Kiss Me, Kate

21764740_10155741717919464_1515833096864313073_nPoint Park University brings a delightful mix of Cole Porter and William Shakespeare to their final season at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland with the backstage musical Kiss Me, Kate.

Winner of the first-ever Tony Award for Best Musical in 1949, Kiss Me, Kate takes place during the production of a musical version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew.  Tensions mount when the egotistical leading man, director, and producer Fred Graham (Jeremy Spoljarick) is forced to play opposite with his ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Katie Weinstein). As much as they hate each other, they still appear to be in love.

One could initially fault that notion, as Graham, has more than his eyes on Lois Lane (Hailie Lucille). She, however, is “So in Love” with her gambling boyfriend Bill Calhoun (Kurt Kemper). Lilli is also engaged to General Harrison Howell (Pierre Mballa) who promises to take her away from all the fame and adoration that comes from a life as a famous actress in theatre and the movies.

Bill is late to the rehearsal, as he has been out gambling and lost ten grand. In order to leave the game, Bill signs a marker in Fred’s name for the balance due! Just before the opening curtain of opening night, two loveable gangsters (Kevin Gilmond and Beau Bradshaw) show up in Fred Graham’s dressing room to collect the dough.

The Company of Kiss Me, KateWhile this is going on, “the show must go on”. Taming of the Shrew is an old story. The oldest unpleasant daughter (Lilli Vanessi) must marry before the sweet younger sibling (Lois Lane) can wed.  This musical Shrew shares the same similarity as Romeo and Juliet does to West Side Story.

Kiss Me, Kate is the winning combination the irreverent humor of two brilliant writers: Cole Porter and William Shakespeare. As with any Porter musical, the show’s tunes send you home humming and include the “So In Love,” “Wunderbar,” “Tom, Dick or Harry,” “Too Darn Hot,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “I Hate Men,” “Always True to You (In My Fashion)” and “Another Op’nin, Another Show.”

Porter and Rodgers and Hammerstein seemed to be in a bit of a competition in their day, each creating shows with the newest techniques. R&H developed the integrated musical, Oklahoma. where the songs were actually connected to the script. Kiss Me, Kate was Porter’s response. It proved to be so popular that it won the first Tony Award for best musical and was the only Porter show to run for over one thousand performances in its first presentation on Broadway.

Katie Weinstein (Lilli) & Jeremy Spoljarick (Fred)
Katie Weinstein (Lilli) & Jeremy Spoljarick (Fred)

The real story here, however, is this production by the Conservatory Theatre of Point Park University. It is practically perfect in every way. If you went into the Rockwell Theatre thinking you were going to see a college level production with mostly undergraduates, that conception goes out the window within the first couple of numbers. This is first-class musical theatre in every way. Point Park has fact-based a reputation for producing “triple threats” actors who can brilliantly act, sing and dance.

This show only further reinforces that reputation. Lucille, Weinstein, Kemper, and Spoljarick have strong voices and can belt with the best hitting and sustaining those high notes. Lucille’s Lois Lane shows off her dancing skills as well in the fun numbers “Tom, Dick or Harry” and “Always True to You in My Fashion”. There isn’t a single number that the four leads perform that leaves you feeling it could be any better than this. A special kudo to Jordan McMillan who plays Lois Lane’s assistant Hattie, she gets the signature “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” number and delivers to the cheers of the audience. Mel Holley’s vocals and Gabe Reed Saxophone skills in “Too Darn Hot” put the second act opener over the top. Just when you think it can’t get any better or funnier, the two gangsters, who have developed their own love of theatre, deliver a comedy gem in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”.

Kurt Kemper (Bill) & Hailie Lucille (Lois)
Kurt Kemper (Bill) & Hailie Lucille (Lois)

Director and Choreographer Zeva Barzell has executed a brilliantly crafted unified production that really brings the skills and talents of her cast to the forefront. The entire ensemble of singers and dancers cannot go without mention, each had a fully develop and realized character, no one was lost or just going through the motions here. Musical Director Camille Rolla brought out the best in the singers as well as ten other musicians in the on-stage pit.

I mentioned a “unified production” early where all the elements of design fit seamlessly into and support the director’s vision. Barzell shows off the skills of Pittsburgh’s designers. Johnmichael Bohach has created a multilayered set, beautifully detailed in the theatre’s backstage area and suitably stylized for the Taming of the Shrew scenes. Bohach has a very long list of design credits and you can see why. Andrew David Ostrowski reprises his role as Pittsburgh’s busiest Lighting Designer enhancing Bohach’s design and sculpting the dancers with light. Steve Shapiro helms Sound Design for his eighth season which settled into a nearly invisible mix and a very realistic siren sound accompanying the General’s arrival.  This show has a lot of costumes as characters have their streetwear, rehearsal clothes- and Shrew costumes. Veteran Point Park Costume Designer Cathleen-Crocker Perry misses no detail in any character’s costumes, the women’s gowns are gorgeous and the state of undress in “Too Darn Hot” conveys the double entendre beautifully. Kudos as well to the Stage Managers and run-crew, opening night as spot on.

Point Park moves its theatre companies downtown to their new Pittsburgh Playhouse adjacent to our Cultural District next season. Kiss Me, Kate is on par, perhaps better than anything you might choose see down the street at another theatre. The Playhouse will be a welcome and well-earned addition to our world class cultural scene downtown.

Point Park University Conservatory Company’s production of Kiss Me, Kate, runs now through October 29th at the Rockwell Theatre at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland. For tickets click here. 

Photos by John Altdorfer

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or The Most Popular American Play You’ve Never Seen

SlidersUNCLETOMPoint Park University’s Conservatory Theatre production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or The Most Popular American Play You’ve Never Seen is an adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin first published in 1852 and George Aiken’s stage production of the same era.

Stowe’s book was the most popular novel of the 19th century. Aiken’s production was the most popular play in England and America into the 1920s. The book is also the first widely read political novel in the United States.

The story centers on the life of Tom, a very responsible, kindly and forgiving black man trapped as a slave in the south. His owner is a Kentucky farmer named Arthur Shelby. To repay a debt, Arthur is forced to sell Tom and a baby boy named Harry, the son of Arthur’s wife’s housemaid Eliza.

Eliza learns of the plan to sell Harry and decides to run away with him to Canada. Tom is sold and placed on a riverboat that sails down the Mississippi. We learn on the trip that Tom has saved a young white girl, Eva St. Claire from drowning when she accidentally fell off the boat. Augustine Saint Claire, Eva’s father, subsequently purchases Tom and takes Tom to his home in New Orleans to help raise Eva. Tom and Eva become fast friends, she refers to him as Uncle Tom.

The story of Eliza, Harry and her husband George’s escape to freedom in Canada is intertwined in the story line.

Augustine later purchases a young slave girl, Topsy, and gives her to his northern cousin Ophelia, to raise and educate. Augustine hopes by that by raising Topsy, Ophelia will realize her opinions of black people are wrong. Eva and Topsey play together and become good friends.

Several years later Eva falls ill and on her deathbed asks her father to grant Uncle Tom his freedom. Augustine agrees to this, but dies tragically several days later before he has signed Tom’s papers. Augustine’s wife goes against his will and sells Tom to the vicious plantation owner Simon Legree as she settles the estate. This is Tom’s first experience with an evil Master and things do not end well for Tom.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the plays it has inspired have fallen out of favor due to what is seen as condescending racist characteristics in the portrayals of the black characters. Unfortunately, the book’s popularity served to reinforce those stereotypes with the public.  Once out of favor, the importance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an anti-slavery tool leading up to Civil War has been lost.

This adaptation by co-directors Jason Jacobs and Tome Cousin attempts to address some of those concerns, regretfully those stereotypes of both blacks and white southerners still come shining through.

This is not a reason to ignore Uncle Tom’s Cabin today. Slavery is an important part of this country’s history that, as horrible as it is, cannot be forgotten. We continue to struggle with the implications of slavery in a country where “all men are created equal”. Uncle Tom’s Cabin reminds us just how evil and reprehensible slavery was; human beings are not critters like farm animals or property to be sold.

The book’s plot involves a lot of characters and sub plots, which makes it a challenge to create a stage adaption that fits neatly into two hours. The Jacobs – Cousin adaptation struggles with the story’s complexity and disjointed at times in its flow.  Set Designer Tony Ferrieri’s one-piece stylized log cabin is beautiful to look at but doesn’t always help the audience follow where the story is taking place. Sometimes it feels as if there are too many people crowded into the cabin.

The concept for the staging of the two young girls, Eva and Topsey, was problematic to me. The Directors chose to have two adult women play the characters as puppeteers with children’s baby dolls. This is too Avenue Q like. Eva and Topsey’s dialog is not baby talk; it’s that of maturing young girls struggling to find their place amongst their differences and in the process becoming friends. This relationship between two young girls who have not yet learned to hate ends tragically with Eva’s death at a young age. But it represents the hope for future generations.

There are two standout performances: Kendall Arin Claxiton, in spite of the puppet situation, beautifully captures the “wicked” nature of Topsey, her growing friendship with Eva, and her winning over of Ophelia.

Lamont Walker II’s Tom casts an imposing figure and crushes all the typical stereotypes of a slave. Walker brings out Tom’s reserved, kind and gentlemanly nature without sacrificing his personal humanity.  In Walker’s portrayal, all manner of indignities coupled with slavery are endured by Tom, yet he never becomes an “Uncle Tom”.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an important part of America’s literary, cultural and political history and it deserves another look today as we continue to struggle with racial issues. The Jacobs / Cousin adaptation reminds us of how far we have come in one hundred seventy five years and how much further we have to go for true equality to be realized. Though I felt at times this production got in the way of that important message.

Point Park Universities Conservatory Theatre production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or The Most Popular Play You Have Never Seen plays through April 16th at the Rauh Theatre at Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

For tickets visit: http://www.pittsburghplayhouse.com/tickets or call 412-392-8000

Thanks to Pittsburgh Playhouse for the complimentary tickets.

Sweet Charity

17309529_10155119503499464_6508762438322067663_nThe girl who couldn’t hold on to a guy is the victorious heroine of Sweet Charity, on stage of the equally spunky and iconic Rockwell Theater at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland. The colorful and groovy Broadway and film hit showcases Point Park University student talent under the savvy direction of returning Michael Rupert in a Conservatory Theatre Company production.

The mind-blowing 1960’s are calling! Sweet Charity opened on Broadway in 1969 and has almost been continually produced by leading international companies. At the Playhouse, the spot on professional band, ensconced on the second level of Johnmichael Bohach’s inventive set, is led by frequent Playhouse musical director Camille Rolla. A huge arch echoes both the Rockwell mid-century interior and Central Park’s tunnels while a gritty framework and understage evokes the city’s dark corners and elevated train trestles. Costumes range from everyday to evening wear, so there’s no shortage of flower power, fringe, mini-dresses, sequins, and outrageous wigs in Michael Montgomery’s designs.The Cast of Sweet Charity2

Charity Hope Valentine’s very name reassures us that all will be well and even failed romances and turbulent times are wrought with lessons that strengthen us. The “It Girl” and shining star of Sweet Charity is graduating PPU senior Jasmine Overbaugh. As resilient and charming as the venue itself, Overbaugh takes a classic role of a Times Square “taxi-dance” girl (who provides other “services”) and runs with it from the moment she steps on stage–and almost immediately is pushed into the Central Park lake by male companion who runs away (for the last time) with her cash. Still, she writes off such incidents off as the “fickle finger of fate.” As Charity explores the wilds of New York City, Overbaugh is on stage during most every scene.  Her engaging singing, outstanding dancing, and comic pratfalls connect with the audience and we look forward to what this young artist does next.

The Neil Simon book and the 1960’s style of Sweet Charity supports a story as old as (real) time: The girl doesn’t always get the guy. Or perhaps any guy. The story is one of self-exploration and experiences that inform Charity’s life journey. On a first date, she winds up at a “church of the month,” a hippy, cultish group meeting under the Manhattan Bridge. She even stays overnight in the apartment of a dashing Italian movie star between getting dumped. However, she struts and taunts with “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Despite tumbling into bodies of water–twice–and suffering the sexism, pay inequity, and stereotyping that fueled the “women’s movement,” she picks herself up and starts all over and over again as young single woman trying to find her way.

Jasmine Overbaugh as Charity
Jasmine Overbaugh as Charity

 

One wants to rewind or request more reprises as the show is so jam-packed with hits by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields including “Big Spender,” “There’s Gotta be Something Better than This,” and “I’m a Brass Band.” Choreographer Jim Cooney has an imaginative blast with most all the numbers. On two classics he pays homage to Bob Fosse’s original choreography. He summons the show’s original moves for the iconic “Big Spender” featuring the dance hall  “taxi girls” and the fascinating postures of “Rich Man’s Frug”. The cast expertly executes Fosse’s signature shoulders, wrists and hips with his obligatory knee and ankle angles.

Jasmine’s fellow cast members are superb, too, singing and dancing their way to graduation, auditions, and the next show. Gianni Annesi (Helene) and Jane Zogbi (Nickie) both make their PPU musical debuts and stand out in their duet “Baby, Dream Your Dream”. When Overbaugh joins them in “…Better than This,” this triple threat of strong women owns the show with their song and dance acumen.

Lauren Lerant, also a senior, leads the cast in “Rich Man’s Frug” with all those Fosse moves and high-style hair swinging. Atiauna Grant steps out of the ensemble as The Good Fairy with some fine attitude as she doesn’t settle on a typical “happy ending” for the ingenue.

Nikky Robinson, Lauren Lerant, Kurt Kemper
Nikky Robinson, Lauren Lerant, Kurt Kemper

When the entire 31-member cast is dancing, it’s just delightful with rising stars in the spotlight conjuring their future stage careers. They depict sardine-like straphangers on a subway car, self-absorbed New Yorkers who try not to “get involved,” haughty party-goers, and the city’s working class cops, waiters, as well as the Fandango dance hall girls.

Now, here’s to all the boys–solid and charming characterizations and performances by: Michael Joseph Krut as Charity’s boyfriend Oscar; Kevin Gilmond as Charity’s boss Herman; Russell Badalamenti as sauve film actor Vittorio Vidal; and David Gretchko as the Rhythm of Life congregation leader Daddy. Ensemble charmers included Daddy’s assistants Nikky Robinson and Ben Northrup, who also appears as Marvin, a dance hall regular who fancies Charity.  

In deference to the entire and almost constantly moving and costume-changing cast, it’s only right to list all the others for their energy, artistry, and many roles here. Caroline Hitesman is cool and classy as Vittorio’s Ursula. Ladies of the ensemble include: Sierra Barnett (dance captain), KellyAnn Coyle (Alice), Halle Mastroberardino (new girl Rosie), Hailie Hagedorn (Frenchy), Sarah Martinez (Carmen), Sophie Ankin, Mackenzie Manning, Maddy Miller, and Kyra Smith.

Kurt Kemper, Halle Mastroberardino, William Bureau, Micah Stanek, Jasmine Overbaugh, Ben Northrup, Peter Brannigan, Atiauna Grant
Kurt Kemper, Halle Mastroberardino, William Bureau, Micah Stanek, Jasmine Overbaugh, Ben Northrup, Peter Brannigan, Atiauna Grant

The gentlemen are also impressive in many multiple roles: Kurt Kemper (solo tenor), Eric Freitas (Monte the Cop), Liron Blumenthal, Peter Brannigan, William Bureau, Jared Thomas Roberts, Austin Sultzbach, and Jacob Wasson, and Austin Trynosky (swing).

It’s always joyful to again find PPU students still singing and dancing their hearts out. And it’s bittersweet, too, as the university will brand its new Playhouse facility downtown within a few years. (This alumna and writer proudly discloses that I wrote my first reviews for The Globe, the student newspaper there, so the Playhouse is in my DNA, too.)

Sweet Charity has five more performances, March 23-26 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Take a friend, someone you love, or, better yet, go it alone. You’ll be just fine! Guarantee you’ll dance onto Craft Avenue as you head for home and add the 1969 film version to your watch list. Check out the production details and great ticket prices of $10 to $24 at: PittsburghPlayhouse.com.

Photos courtesy of John Altdorfer.

Big Love

BigLove883x397The Pittsburgh Playhouse’s adaptation of Big Love wrestles with relationship language the same way that the 470 BC tragedy Aeschylus’ The Suppliants did.

Big Love is a very smart but daring play – it takes one of the earliest tragedies of the Western World and applies it to the world today, adding gender politics, love (in so many different forms), domestic violence, refugee status, woman’s rights, race relations, equal protection under the law, empathy, compassion, rage, heartache, death and much more.  Two things must occur to make this play “work” – emotional language and physicality.

How does director Reginald Douglas move this tragedy forward with humor/comic relief? It’s the responsibility of an extremely energetic brood of actors to make sure the audience doesn’t leave confused and understands the play’s implications.

Saige Smith (Olympia), Markia Nicole Smith (Lydia), Amber Jones (Thyona)
Saige Smith (Olympia), Markia Nicole Smith (Lydia), Amber Jones (Thyona)

The three sisters, Lydia (Markia Nicole Smith), Olympia (Saige Smith), and Thyona (Amber Jones) and the three cousin suitors, Nikos (Nate Wiley), Oed (Charlie Rowell), and Constantine (Drew Campbell-Amberg) make up the center of the experiment of the complications of arranged marriage, translated more to the experiment of how to elude oppression.  It’s really up to these six characters to make the audience feel the intensity of all of those emotions listed above, again, through their real attachments to one another and to their “causes.”

Their relationships to the audience in this drama are important, particularly that of Thyona (Jones).  Thyona is the “glue” that holds the sisters together. It is Thyona who sways her sisters to stick firm to the fact that they are not going to be forced to marry their cousins. Jones acts throughout the play as the chorus, uttering dynamic soliloquies reminding the audience of the truth of what is occurring on the stage. It is Thyona who plans the mass murder of the suitors on their wedding night.

Drew Campbell-Amberg (Constantine) and Nate Willey (Nikos)
Drew Campbell-Amberg (Constantine) and Nate Willey (Nikos)

The defiant Thyona stands up against forced oppression rather than being suppliant to the whims and needs of the soon to be husbands.  Jones delivers her role throughout the tragedy as “THE angry young woman.” As far as stage dynamics are concerned, it is Jones who delivers; Jones who clenches her fists; Jones who demands relevance.

She is Big Love’s version of Antigone – willing to kill or be killed for her beliefs. And she delivers in this role. Sitting only rows from center stage, I felt that her anger was real, not contrived, not melodramatic.  Clenching her fists in what appeared to be real rage demonstrated to the audience that she believed what she was saying.

At times, however, for comic relief, Thyona, Olympia, and Lydia take on a hilarious 3 Stooges-like performance (breaking dishes and planters while singing Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”) and other antics. Lydia and Olympia play the roles of young girls undereducated to their fate. This is where Olympia and Lydia play the foil to Thyona.  Thyona quickly quells their needs for gaiety and companionship.

Bebe Tabickman (Bella)
Bebe Tabickman (Bella)

But a special place in this work has to be held for the performance of Bebe Tabickman in the role of Bella – instantly connecting with the audience portraying a true Nonnino, comparing her 13 sons to a basket of tomatoes which is so humorous that to explain her actions would not do justice to her acting ability. Her initial scene endears her to the audience, and Tabickman has just the right demeanor and accent to be a believable strong Italian woman.

She appears throughout the play, however, acting more the “fool” than the voice of wisdom, but tragedies have fools, and we know it is the fool who often times speaks the truth.  At the end of the work, it is Tabickman who explains the tragedy of what just happened on stage. She ends the play with a voice of reason and wit.  She is the true chorus that would, I am sure, have made Aeschylus proud, cleaning up the horrific murder scene with her words of truth and reason.

The fact that she moves from a comic figure to such a serious interpreter of the play is interesting to say the least and in keeping with the tragedy. She shouts to the audience that “love trumps everything” after she has scolded all of the actors for their childish and murderous behavior. She reminds the audience that no one is innocent. Like Thyona, she is not only speaking to the characters in the play, she is speaking to us, the audience. She is the wise sage. The laughable, kind character becomes an extremely angry matriarch, literally shaking as she gives her final chorus and warning to the audience.

Nate Willey (Nikos), Markia Nicole Smith (Lydia), Gabe Florentino (Guiliano), Bebe Tabickman (Bella), Mel Holley (Piero)
Nate Willey (Nikos), Markia Nicole Smith (Lydia), Gabe Florentino (Guiliano), Bebe Tabickman (Bella), Mel Holley (Piero), Marisa Taylor Scott (Eleanor), Adam Jeffery Rossi (Leo)

The remainder of the cast include Giuliano (Gabriel Florintino) who portrays Bella’s gay grandson, Piero (Mel Holley) is the owner of the home in Italy where the sisters land in their escape from Greece, and Leo and Eleanor (Adam Rossi and Marisa Scott), a married couple who are friends of Piero and who assist the maidens prepare for their nuptials and act as those “regular people” who get caught up in the crossfire of a tragedy.  They are the “us” in the play – the observers who accidentally are caught in the cross hairs of futility, anger, and death.

The fact that the actors and Douglas received a standing ovation is proof that the “experiment” worked. Kudos also must go to Gianni Downs who designed a beautiful set which reminds one of a bright, sunny Italian countryside villa, a fitting setting for such a thought-provoking drama.

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Playhouse for complimentary press tickets. Big Love runs through March 12, tickets and more information can be found here. 

Photo credit: John Altdorfer

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical

PageantSliderIn a shift from its usual Christmas offering, the Conservatory Theatre Company at Point Park University has chosen to play The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical for its holiday show. It’s Christmas, all right – in more ways that one. Pageant is a retelling of a 1971 children’s book that was published by Harper & Row. With this source material, The Conservatory Theatre Company has given us a lovely little show that’s like a reimagined It’s a Wonderful Life for a contemporary America where everybody is willing and ready to acknowledge that some high schoolers smoke, drink, and shoplift.

Pageant is also a musical and has something like a dozen and a half songs throughout the performance. While the songs manage to convey simple emotions akin to something out of the Cole Porter songbook, the songs do not congeal with the rest of the performance and the audience is often left waiting for the songs to end so that the narrative can continue. This is not to say that the music in Pageant is anywhere near bad or unenjoyable, it’s just that the audience will not find itself humming or tapping along to the melody.

Grace Bradley (Nora Krupp) is assigned with the duty of overseeing the local Christmas pageant when the pageant’s original leader, Helen Armstrong (Shannon Felletter) falls and breaks her leg. The announcement for pageant auditions occurs on the day that the Herdmans happen to be at the church. The Herdmans are six rough and tumble children who are the bad eggs in the community who lie, steal, smoke, and hurt other kids. The Herdmans manage to bully their way their way into each of starring roles in the year’s Christmas pageant.

From this point in the play forward, a master of dramaturgy is not required to determine how this show will conclude. But even if we are certain of how Pageant will end, following the play to its inevitable conclusion is immensely enjoyable. There are several laugh out loud moments that appear at random junctures throughout the play. The actors that play the Herdmans do a particularly skillful job of creating a humorous and riotous crowd of delinquents. The rest of the actors in this play are competent, but the Herdmans carry the comedic tone and thematic message.

Pageant is a very quick musical. I’m tempted to call the piece a play because the story is what stuck with me the most and what I will remember. I’m not aware of another unique and memorable Christmas musical or play that’s being performed in Pittsburgh this holiday season. The play is also without an intermission and if my less than stellar timing abilities then Pageant has a running time of a little over an hour.

The play’s scene design by Tucker Topel is particularly noteworthy. Topel really manages to maximize the stage by using a simple theatrical techniques including sliding walls to effectively convey the three or four main locations of the play. There are also a couple of very smart choices for character entrances in the play. So, at the end of the day, you might not fall in love with the music in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever but it’s a very embraceable show that I would recommend seeing if you’re in need of a good Christmas performance this year.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever runs at the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Rauh Theatre through December 18th. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Special thanks to Point Park University for complimentary press tickets.

 

Pittsburgh Playhouse Brings Dramaturgical Powerhouse Season

playhouseAudacious drag queens, a surreal reimagining of The Tempest, the devastatingly pointed Harriet Beecher Stowe slave narrative, and the indomitable grimy charm of a deaf and blind pinball wizard are only a few of the exhilarating highlights set to tantalize audiences in the fantastic upcoming Fall 2016/Spring 2017 season of Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse.  Putting forth a powerhouse dramaturgical trifecta, The Rep will launch the season with Tarell Alvin McCraney’s astoundingly multidimensional Wig Out!” Centering on the explosive personalities, incandescent interwoven galaxies of culture and presentations of selfhood, and outlandishly unique language and dialects of performance of queer and drag communities, Wig Out! is a lavishly dramatic and sonorous telling of Eric, a gay man dubious of the world of drag and the gender/relational dynamics that ensconce it, as he falls for Wilson—or Ms. Nina as he is known in the World of Light, the drag world that functions as an ethereal, alternate universe in the play’s mythology—and is inculcated into the complex, rapturously rich tapestries of the drag world and the intersections of gender expression, sexual desire, and politics of body and place.  Directed by the acclaimed Tome Cousin (who has most recently helmed Guilin in 2016), the play—scintillatingly and deliciously risqué (so, cautioned to be for more mature audiences) will preview September 8th and have its complete run September 9th through 25th at Point Park’s Rauh Theatre.The Rep

On the divine heels of Wig Out!, a more subdued but equally provocative portrayal of fraught interpersonal dynamics and dialogues, director Robert Turano will present the Halley Feiffer sardonic off-Broadway piece, I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard.  With an attention-grabbing title that sends queasy shivers down a former Christian schoolgirl’s spine, Feiffer’s Outer Critics Circle Award nominated play is a rivetingly intimate examination of an abrasive-father/daughter relationship, set in the intense agonizingly eternal moments awaiting the reviews for the daughter’s (Ella) stage debut.  The onslaught of sly fatherly eviscerations of a daughter’s burgeoning career will be staged September 30th through October 16 in the Studio Theatre (and, as with any scathing family piece, is recommended for mature audiences).   Concluding the Fall/Winter season is the profoundly inventive one-woman show, Woody’s Order! written by Ann Talman, which is centered around the axiomatic quandary of being one’s brother’s keeper.  Woody’s Order!—which alludes to the magical command of the lead’s brother, Woody, who pines for a sister and wills his mother to have another child—is one woman’s delineation of her magical birth and the imperative care for her brother and the essence of one’s duties in life.  The play, directed by Point Park’s John Shepard, will feature at the beginning of 2017 at the Studio Theater, previewing February 2nd and running February 3rd-19th.CTC1

Certainly a veritable equal match in compelling dramaturgy this impending season, the Conservatory Theatre Company will present a robust lineup of six plays spanning from boisterous musical legends to a raucous revenge on a Christmas standard.  Quite literally kicking off the season clad in denim and snarling bite is the Pete Townshend’s The Who’s Tommy.  Based on The Who’s ecstatically rocking 1969 double album rock opera Tommy, the musical, which debuted in 1992, is the bildungsroman of an emotionally turbulent boy—the titular Tommy—who is born amidst the rubble of the end of the Second World War who loses his sight and hearing at a young age after witnessing a violent murder at the hands of his father.  The play, which follows Tommy’s ascension to a pinball wizard and tormented almost cult figure, will be directed by Zeva Barzell and run at the Rockwell Theatre from October 21st-October 30th.  Taking on the sometimes daunting task of yet again reinventing Shakespearean themes, Edward Bond’s bizarrely tumultuous The Sea will follow the quintessential rock opera.  Directed by Point Park’s David Cabot, the play—steeped in the somber melodrama of Edwardian England—toys with Shakespeare’s The Tempest as it delves into the themes of loss, grief, and, naturally, alien hysteria as the protagonist Willy grapples with the ineffable mourning and guilt of failing to save his friend from drowning, as his home village internalizes that mourning and their own hysteria in acute extraterrestrial occupation paranoia.  The quasi-farcical drama will run from November 11th to December 4th at the Studio Theatre. Closing out 2016 will be the irreverent kiss-off to Christmas spectacles and homage to childhood angst in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever! Directed by Philip Winters, which chronicles six devious children’s plot to spoil the Yuletide pageantry in their pursuit of free snacks.  The outlandish comedy will run December 9th-18th at Rauh theatre.CTC2

Embarking on 2017, Point Park will put forth Charles L. Mee’s—noted for his mosaic-esque dramaturgical style and a background in reconstructing historical texts—Aeschylus-reminiscent experiment Big Love (no relation to polygamy or Bill Paxton).  The play’s action is catalyzed by the mass-fleeing of fifty brides who are attempting to escape betrothal to their own cousins, and fixates on the meta-dialogues on issues of gender disparities and the nature of love and commitment between three couples.  Big Love will be helmed by Reginald Douglas—whose directing credits include Paradox of the Urban Cliché and Lines in the Dust- and will run in the Rauh Theatre from February 24th to March 12th of 2017.  Keeping 2017 going theatrically strong, Miachel Rupert will direct the Conservatory in staging another musical flush with pop-splendor in Sweet Charity.  Featuring lyrics by the iconic librettist Dorothy Fields and based on the book by the tried-and-true New Yorker Neil Simon, Sweet Charity reflects on the at times amusing, at times crushing volatility of love and finding one’s true self (if that’s even a feasible reality, after all).  Exposing the minor-catastrophes of love in the dizzying swarm of New York, the musical will run March 17th to March 26th at the Rockwell Theatre. Finishing the season with a poignant historical narrative, Tome Cousin will debut his talents yet again in staging Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or the Most Popular American Play You’ve Never Seen: an adaptation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s pivotal slave narrative by George Aiken, depicting the environment, injustices and aching ramifications of Tom, besieged by the hostile world of American slavery.  Uncle Tom will close out the spring season.

In addition to the phenomenal repertoire lined up for the Fall 2016/Spring 2017 seasons, Point Park’s tremendously talented Conservatory Dance Company will present four collections beginning in October.  The Student Choreography Project will debut three days (October 14th-16th) of original student choreography at the GRW Performance Studio, allowing for an eclectic mix of individual-minded choreographic and stylistic output.  November promises the evocative collection put forth in the Contemporary Choreographers performance, staged at the GRW Performance Studio from November 16th-20th, an endeavor in transcendent movement with new pieces by David Norsworth, Helen Simoneau, James Gregg and Stephanie Martinez.  Ballet Off-Center will take the stage at Rockwell Theatre from December 2nd to December 11th, highlighting the contemporary, experimental talents of up and coming ballet choreographers and featuring new works by Darrell Moultrie and Jason McDole (among others).  The faculty choreographers will join forces with the Conservatory’s dancers to produce CDC at the GRW Performance Studio, spotlighting the bevy of rhythmic and dance styles across genres from February 23rd to 26th.  Finally, the Conservatory’s impressive season will concluded with the CDC at the Byham Theatre, showing April 13th to 15th, and will be a showcase of the multifariousness of dance and performance, and feature the swan song of cherished Point Park dance faculty member Doug Bentz.

Point Park’s ambitious and excitingly diverse Fall 2016/Spring 2017 lineup seeks to provoke, to titillate and to challenge conventions of performance with these daring, fascinating pieces.  Be sure too to make time for the youthful talents at Playhouse Junior in such plays as Pinkalicious (May 3rd-21st at Rockwell Theatre) and The Adventures of Nate the Great (May 4th-21st, Rauh theatre).

For tickets and more information about what the Pittsburgh Playhouse has to offer, click here.

Check out the rest of our Collegiate Preview and follow along with our Collegiate adventures on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #PITRUniversity!

Collegiate Preview 2016

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College campuses throughout the city are springing back to life with students moving into their dorms, buying books and preparing for another semester of learning. With schools gearing up for fall term we want to make sure our readers are in the know when it comes to Pittsburgh’s collegiate  stage productions. Our first ever Collegiate Preview covers the four major universities and what they have to offer audiences the 2016-2017 season.

Point Park’s upcoming Conservatory season includes The Who’s Tommy, The Sea, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical, Big Love, Sweet Charity, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin or the Most Popular American Play You’ve Never Seen. Plus some some surprises from the REP and the Conservatory Dance Company. Read more about what the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s 2016-2017 season has for us here.

The University of Pittsburgh Stages’ 2016-2017 season brings us a nice mix of classic musicals and modern plays. Pitt’s upcoming season includes Intimate Apparel, Hair, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Baltimore, and Peter and the Starcatcher. Click here to see what we’re in for this school year!

Carnegie Mellon University’s subscription series includes The Playboy of the Western WorldThe RoverRagtime, and The Three Musketeers.  Plus bonus Director Series and New Work Series! Check out what CMU will be bringing us here.

Duquense Univeristy’s Red Masquers has big plans this season starting with Avenue Q, How I Learned to Drive, Rust, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Proof, and True West. Finishing off the school year with a weekend of One Acts for Charity. Click here to find out more!

Follow along with our Collegiate adventures on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the hashtag #PITRUniversity!