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Bringing Broadway to Buffalo

In more than 35 years on Broadway, Albert Nocciolino has earned four Tony Awards and co-produced shows including Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde, Ragtime, Annie, Peter Pan and countless more.

But, looking back on his career, Nocciolino says his proudest accomplishment has been helping to bring big-league theater to cities nationwide. As the Broadway League’s vice chair of the road, he worked with other Broadway producers to make touring an integral part of the theater scene. Closer to home, Nocciolino is president and CEO of NAC Entertainment and presents the Broadway series in nine communities across New York and Pennsylvania — including Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo.

"Broadway is now the longest street in America, and I played, in some way, a part of that," Nocciolino said. "That’s why we have the success we have in Buffalo and the quality of shows touring in the country. We helped not only Broadway understand the road but communities understand the impact that touring Broadway and the arts could have on their community."

After a short stint working in finance in Manhattan, Nocciolino returned home to his native Binghamton and decided, at 24, to launch his company. During his first year he brought four shows to Binghamton — and things snowballed from there.

"When I came to Buffalo, there was no real subscription [model] at Shea’s," Nocciolino recalled. "There was a concert promoter by the name of Harvey and Corky — you know that history — and they were bringing shows in whenever they could. If a show didn’t sell, it just got canceled."

By adding a subscription option, Nocciolino was able to entice Broadway productions to Buffalo by guaranteeing a percentage of seats were already sold. Today, Nocciolino said Shea’s robust subscription base makes it an attractive, sought-after stop for tours.

"If you’re the producer and I tell you, ‘Come to Buffalo — 65 percent of your seats are already pre-sold,’ where would you want to be?’" he said. "Because of my involvement here on Broadway, we’re able to get shows to come to Shea’s early on their tours so the titles fresh in people’s minds are often still playing on Broadway."

Nocciolino typically plans each season two to three years in advance, aiming for a well-rounded mix of new productions, classic shows and family-friendly titles. On the bill this season is 2015 Tony winner An American in Paris, beloved musical The Sound of Music and fan favorite A Christmas Story, among others.

"I used to stand on stage years ago when we’d announce the series and tell everybody, ‘Look at this magnificent building. It’s one of the most beautiful theaters in America,’" he said. "Now, you don’t have to say that to anybody. Western New York has embraced Shea’s, and it’s one of our most important community assets."

Back on Broadway, Nocciolino certainly has a full plate: He’s the lead producer for On Your Feet and is involved in Waitress, Hamilton, the revival of Cats and more. As these shows look to tour over the next few years, Nocciolino predicts Buffalo will see more shows that speak to diverse audiences.

"We’ve been given the opportunity to tell stories that reflect what we look like and who we are in this country," he said. "From the history of Hamilton to the story of the first African-American musical (Shuffle Along) to the story of a Hispanic couple who lived the American dream (On Your Feet) to an adaption of a movie, Waitress, about a woman who made it on her own after a marriage that didn’t work. They’re not fluff. They’re real, and they’re delivered with beautiful stories and extraordinary music."

For Nocciolino, it’s the power of those stories performed live on stage that keeps him in the front row year after year.

"I still can’t wait to sit in the theater and see a show where maybe my heart, maybe my brain, maybe my soul — sometimes all three — is engrossed in what’s happening on stage," he said. "When you have that moment where a show can take you away and you feel something, that’s pretty special — and that’s what happens at Shea’s."

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