Beauty and the Beast

22256807_10154913721746016_2095757868663835950_oA tale that has enchanted old and young alike opened at the Byham Theater to the tones of a live orchestra tuning. A slightly blurry projection of the traditional Disney’s Beauty and the Beast logo graced the promising black curtains and the myriads of little girls matching in their Nutcracker and Swan Lake best, complete with faux fur stoles, left no doubt in an attendee’s mind that magic was about to happen on stage.  

Our journey with Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory’s production begins with the rich voice of the Narrator ushering us through the follies of the Young Prince’s youth, Carson Gregg, as lighting and translucent screens mostly hide and reveal the transformation of the Young Prince into the Beast before we transition to a French open air market of generically post-mediaeval time period. The costumes and choreography of the day-to-day hustle and bustle of rural townspeople flowed together and presented a convincing portrayal of natural human interaction, though some of the non-main characters’ lines and musical phrases were drowned out by the orchestra due to muffled speakers and uneven sound mixing.

Jordyn Walker as Belle was a breath of fresh air as she danced onto stage with natural grace. An obvious wig and too much eye makeup were quickly overshadowed by the ease with which she interacted with her fellow cast members and the pure quality of her beautiful voice. The chemistry between Belle and Brecken Farrell as Gaston made their scenes together utterly believable and Gaston’s inappropriate advances all the more skin crawling. Throughout the production Gaston stole the show with his over the top performance that was simultaneously convincing and absolutely absurd. Gaston was often accompanied by a disappointing LeFou, Amarianna Busa, whose wonderful physicality was marred by songs that should have been set to a key more compatible to her range

A lovingly bumbling Maurice, Jeramie Welch, opens the curtain to the enchanted castle after a brush with Wolves that was a convincing dance scene not too scary for the younger eyes in the crowd. A multi-tiered interior castle scene gave characters the opportunity to play out encounters with diverse blocking, leading each scene to be unique and visually intriguing. On the far sides of the sets, however, the painting details evoking stone work was not continued with as much care and the visible wood sheets covering the set’s skeleton put a just little ding in the fantasy illusion’s armor.

Though the set may not have been as polished, a delightfully festooned Lumiere, Nick Staso, and Cogsworth, Ben Godley-Fisher, married their French and British accents to perform classically witty repartee. And while the chemistry between Lumiere and Cogsworth was not mirrored by the relationship between Belle and the Beast, Matty Thornton, Belle interacted with the characters of the castle with absolute conviction. But after a compelling scene where Belle stands up to the Beast on behalf of her father, the progression of Belle and the Beast’s relationship seemed forced and lacked the spark that warms actual relationships. And while the Beast had a devilishly clever mask, which had a working jaw that made it look like he was actually speaking, his plain costume looked like it had just been whipped up from muslin. Though of course a Beast would not care about his appearance, any clothing remaining from the Beast’s human days would have been at least as rich as the maître’d Lumiere’s.

But when Belle, and the audience, was asked to Be Our Guest, the costumes of the various household implements were positively delightful and Mrs. Potts, Mia Schmidtetter, and the Wardrobe, Torrance Bejuszik, stole the show with their powerhouse vocals. The entire Be Our Guest sequence was spectacular with a rich array of household objects in delightful costumes – a particular favorite was a cheese grater – and well-executed dance moves utilizing the entirety of the set, and it was obvious the directors and choreographers had taken great care to entertain their audience as much as the cutlery were entertaining Belle. The only drawback in the ensemble’s costuming were the plates who were clothed in short, pink, lingerie-esque baby dolls. Putting minors in undergarment-showing costumes for a show where most of the attendees are young girls seems to go directly against the message of brains and bravery over beauty that Belle embodies and tries to turn young girls into sexualized inanimate objects.

Once Mrs. Potts began to sing Tale as Old as Time, time itself seemed to stand still because of her flawless intonation and musical expression. Mrs. Potts serenaded Belle and the Beast as they twirled before a background of actually twinkling stars and realized they were in love when the Beast learned to let go of his last true hope for physical humanity. Belle’s gown was a gorgeous interpretation of the classic golden gown and the Beast’s new-found finery was exquisite as obvious care was given to this beloved scene from director to costumer to actors.

As a whole, Beauty and the Beast was an entertaining, high-school level production that left the audience humming and skipping a little as they wound out of the theater into the chilled October air. Beauty and the Beast at the Byham Theater has unfortunately closed, but to find out more about PMT’s season, click here. 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

hunchbackPittsburgh Musical Theater’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame brings a powerful mixture of student and professional performers to the Byham Theater, where it continues playing through February 5th.

The show – based on the Victor Hugo novel and animated Disney movie – captures the drama of Paris in the Middle Ages, with its brutality and the cruel, corrupt version of religion often seen in the 16th century. The stage setting recreates the unmistakable architecture of the famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with curving triangular windows – backed by members of the orchestra playing in a dark background – mimicking the shape of the cathedral’s concrete impressions.IMG_6894

In the opening, the actors and actresses make a surprise appearance from these dark areas; they come out singing their first number, “The Bells of Notre Dame,” near the front of the stage. We are introduced to the opposite Parisian communities: the gypsies, seen as immoral, and the high-society religious folks headed by ruthless archdeacon Frollo. The background story is set when Frollo – well played by pro actor Allan Snyder – accepts an orphaned baby. Quickly, that baby turns into grown man Quasimodo – the “Hunchback” who has physical abnormalities and limited verbal skills, having been raised in isolation as a bell ringer for the cathedral under Frollo.

Quasimodo – played powerfully by Quinn Patrick Shannon, who brilliantly channels the bedraggled young man’s social difficulties and soft heart – forms the core of the touching and sad Hunchback tale, which fundamentally is a story about love and sacrifice. Quasimodo – having enjoyed sweet stolen moments on the Notre Dame roof’s “Top of the World” with lady interest Esmerelda – knows he likely will lose his love to the handsome Phoebus, played by New York actor Javier Manente. But Quasimodo still risks his life to rescue Esmerelda – played by Emily Lynne Miller, a pro with a beautiful voice – from the murderous wrath of Frollo.IMG_6948

Often, Pittsburgh Musical Theater shows uses their students in their casts, with mostly teenagers, as was such in their fall production of Jekyll & Hyde. But the many professionals in this cast bring an extra punch of quality and depth to the show; plus, it would have been difficult to portray characters of such a large age range, especially Frollo, with a cast of youths.

And the young cast members played strong supporting roles, lending their voices to group numbers, singing in robes from a choir loft, and often portraying the Notre Dame gargoyles that speak to Quasimodo and advise him on what to do.

The music throughout the show ranges from lively, sweet and lighthearted to intense. Shannon’s Quasimodo especially gets credit for singing with such passion and intensity, about the character’s anguish and desire to fit in with society.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame runs at the Byham Theatre through February 5th. For tickets and more information, click here.  

Photos courtesy of Julie Kahlbaugh.

Jekyll & Hyde

2016Mast-JandH

People know when attending a Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory Company (RERC) show that the production features all youths, rather than a Broadway cast of professional actors.

But if audience members didn’t know that going in to Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical, which played Oct. 20 to 23 at the Byham Theater, chances are, they might not have noticed. Except for the young age of the mostly teenage cast, the production seemed very professional and not amateurish as one might expect with a student production. The only time the age factor showed was when characters portrayed a father and daughter, yet looked to be the same young age.

The two-act play – based on the Victorian-era book, “Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” by author Robert Louis Stevenson –  brought to life the London-set creepy story with perfect timing for Halloween, punctuated by lively and often intense music. It takes a special acting talent for the same person to portray such a split personality – the polite and nice scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll, and the evil and violent alter ego known as Mr. Hyde. Talented teen actor Nick Cortazzo fulfills this challenge with passion and finesse, along with a powerful singing voice. He wears a ponytail when in Jekyll mode, and lets down his hair when switching to Hyde mode. The intensity of the Hyde character brought a spine-tingling element to the story, in which characters spoke in decent British accents.

Complementing Cortazzo was Elena Doyno as Jekyll’s fiance, Emma Carew. She and her partner awed the audience during the tragic climax at the end of the play, when Jekyll turns into Hyde during their wedding and falls dead, with Emma crying over his body.

The stage scenery was simple but fitting and evolving, with a beaker-filled mad scientist’s lab, flanked by two staircases, serving as a frequent centerpiece. This is where Jekyll conducted his ultimately ill-advised experiment seeking to prove that in every man dwells both a good and evil force. The Jekyll and Hyde story is perhaps the most poignant example in literary history about the dangers of flirting too much with evil.

These few dozen students in the cast – including Sabina May, who does a fine job playing the supporting prostitute character Lucy Harris – are theater students at Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory in the West End. They all show great talent and potential.

We would be remiss not to mention the unseen members of the cast: the musicians in the orchestra pit come from Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, the city school district’s arts-magnet school. A total of 133 students, according to the program, participated in Jekyll & Hyde.

This show, which kicks off PMT’s four-show 2016-2017 season, should give PMT a good celebration for its 25th anniversary this year. The next shows playing at the Byham are: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, (Jan. 26-Feb. 5); Dreamgirls (March 9-19); and Tarzan (May 4-14.)

Special thanks to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for complimentary press tickets. For more information about PMT’s upcoming season, click here.

 

Pittsburgh’s Must-See Halloween Shows

Pumpkin 1Fall has descended upon Pittsburgh with a comical quickness, and so the time has come embrace mystery, horror and the supernatural realms. This Halloween season, Pittsburgh’s theaters are bringing to the stage both new experiences, classic favorites, and the merging of the two.  Pittsburgh in the Round has put together a list of the must-see Halloween shows, whether you are seeking a thrill or a good belly laugh.

livingdead-site-banner-890x420

Midnight Radio’s Night of the Living Dead N’at

Bricolage Production Company’s Midnight Radio returns and following it is a hoard of hungry undead. A cast of voice actors will perform a reimagination of George Ramero’s 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead as a live radio show and will undoubtedly include a generous amount of Pittsburgh humor. Have you ever dreamed of playing a part in a Bricolage production, or just being a zombie for a night? Great news, each show has six “Zombie Porch” seats available for purchase where you become part of the show…as a zombie.

Catch Night of the Living Dead N’at from October 27th – November 12th! Find more information on the show and tickets here.main-image2

Enter the Imaginarium

Bricolage Production Company has teamed up with ScareHouse to build an extraordinary immersive experience where participants must work as a team to discover the mysteries of the Imaginarium. This collaboration brings together the teamwork and gameplay that is the basis of the escape room phenomenon and the story telling and scenery of an immersive show. There are two different story lines to choose from, Chamber of Illusions and The Inventor’s Paradox.

Though Enter the Imaginarium will be running indefinitely, right now tickets are available through November here.2016Mast-JandH

 Jekyll and Hyde

Based on the beloved horror-drama novella, Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical is a special spooky production not to be missed. The classic tale of Dr. Jekyll battling his inner demons in the form of a medical-experiment-gone-evil as Mr. Hyde is given a modern spin with a spine-chilling score from Grammy and Oscar-winning pop rock songwriters. This musical thriller is presented by students of the Richard E. Rauh Conservatory, accompanied by the CAPA Orchestra.

This show runs from October 20- 23 at the Byham Theatre. Order tickets online here.8143734

Carrie

High school prom can be scary in many ways– especially if a strange lonely girl with telekinetic powers goes rogue, causing chaos and exacting revenge on her tormentors. Brought to you by Split Stage Productions, Carrie: The Musical is Stephen King’s cult classic on Broadway. Despite the musical’s notorious “flop” status– it’s sure to excite and horrify all audiences and get you in the Halloween mood.

Carrie: The Musical runs from October 20-29 at Apple Hill Playhouse. Learn more here.14707874_10154577010151460_4154434185964917862_o

Giselle

Do you believe in ghosts? Giselle, an eerie, romantic ballet, will make you think twice about what you believe. Presented by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, this is the tale of a village girl who dies of a broken heart, only to be supernaturally summoned back from the dead by a group of vengeful, phantom dancers. The ghostly women attempt to dance Giselle’s previous lover to death– for his betrothal to another is what send Giselle to the grave.

Giselle runs from October 28-30 at the Benedum Center. Buy tickets and read all about it here. Photo by Ken Stiles.

 For more Fall theatre fun, check out our Fall Preview here.