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Best Bets at Rochester Fringe: Michael Lasser's picks 

"The Bicycle Men," "Gilgamesh," "Love at First Waltz," and other picks from City's theater critic

One review of "The Bicycle Men" called it "a genial spoof." So is this going to be one of those things that's much funnier when you're having a fourth beer with friends and making up a musical at 3 in the morning? But a naïve Yank who gets stuck while biking through France also conjures up the possibility of a demented Henry James (though without anything resembling a sense of humor). If the play's oddball characters and surreal puppets avoid the trap of self-consciousness, this silly musical could be a treat. The Fringe says it's appropriate for ages 16 and up. (Wednesday 9/19 8:30-9:30 p.m., Thursday 9/20 6-7 p.m., Friday 9/21 7:30-8:30 p.m., and Saturday 9/22 1:30-2:30 p.m. at Geva Theatre Nextstage. Tickets cost $15.)

When "Casey Jones Costello Sings the Great American Songbook," audiences will encounter a college student who looks even younger than his years, but who sings these songs his grandparents still know with affection and sincerity. His voice is pleasant and his singing style unadorned. You will also understand every single word in these incomparable songs of sentiment and wit by such masters of the craft as Irving Berlin, Lorenz Hart, Yip Harburg, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Johnny Mercer. This may be one of the few Fringe performances where simple honest sentiment prevails. (Friday 9/21 5-6 p.m. and Saturday 9/22 7-8 p.m. at Java's.Free admission.)

The ancient Sumerian epic "Gilgamesh" includes a Flood story that predated and influenced the Old Testament's Noah story. More importantly, it is one of the first tragic tales in which a king worthy of his quest seeks immortality and, of course, fails. The gods toy with him as they do with all humans. Into that world struts a single 21st century actor playing nearly two dozen parts with his sense of irony intact. "Charlie Bethel's Gilgamesh" offers up a jaundiced take on one of the humankind's most extraordinary sagas. (Saturday 9/22 3 p.m. and Sunday 9/23 8 p.m. at Geva Theatre Nextstage. Tickets cost $15.)

Don't yawn, don't shift in your seat, don't even goddam blink, because you might miss an entire play from "44 Plays for 44 Presidents." Each president beginning with George -- and including Zachary, Millard, Ulysses, Rutherford, Chester, Calvin, and Barack -- is the subject of a two-minute play. Like a lot of the presentations in the Fringe Festival, this one is also self-billed as "hilarious" and "irreverent." The performers are young professionals from the Geva Theatre Conservatory. (Saturday 9/22 8-10 p.m. and Sunday 9/23 3-5 p.m. at Geva Theatre Nextstage. Ticket cost $15.)

Vaudeville was the most important form of American show business until the Great Depression, Talkies, and radio combined to bury it in the 1930's. Until then, every town big enough to have a theater had daily eight-act bills featuring everything from animal acts to comics to song-and-dance men. A touring star like Nora Bayes or Sophie Tucker would come to town for a week and take an entire floor of the best hotel. "Flower City Vaudeville," a local troupe, emphasizes the novelty acts and the comedy, rather than the songs and the soft shoe. It appears to be vaudeville with a smattering of circus tossed in, but how do you resist people who ride a unicycle, juggle, and play the washboard? They don't do show biz like this anymore! (Saturday 9/22 2 p.m. and Sunday 9/23 12:30 p.m. at RAPA's East End Theatre. Tickets cost $5-$10.)

"Love at First Waltz" (a sublime title that has already got me swaying) brings together BIODANCE, a locally based modern-dance company, and Resonanz, a 40-voice touring choir from within the Rochester Oratorio Society. In the middle of the 19th century, the waltz was controversial; in the early 20th, syncopation (by way of ragtime) was equally raffish. But each soon became the defining popular music of its time. Their composers -- Johannes Brahms, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and more -- started on the fringe but we moved them into the mainstream. One of the music's natural habitats is a cabaret, and so it will be here. (Sunday 9/23 6:30-7:30 p.m. at RAPA's East End Theatre. Tickets cost $8-$12.)

In This Guide...

  • Show time for Rochester Fringe

    As the Rochester Fringe Festival readies for curtain up, find out what it is, and what not to miss.
    It took dancers jumping off buildings for people to finally "get" the magnitude of the inaugural First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival. "Another festival?" is a common refrain in Rochester.

  • Best Bets at Rochester Fringe: Rebecca Rafferty's picks

    "Bee Eye," Wearable Technology Show, "Dragon's Lair" piqued City's visual critic's attention
    There are some unknowns in human existence that might never be answered. But that doesn't mean we won't eternally ask questions about our purpose (or lack thereof), the nature of death, and the slippery slope of human cognition.

  • Best Bets at Rochester Fringe: Casey Carlsen's picks

    City's dance critic looks forward to "Astro Dance," PUSH Physical Theatre, Day of Dance, and more
    BIODANCE, a well-established, local contemporary group led by Missy Pfohl Smith, has two distinctly different shows in the festival. "Breakdown: Dance/Sound" is an experimental new work performed to the orchestral music of Sound ExChange.

  • Best Bets at Rochester Fringe: Willie Clark's picks

    Patton Oswalt, The Great Chernesky, and Oliver Brown have got our music editor jazzed
    Big name comedian Patton Oswalt headlines the comedy portion of the Fringe Festival. Possibly best known for his roles in "The King of Queens" and the voice of Remy in "Ratatouille," Oswalt has also appeared everywhere from "The Fairly Odd Parents" to "Community" to "Grand Theft Auto."

  • Best Bets at Rochester Fringe: Paloma Capanna's picks

    City's classical writer looks forward to the Harlem Gospel Choir, "Hide the Moon," and "Spirits Within"
    The Eastman School of Music students creating "Hide the Moon," an original adaptation of Oscar Wilde's "Salome," are billing the event by the emotions infatuation, loathing, fear, and lust. Who doesn't want an hour of high drama?

  • Best Bets at Rochester Fringe: Eric Rezsnyak's picks

    City's features editor looks forward to Bandaloop, "The Event," and "There's Always Time for a Cocktail"
    The headliner act that made everyone go "Ooooooooo!" at the press conference, Bandaloop will undoubtedly be the most eye-popping experience at the inaugural Fringe Festival. This world-renowned aerial dance troupe performs vertical routines while suspended from climbing ropes.

  • Rochester Fringe Festival Guide

    The Official Festival Guide

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