Theatre – an original idea: Buonpane and Kane put Bay Ridge Off-Broadway

Article by Jay Michaels

Theatre – REAL theatre is about taking risks.

We look upon the great classics of the American theater as solid foundations, but in their day, they were cutting-edge and innovative. Arthur Miller created what we call American Tragedy, Tennessee Williams placed subliminal messages in his works that were shocking for the time, even Rodgers and Hammerstein were once “mavericks.”

With Broadway climbing disneying heights, Off and Off-Off Broadway has long-since been the place for the cutting edge. Thanks to Tom Kane and Rocco Buonpane, Bay Ridge joins them on the edge.

Community theater – in its original form – was professional theater done in a neighborhood outside of the theater district. It’s a pleasure to see some producers remembering that – and emulating it.

Rocco Buonpane and his Brooklyn Association for the Performing Arts
and Tom Kane and BrooklynOneTheater

brave a slippery slope to great results. They produce original theater – they premiere new works.

Tom Kane, a towering Mostelian impresario, annually produces a theater festival of new works. Grabbing young ambitious Brooklyn-based talent and new and topical works from budding young scribes, he presents several plays a season. Naming his fest after celebrated local playwright/actor/director, the late Vince Mazza, Kane and his artistic director, Anthony Marino, open the door to these young artists and give them plenty of room to let their imaginations fly. The risk doesn’t stop at original works, these are original plays NOT musicals. In an area where musical theater is the main bill-of-fare, to present dramas and comedies is that much more innovative – and welcome. Kane and Marino also give their artists a nice dose of reality. Kane does not cut or rewrite, he and Marino do not “tweak” the works. They welcome the raw interpretations by these young artists and present them – to a pleased crowd – as written. While accolades take the lion’s share, life lessons and on-its-feet critiques help the playwrights, the directors, and the actors learn and grow as professionals.

Kane and Marino have the facility and the ability to do things larger or more “known” but that wouldn’t be true to who they are as artists. They’ve recently added independent film to their list. Go get them boys! For more info

Meanwhile …

Rocco Buonpane, complete with effervescent grin and Road Runner energy, hands the audience musicals on a grand old, grand scale. The professional theater veteran knows the power of the musical and finds new and unique pieces to birth. His most recent endeavor, The Lost Boys, told the tale of the children who served as the source material for J.M. Barre in his immortal Peter Pan. The story begins somewhat light and romantic but evolves into several tragic and surprising tales forcing the audience to think, accept, and feel. Buonpane could have been safe and presented this piece as a concert or “workshop” with a dozen chairs and hints of costume but that would not be what makes Buonpane tick, he gave the composer a revolving set, a lighting plot, period costumes, an orchestra (literally) and free-reign. He believes in the full experience, and spared no expense getting there.

Sitting in that audience you knew you were attending something innovative and rare for the area. Simply – something special.  Wherever this piece is to go from here and in whatever form, we were there first – and that is really exciting.

Buonpane scored accolades with his production of Jesus Christ Superstar and a rousing revue of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s works (both reviewed here in OuterStage). Buonpane is also a friend to the other companies of the area. Genesis Repertory had the good fortune of performing Hamlet outdoors under BAPA’s auspices and several companies have shared Buonpane’s beautiful theater space.

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These two gents and their colleagues understand the power of the stage and the sense of life that is there in front of you. They have made the intimate act between audience and artist that much more intimate by giving them yet-unseen works.

Here’s to the pros who live down the street.

Jay Michaels is a former professor at Kingsborough College in Brooklyn and managing director of Genesis Repertory Ensemble, a classical company that presents innovative works based on Shakespeare’s plays.

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