Midnight Radio A Christmas Story

MDRchristmasStoryFINAL3-890x420Bricolage Production Company created a brilliant episode in their Midnight Radio series when they opened the audiovisual masterpiece A Christmas Story on December 7th. Based on the cult classic film, that practically runs 24/7 on TNT/TBS during December, the plot was adapted for stage by Philip Grecian and directed by Jeffrey Carpenter, the Bricolage Artistic Director. The show follows Ralphie Parker as he embarks on a multi-phased plan to ensure his receipt of a legendary official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass and a thing that tells time built right into the stock. Layered with humor and fundamental truths about what it means to be human, the Bricolage storytellers brought A Christmas Story to life right before my very eyes.

Bricolage is nestled downtown in a refurbished building as Pittsburgh-y as they come. Original octagonal tile floors greet you when you enter the cozy lobby and the vaulted ceiling and architectural details were decked out in their holiday best as the space had been transformed into a holiday party with each audience member as a welcome guest. A complimentary “Happy Half-Hour” warmed bellies and spirits as guests interacted with holiday-themed activities (I couldn’t pass up the giant present selfie station!) pulled from threads woven through the show we were all about to enjoy.

The playing space itself is a black box, and upon settling into my comfortable (a wonderful traditional maroon) seat, my eyes feasted upon the organized clutter and chaos that was the stage. Each element had been carefully placed to evoke that 1940’s living room decked out in all its Christmas tree and poinsettia glory while also being a fully-functional Foley studio. Arm chairs and side tables and plush rugs, oh my! Evoking the experience of a live radio show audience, electric signs indicated when the show was “on air” and cued the audience to applause. The idea of a vintage radio show married perfectly with the time period of the show itself, and so the action unfolded seamlessly right from the first chord of the opening jingle.

Each performer had their own station that was constructed to look like classic speaking podiums, with stylized microphones and Foley materials, but the scenes were anything but static. Performers moved from station to station as the story played out, and the unique set-up of the stage meant that the facial expression and vocal acuity of the performers rightly took the spotlight. Toeing that fine line between over performing and passive performing can be difficult, and the actors did the tango on it. Just a fraction more commitment and a purposefully over the top show would have been hokey, just a hair less acting and the show’s jokes would have fallen flat.

Every character that the performers played was so distinct in intonation and expression that it didn’t matter that there weren’t any costume changes – from the parents to teachers to the school kids they were all fully believable, compelling, and down right hilarious. The level of commitment the performers showed to their craft was extraordinary, and it was not unusual for faces to turn red from the intensity of interacting in a particular scene.

Accompanied by a Music Director who performed each sound cue with laser-like precision and an occasionally bored-looking Cello Fury (the cellists were placed right with the rest of the performers on stage, and every apathetic face or expression was highly visible to the audience. As well as every impatient finger tapping, oh so rapping, on the fingerboard), the musical numbers were a creative and clever delight, oftentimes adapting well-known songs with a tongue in the check twist. But beyond being merely clever, all of the vocal pieces were performed effortlessly even in the face of audience laughter not a few feet from the performers.

Experiencing a live show filled with talented Foley artists added another element that made the audience feel like they were right there in the middle of the action. It was absolutely believable that doors slammed, dogs barked, tongues were ripped off of lamp-posts, and a furnace just wouldn’t behave. The live sound effects added to the novelty of the radio show setting, and simultaneously added an authenticity rarely found in canned sound.

While a central theme of the show was Ralphie’s desire for a material object, the audience got swept along with him as he develops new-found bravery when confronting a bully and begins to build a friendship with his mother that goes past the simple parent-child relationship. Surprisingly poignant for a show so wonderfully comedic, the whole world seemed to slow down as Ralphie learned the importance of family above everything else, and the show was brought to a close.

As a whole, A Christmas Story was replete with all of the classic movie imagery, from the beloved Leg Lamp to the Pink Bunny Pajamas, and was a delight that would be a welcome addition to any theater lovers holiday plans. A Christmas Story runs at the Bricolage from December 6th through 23rd. Tickets are available at http://www.bricolagepgh.org/buy-tickets/ or by calling (412) 471-0999 for groups of ten or more.

A Christmas Story

cache_899459874The Theatre Factory’s holiday offering of A Christmas Story opened Thursday, December 7, 2017 to a small, but enthusiastic audience. Adapted for the stage by Philip Grecian, and directed for the Theatre Factory by Catherine Kolos, the play attempts to capture the magic of the original 1983 movie chronicling 9-year old Ralphie Parker’s quest for the perfect Christmas present: the legendary official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time! Unfortunately, this production falls short of the mark.

Let’s face it, anyone trying to re-create the specific humor and chemistry of the original movie already has a hard row to hoe. Any chance of success requires mad skills from everyone involved. It requires a light touch, that lets the wry comedic voice of the original storyteller, Jean Shepherd, speak for itself, while allowing the individual creativity of its new storytellers to shine through as well. This production didn’t manage to do this.

The rhythm of the performance was always just a little off, comedic timing was not quite there, and the cast never meshed as a unified whole – which is a shame, because the adult cast all seemed like competent performers, and I’d like to see them in other productions. On the positive side of things, particular note should be given to Brittany Bara as Miss Shields and Marianne Bayard as Mother, who created intelligent, subtle, interesting characterizations with strong stage presence. Also of note was Lawrence Karl, who did yeoman’s work playing multiple ensemble roles, including the nefarious Scut Farkas. On the negative end, the relationship between Mother and The Old Man never really clicked. And grown up Ralph, the narrator for the whole piece, was too presentational and declamatory for my taste, descending too much into sentimentalism at the end of the play. I write this somewhat reluctantly, since he did have charisma and carried us through the narrative of the play with unwaning energy.

The Theatre Factory is a semi-professional company working in an underserved area of Pittsburgh, and creating opportunities for children to be introduced to and participate in theater through their KidWorks program – all very laudable goals, deserving of support.

Their budgets would appear to be small, based on the production values of this show, and I never expect small budget shows to have the same material quality as higher budget shows. What I do expect is companies to use their resources effectively and creatively. The Theatre Factory didn’t meet this mandate for me with this production of A Christmas Story. The set was more 1920s depression-era flop house than 1940s nostalgic middle-American family home. The black wall at the back of the stage was downright spooky and depressing. The stationary set ultimately limited staging options and the ability to create multiple locations effectively. The set pieces were mismatched and beaten up. Costume choices ranged from “Little House on the Prairie” skirts to 80s outerwear. Lighting was awkward with uneven focus and execution. The sound cues that existed were actually well done. But, this is a show that benefits from an almost continuous soundtrack, so the existing cues only served to highlight the dearth of sound during the rest of the show.

And details matter – having no food props, especially the turkey, when the anticipation of the turkey was a highlight of the action, was a mistake. Lighting the Christmas tree with modern lights instead of appropriate period lights was a mistake. And, Mother’s unconvincing fake “knitting” was distracting and a mistake.

I am passionate with my criticism, because I saw a potential that I believe can grow into creative success for this company. I want their talented actors to have success. I also happen to ADORE the original A Christmas Story movie, and play it for the entire 24-hour marathon usually offered on Christmas Day. So, I really want any stage adaptation to be flawless.

You can visit The Theatre Factory’s website at www.thetheatrefactory.org or email theatrefactoryboxoffice@gmail.com.

Winter Preview 2017

5A letter from the Editor:

Our dearest readers,

Winter is only 24 days away and we’re already dashing through Christmas decorations and Cyber Monday sales as 2108 creeps up on us. 2017 has gone fast and we at Pittsburgh in the Round are picking up speed too! So far this year alone we’ve reviewed 151 plays and written 84 feature articles, blowing last year’s statistics out of the water! Even though some of our long-time writers have moved on to greener pastures, our team has ballooned up to 17 regular contributors bringing you the most consistent coverage that we can. We even have our first high school intern!

Beyond this preview, we’ll be bringing you some insights on Ted Pappas’s final shows at the Pittsburgh Public, the Pittsburgh Opera’s World Premiere Ashes and Snow, and a few tips on theatre etiquette from some of the pros. We will also continue to introduce you to the people that make up Pittsburgh’s vibrant theater community through our Artist Spotlight series.

2017 has been a very big year for us and 2018 will be even bigger as Pittsburgh’s theatre community continues to grow with us. We want to thank those of you that have and continue to support us through your engagement with us and simply being readers. Most importantly, we want to thank you for supporting local theaters and companies and helping the arts grow and thrive in Pittsburgh. Remember, if you would like to sponsor us or purchase advertisements on the site, contact info@pghintheround.com.

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 #WinterwithPITR. To stay up to date on everything we’re getting into, click here to join our email list! Weekly updates straight to your inbox every Thursday.

Happy holidays from all of us here at Pittsburgh in the Round, now get out there and enjoy some theater!

Mara E. Nadolski

Let’s start off with the Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this winter:

KINETIC-LOVE-LARGE-SQUARE-1#5 – Love, Love, Love by Kinetic Theatre:  Produced in association with Cockroach Theatre in Las Vegas, we follow a London couple from the summer of love in 1967 through the peaks and inevitable downfall of their relationship through present day. Playwright, and Olivier Award winner Mike Bartlett forces us to think about the baby boomer generation and its effect on our current state of life. Love, Love, Love starts previews November 30 and runs through December 17. For tickets and more information, click here

CT1712_AbsoluteBrightness_573x437 (1)#4 – The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey by City Theatre: Known for their commitment to producing new plays, City Theatre stays true to their mission with The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey. In this one-man show by Academy Award winner James Lecesne, a teenaged Leonard Pelkey goes missing and it’s up to one detective and a team of the town’s citizens to find out what happened to him. Inspired by Leonard’s absence, the locals start to question everything about their lives and realize that it’s okay to be different. Catch this heartwarming comedy at City Theatre starting January 20 through February 18. For tickets and more information, click here.

heat-of-the-night-IMG_7327-300x216 (1)#3 – In the Heat of the Night by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company: From a book to a movie to a TV series in the 60’s, In the Heat of the Night finally makes its way to the stage at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. First produced in 2010, the story follows that of the original novel and subsequent adaptations. Virgil Tibbs, a detective from California, is arrested and wrongly accused of a murder of a white man in 1962 Alabama but slowly becomes the town’s only hope of solving such a brutal homicide. In the Heat of the Night runs at Pittsburgh Playwrights’ downtown space from February 2 through March 11. For tickets and more information, click here.

Screenshot (22)#2 – Inside Passage by Quantum Theatre: Gab Cody has been a staple in the Pittsburgh playwrighting community for years. After producing her play Fat Beckett with Quantum during their 2011-2012 season she’s back with a more personal story. Cody was born in Juneau, Alaska. When she was five her parents divorced causing her to move back to the east coast with her mother, leaving behind three siblings and two Tlinget Indian foster siblings. In this mash up of documentary film, music, and performance, Cody goes on an adventure to reconnect with her long-lost foster siblings. Inside Passage opens at a yet to be determined location March 2. For tickets and more information, click here

2017Mast-EvilDead#1 – Evil Dead the Musical by Pittsburgh Musical Theater: First in their new “After Hours” series, Pittsburgh Musical Theater heads to the West End for their Pro Series in the Gargaro Theater. Based on the 1980’s movie franchise of the same name, five college students, led by our hero Ash Williams, head to a cabin in the woods for Spring Break. After some light basement exploration, they find the Book of the Dead and accidentally unleash a spirit that slowly turns them all into demons! Running in repertory with PMT’s We Will Rock You, Evil Dead runs weekends starting February 2. The show starts at 10:30pm so make sure you find a babysitter because this production is definitely not recommended for children. For tickets and more information click here.

For more on the musicals coming up this season, check out George’s list of the 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter!

Christmas is coming soon and you know what that means? Christmas shows! Read up on this season’s offerings in Brian’s article here. 

Pittsburgh’s theatre community is constantly growing and morphing. A few new theaters have popped up recently and we got some insider info for you! Check out Eva’s talks with the Glitterbox in North Oakland and Meredith’s interview with Aftershock Theatre in Lawrenceville.

We broke some pretty big records this Fall! In case you missed out on any of our adventures, here are some highlights from the last three months:

Six a Breast: The Absurd Life of Women by Corningworks

Henry V by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks

Boeing, Boeing at the Apple Hill Playhouse

Some Assembly Required by Attack Theatre

Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers by Real/Time Interventions

Belfast Girls by the Ghostlight Theatre Troupe

Romeo and Juliet by PICT Classic Theatre

Unhinged  by Cup-A-Jo Productions

HMS Pinafore by the Pittsburgh Savoyards

Equus at the Pittsburgh Public Theater

I Won’t Be in on Monday by off the WALL Productions

The Impresaria and Djamileh by Undercroft Opera

Arsenic and Old Lace at the McKeesport Little Theater

The Busy Body  by the Duquesne Red Masquers

All Quiet on the Western Front by Prime Stage

The Marriage of Figaro at the Pittsburgh Opera

5 Christmas Shows To Put On Your Nice List This Holiday Season

Snowflake 6When the weather outside is frightful, there is no place more delightful than the theater. Companies all around the city of Pittsburgh are offering up holiday-themed shows of all genres to give anyone craving it an extra dose of yuletide cheer. Most of these titles will ring a jingle bell for Christmas-obsessives who grew up watching them on TV with family. All of these wonderful upcoming productions will surely be an early Christmas present for everyone able to see any one of them.

“Unsung” is definitely not the word to describe American composer Irving Berlin’s contributions to the Christmas season. But it strikes me as odd that the person who penned the music and lyrics for the world’s most recorded Christmas song isn’t up there with Santa, his elves, and Ebenezer Scrooge as a face of the holidays. I’m of course talking about “White Christmas” which was first sung by Bing Crosby in the 1942 film Holiday Inn, but eventually grew to even more prominence in its 1952 namesake film also starring Crosby.

white-christmas-marcus-center-show-detailThe stage adaptation of the movie White Christmas, with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake, premiered in 2000 at The Muny and will soon be dancing its way into the Palisade Playhouse. The story, set to a fantastic assortment of Berlin standards including “Happy Holidays”, “Blue Skies”, “Sisters”, and “I Love a Piano”, introduces audiences to two World War II soldiers turned song-and-dance men, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, as they reenter civilian life to become the toast of Broadway. Two beautiful, talented sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes, catch Bob’s and Phil’s eye. Romantic hijinks land the foursome at a lodge in Vermont with no other way to process their feelings for one another but on stage and in song. When the curtain and the snow finally fall, the poetic refrain of the title song echoes through everyone’s hearts.

White Christmas plays at the Palisade Playhouse from November 30 through December 9. For more information, click here.

MDRchristmasStoryFINAL3-890x420If you’re such a huge fan of the classic Christmas comedy A Christmas Story that waiting until Christmas Eve for its 24-hour marathon on TBS is unbearable for you, then you’re in luck this year. In addition to Fox’s presentation of A Christmas Story Live!, The Theatre Factory and Bricolage Production Company are serving up their own unique versions of Ralphie Parker’s hilarious coming of age tale.

Rather than taking a cue from the broader elements of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s A Christmas Story, the Musical, both The Theatre Factory and Bricolage are using Philip Grecian’s straight play adaptation of the 1983 movie (itself an adaptation of Jean Sheperd’s semi-autobiographical short stories) as their source text. All versions of A Christmas Story center around nine year old Ralphie Parker’s relentless quest for what he sees as the ultimate Christmas present, a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. He faces nightmarish pink bunny pajamas, disapproving parents, and disappointing mall Santas along the way, but no obstacle is more persistent than the warning that upon receiving his coveted BB gun he will “shoot his eye out”.

cache_899459874Catherine Kolos is directing The Theatre Factory’s staging of A Christmas Story while Bricolage will be presenting their production as an installment of their live radio play series, “Midnight Radio”. Both companies promise to give fans of the property all the moments from the movies they love from the reveal of the leg lamp to the sticky situation with a child’s tongue and freezing cold metal pole.

The Theatre Factory’s A Christmas Story runs from December 7-17. For more information, click here

Bricolage’s Midnight Radio: A Christmas Story runs from December 7-23. For more information, click here.

If you’re looking for a palate cleanser for all the movie-turned-play/musical productions happening in the area, Little Lake Theatre has you covered with their A Tuna Christmas.

TunaChristmasJaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard’s play might not be as well-known as other shows on this list, but A Tuna Christmas does have a rich history in its own right and with Little Lake Theatre specifically. The show is the second in a trilogy of plays about the fictional town of Tuna, Texas.  For the citizens of Tuna, the holiday season marks the return of their annual Christmas Yard Display Contest. A mysterious vandal known as the “Christmas Phantom” aims to thwart Vera Carp’s 14-year winning streak and ruin the contest for everyone involved. The real twist of A Tuna Christmas is that those characters and a host of others, including everything from a DJ to an aspiring taxidermist to a UFOlogist, are played by only two people.

This raucous comedy is making its return to Little Lake Theatre after several successful engagements in the past. It’s living proof that Christmas classics don’t just live on our television and movie screens.

A Tuna Christmas plays at Little Lake Theatre from November 30 through December 2 and December 7-9 and 14-16. For more information, click here.

002026edbc72d33b4ffddc3b85e9c322_750x600Our fifth theatre recommendation for the Christmas season is, you guessed it, an adaptation of a movie. It’s probably the most famous Christmas story not written by Charles Dickens. It’s being put on at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. It’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story “The Greatest Gift” inspired Frank Capra’s 1946 movie version of It’s a Wonderful Life, which in turn used George Bailey’s existential crisis to inspire people around the world to be thankful for all that we’re given and all that we give.

When George contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve after a day of mounting frustration with his business and family, a guardian angel by the name of Clarence Odbody intervenes. After seeing proof that George is a good person who has been helping people his entire life, Clarence, at George’s request, shows George what the world would be like if he never existed. That alternate reality is anything but wonderful, but the poignant lesson that George learns and the reward Clarence receives for helping to teach him that lesson are truly timeless and universal symbols of the season.

It’s a Wonderful Life runs at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center from December 1-3, 7-10, and 14-17. For more information, click here.

Don’t be a Grinch, please check back with Pittsburgh in the Round throughout the month of December for our coverage of each of these shows! Until then, Happy Holidays!