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When MusicalFare Theatre’s leaders were planning to remodel its lobby into a lively new performance space, one of the first local artists they spoke to was chanteuse Kerrykate Abel. “Kerrykate has been doing a cabaret act for a long time, and I knew we wanted to book her and accompanist Chuck Basil in the space,” said MusicalFare’s artistic and executive director Randy Kramer.

So they built a cabaret.

Since opening this past spring, the Premier Center Cabaret has hosted a variety of theatrical and musical performances and has sold out almost every show. With just under 100 seats, the space lends itself to shows with small casts and the kind of music that’s best heard in a cozy place. “Even when a performance is not sold out, the space feels warm and intimate,” said Kramer.

In addition to hosting its own performances, the space functions as an extended lobby and concessions area during MusicalFare’s main stage productions. Small, sleek tables and chairs are positioned across the width of the room, against a wall of windows. During intermission, it’s not unusual for music director Theresa Quinn to get behind the baby grand piano, giving the space a sophisticated supper club atmosphere.

“People have already told me that the design of the room makes them feel like they’re in New York City or Chicago,” said Kramer. A small art gallery area gives visual artists their due, too.

Doing the $800,000 expansion also had practical purposes. The expansion allowed the theater to relocate its box office to the front entryway, which provides better access for patrons and improved efficiencies for the staff. There’s a coat check area, as well. The expansion was funded by a capital campaign with lead gifts from The Premier Center, M&T Bank, the John R. Oishei Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, corporate and individual donors, and a major investment from MusicalFare, making the project Western New York’s largest expansion of an existing theater building since the Shea’s Performing Arts Center stage house expansion in 1999.

Running a main stage production is expensive and vast: shows must be able to run for five weeks and attract 4,000 people. The Premier Center Cabaret gives smaller shows a new place to shine. “I think the Premier Center Cabaret at MusicalFare has created a very important and brand new niche for the Buffalo theater landscape,” said Kramer. “It’s a space where artists can create something and then try it out. It can run for two performances, sell out both shows, and be a success with 200 people attending. We’re giving theater artists more freedom to be creative, and that’s never a bad thing.”

Find the fall schedule for both MusicalFare performance spaces at Musicalfare.com.