Lights Out Gathering Conjures Memories and a Few Ghosts at the Playhouse

20180618_214333Kiss the day goodbye…

When theatre practitioners gather there are stories to be told. When Point Park University invited former performing arts students and friends to the venerable Pittsburgh Playhouse for a final party on two stages, the event was a sell out. It was a sentimental and vibrant evening–warm hugs and cold drinks on a hot spring night–full of memories, conversations with old friends from past shows and classes, and chances to “be remembered” by writing on surfaces soon to disappear. Think class reunion meets cast party.

Gotta have a gimmick…

The back wall and fly space in the Rauh Theatre
The back wall and fly space in the Rauh Theatre

As a PPU alumna who initially interacted with Playhouse artists as a student journalist, I returned as an observer, recalling many theater and dance performances that shaped my own professional steps. I was a journalism undergrad who often interview artists, reviewed productions, and publicized the legendary Playhouse Jr. as an intern. On this night, I was again observer, visiting some areas of the building for the first time. So this final glance represents just some of my last impressions of the grand old dame of Pittsburgh theatre, the Playhouse.

Old friend…

During the evening, guests found fellow cast members, faculty, and fans among the estimated three hundred visitors who were given access to all corners of the performance center. Whether enjoying refreshments or drinks on both the Rauh and Rockwell Theatre stages or exploring the lower dressing rooms or side scene shop spaces, those who made the memories for decades of audience members were making new memories in familiar places.

Emily Leech Bell and back wall of the Rockwell Theatre
Emily Leech Bell and back wall of the Rockwell Theatre

I wanna be a producer…

Alums were able to sign and leave message on the back wall of the Rockwell stage, on a giant poster board of the building, and find their former monikers on the walls of the Rauh stage. Every corner of the spaces evoked memories for–as seems to be the tradition in theatre life–not much is discard but forever reused, recycled or used to document the experiences of performances that are passing fancies until the next show.

Show People…

I found old friends Lisa Delmar and Steven Wilson, both PPU Class of 1996, catching up on Rockwell stage. A longtime New Yorker, Lisa hadn’t been to the theatre since she was on the stage in Into the Woods in 1994–and she had brought a show photo for old times sake, pictured below.

IMG_1865Steven last directed Our Lady of 121st Street at the Playhouse in 2015 and has just moved back to Pittsburgh. He recalled spending time from age 11 when he attended many theater programs for young people through his college career at Point Park. Wayne Brinda, artistic director of Prime Stage Theatre, and Steven reunited in one of the countless “What have you been doing?” conversations that could be heard all over the building.

Another openin’, another show…

In the Studio Theatre, a slideshow recounted years of productions through the requisite photos documenting every production. For universities, video is limited, due to production rights, so these “frozen in time” stills become the record for many students’ performance, design, and production management work as they enter the arts community following graduation. Now you might find some of them sprinkled as memories in artists’ Facebook pages, but at Lights Out, these memories were in the spotlight.

Come and meet those dancing feet…

IMG_1875I asked the woman sharing my table about an intriguing pair of shoes mounted on the wall high above the side stage entryway. We had both taken a photo of them but knew nothing about their history. But it was the Playhouse Jr. we had in common. Emily Leech Bell is the daughter of the program’s founder Bill Leech. He as the manager for whom I did PR during college. Emily was attending more on behalf of her sister Alice Leech, a theatre alumna in California and in memory of her late father. I recalled seeing Alice in Wait Until Dark during college.

God bless us every one…

Jim Critchfield, an alumnus whose character roles are well-known in the region, reunited with Audra Blazer which whom he was on stage when she was Tiny Tim to his first Scrooge in town.

When a thing is wick…

Every nook and cranny–from the box office to the green room–was full of something you can’t quite put a finger on, but the joy, sorrow, and resonance of art making was palpable that night. Richard Rauh, whose name has long honored his family’s support of the Playhouse, garnered several standing ovations. Before final bows, Ron Lindblom is the most recent in a long line of PPU administrators and artistic directors who have cared for curriculum, productions and facilities during the 83 year run of the Playhouse. At the evening’s end he reminded the full house in the Rockwell how aptly the place was located at the corner of Craft and Hamlet in Oakland. Now it’s place that will live on in memory and tradition at PPU’s new Pittsburgh Playhouse downtown.

Ken Gargao and Richard Rauh
Ken Gargao and Richard Rauh

What I did for love…

Everyone joined those on stage singing “What I did for Love” in the Rockwell. Then the stage manager appropriately made the last call, lights down and lights…out. Ghostlight. Carrying souvenirs with them and even more memories into the steamy night, everyone knew they were leaving a bit of themselves behind but taking even more with them for spending just a few more hours…on stage at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

And I am telling you I’m not going…

And what I take with me? A green Playhouse holiday ornament, some teary tissues, and a reminder that were it not for the Pittsburgh Playhouse and my editor at PPU’s Globe, I probably wouldn’t be writing this story for you now.

Follow me…

Follow the new Pittsburgh Playhouse and its autumn 2018 opening production Cabaret here and at pittsburghplayhouse.com.. For more on the original Pittsburgh Playhouse and the theatre history that preceded its purchase by Point Park, visit background on Wikipedia, a reminder of how the theatre was a forerunner to the city’s cultural district and more contemporary venues. For context of the Playhouse’s role in Pittsburgh theater, look for Lynne Connor’s Pittsburgh in Stages where many other long-gone venues are documented.

So, come hear the music play…

42nd Street

28783185_10156183628789464_5609342122107087012_nThe Pittsburgh Playhouse’s production of 42nd Street showcases the depth and strength of dancing and singing talent within Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company.

Based upon the 1933 Busby Berkley motion picture of the same name, 42nd Street was directed and choreographed on Broadway by the legendary Gower Champion. It opened on Broadway in 1980 and ran for nine years! The show’s directorial pedigree calls for extravagant dance numbers. The Conservatory’s staging by director and choreographer Eileen Grace (who was in the original Broadway production) holds true to that tradition.

The story centers on the efforts by the aging and down on his luck impresario Julian Marsh (Jeremy Spoljarick) to launch a new Broadway musical “Pretty Ladies” in the midst of the Great Depression. Dorothy Brock (Nora Krupp) is his intended leading lady, a prima donna, as in “I don’t audition.” The veteran actress is in the midst of a relationship with her and the show’s sugar daddy, Abner Dillon (Kevin Gilmond) and her old boyfriend actor Pat Denning (Drew Campbell-Amberg).

Halle Mastroberardino (Peggy), Jeremy Spoljarick (Julian), & Company
Halle Mastroberardino (Peggy), Jeremy Spoljarick (Julian), & Company

Into this mess arrives the fresh-faced ingénue Peggy Sawyer (Halle Mastroberardino), straight off the train from Allentown, Pennsylvania, with dreams of a role in the show’s chorus, only to be turned away for arriving late to the audition. Peggy is befriended by Billy Lawlor (Kurt Kemper), Maggie (Kalya Muldoon) one of the show’s writers, and several of the chorus girls (including anytime Annie (Emily Stoken), Phyllis (Kayley Jewel) and Lorraine (Kyra Smith). All instantly recognize Peggy as one hot babe who sings and dances better than any other girl on the line. They persuade Julian to hire her as the extra, spare, 13th girl for the chorus, just in case. During the opening night’s performance, someone bumps into Peggy, who trips and crashes into Dorothy, who breaks her ankle. Julien immediately fires Peggy and announces the show is closing, that night! No star, no show! Is there someone who has the talent and looks to take over? Peggy anyone?

Today we might call this a jukebox musical, where the plot serves mostly to connect the hit songs including “We’re in the Money,” “Young and Healthy,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “About a Quarter to Nine,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and the iconic title song “42nd Street”

Will Burke (Andy) and Ensemble
Will Burke (Andy) and Ensemble

The show has legendary dance numbers, incredible songs, beautiful costumes, strong singers and exceptional dancers, yet in this production, something doesn’t quite click. Director and Choreographer Eileen Grace has done a fabulous job with the dance numbers; they are vibrant and elegant. The company executes them flawlessly with abundant enthusiasm. The company possesses bright, clear, character-appropriate singing voices. The costumes by Michael Montgomery are period appropriate, and the gowns are beautiful. Some are perfectly tailored, some reflect their borrowed nature, edging near wardrobe malfunctions.

What to me seems to be missing is the sense of an emotional relationship between the characters. The intensity of the acting performances at time lacks subtleness, becoming almost caricatures rather than complex characters. Individual performances by Mastroberardino as Peggy and Kemper’s Billy, along with Krupp’s Dorothy and Campbell-Amber are solid, but the chemistry in their respective relationships is non-existent. Spoljarick delivers Julian as a shouting and dominating director and only briefly reveals the despair of a famed director seeking his chance to regain his stature. Mastroberardino gives Peggy the innocence and geekiness of a talented, but unsure theatre nerd. For supporting roles; Kayla Muldoon strikes the right balance as Maggie Jones, the writer who befriends Peggy and Emily Stoken’s chorus girl Anytime Annie is a standout. Natalie Hightower has some funny bits as Agnes, the piano player.

Delivery at times tends to be a bit shrill, perhaps a function of the actor’s vocal ranges but probably not helped by the overly loud, crisp and in your face sound design by Steve Shapiro as mixed by Rachael Trindade.

Johnmichael Bohach set design steers clear of the typical overused marquee look of Times Square; he frees up about as much of the stage space for the big dance numbers as is possible.

Kurt Kemper (Billy) and Male Ensemble
Kurt Kemper (Billy) and Male Ensemble

42nd Street is a big show to stage that requires a lot of time and resources. This often in short supply with a university company. In addition to the four lead roles, Peggy, Billy, Dorothy, and Julian, there are another fifteen or so supporting characters, along with a large chorus/ensemble of tap dancers.  The eighteen musical numbers include an unbelievable amount of costume changes as well.

All this would be enough to challenge even the most seasoned company of professionals and challenge any director.  The Point Park Conservatory’s production isn’t perfect, at times it feels frenetic and unfocused. Yet Eileen Grace’s beautifully choreographed and executed lavish production numbers (Did I mention tap dancing galore?) and those famous songs under Camille Rolla’s musical direction are worth seeing and hearing just for the numbers themselves.

42nd Street is at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Rockwell Theatre from now through March 25th. For tickets click here

Photos by John Altdorfer

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Spring: 2018

You can feel spring is just around the corner and the spring crop of musicals is about ready to bloom at our area theater companies. Our featured five, listed in order of opening dates, includes the classic Broadway dance and tap rich 42nd Street at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, Big Fish at Lincoln Park, Avenue Q at PMT, and two shows new to the area, Perfect Wedding at the CLO Cabaret and Dogfight at Stage 62.

If you don’t see anything here that interests you; at the end of this post there is a short list of other musicals for your consideration.

Web42You might be aware that Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse is moving from its current home in Oakland to a brand-new theatre complex downtown in the fall. 42nd Street, the last of two their backstage musicals this season is the perfect farewell to the old theatre complex. The show captures the hope and dreams of so many Point Park students about to graduate; a dream of a landing a role in the chorus of a Broadway musical and at the last minute be called upon to take over for the lead, a sure path to stardom. In 42nd Street Peggy Sawyer is the young ingénue from Allentown, Pa., hoping to make it big on Broadway who impresses the show’s creative team with her talent at her audition. When the famous star breaks her ankle, will Peggy get her shot on stage?

42nd Street’s original Tony Award-winning Direction and Choreography was by the legendary Gower Champion. Eileen Grace, who was in the Broadway cast, directs this production of the big dance Broadway masterpiece.

42nd Street is at the Pittsburgh Playhouse Rockwell Theatre from March 16th to 25th with a preview performance on the 15th. For tickets click here.  

885ae1e989dedf69818a3b03b4973ab40366cce7Based on the acclaimed film directed by Tim Burton, Big Fish tells the tale of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman who lives life to its fullest and then some! Edward’s incredible, larger-than-life stories thrill everyone around him – most of all, his devoted wife, Sandra. But their son Will, about to have a child of his own, is determined to find the truth behind his father’s epic tales. The emotionally moving answer comes from the question, “Is it better to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big lake?”

Lincoln Park’s Producing Director Justin Fortunato directs with Choreography by Point Park’s Kiesha Lalama and Music Direction by Kathleen Billie.

Performances are April 20th, 21st, 27th 28th, May 4th, 5th at 7:30 pm and April 22nd, 28th, May 6th at 2 p.m. at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland.

For tickets click here.

aveqImagine if Sesame Street was for adults. Avenue Q, is the place where puppets are friends, Monsters are awesome, and life lessons are learned.  The show tells the story of Princeton, a lad just out of college who moves to a sketchy apartment way out on Avenue Q. There, he meets Kate (the girl next door), Lucy (the slut), Rod (the Republican), Trekkie (the pervert), superintendent Gary Coleman (yes, that Gary Coleman) and other new friends!

Instead of “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1” and “One of These Things is Not Like the Other,” Avenue Q serves up “We’re all a Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet is for Porn,” “It Sucks to be Me,” and I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today.” Princeton and his newfound Avenue Q friends search for their ever-elusive purpose in life in this Tony winner for Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score

Avenue Q is appropriate for immature, but adult audiences. Performances are May 3rd, 4th, 5th 10th, 11th and 12th at 7:30 p.m. and May 6th and 11th at 2 p.m. at the Gargaro Theater in Pittsburgh’s West End. For Tickets visit  https://www.showclix.com/event/avenue-q-pmt

weddingIt’s the day of Bill and Rachel’s Perfect Wedding, but there’s just one problem. Bill woke up with a stranger in his bed and has no idea how she got there. With his bride-to-be due to arrive at any moment, Bill begs his Best Man, Tom, to pretend the interloper is  his girlfriend. Chaos and comedy ensue! From slamming doors, mistaken identities, and two very upset would-be newlyweds, this romantic comedy reaches a fever pitch when the bride’s parents and the hotel staff get in on the act, and the audience is left crying with laughter! Doesn’t everybody cry at weddings?

Performances are May 10th through August 12th at the CLO Cabaret in Theater Square. For tickets click here

dogfightIt’s November 21, 1963. On the eve of their deployment to a small but growing conflict in Southeast Asia, three young Marines set out for one final boys’ night of debauchery, drinking and maybe a little trouble. Corporal Eddie Birdlace meets Rose, an awkward and idealistic waitress whom he coerces to help him win a cruel bet with his fellow recruits she rewrites the rules of the game and teaches him the power of love and compassion. Dogfight contains language and themes intended for an adult audience.

Stage 62s production of Dogfight performance dates are May 10th to 12th and 17th to 19th at 8 p.m. with Sunday Matinees May 13th and 20th at 2 p.m. at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, PA.  For tickets call 412-429-6262 or click here

If you have seen these or they aren’t your cup of tea, then you might like one of these other choices opening this spring: PMT’s Little Mermaid March 15th to 25th, PNC Broadway’s Rent March 27th to April 1st, Comtra’s Peter and the Starcatcher April 6th to 21st, PNC Broadway’s Cinderella May 22 to 27th, CLO’s On Your Feet June 12th to 17th.

The House of Bernarda Alba

28514689_10156156103824464_1136379160729788715_oThe House of Bernarda Alba was the last play Federico Garcia Lorca wrote before his untimely death in 1936. The Spanish Civil War was just breaking out. Like many artists, Garcia Lorca supported the left and spoke out against the rising fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, and his Nationalist party. Lest we forget, words do have power. The Nationalists assassinated Garcia Lorca and buried him in an unmarked grave. He never saw The House of Bernarda Alba performed or Spain quiver for decades under Franco until his death in 1975.

The House of Bernarda Alba is not an explicitly political play. Yet, under Monica Payne’s careful direction, Point Park University’s production at the Pittsburgh Playhouse taps into the political overtones of the domestic sphere. Title character and matriarch Bernarda Alba rules with an iron fist that befits Franco. Her second husband has just died, prompting her to decree her five single daughters (ages 20 to 39) will enter a mandatory 8-year mourning period during which dating and marriage is prohibited. One does not need a crystal ball to discern that plan might implode. Despite her confidence, or overconfidence, in her ability to control her daughters, she is ever watchful. While her daughters outwardly accept the forced regime, they all undermine it in different ways. In this way, Garcia Lorca foreshadows Spain’s citizens under Franco’s looming four-decade tyranny.

Alex Williams (Bernarda Alba) and her five daughtersBernarda Alba is played by Alex Williams. Her height and the height of her headdress, magnificently complete with long black lace veil thanks to costume designer Cathleen Crocker-Perry, make her visually imposing. Crocker-Perry anoints Bernarda Alba with a white stripe down the middle of her carefully coiffed black updo that lends an essence of Cruella de Vil. Payne’s direction of Williams could have been stronger as she struggles in fully committing to Bernarda Alba. At times, she stamps her foot for emphasis, but it comes off as a bit impish. There’s an almost comedic Rumpelstiltskin quality to it that is out of sync with her iron-willed character. Williams ends up settling on resting bitch face to convey the matriarch, which is not ill-suited to Bernarda Alba’s demeanor.

The play is set entirely within Bernarda Alba’s house. Stephanie Mayer-Staley’s set design of corrugated metal walls is memorably imposing. However, the high walls fail to convey the cloying, prison-like nature of the home. The expansive gunmetal grey walls exude a coolness that is at odds with the constant verbal reminders of the suffocating heat levels, particularly when lighting designer Cat Wilson triggers the white neon outlining the doorways and baseboards. While the neon provides the element of surprise and is an impactful visual punch, it enhances the set’s coolness and dulls the play’s dual oppressions of heat and home.

Alex Williams (Bernarda Alba) and four of her daughtersWith Bernarda Alba’s five daughters all played by college-aged actresses, it’s initially challenging to discern the differences, but they each find their persona in the course of the play. Payne memorably introduces them at the funeral, lined up in a row at the front of the stage. Wordlessly, they sensually rub their hands up their sides and over their hips, skirts nudging skyward. They fluidly bring their hands up and over their breasts before crossing their arms across their chests. The sequence ends with them wrapping their hands around their necks in a mock hanging. It’s eroticism eternally forestalled. When their mother enters, the air changes, and there’s an audibly sharp intake of breath. All five hurriedly move their hands from neck to prayer, but we know the pose of prayer and penance is feigned. Payne makes it clear from the play’s start that there’s a schism between the outwardly acted role and the inner life.

This schism extends beyond the daughters to Bernarda Alba’s two housemaids. It’s not just the departed who rests in peace. The funeral provides a welcome break from Bernarda Alba’s watchful eye for the two maids. Poncia (Saige Smith) has served Bernarda Alba for 30 years and enjoys the rare liberated moment of being able to vocalize how much she despises her overbearing mistress. Poncia stashes a jar of sausages in her skirts. The gesture is small, but there’s joy in the comeuppance. Smith provides a breezy comedic relief as she shares her dream of spending a year spitting on her mistress. When the women return from the funeral, both housemaids shift effortlessly from gossiping to keening as they wail for the husband’s death. It may be Bernarda Alba’s house, but we are in on the secrets.

Aenya Ulke (Adela) and Michelle Iglesias (Martirio)
Aenya Ulke (Adela) and Michelle Iglesias (Martirio)

Youngest daughter Adela (Aenya Ulke) is the memorably free spirited dreamer of the sisterly quintet. Familial and societal expectations cannot contain her as the household rivalries shift to Pepe el Romano, a 25-year old hottie who proposes to the oldest sister. The 39-year old Angustias (Elena Lazaro) has a different father than her four younger sisters and an inheritance from his passing that enhances her appeal. Adela is the boldest, refusing to conform with the black dress wardrobe her mother has commanded. Without restraint, Garcia Lorca shows us a world tipping to self-destruction, but it’s hard to define where the boundary lies.

When I visited Spain, I specifically sought out Garcia Lorca’s statue in Madrid’s Plaza de Santa Ana. It is a memorial of sorts given his execution and unmarked grave. Standing there to get my picture taken, I expected to feel a sort of sadness, but with the flurrying bustle of tourists and locals in the fading daylight, it was more life affirming than tragic. History hovers to educate, but it need not define us.

Point Park University’s production of The House of Bernarda Alba continues through March 11th at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Visit them online for more information and to purchase tickets.

Photos by John Altdorfer

A Devil Inside

WebDEVILA Devil Inside is an experiment in physicality.  It’s an insane show; in that, it plays with the concept of ‘madness’.  Though it’s very likable, almost cute, with how over the top it gets.  It’s exceptional camp, with breakaway performances by the entire ensemble.

The show is exemplary for its steady build, starting with a flat sitcom-y vibe that gets betrayed by the introduction of an odd premise: a severed pair of feet, idle in a jar.  This is only the tip of the slew of totems which come to a head in a grand finale, a veritable munitions factory of Chekhov’s guns that come to their realization as a convoluted, crazy plot imposes its structure like a confident game of whack-a-mole.

I really appreciated the slip-handed way the absurd dynamics of this play are introduced.  Beautifully channeled by Terry Wickline’s Mrs. Slater; she has that uncanny ability of someone who corrals trust with sincerity, but whose dubiousness accelerates with everything she says, every anecdote.  She’s bonkers.  Wickline carries this persona so well, so lovingly and maternal.  She should be medicated.  She should be denied being able to provide information…and yet, stepping into this play is stepping into the unhinged, the land of unreliable narrators.  Within a descent into madness, comes a trust for the implausible.

Terry Wickline (Mrs. Slater), Michael Fuller (Brad), & Philip Winters (Carl)
Terry Wickline (Mrs. Slater), Michael Fuller (Brad), & Philip Winters (Carl)

This show’s strength is its physicality.  Large amounts of kinetic, vibrant performances like that of Philip Winters as Carl, a professor of Russian Literature, who by his own obsessive prowess falls into the role of Dostoyevsky’s playfully murderous Raskolnikov.  As Dostoyevsky toys with the idea of murder, so we see Winters’ Carl become overtly drawn to the notion.  What stands out is how alive and gargantuan the figure that Philip Winters creates and becomes.  We see him Frankenstein out into a very living, ugly monster and unexpectedly find weird dimensions of weakness and strange logic as the madness engulfs him and he’s no longer the craziest person in the room.

That’s owing to the kinetic energy in this show.  It is very responsive and intimate.  Director Kim Martin must have enabled their cast through exercises because this show really illuminates the language of the body and the scope of movement.  It plays with many things: the mime of being possessed, the wild agitation that comes with hysterics, the synchronization of slowdowns, or the gravity of the cast suddenly becoming mannequin.

Philip Winters (Carl)  & Hayley Nielsen (Caitlin)
Philip Winters (Carl) & Hayley Nielsen (Caitlin)

Philip Winters and Michael Fuller do a terrific job allowing their characters to overtake their bodies and become unreal monsters.  It’s very over-the-top, because as I said, this play is camp.  It’s deranged and playful, maybe even a bit nihilistic; and certainly weird and macabre.

Hayley Nielsen does a great job as Caitlin, a manic pixie dream girl whose transformation into lunacy is rather unexpected and therefore all the more exciting as she lunges towards her end of madness.  Her ability to balance cheerfulness and menace created a character that really subverted expectation but then allowed for a performance which was pure Strangelove.  She trumps, and the power that she ends up wielding is dangerous.

Daina Michelle Griffith (Lily) & Michael Fuller (Brad)
Daina Michelle Griffith (Lily) & Michael Fuller (Brad)

The set is a wall cluttered with what I presume to be a TGI Fridays that vomited itself onto a chain link fence.  The orchestration of the madness makes for an almost unsightly amount of clutter.  What’s impressive about the display is how, with dynamic lighting or demonstration, singular elements of this chaotic display step out and come to life.  Let me reiterate: the structure appears chaotic, but when brought into the bounds of a focus suddenly an immediate and careful relevance is made apparent.

The show, as well, operates in a similar vein. Given its barrel of ominous monkeys (a belt, a broken skateboard, a baby blanket and a, uuuhh, oh yeah, a gun!) it seems to be leading all over the place, but it manages to bring its characters back into their fraught and dismayed storylines with panache. Like a double helix,  the way it appears twisted and yet contains a taut structure underneath the mayhem allows for an ironic source of closure for what should be a pretty gutting tragedy.  You walk away smiling, because they play sums itself up with its plot even if its deeper meaning is the numbness of utter depravity.

Cav O'Leary (Gene) & Hayley Nielsen (Caitlin)
Cav O’Leary (Gene) & Hayley Nielsen (Caitlin)

This allows for more subdued characters which unveil themselves to subtly undergo the path of pandemonium.  Michael Fuller, Daina Michelle Griffith, and Cav O’Leary all play parts which are the straight man.  They are the foil to the comedy emerging around them.  The brilliance of each of their performances, however, is that as the madness eclipses their very bodies with possession (hence, “a devil inside”), so their performance mutates from straight man to bizarre unraveling.  Each of these actors dispels their normalcy for an evolution towards an over-the-top crescendo, which makes every single character equally, and undeniably exciting.

What you’re left with by the end of the show is nothing but audacious punches, a really riveting streak of riff-raff that becomes so compelling, so twisted and absurd; it’s hard not to fall over in the seat from a fit just watching.  I was thoroughly impressed with how large this show could make itself, and how big everyone can go.  It’s 100% bananas.  And it’s really a lot of fun.

A Devil Inside runs at the Pittsburgh Playhouse through February 18. For tickets and more information, click here.

Photos by John Altdorfer

The Gift of the Maji

WebMAGI  The Gift of the Magi was adapted by Jon Jory from a 1905 short story by O. Henry. Logically enough given the genre of origin, the play is fairly short and condensed. The narrative traces newlyweds Della and Jim Young on their quest to purchase Christmas gifts for each other in spite of their tight finances. True, the paltry amounts they have to purchase gifts with are laughably outdated. After all, Della’s hard-saved $1.87 will not even score you a Starbucks coffee these days. Sadly, the harsh realities of financial hardship are nonetheless just as palpably relevant today as they were over 100 years ago. In fact, Jim (Josh Mooiweer) has been forced to accept a one-third pay cut at work. The company positions itself as benevolent, opting for a pay cut over a layoff. As Della (Becky Brown) finds, there is little joy in managing the home economics of subsistence living as Jim lines his worn shoes with borrowed newspaper from a coworker each day, literally limping along.

Despite the economic distress of the Youngs, the play’s tone is far more cheery than depressing. This is largely due to two factors: the holiday setting and the freshly minted newlyweds. Before the play, carolers dressed in period costume sing. The live music is an unexpected delight given the recorded, speaker-fed music that precedes most plays. There’s genuine joy and spreading cheer as rising song warmly fills the theater, and you slide effortlessly into the holiday spirit without even realizing it.

Lighting designer Antonio Colaruotolo enhances the holiday mood with an understated, abstract snowflake pattern illuminated on the red curtain behind the carolers. In addition, the holiday spirit literally frames the stage as pine garlands interwoven with white lights and red ribbon trace the proscenium. When the curtain rises, it’s a Victorian tableau reminiscent of a Nutcracker performance. Actors in period costumes spring into action singing “The 12 Days of Christmas” and dancing. Costume designer Joan Markert unifies the ensemble with costumes that complement without competing or being overly busy.

We learn that according to Della’s diary, newlyweds Jim and Della Young have only been married for 171 days. They clearly live to and love to please each other, always finding a positive spin for their sacrifices and troubles. With the play’s youthful eagerness and heartwarming exuberance, it’s well-suited for a college production, making it a perfect fit for Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse. Brown and Mooiweer, both Point Park University students, radiate undaunted youth and exude a vibrancy that keeps the play from delving headlong into the darker elements that cloud it. Fast forward ten years, and Jim and Della may be bitter and worn-down. However, at this moment in time, there is a fresh and hopeful optimism about them that’s appropriately captured by Brown and Mooiweer who are occupying a similar space in life – the world of boundless future possibilities that college represents.

Della is one of three daughters all united by D names, and we get a glimpse into her roads not taken as we meet her sisters. The narrator (Somerset Young) informs us Donna Marie (Cara Quigley) went to Utah determined to marry well and achieved that goal. While Quigley’s appearance is brief, she exudes a bold, space-filling presence fitting for the expansive western prairie as her jacket’s fringe sways rhythmically.

While Della’s other sister Dot (Emily Stoken) is only a train ride away, Dot’s life is a world away from Della’s. When the disheveled Della arrives at her door, the posh and polished Dot rings a tinkling bell for her housemaid to bring hot water. Stoken is appropriately restrained and reserved as befits Dot’s character. The living spaces of the two sisters stand in stark contrast. Dot’s stately and sparkingly well-appointed Christmas tree towers over Della’s Charlie Brown-like tree that Jim charitably deems “most original.” When Della reminds Dot she too married for love, Dot immediately dispels that romantic notion, flatly and transparently stating she married for position. O. Henry’s is a world of binaries. One can be poor and in love or well-situated without love. The appeal of cash flow is not lost on Della, at least subconsciously, as she hastily departs from her sister’s house. Brown lets herself display the nuanced tensions of Della’s dilemma – love for her sister versus wanting to put distance between herself and her sister’s opulence before she can question her own fate, now sealed by marriage.

There’s a dual sadness and sweetness to the play’s ending as the young couple sacrifice for each other’s happiness, raising obvious questions about fiscal responsibility in light of economic plight. However, thanks to Penelope Lindblom’s careful direction, she disables easy, snap judgments about the young couple’s fiscal decisions. After all, the desire to please and delight those we love is as natural as the holiday spirit the play easily conjures.

The Gift of the Magi is playing at the Pittsburgh Playhouse through December 17th. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

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.”