Music that Matters – A Gathering of Sons, Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s World Premiere

gathering of sonsPittsburgh Festival Opera’s 40th season will launch with an extraordinary opener as the company presents the world premiere of its commissioned jazz opera A Gathering of Sons.

The world premiere is a new social justice opera composed by Dwayne Fulton and includes influences of jazz, gospel, and modern-classical music, that bring to life a libretto by Tameka Cage Conley.  The opera has been further developed through a series of workshops that have taken place throughout the Pittsburgh area, in addition to highlighting performances from the opera and panel discussions.  It will be the 28th world premiere by Pittsburgh Festival opera, and the second commissioned work in the company’s “Music that Matters” series that promotes new operas focusing on contemporary issues.

A Gathering of Sons will take audiences on a mystical journey through the connected lives of Victor, Lockdown—a police officer, and a pair of Black parents.  A collection of spirits who watch over the world express the loss and gains of the community and “The Sky That Can’t Stop Seeing” confronts Lockdown shooting an unarmed citizen. The true power that his victim Victor possesses reveals the possibilities of hope and redemption.

Terriq White, as Victor, a young man
Terriq White, as Victor, a young man

“I chose this subject because I felt it was timely and important,” says Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Artistic and General Director Jonathan Eaton, who hopes this world premiere will cast a new light on some societal tensions in addition to ushering in some hope and a prospect of healing.  “Racial injustice in our country is a discussion that needs to be had–so why not have it in the opera house, too? Opera needs to respond to the world around us.”

Eaton took strides to ensure that A Gathering of Sons would be especially important to audiences in Pittsburgh.  While first considering the engagement of an international composer from Chicago to write the world premiere, Eaton decided that a Pittsburgh team was more necessary to making the extraordinary work matter to the Pittsburgh community. This led him to enlist Dwayne Fulton, Minister of Music at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church—a composer and director that Eaton has worked with before—and local author Dr. Tameka Cage Conley to take on the special project.

Robert Gerold as Lockdown, a police officer
Robert Gerold as Lockdown, a police officer

A Gathering of Sons promises to be unique in many ways, including musically.  The premiere of the production is orchestrated for alto saxophone, four solo strings, piano, keyboard, and drums.  “I think that A Gathering of Sons is going to sound like different things to different people,” says Music Director Robert Frankenberry. “Because we’re consciously looking to present a piece at the intersection of several cultural performative traditions, people are naturally going to put labels on the elements of the piece—and I think that’s OK.  It’s a true hybrid of musical styles, but it really just sounds like Dwayne Fulton to me—a fantastic musician who truly loves music—and it will be interesting to see what descriptive language audiences will attach to his music.”  Composer Fulton will conduct the world premiere.

Sung in English, the production will feature 15 cast members and a chorus of 12.  Pittsburgh Festival Opera chose a combination of regional artists that were cast by audition in addition to some professionals who have worked with Eaton and the company previously.  Members of the Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Young Professional Artists company will also be featured.

A Gathering of Sons Creative Team: (L to R) Director Mark Clayton Southers, Composer Dwayne Fulton, and Librettist Dr. Tameka Cage Conley
A Gathering of Sons Creative Team: (L to R) Director Mark Clayton Southers, Composer Dwayne Fulton, and Librettist Dr. Tameka Cage Conley

The opera’s setting is raw and unique as well and is under the stage direction of Mark Clayton Southers, founder of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company.  “The work is set in an urban world, but it quickly trespasses into a metaphysical world of spirits and ghosts,” says Eaton.  “Projection will help to make this transition, but otherwise, the only very special effects in this production are the singing, music, and drama—all of which will speak to one’s heart.”

A Gathering of Sons will tour three Pittsburgh partner venues including Mt. Ararat Baptist Church on Thursday, June 15 and Friday, June 16; Rodef Shalom Temple on Saturday, June 24; and Elise H. Hillman Auditorium, Kaufmann Center of Hill House on June 28 and 29.  The opera will take the Falk Auditorium stage on Friday, July 1 and Friday, July 8 as part of Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mainstage program.  A short talkback with guest panelists will follow each Festival Mainstage performance.  Following the opening night performance on July 1, members of the creative team including Conley, Fulton, Clayton Southers and more, will speak from the stage about the creative journey that led to the world premiere.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit or call the Box Office at 412.326.9687.

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Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher“We ask you now to imagine a grown cat in flight.”  This line—as a glowing scarf floated through the air while cast members created the sounds of a cat gurgling and cooing—was just one of many that had Friday night’s audience for Little Lake’s Peter and the Starcatcher howling with laughter.

Brilliantly opening Little Lake’s 69th season, Peter and the Starcatcher
provides a backstory to the century-old tale of how an unhappy orphan becomes Peter Pan- “The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up.”  The Tony-Award-winning show is a theatrical adaption of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s best-selling novel, and the play was made for the stage by directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, written by Rick Elice, and includes music by Wayne Barker.

The show takes audiences on an adventure on the high seas and to the faraway Mollusk Island. It opens with the mix-up of two trunks— deliberately similar to each other in their…trunkness—each aboard one of two ships, the Wasp and the Never Land.  A young, nameless orphan and his mates, aboard the Never Land, are being shipped off from Victorian England to a distant island ruled by the evil King Zarboff. They know nothing of the mysterious trunk on board, but upon their meeting of a bright, young girl named Molly—a starcatcher in training—they learn that the trunk contains a precious, otherworldly cargo called starstuff—a celestial substance so powerful that it must never fall into the wrong hands.

op row: Andy Coleman, Bill Lyon, Carly DeCock, Art DeConciliis Middle row: Jeff Johnston, Eric Mathews, Tom Protulipac, Nick Staso Bottom row: John Herrmann
Top row: Andy Coleman, Bill Lyon, Carly DeCock, Art DeConciliis Middle row: Jeff Johnston, Eric Mathews, Tom Protulipac, Nick Staso Bottom row: John Herrmann

Meanwhile aboard the Wasp, Lord Aster—Molly’s father—is unaware of the mix-up and encounters the fearsome pirate Black Stache, his sidekick Smee, and a pirate crew as they learn that the wrong trunk is aboard the ship they have pirated.  The enchanting villain Black Stache is determined to claim the trunk and its treasure for his own, and they quickly change course to take over the Never Land and find the precious trunk filled with starstuff.

While on the Never Land, both the orphan boy—who is soon given the name Peter—and Molly become close as they take on the Wasp’s Slank and other various villains while trying to keep the starstuff out of the wrong hands. The Never Land eventually shipwrecks, Molly saves Peter from death, and together they fly to an unknown island.

The shipwreck leads them to a mysterious island—Mollusk Island—and Molly is kidnapped by Slank. Peter saves her from him, along with the help of Prentiss and Ted.  The story ends with Molly and Peter saying goodbye to each other, and with Peter promising to visit her in England. Molly and her father return to the real world, while Peter and the Lost Boys remain on Mollusk Island, which they rename Neverland, the name of the ship that was shipwrecked.

(clockwise from top) Nick Staso as Prentiss, Carly DeCock as Molly, James Curry as Peter and Max Andrae as Teddy
(clockwise from top) Nick Staso as Prentiss, Carly DeCock as Molly, James Curry as Peter and Max Andrae as Teddy

The show, featuring just a dozen actors who portray more than 100 unforgettable characters, is a thrilling adventure that keeps audiences on their toes from start to finish.  Little Lake’s production was directed and choreographed by Jena Oberg, and musical direction was provided by Holly Jones.

Overall, the show’s set was modest but made creative use of simple materials like ropes and wooden boards to simulate different settings including various parts of a ship, and blue aerial silks and ladders to simulate underwater scenes.

The cast was nothing short of stellar as they portrayed their larger than life characters.  Smee, played by Andy Coleman, stole the show as his expression, delivery and naturally humorous disposition had the audience in stiches from his very first line.  Black Stache, played by Bill Lyon, was also an audience favorite as he eccentrically delivered his cleverly written lines while incorporating today’s culture and entertaining sayings into the script—so much so, that it was at times hard for his castmates to stay in character and keep a straight face.  Another notable comedic performance was given by Slank, played by Tom Protulipac, who also embodied the pouty Hawking Clam on Mollusk Island.

James Curry, in his portrayal of Boy (Peter), delivered a strong dramatic performance with charming good looks and an expressive face.  There was an instant spark and connection when he locked eyes with Molly, played by Carly DeCock, for the first time.  It was this connection that had audiences in tears, amid their laughter, at the end of the show.  DeCock’s acting fit the character perfectly and was top notch for a young woman of her age, though—as this was a musical, even though there was a great deal more dialogue than music in the show—her singing voice was not quite as strong, and was often engulfed and lost amid the booming bass voices of the nearly all male cast.  A particularly stand-out vocal was provided by John Herrmann, who portrayed Aft with a cutting tenor instrument that could be heard loud and clear from any corner of the room.

(left to right) Andy Coleman as Smee and Bill Lyon as Black Stache
(left to right) Andy Coleman as Smee and Bill Lyon as Black Stache

Though the entire evening provided the audience with captivating entertainment, it is without a doubt that the audience’s favorite scene was the opening of act two, when—in vaudevillian song—nearly the entire cast portrayed a group of underwater mermaids that recall their experience of being transformed from regular fish after swimming in the wake of the starstuff.  The audience was so overcome with howling laughter that, at one point, it became difficult to hear the mermaids’ song!

The cast and crew received a standing ovation from a nearly sold-out house for their spectacular performances, and it was obvious that audiences enjoyed an imaginative evening filled with laughter and tears.  This captivating performance will be on the Little Lake stage on weekends through May 13- so don’t miss your chance to see this highly-recommended show!

Special thanks to Little Lake Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Peter and the Starcatcher runs through May 13, for tickets and more information click here. 

Photos courtesy of James Orr.

Little Lake Prepares for a Paramount 69th Season!

little-lake-logoIn this year’s 69th season, Little Lake Theatre Company is ready to delight audiences with incredible local talent. Since its founding in the spring of 1949 by Edith Disney and her son Will, Little Lake has been a theatrical gem to the many communities that surround Pittsburgh.  Once just an old barn on the side of a lake in Washington County, Little Lake transformed into the area’s first theatre-in-the-round, and has since featured more than 1,700 local actors and 1,200 productions on the local stage.

From exploring the days before Peter Pan and his lost boys captured the hearts of many to asking the audience a popular board game’s question of “Who did it?”- this season of musicals, comedies, dramas, children’s theater and more will not disappoint.

For more information about Little Lake’s 69th season and the shows listed below, visit

PETER AND THE STARCATCHERPeter and the Starcatcher

April 27 through 29 at 8 p.m.

April 30 at 2 p.m.

May 4 through 6 at 8 p.m.

May 7 at 2 p.m.

May 11 through 13 at 8 p.m.

In Peter and the Starcatcher, audiences will embark on the adventure of a lifetime.  The play is based on the 2006 novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and was adapted for the stage by Rick Elice.  The prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter and Wendy, this play will delight audiences by providing a backstory to the beloved character of Peter Pan.

“Little Lake is thrilled to be doing Peter and the Starcatcher as our 69th season opener,” says Jena Oberg, Artistic Director at Little Lake and the show’s director.  Musical direction will be provided by Holly Jones. “We selected Peter and the Starcatcher for its humor, creativity, emphasis on storytelling, and its message that anyone can be a hero.”

This show, perfect for all ages, is sure to provide a great night out for the whole family.  The cast will transform themselves and the space to create a thrilling adventure.  Everyday items will become pirate ships, crocodiles, tropical jungles, and more, and Little Lake provides the perfect playground as the theater-in-the-round setting allows audiences to feel as if they are a part of the worlds that are being created around them.  Aerial silks, ladders, ropes, shadows, lighting, and many more special effects are sure to dazzle anyone taking part in this adventure.


May 18 through 20 at 8 p.m.

May 25 through 27 at 8 p.m.

May 28 at 2 p.m.

June 1 through 3 at 8 p.m.

The Philadelpha Story is a beloved classic that is a favorite among Little Lake audiences and has been performed and well-received several times at the local theater.  The 1939 American comic play by Philip Barry tells the story of Tracy Lord, Philadelphia’s most eligible socialite, as she finds herself facing complications prior to her wedding in being attracted to multiple men- to the dismay of her fiancé.

Directed by Lora Oxenreiter, this play is perfect for ages 10 and up and will leave audiences asking, “who will Tracy choose?” in this sparkling comedy.


June 8 through 10 at 8 p.m.

June 15 through 17 at 8 p.m.

June 18 at 2 p.m.

June 22 through 24 at 8 p.m.

In a more mature setting, David Auburn’s play Proof will come to life on the Little Lake stage in June.  Best for ages 15 and up, as the show contains adult language, this play tells the story of Catherine, the daughter of Robert who is a recently deceased mathematical genius in his 50s and a professor at the University of Chicago, as she struggles with mathematical genius and mental illness.  When game changing proof is discovered, Catherine must face the biggest problem of all: how much of her father’s genius-or madness- has she inherited?

The play will be directed by Art DeConciliis and was selected because “it is an incredibly well-written view of genius,” says Oberg.  “In this 2001 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, the characters and relationships are beautifully complex.”

RAPUNZEL (A World Premiere)

June 14 through July 1 – Wednesdays at 11 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

When a bit of fairy tale magic backfires, Rapunzel tumbles into an adventure that includes a preposterous Count, an impossibly tall tower and discovery of extraordinary courage in this world premiere production.

This brand-new adaption of the popular fairy tale was written by Little Lake’s former artistic director, Sunny Disney Fitchett, who is now a children’s theater playwright in the state of California.  “Little Lake is beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to produce the world premiere of this play,” says Oberg.  “It is a fun, new twist on the classic story, where Rapunzel uses her smarts and courage to save herself from the tower.”

The show will be directed by Mary Meyer and is part of Little Lake’s Summer Looking Glass Theatre season for Young Audiences.  Anyone ages 3 and up will be sure to fall in love with this version of the timeless tale.


June 29 through July 1 at 8 p.m.

July 6 through 8 at 8 p.m.

July 9 at 2 p.m.

July 13 through 15 at 8 p.m.


This hilarious farce of mistaken identity tells the story of the bumbling, but charming character Francis as he finds himself simultaneously employed by two bosses.  This play by Richard Bean is an English adaption of Il servitor di due padroni– a 1743 commedia dell’arte style play by Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni- and featured the popular late night host James Corden during its Broadway run.

Under the direction of TJ Fineno, this show is best for audience members ages 15 and up.  Fineno will be returning to Little Lake for a month’s time from Texas to direct this crazy comedy.  “TJ is particularly skilled in farce, and so this play was a perfect fit for him,” says Oberg.  “Also, audiences at Little Lake love farces- and this one will feature live music and high energy fun!”


July 5 through 22- Wednesdays at 11 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is an imaginative and creative adaption of the Roald Dahl classic.  Audiences follow Mr. Fox as he cleverly outwits three smelly, horrid farmers to save his family and friends in this “Dahl”icious play.

The show will be directed by John Michnya and plans to feature puppets in addition to scenic elements based on the original illustrations and elaborate costuming that will create the world of Dahl’s story.  Part of Little Lake’s Summer Looking Glass Theater season for Young Audiences, this show is perfect for ages 3 and up, and will feature the talent of young actors from the surrounding area.


July 20 through 22 at 8 p.m.

July 27 through 29 at 8 p.m.

July 30 at 2 p.m.

August 3 through 5 at 8 p.m.

On a hilarious journey of self-discovery, Cass teams up with some unlikely sidekicks in what become a wild ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel full of laughs in the play Wonder of the World.  This play, written by American playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, premiered at the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in 2000 and then ran Off-Broadway in 2001.

Little Lake’s production will be directed by Jena Oberg and is best suited for ages 15 and up, as the show contains adult language.  “This play has always been one of my favorites,” says Oberg.  “It is hilariously funny and absurdly uplifting.  I really think our audiences are doing to love this one and leave the theater feeling just a little bit more optimistic about the future.”


July 26 through August 12- Wednesdays at 11 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Let’s get ready to rock! Based on the popular, award-winning 1970s cartoons, Schoolhouse Rock Live!, Jr. is a fast past musical that teaches lessons with clever, catchy tunes and is a one-hour version of the full musical. Follow new teacher Tom as he learns how to win over his students with imagination and music.

The show will be directed by James Critchfield, with musical direction by Holly Jones.  The musical is part of Little Lake’s Summer Looking Glass Theatre season for Young Audiences- perfect for ages 3 and up- and is full of songs that many adults may remember from their childhood.

“We think it’s a perfect back-to-school treat for our young audiences, as cast members sing and dance to musical numbers about basic math, language, and history concepts,” says Oberg.  The cast for this show will all be under the age of 18, showcasing the amazing talent of the young actors that grace the Little Lake stage.


August 10 through 12 at 8 p.m.

August 17 through 19 at 8 p.m.

August 20 at 2 p.m.

August 24 through 26 at 8 p.m.

Glimpse into the secret weekly audiences between Queen Elizabeth II and her twelve Prime Ministers during some of England’s most defining moments in Little Lake’s production of The Audience.

Directed by Ponny Conomos Jahn, this show is best for ages 13 and up and is a fascinating look at the modern monarchy and relationship between the Queen and her Prime Ministers.  The play, written by British playwright and screenwriter Peter Morgan, opened on Broadway in 2015 and featured Dame Helen Mirren.

Audiences will have the opportunity to be a fly on the wall for conversations regarding some of the major events in history.  Fans of the popular television show “The Crown” are especially sure to love this production, as its plot feeds into the current fascination with the Royal Family.


(An Area Premiere)

August 31 through September 2 at 8 p.m.

September 7 through 9 at 8 p.m.

September 10 at 2 p.m.

September 14 through 16 at 8 p.m.

As a wiz-kid author and theatre producer endeavor to write the next comic masterpiece, the line between comedy and drama is found to be much narrower- and sillier- than you’d think!

This newly published play by Robert Caisley will be a regional premiere at Little Lake and was suggested to the artistic staff by a patron who saw a production of the show at a theater in the state of California.  “Once we read it, we know it was perfect for Little Lake,” says Oberg.  As an added bonus, communication with the playwright will last throughout the production- giving Little Lake a true view into the artist’s creative mind and desires for his piece.  “It’s truly exciting to have Robert Caisley on board as a resource when working on his very show,” says Oberg.

A Masterpiece of Comic…Timing will be directed by James Critchfield and is perfect for ages 15 and up.



September 21 through 23 at 8 p.m.

September 28 through 30 at 8 p.m.

October 5 through 7 at 8 p.m.


A deeply moving and funny play, Middletown explores the universe of a small American town.  As a friendship develops between longtime resident John Dodge and new arrival to the town Mary Swanson, the lives of the residents of Middletown intersect in a journey that takes them from the local library to outer space and all points between.

The Off-Brodway play written by Will Eno has been hailed as “a testament to the power of words and wordplay” by the Chicago Sun Times.  “The worlds Eno creates are shaped by the cadence, timing and positioning of words to tell stories about the everyday.  In his absurdist, abstract drama, Eno offers up an old-fashioned version of small-town life that is familiar, but with a title to the surreal.”

Little Lake’s production will be directed by Ponny Conomos Jahn and is best for ages 13 and up.  “This play is really an artistic piece,” says Oberg.  “It is poetic in the way it is written and is really a cross-section of the complexities, joys, and mysteries of modern life.”


September 30 at 2 p.m. October 1, 7, 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28 at 2 p.m.

First-grade couldn’t be more exciting with a new pair of glasses, a kickball tournament, a “top-secret personal beeswax journal,” and much more!  Best for ages 5 and up and part of Little Lake’s Fall Family Matinee series, June B. Jones, The Musical is based on one of the best loved book series of all time.

“We are delighted to be bringing this fun and energetic musical to our stage,” says Oberg.  “It celebrated being unique and discovering the things that makes each kid special.”

This show will be directed by Sara Barbisch, with musical direction by Holly Jones.


October 12 through 14 at 8 p.m.

October 19 through 21 at 8 p.m.

October 26 through 28 at 8 p.m.

The question is… “Who did it?”  Clue- the popular board game- will spring to life in this uproariously funny and interactive musical.  Each night, the audience will actually play the game and the show will change based on the different cards drawn by the night’s participants.  The actors that will bring this show to life will learn 120 possible variations of the script to provide a completely unique experience each show.  The show features all of the timeless board game characters, and the Little Lake stage will be painted to look like the game board, as poster-sized game cards are created.

With a book by Peter DePietro, music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker and Vinnie Martucci, and lyrics by Tom Chiodo, this show originally opened Off-Broadway at the Players Theater on December 3, 1997.

Little Lake’s production will be directed by Art DeConciliis, with musical direction by Laura Daniels and is ideal for ages 15 and up.


November 2 through 4 at 8 p.m.

November 9 through 11 at 8 p.m.

November 16 through 18 at 8 p.m.



Salem, Massachusetts is ablaze with accusations of witchcraft in this exciting drama, still astoundingly relevant today.  A 1953 play by American playwright Arthur Miller, The Crucible is a dramatized and partially fictionalized story of the Salem witch trials that took place in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Harshly reviewed at the time of its premiere due to its controversial nature, the play won the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play, and a year later a new production paved the way for the classic that is regarded as a central work in the canon of American drama today.

The Crucible will be directed by Jena Oberg, is appropriate for ages 13 and up, and will feature two performances for school groups during its run at Little Lake.  “The Crucible seemed like a timely parable for the struggles contemporary society is facing,” says Oberg.  “Our production will use percussion and dancing to create the mood and play transitions as performed by the actors playing Tituba and other girls.”


November 24 and 25 at 8 p.m. December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16 and 17 at 2 p.m.

This feel-good, family musical is inspired by one of the most famous newspaper editorials of all time: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

With music by Wesley Whatley, lyrics by William Schermerhorn, and a book adapted by William Schermerhorn from the animated special and storybook by Chris Plehal, Yes Virginia! perfectly captures the holiday spirit and is a great show for the whole family to attend right before the bustling, beautiful Christmas season begins.

The show will be directed by Rick Campbell, with musical direction by Holly Jones.  Little Lake will also provide a letter writing station at each performance, giving young ones the opportunity to write their own letters and mail them out to Santa Claus before the big day.


November 30 through December 2 at 8 p.m.

December 7 through 9 at 8 p.m.

December 14 through 16 at 8 p.m.

Celebrate Christmas with the good folks of Tuna, Texas in this hootin’, hollerin’, laugh-out-loud, smash hit comedy.  Wrapping up Little Lake’s 69th season, this show will be a restaged version of Sunny Disney Fitchett’s and Art DeConciliis’ previously performed production.

The show will feature Kevin Bass and Art DeConciliis, as they play all the characters of Tuna, Texas!  “This is the most requested play at Little Lake of all time!” exclaims Oberg.  “We are delighted to be bringing it back again this season.  It has become a favorite holiday tradition.”

Other Season Offerings:


In addition to a jam-packed season of theatrical fun, Little Lake will offer seven weeks of summer camps for kids this year including an Improv Camp, Be A Star Camp, Acting Camp (two sessions), Behind the Scenes Camp, Musical Theater Camp (two sessions), and Teen Camp.  These great offerings will help kids hone their skills and take their acting to the next level.  For more information or to sign up, visit


Adults can have some extra fun, too!  Two new classes, Improv for Adults and I Can Do That Too!, will be offered in the evenings for adults, ages 18 and up.  Laugh, play, build your skills, and take your acting to the next level. For more information or to enroll, visit