history and identity of Black women as told through song, dance, and stories about their hats, their “crowns.”  The through-line?  After her brother is shot and killed in Brooklyn, Yolanda, a young Black hip-hop-inspired woman, is sent down South to stay with her church-going family.  Yolanda’s world is turned upside down.  As the publicity blurb states: “Hats are everywhere, in exquisite variety, and the characters use the hats to tell tales concerning everything from the etiquette of hats to their historical and contemporary social functioning. There is a hat for every occasion, from flirting to churchgoing to funerals to baptisms, and the tradition of hats is traced back to African rituals and forward to current fashion!”  And it turns out that Yolanda has some “hatitude” of her own!

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  From the moment I saw the production team and the cast list for CROWNS, and remembered how much I loved THE COLOR PURPLE and before that ONCE ON THIS ISLAND, not to mention other shows and cabarets at MusicalFare, I knew that this was going to be a winner.

A huge amount of the success is due to the Music Director, Karen E. Saxon, who grew up in gospel and is the Minister of Music at the First Shiloh Baptist Church, just to name one of her bona fides.  She’s joined by her Buff State colleague Naila Ansari, choreographer, for a high energy rollicking good time on stage.

So I loved the music and the dancing, but a lot of times in musicals, those two aspects can cover for unremarkable acting.  Not here.  Director Thembi Duncan squeezes the most juice out of every scene.  And every actor.  If the audience wasn’t shouting or clapping they were laughing. 

Photo by Doug Weyand

Direction is essential, but the acting chops of the cast bring it home, and these folks bring it!  Janaé Leonard plays young Yolanda and brings a delightful combination of teenage eye-rolling and disdain, coupled with curiosity and warmth.  Staying in character when it’s not your scene is one of the “tells” of a good actor, and Ms. Leonard excelled.  

But, in a way, Leonard had to bring her A-game, because on stage she’s surrounded by all this talent, including Danielle N. Green, whom I’ve admired at The Paul Robeson Theatre, not to mention her roles in “ISLAND” and “PURPLE” here playing the somewhat clueless Velma to great laughter.  Latosha Jennings, who was also in “ISLAND,” plays the no-nonsense Mother Shaw, who lays down the law.  Zhanna Reed joins Green in playing the clueless “Did I Do That?” role of Jeannette as she uses her huge smile to get her way.  I’ve seen Ember Tate-Steele many times on stage at MusicalFare, and her sweet face is always a delight.  I have fond memories of her as the young Alberta Hunter in COOKIN’ AT THE COOKERY, although I must admit, a favorite role to see was “The Princess Who Kissed The Frog” in DISENCHANTED.  Here she plays Wanda, who always wants to do the right thing.

Besides Zhanna Reed as Jeanette, the other mischief-maker is Mabel, played by comic actress extraordinaire, Davida Evette Tolbert, who most recently got monologue-ending applause night after night in THE LIGHT FANTASTIC at Road Less Traveled Productions.  Whether she’s there or at Theatre of Youth or Brazen Faced Varlets, Dee Dee has an ineffable (unable to be expressed in words) quality that someday I’ll find the words for.  Until then, I’ll just say: Don’t miss her in CROWNS.

The one man on stage is hardworking Preston Brown, who plays “Man,” (a variety of “utility” roles) well. He is also the on-stage drummer accompanying Karen E. Saxon at the keyboard.

But what about those crowns?  Ah, enter Phylicia Robinson Dove, Costume, Hair, Wig, and Makeup Designer, formerly known mostly as the entrepreneur at Black Monarchy costumes, whose career has taken off in some exciting new costuming directions.  At intermission we had to ask, where did she get all those hats?  Some were hers, some were her mother’s and grandmothers’, others were re-fashioned in her workshop, and some were created from whole cloth.  


Photos by Doug Weyand

Chris Cavanagh (Set, Lighting, Projection, and Sound Designer) created a set with a huge back wall to accept projections, most of which were visually echoed on the wings.  The play opens with a projection of an above-ground NYC subway station that puts you right on the edge of the tracks.  Wow.  And Kevin Fahey was Props Master. 

I thought, during Act II, occasionally some of the stories seemed to come out of nowhere.  They were good stories, but perhaps the writers could have provided a line or two of context.  

There are 31 musical numbers in all, including the more familiar “Saints,” “Sparrow,” “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” and towards the end, during the river baptism scene, “Take Me On The Water,” and “Wade/God’s Gonna Trouble The Water.”  New to me was “When I’ve Done the Best I Can, I Want My Crown.”  Ladies, I think you’ve earned your crowns.  

The show continues at MusicalFare through May 19. It’s insightful, funny, and appealing, I believe, to a wide audience, so to quote my wife: “Just tell your readers: Everybody, get your *** over there!”

AFTERTHOUGHT: It’s no secret that Buffalo is one of the most racially divided cities in America.  And suburban Amherst certainly has a reputation as a destination for white flight.  So kudos to the Artistic/Executive Director of MusicalFare (the largest producing theater in WNY) for continuing over the years to produce high-quality entertainment with all or mostly Black production teams and casts.  Since May 14, 2022, many organizations have discussed DEI or DEIO (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Opportunity), but Kramer has been doing that for years with both choice of repertoire and color-blind casting.  I’m sure the tradition will continue in their new theater.

Next season, 2024 – 2025, MusicalFare will still be in their current location with four mainstage musicals, three of which deal with contemporary issues: THE PROM (9/14 – 10/6/2024) (LGBTQ+ issues); NEXT TO NORMAL (2/19 – 3/16, 2025) (bi-polar disorder); WAITRESS (4/16 – 5/18, 2025) (spousal abuse and unplanned pregnancy); and, a musical with no issues, it’s just funny as hell, SOMETHING ROTTEN (11/6 -12/8, 2024).

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

The post CROWNS at MusicalFare delights with talents from ONCE ON THIS ISLAND and THE COLOR PURPLE.   appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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Five Cent Cine: Housekeeping for Beginners

Housekeeping for Beginners ★★★ (out of 4 stars)

Family on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

It can’t work. It’s all too messy, too frenetic and chaotic, too noisy (constant shouting; kids singing a pop song at the top of their lungs), too uncivil (the insults flow freely, ala “the dozens”)—and above all, incoherent.

And it’s about to get worse, apparently much worse. Suada (Alina Serban), lover of Dita, mother of sullen teen Vanesa and mouthy 6-year-old Mia, and the force holding together this mongrel bunch, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Ali, a boisterous gay young Muslim Roma, is new to the house, there only as the latest sex partner of narcissist Toni (Vladimir Tintor)—they met through the “Gay Romeo” dating site. Toni is middle-aged and “white” (that is, as we learn, not Roma) and, like Dita (Anamaria Marinca), a class above the rest and employed. Most of those in the house would prefer that Ali leave, but no. (And that’s not all. As a viewer, your first task is to figure out who—and what—everyone is in this melee of a household, and how they relate to each other. If you’ve seen “Shoplifters” (2018), you’ll be familiar with the challenge.)

It can’t work, but it does, at least mostly. Despite the insults, it’s a tolerant bunch, indeed a “safe house” that accepts homosexuality in cultures—Eastern European and Roma—that are profoundly hostile to it. Although Ali (Samson Selim), with his bleach-blonde hair and overt gayness, seems to be an intruder, the ultimate outsider, he functions, like Suada before him, as a bridge between the group’s gay majority and straight minority (only Vanesa). He also proves essential in the effort to legitimize the family through various official (if sometimes forged) documents, including a kind of “shotgun wedding” between Toni and Dita (a reluctant couple if there ever was one). Precocious Mia (Dzada Selim) understands that “Toni likes boys” and wonders if Dita and Toni are “friends” since they “fight all the time”—real concerns for the household and for viewers. The pint-size truth-teller/inquisitor and civilizing force does her best to de-escalate verbal confrontations (“not gypsy, Roma”). 

Dita (Anamaria Marinca), fulfilling her promise to her gay partner, tries to mother the precocious Mia (Dzada Selim), though mothering is not Dita’s strong suit.

In a culture given to the Manichean—gay vs. straight, white vs. non-white, Muslim vs. Christian, Roma vs. the rest of Europe, all overlain by class divisions—the survival of the bunch in Dita’s home depends on being practical (under the circumstances, an oxymoron). In the void left by Suada, Dita reluctantly takes on the role of “Mom” to Vanesa (Mia Mustafi) and Mia, yet she’s thoughtful and flexible enough to understand when it isn’t working, when Vanesa needs space, and to understand that she can’t offer the physical affection and emotional support that a mother provides. Toni and Dita present themselves to the world as a married couple, attending Mia’s school performance and (if uncomfortably) a dinner with Dita’s colleagues. When rebellious Vanesa goes off the rails and the community’s existence is threatened by a visit from the police, the couple makes the effort to pull it all together, to clean up their “homosexual den.” (The prize for all-out “clean up” goes to Harvey Keitel in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” [1994].)

This effort is one more incident illustrating the “outsider” character of this “family.” Cacophonous as the atmosphere is inside the house, at least there everyone has a role and many understand the emotions of others, although they don’t always respond appropriately. The world outside adds to, even creates, the “housekeeping” stress inside. Though Toni and Dita may be economically middle-class—and “white”—their choice of gay Roma partners means they operate outside the mainstream. The existence of the house inhabitants is akin to that of immigrants; in this case they are natives, experiencing rejection and discomfort in their own country. In response, they create their own subculture, their own family, a not so easy task for which they all are clearly “beginners.”

The film opens with Suada experiencing and observing the disdain with which Roma are treated, even by medical professionals in the most sensitive circumstance. Her rant establishes the racism with which she and other Roma must cope. A trip to a town inhabited mostly by Roma, where the interlopers don’t even understand the language, presents a view of lower-class, often criminal, Roma life, a view not whitewashed by North Macedonian director and writer Goran Stolevski, known primarily for short films. (Until 2019 the country was called simply Macedonia, but it was coerced by Bulgaria and other countries into changing its name on its path to the European Union, a topic raised in the film. The film was the North Macedonian submission for Best International Feature Oscar.)

The Roma subculture and anti-Roma racism are not, however, Stolevski’s focus. His “Housekeeping” project is to interrogate and redefine the idea of the family, and this family in particular, by taking a group already stretched thin and already engaged in a variety of difficult compromises, and putting it under additional and extreme stress. The result is edifying, entertaining, and moving.

Date: 2024

Stars: 3 (out of 4)

Director: Goran Stolevski

Starring: Anamaria Marinca, Samson Selim, Vladimir Tintor, Mia Mustafi, Dzada Selim, Alina Serban, Sara Klimoska

Countries: North Macedonia, Poland, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Sweden, United States, Australia

Languages: Macedonian, Romany, Albanian, French; all subtitled in English

Runtime: 107 minutes

Other Awards: 8 wins and 6 other nominations (many at LBGTQ+ festivals).

Availability:  In theaters nationally. Not streaming at this time; for future streaming availability, see JustWatch here.

Lead image: “Parents” Toni (Vladimir Tintor) and Dita (Anamaria Marinca), a “white” non-couple, get married to improve the prospects of the Roma children of Dita’s gay partner. Witnesses are Ali (Samson Selim), Toni’s Roma partner, and a lesbian hanger-on in the house, Elena (Sara Klimoska). The government officials, typically in the film, are shown from behind, literally as a faceless bureaucracy.

See all Five Cent Cine reviews by 2 Film Critics

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