You on the Moors Now

WebMOORSIt is an interesting phenomenon when the storytelling trends currently dominating the television and film landscapes creep up in the theatre world.

Every new project announced nowadays, whether it’s for the big or small screen, seems to be either a reboot of a previously successful property or some sort of crossover event that brings together fan favorite characters for an epic adventure. This year alone, we’ve seen the first installment in the third incarnation of the Spider-Man film franchise and, later this week, the Justice League will assemble for the first time in a live action movie.

On the other side of the genre and content spectrum from those blockbusters, Point Park’s Conservatory Theatre Company presents a surprisingly physical and universally stunning production of Jaclyn Backhaus’s play You on the Moors Now

Backhaus’s script operates as a reboot/sequel to some of the 19th century’s greatest novels that have since become staples of high school syllabi around the world. The play opens as the worlds of Jo March (from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women), Jane Eyre (the titular character in Charlotte Brontë’s novel), Catherine “Cathy” Earnshaw (from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights), and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet (from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) collide during pivotal moments in all their lives. They have each received marriage proposals from their respective love interests and, to their surprise, they’ve all said no. Now, they are all left with an even bigger and more difficult question to answer: What’s next?

Julia Small (Elizabeth Bennett), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), Aenya Ulke (Jane Eyre), & Shannon Donovan (Jo March)
Julia Small (Elizabeth Bennett), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), Aenya Ulke (Jane Eyre), & Shannon Donovan (Jo March)

Their decisions to abandon their homes and families and strike out on their own have disastrous effects for the people in their lives. It’s definitely a four way tie for who handles this the most poorly between the young women’s jilted suitors Theodore “Laurie” Laurence, Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, and Mr. Darcy. With the help of some colorful supporting characters from each of the novels, the men hunt down our heroines. Their search leads them into the mysterious world of the moors where Jo, Jane, Cathy, and Lizzie have set up camp.

An all out battle of the sexes ensues between the gendered factions. It takes disfigurement and death on both sides to bring the conflict to an end. Even though it’s not until ten years after the end of the war that we meet our characters again, it’s clear that those who survived are still dealing with the pain of their psychological scars. In one way or another, our four heroines find peace within themselves and with the choices they’ve made in their lives.

Bryan Gannon (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Evan Wormald (Mr. Rochester) & Micah Stanek (Heathcliff)
Bryan Gannon (Fitzwilliam Darcy), Evan Wormald (Mr. Rochester) & Micah Stanek (Heathcliff)

I’m sorry to be purposely vague on the plot details of You on the Moors Now, but I think the best way to experience the show is knowing as little as possible. There are tons of twists, turns, and Easter eggs for fans of the books. But, if you’re like me and you got stuck reading Ernest Hemingway and Aldous Huxley in high school instead of Alcott, Austen, and the Brontë sisters, you’ll love getting to know these bright, quirky young women and easily identify with their struggle for independence

While I maintain that on paper this play sounds like a television or movie pitch waiting to happen, I credit director Sheila McKenna with employing thrilling movement and combat sequences to give the piece an impact that only theatre can achieve. As the play skillfully subverts our expectations and perceptions of these classic characters, she along with dance captain Meghan Halley and fight captain Shannon Donovan raise the stakes of what could be considered by an especially cynical viewer as simply feminist fan fiction. The way that the opening line dance and the fight scene that ends Act II echo each other is truly poetic.

It is a story 100% by and about women that is truly feminist for the way it establishes women and men as equally fearsome adversaries on the battlefield and equally able to make and learn from their mistakes.

Unfortunately, for all of their talents, McKenna, Halley, and Donovan are not able to rescue the production from its tidy and tedious ending in the play’s third act. That task is left to the show’s designers Tucker Topel (sets), Terra Marie Skirtich (costumes), and Heather Edney (lights), whose work was a beauty to behold for the entire show but definitely shone brightest in its final moments.

Meghan Halley (Nelly Dean, Beth, Jane Bennett) & Adam Rossi (Joseph, Marmee)
Meghan Halley (Nelly Dean, Beth, Jane Bennett) & Adam Rossi (Joseph, Marmee)

The actors literally wore their characters’ emotions on the sleeves in outfits that looked like they were ripped from the runway of a 19th century-inspired Urban Outfitters collection. You’ll truly feel like you’re in the world of a book with the walls painted to resemble scorched parchment pages and where you can be transported from deep in the woods to high in the stars in an instant.

It will be hard to witness a more energetic and charismatic ensemble than the one featured in this production. They are led by the aforementioned Ms. Donovan (Jo), Julia Small (Lizzie), Madeline Watkins (Cathy), and Aenya Ulke (Jane), who all combine the classic elegance and strength that made these characters iconic with a modern wit that makes these worlds worth revisiting today.

Their bond is indestructible and sweet (without being sappy) as in the scenes where Cathy hilariously bemoans her sister-less state and her three friends reassure her that she’s never without a sister as long as they’re around. Point Park’s You on the Moors Now makes sisters of all this revisionist riff. Regardless of age, gender, or era, we’re all just fighting to be heard and have our dreams respected.

You on the Moors Now runs through November 19 and from November 30 through December 3rd. For more information, click here.

Photos by John Altdorfer

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

The Scottsboro Boys

20863574_10155638855594464_1555720063175253618_oAs we began to write The Scottsboro Boys, it was immediately apparent why it was so important to tell their story.  Behind the headlines, the spectacle, the ongoing trials, the histrionics of politicians and lawyers was the story of nine young African American boys, determined to prove that they mattered…

–Composer, John Kander

Black lives matter.  Let’s consider also that the immensity of any individual life has to be looked at directly to show how and why—to enable a life to sing.  Pittsburgh Playhouse’s production of The Scottsboro Boys traps you into looking with its first breath, it opens on the silent chorus: an African-American woman, beginning to hyperventilate.

From the start, this is a violent twist of emotions.  It rings with the insanity of a culture whose proud integrity has been entirely and hypocritically forsaken.  It brings us to face nine individuals who are smacked suddenly with the fake virtue of a fiction called Justice and the humor of nonsense as horror.

The bitter irony of displaying this trial as a minstrel mimics the level of absurdity existent in Alabama’s justice system in 1931—Everything is a righteous farce.  Everybody is a clown.

Ivy Fox as The lady
Ivy Fox as The lady

We get to see this reflected in the eyes of that silent muse; the one woman chorus, Ivy Fox’s Lady.  Her silent acting does something for this show that manages it, conducts it.  It’s a powerful and strange tool, to have an emoting chorus who says almost nothing and yet says absolutely everything with her emanating presence.

Welcome to this world, a psychotic other dimension led by superstar showmen Billy Mason and Jr Whittington as Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo.  These hosts are exceptionally powerful guides through the odyssey.  They fill ironic roles: the minstrelsy, fools.  Mason’s side-eye as he performs the tasks of Sheriff WhiteMan or Whittington’s haphazardness in his role as lawyer Johnny Walker; they are a strew of characters, diving into a critically injured American psyche that is in denial until satire can see it.  And they both lead sensationally.

Susan Stroman, the original Director and choreographer, remarks,

Typically minstrelsy uses white actors to portray African Americans in ways that are negative and disrespectful.  But we asked ourselves, ‘What if it were a group of African Americans playing white people?’  It would allow these nine actors to play white women, white prison guards, white sheriffs, white judges: it would allow them to play parts they would otherwise never play.

21457457_10155695876934464_8669559662130794580_oThis power gives credence to a performance like Joseph Fedore’s Eugene Williams, a 13-year-old boy who was sentenced to death for a crime he doesn’t even understand; tap dancing a song about the electric chair as he suffers the terror of having persistent nightmares about it.  The twisted and beautiful take on a holocaust moment where a terrified teenage boy and two corpses (Steven Etienne and Scott Kelly) can suddenly breakout into truly whimsical movement reflects a splendid, musical softness within such a deep, destitute lostness:

Hey little boy

look over there

that’s what they call

an eleca-tric chair

Or perhaps the same minstrelsy is reflected in performances like Jared Smith and Lamont Walker II’s as two Alabama ladies who accuse the Scottsboro Nine of a false rape.  So there are two of the Scottsboro Nine, then also playing their villainous false victims: what a quandary.  This preys upon the mercy for rape victims and satisfies the salvation of one at the expense of the many others who, with this false testimony, did not matter.  How to perform this on stage and yet still execute the joke of the substance, the sickness?

It’s done camp, with panache and with diva flare.  Charles Weems plays the hoot of his Victoria Price, the hammed up damsel in distress, playing on the rich cream of a woman’s successful acting causing nine men to be imprisoned and tortured for nothing.  The haunt of her success story is the catastrophe of these innocent men.  Or Walker II’s Ruby Bates, who within her song “Never Too Late” attempts to retract her testimony only to be met with a justice system who refuses her repentance.  Oh, how Lamont Walker II plays this woman up!  He brings her fully fledged, over-the-top to a place which takes the drag of it to a new level: he divas this woman, this false, redemptive victim into her breach into the mythology of the story: women are victims too.  It’s society that’s not real, that allows for this breach of trust.  And it’s a sorrowful farce, that rape culture can immediate the dramatic purging of nine black men, but the reality is we live in a cruel world with no clear answers and no promise of true justice.  So what do you do?  You sing.

21367051_10155695876799464_1080342176479291535_oThe entire ensemble carries so much precision and talent.  This show truly empowers in a creepy, disturbing way.  It irks to the point of inspiration.  It compels by getting under your skin.  Director and Choreographer Tomé Cousin leaves not a second of this two-hour show untapped for its active involvement with the audience.  It is so well-played, well-cast and harrowing.

I give special credence to Lighting Designer Andrew David Ostrowski whose seamless touchings of the characters provides a wealth of world within the limited stage frame.  The set was absolutely stunning within its minimal capacity, in that with almost nothing it does nothing but provide.  The brilliance of the chair set pieces, which construct and deconstruct so many levels of staging, show the capacity for a musical to be simple and so contained.  I loved those damn chairs.

This was an amazing, aggravating, horrifying and explosively powerful show.  I just wish it didn’t feel so relevant too.  I’ve never seen a tragedy so comedically charged, ironic and desperate; and so beautiful and horrifying as this.

The Scottsboro Boys plays at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland through September 24. For tickets and more information click here

Photos by John Altdorfer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collegiate Preview 2017

Collegiate LogoIt’s THAT time of year again ladies and gentleman! Time to settle back into your daily routine of books and classes for some of you, which means, rehearsals are starting soon! If you’ve been with us for a while, you’ll remember our first annual Collegiate Preview from 2016 but if you’re just joining us, welcome to the second annual Collegiate Preview 2017! We’ve got the inside scoop on our old friends at Pittsburgh’s four major universities, plus a check-in with our new friends at Carlow University!

Duquesne University’s student-run Red Masquer’s open their 105th season with Orphie and the Book of Heroes, followed by The Busy Body and some One Acts for Charity this fall, then starting the Spring semester with Macbeth and Equus just to finish it off with a weekend of new plays with Premieres XLI! Find out more in George’s article here. 

The 2017-2018 Subscription series at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama includes The Matchmaker,  Love’s Labor’s Won, The Drowsy Chaperone, and A Bright Room Called Day. Don’t forget to check out their Director’s and New Works series throughout the school year. For more information on what CMU Drama will be bringing to the table, check out Robyne’s article here. 

We’ve got 8 shows for you from the Pittsburgh Playhouse, home to Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company and their professional company The REP. Season offerings include The Scottsboro Boys, Kiss Me, Kate, Uncle Vanya, 42nd Street, You On the Moors Now,  The House of Bernarda Alba,  Gift of the Maji, and A Devil InsideClick here for Brian’s article about their upcoming season.

The University of Pittsburgh Stages brings us a clever mixture of musicals and straight plays in their 2017-2018 season. With classics like Little Shop of Horrors and Parade, to Our Town and Marie Antoinette hitting the stage this year, you’ll be sure to see the season closer Recoil, an original play written and directed by Cynthia Croot. Don’t forget to come back for their Student Lab shows too! Check out Mark’s article here for more details on what Pitt Stages has for us.

Last, but certainly not least, our new friends at Carlow University are presenting Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead this October. Be sure to check out Carlow alum Ringa’s piece about their theatre department here. 

Follow along with our Collegiate adventures on our Facebook, Twitterand Instagram with the hashtag #PITRUniversity! Sign up for our email list while you’re at it!

Point Park Gets to Work on Another Eight Shows at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

11391480_10153367774739464_1509896223937134191_nSummer may be ending, but things are about to heat up at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

The home of Point Park University theatre— The REP Professional Theatre Company and the Conservatory Theatre Company—is about to welcome eight exciting new productions into its hallowed halls for its 2017-2018 season. Artistic Director Ron Lindblom confirms that the amount of enjoyment the audience receives from the high-quality productions is equal to the educational benefits that the student cast and crew members receive.

“The Conservatory is geared towards training young artists and these classics really give the students the opportunity to get the training they need,” he said. It’s a win/win situation for anyone who steps foot in one of Point Park’s theatre spaces with the only variable being the shows in question that are chosen.

WebPosterBOYSKicking things off for Point Park’s season is a critically-acclaimed musical, authored by one of musical theatre’s most prolific and iconic writing teams. Making its Pittsburgh premiere, The Scottsboro Boys with music and lyrics by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb tells the dramatic true story of nine African-American teenagers falsely accused of sexually assaulting two white women on a train riding through Scottsboro, Alabama in 1931. The media circus and infamous series of trials that followed were plagued by extreme prejudice against the defendants and unfair judicial practices. If you’re expecting the fun conventions of musical theatre to make the dark subject matter more palatable, you’re out of luck here.

As they did with shows like Cabaret, Chicago, and Curtains, Kander and Ebb have brilliantly framed this tragic narrative in a distinct and unique theatrical style. Rather than using vaudeville or golden age musical comedy as its structure, The Scottsboro Boys is built as a minstrel show. In the early 19th century, these performances featured mostly white actors in blackface mocking African-Americans. In Kander and Ebb’s musical, originally directed on Broadway by Susan Stroman, the tropes of the minstrel show are employed to underline the countless injustices that ruined the lives of the titular characters. Lindblom laments that he finds “great relevance” for a story about black men being discriminated against in the legal system in the headlines of the modern world. Fortunately, this production is being helmed by Tomè Cousin whose frequent collaboration with Stroman makes him “perfect” director for this piece. The Scottsboro Boys plays at the Rauh Theatre from September 8-24.

Thankfully for patrons looking for musicals that provide some level of escapism, there are productions of Kiss Me, Kate and 42nd Street in the pipeline following The Scottsboro Boys.

WebPosterKATEBoth are “backstage musicals” that tell stories of two troubled theatre productions. Original Tony Award-winning Best Musical Kiss Me, Kate—featuring a classic score by Cole Porter and a book by Sam and Bella Spewack—introduces us to divorced couple Fred Graham and Lilli Vanessi who are co-starring in a musical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Although it’s clear that love still lingers between them, they simply cannot stand each other. They’re surrounded by a host of wacky characters, including a pair of gangsters with a bone to pick with Fred, who prove against all comedic odds that the show must go on. Kiss Me, Kate runs at the Rockwell Theatre from October 20-29.

WebPoster42Wide-eyed ingenue Peggy Sawyer is the heroine of the tap-tastic musical 42nd Street. The only thing bigger than her dreams of stardom are the show’s numerous dance breaks supplied by Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s score. Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble’s book is the tale as old as time in show business of what happens when an inexperienced understudy takes over for a seasoned star. What happens is musical theatre magic that has been enchanting audiences since legendary director Gower Champion’s original 1980 Broadway production. 42nd Street also plays the Rockwell Theatre from March 16-25.

As usual, Point Park offers as much variety in genre, setting, and subject matter in their play selections for the season as they do in their musical selections. Whether contemporary or classic, the scripts illuminate points of views of a diverse group of characters.

WebPosterMOORSIn the case of Jaclyn Backhaus’ You on the Moors Now, playing at the Studio Theater from November 10-December 3, those characters are rather well known. Jane Eyre, Lizzy Bennet. Cathy Earnshaw, and Jo March are no longer just well-established fixtures of high school English class syllabi. Backhaus imagines the four 19th century literary leading ladies running away together and comparing notes on what their experiences in life have taught them. The women exist in a sort of timeless state where modern references and profanity are fair game for their epic girl talk session.

WebPosterALBAThe five women in Frederico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba would most likely also benefit from a vacation from their dissatisfying lives. They are all sisters who spend their time dreaming of getting out of their mother’s house and truly experiencing life. Their routine is broken by the appearance of town hunk Pepe el Romano and his flirtation with the family’s eldest sister. Desire under the Bernarda Alba’s roof proves to be a dangerous thing that sets the stage for a frank look at the ways in which members of the opposite sex relate. The House of Bernarda Alba plays at the Rauh Theater from February 23-March 11.

WebPosterDEVILRussian literature served as the inspiration for Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay-Abaire’s black comedy A Devil Inside. This gory romp sees Gene receiving far more than just cake on his 21st birthday. His mother finally reveals the truth behind his father’s death—he was murdered!—and insists that it is Gene’s duty to avenge him. He’s simultaneously disturbed by the request and distracted by his infatuation with Caitlin, who lusts after her Russian literature professor who lusts after the blood of his nemesis. For the non-squeamish, A Devil Inside runs at the Studio Theater from February 2-18.

The final two shows are either adaptations or translations of well-known works and living, breathing proof that theatre is an ageless, universal language.

WebPosterMAGIThe Gift of the Magi, adapted by Jon Jory, opens at the Rauh Theatre just in time for the holiday season. From December 8-17, you can learn the valuable lesson at the center of the story of Della and Jim Young. They are a young couple struggling to make end’s meet, but who are still determined to make Christmas special for one another by purchasing the perfect gifts. As with most stories set around that time of year, the true meaning of the season is explored to touching effect.

WebPosterVANYALast but not least is Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya playing from April 6-15 at the Rauh Theater. It’s an example of one of Chekhov’s estate dramas that features as much unrequited love as you can fit on a single stage. The enchanting Yelena is the object of two men’s affections. Unfortunately, they are crippled by profound existential crises exacerbated by the facts that she’s married and the estate, on which Vanya, one of the men, lives, is about to be sold. It’s all in a day’s work for a Chekhov character.

Along with The Scottsboro Boys, Kiss Me, Kate, and A Devil Inside, one performance of Uncle Vanya will be followed by a lecture in a completely new series called Freud on Forbes. Representatives from the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Center will take audience members into the writers’ brains armed only with the text of the script. These talks are sure to take your post-show conversations with friends to the next level. And that’s fitting because Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse 2017-2018 season of shows seeks to do the same thing for theatre.

For tickets and more information on the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s upcoming season, click here. 

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

Woody’s Order!

WoodySliderAs it turned out, Ann Talman was, indeed, her brother’s keeper – literally.

Talman – a playwright and actress who grew up in Pittsburgh – has an older brother, Woody, who has severe cerebral palsy.

And in a one-act, one-performer play running through Feb. 19 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse – Woody’s Order!, making its debut here – Talman uses superb acting skills to turn her life story into a nonfiction stage drama.

Talman’s self-penned solo play has the simplest setup: just one performer on a tiny stage, giving multi-character monologues while a screen, set up in a structure that looks like the white border of a vintage Polaroid photo. Then, a wire studded with dozens of Polaroids from Talman’s childhood with Woody winds above the stage.

Yet sometimes the beauty of a show lies in its simplicity, which doesn’t preclude depth; in fact, the simplicity can enhance a story’s poignancy.

Ann Talman 8We see in Talman the passion, the pain, the enthusiasm and the humor of a woman who grew up with a sibling who has a major disability, and when her parents die, Talman becomes his guardian. It might be difficult to follow Talman’s changing characters at first – she plays herself, Woody, and her mother and father in dialogues. But once viewers catch on to the traits of each voice – along with the unique facial expressions, especially the squinty, grinning, “Mm-hmm!” of nonverbal Woody – we can follow Talman’s characters and story.

Talman especially channels her brother, who is still alive in real life. He communicates only with facial expressions and sounds, and nods his head to say “yes” or “no.” As simple as his persona may be, Talman makes it endearing and heartwarming. She obviously adores her brother and feels a fierce sense of loyalty to him, although she feels the inevitable frustration and resentment of someone who wants to live her own life and pursue her own dreams, unencumbered by the responsibility of caring for someone.

Eventually, Talman – who went to Upper St. Clair High School – did leave to live in New York City to pursue her dream of acting, which included time on the Broadway stage. She and her brother have remained close throughout their lives, though, despite physical distance at times. Her Broadway credits include “The Little Foxes,” “The House of Blue Leaves,” “Some Americans Abroad’ and “The Woman.”

Ann Talman 6The story of Talman’s baby-boomer life with Woody begins with Woody’s “order”: asking his parents for a sibling at age 8 by pointing at Mom’s stomach and Dad’s … er, lap. Talman’s parents, and especially her mother, really struggle with caring for Woody. Talman, the dutiful daughter, struggles with the overwhelming responsibility facing her, and concern for her parents. Yet all family members also get great joy from Woody, who is intelligent and quite funny at times.

After wrapping up its run in Pittsburgh, Talman is taking Woody’s Order! to Los Angeles. Hopefully, this wonderful play will make its way around the country. I especially recommend this show for people with family members and friends who have special needs, as the show will be highly relatable and comforting.

John Shepard – an actor, director and close friend of Talman’s – directs Woody’s Order!, which is a production of The REP, a professional theater company, based at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in Oakland.

Woody’s Order! plays Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, through Feb. 19. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 to $29. Details: 412-392-8000 or pittsburghplayhouse.com

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Playhouse for complimentary press tickets.

Photos courtesy of John Altdorfer