After nine months of construction and a series of well-attended soft openings, MusicalFare Theatre’s $800,000 cabaret space and expanded lounge is ready for its official debut.
The sleek space, part of the theater’s plan to shore up its bottom line and take more artistic risks in the process, will open Wednesday with a performance from Buffalo singer Kerrykate Abel and pianist Chuck Basil following the first performance of the musical “Adrift in Macao” in MusicalFare’s main theater.
The expansion has transformed MusicalFare’s stuffy, carpeted lobby into an airy space with brushed steel tables, slate floors, glass walls and a full bar illuminated by a cool blue glow.
A grand piano and drum set stand on a small, slightly elevated stage in the center of the room. And it’s the goal of MusicalFare founder and director Randall Kramer to keep that stage and the 90 seats that surround it occupied as many nights as possible.
The plan, Kramer said, is to encourage patrons of MusicalFare’s regular shows to stay in the lounge for a drink and some low-key musical entertainment after the show ends on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. In addition to serving as a post-show hangout for the theater’s largely suburban audience, more polished productions will play during the 15 or so weeks of the year when there is no show running on the main stage.
“It doesn’t work only as a cabaret space, because who can afford to spend $800,000 on a space that’s only going to be working 15 weeks out of the year? You’d never make the money back to pay for it. But when it can do that and also service and really enhance the experience for patrons 160 times a year, now you’ve got multiple sources of revenue going back and forth and it starts to make sense.”
The lounge is part of MusicalFare’s long-range plan to stabilize its finances and, ultimately, increase the quality and draw of its productions. The theater has raised $500,000 for the space and borrowed $300,000 to cover the rest.
“Putting all of that together, those multiple sources of revenue, makes the space doable. When we finally finish paying off the debt service, all of a sudden all of those new revenues can go toward the bottom line here,” Kramer said. “We realized that this was the only way to go, that if we didn’t do this, we were really sort of maxing out our revenues that we could raise from tickets and a certain amount of donations for the space that we have. We think this is going to have a real impact in so many ways.”
One of those ways is in MusicalFare’s new role as a laboratory for local talent. As Nietzsche’s is for up-and-comers on the local music scene, so MusicalFare hopes to be for theater performers and cabaret singers who need somewhere small to try out their acts.
“For our shows, we need to get around 4,000 people per production, minimum, to make it all work,” Kramer said. “We could do four shows over a weekend in the cabaret, and it would be wildly successful if we had 300 people in there. So all of a sudden, from an artistic perspective, there’s a lot more freedom.”
For Abel, an experienced cabaret performer who cut her teeth in New York City’s cabaret scene, the intimacy of the space opens a new realm of possibilities for local performers.
“It is really, really exciting to be in Buffalo right now when all of this is happening. It’s not just primarily for classic cabaret, but it’s also an opportunity for the wealth of performers we have in this area.”
The schedule for the space is just beginning to fill out. In May, it will host a small-scale production of “Scarface: The Musical,” written during the theater’s 24-hour musical competition last year. Abel and Basil will return in June for the next of what is likely to be a series of cabaret performances.
“Those are the kinds of ideas that I’m really open to,” Kramer said. “I’d love to see this be a place where people can be creative.”