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. 

Artist Spotlight: Quinn Patrick Shannon

db01f92e-d563-432e-a457-b2aa8dc3efc4Is it weird to think that an actor has done it all at only age 31?

Maybe. Still, that’s the impression I got after talking with Quinn Patrick Shannon.

Over the last decade, you’ve likely seen Shannon star in regional shows of all genres in venues of all sizes. It’s also true that his incredible talent is directly proportional to his generosity and work ethic.

Those values were fostered in him at a very young age. Although he grew up in the Pennsylvania suburbs of Washington and Bethel Park, he identifies as a Pittsburgher. Between his father’s work and his mother’s acting career, Quinn’s family spent a lot of time in the city. She co-starred in a musical comedy that literally defined the phrase “back by popular demand”, Nunsense.

His connection to the city actually goes back further than I ever imagined. The Shannon name has a lot of weight when dropped around baby boomers. Quinn’s grandfather was local media legend Paul Shannon. He emceed KDKA’s Dream Weaver and WTAE’s Adventure Time throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

Paul Shannon passed away when Quinn was young, but his legacy has followed Quinn ever since. One of Quinn’s Grease cast mates showed him a 50-year old ticket stub from one of his grandfather’s shows. It was only a non-native Pittsburgher like me that confused that classic Adventure Time with the modern Cartoon Network show of the same name.

15068960_10154110007671696_496352613198024282_oI made him chuckle when I suggested that he was part of a performing dynasty, but I think the proof is in the pudding.

Even though it was a “million years ago” his brother was in a production of Peter Pan, Quinn still cites him as his “first and best acting teacher”. When his mother asked him if he wanted to be in shows, he replied with a resounding yes. His career as a child actor kicked off in similar fashion to many kids looking to find work on the Pittsburgh stage.

Three words: A Christmas Carol. At age six, he debuted with Pittsburgh Musical Theater as their first Tiny Tim.

He followed in both his siblings’ footsteps by graduating from Point Park University with a theatre degree. Recently, he revisited his first conservatory credit, Hair, not as an actor among his peers but as a director of teenage members of PMT’s own conservatory. He relished the chance, saying “there’s nothing like kids doing that show”. Rather than burdening his Hair with a Trump-hating agenda, he mounted the show as a thwarted “celebration of youth” and gave into its trippy moments. For Quinn, the job of directing children is twofold: ensuring that the kids learn and keeping their parents happy.

Frequent collaborator Guy Stroman and Pittsburgh Public Theater Artistic Director Ted Pappas have been two influential directors in Quinn’s career.

Stroman’s vast body of work includes originating the role of Frankie in the 1950’s jukebox musical revue Forever Plaid. In 2013, Quinn played Frankie in a pseudo-sequel to that show called Plaid Tidings. That experience was where everything truly “clicked” for him. Realizing that acting was his true calling on this project was a feeling he compares to falling in love. He credits Stroman with teaching him the value of “having a vision” and being meticulous as a director.

Pappas is responsible for casting Quinn in one of his dream roles, Nicely Nicely Johnson in last year’s production of Guys and Dolls.

“That offer was THE offer.”

Joel Hurt Jones (Nathan Detroit), Quinn Patrick Shannon (Nicely Nicely Johnson), Gavan Pamer (Benny Southstreet)
Joel Hurt Jones (Nathan Detroit), Quinn Patrick Shannon (Nicely Nicely Johnson), Gavan Pamer (Benny Southstreet)

He admits that there’s always pressure performing such iconic material but, as an actor, he thrives on it. Performers crave larger stages (Broadway, TV, film) because greater exposure often leads to bigger breaks.

CLO’s Cabaret at Theater Square is certainly not the biggest stage that Pittsburgh offer, but Quinn maintains that it’s the best job in the city. He’s performed there a few times including in the hardest show he’s ever done, The 39 Steps (also directed by Stroman). It’s a slapstick riff on the classic Hitchcock film of the same name in which Quinn portrayed several characters. The secret to succeeding at the Cabaret is building the stamina to perform the frequently extended runs. That involves forging good relationships with the cast and crew, taking care of your body and voice, and not letting the show “get away from you”. More than anything, shows in that setting require focus.

Offstage, Quinn enjoys playing the drums, a 16-year old pastime of his. When he lived in New York City, he was a member of about six different bands. He also wrote and recorded some solo music. It’s been a while since he flexed those muscles, but he’s eager to get back in that arena sometime soon.

This year, he also plans to arrange further readings of an original script he’s been working on with his best friend and roommate. He declined to reveal more about the project, insisting it be (literally) a surprise.

IMG_6894The last time Quinn led a PMT production was in the role of Quasimodo (pictured above) in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This rare chance to carry a show was a “surprisingly special” opportunity for him. Alan Menken’s score definitely took a toll on voice by the end of each show, but it was well worth it.

“When I came out for that last bow, it really meant a lot to me because I’m not going to get a lot of those being a character actor.”

The life of a character actor can be a difficult one spent in the shadows of people who fit the elusive leading man/woman type. If a person sticks it out though, there’s the chance for someone in a supporting or unconventional leading role to eclipse his co-stars and dazzle audiences.

Quinn Patrick Shannon is a proud, self-professed character actor. But, in my eyes, the sum of his charmingly self-effacing nature and positive attitude equal more than that. What his resume and bio won’t tell you is that he is also an actor with character.

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 #SummerwithPITR.

And don’t forget to sign up for our email blasts here. 

Tarzan

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This week saw the announcement of the nominations for the 71st annual Tony Awards. As is the case with every year, some shows were lavished with nominations across the board—Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 with 12, the most of any production this year—while others were snubbed entirely—Amelie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Significant Other, and the revival of Sunset Boulevard, to name a few.

If you’re wondering what time might have in store for these and other shows that failed to be recognized on Broadway’s biggest night, I can assure you that receiving none or even just one or two Tony nominations doesn’t mean that a show or production can’t thrive in regional productions or in the hearts of those who did consider it award worthy.

When Tarzan premiered on Broadway in 2006, it garnered mixed reviews from critics and only one Tony nod for Natasha Katz’s lighting design. The show closed the next year due to poor box office returns. History has lumped the show in with Aida and The Little Mermaid as embarrassing black marks on Disney Theatrical Productions’ Broadway report card.

 Despite all that, Pittsburgh Musical Theater is closing out its eclectic 25th season with a well-acted, gorgeously-sung revival production of Tarzan. Under the competent direction of PMT Executive Artistic Director Colleen Doyno, a handful of the principal cast members from the original 2013 production return here. Everyone on stage is so wonderfully animated that they almost convince you that this show didn’t get a fair shot when it opened in New York 11 years ago.

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David Toole as Tarzan

I say almost only because Tarzan is undeniably plagued by one of musical theatre’s most common pitfalls, second-act trouble. The brisk and bouncy first act is followed by an anti-climactic and convoluted conclusion. I’m choosing to lay the ape’s share of the blame on the show’s architects, composer/lyricist Phil Collins (yes, that Phil Collins) and book writer David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), for not providing themselves a safety net for the high wire act of adapting the thrillingly realized 1999 feature length cartoon of the same name.

The show is also billed as being “adapted from the story ‘Tarzan and the Apes’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs”. I’m not sure where the influence from the latter comes in, but, if you grew up watching the Disney film or remember watching your kids watching the Disney film, there are no surprises in store with the stage version.

Tragedy strikes twice in the West African coast when an evil leopard (danced wonderfully by Nathaniel Burich) murders the parents of a human infant and kidnaps the newborn of two gorilla parents. Amid the desperate search for her child, the mother gorilla Kala discovers the crying, newly orphaned baby in a tree. She names the child Tarzan and decides to bridge the two worlds of human and gorilla and raise him as her own, much to the disgust of her husband Kerchak.

Tarzan grows up thinking he’s an ape but feels like he is different from everyone else in his family. An incident in which he inadvertently creates and brandishes a makeshift weapon at the apes confirms his suspicion and vindicates Kerchak’s deep prejudice and fear of man. Kerchak banishes Tarzan from the family, but Kala, refusing to live without her son, joins him in exile. She raises him to be a kind, strapping man but is unable to prepare him for his meet cute with English expeditioner Jane. Not even the language barrier or a near death experience with a giant man-eating spider is enough to keep the sparks from flying between these two.

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Now comes that disappointing second act. It’s an onslaught of cheesy villainy, cheesier love ballads, and predictable plot points. It’s a real slog, but the cast makes the journey worthwhile.

David Toole is one of the actors reprising his performance from PMT’s 2013 Tarzan. From his first primal yell to his last, he grabs the role of Tarzan with both hands like the vine and swings across the stage as if he was born to do it. He convincingly speaks and acts like he was raised by a pack of apes and looks like he was raised by a pack of Men’s Fitness cover models. Toole expertly milks every bit of the fish-out-of-water humor out of the script. His lovely voice never fails to reach the pop-tinged heights of the soaring score.

If you notice that he has especially great chemistry with Jane, you’ll swoon when you find out she’s charmingly played by his real-life wife Kathlene Queen.

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David Toole as Tarzan and Kathlene Queen as Jane

I don’t believe that Alysha Watson and Brad David Patsy are Toole’s parents in real life, but the love that Kala and Kerchak share for each other and for Tarzan radiates from the stage. Their deeply felt renditions of the Oscar-winning “You’ll Be in My Heart” and “No Other Way” supply the production with a surprising gravitas.

Other standouts were Allan Snyder, Benjamin Godley Fisher, and Tru Verret-Fleming. As Tarzan’s best friend Terk, Fleming scats his way to one of night’s most energetic and entertaining moments with “Trashin’ the Camp”.

Whether you leave the Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Tarzan walking upright or using your knuckles in tandem with your feet to mimic the gorilla ensemble (utilized superbly by choreographer Lisa Elliot), you will do so with a huge smile on your face. If Broadway ever decides to give the show a second chance, producers need not look any further than this gifted ensemble to elevate the material.

Tarzan plays at the Byham Theater through May 14th. For more information, click here.

Dreamgirls

dream girlsIf you go to Dreamgirls expecting a biopic musical about The Supremes, you’ll be surprised: The show actually is a fictionalized tale inspired not just by the legendary female trio from the ‘60s, but other Motown-era acts including The Shirelles and James Brown.

Still, the look, feel and sound of The Supremes flavor every bit of Dreamgirls, a Pittsburgh Musical Theater production that is playing at the Byham Theater through March 19. The show’s lead trio of women – played by Delana Flowers (Lorrell), Anastasia Talley (Deena) and Adrianna M. Cleveland (Effie) – wear those legendary, sparkly, pizzazz-filled gowns for which The Supremes were known, built by costume designer Tony Sirk. The characters in this band – called The Dreamettes, then The Dreams, in the show – go through at least a half-dozen costume changes throughout the show.

One of those costumes, a dazzling sequined blue gown, had such a mirror effect that it briefly created the illusion of blue ocean waves on the walls of the Byham. And the woman wearing this gown – Effie, beautifully played by Cleveland, a Pittsburgh native – may be part of an ensemble-like cast, but she indisputably plays the part that needs the most powerful vocals, and she gets the loudest applause at the end. Cleveland’s feisty Effie can hit and hold notes for an awe-inspiring amount of time at several points throughout the play.

The real-life-inspired, but fictionalized Dreamgirls storyline takes the audience through the history and evolution of American R&B music in Detroit. The plot begins with the manipulative Curtis discovering The Dreamettes at a talent show, and claiming the young women and declaring himself their manager. Curtis – played by Monteze Freeland, who trained at Point Park University – arranges for the ladies to sing backup with R&B star Jimmy “Thunder” Early. Of course, a lot of drama ensues, with the women competing for star roles, and having ill-fated love affairs and crushes: Effie falls for Curtis, and Lorrell begins an affair with married man Jimmy.

You won’t hear the songs of The Supremes in Dreamgirls, but the show has its own energetic soundtrack with fun, original music. Memorable songs include the title tune “Dreamgirls” and “One Night Only,” sung by Effie, Deena and Lorrell; and the moving, empowering “I Am Changing” from Effie. The funniest musical moment comes when Jimmy – hilariously portrayed by LaTrea Rembert, a Point Park graduate – sings his song “I Meant You No Harm.” The song begins softly as almost a ballad, then dramatically shifts gears into a zany rap where Rembert declares “Jimmy got soul!”

Although Pittsburgh Musical Theater productions often feature students from the company’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory, the cast of Dreamgirls – almost all African-American – is a cast of professional adults. They give a delightful performance that transports the audience back to another era in pop-culture history and bring a new appreciation to this classic R&B music.

Dreamgirls continues March 17-19 at the Byham Theater. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $9.25 to $54.75. For tickets and more information about Pittsburgh Musical Theater, click here. 

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Spring

Pittsburgh theatregoers have a great mix of musicals to choose from this spring. Our preview features five shows that offer a mix of style, period and contemporary relevance. Two of them are new to Pittsburgh, Daddy Long Legs from the Public Theatre and Violet from Front Porch Theatricals.  The classic Cole Porter musical Anything Goes will be offered by the McKeesport Little Theatre and the contemporary hit Dream Girls from Pittsburgh Musical Theatre. Rounding out the mix and out of today’s headlines is the Duquesne Red Masquers’ production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.Layout 1

Pittsburgh Public Theatres second musical of the season is Daddy Long Legs, the story of Miss Jerusha Abbott, who is the oldest resident of a New England orphanage. When she turns eighteen, a mysterious benefactor, Jervis Pendleton, decides to pay for her college education. There is one condition, she must write him a monthly letter and not expect any reply.

During the course of her education, Jerusha begins to imagine the woman she could become which leads to critical thinking about religion, the social issues of the day, and politics.

The story is set between 1908 and 1912 and Daddy Long Legs is a story of emotional growth told in song by both characters – as she’s composing and he’s reading her letters.

Pittsburgh’s own Allan Snyder plays Jervis. Audiences will remember him from PMT’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and the CLO’s 39 Steps. Danielle Bowen plays Jerusha.

The New York Times described Daddy Long Legs as “a great treat,” and Variety called it “a wholesome tuner in tune with the times.” Daddy Long Legs has been touching hearts for more than 100 years. Ted Pappas’ new production at the Public is “guaranteed to continue the tradition.”

Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s Daddy Long Legs

Playing March 9th through April 9th at the O’Reilly Theatre

Tickets 412-316-1600 or online at https://ppt.org/calendardream girls

American music has undergone many changes from the big band sound of the forties to rhythm and blues, to the new American sound of Motown. In 1962 even though Elvis was king and we listened to the Beatles, American’s were dancing to the new beat of The Supremes and other girl groups. Dream Girls tells the story of the The Dreamettes, a hopeful Black girl group from Chicago who enter the famous Amateur Night talent competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

The musical explores the relationships between the girls, their boyfriends and managers as the chase their respective dreams.

It is also about the behind-the-scenes reality of the entertainment industry that made this cultural phenomenon possible. The subject matter of this play deals with a musical contribution to America of such importance that only now — decades later —  we are beginning to understand.

“And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” and “One Night Only” are just two of the great songs from Dream Girls that have become part of the canon of modern musical theatre.

Dream Girls from Pittsburgh Musical Theatre with performances at the Byham Theater March 9th to 19th. For tickets call 412-456-666 or at https://trustarts.org/production/49516BB andrew j

Pittsburgh’s oldest amateur theatre company, The Duquesne University Red Masquers certainly had excellent foresight in picking Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as their Spring Musical. After all, our President considers himself a modern day Andrew Jackson.

The shows opening song, “Populism Yea Yea”, reflects the desire of Jackson to bring political power back to the public and away from the elite. The subject of immigration today is a topic of much discussion. In Jackson’s era it was native Indian lands. At first, the citizenry meets Jackson’s exhilarating cowboy-like governing tactics with great enthusiasm. But, as the problems grow tougher, the public begins to resent him.

Jackson decides he must take ultimate responsibility for the nation’s choices and autocratically declares that he alone will be the one to make the difficult policy decision.

At the Broadway opening in 2010, The New York Times noted “there is no show in town that more astutely reflects the state of this nation than Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Duquesne University Red Masquers playing 

March 15-19.

Tickets at http://www.duqredmasquers.com/purchase-ticketsanythign goes

Are you are looking for a lighthearted break from reality with quirky characters, great songs and fabulous dance routines?  The McKeesport Musical Theatres production of the classic Cole Porter musical comedy Anything Goes is just your ticket.

The S.S. American is sailing between New York and England with a comically colorful assemblage of passengers: Reno Sweeney, a popular nightclub singer and former evangelist, her pal Billy Crocker, a lovelorn Wall Street broker who has come aboard to try to win the favor of his beloved Hope Harcourt (who is engaged to another passenger, Sir Evelyn Oakleigh), and a second-rate conman named Moonface Martin, aka “Public Enemy #13.” Song, dance, and farcical antics ensue as Reno and Moonface try to help Billy win the love of his life.

Anything Goes features s some of musical theater’s most memorable standards, including “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You’re the Top,” and of course, the title song.

According to Linda Baker, President of MLT “This is one of the classic musicals that unfortunately not enough millennials have had the opportunity to experience.” So disconnect and go see it.

Anything Goes at McKeesport Little Theatre May 5th to 21st. Tickets available at http://mckeesportlittletheater.com

Acclaimed Director Robyne Parish has returned to PPrintittsburgh to live after spending five seasons as the Artistic Director of the Gilbert Theater in North Carolina. Her second directorial assignment since returning is the Tony nominated Violet presented by Front Porch Theatricals.

Violet is a scarred woman who is traveling across the 1964 Deep South toward a miracle. She is looking for the healing touch of an evangelist that will make her beautiful. Though she may not succeed in being healed, Violet is able to repair those injuries that lie deeper than her skin. On the way she meets a young, African-American Soldier whose love for her reaches far past her physical “imperfections”.

I asked Robyne about her approach to the production. “One of the most interesting themes in this play, besides the complicated relationship Violet has with her Father, are the parallels between Flick and Violet. A black man in the south judged by the color of his skin and a white woman being judged by her scar. As an audience we will experience Violets growth, discovery of love, beauty, enlightenment and ultimately redemption.”

“Patrons will discover themselves in the characters in Violet. It’s the story of family, of first love, of desperation and of hope. They will identify with these folks and recognize them in an intimate way some shows may not allow. This is an intense and uplifting play about real people with real hopes, dreams and desires and real loss, failure and disappointment. This is a play about life.”

Violet from Front Porch Theatricals is in performance May 19th to 28th at the New Hazlett Center for the Performing Arts located in Pittsburgh’s historic North Side

Tickets https://www.showclix.com/events/12886

The spring of 2017 promises something for every theatregoer to enjoy.

 

 

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter

The selection of which musical to produce in any given season can be a dilemma. There are many factors to consider that include casting, designer, director and performance space. These decisions need to be made many months before the show opens; sometimes the producers get lucky and pick shows that have relevance to today’s world.

We got very lucky this year.

This winter ’s musicals are a diverse mix of offerings that range from a Disney musical to two classics that are surprisingly pertinent today and two musicals just for fun.hunchback

Pittsburgh Musical Theatre is celebrating their 25th season with a production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, which is based Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel and the 1996 Disney animated film. Its music is by Alan Meken with lyrics by CMU grad Stephen Schwartz, who also wrote lyrics for Pippin, Godspell and Wicked.

The main character is Quasimodo, the deformed bell/ringer at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 15th century Paris. He is held captive by an evil archdeacon and his own perception of self loathing. He escapes for a day to join the rowdy crowd at the Feast of Fools only to be treated cruelly except for Esmeralda, a beautiful free spirited gypsy.  There is a plot brewing to destroy the gypsies but Quasimodo saves the day and the gypsies.

Well-known Pittsburgh native Quinn Patrick Shannon plays Quasimodo. Quinn recently appeared as Nicely Nicely Johnson in the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Guys and Dolls, and is currently in playing the role of the White Guy in the Toxic Avenger at the CLO Cabaret.  “Pittsburgh loves Quinn and he should be a big draw for the show” according to PMT’s Rodney Burrell.

The choice of The Hunchback of Notre Dame this season “continues PMT’s tradition of producing challenging musicals with a realistic gritty slant” said Burrell. The baseline of Victor Hugo’s story is the “realization of ones self-relevance” and a reminder to us all never to judge a person’s worth by their appearance.

This show is co-directed by Colleen Doyno and PMT founder Ken Gagaro, and it retains its powerful message particularly in today’s climate.

Performances are at the Byham Theatre; it opens on Thursday, January 26th and runs through February 5th, with Sunday matinees. Tickets and more information can be found here. 

Spellingbee3-FINThe University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts presents their second “just for the fun of it show”, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Putnam Valley Middle School is hosting their 25th annual spelling bee competition, and there’s a quirky cast of characters on either side of the microphone. Word pronouncer Douglas Panch returns to the Bee after a long hiatus due to a mysterious incident.  Grade schooler William Barfée spells words with his feet. There are many more special friends who spell out H I L A R I T Y with H E A R T.

Tensions run high as the words become multisyllabic, and the pressure mounts. What could possibly go wrong?

Annmarie Duggan, new Chair of the Department at Pitt, says Spelling Bee was chosen because it is funny and heartwarming good time intended to counter the winter doldrums.

The cast is made up of completely Pitt undergraduates and reflects Pitt’s increased focus on musical theatre. “It is the strongest cast show this season” says Duggan.  This show marks the Pitt directing debut of Rob Frankenberry, one of our city’s most often seen directors and performers. “The beautiful and adorable set, costume and lighting design are all by Pitt undergrads.”  It plays at the Henry Heymann Theatre on the Pitt campus, February 9th through the 19th, with Sunday matinees.

For tickets and more information click here.pumpboys

Pittsburgh CLO takes us on a fun all-American road trip of southern-fried rock, rhythm and blues with Pump Boys and Dinettes at the CLO Cabaret, which runs January 26th to April 15th.

Two friends wrote the musical about their experience working in New York’s restaurant scene. The ensemble of six friends sings of joy and heartbreak while they play away on a variety of musical instruments just shy of the kitchen sink in this Tony nominated musical.

Tickets are available now, for more information click here.

The Carnegie Mellon School of Ragtime-JPEGDrama, subscription series presents Ragtime,
based on E.L. Doctorow’s acclaimed 1975 book.  The story is a window to many cultural and social classes and with a discerning eye addresses race, economic disparity and immigration.

This is a story of opportunity and oppression, Ragtime reflects on the limitations of justice, hope for the future, and humanity’s interconnectivity; ideas as important today as they were 100 years ago.

Director Tom’e Cousin says “Ragtime had always been on the list to try and do.  It just happened that this years seniors are a great fit with a few additional roles to be played by juniors.  The work is extremely timely but that was not planned.”

“Ragtime is a new American classic and given the highly charged political and social comments embedded within CMU’s high caliber performances are not to be missed. I personally have a creative reputation for unique interpretations and original concepts.”

Ragtime runs at The Philip Chosky Theater on the CMU campus February 23rd to March 4th.

Tickets and more information can be found here. 

cabaretSplit Stage in Westmoreland county presents the multiple Tony award wining Cabaret at the newly restored Lamp Theatre in Irwin, co-directed by Nate Newell and Rob Jessup

Cabaret takes place in Berlin at the seedy Kit Kat Klub as the Nazis are rising to power.  It revolves around the relationship of an American writer and a young cabaret singer just as alarming political developments take hold in pre-WWII Germany.

When asked Why Cabaret?  Co-Director and Split Stage Co-Founder Rob Jessup said  “The decision to produce Cabaret is very relevant now with the election and current political climate.  There is an opportunity to shape our production to create the desired impact for today.”

While this musical was first produced on Broadway in 1966, Rob promises his Cabaret will “be much more topical & gritty: and will have a more “beat up and weathered look” than the recent revivals. Sally the English singer will be more “stark and grounded having been through the ringer….the Lamp Theatre is the perfect venue for our Cabaret.”

For more information about Split Stage and their upcoming production, click here. 

Winter 2017 is shaping up to be another great season for musical theatre, come enjoy!

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.

 

Grease

2015Mast-Grease

It’s 1959, and Rydell High School’s senior class is in rare form. The too-cool-for-school “Burger Palace Boys” are stealing hub-caps and acting tough and their gum-snapping, chain-smoking “Pink Ladies” are looking hot in bobby sox and pedal pushers. The 1950s high school dream is about to explode in this rollicking musical that is both an homage to the idealism of the fifties and a satire of high schoolers’ age-old desire to be rebellious, provocative and rebellious. At the heart of the story is the romance between hot-rodding gangster Danny Zuko and the sweet new girl in town, Sandy Dumbrowski. They had a secret romance in summer, but now back in the context of school, peer-pressure and cliques make their love a bit more complicated. Can Danny maintain his cool dude status and still get make demure Sandy his girl? The whole gang sings and dances around Danny and Sandy’s romance, through such hit songs as “Greased Lightnin'”, “We Go Together”, and “Mooning”, recalling the music of Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Elvis Presley that became the soundtrack of a generation. Starting off with an eight-year Broadway run, Grease is among the world’s most popular musicals and has a cult-like following, especially among teens!

Grease

2015Mast-Grease

It’s 1959, and Rydell High School’s senior class is in rare form. The too-cool-for-school “Burger Palace Boys” are stealing hub-caps and acting tough and their gum-snapping, chain-smoking “Pink Ladies” are looking hot in bobby sox and pedal pushers. The 1950s high school dream is about to explode in this rollicking musical that is both an homage to the idealism of the fifties and a satire of high schoolers’ age-old desire to be rebellious, provocative and rebellious. At the heart of the story is the romance between hot-rodding gangster Danny Zuko and the sweet new girl in town, Sandy Dumbrowski. They had a secret romance in summer, but now back in the context of school, peer-pressure and cliques make their love a bit more complicated. Can Danny maintain his cool dude status and still get make demure Sandy his girl? The whole gang sings and dances around Danny and Sandy’s romance, through such hit songs as “Greased Lightnin'”, “We Go Together”, and “Mooning”, recalling the music of Buddy Holly, Little Richard and Elvis Presley that became the soundtrack of a generation. Starting off with an eight-year Broadway run, Grease is among the world’s most popular musicals and has a cult-like following, especially among teens!

Grease

2015Mast-GreaseIt’s systematic. It’s hydromatic. It’s Grease the Musical!

From the original 1972 Broadway premiere, to the 2016 Grease Live TV broadcast on FOX network, the story of Rydell High seem never cease to entertain the American audience with its timeless energy and passion. As the grand finale of Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s 2016 “Magnificent Movie Musicals” season, Grease brings the long-awaited summer nights back to the Steel City with those classic ’70s tunes and exciting rock n’ roll.

Written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, the show follows high school teenagers Danny Zuko and Sandy Dumbrowski as well as their boy gangs or lady squads as they navigate the realities and complexities of growing up. The stage version is a lot different from the 1978 hit film starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John as more songs were included and familiar songs were sung at different scenes. But overall the story and themes stay the same.

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Hayhurst and Gee

Leading the Burger Palace Boys is Point Park alumnus Mr. Ricky Gee who played Danny with a toned-down personality. The chemistry of the character didn’t really sparkle until later but Mr. Gee’s vocal and dance moves surely held the summer heat through the very last scene. His love interest Sandy was played by Ms. Lara Hayhurst who portrayed the classic “girl next door” with such a freshness and a beautiful voice. Her solo number “Hopeless Devoted to You” would make you sing “Oh Sandy” in a heart beat, and her strong spirit and “spicy” transformation in Act II is easily the momentum that drives the show upward.

But the true stars of this show are the secondary characters. Ms. Larissa Overholt played Rizzo with a sharp edge and tender emotions. Her squad, the Pink Ladies, has the best dynamics whenever they are on the stage together, and her 11 o’clock number “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” was easily the most tear jerking moment of the night. Black horse of the show goes to Mr. Quinn Patrick Shannon and Ms. Audra Qualley who played Roger and Jan and stunned the audience with their shinning duet “Mooning”. Another highlight is Doody played by Mr. Adam Marino whose “Those Magic Changes” is full of magical charms. And last but not least, honorable mention Mr. Brady D. Patsy, who played Miss Lynch as the comic relief of the show and took home the most laughs of the night.

Originally inspired by writer Jim Jacobs’ own high school experience in Chicago, Illinois, Grease was much more violent and explored darker themes during some of its early productions before the 1972 Broadway premiere. But over the years the story has been sanitized many times and eventually made more family friendly for the movie version. For this production Director Trey Compton tended to bring back some of the edgy elements while keeping the overall entertaining feeling,  but because the stage version already didn’t have some of the climatic scenes in the movie, overall the plot felt bland and weightless. All of the big character moments and tense scenes eventually lost to the waiting for the next audience-familiar song.

However, because most of the songs in Grease are so well-known, every number felt like a sing-along. Music Director Dr. Brent Alexander did a great job with the orchestra; you could just feel the hype in the house whenever the music started playing again. And this energy is only amplified by Ms. Lisa Elliott’s electric choreography, integrating car tires and those good old hand jives.

Tech design of this show turned out to be my favorite memory of the night, if not the best of the season. Ms. Kim Brown once again wowed the Pittsburgh audience with costumes that stole the spotlight. Mr. Todd Nonn’s dreamy lighting proved that he’s the true “Greased Lightnin'”. Mr. Jeff Perri’s brilliantly designed backdrop made of school lockers combined with colorful patterns will make your inner teenage self feel like it’s prom night with every set change.  And finally, when all tech aspects came together in “Beauty School Dropout”, you will realize that this is the true magic change that made you fall in love with Grease in the first place.

Whether you’re a fan of the original movie, or just love wearing leather jacket, Grease is the word! It might not be your everyday high school romantic musical comedy, but a night that ends with “happily ever after” is always guaranteed, only this time it’s “a-wop-bam-a-loo mop and top bam boom”!

Special thanks to Pittsburgh Musical Theater for complimentary press tickets. Grease runs at the Byham Theater through Sunday May 1st. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Photo by Rockhan Photography