Night & Day — No holiday season would be complete without the traditional Holiday Pops performance at Kleinhans Music Hall with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The BPO has strong ties to Niagara County because of their association with Artpark, but this year’s Holiday Pops show will showcase a famous Broadway star who attended Niagara University and a local high school’s choir, the Barker High School Chorus to be exact.
The aforementioned Broadway star is no stranger to the area, or the BPO, Michele Ragusa, who thrilled audiences with her stellar performance at Artpark this summer for their 40th anniversary concert, returns to Kleinhans for the second time this year, in May she starred in a production of “Kiss Me Kate.”
Ragusa and the BPO are a marriage made in heaven, a local treasure combined with the homecoming of a Buffalo native whose star lights up Broadway. In spite of her success in the Big Apple, Ragusa still loves the area where it first began, and traces her remarkable career right back to Western New York.
“When I was in high school at Holy Angels Academy, I did the musicals and got a taste of the stage there, but when it came time to go to college I was not sure what I wanted to do so I decided on business, accounting, typing or whatever. Erie Community College seemed like a good choice and it was affordable,” Ragusa recalled during a recent phone interview.
While on the campus of ECC, Ragusa spotted a notice for a production of “Godspell.” She landed a role and began appearing in other shows at ECC. Her talent did not go unnoticed, and faculty members at ECC suggested she consider a career in the theater. After some prodding, Michele decided to check out the theater department at Niagara University.
“I met Brother Augustine and he gave me a tour of the theater department, and we walked into the theatre and I felt like I was home. I knew it was the place I had to be. I am very head strong, I am a Sicilian Leo, and so I decided I was going. I only had like three classes to go at Erie Community College.”
That laid the groundwork for her acting career, but before she relocated from Buffalo to New York City she had a stroke of good fortune.
“I got a teaching job at Studio Arena and they were doing a production that called for a couple of 10 year olds and the director asked me if I wanted to do both parts and then I would have my Equity Card. So when I did move to New York in 1989 I already had my Equity Card.”
For an aspiring actor, an Equity Card opens doors to “Equity-Only” auditions, and a host of other benefits not available to actors that are not members of a union.
In spite of the demands of her career, Ragusa always finds time to come home, and each homecoming is special and brings back fond memories of her parents who passed away in 2006. Ragusa cited her mother as a huge supporter.
Ragusa also loves to share the stage with the BPO. “Since I have done six shows recently with the BPO everyone is so nice and we are all happy to see each other. I adore JoAnn, there aren’t many female conductors out there and you get us two Italian girls onstage together and it’s pretty special.”
There are four performances of The Holiday Pops at Kelinhans Music Hall, 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Friday; 8 p.m. on Saturday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available at BPO.org. They will also be collecting new unwrapped toys for the Toys for Tots program.Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.