Annie

Annie-FB-Header

I often commit the unfortunate preconception-based error of relegating certain plays, musicals particularly, to a realm of untouchably fey. Annie—originally adapted from Thomas Meechan’s book and Harold Gray’s comic strip for Broadway by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin—along with musicals like Hairspray and Sound of Music function in my memory as pieces that are so performatively sentimental and over-the-top that I cannot access their relatability or edge. I was taken aback, then to be confronted, in the best sense possible, with the acerbic wit and sonorous bleakness of Annie at a small theatre’s recreation of the piece.

Comtra Theatre, boasting a pleasingly cozy interior, augmented, by juxtaposition, the pleasantly jarring crassness of this most recent of production of Annie. The sentimental story is one certainly familiar to most in the theatre world—a plucky, assertive young girl, Annie, clings feverishly to the hope that her parents will retrieve her from the orphanage they abandoned her in years prior. However, Annie is given the opportunity to stay at the home of a munificent billionaire, Mr. Warbucks, over Christmas and soon becomes part of an unconventional family, despite the devious interventions of the mistress of the orphanage, Ms. Hannigan. Annie’s plot, by my recollection and preconceptions, was the appropriate hybridization of spirited melancholy and uplifting unreality for a musical targeted towards, primarily, children.

However, much like the often clandestinely sinister Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals or distressing Disney subplots, Annie is a musical that thrives on the darker elements accentuated by the sing-songy presentation. Much of the efficacy in making Comtra’s staging of Annie seem deceptively innocuous is the brilliant casting of perhaps the most precocious, promising troop of young women—or “little girls,” as Miss Hannigan scathingly refers to them as—that I have individually or collectively watched in quite some time. The titular precocious orphan Annie, is played with such unjaded spunk by outlandishly talented Zoie Beckas that I was compelled to reexamine the character, not as an irksomely optimistic twee thing, but a sassy, borderline crass, take-no-guff little girl ensconced in perhaps the most whimsically dreary conditions ever conceived. Furthermore, Annie’s cohort of ferocious orphanage dwellers—played with pitch-perfect mettle—were as unwaveringly spunky and boisterous as their lead, and the ensemble performance conveyed a certain lovely irreverence that I had not been able to enjoyably access in past viewings or a working memory of the musical. In addition to the undaunted performances of the young women, the entirety of the cast, down to the last extra, was exceptionally committed and exuberant to a fault. Miss Hannigan, captured with indomitable booziness by Cynthia Harding, was a savage comic relief to juxtapose some of the more hyper-sentimental or somber moments of the musical. It was perhaps Harding’s steadfast portrayal of Miss Hannigan that most solidified Comtra’s production as one that captured the multidimensionality of the play’s sneering bleakness.

While there were some technical points that could have been strengthened or remedied to enhance the overall quality of the viewing experience—for instance, the consistency and balance of the sound and the mics; the situating of the audience to avoid viewers being blocked by beams in the theatre—Comtra’s staging of Annie was an overall delightful (a term I wholly abhor using) experience that challenged my staunchly held opinions on the play’s overall consumptive appeal. Annie was a mirthfully dreary musical, in which lyrical snark presented a wonderful distraction (but with the right air of frustration) to the burdensome dreariness of current times, but not without giving a nod to the sourness of things today.

Annie runs at Comtra Theatre through December 16. Tickets and more information can be found here. 

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 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter 2017

Welcome to our annual pick of five of must-see musicals this winter. We have a diverse mix that includes two community theatre productions; Annie at Comtra and The Last Five Years by Split Stages at the Theatre Factory. From the University of Pittsburgh, there is the off-Broadway classic Little Shop of Horrors and CMU presents the Drowsy Chaperone Wrapping up our list for this post is the world premiere of Up and Away at the CLO Cabaret.

Yvonne has a separate story coming later this winter on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Ted Papas’ final musical as Producing Artistic Director at the Public Theatre.  If you yearn for a touring Broadway show, the Cultural Trust / PNC Broadway Across America has How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Wicked, Love Never Dies and, The Bodyguard this winter. Lastly, what would the holidays be without the CLO’s annual A Christmas Carol at the Byham.

But now to our winter musical picks:

annieAnnie, Miss Hannigan, Daddy Warbucks and Sandy have been making the rounds of the areas community theatres this past year and Cranberry’s Comtra Theatre has snagged them right before Christmas. Despite having been around for nearly one-hundred years since Harold Gray launched his popular comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” in 1920 they haven’t aged a bit!

In case you just arrived on earth and haven’t heard of Annie, here is the story. She is an orphan who lives in the evil Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. Luckily, she gets sprung for the holidays because she has been chosen to stay over the Christmas holidays at billionaire Oliver Warbuck’s mansion. She is ever so cute and loveable and Annie wins the hearts of Warbucks and his staff.  They Honor her wish to find her parents.  Ms. Hannigan, true to form, schemes to make a buck off the deal with her brother and his “lady friend” to help.

Brent Rodgers returns to Comtra Theatre to direct Annie after last spring’s musical hit Sister Act. Brent is also the musical director at Riverside High School.   He says “You won’t want to miss the beautiful score and heartwarming story of this All-American musical.  We are bound to put everyone in the Christmas spirit!”

Recently produced by Stage 62 and the Palisade Playhouse, the Comtra Theatre features an intimate performance space with affordable tickets. It’s the perfect place to introduce young children to the live theatre experience. As an added bonus, Comtra has a nice troupe of young actors with a focus on family-friendly shows.

Annie, at the Comtra Theatre in Cranberry Township, has performances December 1st to 16th. For dates, shows times and tickets click here

upupThe CLO Cabaret Theatre is a great venue to relax have a drink, some food and enjoy a light-hearted comedy. Up and Away is the CLO’s latest offering in their mission to develop and nurture smaller-scale musicals.  Fifty different characters are played by five actors in this high-flying world-premiere comedy guaranteed to keep the suspense high and the laughs rolling!

The story features brothers Joe and Jerry Jessup who live in the not much happening, very rural hamlet of Farmtown, USA.  When Joe discovers he has superpowers, he naturally high-tails it out of town to seek fame and fortune in “Big City.” He finds trouble instead and forces his jittery brother Jerry to follow which turns their boring life upside down. Toss in an eccentric billionaire, a plucky reporter, and dastardly villains, and you’ve got the rip-roaring adventure tale of the world’s FIRST superhero.

Up and Away at the CLO Cabaret in Theatre Square has performances beginning January 25th through April 15, 2018. For tickets and times click here

l5ySplit Stage Productions wraps their season with The Last Five Years, an emotional and intimate musical with an interesting storytelling approach. Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt are two New Yorkers in their twenties who 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.  What is theatrically interesting here is the two characters play opposite of each other and are only together on stage once, at their wedding, in the middle of the timeline.

The Last Five Years plays January 26th to February 3rd at The Theatre Factory in Trafford. For tickets and more information click here.

lsohAs winter drags on and you long for the Spring Flower Show at the Phipps, The University of Pittsburgh’s Drama Department has just the right solution, Little Shop of Horrors, a musical about a plant! Well, it is not just any plant, but a foul-mouthed, alien R&B-singing carnivore plant. A milquetoast floral assistant, Seymour Krelborn stumbles across a new breed of a plant which, he names “Audrey II” – after his coworker crush. Audrey II promises unending fame and fortune to the down and out Krelborn as long as he keeps feeding it. It loves BLOOD. Over time, Seymour discovers Audrey II’s out of this world origins and intent towards global domination!

Reginald Douglas, the Artistic Producer at the City Theatre, directs this Off-Broadway classic by playwright Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman’s the creative geniuses behind Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, and Aladdin.

Little Shop of Horrors in performance at Charity Randall Theatre on Pitt’s campus from February 8th to February 18th.  For tickets call 412.624.PLAY (7529)

tdcThis university theatre season is a feast for musical theatre fans and that unique musical form, the musical within a musical. Point Park this fall produced Kiss Me Kate (to be seen on Broadway in 2019 with Kellie O’Hara) and it has the classic 42nd Street scheduled this spring. Carnegie Mellon grabs the winter slot with The Drowsy Chaperone, a loving send-up of the Jazz Age musical, it is Directed and Choreographed by Tony Award-nominated (Ragtime) Marcia Milgrom Dodge with Musical Direction by Pittsburgh’s Thomas Douglas.

When a diehard theatre fan plays his favorite cast album the recording comes to life and The Drowsy Chaperone begins as the man in the chair looks on. Mix in two lovers on the eve of their wedding, a bumbling best man, a desperate theatre producer, a not-so-bright hostess, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, a misguided Don Juan and an intoxicated chaperone, and you have the ingredients for an evening of madcap delight that involves gangsters, show people, millionaires, servants and of course tap dancing!

The Drowsy Chaperone “does what a musical is supposed to do! It takes you to another world and it gives you a little tune to carry in your head for when you’re feeling blue…”

Carnegie Mellon’s production of Drowsy Chaperone runs February 22nd to March 3rd. For tickets click here. 

Once again, the Pittsburgh area theatre companies provide a winter filled with almost enough (Is there ever?) singing and dancing to satisfy any musical theatre nerds’ passion. For those of you still on the fence about musicals, check out this clip from Something Rotten at the 2015 Tony Awards https://vimeo.com/139792908

Annie

annie300x300I had high expectations for Stage 62’s production of Annie. Sitting in the audience at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, I listened dreamily as the orchestra introduced the show with a lively preface to one of the best known children’s Broadway musical score.  As the rich red curtains open to reveal the stage crowded with bunk beds and little girls quickly scrambling into place I am quickly swept into the story.  Annie is heartwarming.  A tale of a girls orphanage in New York City during the  1930’s overseen by an abusive and drunk Miss Hannigan. Annie, a precocious orphan with boundless hope that she will soon be reunited with her parents.  The story unfolds when she is adopted by the wealthy Mr. Warbucks as an act of goodwill for the holidays.  Warbucks quickly warms up to Annie, touched by the story of her abandonment, and agrees to help locate her biological parents.  

Nora Hoyle, Lola Armfeild
Nora Hoyle, Lola Armfeild

The show boasts a sizable cast.   Actors range in age from very young children, portraying underprivileged yet adorable orphans to others whose faces and voices are custom to Stage 62.  Each are boundless with talent.  Nora Hoyle, in the starring role, has a strong voice and maintains the spunk of her character, an innocent and neglected but optimistic orphan, throughout the show.  The orphan ensemble is tireless and animated.  Together this group of young performers, exude charisma.  They especially dazzle during the energetic “It’s the Hard Knock Life” song and dance scene.  Tom Strauman, as Oliver Warbucks has the looks to easily come across as the big named billionaire.  I didn’t feel he clearly revealed the cold and callous side to Warbucks but his mannerisms easily align with a distinguished and wealthy man and his performance during, “Something Was Missing” is incredibly sweet and touching.   It is really Stage 62’s ubiquitous Becki Toth as the heartless Miss Hannigan who steals the show.  She is nothing short of a powerhouse performer.  The pitches of her voice illuminate into the audience and her imitation of sloppy drunkenness delivers a show stopping performance.  She immediately wins the audience’s applause during her rendition of “Little Girls” and portrays her role with pizzazz.

 Candice Fisher, Seth Laidlaw, Becki Toth
Candice Fisher, Seth Laidlaw, Becki Toth

I am particularly pleased by Annie’s set design.  Designed by Andy Folmer, the exhibition of many different places; a dreary orphanage, Miss Hannigans disheveled office, the slums of Hooverville, to name a few, are enchanting.  One of my favorite scenes, the opening of Act 2, The NBC Radio Studio, hosted by Bert Healey, played by Jeff Way and staring the Boylan Sisters, Amy DeHaven, Kaitlin Schreiner and Katie Turpiano, depict the timeframe of the story with sweet sentiment. Folmers highly detailed sets and a smart selection of props offer opportunity for the cast to create an added level to their character.  The comedic moments laced into the fabric of the plot and a glimpse into the lost art of radio media, is a highlight of the show.   

The actors who hold supporting roles, Ashley Harmon as Grace Ferrell, Carmen LoPresti as Drake, Heather Friedman cast as Mrs. Pugh, Nina Napoleone portraying Cecille and Amy LaSota as Mrs. Greer alongside the ensemble wow the audience in “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”.  Another stunning performance, “Easy Street”, which features the unmistakable talent of Seth Laidlaw as Rooster and Candice Fisher cast as Lily St. Regis.  Alongside, Toth, this trio complete a fantastic musical number.  The reprise of “Tomorrow”, sung by Annie, Warbucks, President Roosevelt, played by Chris Martin, and cabinet members is another high point in the show.  This scene highlights director Rob James’ focus on creative visuals that propel the audience to become emotionally invested in the characters.

Nora Hoyle, Jeff Johnston
Nora Hoyle, Jeff Johnston

I do have mixed feelings about the use of a puppet to portray Sandy the dog, a stray Annie finds while wandering the slums of NY.  In many instances theater companies hire or train a live animal but Stage 62 chose to use a life sized Marionette whose movements are orchestrated by a puppeteer.  Initially I thought this was clever.  There is an instant bond between Annie and Sandy that is irresistible, yet as the scene progressed I began to feel there was something bizarre about the whole thing.  Perhaps it was the way the puppeteer placed the dogs two front paws on Annie’s shoulders and continually maneuvered it to lick her face and neck.  It quickly lost all allure for me and left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable.  Fortunately, the role of Sandy was used primarily in just one scene and I was relieved to not have to witness too much interaction between Hoyle and the concocted canine .  

Growing up in the 80’s with red hair and freckles Annie was my childhood hero. A neighborhood friend owned the movie soundtrack and we listened to it on her suitcase record player while dressing Barbie Dolls. I loved the record so much I received my own for Christmas, only the one I got was the original Broadway recording.  At first listen I turned my nose up to it, the voices were not the same, the music was different, including songs I didn’t recognize from the film, but after a few plays I fell in love, especially to the overture. Soon I was tap dancing through the house to It’s the Hard Knock Life and You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.  Annie was probably the show responsible for my lifelong love affair with musicals.  What this all means is I expected a powerful performance. Once again, Stage 62 presents a caliber of talent on and off stage, and the ability to make their art truly come alive for the audience.  Annie is delightful and will certainly entertain an audience of all ages.

Annie runs at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall through November 19. For tickets and more information click here. 

Photos by Friedman Wagner-Dobler.

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

The dog days of summer are behind us and it’s time to look forward to a fall full of refreshing musicals. Our 2017 Top Five Fall Musical Theatre Preview shows feature two Tony Award winning “big” musicals Kiss Me Kate and Annie, The Good Bye Girl, Side Show and Clue round out our preview. These shows won’t bust your budget with ticket prices that hover around $20. Here they are in order of opening dates.

goodbyeNeil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl at the Theatre Factory kicks off our 2017 Fall Musicals Preview.

Egotistical actor Elliot Garfield sublets a friend’s Manhattan apartment only to discover it is still occupied by his friend’s ex-girlfriend Paula, a former dancer, and her precocious pre-teen daughter Lucy. Initially suspicious and antagonistic, Elliot and Paula arrive at an uneasy truce. Paula, fed up with being hurt by boyfriend-actors, rashly vows never to become involved again while Elliot sets down the rules for the living arrangements.

While they attempt to cohabit as peacefully as possible, despite their differences of opinion and temperament. Elliot and Paula find themselves attracted to each other. When Elliot finds a job out-of-town, Paula realizes that this is the true love she has been seeking, and they reach a happy ending

The Good Bye Girl September 14th to 24th at the Theatre Factory in Trafford PA.  For tickets please call the Box office 412 374 9200 (leave a message on voice mail) or email: theatrefactoryboxoffice@gmail.com 

sideSide Show asks the question that haunts us all: “Who will love me as I am?”

This Tony nominated Best Musical tells the true story of conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, who became famous stage performers. Their extraordinary bond brings them fame but denies them, love. The story is told almost entirely in song, and follows their transition from England to America, the vaudeville circuit, and then to Hollywood on the eve of their appearance in the 1932 movie Freaks.

Rob Jessup one of Split Stages co-founders tells me this will be “the first production of the 2014 revival in this area.” The revival delves deeper into the backstory of the Hilton twins including their relationship with Harry Houdini and the concept of proposed separation surgery.  It will be interesting to see Split Stages interpretation of the characters which inhabit the side show community that support the ladies.

Side Show is Directed by Jim Scriven with Music Direction by Joy Hessand and Choreography by Laura Wurzell. Rori Mull and Victoria Buchtan play Daisy and Violet.

Split Stage’s production of Side Show is at the intimate Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont with performances October 6th to 14th. For tickets visit. https://www.showclix.com/event/side-show-ssp 

ClueClue at the Little Lake Theatre gives the audience a change to help solve this “who-done-it.”

The musical is based on the popular board game. It brings the familiar suspects of the game to life. The audience chooses the potential outcome from cards which represent the murderers, weapons, and rooms – there are 216 possible solutions! Comic antics, witty lyrics, and a seductive score carry the investigation from room to room.

This show has made the rounds of university and community theatres in our area this past year. However, Little Lake Theatre has a reputation for producing quirky off beat shows that work well in their cozy “theatre in the round” environment and the intermission desserts are top notch also. If you haven’t seen Clue yet, this is the place to see it.

Clue at the Little Lake Theatre, October 12th to 14th, 19th to 21st and  26th to 28th

for Tickets https://www.showclix.com/event/clue-the-musical4970999

WebPosterKATEThe Tony Award winning best musical Kiss Me, Kate at the Pittsburgh Playhouse features music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Point Park University with its nationally recognized musical theatre and dance programs do a great job with big musicals and over the top dance numbers, so expect a lively and fun filled production of this 1949 classic.

The story involves the production of a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and the conflict on and off-stage between Fred Graham, the show’s director, producer, and star, and his leading lady, his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi. A secondary romance concerns Lois Lane, the actress playing Bianca, and her gambler boyfriend, Bill, who runs afoul of some gangsters.

Point Park University’s Head of Musical Theatre, Zeva Barzell directs and choreographs this show bringing favorite numbers like Too Darn Hot to life on the Rockwell stage with the talented students of the Conservatory. (Point Park is #8 in the number of graduates on Broadway this season, CMU is #4.)

Kiss Me, Kate runs October 20th to 29th with a preview on October 19. For Tickets visit http://www.pittsburghplayhouse.com/tickets

annie300x300Stage 62 presents Annie our second Tony Award winning Best Musical choice for the fall.

With equal measures of pluck and positivity, little orphan Annie charms everyone’s hearts despite a next-to-nothing start in 1930s New York City. She is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of a New York City Orphanage that is run by the cruel, embittered Miss Hannigan. In adventure after adventure, Annie foils Hannigan’s evil machinations… and even befriends President Franklin Delano Roosevelt! She finds a new home and family in billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, his personal secretary, Grace Farrell, and a lovable mutt named Sandy.

This depression era show was first produced on Broadway in 1977 and is Directed by Rob James, Choreography by Devyn Brown with Musical Direction by Cynthia Dougherty. The Stage 62 troupe always seems to be having contagious fun performing, Annie should be no exception.

Annie presented by Stage 62 at the Carnegie Music Hall in Carnegie. Performances Thursday to Saturday, Nov. 9th to 11th and 16th to 18th at 8 pm, Sunday matinees on November 12th and 19th at 2 pm. Tickets at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2884426

Our top five is just a small slice of a dozen or more musicals playing this fall in our area, So check back with PITR throughout the season. There is a show for almost every taste from two with high stepping dance number to ones with almost no dancing at all and four of our five are “all about love.”

Annie

936932-427366-14When I was given this assignment, I was greatly confused at being told that the theatre I was going to was in Greenfield. I lived on the Squirrel Hill/Greenfield edge for eleven years and have been doing theatre in Pittsburgh for fifteen, and I’ve never heard of a playhouse in Greenfield. That’s because this is a new venture, and a new company and the show I went to see is only their second theatrical production. While the Palisade Playhouse offers many services in their space including music classes, a choir, summer camp, and fitness sessions, as well as community church services, their main goal is to produce family friendly shows that can involve lots of artists in the Pittsburgh area. The theatre space is, in fact, a church that they’ve purchased and are fixing up to better suit their theatrical ambitions. Co-owner and children’s director Michelle Bellison says that plans are to eventually convert the second floor to a living space so their family can both live and work in the building. Their first musical was Clue in April, and now they’ve taken on a full cast of children and adults to do Annie.

Co-owner and director of this production, Matt Belliston had quite a challenge fitting an entire cast of kids onto the small church stage, but the actors never seemed to be stifled or lacking in space. Besides the stage area, actors used the aisle and fronts of the audience from time to time, making it feel more inclusive to the viewers sitting in the church pews watching. Given the space they had, it all seemed to fall into place nicely.

Thomas Kurt Fuchel, Sr. as Daddy Warbucks, Rachael Renee Parsons as Annie
Thomas Kurt Fuchel, Sr. as Daddy Warbucks, Rachael Renee Parsons as Annie

This production has two different casts for most parts, identified as the “red” cast and the “white” cast in the program. Presumably this is to give the actors (a lot of them children) breaks between shows. I saw a red cast night, and I got to see Miss Rachael Renee Parsons completely shine as the title character. Not only was her voice impressive and perfect for the role, Parsons clearly has the experience needed for her to go far in the world of drama. She had a great sense of comedic timing and tone, something I often find underdeveloped in child actors. In the red cast, Rachael Parsons is joined on stage by two of her sisters (Nicole and Danielle) who played Tessie and Molly, and her mother Tracey, who worked closely alongside her daughter onstage as Grace Farrell, Oliver Warbucks’ assistant. It’s clear where these girls get their talent from, as Tracey Parsons is an obvious veteran of the stage.

Another noteworthy performance was Jillene Stewart as the exasperated and often intoxicated orphanage manager, Miss Hannigan. Her portrayal of this woman, who could easily be frightening, is just enough of a villain to get the point across with humor while still being suitable for children. She ended up being mostly comic, which I think is generally the point of the character.

The orphans all worked together extremely well, coordinating their group dances and singing with ease. It was nice to see a group of girls of varying ages being so enthused about acting. I never caught one standing around looking out of place. They all were acting the full time they were on stage. Kudos also goes to the costumer of the show (unnamed in program) for the excellent work on the orphans’ clothes. The whole cast very much looked the part and felt like the right period, and for a fresh theatre company that’s pretty impressive. Choreographer Toni Dobransky obviously worked hard on getting everything to be on time and in place, because the dances all throughout the show were well organized and entertaining.

Thomas Kurt Fuchel, Sr. as Daddy Warbucks, Rachael Renee Parsons as Annie, and Tracey Parsons as Grace Farrell.
Thomas Kurt Fuchel, Sr. as Daddy Warbucks, Rachael Renee Parsons as Annie, and Tracey Parsons as Grace Farrell.

I was pleased in general with all the acting and singing, but one part of the show that really suffered was the technical end. This being the company’s second show, it’s easy to see that they simply need a bit more work at organizing the off-stage portion of things. Each scene had a full set change, which seemed very unnecessary, and that made each change go on far longer than it should have. On top of the length of each change, actors were moving things around stage very haphazardly, bumping into each other and banging set pieces on the ground. The company should consider a more rehearsed run crew in the future.

The music was played from a pre-recorded soundtrack, but the lights were designed by Aidan Setlock. Aside from a few odd color choices, the lights worked pretty well considering the space they had to play with. Although whoever was running the spotlight clearly needed a bit more practice.

All in all, this show was a well-done musical that hosts a great amount of talent. Palisade Playhouse is just getting started, and there’s always a few bumps in the road at first. From seeing this production, I can tell that they’re going to be a company to really watch for in the coming years. Best of luck to them!

Annie runs at the Palaside Playhouse through September 2. For tickets and more information, click here

Photos courtesy of Salene Mazur Kraemer

Stage 62 Goes to Camelot, Neverland, and More!

stage62_logoCommunity. This is the word that best characterizes a local nonprofit theater company that traces its inception back to 1962, when it began as an adult education theater project that morphed into much more. Taking residence at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Stage 62 is an all volunteer-run company that strives to provide the community with quality theater for all ages that is affordable.    This year’s season will feature the plays, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and “Anne.” The children’s musical, “Pinkalicious” was also part of the company’s season but closed in mid-February.

This year’s season will feature the plays, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and “Anne.” The children’s musical, “Pinkalicious” was also part of the company’s season but closed in mid-February.

A typical season for Stage 62 usually includes a musical in November; a show for children’s audiences in February; a drama/comedy in May and a musical peterstarcatcher300x300in July, according to the company’s website. However, Stage 62’s members play a huge role in the selection of production titles.

“We are completely member-driven, so our membership actually gets to vote on the productions that we do,” Christopher Martin, president of Stage 62 said. “We look for submissions from our group and outside our group. …We take those specific shows to our playwriting committee, and they decide what they think will be best for the organization. [They choose] two shows per slot and vote from there.”

Because volunteers are the backbone of Stage 62, cost and the interest it will attract from the community also heavily influences the selection of production titles.spamalot300x300

“We have to balance what we think will make money and what will be exciting and engaging for our audiences and volunteers,” Martin said.
The members of Stage 62 also try to choose show titles that the company’s volunteers and directors have an interest in producing.

“We sometimes would have something picked but not have someone who had a passion to do the show,” Martin said. “We always try to have a core staff or director in mind for the show.”

Once a season has been narrowed down and show titles have been selected, the artistic direction and vision for the production and how it will be interpreted, is left up to the director.

annie300x300Stage 62’s upcoming production, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is based on a novel by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson and provides the back story of the well-known children’s movie character, Peter Pan.

“One of the reasons we like the show is it is simple,” Martin said. “A lot of it is done with simple props and imagination.”

For its summer show, Stage 62 likes to put on a “fun-rousing” musical, and that’s where “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” comes in, a musical comedy  adapted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Goofy comedies tend to equal success for Stage 62, according to Martin, and the Monty Python title the company selected for this season fits the bill.

For the fall, Stage 62 typically selects a classic film, and “Annie” is about as classic as it gets. With the permission of The Tribune Media Services, Inc., the musical “Annie” is based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie and will be presented through a special arrangement with Music Theatre International.
Stage 62 has a reputation of providing audiences with stage productions that are well-executed, interesting and fun and accessible to the broader public, and that’s exactly what you will get with the company’s 2017 season lineup.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” opens May 11 and runs through the 21st, followed by “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT,” which premieres July 20, and “Annie,” set for November 9.

For tickets and more information about Stage 62, visit their website, http://www.stage62.com/season/.