The Grand Duke

27628970_1190706627730702_447301274202224173_oHearing a musical work or experiencing a play for the first time is exhilarating. When the “new” piece is a 122-year-old Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, there’s a rare combination of the unknown and the familiar–their last collaboration.

There isn’t a G&S opera that doesn’t have the familiar musical motifs of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s settings of W.S. Gilbert’s wit-laden and often absurd plots. It’s their unique and enduring brand of topsy-turvydom, regardless of the opera, but as Katisha in The Mikado says it’s “an acquired taste”.

Good news: If you love Gilbert and Sullivan, you are in for a treat at the Pittsburgh Savoyards’ 80th anniversary production of The Grand Duke. Fans should be in a seat for this second weekend of performances as the Savoyards take on Duke for the second time in the eight-decade history of one of the region’s longest running community theaters. The Savoyards have only performed Duke once before, back in 1977.

Under the baton of Guy Russo and the stage direction of Robert Hockenberry with Shannon Knapp as assistant director, the Savoyards’ company of orchestra and singers succeeds in bringing The Grand Duke to life. Significantly, the Savoyards run on the steam of volunteerism, comradery, and a love of the G&S canon.

Director Robert Hockenberry admits in his program note that the piece needed some thoughtful trimming to tighten it up for modern ears. Certainly the piece reflects the prowess of its writers and their long-running collaboration. Gilbert’s plot is no less silly than some others and Sullivan’s music shines–displaying the soaring melodies and harmonies for stellar voices supported by rich orchestration. Hockenberry explains that “perhaps the worst song Sullivan ever wrote was cut” and that that company set out to polish a work some consider a rough jewel.

WIth the love and respect due to a work of such pedigree, the Savoyards shine as they share the joy that’s kept this local troupe going for eight decades–despite wars, economic downturns, and less recognition of G&S works in the opera world.

For that joy alone, the Savoyards deserve more than three cheers. And for staging this rarely heard opera, the company earns praise for taking on yet another project that singularly distinguishes what the Savoyards represent as they so passionately carry on as the region’s oldest community theater.

The orchestra shines with this multifaceted score under Russo’s capable baton. The men’s chorus is very solid given the usually small numbers. Women’s voices in the chorus are strong and provide a number of supportive solo bits.

Some roles are shared by company members, so leads vary for some performances through this weekend’s final events. As we attended the Sunday matinee on March 4, some of the leading singers are on stage again Saturday, March 10 with their doubles appearing on Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.

In the title role for the entire run, Michael Greenstein brings experience and his knack for some of Gilbert’s quirkiest characters to the title role as the Grand Duke of a tiny German village (with a name too long to include here) in 1750.

There, the local thespian troupe are dismayed about his tight purse strings and conspired to remove him. The overture features dance and theater warm-ups while the show is filled with many fun references to the roles of company members and management. Undoubtedly, Gilbert was writing about what he knew and it’s charming for the cast members and the audience.

The plot is almost too multifaceted to explain, but suffice it to say there’s no parson for the Duke’s impending wedding, he upends a young couple’s own ceremony plans, the little guys lose out, and the aristocracy is almost overthrown with the draw of a card–hence the “statutory duel” reference.

But there’s second  “duke”, an actor who wins the Duchy’s top spot when he takes on the Duke. Andy Hickly is charming as the wannabe. Paul Yeater is fun as theatrical manager–perhaps based on someone in the original Savoy Theater company. Mark F. Harris gave a charming turn as the Herald late in the show. As the Notary, Ryan Garber adds just the right touch of the rule of law.

Anna Lahti beautiful sang as the sardonic Julia Jellicoe, a comedienne in the troupe who winds up as the new Duke’s bride. Lisa, his discarded fiancee, was sweetly sung by Sarah Marie Nadler. Sally Denmead plied her acting and singing chops to create an entertaining and sympathetic bride-to-be who loses out when the original Duke steps down. Her hopes are dashed by Julia, but all is further confused when the Princess of Monte Carlo, delightfully drawn by Brennan Bobish shows to marry to the Duke herself. Seems her kingdom promised her hand many years ago. Likewise, Hayden Keefer turns in a fun performance as the Prince of Monte Carlo. And the pair’s outlandish wigs, make-up and costumes are a shot in the arm late in the show.

The show likewise closes with an unexpected kick-line and more merriment. Hockenberry earns kudos for keeping the energy flowing through two long acts and the whole two and a half hours. His judicious editing benefits the production immensely.

Ed Griffiths is joined by Hockenberry for scenic design that provides the village, town square, and a view of the German mountains in the distance. Ellen Rosen leads as costume design, turning in colorful variations for the huge chorus and distinctive styles for each lead character. Garth Schafer is back as lighting designer, providing a consistent look and effects appropriate for this bright and comic show.

The ensemble of 14 singers and a half dozen supers provide chorus back-up and color.

There’s plenty of jokes for insiders, but the curious newcomer should consider this production. It’s never too late to “get” G&S and it might be just the comic diversion as we move into daylight savings time!

And you can party with the Savoyards at Cheers for 80 Years, a birthday fete at Penn Brewery on April 28.

Details on The Grand Duke and all things about The Pittsburgh Savoyard are online in the company site.

H.M.S. Pinafore

Pinafore-Website-Banner-Draft-1It’s been three days since I saw Pittsburgh Savoyards’ production of H.M.S. Pinafore, and I’m still singing “I Am the Monarch of the Sea” to myself, which tells you just how catchy Gilbert & Sullivan tunes can be!

Pittsburgh Savoyards marks its 80th season of celebrating the beloved works of Gilbert & Sullivan with their latest production H.M.S. Pinafore, stage direction by Shane Valenzi and music direction by Guy Russo. It’s Mr. Russo’s 20th season as music director and conductor for the company, and the Savoyards have their own special way of marking the occasion during selected performances of Pinafore. If you are interested in seeing what they do, go to a performance on October 19 or 20th; that’s all I’m saying since it’s set up as a surprise.

Director Valenzi has previously directed for the Savoyards in 2009 and 2010. Mia Bonnewell (Cousin Hebe) has been in 10 Savoyards productions, while Connor Halloran (Sailor) is a high school senior making his debut with the company. Concertmaster Laura Leonard has played the violin in every Savoyards production since 2009. Corey Nile Wingard (Dick Deadeye) is returning to the company after an 8-year hiatus. All of which is to say that Pittsburgh Savoyards seems to successfully nurture both long-standing artistic relationships and new, inexperienced talent in their company.

On the community front, Pittsburgh Savoyards has an impressive number of individual donors supporting their work, and I was privileged to speak with an audience member who has been coming to see the Savoyards productions for the last 19 years.

In other words, this is a company entrenched in the life of the community, that has a clear vision of what they do and how they want to do it, and that has succeeded in their mission for 80 years. That alone is a notable achievement.

The Pittsburgh Savoyards proudly claims their status as a community-based, semi-professional theater company, with the majority of their cast and orchestra volunteering their time to the production, and they stand by this identity. As a result, their final product is a bit uneven. The varying skill levels of the performers are obvious, but the overall effect is one of joy. These people love performing Gilbert & Sullivan, and that feeling carries over the footlights to the audience.

There were two stand-out performances that deserve a mention. Anna Lahti sang Little Buttercup with great vocal control and stamina throughout the evening. Sarah Marie Nadler as Josephine was the highlight of the production. With her beautiful soubrette soprano, Ms. Nadler’s voice floated through all of her numbers with delicate precision while still cutting through the orchestra when power was required. She also exhibited a delightful sense of comedic flair in her acting that was always welcome. Ms. Nadler shares the role of Josephine with Caryn Alexis Crozier, who I did not see perform; you can see Ms. Nadler’s remaining performances on October 20 and 22nd.

Also of note was the Pittsburgh Savoyards orchestra, conducted ably by Guy Russo and Edward Leonard. While sounding a little thin at times, this small orchestra put on a beautifully controlled performance, always in support of the singers, never overpowering them. The orchestra played as one, well-conditioned unit.

Misters Russo and Leonard should also be commended for their work with the singers in this production. Diction across the board was excellent, making it easy to understand all of the lyrics and get all of the jokes without really needing to look at the projections above the stage. Likewise, all of the voices were well balanced and the chorus sounded great as a group.

The stage at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall has its pros and cons as  a performing space. On the plus side: it’s a beautiful, traditional proscenium stage with great acoustics. I was thrilled beyond measure there was no, repeat NO, miking of the performers or the orchestra, and all of the singers’ voices carried easily throughout the hall. It was a delight for the ears.

On the minus side: the stage is very shallow, which greatly limits design options and staging options. This didn’t help with the staging of the show, which had a tendency to be too static in general, and then had to contend with there being nowhere for the performers to move during the big, full-company numbers. Lighting positions seem limited as well, which created problematic lighting moments with performers being too much in the dark. And the company really needs at least 2 follow-spots, if they are going to use follow-spots.

A G&S production is always a silly good time with its high comedic style, catchy tunes, and good-natured send-ups of 19th century English society. Whether you’re an inveterate Anglophile or musical theater fan, G&S always fits the bill.

You can catch Pittsburgh Savoyards’ production of H.M.S. Pinafore through October 22, 2017 at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall. Tickets are available at

Pittsburgh Savoyards Celebrate 80th Season!

Pinafore-Website-Banner-Draft-1Audiences can enjoy performances of HMS Pinafore, October 13-15 & 19-22 2017, and the Grand Duke, Spring 2018 this season with the Pittsburgh Savoyards! A testament to the city’s thriving arts scene, the Pittsburgh Savoyards have been a semi-professional, community-based, non-profit theater company funded primarily by local contributions and ticket sales for eighty seasons.

The Savoyards primarily focus on the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Gilbert and Sullivan are the undisputed masters of comic operetta and the proud parents of the modern musical. That their works are more in demand today than when they were created over a century ago is ample proof of their lasting brilliance.

This season will begin with one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most beloved shows, HMS Pinafore. Stage directed Shane Valenzi (Gilbert and Sullivan expert), Pinafore will run for two weekends, Oct. 13-15 and 19-22 at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Ave, Carnegie, Pa 15106. Resident Music Director and Conductor Guy Russo will lead ensemble and orchestra. Mr. Russo spoke excitedly about the show. “I am very excited about this upcoming production of HMS Pinafore for a few reasons.  First, it’s always been on my very short list of G&S works.  Next, we have managed to assemble a tremendous cast for this production, with a very enthusiastic, strong ensemble. We have once again been fortunate enough to have an orchestra full of very fine players who have shown tremendous dedication to the Savoyards.  Finally, our Stage Director for this show, Shane Valenzi, is quite creative and talented, and his vision for this production is exciting, and I feel certain that our audiences are going to be GREATLY entertained!”. All shows begin at 8pm except on Sundays, which begin at 2:30pm.

For the first time, in addition to the regular rates for tickets, the company now offers premium seating at the venue in Rows D, E, and F for an additional $5.00 on the ticket. Those who order tickets by Oct. 9 can take advantage of the special early bird discount.

Pinafore is an age-old story of love! The story takes place aboard the ship HMS Pinafore. The captain’s daughter, Josephine, is in love with a lower-class sailor, Ralph Rackstraw, although her father intends her to marry Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty.

Pinafore will be followed in the Spring by the Grand Duke, Directed by Robert Hockenberry.  In the Grand Duke, the curtain rises on the market square of Speisesaal where Ernest Dummkopf’s acting troupe is rehearsing for a production of the Greek tragedy Troilus and Cressida. Beneath the theatrical veneer, a conspiracy is afoot among the thespians to overthrow Rudolph, the Grand Duke.

There are a variety of event offerings this season, including opening night festivities and a catered British Tea. Interested patrons should visit the website to learn about upcoming events and make arrangements to attend at

The Pittsburgh Savoyards is a 501(c)(3) non-profit theatre group founded in 1938 whose mission is to honor and perpetuate the works of 19th Century English composing duo Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Using funds raised from ticket sales, fundraising events, and donations from generous patrons, the Savoyards perform two Gilbert and Sullivan productions per year, one in fall and one in spring. The shows feature a talented mix of both amateur and professional performers from the Greater Pittsburgh Area. In addition to its stage productions, the group organizes numerous community outreach projects to bring the rich heritage of Gilbert and Sullivan to people of all ages, emphasizing the timelessness of the duo’s whimsical tales and charmingly lighthearted music. A partner of Britsburgh since 2017, The Pittsburgh Savoyards is an ARAD asset and is also supported by the Pittsburgh Foundation.


15042008_908457625955605_6895723887467380350_oThe Pittsburgh Savoyards open their 79th season with a rousing production of Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Patience is a virtue, but in this case she is a milkmaid and satire on the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and ’80s in England and, more broadly, on fads and crowd mentality.

Imagine if the TV series The Bachelor took place about a hundred fifty years ago. The bachelor in Patience is the self-styled aesthetic poet Reginald Bunthorne. All the rapturous maidens have all become his groupies much to the dismay of the Dragoons, the girls’ macho military boyfriends.

This brings us to Patience, the virtuous village milkmaid who claims to have never loved anyone. But while Bunthorne is infatuated with Patience, she falls for her childhood crush Archibald Grosvenor, another “famous” aesthete who attracts women even faster than Bunthorne. By means of whimsical song, dance and typical Gilbert and Sullivan nonsensical logic, a happy ending is achieved while reminding us that every generation has its own temporary insanity!

Zach Wood as Archibald Grosvenor

Gilbert and Sullivan’s operatic works are clearly not fads. After all, how do you explain the Pittsburgh’s Savoyards mission and a nearly singular passionate focus on Gilbert & Sullivan’s work over the past 79 years?

Patience was the sixth operatic collaboration of fourteen between Gilbert and Sullivan including H.M.S. Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, all of which retain a nice degree of contemporary relevance by addressing superficiality, vanity, hypocrisy, and pretentiousness while satirizing romantic love and military bluster.

Director Rob Hockenberry has a full stage with a large cast of characters to fill along with the challenge of double casting the leads. There are many well-staged bits and some really nice physical comedy particular in scenes with Bunthorne and Grosvenor. A full orchestra of volunteers under the direction of Guy Russo accompanies this production. Keeping with the period, the show uses no microphones. Supertitles are used above the stage for the songs, which helps when vocals don’t quite cut through as well as revealing the multi-part complexity of the lyrics.

Sarah McCullough as Patience
Sarah McCullough as Patience

The Savoyards show off some excellent Pittsburgh area talent. Some standouts from Saturday night’s performance were Sarah McCullough as Patience with a nice balance of naivety and wisdom along with a nice voice. Michael Greenstein was perfect as the fleshy and pretentious Reginald Bunthorne with a great sense of physical comedy and timing. Deborah Greenstein as Lady Jane singing Sad is a Woman’s Lot drew lots of sympathy and laughs from the women in the audience. Zachary Wood shows off his performance experience and vocal training as Archibald Grosvenor.

The scenic elements are nicely painted with the decorations capturing the era’s fascination with all things Egyptian. The large cast requires a lot of period costumes. I particularly liked Designer Ellen Rosen’s costumes for the four leads.

Deborah Greenstein as Lady Jane
Deborah Greenstein as Lady Jane

Patience originally premiered in London in 1881, and later that year moving to the larger Savoy Theatre.  Henceforth, the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas would be known as the Savoy Operas, and both fans and performers of Gilbert and Sullivan would come to be known as “Savoyards.” Another bit of interesting theatre trivia; Patience was the first theatrical production in the world to be lit entirely by electric light.

A good measure of any company’s production is noticing the pleasure the actors have in their performance, in other words, are they having fun and enjoying their craft. By that measure and the mission to expose the operas of Gilbert & Sullivan to contemporary audiences, this show is a success and worth of the opportunity to see one of their lesser-known works.

The Pittsburgh Savoyards continue their 79th season in spring with Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience. Performances continue March 9-12, 2017 at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie. All performances except for the 2:30pm Sunday matinees are at 8pm. Click here for more information. 

Thanks to the Pittsburgh Savoyards for the complimentary tickets.

Photos by Lauren Stanley.

Winter Preview 2016

Snowflake 6
A letter from the Editor

To our beloved readers,

The countdown has begun; there are just 21 days left until the first day of Winter and we have put together a preview sure to prepare you for a holiday season of new and exciting theater experiences. Even though things start to slow down in the winter, there are plenty of things to keep you entertained during the cold, dark evenings as Pittsburgh’s warm theater community invites you to step in from out of the cold and catch a show. There is plenty of holiday themed fun and even a few new plays to choose from this Winter season!

Beyond this preview, stay tuned for continuous coverage of Pittsburgh theater. We will be checking in with local companies, some new to the scene and some seasoned veterans. We will also continue to introduce you to the people that make up Pittsburgh’s vibrant theater community through our artists spotlight series.

On a business related note, we are officially a legal entity (LLC) recognized by the government (AKA the IRS, OMG!). Remember, if you would like to sponsor the site or purchase advertisements on the site, contact

Again, we want to thank those of you that have and continue to support us through your donations to our previous fundraising campaign, your engagement with us, and simply being readers. Most importantly, we want to thank you for supporting local theaters and companies and helping the arts grow and thrive in Pittsburgh.

We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #WinterwithPITR.

Happy holidays from all of us here at Pittsburgh in the Round, now get out there and enjoy some theater!

Mara E. Nadolski


Let’s start off with the Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this winter!

#5 – Eugene Onegin by Undercroft Opera: Usually sung in French, 10 year oldOneginPoster Undercroft Opera will be presenting this Tchaikovsky masterpiece in Russian as a concert. Originally premiering in Moscow in 1879, this story of unrequited love and regrets was last produced in Pittsburgh by the Pittsburgh Opera in 2009. Undercroft, a company known for giving performers “opera-tunities”, brings many opera veterans to the stage in this one night only event. Last seen in the Pittsburgh Savoyards’ production of Gianni Schicchi,  Eugene Onegin will bring Ian Greenlaw and Katie Manukyan together on the stage once again. For tickets and more information, check out Undercroft’s website here. 

#4 – Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Cup-a-Jo Productions: On the heels of their innovative 404501_10150601331240797_648691161_nproduction of Titus AndronicusCup-a-Jo brings us another twist on an old classic. A not-so-fun night of drinks with new colleagues turns dark and disastrous in the late Edward Albee’s absurdist drama. Starring company founder Joanna Lowe and Brett Sullivan Santry, Cup-a-Jo will drag us into an immersive universe complete with signature live music and of course, cocktails. Literally set within a living room, this production will give audiences “ultimate uncomfortable voyeuristic experience” says Lowe. Dates and more details to come, but for more information about Cup-a-Jo, click here.

#3 – The Lion in Winter by PICT Classic Theatre: The classic Christmas tale of King Lion-Final-WebHenry II and his dysfunctional family weaves through politics, conspiracies, and ruthlessness. The cast includes Pittsburgh favorites like Karen Baum and Tony Bingham, even PICT’s Artistic Director Alan Standford graces the stage as Henry himself in the company’s third production in their new space at the Union Project in Highland Park. As always, PICT is “committed to the creation of high-quality, professional thought-provoking theatre of substance” and we’re confident this production will be no different. The Lion in Winter begins previews Thursday December 1, for tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Lungs by off the WALL: In the second production of their Mainstage scaled_256series, off the WALL brings us more of the quick-witted dramas the company is known for with Duncan MacMillan’s Lungs. On a mostly bare set, no costume changes, and little accoutrements, Sarah Silk and Alec Silberblatt will force audiences to focus on the important themes of the text, rather than superfluous theatrics in this production. This two person drama takes us on a ride over the course of a relationship as they battle with questions about their families, their aspirations and each other. Opening December 2 at Carnegie Stage. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#1 – The Royale by City Theatre: City Theatre continues to uphold its mission YT17-Feature-The-Royaleto be Pittsburgh’s home for new plays with their January premiere of The Royale. Known for writing and producing television shows like Sons of Anarchy and Orange is the New Black, Marco Ramirez’s Broadway debut play The Royale is inspired by the true story of turn of the century boxer Jack Johnson. DeSean Terry plays Jay “The Sport”Jackson in this drama about fighting more than just the other person in the ring. Jackson has eyes on the heavyweight championship but with the racial tension of 1905 that might be easier said than done. The Royale runs on City Theatre’s Mainstage January 21 – February 12. For tickets and more information, click here.

While we’ve got you, check out our Top 5 Musicals you don’t want to miss here!

In the mood for something a little more festive? Claire rounded up the Top 5 Holiday shows for you here.

Throughline Theatre Company has gotten a new Artistic Director! Meet Sean Sears here.

Speaking of new things, check out one of Pittsburgh’s newest theater companies, Jumping Jack Theater.

Curious about something a little more than theater? Check out Jason’s articles featuring slowdanger and The Space Upstairs.

Even Attack Theatre is loosening some screws in their upcoming show Unbolted.

We’ve been pretty busy this fall too! In case you missed anything, here are some highlights of the last three months:

Between Riverside and Crazy at the Pittsburgh Public Theater

Three Days in the Country by Kinetic Theatre

The Music Man by Stage 62

12 Angry Men by the McKeesport Little Theater

How I Learned to Drive by the Duquense Red Masquers

Salome by the Pittsburgh Opera

To Kill a Mockingbird by Prime Stage Theatre

Giselle by the Pittsburgh Ballet

Barefoot in the Park by The Theatre Factory

Prometheus Bound: A Puppet Tragedy at the Irman Freeman Center for Imagination

Pride and Prejudice by Steel City Shakespeare

Trial by Jury & Gianni Schicchi by the Pittsburgh Savoyards

The River by Quantum Theatre

The Toxic Avenger at the Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret


Trial by Jury and Gianni Schicchi

tmp_18942-trial-01-1926570402When asked to review The Pittsburgh Savoyard’s productions of Gianni Schicchi and Trial by Jury I at first refused. Up until my attendance of these operas my experience of this art form was limited to watching Bugs Bunny in a Viking helmet in Saturday morning cartoons. Do I like admitting my cultural limits in public? Of course not! But I believe I am in good company here. I write this review not from an expert’s perspective, but as a new and excited opera audience member.

I am a Pittsburgh transplant, and every year I reside in this fine city I find more reasons to love living here. One of those reasons is the ticket price accessibility of the Pittsburgh’s cultural institutions such as the Pittsburgh Savoyards. The ticket prices are in the $20 range, which many can afford. This company is celebrating their 79th season, and I attended opening night of their latest production at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, PA.SCHICCHI_1794

Gianni Schicci and Trial by Jury are both one-act operas. Gianni Schicci, an Italian opera written by Puccini circa 1917-18. Though it was performed in English I was assisted in my comprehension by the supertitles projected above the stage. It is the story of the welcome death of a family patriarch and the scramble to change his will to benefit his family and not the convent he intended. Running concurrent to that narrative thread there is also a love story featuring the patriarch’s nephew and a lower class young woman. In the interest of not spoiling show for future viewers, I will not reveal the major plot twist that brings these two storylines together.14566332_884531705014864_6168818726483592190_o

There were a few standout actors in this production. I couldn’t take my eyes off Ian Greenlaw in the title character of Gianni Schicchi. To borrow a phrase from the hippies, he just had great energy. Most of the scenes in Schicchi are group scenes with characters delivering lines at each other in rapid-fire succession. I would have been overwhelmed if not for Greenlaw’s dynamism on stage. He was a grounding point for the whole production. Also of note was Katie Manukyan as Lauretta singing on “Oh, my dear papa”. Manukyan, a Notherwestern University trained singer delivered this song about not being able live without her love with a reserved sincerity that let the audience really focus on the emotionalism of the lyrics. I was truly moved by her performance.

My major qualm with this production has to do with a style choice.  Pittsburgh Savoyards producers and director James Critchfield adapted the script to reflect a modern Pittsburgh aesthetic. This means the property that is at stake in the contested will include a house in Wilkinsburg, steel mills and a Porsche. Also the stage was replete with enough Steelers paraphernalia that it looked like a cheesy storefront in the Strip.  Lastly, they brought in McFeely (in reference to Mr. Roger’s Mr. McFeely) as a deliveryman, and for reasons I can’t decipher, Hillary Clinton as an estate lawyer. I admit that at first I found the idea of an adaptation to be potentially fun, but when executed it fell flat for me. The problem was that I found myself investing more in anticipating what new Pittsburgh reference would be revealed in the plot than actually investing in the story execution. When you are on the edge of your seat to see how the actors pronounce East Liberty (Sliberty) instead of the edge of your seat to see how the conflict will be resolved, there is an issue.TBJ_DAY1_2610

The second show of the night was a Gilbert and Sullivan farce first produced in 1875 called Trial by Jury. This show was also adapted with a Pittsburgh aesthetic in mind but that was mainly interpreted in the cast’s wardrobe. I didn’t find the Pittsburgh as distracting. Trial by Jury is the story of a woman suing her former fiancé (wearing a yellow tuxedo shirt and black pants with a gold stripe down the leg) because he fell in love with another woman and broke off their engagement. The jury consisted of bridesmaids wearing black and gold gowns, McFeely again, and a few other men. The judge was outfitted in typical judge attire and the bride also appeared in standard wedding wear. There is something just really charming and campy about a courtroom musical where the feuding parties, the jury and even the judge sings.

Highlights of this performance include Aleç Donaldson’s singing as the fiancé Edwin on the songs “Is this the Court of Exchequer” and “When first my old, old love I knew”. Donaldson’s voice is rich and has a command of harmonizing. I found Donaldson’s vocals and the vocals of the learned Judge Michael Greenstein to be the strongest of the Trial by Jury’s cast. Kudos also to the set design. The warring parties were blocked center stage and behind them on both sides were stacked risers where the jury sat. The simplicity helped me focus on the quickly unfolding action whereas the cluttered stage design of Gianni Schicchi made for a scattered viewing experience.TBJ_DAY1_2617

Overall, I had a fine night attending my first opera. Bravo to Pittsburgh Savoyards for more making opera accessible and for putting on a rousing community production. Bravo to Music Director and Conductor Guy Russo for leading a fine orchestra of talented musicians. Their playing was on point. And lastly bravo to the people behind the renovation of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, PA; the work that has been completed is already beautiful. I can’t wait to see more productions in this space.

Please note that there were two casts alternating performances. This review is based on the October 7th performance.

Unfortunately, Gianni Schicchi and Trial by Jury closed on the 16th. For more information about the Pittsburgh Savoyards and their Spring production of Patience click here.

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Savoyards for complimentary press tickets. Photos courtesy of Greg Kornides.

Pittsburgh Savoyards Serve up Three Favorites in 79th Season

662626Longevity and loyalty weave strong bonds, so as the venerable Pittsburgh Savoyards begin their 79th season, it’s clear to one of Pittsburgh’s longest running companies. When it comes to the witty light operas of William Schwenk Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, the group’s repertoire is a grand bridge between opera and contemporary musical theater, along with some fun Pittsburgh angles during 2016-17. The Savoyards continue to impress as the company is almost exclusively fueled by volunteers on all levels.

This October, Savoyard veteran director and actor James Critchfield stages both the G&S short operetta Trial by Jury, which mocks love and British law, and Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi (originally placed in Italy) in a familiar setting–our own fair city. The troupe’s new production of Patience (or Bunthorne’s Bride), a G&S satire on the Victorian aesthetic movement that spoofs fans of poets like Oscar Wilde, follows in March.

Guy Russo, musical director since 1998, conducts the productions, featuring the Savoyards’ full orchestra that accompanies each work at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, PA.

“I think the fact that our group continues to entertain enthusiastic audiences after all of these years is a testimony to the enduring quality of the authors’ work,” says Russo of the rich Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire that fulfills the Savoyards’ mission with at least two events each season.

Critchfield also knows the repertoire well, having performed in nine different Savoyards productions and directed five for the troupe over the past three decades.

The reunited artistic duo believes in the timelessness of the G&S operettas, written in the 19th century but still performed around the world today, and considers them a bridge between opera and musical theatre. Since their debuts at London’s Savoy Theater, these enduring jewels have exude charm and wit that keeps artists like Critchfield and Russo, singers, instrumentalists and audiences coming back more.

Russo agrees that while the context of the works includes the political and cultural foibles of Victorian England (seemingly everyone but the Queen), “there’s also a timelessness about much of the humor, and the music is bright, uplifting, and almost relentlessly tuneful!”

First in the season is “a nice comic pairing,” says Critchfield of this double bill last staged by the Savoyards six years ago. Now, the two works get a Yinzer twist.TRIAL-BANNER-WEBSITE-EDIT-960x250

Trial by Jury is a brilliantly written, beloved, fast-paced, witty, short one-act that bubbles with joyful energy,” says Critchfield. “Adding to the fun, we are also placing this production in present-day Pittsburgh.” Critchfield promises entertaining ‘Burgh visual tweaks and many, many lyric changes for a Pittsburgh flavor in Schicchi.

Trial By Jury (1875), the case of a jilted bride, is now set in a Pittsburgh Court with “a transplanted judge from Merry old England,” says Critchfield. “We’ll see a bridal party straight from a Pittsburgh themed wedding that went awry.” He adds some characters to the story, such as the plaintiff’s mother and the defendant’s new fiance to spice up the present-day action.

Gianni Schicchi (1918) was composed by Giacomo Puccini whose grand opera hits La Boheme and  Madama Butterfly are well-known to casual opera goers. However the Schicchi aria “O mio babbino caro” is certainly one of the most often sung arias in popular culture.

Puccini’s took inspiration from Dante’s Inferno and the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte form. In Critchfield’s staging, the title character Gianni Schicchi, patterned after the stock harlequin character, will be costumed in a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey as he stirs the comic plot involving the deception and family dynamics.

“The greedy Donati family mourning the passing of their patriarch, Buoso, will be costumed to resemble a Pittsburgh Italian family,” the director shares.

As an actor and singer with a wide range of opera, theater, and solo experience, Critchfield understands the commitment of the volunteer cast and orchestra members who make these shows possible. He’s been Scrooge in no less than 18 Christmas season appearances in Dickens’ classic, among many other roles, with Pittsburgh Musical Theater.

“We have an amazingly talented collection of singers including many with advanced music/vocal degrees,” says Critchfield. In addition to enjoying the chance to collaborate with Critchfield again, Russo says, “some great young talent that has fallen in love with G&S, both in the pit and on the stage.” Double casting for many roles provides even more performance opportunities for singers, while audiences can expect to hear singers who are literally launching their careers with the troupe.

“I enjoy SO many things about it,” says Russo of wielding the conductor’s baton after starting his Savoyards’ journey as a singer as a student. “More than anything it’s getting to work with people who are there because they LOVE it! Also, I’ve met so many talented, big-hearted folks over the years.”

Guy Russo and the orchestra from a 2015 production
Guy Russo and the orchestra from a 2015 production

The Pittsburgh Savoyards was founded well before many other intrepid performance presences in the region, with Pittsburgh Opera in its 77th year, Pittsburgh CLO is now 70, and Little Lake Theater is a few years from that milestone. Granted, the Savoyards (and likely a number of other arts organizations) took a few performances off during the Second World War, but however one slices it, the Savoyards have endured and love every note of their repertoire over more than seven decades. Soon, the Savoyards will surpass the age span of Queen Victoria who lived to age 81 and reigned during the original productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaborations.

Once a Savoyard, the clever lyrics and eminently memorable melodies seem to infuse one’s blood. It’s often a lifetime fandom. (In the interest of transparency, this writer knows this first-hand, having sung six seasons with the troupe and always ready to hear more G&S.) So, never mind those who haven’t tried it; “Savoyards” around the world know the uninitiated are missing some of the wittiest words and wildest plot devices devised simply to entertain.

In addition to the  14 comic G&S operas (and others) that rotate through the Savoyards’ repertoire, you can count the reasons to join the Savoyards this season: three productions with probably more than several hundred singers and instrumentalists participating, affordable ticket prices, sincerely comic works performed in full productions with large casts and full orchestra, and a lovely venue that’s just right for these light classics. There’s a lot more singing and laughter ahead, including Patience, which Russo says is his favorite work from the canon.

“It was the first G&S I had ever heard, and I’ve always thought it to be the funniest, and the best score,” admits Russo as he prepares to conduct Patience again.

The Savoyards season opens with seven performances Trial by Jury and Gianni Schicchi, Oct. 6-17, with both pieces performed at each evening or matinee at the  Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, Carnegie. Early bird discounts are available through Oct. 4. Patience next takes the stage for seven performances, March 3-12. Tickets starting at $25 are on sale via the website at and at the door, with an early bird discount available through Oct. 4. Nonprofits, particularly those with an educational mission, many apply for blocks of complimentary tickets. Email or call 412-734-8476 for details or to get involved.

Check out the rest of our 2016 Fall Preview here! Follow along with our autumn adventures with the hashtag #FallwithPITR on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

The Pirates of Penzance

piratesofpenzance-web-banner1-960x250Before I dive into the meat of this review I have to mention everything about this assignment is new to me. This is my first operetta and also my first time seeing a The Pittsburgh Savoyards (Savoyards) Inc. production. Imagine, a theater production company, actively performing for 78 seasons, the past 23 in my own backyard, and this is my first time in attendance. I am pleased to say, as a novice, I can approach this critique of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan’s, The Pirates Penzance, with a completely fresh and unbiased outlook.

The Savoyards boast their own orchestra which is absolutely delightful. Conductor Guy Russo leads a group of musicians who produce superb orchestral movements through finely crafted skill. Together they present a lighthearted and memorable score.

The show begins with the pirate apprentice Frederic (Alec Donaldson) being released on his 21st year from obligations to the Pirate King (Andy Hickly) and his troop of orphaned pirates the Pirates of Penzance. Frederic is looking forward to experiencing life outside the ship and sea. His nursemaid Ruth (Deborah Greenstein), 26 years his senior, begs to join him, proclaiming with confidence that she is beautiful and will make a good wife. Frederic considers her offer until he meets a group of lovely young sisters. He and the beautiful Mabel (Katie Manukyan) swiftly fall in love. All seems wonderful until the Pirates of Penzance enter and each take a sister for himself. The sisters’ father, Major- General Stanley (Michael Greenstein), comes to their rescue by professing to the Pirate King he too is an orphan. Knowing the pirates have a weak spot for orphans, Major- General easily overthrows the band of villains and takes his daughters, Frederic in tow, to his family estate.

The Pirate King and Ruth come after Frederic revealing the paradox of his servitude. Based on the language in his contract, Frederic was born on February 29, a leap year.   He has lived 21 years but has only had 5 birthdays. Unfortunately, he must return with the Pirates of Penzance, leaving behind his beloved Mabel, until his 21st birthday. What follows is a whimsical story of nobility and love.

The musical score is familiar and most audience members will most leave the theater humming , “I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General” orNow For The Pirates’ Lair”, which I am singing to myself as I write this!

Ms. Manukyan, Mr. Donaldson and Mr. Hickly are the stars of the show. Manykyan’s voice is operatic and angelic, her trilling is enthralling and especially sweet during, “Oh, Is There Not One Maiden Breast”. Hickly’s theatrics are captivating, he has clear diction and a strong voice. Donaldson is a charming pirate, and a perfect rendition of an innocent young man. His vocal delivery is powerful and he projects loud enough to be heard over the accompaniment. Michael Greenstein is wonderfully animated but sounds like he sings with a mouth full of cotton. Deborah Greenstein, when positioned downstage bares an enchanting voice but otherwise I could hardly make out her words she sang so quiet. Two of Mabel’s sisters, Kate played by Sarah McCullough and Mia Bonnewell as Edith fare well enough but seem to lack the vocal strength needed to really shine as I expect these characters have the capability. The ensemble cast are all smiles, their voices meld harmoniously and the costumes are bright and lively.

Supertitles. What are they? Above the stage stretches a banner, a projection screen that displays the lyrics to the songs as the actors perform them. Due to the vocal range of certain performers I initially welcomed this novelty, only to realize I was staring at the screen more than I was watching the actors on stage. I must say, I found the supertitles incredibly distracting. After doing a little research, I’ve learned supertitles are a common practice at the opera. Even the Metropolitan Opera offers a version of lyric translation for patrons. So, excuse my ignorance if you are aware of this addition and can utilize it in a positive way. I feel the practice impaired my focus.

Typically smaller stages create challenges for a large company to perform comfortably. Although I witnessed a few awkward directorial moments, overall, I think stage director Sean Lenhart is very capable of working within the space confines of a crowded stageI enjoyed the show; the music, the ensemble and the set were a professional quality and the pleasure of performing resonated from each actor.

Please note that The Pirates of Penzance is double cast, our review is based on the March 11th performance. Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Savoyards for complimentary press tickets. You’ve got one more chance to see The Pirates of Penzance today at 2:30pm at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall. For tickets and more information check out their website.