Theater Review: Clucking For A Cause~A Cabaret and Musical Review

June 22, 2019

Written By

Mary Friona Celani


Clucking For A Cause~A Cabaret was a one-night only event produced by Penelope’s Place and Vanessa Dawson that starred an all-female cast that brought the house down. This show featured local performers that presented songs and ballads that were meaningful to them and that showcased why these nine performers are in a league of their own. The show starred Vanessa Dawson, Melanie Klaja, Sara Jo Kukulka, Mary Kate O’Connell, Mary Moebius, Annie DeFazio, Heather Casseri and Michelle Holden. Each one of these performers were equally strong in their individual performance and vocals. I was astonished at the superior level of talent.

The night was hosted by Dr. Steven Paul Dawson who kept the show moving along nicely with stories about each of the performers as well as the residents of Penelope’s Place. As always, Steven Dawson added a nice flair to the show and entertained the audience with his witty humor.

The Musical Director was the well-known Donald R Jenczka who has played at many of the Buffalo Theatre’s to include Artpark, Irish Classical and the Kavinoky Theatre.

I’m excited what the future holds for Vanessa Dawson as she returns to WNY after living in New York City for the past 14 years where she performed in off-Broadway, touring and cruise ship productions. Watch out Buffalo~I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Dawson is a powerhouse vocalist that is a triple threat performer that I know you will see in future productions across WNY.

Stay tuned for future shows presented by Vanessa Dawson to support Penelope’s Place, a 501c3 Non-Profit Animal Rescue & Sanctuary.
Clucking For A Cause~A Cabaret is produced by Penelope’s Place founder Vanessa Dawson.

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Behind the Scenes of “Clucking for A Cause~The Cabaret” with an interview with Vanessa Dawson

TB: How/ Why did Penelope’s Place get created?
VD: “I was living in NYC for many years with my husband, living the life of a performer and in 2014 I rescued a chicken from an animal sacrifice, annual, religious ritual. She was very sick when we got her and she was also very “special needs”. She had one eye and a scissor beak, she was unable to walk and needed to be hand fed a special diet. We named her Penelope. She changed our whole world. We spent day and night caring for this wonderful bird. We completely fell in love with chickens because of her. There is a short documentary that tells the full story about Penelope that can be found on called Penelope, A Rescue Story. Every year since rescuing Penelope we were a part of a rescue effort and most of the birds that were saved went to other sanctuaries, but we would keep one or two of the most special needs birds. Penelope passed away in 2017 and our lives were shattered. We knew we wanted to carry out her legacy. We outgrew our space in NY so we realized it was time to move back home to WNY and officially begin the sanctuary in her name…Penelope’s Place. We are now a 501c3 non-profit, animal rescue. We provide a loving home for some of the most exploited and under valued beings on the earth, farmed animals and we specialize in working with those with special needs. Now we are in a place where we are about to expand the sanctuary again and are looking for our next, new property to be able to encapsulate our full vision of Penelope’s Place the Sanctuary.”

TB: How long have you been an animal advocate?
VD: “I was always an animal lover. But at the age of 9, I was eating a chicken wing and I had a moment of awakening. I never really considered what (or who) I was actually eating. I took a hard look at the bone, the vein, the flesh that I was ripping off of it and I realized in a different way than ever before that it came from an animal and I kinda freaked out. I said in that moment that if I loved animals I could no longer eat them. And thankfully my parents supported my decision and I never ate meat again. The older that I got and the more that I learned about what the animals go through, veganism was the next logical step. I have been vegan for 14 years. But Penelope really made me an activist. It was after she came into my life that I got very involved with all forms animal rights activism.”

TB: It was a brilliant idea to create a musical revue to benefit the sanctuary—tell us about some of your favorite moments?
VD: Thank you! All of the cast members in the revue were also my fellow cast members from when we did 1776 at O’Connell and Co. Everyone was allowed to sing whatever songs they wanted to and I didn’t get to see them all perform them until the actual show. I knew that everyone was talented but I was blown away by just how amazing everyone was. Number after number, everyone was truly fabulous. I also loved the way that Steven Dawson weaved the night together. He didn’t prepare what he was going to say ahead of time (besides the cast bios that were provided to him). He is one of those rare gifted people who can give the most gorgeous speeches without having ever prepared anything. He also just happens to be my husband and the co-founder of the sanctuary. I’m in awe of him!
Our next benefit cabaret will be a Christmas Show. Stay tuned for that info!

TB: During the performance we heard chatter about a one women show which will be centered around your talent and the sanctuary. Can you give our readers some information on this amazing idea and what other musical performances we will see?
VD: “I’m very excited to share that in October, I can be seen in O’Connell and Company’s production of Young Frankenstein. I will be playing Elizabeth.
About the one- woman show, Even though we moved away from NYC and began sanctuary life, performing will always be a part of my soul and something that I must do. Doing this animal rescue work, I have so many stories to tell and experiences to share. What better way to combine performing with animal activism than to do a show about it? It is going to be a one- woman show and a multimedia art piece that will be a unique and compelling way of telling the animals stories as well as about my journey. Stay tuned for info about dates and location in the upcoming months.”



About Me

Welcome to Totally Buffalo! My name is Mary Friona-Celani and I am the creator of this site! After spending 20 years in the Buffalo media, I moved on to focus on my beautiful family. Now, the time has come for a new project. I was ready for something new. Something mine.
I am born and raised in WNY and my pride runs deep. My husband, Scott and I are very happy to be raising our four daughters here.






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