Wonder of the World

WonderoftheWorldLittle Lake Theatre’s production of Wonder of the World is a zany madcap comedy populated by characters who are just a bit off center. What is normal these days?

As the play opens, a young woman from Brooklyn named Cass is preparing to leave her husband Kip. She has recently discovered his collection of Barbie heads while arranging his sweater drawer and he confesses to an unusual sexual fetish,

Kip arrives home unexpectedly with a surprise make-up gift of trout aspic for lunch. Through the course of rapid-fire zany “I’m leaving”, “Please don’t” banter, it becomes quite obvious these two characters are at the opposite end of the spectrum in just about every aspect of their public and private lives.

After she disentangles herself from Kip, Cass hops a bus to Niagara Falls in search of freedom, enlightenment and a chance to check off a few items from her voluminous personal bucket list. On the bus, she winds up sitting next to Lois, a suicidal alcoholic with a barrel. She is on her way to the Falls and one can easily guess why.

wonder07Cass has the boundless energy and inquisitiveness of a puppy which is the last thing the alcohol infused Lois needs. However, lunch in the form of trout aspic wins her over and they bond. Next scene, they are sharing a hotel room at the Falls, complete with the mother lode of a well-stocked mini bar. Lois is pleased.

In order to research how the barrel-over-the-falls thing might work for Lois, she and Cass decide to take a trip on the “Maid of the Mist”. Here we meet an older couple Karla and Glen (hold that thought) and Mike, the handsome widower tour boat captain. After meeting  Mike, Cass decides to check off an item from her list by sleeping with a ship’s Captain.

Turns out Karla and Glen are a pair of bickering and bumbling private detectives hired by Kip to track down Cass.  In reality, they are really just down on their luck yarn shop owners who decide to be detectives to make a few bucks.

(left to right) Jacob Wadsworth as Kip, Arjun Kumar as Captain Mike, and Renee Ruzzi-Kern as Janie
(left to right) Jacob Wadsworth as Kip, Arjun Kumar as Captain Mike, and Renee Ruzzi-Kern as Janie

Just to round out the fun, there is a woman on the boat who has lost her hair , a helicopter pilot who drinks while flying, three waitresses at three different themed restaurants and a clown therapist on parole.

Wonder of the World was written by David Lindsay-Abaire who previously wrote Fuddy Meers. Both works show off his madcap imagination and snappy dialogue writing style.

The ensemble cast is led by Elizabeth Glyptis who plays Cass to perfection as a delightful victim of unfocused ADD whose words careen out of her mouth with little connection between thoughts or sentences for that matter.

Jacob Wadsworth portrayal of Kip leans towards that of a gay man, which further reinforces the inherent incompatibility of Cass and Kip as a married couple. His opening scene begging Cass to not leave him is a bit over the top, not quite as hysterical as was perhaps intended. Wadsworth demonstrates good comedic timing skills in his portrayal.

You would not necessarily expect an alcoholic on a bender to be the sane one of the group, but Leah Hillgrove’s portrayal of Lois provides a breath of relative calm and draws in our sympathies. The scene with Cass and Lois on the bus is just perfection. Her facial expressions are subtle and spot on.

David Hoffman as Glen and Marianne Shaffer as Karla, are the down and out yarn shop owners turned detectives. They perfectly portray the long-married couple. The scene where they are searching the girl’s hotel room as Glen can’t keep his mouth shut and Karla tries her best to stifle him was delightful.

Captain Mike, played by Arjun Kumar, is probably the most “normal” character in the show. There was a missed comedic opportunity as Cass was trying to seduce him in the wheelhouse of the “Maid of the Mist”.

(left to right) Arjun Kumar as Captain Mike, Renee Ruzzi-Kern as waitress, and Elizabeth Glyptis as Cass
(left to right) Arjun Kumar as Captain Mike, Renee Ruzzi-Kern as waitress, and Elizabeth Glyptis as Cass

Renee Ruzzi-Kern plays the other six characters, the best of which is the “who cares it’s just another flight over the Falls” helicopter pilot. She is also the Clown Therapist, which is a challenge to draw our attention late in the show with all these other crazy people on stage.

Physical comedy is not easy to pull off yet Director Jena Oberg brings the ensemble together quite effectively. The show is complex in its staging with multiple scene locations and her experience with Little Lakes in-the-round stage pays off.

Little Lake’s veteran Prop Master Pam Pasternak once again demonstrates her gift of creating effective settings with no scenery, just props. Program credit is not given for lighting or sound design, but both were quite effective in setting the mood of the scenes. On opening night, the run crew was spot on with their cues. Kudo’s to Technical Director Andrew Seay.

Cass’s journey of enlightenment on the way out of her marriage and into the Falls brought joy and smiles to the audience, to the point of people almost falling out of their seats with laughter, a perfect escape for a hot summer night.

Wonder of the World at the Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317. Performances on July 21st  & 22nd , 27th to 30th and August 1st to 3rd.

For tickets visit http://www.littlelake.org/box-office/  or call 724-745-6300

Special thanks to Little Lake for the complimentary tickets. Photos courtesy of James Orr. 

Hot Metal Musicals 2017

Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyThe development of a new musical is a complex art. From the development of the original idea, into a workable script (book), music and lyrics, it is a consuming labor of passion, creativity, and love.

Those who attended Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh’s 2017 Hot Metal Musicals had the opportunity to preview songs from over a dozen works in development as well as four songs yet to find a book.

Twenty-one songs on subjects that run the gamut from school days to a world of robotic presidents, from the woman behind the tongue-twister “she sells seashells by the seashore” to a “farceody” (think farce crossed with parody) were presented on Monday evening at a well-attended pitch and performance at the CLO’s Cabaret in Theatre Square.

The ensemble was smartly Directed by Steve Cuden, with musical navigation by the very versatile Douglas Levine, singers Leon Zionts, Dan Mayhak, Jason Shavers, Hope Anthony, Natalie Hatcher, Paul Hambidge, Alex Manalo, and Maria Mauti presented the original songs and show synopses in a simple setting of bar chairs and music stands layered over the Cabaret’s current production’s set.

MTAP PICThere are literally hundreds of new musicals conceived every year, a dozen or so might make it into actual production after years of development work, workshops, rewrites and revisions. Fewer than a handful make it to Broadway or Off-Broadway every year. Even Broadway exposure is no guarantee of a hit as many a vanquished producer can attest.

The exciting part of Hot Metal Musicals is a chance to see, hear and meet the breadth and depth of talent that exists in the Pittsburgh region at all levels of musical theatre. There is also the added plus to be able to to see and potentially participate in the realization of a new work of musical theatre.

MTAP, the Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh, created a very informative program for the event with bios highlighting the experience of the thirty artists who wrote and composed the works as well as the aforementioned eight performers and the creative staff. Many have national and regional awards to their credit.

You may not have heard of MTAP before. It is an organization that strives to bring together local and regional artists that work in musical theater.  MTAP serves as an incubator where new works come together and are nurtured.

Some of the pitches and songs which I found of interest included: Tell ‘Em a Story from Pictures that Move by David Michael King. The story focuses on the early days of filmmaking and the director Edwin Porter (The Great Train Robbery).

A Little About Me from Class, by Bridgett Perdue and Alicia Johnson, is a soulful tune about the challenges faced by a young teacher setting out to change the world.

Traveling Salesman from Until Tomorrow tells the true story of Arie van Mansum, a young man involved in the resistance movement in WWII in Holland after the German occupation.  Book and Lyrics by Michelle Do, Music and lyrics by Ethan Crystal. Michelle is a Senior at North Hills High School with an impressive list of writing credits and awards.

Dance in the Light from the Golden Door with book by Michelle Van Doeren, lyrics by Andrew Swenson and Michelle Van Doeren, music by Scott Andersen. It is about five young immigrants from different countries arriving an Ellis Island in 1903 in search of a better life. The song was a performed as a beautiful duet.

The 2017 edition of Hot Metals Musicals was a great showcase of talent and a chance to preview what might just be the next great musical.

To receive regular emails from MTAP about meetings, special events, and opportunities, send an email to mtapgh@gmail.com or visit http://mtap.weebly.com

 Photo courtesy of Mara E. Nadolski. 

Seussical: The Musical!

19905103_10154584224746976_3001960794833566987_nApple Hill Playhouse has a hit on its hands with the Orchard Performing Arts Company’s production of Seussical.

Not to let the cat out of the bag,

Or in this case out of the hat,

Before we get through the usual stuff,

And bypass all the frivolous fluff,

Mitchell Aiello’s Cat in the Hat

At the Apple Hill Playhouse,

Is where it’s at!

Theodor Seuss Geisel began writing children’s books under the name “Dr. Seuss” back in the 1950s, so there is a pretty good chance everyone in the world is familiar with at least a couple of his stories. Seussical the Musical blends together three of his most popular books, “Horton Hears a Who!”, “Horton Hatches the Egg” and “Miss Gertrude McFuzz”, and includes other well-known characters.

Mitchell Aiello’s portrayal of the Cat in the Hat, serves as the musical’s narrator and tells the story of Horton, an elephant, who discovers a speck of dust that contains the Whos. On that speck is Jojo, a Who child that was sent off to military school for thinking too many “thinks.” Not only must Horton protect the Whos from a world of naysayers and dangers, but he also took on the responsibility to guard an abandoned egg, left in his care by its mother, the irresponsible Mayzie La Bird. As you can imagine Horton gets a lot of grief from his friends for sitting on an egg. An elephant sitting on an egg is a “sitting duck” for hunters, who capture Horton and ship him and the egg off to the circus. Horton’s dedication to the protection of the egg and the Whos cause him to have to stand trial for being a crazy elephant. Through it all, Gertrude McFuzz, a blue bird with a serious tail problem, never loses faith in him. Will the egg hatch? Will the Whos be heard? Will Horton realize that Gertrude loves him? Don’t worry, Horton’s not crazy!

seussical 4Have you been to a community theatre production? “If you never did you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.” Dr. Seuss

This production brings together a group of experienced actors playing the lead characters coupled with an ensemble of interesting new and experienced performers rounding out the large cast.

Playing the Cat in the Hat is Mitchell Aiello. He’s is a rising star with delicious physical comedy skills, wonderfully flexible facial expressions and a strong voice. He dominates the stage and your attention, easily drawing you into the silly yet serious world of Dr. Seuss. Aiello is a native of Detroit, let’s hope he stays around Pittsburgh for a while before some Broadway show snatches him up.

The cast shows off the depth of the Pittsburgh areas’ acting talent pool.  Stand outs include local Lisa Bompiani-Smith with a great singing voice as the delightfully sour Kangaroo. Jake Grantz is the loveable Horton who grows on you as the show progresses. By requirement, he is a big guy, in a big grey costume, playing a big elephant, yet his portrayal of Horton, particularly nurturing the egg, is quite touching.

Since Jojo was sent off to military school, there, of course, must be the nasty over-powering drill sergeant character, here played to comedic perfection by Timothy Tolbert. Not a lot of stage time for Tolbert, but when he is on, he’s captivating.

seussical 5Kate Kratzenberg has one of the best singing voices in the cast and gets to put it to good use as lazy Mayzie La Bird, the lovable floozy who convinces Horton to sit on her egg for a couple hours. Then she flies off to Palm Beach for a year, leaving poor Horton: “I said what I’d do and I did what I said”. At the opposite end of bird loyalty is the ever-faithful Gertrude McFuzz, who, while missing a bunch of tail feathers, has a great pair of feathered glasses and a huge crush on Horton. She has two numbers to show off her vocal chops and make Horton one happy elephant singing “All For You”.

Director Timothy Dougherty has pulled together a uniformly engaging cast of experienced veterans and newcomers and showcases their talents well. Aided by Choreographer Elisa Kosetelnik, they successfully wrangle the large cast, including a number of children, on the relatively small Apple Hill stage.

There are many up and coming children performers in Seussical that have great supporting roles.  The young man playing Jojo, Zachary Gilkey held his own amongst the productions seasoned performers. As he matures into his voice we can expect great things from him.

If you haven’t been to Apple Hill before, the theatre is an intimate space in a converted barn. It is cozy enough that body mics are not required. The set design by Jen James captures the bright colors, ambiance, and style of Geisel’s book illustrations. Kudos to the design and construction crew who made great use of the charming space, although the creakiness of the wooden platforms resonated alarmingly throughout the performance. The original costume designs of Liza Seiner and Tina Lepidi-Stewart were spot on in conveying the childish simplicity and the primary colors embodied in the original Geisel illustrations.

Seussical 1During this performance, the house was nearly at capacity with a mix of all ages from young children to grandparents. The children in the audience were totally engrossed with the performance.

If you are interested in introducing a young child to the magic of theatre, you couldn’t do better than Seussical the Musical at the Apple Hill Playhouse. It is community theater at its best.

The Orchard Performing Arts Company, Inc. production of Seussical the Musical at the Apple Hill Playhouse with performances at 7:30p.m. on July 14, 15; 20, 21, 22 and 2:00 on July 16. Located off of U.S. Route 22 at 275 Manor Rd in Delmont, PA 15626

For tickets: (724) 468-5050 or boxoffice@applehillplayhouse.org

Special thanks to Apple Hill for the complimentary ticket.

Photos courtesy of Tracey Johnson.

Clue: The Musical

18813343_1366720196752718_7747244441950438655_nClue: The Musical is an interactive musical is based on the popular board game of the same name.

The plot revolves around solving the murder of Mr. Boddy at his mansion that is occupied by several possible suspects; Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Mrs. White, Colonel Mustard and Mr. Green.

At the start of the show, several audience members are called up to the stage to draw from three stacks of very large cards. Within each stack, a card represents one of six suspects, six locations and six murder weapons. During the selection process neither the cast, selectors from the audience or the audience members sees the cards chosen. They are placed in a sealed envelope which is prominently displayed on stage prior to the mystery beginning.

Clue9Mr. Boddy gives clues to the audience to help solve the mystery of “his murder” which they can note on a form provided, with pencil, in the program.

Once the deed finally takes place, a hard-nosed female detective shows up to unravel the mystery and mayhem. Even after the culprit confesses, a surprise twist awaits.

The Summer Company was established in 1993 as a creative outlet for people working in, studying or just generally enamored with theatre. This production of Clue puts their talents to good use.

Despite Clue being rather unfunny and fairly “punny”, the direction of Justin Sines brought a lot of laughs on opening night. This says a lot about the quality of the glistening performances of the cast as well since the Genesius Theatre’s air conditioning system was one character that didn’t show up for this performance.

Notable standout Nathaniel Yost is Mr. Boddy. Yost is a senior at Duquesne University who majors in the interesting combination of Theatre Arts and Theology. He has nearly a dozen shows to his credit, which is evident in the quality of his very watchable performance and comfortable stage presence.

Clue4Pittsburgh native and first time Summer Company actor Tonilyn Longo Jackson plays Mrs. Peacock. Her varied experience as an actor, director and musician bring life and a touch of zany to Mrs. Peacock’s character.

Unfortunately, Jill Jeffrey, as the overcoat wearing Detective, doesn’t set foot on stage during the first half of the show. Jeffery is another example of where a background of diverse theatrical experiences really shows. Her Detective is a funny rhyming, game quoting machine, sort of a hybrid between Peter Falk’s maddeningly inquisitive Colombo and Peter Sellers’ bumbling Inspector Clouseau. When she is on stage Clue comes alive.

The rest of the cast has some strong voices and nice comedic skills.  Musical Director and Accompanist Brian Buckley mans the piano from up center and is never out of the action. He also has a vital cameo role in the show.

Clue6Costumes by Jill Jeffery fit the show perfectly, Mr. Boddy’s smoking jacket and Mr. Plum’s purple jacket are nice touches. Jeffery’s choices bring the one-dimensional game characters to life visually.

Though the lighting seemed a bit off on opening night, with lights and actors trying to find each other.

John E. Lane Jr.’s set design is a nicely rendered and well executed three-dimensional game board world in the cozy and modern Genesius Theatre.

For an evening of light entertainment that showcases the depth and experience of Pittsburgh’s local theatrical community, Summer Company’s Clue is well worth your time. The ensemble and crew had fun which translated to an enjoyable evening for the audience.

Clue: The Musical by the Summer Company. Directed by Justin Sines at the new Genesius Theater on the campus of Duquesne University. Performances run June 15th through the 25th

Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 seniors, $5 students available at the Box Office or online at http://www.thesummercompany.com/purchase-tickets

Note: The Genesius Theatre is located in the heart of campus adjacent to the main parking garage. Take the garage elevator to the 7th floor street level exit on the south side of the garage, the theatre is directly across Locust Street.

Special thanks to the Summer Company for the complementary tickets.

Photos courtesy of Dale Hess and Bruce Story-Camp

An American in Paris

coverAcclaimed director/choreographer and 2015 Tony Award®-winner Christopher Wheeldon received a Tony® Award nomination for Best Director and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography for this production. This show was also the most award-winning musical of the 2015-16 Broadway Season.

After the 2010 world premiere in Pittsburgh of  ‘S Wonderful – The New Gershwin Musical the CLO’s Van Kaplan began discussions with members of the Gershwin family about creating An American in Paris for the stage. The Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Craig Lucas chose to ground the story in the post World War II. Lucas continued to develop the characters and add their backstories to strengthen the plot.  He did not remake the movie, but instead crafted a fully realized story.

At the end of World War II, Jerry Mulligan, an American soldier, decides to stay in Paris and nurture his passion for painting. With a little help from kindred spirits Adam Hochberg, a composer and fellow veteran; and Henri Baurel, the son of wealthy French industrialists and wannabe song and dance man, they become fast friends and imagine a bright future in the City of Lights.

The intersecting point for al the characters is a ballet audition. Adam is writing the score for the new ballet and brings Jerry along to the audition. Henri’s parents are major supporters of the company so they are there along with Henri. Milo Davenport, an up and coming philanthropist, art dealer and ingénue is in attendance to add more feminine charm.

As the auditions, begin a stunningly beautiful aspiring ballerina, Lise Dassen, appears.  She is hoping to win a spot in the company but having arrived late is turned away. Adam, sensing she is the “one”, encourages her to stay and participate. As the other dancers are passed over and dismissed, Lise remains. She is the focus as Jerry, Adam and all of us in the audience fall in love with her and her stunningly graceful performance.

After Lise’s stellar audition, Milo announces she wishes to fund the new ballet with Lise as the star using Jerry’s designs. The plot then begins its twists and turns as long held secrets are revealed complicating the characters lives.

The story is told predominantly through dance, a beautifully executed fusion of classic ballet with Broadway style dance routines. Take a second in the “An American in Paris” ballet number to watch the dancers feet and in particular their shoes to see just how seamlessly this works. The ballet dancers are en pointe and the Broadway dancers in heels. It works as a lovely blend of both styles.

The importance of dance is reflected in the casting choices. Since April, McGee Maddox, former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada plays the role of Jerry. Sara Esty, a classically trained ballerina from the Miami Ballet, is Lise. She has been alternate and standby for Lise for the Paris premiere and on Broadway prior to assuming the role full-time on the national tour and her experience shows.  Their dancing is a joy to watch. What’s missing is the smoldering sexual chemistry between them. The lust and love they share that is the cornerstone of the show’s story does not come across in this casting.

Etai Benson
Etai Benson

Etai Benson is a standout as Adam Hochberg who as the narrator sets the opening and close of the show. His stage presence, robust voice and acting skills draw you into the story and serves as the bond between Jerry, Adam and Henri. The importance of Adam’s character in essential to the story, as he causes Henri, Lise, Milo and Jerry to do the right thing for Lise in the name of love. Benson delivers this central theme in an understated yet solid performance. He is always there, never out front, but quietly setting the mood with his piano translating the tone of the show with Gershwin’s haunting melodies.

Nick Spanger as Henri Baurel in “I’ll Build You a Stairway to Paradise”
Nick Spanger as Henri Baurel in “I’ll Build You a Stairway to Paradise”

Emily Ferranti is enjoyable and fetching as the rich dilatant and aspiring philanthropist Milo Davenport.

Part of what makes the show a hit is the accomplished dancers and ballet corps who animate  Wheeldon’s choreography and direction. Music Director David Andrews Rogers brings out Gershwin’s complex and multi-layered score featuring “I Got Rhythm,” “Liza,” “”S Wonderful,” “But Not For Me,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” and orchestral music in the dance number “An American In Paris.”

The designers use every modern design tool and technology to create a colorful, flowing and fluid environment that easily transitions us around Paris. The set elements, projections and lighting tie together in a unified design concept that creates a multilayered environment built around French masterworks and Jerry’s sketches.  As pointe shoes and dancers prohibit modern automated scenery moving on tracks, the scenery literary dances on and off the stage with that same sense of fluid motion.

Sara Este as Lise
Sara Esty as Lise

The show is a sensory delight of color, sounds and movement. The costumes combination of color and textures draw your eyes in and direct your focus. For the audition scene all the other players except Lise are in muted colors. She is positively radiant in blue, the center of attention on a crowded stage. The spangles and feathers in “I’ll build a stairway to Paradise” and the eye popping colors of the “An American in Paris” ballet are feasts for the eyes. Lise’s signature flowing canary yellow dress has become a symbolic show icon.

If you love dance, beautiful choreography, the Gershwin’s music, and fabulous staging, then An American in Paris is a must see.

One final note, on opening night, early in the first scene there was a scenery malfunction that caused the show to stop briefly and regroup. The entire team handled it with the utmost professionalism with hardly a beat of delay between realization and bringing the curtain down. Following informing the audience of a hold and a few minutes to reset everything, the show restarted with Adam at his piano repeating his line “And this is how it really happened” to the applause of the audience.  Chalk up another theatre moment to remember for all of us at the Benedum on opening night.

An American in Paris, presented in cooperation with PNC Broadway Across at the Benedum Center with performances now to June 11th.

Photos courtesy of Matthew Murphy. 

For tickets click here: 

Pittsburgh’s Polished Musical Theatre Gem: The CLO

cloThe Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, as the CLO is officially known, has been around for a long time. Its first performances were outdoors at Pitt Stadium in June of 1946. Back then it was a summer stock theatre company that provided lighthearted entertainment to the Steel City, as America regrouped after World War II. Edgar J. Kauffman, of Pittsburgh’s department store and Falling Water fame, helped provide the initial financing to launch the CLO.

Imagine for a moment performers, singing and dancing outdoors in a football stadium in the days before modern sound and lighting systems. Actors back then really had to belt out a song in order to be heard by the crowd.

You might have heard that the former Civic Arena was built not just for a hockey team, but to also be the home of the CLO with a retractable roof- “theater under the stars”. In 1973 the CLO moved to the former Penn Theatre, now known Heinz Hall and later moved to The Benedum Center in 1988.

Most Pittsburghers still think of the CLO as a summer musical theatre. It has grown to be so much more. In addition to the six show main stage season, the CLO Cabaret features a year round smorgasbord of smaller musicals and cabaret performances in an intimate club setting. The less obvious part of the CLO’s work is training actors and creative teams in musical theatre through the CLO academy and Mini-Stars. The CLO founded the Gene Kelley Awards for high school musicals in our region and the National High School Musical Awards.

As the CLO’s reputation for high caliber and high quality productions has grown, demand for its productions has expanded nationally, resulting in a half dozen national tours being launched.

Perhaps the biggest change, while still being true to its Pittsburgh mission has been in the development of musicals on Broadway that include Legally Blonde, Curtains, Monty Python’s Spamalot, The Color Purple, Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Bombay Dreams, Flower Drum Song and Big River.

This leads us to the current year’s big story, An American in Paris, which it created in partnership with Elephant Eye Theatricals and Theatre du Chalet. It opened in Paris, played on Broadway and now the national tour is here in Pittsburgh. The show is a testament to CLO’s very successful transition from a summer stock company to full fledged Broadway Producer with roots firmly planted in Pittsburgh and an ongoing commitment to world-class theatre.

First, a brief stop over at the CLO Cabaret at Theatre Square.abby

Mix together the work of Doctor Ruth and Emily Post and you get Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating and Marriage. The relationship expert to the stars!   Kick back and relax as Miss Abigail imparts the expertise she developed before booty calls and speed dating ruled – before the divorce rate was 50% and when ‘fidelity’ was more than an investment firm!

paigePaige Davis plays Miss Abigail.  She is most recognized from the TLC series Trading Spaces, but her true love is theatre and dance. Paige was one of the featured actresses who played Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway and in an odd twist of fate with the theatre next door here played God in An Act of God. Pittsburgh audiences have seen her in the national tours of Sweet Charity and Beauty and the Beast and as Maria in the Sound of Music. Great to have her in town for more than a week!

Miss Abigail’s Guide To Dating, Mating and Marriage performs May 11th to August 13th at the CLO CABARET in Theatre Square

The CLO Summer Season; A Well Oiled Machine

Presenting six full staged musicals with Broadway worthy orchestra accompaniment in two and a half months would be a challenge for any producing organization. The CLO has refined their process for making art and theatre magic over the past seventy seasons and has transformed it into a well-oiled machine. As you will see, a lot is about connections, great people, and good tools coupled with superior Stage Management skills, organization and scheduling.

As has been the case the past several years, the CLO has opened its season in alignment with the PNC Broadway series season closing production. This is a national tour production for which the Pittsburgh CLO has invested in with shared producing credit. The second show is usually from another regional theatre company. This effectively gives our CLO a month long head start before the final four home grown productions hit the boards at the Benedum.

I spoke with the CLO’s Producing Director, Mark Fleischer, about what it takes to pull off the season that appears to be seamless and effortless.

First and most importantly, “We get the best people we can” in order to “make memorable theatre that really special for the audiences”

The CLO nurtures new talent. Fleischer indicates in many cases “it is their first shot” at launching their professional theater career. Many actors subsequently return to the CLO to “give back and enjoy the comradery and creative energy that comes from an eight-day rehearsal cycle”.  Yes, you read it right, there are only eight days from first rehearsal typically starting on Thursday morning to opening night the following Friday at eight. And yet, these are fully realized productions that include rich choreography, full sets, lighting, costumes and orchestra.

To make it all work, creative team members with familiarity and past experience with the specific musical is a plus.  It also helps if the lead actors have played the role previously. Directors and Choreographers with similar or assistant experience or those who just know the CLO drill and can work well at the breakneck pace contribute significantly to the successful execution of the season.

A strong and versatile ensemble of singers and dancers works at rehearsing the upcoming show simultaneously in multiple physical spaces while squeezing in time for costumes fittings. Many ensemble members are rehearsing next week’s show during the day and performing that night.

The sets are a combination of build, buy or rent. The CLO Construction Center builds for CLO and other theatres and rents its inventory to other companies as well.

A strong Stage Management team coordinates everyone and everything, making it all happen like clockwork. The leads, ensemble, Directors, Choreographers, Designers, crafts persons, union stagehands and the musicians all pull together to make it “the best production possible”.

As Fleisher says, of the CLO “We Make Art, We Don’t Import It”

Here is a look at the 2017 CLO Summer Season

parisTheatre people refer to performers who can act, sing and dance, all equally and extraordinary well, as triple threats. The musical An American in Paris possesses those qualities and so much more, including the music of George and Ira Gershwin. This show was the most award-winning musical of the 2015-16 Broadway Season! It is also the hottest ticket in Pittsburgh this summer.

At the end of World War II, Jerry Mulligan, an American soldier, decides to stay in Paris and nurture his passion for painting. With a little help from kindred soul seekers Adam Hochberg, a composer and fellow veteran; and Henri Baurel, the son of wealthy French industrialists and wannabe song and dance man, they imagine a bright future in the City of Lights. Then Jerry meets and falls head over heels for a stunning French ballerina named Lise Dassin. The problem is Henri is about ready to propose to her.

An American in Paris has the perfect combination of a compelling story, beautiful dance routines, and the magic and romance of Paris and the unforgettable songs from George and Ira Gershwin.

McGee Maddox, who plays Jerry, took over the role in April, previously he was a principal with the National Ballet of Canada. He is first and foremost a dancer and that becomes quite apparent as the show progresses.  Classically trained ballerina Sara Esty is Lise. She has been the alternate for Lise at the Paris premiere and on Broadway prior to assuming the role full-time on the national tour.

Acclaimed director/choreographer and 2015 Tony Award®-winner Christopher Wheeldon received a Tony® Award nomination for Best Director and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography for this production. Christopher has danced for the Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet.

If you love dance, Gershwin music, and fabulous staging, An American in Paris is the must see show this summer.

An American in Paris, presented in cooperation with PNC Broadway Across at the Benedum Center with performances May 30th to June 11th

mermaidWould you give up your voice to live somewhere else and perhaps find love? The beautiful young mermaid Ariel longs to leave her ocean home to live in the world above. It is based on one of Hans Christian Andersen’s most beloved stories that was adapted by playwright Doug Wright. The story focuses on Ariel’s longing not for her prince, but for “a world in which she feels truly realized in her own terms” per Wright.  The music is composed by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken and includes the classics “Under the Sea,” “Kiss the Girl,” “Part of Your World” and more!

Checkout how the designers transform the Benedum to Ariel’s underwater world, no scuba gear required!

Disney’s The Little Mermaid is produced by Pittsburgh CLO and Kansas City Starlight with performances June 14 to June 25 at the Benedum Center.

heightsIn The Heights is a great opportunity to catch Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work before he created Hamilton. Miranda wrote the initial script for In The Heights in 1999 while he was in his sophomore year in college. He nurtured and morphed the show and brought it to its to its Broadway premiere in 2008.  The Director & Choreographer for the CLO’s production is Michael Balderraman. There is a nice Miranda connection as Balderraman is currently the resident Choreographer for the Chicago production of Hamilton. This is a great chance for us to see Balderrama’s interpretation of Miranda’s first revolutionary musical.

Story wise; In the Heights weaves Latin rhythms, hip-hop and pop to tell the story of a neighborhood in change and the challenges of chasing the American dream as you cling to your roots and those you love.

Summer is the perfect time to see In The Heights and imagine the hot steamy summer days in Washington Heights, a largely Latin-American neighborhood in New York City. Unforgettable songs, scorching rhythms and passionate choreography make for an exciting show.

In The Heights Performances July 07th to 16th at the Benedum Center

newsThe second Disney musical of the summer is based on the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899, Newsies is the story of Jack Kelly, a rebellious newsboy who rallies “newsies” from across NYC to strike for what’s right after publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer threatens their livelihood.

Richard J. Hinds is directing at Pittsburgh CLO for the first time. His Broadway credits include the Tony nominated Come From Away as Associate Choreographer and Disney’s Newsies as Associate Director. He will also be choreographing this production.

Newsies was the winner of the Tony® Awards for Best Score and Best Choreography. Critics rave about the energetic and pounding choreography of the Broadway production. Let’s see if Hinds and the CLO troupe are up to the challenge.

As with most Disney shows, the music is charming; one of composer Alan Menken trademarks.  James Cunningham joins Pittsburgh CLO for the first time as Music Director for this and the remainder of the season.

Disney’s NEWSIES is at the Benedum Center July 18th to 23rd

mammaFor pure fun nothing beats Mama Mia! the wildly popular juke box musical loved by millions of people around the globe.

There’s not a lot of heavy lifting here plot wise. On the eve of her wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men back to the island they last visited 20 years ago, much to the chagrin of her mother.

The musical is a fun Abba immersion including such hits as “Super Trouper”, “Dancing Queen”, “Take a Chance on Me”, “Thank You for the Music”, “Money, Money, Money”, “The Winner Takes It All”, “SOS” and the title song.

Barry Ivan returns to the CLO as the Director & Choreographer for Mama Mia. His previous CLO directing assignments include Elton John & Tim Rice’s AIDA, The Wedding Singer, Sunset Boulevard, Company, A Little Night Music, Footloose, The Full Monty, Miss Saigon, West Side Story, Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Les Misérables.

Mama Mia! is at the Benedum Center,  July 28th to August 06th

millioinOn December 4, 1956, rock ‘n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins converged on Sun Records in Memphis for a jam session that became known as Million Dollar Quartet. Thankfully, Sun’s owner, Sam Phillips, pressed the record button and rock ‘n’ roll history was made. Million Dollar Quartet takes you behind the music with 21 legendary hits that define rock ‘n’ roll, including: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Hound Dog.” The four of them never sang together again.

David Ruttura, who is currently the Associate/Resident Director of Broadway’s School of Rock directs this production. Ruttura has worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, regionally and internationally.

Million Dollar Quartet plays at the Benedum Center August 8th to 13th

Pittsburgh CLO season, three show and single tickets are on sale now and may be purchased by calling 412-281-2822 or BY visiting pittsburghCLO.org/buy-tickets 

We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #SummerwithPITR.

And don’t forget to sign up for our email blasts here. 

Split Stage Wraps a Successful Third Season, Announces an Ambitious Fourth

Split Stage Productions, co-owned by Westmoreland County’s Rob Jessup and Nate Newell just wrapped up a successful third season of three shows; Spring Awakening, Carrie and Cabaret.

Rob and Nate saw untapped potential for an innovative addition to the community theater circuit in Westmoreland County and founded Split Stage just over two years ago.

Spring Awakening brought Director Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, Choreographer Aaron Cook and Music Director Ben Bedenbaugh to The Theater Factory in Trafford; both a new creative team and a new theatre for Split Stages. Carrie was staged at the Apple Hill Playhouse, a creepy old barn just perfect for a Halloween show. The season closed with Cabaret, it was their first full musical at the newly restored Lamp Theatre in Irwin.

Rob credits the willingness of these new locations for “Welcoming Split Stages with open arms. From holding dates to opening both front doors to the community and back doors to the theater’s resources.  We couldn’t ask for better venue partners.”

I asked about the challenge of keeping your loyal audience while moving to different theaters in different towns.  “What might have caused some push back from regulars turned to a surprising upside along with new audience members welcoming an edgier than usual fare at their neighborhood theater. They became Split Stage followers from show to show.“

Split Stage’s mission is to bring to the Westmoreland County area quality, high caliber theatre with top-notch production values to an ever-expanding audience. Rob and Nate’s long-term goal is to produce works that continue and grow upon that tradition.

Toward that end, they have just had their “not for profit status” confirmed and obtained their IRS 501c3 certification yet still keeping one foot planted on the edge and the other firmly on the commercial side.

Season three carries on the tradition, but grows the season to four productions. Here is what’s on tap:

chicagoFirst up is a production of the original 1976 version of Chicago produced in association with Westmoreland event producer Kelley Simon, it plays at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg June 2nd and 3rd. Jim Mikula directs, Laura Wurzell choreographs and Eric Barchiesi is Music Director. Mandie Russak (seen in Cabaret as the MC) plays Roxie Hart and Victoria Ashley (from Spring Awakening) is Velma Kelley.

side showSide Show plays October 6th to 14th at the Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont. Rob envisions that the side show experience begins as soon as you park your car. There will be jugglers, knife throwers, and other surprises. Side Show is a musical by Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) based on the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who became famous stage performers in the 1930s. Side Show is slated to be directed by Jim Scriven.

that time of yearThat Time of Year is this year’s holiday show playing December 15th to 17th at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin. It’s not a sappy Christmas musical, but a more realistic depiction of the holiday season. Jim Scribin directs this musical revue of 25 all-original Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s songs run the musical gamut from show tunes to rock, blues and jazz

last 5 yearsThe season closes with the musical The Last Five Years. It plays at the intimate Theatre Factory stage in Trafford January 26th through February 3rd.

This is an emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers. Jamie and Cathy are both in their twenties and fall in and out of love over the course of five years. The show uses reverse storytelling; Cathy, is a struggling actress, who tells her story in reverse while Jamie, a rising novelist, reveals his story chronologically from when they first met.  The two characters play opposite of each other and are only together on stage once, at their wedding, in the middle of the timeline.

Split Stage co-owners Rob Jessup and Nate Newell present an ambitious fourth season for focused on bringing top-notch theatre to the Westmoreland County area. Season three’s selections are diverse and engaging. Consider taking in a show or two brought to you by a talented group of theatre folk.

For tickets and more information about what Split Stage Productioins has to offer, click here. 

We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #SummerwithPITR.

And don’t forget to sign up for our email blasts here. 

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Summer: 2017 Edition

Our 2017 Summer Musical Preview features a mixed bag of musicals from the interactive Clue, the zany Spamalot to three “serious” musicals exploring life’s purpose; Avenue Q, Pippin and Big Fish.

18766423_1366720196752718_7747244441950438655_oDo you like board games? Then Clue is for you! This interactive musical is based on the popular game of the same name. The plot revolves around solving the murder of Mr. Brody at a mansion that is occupied by several possible suspects.

The audience deduces the solution from clues given throughout the performance. The audience chooses from 216 possibilities incorporating the potential murderers, weapons and rooms! Only one hard-nosed female detective is qualified to unravel the merry mayhem. Even after the culprit confesses, a surprise twist awaits.

Clue: The Musical by the Summer Company. Directed by Justin Sines at the new Genesius Theater on the campus of Duquesne University. Performances run June 15th through the 25th

Tickets: $15 general admission, $10 seniors, $5 students available at the Box Office or online here.

spamalotIf Stage 62’s rollicking production of Peter and the Starcatcher is any indication of their ability to do comedy, then their take on Monty Python’s Spamalot is bound to be a hysterical funfest. Spamalot borrows from, well honestly it actually rips off, Monty Python and the Holy Grail transforming the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable into a classic Broadway musical. Of course there are showgirls, knights, cows and fabulous French people. Did I mention the killer rabbits?

Spamalot presented by Stage 62. Performances Thursday to Saturday, Jul. 20th to 22nd and 27th to 29th at 8 p.m., Sunday Matinees on July 23rd and 30th at 2 p.m.

Laugh until it hurts at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, PA

Tickets:  Adults: $20, Students/Seniors: $15 available here.

pippinThe Tony Award winning Pippin is the story of a young prince and heir to the throne, who is searching for his own “corner of the sky” as told by a traveling troupe of actors led by the cunning and charming Leading Player. After he returns from college, Pippin searches for a fulfilling purpose in life. The Leading Player encourages Pippin to experiment: dabble in bloody battles, go for licentious and lusty sexual entanglements, and try out savvy political maneuvers. Despite his adventures, Pippin discovers that finding one’s life significance is really way more complicated than he thought. There are as many interpretations as to the shows meaning, as there are productions. Watch and see if you can figure it out.

Carnegie Mellon alumni Stephen Schwartz wrote the now classic show tunes originally while at CMU as a student production. Rumor has it not one word or note from the original CMU production made it to the Broadway version!

Pippin is in residence the Theatre Factory in Trafford, PA with performances July 7th through 23rd at 8 p.m. and Sunday the 17th and 23rd at 2 p.m.

Tickets: Adults $18, Seniors & Students $16, visit www.theatrefactory.com or call 412-374-9200

ave qImagine if Sesame Street was for adults. This is the premise of Avenue Q, a place where puppets are friends, Monsters are good and life lessons are learned. Avenue Q is the winner of three Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score. The show tells the story of Princeton, a lad just out of college who moves to a sketchy apartment way out on Avenue Q.

Instead of “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1” and “One of These Things is Not Like the Other”, Avenue Q serves up “We’re all a Little Bit Racist”, “The Internet is for Porn”, “It Sucks to be Me”, and I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today”. Princeton and his newfound Avenue Q friends, all who grew up as unique people; searching for jobs, dates and their ever-elusive purpose in life.

The Alumni Theater Company is comprised of all Black performers.  Like most musicals, Avenue Q was not written by or for Black people. According to Alumni Founding Director Hallie Donner  “The cast and creative team are working together to bring meaning and relevance to this performance from the perspective of young Black Americans.”

Donner says “Avenue Q is about twenty-something’s finding purpose in life. That couldn’t be more relevant to us. Yet the show’s casual attitude of “just relax” and let life happen to you and it will all work out is very much a viewpoint created through the lens of white privilege.  We look forward to challenging audiences with our take on this theme.”

The Alumni Theatre Company’ production of Avenue Q is located at the New Hazlett Theatre in the North Side with performances on July 28th, 29th, and 30th. For tickets visit https://www.artful.ly/store/events/11504  

big fishFront Porch Theatricals is excited to put Big Fish in the directing hands of Pittsburgh native Spencer Whale, a vibrant young storyteller and Cornell University graduate.

Big Fish is a magnificent whopper of a tale that centers on Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman who lives life to its fullest… and then some! Edward tells incredible, larger-than-life stories that thrill everyone around him. His adult son, Will, is no longer amused by his father’s fantastical tales and insists on a rational rather than an exaggerated account of his father’s life. When Edward’s health declines and Will learns that he and his wife, Josephine, will have a son of their own, Will decides to find out his father’s “true” life story, once and for all.

Big Fish is a heartfelt, powerful, and truly magical musical about fathers, sons, and the stories that we use to define our identities.  Big Fish is a show that’s richer, funnier and BIGGER than life itself.

This will be Whales’s return to musical theatre in Pittsburgh after he won a Gene Kelly Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role when he was a student at North Hills High School before he attended Cornell University. Billy Hartung plays Edward Bloom and Kristiann Menotiades is his wife Sandra.

Big Fish by Front Porch Theatricals at the new Hazlett Theatre on the North Side. Performances run August 18th to 27th. Tickets: Adults: $30 online; $35 at the door; Students, Groups and Artists; $24 and are on sale now on ShowClix! https://www.showclix.com/event/big-fish

It looks like we are in for an interesting Summer Musical season again this year! Enjoy.

We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #SummerwithPITR.

And don’t forget to sign up for our email blasts here. 

Anything Goes

anything goesAre you are looking for a lighthearted break from reality with quirky characters, great songs, and dance routines? The classic Cole Porter musical comedy Anything Goes is Delightful, Delicious, and De-Lovely.

There are several versions of Anything Goes available to theater companies, with each offering a slightly different song list, running order and book (script) variations.

This McKeesport Little Theater production uses the 1962 version, there is also a 1987 version and a 2011 Roundabout Theatre version as well, so don’t think you’re crazy if this is a bit different than you may remember.

Unlike many musicals of its day, Anything Goes has a strong plot line full of twists and turns as you wonder who gets the girl and who gets the boy.  The later the version, the more fully developed the story line is. The musical is set on the S.S. American a cruise ship that is sailing between New York and England.  The voyage is packed with a comically colorful assemblage of passengers: Reno Sweeney, a popular nightclub singer and former evangelist, her pal Billy Crocker, a lovelorn Wall Street broker who has come aboard to try to win the favor of his beloved Hope Harcourt (who is engaged to another passenger, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh), and a second-rate con man named Moonface Martin, aka “Public Enemy #13.” Song, dance, and farcical antics ensue as Reno and Moonface try to help Billy win the love of his life.

Anything Goes offers a fascinating stylized glimpse at American life in the 1930’s. It’s Broadway debut in 1934 was a year after prohibition ended and roughly at the mid-point of the Great Depression. Roosevelt was just elected president in 1933 and the mood of the country has shifted towards cautious optimism.  Attitudes regarding women, class structure and foreigners have slowly begun to change. Although you might be surprised to see how little has changed between then and now.  Odd as it may sound, this retrospective is more predominant in the latter Roundabout version than the earlier ones, but this is still worth observing.

What community theater lacks in resources and experience, it often makes up for in enthusiasm. This production is no exception.

Most of the scenes take place on deck, the main highway for characters coming and going. Director Dorothy Fallows scenic design makes use of two winglets on either side of the main deck that serve as staterooms and the brig. Getting the large cast on and off the deck often seems a bit contrived as secondary characters appear as needed for big musical numbers.

The leads come to the production with various levels of experience and talent. It was interesting to see the diversity of age of the actors that embodies the true spirit of community theatre.

Riley Tate is a lovely woman and carries off the somewhat older than she Reno Sweeney quite well. She has played Reno before and it shows. While this production’s musical numbers choreography is not as lush as might be expected, Tate dances with joy and grace. She shows great promise vocally. Ron Clawson’s Billy Crocker doesn’t have the good looks of Ryan Gosling;  but he has a good voice and pleasant delivery. Tim Tolbert’s portrayal of Moonface Martin was fully realized with entertaining expressions and gestures and a good voice. Sam Minnick’s Sir Evelyn Oakley has just the right restrained British character, flummoxed often by American sayings and culture. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Reno and Evelyn just isn’t there. Emily-Ann Stephens’ Hope Harcourt never quite explains why Evelyn and why not Billy. Julia Lodge is a triple threat as the ditzy sexpot Bonnie.

Anything Goes features some of Cole Porter’s and musical theater’s most memorable standards, including “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “It’s Delovely”, “Friendship”, “You’re the Top,” and of course, the title song.

According to Linda Baker, President of MLT “This is one of the classic musicals that unfortunately not enough millennials have had the opportunity to experience.” So disconnect and go see it.

Anything Goes continues it’s run at the McKeesport Little Theatre May 19th to 21st. Tickets available at http://mckeesportlittletheater.com

Thanks to MLT for the complimentary tickets to a Broadway classic.

Peter and the Starcatcher

peterstarcatcher300x300You are correct, there has been a “boatload’ of Peter and the Starcatcher productions this summer, three in fact.  I must confess I did not see Little Lake or the University of Pittsburgh’s productions.

I did see the Broadway national tour in 2014 and the Shaw Festivals production in 2015, both left me with the feeling of “meh”.

This review of Stage 62’s charmingly clever production of Peter and the Starcatcher was for me a voyage of re-discovery.  It was as if I had never really “seen” the show before.

Starcatcher is a comedy with some music, but not a musical. There are the requisite dancing girls, in this case mermaids, played pretty much mostly by boys. The opening number to the second act is hilarious.

Without getting too much into the plot here (You can read about that in Nicole Tafe’s review of the Little Lake production in the PITR archives here) Starcatcher is the prequel to J.M. Barrie’s 1904 novel Peter Pan, about the boy who never grew up.

The story: Lord Aster (J.P. Welsh) has been assigned by the Queen of England to insure safe transport of a treasure chest full of “starstuff” known to give anyone who possesses it the ability to realize his or her dreams.  Aster devises a plan to ship two identical chests on two different ships by two different routes to insure safe delivery. He dispatches his daughter Molly (Casey Duffy), a Starcatcher-in-training, on the ship Never Land and he takes the trunk with the real starstuff on the Wasp. Unbeknownst to Lord Aster and Molly, the trunks are switched by pirates before the ships set sail and Never Land holds the goods.

The Never Land’s crew is actually pirates, led by Black Stache (Brett Goodnack) and in addition to the trunk with the real starstuff. The Pirates also have three orphan boys held prisoner in the bilge of the Never Land.  And so we set sail…..

The thing that makes this production so special is the group of actors, all of them are Pittsburgher’s or graduates from our universities’ theatre programs. A few are in the early stages of their acting careers; many are very experienced having played many roles in multiple companies. What makes it work so perfectly is Spencer Whale’s creative vision and direction. The actor’s comedic timing, gestures and expressions seamlessly integrate together creating an ensemble that is a joy to watch as they are having such fun performing together.

L-R Brett Goodnack, Nate Willey
L-R Brett Goodnack, Nate Willey

Pittsburgh’s brilliant comedic actor Brett Goodnack as the silly and sinister Black Stache leads the ensemble. His stage presence keeps your eyes riveted to him and a smile on your face.

Other standouts in the uniformly strong cast include Point Park graduate Nate Willey as the Boy who becomes Peter Pan. Cody Sweet’s portrayal of Molly’s nanny, Mrs. Brumbrake, captures the sweet caring woman with a beard and a twist who can raise a pirate’s flagpole. J.P. Walsh’s portrayal of Lord Aster conjures up the classic proper British explorer and caring father. Casey Duff’s Molly is an ageless girl full of hopes and dreams, eager to prove her worth and trustworthiness. The entire cast has double if not triple duty. The orphans, Prentiss and Ted, played by Jake Smith and Charles Buescher Rowell keep their characters in perfect sync as they switch back and forth.

Nate Willey and Cast
Nate Willey and Cast

Director Whale called on old friends and colleagues Nathan Mattingly and Ellen Pyne for the set design, reminiscent of ship sails and outfitted with a hoarder’s treasure trove of props, flotsam, and jetsam.  Costume Design also by Pyne is spot on. Where a dozen actors with strong physical characteristics play a hundred roles, the costuming helps us identify their character of the moment. Black Stash’s look reinforces his silly yet frightful pirate nature and Molly’s enhances her character as a young girl just transitioning to a strong young woman.

In the pit, percussionists Tony Tresky and Brendan Higgins work subtly; their background rhythms perfectly match the action without overpowering the actors.

L-R Nate Willey, Casey Duffy
L-R Nate Willey, Casey Duffy

As we were leaving the theatre, reflecting that this was one of the best shows we saw this season, I wondered how three companies had come to choose the same play to present this spring. Perhaps in troubling times, sitting together in a dark room watching silliness and wishing you never grew up is good therapy for us all.

If you haven’t seen Starcatcher yet, this production is the one to see. If you have seen Starcatcher before, by all means this production is worth a visit. Come prepared to smile till your jaw hurts, laugh till your head hurts and be sure listen carefully so you don’t miss any of the great lines.

Stage 62 presents Peter and the Starcatcher at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie, PA 15106

 Performances Thursday through Saturday, May 11-13 and 18-20 at 8 pm, Sun. Matinees May 14 and 21 at 2 pm Tickets: Adults: $20, Students/Seniors: $15. Click here for more information. 

Our special thanks to Stage 62 for the complimentary tickets.