Side Show

sideHuge ensemble casts were a hallmark of 1930s theatre, which was largely driven by government funding of the Federal Theatre Project as part of the Works Progress Administration. A cast of 30 clearly generated more employment opportunity than a cast of 4, so large ensembles became the norm. While the musical Side Show was first performed in 1997, it is set in the 1930s. It nods to its Depression-era contemporaries with 25 characters, which Split Stage Productions fills with a cast of 19, still a sizable commitment by today’s standards where the one-man show reigns supreme as economic safeguard. Side Show (book and lyrics by Bill Russell, music by Henry Krieger) traces the career trajectory from sideshow to vaudeville of real-life conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet Hilton.

Side Show begins thoughtfully long before you’re seated. A 1930s period sideshow poster for the Bearded Lady hangs outside the Apple Hill Playhouse, waving flag-like and setting a tone of the exotic. As you enter, Split Stage skillfully manages to engage the theatrically neglected olfactory with the wafting scent of fresh popcorn luring you under the proverbial big top. Sideshow act posters line the lobby walls, including one for the Invisible Man – cleverly blank. A poster of The Sheik and his shimmying Harem Girls smiles alluringly as you ascend the stairs to the theatre. Inside, music director Joy Morgan Hess’ choice of tinny ragtime player-piano music provides a peppy accompaniment to more sideshow poster boastings.

In a metatheatrical moment, director Jim Scriven chooses to start the show by projecting the movie poster for Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks onto the curtain. This now cult-classic about a sideshow featured the real-life Daisy and Violet Hilton as well as other actual sideshow “freaks” of the time. The curtain is gauze-like, and through this shrouded veil, the show’s freaks filter onto the stage, belting out “Come Look at the Freaks.” They are each damaged in their own way, and the gauzy curtain feels like a bandage, a thin protection against a cruel world that’s violently yanked off as the curtain rises. Sideshow owner and master of ceremonies, Sir (Joe York), introduces each freak, commanding them to manifest their talents, saving Daisy (Rori Aiello Mull) and Violet (Victoria Buchtan) for his final reveal. A tattered suit and frayed tophat complement Sir’s Snidely Whiplash mustache. He is a cruel profiteer who treats his ensemble as property, not people, yet York keeps Sir from lapsing into dismissible stereotype.

The lifting of the curtain and stage lighting highlight the flaws in Alicia DiPaolo and Jim Gracie’s prosthetics and make-up. The prosthetic outlines on the Human Pin Cushion (Nate Newell) are easily visible, and the Geek’s (Mike Hamilla) long bulbous nose is obviously lighter in tone than the rest of his face. These distracting defects are correctable attentions to detail that could heighten the sideshow illusion instead of detracting from it. In our first glimpse of Daisy and Violet, Scriven artfully chooses to elevate them on a platform above the others, visually signifying their importance. They are also backlit, making their height difference obvious. Finding two actresses of the same height and build is obviously a challenge in casting conjoined twins, but Mull’s Daisy is several inches taller than Buchtan’s Violet, and even though Buchtan wears higher heels, the height difference is hard to ignore and takes you one more step out of the illusion.

However, Mull and Buchtan clearly trained in tandem and walk in absolute lockstep. Their Daisy and Violet move with surprisingly natural ease, even in awkward positions where you expect them to falter. Costume designer Sharon Wiant commendably creates costumes that both highlight their conjoined status and trace their shift from Sir’s tight-fisted sideshow operation to the bright lights of vaudeville. When Sir first introduces them, they are wearing little more than thin white nightgowns. In their first vaudeville appearance, they wear slinky red dresses, black feather boas snaking through their limbs as they seductively belt out “Ready to Play” surrounded by a black-suited male revue with red bowties, ready for their audience to imprint some version of a ménage a trois fantasy onto them.

Conjuring fantasies is a larger metaphor for their lives as they live pinball-like, always a means to someone else’s end without asserting their own needs or having them appropriately considered. Terry Connor’s (Tyler Brignone) quick sales pitch lures the twins from sideshow to vaudeville with startling ease, undoubtedly aided by his clean-cut good looks and black suit. At times, Brignone struggles with staying in character. He’s supposed to be in love with Daisy and claims to be enraptured by the sisters, yet while they pour their hearts out singing “Like Everyone Else” in answer to his question of what they want, Brignone looks distracted and unfocused. While Connor does deliver on his vaudeville promises, he’s ultimately another opportunist looking to use the sisters to advance his financial gain and fizzling career as a talent scout. Whether it’s Sir or Terry, both men perennially refer to Daisy and Violet as “girls.” They’re sexualized on one hand but infantilized on the other as not able to properly care for themselves and needing a strong, guiding male hand.

When I was growing up, we weren’t a daytime TV kind of family, which is perhaps why I have such a clear memory of watching Tod Browning’s Freaks with my father one weekend afternoon. I must have been about 10, dust motes swirling in the air as the afternoon sun tried to part the drawn curtains as if we were in our own big top tent. Looking back, I think it was my father’s way of teaching me a lesson on tolerance and inclusion. After all, in the film, the sideshow’s freaks have the moral compass while the “normal” looking people prove to be liars and cheats. Things aren’t always what they appear. Go ahead, peek behind the curtain, get your freak on, and you’ll find something you like at Side Show.

Side Show runs at the Apple Hill Playhouse through October 14. For tickets and more information, click here. 

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.”

Chicago

chicagoWestmoreland and Somerset Counties and the entire Laurel Mountain region is world-renowned for their outdoor activities, but another treasure that lies in Westmoreland County is the production team of Split Stage Productions that adds that special touch to the region. When you come in from enjoying the summer weather and are ready to take in some entertainment indoors Split Stage has what you need. Most recently a production that included murder, exploitation, corruption, treachery, adultery, and violence in their production of Chicago  co-produced by Kelly Simon Event Management.

Well-known in the area for producing top-notch plays and musicals using local talent, Split Stage has been providing the region with entertaining fare that usually leaves audiences on their feet asking for more – think “rock concert encores” at the end of their productions. As the particularly large crowd left the Palace Theater in Greensburg, one could sense that the patrons indeed did get their money’s worth, earning kudos for Director Jim Mikula, Musical Director Eric Barchiesi, Choreographer Laura Wurzell and Stage Manager Alyssa Wano.

Chicago represents everything dazzling and inclusive when thinking about Broadway, and to undertake such a well-known and beloved musical requires a great amount of time and focus to ready the actors, singers, dancers, and designers for a single two day run. The energy all actors and dancers put into this musical left me a bit stunned. To put it simply, Split Stage’s production was fantastic, particularly in the area of musical talent (including an entire orchestra led by conductor Eric Barchiesi).  It’s not that I would never doubt Split Stage’s abilities – they simply pull off the impossible.

Fan favorites local attorney John Noble (Billy Flynn), Mandy Russak (Roxie), Victoria Buchtan (Velma), Ryan Hadbavny (Amos), and Shelly Spatara (Mama Morton) brought down the house in what I might call (because of the minimalist set and costume design Mikula used) more of a “Chicago Greatest Hits” version rather than a full out musical drama. Chicago is such a well-known musical, it wouldn’t be a stretch to fill the Palace Theater with patrons who just want to enjoy the musical numbers. Judging by the audiences’ reception to the show, it was a fun night out in the theater to hear the renditions of “And All That Jazz”, “Cell Block Tango”, “I Can’t Do It Alone”, “Mister Cellophane” (Hadbavny’s greatest moment – I absolutely loved the song and his rendition), “Nowadays,” and “Finale” to name  just a few.

All of the music in this version of Chicago was more than entertaining and led me scouring the playbill to learn more about the performers and whereabouts they came. Much to my surprise, from the lead roles to the smallest parts in the musical, most of these performers are from either the Westmoreland, Somerset, or Pittsburgh area. It is encouraging to know that that much talent exists in Western Pennsylvania.

Noble’s Billy Flynn steals the show. He’s good. Really good. He’s a local attorney that could have easily found a home on the big stage. It was fun to see Noble (in the finale) standing beside Barchiesi in the orchestra pit “helping” conduct the final songs.  It was not only funny, but it added to the entire ambiance of the evening – big time production with local flair. The audience seemed to enjoy this as much as they enjoyed the entire production.

This review simply doesn’t have the space to list the credits of EVERY actor in Chicago. The playbill is filled with paragraphs of not only the principles but the credentials of the entire cast of 23. Let’s just say that the entire cast has received theater education from the best the Pittsburgh region has to offer – Point Park, Robert Morris, Carnegie Mellon, Squonk Opera, and more. Split Stage Productions, particularly Jim Mikula, knows how to assemble a cast.  Just as the Broadway version featured some of Broadway’s elite talent, then the Split Stage version of Chicago includes some of Westmoreland County’s elites.

In addition to those actors mentioned above, a standing ovation has to go to Allysa Bruno (Hunyak), Savanna Bruno (Mona), Josh Daisley, Bill Fisher, Adam Fladd, Courtney Harkins, Ashley Harmon (Liz), Jeff Johnston, Kyley Klas, Barbara Lawson, Maddie Nick, Brady Patsy, Kevin Rabbits, Josh Reardon, Nicole Rosenbayger, Nicole Stouffer (Annie), Brittany Tague (June), and Ryan Wagner for their outstanding performances.

Split Stage Productions and Kelly Simon Event Manager have been bringing a very rich sense of popular drama and musicals to Westmoreland County, and with its very cozy atmosphere, the Palace Theater is always a place of comfort regarding the acts presented to this region.

Chicago has unfortunately closed already but you can find out more about Split Stage and what they’re up to here or check out their website here

PITR’s Top 5 Picks for Summer 2017

Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP):Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Summer Preview 2017

Summer Logo

A Letter from the Editor,

I would like to wish a happy unofficial start of summer to our marvelous readers! Because of you, we made it through another year here at Pittsburgh in the Round! As a special treat, we’ve put together one of our best season previews yet, including updates from old friends like MTAP and the Pittsburgh CLO, new friends like Split Stage Productions, and not one, but two Artist Spotlights!

Summertime is one of the busiest times of year for the Pittsburgh theater community, making it one of the busiest seasons for us here at Pittsburgh in the Round. There will be no shortage of reviews and articles and you may even see a few PITR exclusives!

With the release of this Summer Preview 2017, we’d also like to announce our latest Site Sponsor, the newly renamed Pittsburgh Festival Opera (formerly the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh). To find out more about their upcoming season, keep scrolling! If you or your theater or business would like to be featured in any of our advertising spots, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@pghintheround.com!

Our team here keeps on growing so we’ll have plenty of content to keep you busy this summer. We would love to take this opportunity to thank all of you who continue to read the content we work so hard to bring you, engage with us on social media, and support all of these local theaters and companies that help the arts grow and thrive in Pittsburgh.

Here’s to another great summer,

Mara E. Nadolski
Editor in Chief, Pittsburgh in the Round


Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP): Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here

If musicals are more your style, don’t worry, George has our 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss this Summer here. 

Learn a little more about the people you’ve been hearing about for all these years in our Artist Spotlight series. This time around we’ve got two for you! Get the scoop on costume designer Tony Sirk and musical theater actor Quinn Patrick Shannon. 

Our opera expert George is always a regular at the Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s summer shows so he’s got the inside scoop on their upcoming season hereThey’ve even commissioned a new opera they’ll be debuting this year, Nicole went a step further and got us some more information on the new show A Gathering of Sons. 

Throughline Theatre Company has a new home and a new season to tell us about! Ringa even got a sneak peak on their 3rd show, check it out here

If our Top 5 Musicals article wasn’t enough to meet your musical needs, George caught up with Split Stage Productions and the Pittsburgh CLO!

Kinetic Theatre Company has some fun planned for us this summer and fall, check out Stephen’s preview here. 

In preparation of MTAP’s upcoming Hot Metal Musicals this July, reacquaint yourself with the Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh here. 

And last, but not least, a group of young Pittsburgh artists have come together to produce a cabaret night to showcase female talent in the industry to support Planned Parenthood, find out more here. 


 

Missing something? Here are some review highlights from the last few months!

Watch: A Haunting by Real/Time Interventions

The Philadelphia Story at Little Lake Theatre

La Rondine by Undercroft Opera

Anything Goes at McKeesport Little Theater

Falstaff by Resonance Works

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Prime Stage

Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

Sive at PICT Classic Theatre

Tarzan by Pittsburgh Musical Theatre

Wife U at Carnegie Mellon Universtiy

The Summer King at the Pittsburgh Opera

What’s Missing?  by Corningworks

4.48 Psychosis at off the WALL

Collaborators by Quantum Theatre

Baltimore at the University of Pittsburgh

Sweet Charity at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson by the Duquesne Red Masquers

Who’s Afraid of iVirginia Woolf? by Cup-A-Jo Productions

Split Stage Wraps a Successful Third Season, Announces an Ambitious Fourth

Split Stage Productions, co-owned by Westmoreland County’s Rob Jessup and Nate Newell just wrapped up a successful third season of three shows; Spring Awakening, Carrie and Cabaret.

Rob and Nate saw untapped potential for an innovative addition to the community theater circuit in Westmoreland County and founded Split Stage just over two years ago.

Spring Awakening brought Director Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, Choreographer Aaron Cook and Music Director Ben Bedenbaugh to The Theater Factory in Trafford; both a new creative team and a new theatre for Split Stages. Carrie was staged at the Apple Hill Playhouse, a creepy old barn just perfect for a Halloween show. The season closed with Cabaret, it was their first full musical at the newly restored Lamp Theatre in Irwin.

Rob credits the willingness of these new locations for “Welcoming Split Stages with open arms. From holding dates to opening both front doors to the community and back doors to the theater’s resources.  We couldn’t ask for better venue partners.”

I asked about the challenge of keeping your loyal audience while moving to different theaters in different towns.  “What might have caused some push back from regulars turned to a surprising upside along with new audience members welcoming an edgier than usual fare at their neighborhood theater. They became Split Stage followers from show to show.“

Split Stage’s mission is to bring to the Westmoreland County area quality, high caliber theatre with top-notch production values to an ever-expanding audience. Rob and Nate’s long-term goal is to produce works that continue and grow upon that tradition.

Toward that end, they have just had their “not for profit status” confirmed and obtained their IRS 501c3 certification yet still keeping one foot planted on the edge and the other firmly on the commercial side.

Season three carries on the tradition, but grows the season to four productions. Here is what’s on tap:

chicagoFirst up is a production of the original 1976 version of Chicago produced in association with Westmoreland event producer Kelley Simon, it plays at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg June 2nd and 3rd. Jim Mikula directs, Laura Wurzell choreographs and Eric Barchiesi is Music Director. Mandie Russak (seen in Cabaret as the MC) plays Roxie Hart and Victoria Ashley (from Spring Awakening) is Velma Kelley.

side showSide Show plays October 6th to 14th at the Apple Hill Playhouse in Delmont. Rob envisions that the side show experience begins as soon as you park your car. There will be jugglers, knife throwers, and other surprises. Side Show is a musical by Bill Russell (book and lyrics) and Henry Krieger (music) based on the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton, conjoined twins who became famous stage performers in the 1930s. Side Show is slated to be directed by Jim Scriven.

that time of yearThat Time of Year is this year’s holiday show playing December 15th to 17th at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin. It’s not a sappy Christmas musical, but a more realistic depiction of the holiday season. Jim Scribin directs this musical revue of 25 all-original Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s songs run the musical gamut from show tunes to rock, blues and jazz

last 5 yearsThe season closes with the musical The Last Five Years. It plays at the intimate Theatre Factory stage in Trafford January 26th through February 3rd.

This is an emotionally powerful and intimate musical about two New Yorkers. Jamie and Cathy are both in their twenties and fall in and out of love over the course of five years. The show uses reverse storytelling; Cathy, is a struggling actress, who tells her story in reverse while Jamie, a rising novelist, reveals his story chronologically from when they first met.  The two characters play opposite of each other and are only together on stage once, at their wedding, in the middle of the timeline.

Split Stage co-owners Rob Jessup and Nate Newell present an ambitious fourth season for focused on bringing top-notch theatre to the Westmoreland County area. Season three’s selections are diverse and engaging. Consider taking in a show or two brought to you by a talented group of theatre folk.

For tickets and more information about what Split Stage Productioins has to offer, click here. 

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

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

Cabaret: The Musical

15826638_1214895788576018_9144172179117245613_nThe multiple Tony Award-winning Cabaret is a musical frozen in time, yet its themes remain powerful and even more relevant today.

It is set in Berlin at the seedy Kit Kat Klub during the Nazis rise to power. Cabaret revolves around the relationship of Cliff, an American writer, and Sally, a young expat English performer.

A character that guides us through our journey is the Klub’s Emcee, a quirky androgynous individual played by Mandie Russak. Her Emcee portrayal brings a new and interesting perspective to a traditional male role. Katie Aiello McCusker’s Sally is a likable enough opportunist. Her singing at the Klub lets you know she is never going to be a big star.  That being said, her Perfectly Marvelous and Maybe This Time are indeed marvelous vocally.

Directors Nate Newell and Rob Jessup follow the trend of recent productions, including the Sam Mendes’ Broadway revival, which has played up the decadence, depravity, and decay of German society prior to WW II. This interpretation brings the period’s sexual mores to the forefront.

This can be a slippery slope depending on your audiences’ perspective. The power of Cabaret lies in the audiences’ ability to identify and empathize with each character in the show. Over time we have to grow to accept the odd personalities and character flaws. This strong relationship that the audience builds with the characters is key to achieving the emotional finale.

As the show comes to a close, the Emcee is usually heard to say: “ Where are your troubles now? See I told you so! We have no troubles here…” Implicit in this line is the warning that this could happen to you, your friends and your loved ones.

When the ending works, the audience should be near tears as the final curtain comes down.

The Newell / Jessup re-imagined finale is more in your face than the original, as it removes the opportunity for the audience to slowly envision in their own mind what is about to happen to the characters they have grown to like and care for.

Maybe in today’s world of alternative facts, we need a blunt reality check as this has never been a feel-good musical. Cabaret reflects the chaos and poignancy of its times.

The production is well cast, and it reflects on the depth of the many talented performers that work in the theatres in the Pittsburgh area. Notable standouts include Linda Stayer as Fraulein Schneider and Cassidy Adkins as Fraulein Kost. Their characters span generations of women, each in their own way doing what they need to do to eek out a living while searching for some degree of happiness. Donning a beard is Seaton Hill senior Josh Reardon’s Cliff (perhaps to help him appear older), but the facial hair is unfortunately totally out of period.

Choreographer Laura Wurzell makes good use of the compact stage and features of the Lamp Theatre. The choreography is complex and well executed by the Kit Kat Girls and Boys.

The orchestra is visible on stage, physically integral but not integrated. Costume Designer Sharon Wiant missed an opportunity by not dressing the on stage musicians as the Kit Kat Klub orchestra. I personally longed for a couple of strings to smooth the sound of the orchestrations.

Sound Designer Bill Elder hit all his cues with a moderately loud audience forward mix. However, sound design for a classic musical in an intimate venue should be unnoticeable, just filling in the gaps to insure audibility. There is a needed balance between the Klub performances and the more intimate scenes.  A prop vintage microphone would have helped create a perceived acoustic signature for the Klub performances.

Mike Pilyih’s lighting design failed to take advantage of the Lamp’s extensive fixture collection to create a visibly different atmosphere between the Klub and the plays other locales. This is an important design consideration when scenic backgrounds remain essentially the unchanged throughout the production.

This is one of the most uniformly well-done community theatre productions we have seen this winter season. Cabaret delivers on Split Stage Co-founders Nate Newell and Rob Jessup’s vision to bring relevant and challenging theatre to the Westmoreland County area.

One patron was overheard leaving the theatre saying, “This (theatre) is the best thing to ever happen to Irwin.”

Split Stage presents Cabaret at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin. Performances February 2nd through 4th at 8pm. For tickets and more information, click here. 

Thanks to Split Stage and Lamp Theatre for the complementary tickets.

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter

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

We got very lucky this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For tickets and more information click here.pumpboys

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

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

Tickets are available now, for more information click here.

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

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

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

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

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

Tickets and more information can be found here. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrie: The Musical


There is something inherently disconcerting about going to see a theatrical restaging of the 1976 film Carrie, and finding out the theatre it’s presented in is a rustic barn.  Seemingly bucolic, the seclusion, the intimacy, and the—not to spoil the film’s explosive finale—flammability of a quiet country barn seems all too creakingly eerie to keep someone at ease.  But whether intentional or not, the setting of the Split Stage Production’s Carrie: The Musical only serves to augment the deliciously unsettling air that hangs over the dramaturgy.  

The musical first crossed my radar as some bizarre campy revenant that seemed to coincide with the absolutely cataclysmic 2013 remake of the original film—when in actuality, the musical adaption was written in 1981 by Michael Gore (who, fantastically, is best known for writing “Fame”), and had enjoyed a storied history and series of revivals.  Much like the Heathers musical adaptation,  I had been abundantly keen to witness how the monstrosities and divine cruelty of one of the most notorious films of cinema’s glory days translated into dramaturgy—especially song-and-dance centric dramaturgy.  I entered the renovated barn with no expectations, only petrified, giddy excitement (perhaps, like a girl realizing she was developing her “dirty pillows”), and was immediately, and blissfully confronted with something so fantastically and flamboyantly irreverent that I found myself floored. 

Carrie: The Musical only slightly plays with the plot of the original Stephen King narrative to present the equal parts tragic and outlandish story of Carrie White, an unfortunately mousey high school senior whose devoutly ecclesiastical mother and scathingly ruthless classmates make her life an agonizing hell, only to find that Carrie possesses a potent telepathy that proves to be the downfall of them all. The musical is predominantly told from the perspective of mournful and remorseful Sue Snell as she reminisces on the trials and tribulations of senior year of high school, and the disturbingly preternatural occurrences surrounding the mental disintegration of Carrie White—with unsettling, yet heartfelt, side vignettes depicting the condemningly Christian home life of the Carrie and her mother.  Carrie’s opening number, a rousingly punchy song called “In,” brilliantly showcases not only the talents of the tremendously gifted cast, but sets the tone for the alternate take on King’s high school narrative.  The musical establishes, irrefutably, the callousness of the jocks and prototypical popular kids, but, more intriguingly, demonstrates the savage, craven need to fit in and the various motivations in the high schoolers’ behavior.  This humanizing of the kids, especially Carrie (Lindsay Pingor Fitzpatrick)—most poignantly in songs like “Carrie,” (a sorrowfully enraged plea for people to just say her damn name) and “Unsuspecting Hearts”—and the malevolent couple, Chris (a marvelously snarling Brittany Tague) and Billy (Josh Reardon), gives the production a certain dimensionality and complexity that the caricature-heavy film lacked. 

Musically, both voice and band performances, the show is nearly perfect.  Musical director Dave Minda exquisitely executes an oscillation between bombast (numbers like “In” and “A Night We’ll Never Forget”) and delicate tenderness (“Why Not Me”) in a way that imbues the musical with the proper bevy of emotions that captures the high school/telekinetic powers experience (or so I assume, for the latter).  Fitzpatrick is illuminating and ferocious as the sensitive yet demented Carrie, and her culminating performance to the final, incendiary moments is devastating.  Masterfully capturing the religious fervor with astronomical vocal talent, Meighan Lloyd embodies the ferocity of Carrie’s mother in a way that allows for a fuller understanding of Carrie’s demise.  The high school hooligans are all outrageous and phenomenal in their individual portrayals and group cohesion, and director Laura Wurzell’s commitment to a magnificently orchestrated piece is unquestionable.  A special acknowledgment should be given as well to Rob Jessup and Nate Newell, and their unremitting dedication to Split Stage productions and producing shows with a quality irreverence and delectable salaciousness for the goal of proliferating amazing talents and aberrant fun.  Carrie deserves attendance and rapt attention—because we all know what happens when Carrie grows unhappy. 

Special thanks to Split Stage Productions for complimentary press tickets. Carrie: The Musical runs at the Apple Hill Playhouse through October 29th. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Pittsburgh’s Must-See Halloween Shows

Pumpkin 1Fall has descended upon Pittsburgh with a comical quickness, and so the time has come embrace mystery, horror and the supernatural realms. This Halloween season, Pittsburgh’s theaters are bringing to the stage both new experiences, classic favorites, and the merging of the two.  Pittsburgh in the Round has put together a list of the must-see Halloween shows, whether you are seeking a thrill or a good belly laugh.

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Midnight Radio’s Night of the Living Dead N’at

Bricolage Production Company’s Midnight Radio returns and following it is a hoard of hungry undead. A cast of voice actors will perform a reimagination of George Ramero’s 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead as a live radio show and will undoubtedly include a generous amount of Pittsburgh humor. Have you ever dreamed of playing a part in a Bricolage production, or just being a zombie for a night? Great news, each show has six “Zombie Porch” seats available for purchase where you become part of the show…as a zombie.

Catch Night of the Living Dead N’at from October 27th – November 12th! Find more information on the show and tickets here.main-image2

Enter the Imaginarium

Bricolage Production Company has teamed up with ScareHouse to build an extraordinary immersive experience where participants must work as a team to discover the mysteries of the Imaginarium. This collaboration brings together the teamwork and gameplay that is the basis of the escape room phenomenon and the story telling and scenery of an immersive show. There are two different story lines to choose from, Chamber of Illusions and The Inventor’s Paradox.

Though Enter the Imaginarium will be running indefinitely, right now tickets are available through November here.2016Mast-JandH

 Jekyll and Hyde

Based on the beloved horror-drama novella, Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical is a special spooky production not to be missed. The classic tale of Dr. Jekyll battling his inner demons in the form of a medical-experiment-gone-evil as Mr. Hyde is given a modern spin with a spine-chilling score from Grammy and Oscar-winning pop rock songwriters. This musical thriller is presented by students of the Richard E. Rauh Conservatory, accompanied by the CAPA Orchestra.

This show runs from October 20- 23 at the Byham Theatre. Order tickets online here.8143734

Carrie

High school prom can be scary in many ways– especially if a strange lonely girl with telekinetic powers goes rogue, causing chaos and exacting revenge on her tormentors. Brought to you by Split Stage Productions, Carrie: The Musical is Stephen King’s cult classic on Broadway. Despite the musical’s notorious “flop” status– it’s sure to excite and horrify all audiences and get you in the Halloween mood.

Carrie: The Musical runs from October 20-29 at Apple Hill Playhouse. Learn more here.14707874_10154577010151460_4154434185964917862_o

Giselle

Do you believe in ghosts? Giselle, an eerie, romantic ballet, will make you think twice about what you believe. Presented by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, this is the tale of a village girl who dies of a broken heart, only to be supernaturally summoned back from the dead by a group of vengeful, phantom dancers. The ghostly women attempt to dance Giselle’s previous lover to death– for his betrothal to another is what send Giselle to the grave.

Giselle runs from October 28-30 at the Benedum Center. Buy tickets and read all about it here. Photo by Ken Stiles.

 For more Fall theatre fun, check out our Fall Preview here.