That Time of the Year

toyWe are at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin for the final dress rehearsal and a preview of Split Stages production of That Time of the Year which begins its two-day run tonight. Split Stage Productions co-owners Rob Jessup and Nate Newell, who produced last season’s production of Cabaret, have teamed with Director Matt Mlynarski in this musical revue featuring 25 all-original Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s songs.

The songs, with lyrics by the ASCAP award-winning team of Laurence Holzman & Felicia Needleman, and music by seven different composers, range from group numbers, that highlight the joys and anxieties of the holiday season, to ballads about the meaning behind both holidays.

The show has a cast of five community theatre veterans; Victoria Buchtan, Megan Lloyd Harding, Brittany Teague, Zakk Manella, and Josh Reardon with music direction by Andrew DeBroeck. That Time of the Year’s songs range from rock to blues, and jazz, with an opportunity for the cast to show off their voices in their best cabaret/show tune style.

The challenge for any theatre company, particularly a relatively new one, is to find a show that isn’t already produced in the area or isn’t a Christmas cliché. Those “visions of sugar plum dancing in their heads” always don’t reflect the reality of our modern holiday season.

In That Time of the Year, Holzman & Needleman’s songs include Angelo Rosenbaum with Reardon as Angelo. Buchtan has a raunchy Stay Home Tonight as Mrs. Claus who has other plans for Santa Christmas Eve. Other titles include Rock ‘n’ Roll Hanukkah (Mannella & Reardon), Little Colored Lights (Tague), Mama’s Latkes (Harding), People with Obligations, Calypso Christmas, They All Come Home (Harding), Wong Ho’s China Garden, Miracles Can Happen, and That Time of Year. You can see this is no White Christmas!

This production has the potential to capture the warmth and humor of America’s multi-faith holiday season. As presented, it is just another yet different cliché for the holidays.

That Time of The Year plays Friday and Saturday, December 15th and 16th at 8 pm with a 2 pm matinee on Saturday.  For tickets click here. 

Thanks to Split Stage for the sneak peek at final dress Thursday.

Winter Preview 2017

5A letter from the Editor:

Our dearest readers,

Winter is only 24 days away and we’re already dashing through Christmas decorations and Cyber Monday sales as 2108 creeps up on us. 2017 has gone fast and we at Pittsburgh in the Round are picking up speed too! So far this year alone we’ve reviewed 151 plays and written 84 feature articles, blowing last year’s statistics out of the water! Even though some of our long-time writers have moved on to greener pastures, our team has ballooned up to 17 regular contributors bringing you the most consistent coverage that we can. We even have our first high school intern!

Beyond this preview, we’ll be bringing you some insights on Ted Pappas’s final shows at the Pittsburgh Public, the Pittsburgh Opera’s World Premiere Ashes and Snow, and a few tips on theatre etiquette from some of the pros. We will also continue to introduce you to the people that make up Pittsburgh’s vibrant theater community through our Artist Spotlight series.

2017 has been a very big year for us and 2018 will be even bigger as Pittsburgh’s theatre community continues to grow with us. We want to thank those of you that have and continue to support us through 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. Remember, if you would like to sponsor us or purchase advertisements on the site, contact info@pghintheround.com.

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. To stay up to date on everything we’re getting into, click here to join our email list! Weekly updates straight to your inbox every Thursday.

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:

KINETIC-LOVE-LARGE-SQUARE-1#5 – Love, Love, Love by Kinetic Theatre:  Produced in association with Cockroach Theatre in Las Vegas, we follow a London couple from the summer of love in 1967 through the peaks and inevitable downfall of their relationship through present day. Playwright, and Olivier Award winner Mike Bartlett forces us to think about the baby boomer generation and its effect on our current state of life. Love, Love, Love starts previews November 30 and runs through December 17. For tickets and more information, click here

CT1712_AbsoluteBrightness_573x437 (1)#4 – The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey by City Theatre: Known for their commitment to producing new plays, City Theatre stays true to their mission with The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey. In this one-man show by Academy Award winner James Lecesne, a teenaged Leonard Pelkey goes missing and it’s up to one detective and a team of the town’s citizens to find out what happened to him. Inspired by Leonard’s absence, the locals start to question everything about their lives and realize that it’s okay to be different. Catch this heartwarming comedy at City Theatre starting January 20 through February 18. For tickets and more information, click here.

heat-of-the-night-IMG_7327-300x216 (1)#3 – In the Heat of the Night by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company: From a book to a movie to a TV series in the 60’s, In the Heat of the Night finally makes its way to the stage at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. First produced in 2010, the story follows that of the original novel and subsequent adaptations. Virgil Tibbs, a detective from California, is arrested and wrongly accused of a murder of a white man in 1962 Alabama but slowly becomes the town’s only hope of solving such a brutal homicide. In the Heat of the Night runs at Pittsburgh Playwrights’ downtown space from February 2 through March 11. For tickets and more information, click here.

Screenshot (22)#2 – Inside Passage by Quantum Theatre: Gab Cody has been a staple in the Pittsburgh playwrighting community for years. After producing her play Fat Beckett with Quantum during their 2011-2012 season she’s back with a more personal story. Cody was born in Juneau, Alaska. When she was five her parents divorced causing her to move back to the east coast with her mother, leaving behind three siblings and two Tlinget Indian foster siblings. In this mash up of documentary film, music, and performance, Cody goes on an adventure to reconnect with her long-lost foster siblings. Inside Passage opens at a yet to be determined location March 2. For tickets and more information, click here

2017Mast-EvilDead#1 – Evil Dead the Musical by Pittsburgh Musical Theater: First in their new “After Hours” series, Pittsburgh Musical Theater heads to the West End for their Pro Series in the Gargaro Theater. Based on the 1980’s movie franchise of the same name, five college students, led by our hero Ash Williams, head to a cabin in the woods for Spring Break. After some light basement exploration, they find the Book of the Dead and accidentally unleash a spirit that slowly turns them all into demons! Running in repertory with PMT’s We Will Rock You, Evil Dead runs weekends starting February 2. The show starts at 10:30pm so make sure you find a babysitter because this production is definitely not recommended for children. For tickets and more information click here.

For more on the musicals coming up this season, check out George’s list of the 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter!

Christmas is coming soon and you know what that means? Christmas shows! Read up on this season’s offerings in Brian’s article here. 

Pittsburgh’s theatre community is constantly growing and morphing. A few new theaters have popped up recently and we got some insider info for you! Check out Eva’s talks with the Glitterbox in North Oakland and Meredith’s interview with Aftershock Theatre in Lawrenceville.

We broke some pretty big records this Fall! In case you missed out on any of our adventures, here are some highlights from the last three months:

Six a Breast: The Absurd Life of Women by Corningworks

Henry V by Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks

Boeing, Boeing at the Apple Hill Playhouse

Some Assembly Required by Attack Theatre

Angelmakers: Songs for Female Serial Killers by Real/Time Interventions

Belfast Girls by the Ghostlight Theatre Troupe

Romeo and Juliet by PICT Classic Theatre

Unhinged  by Cup-A-Jo Productions

HMS Pinafore by the Pittsburgh Savoyards

Equus at the Pittsburgh Public Theater

I Won’t Be in on Monday by off the WALL Productions

The Impresaria and Djamileh by Undercroft Opera

Arsenic and Old Lace at the McKeesport Little Theater

The Busy Body  by the Duquesne Red Masquers

All Quiet on the Western Front by Prime Stage

The Marriage of Figaro at the Pittsburgh Opera

5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss This Winter 2017

Welcome to our annual pick of five of must-see musicals this winter. We have a diverse mix that includes two community theatre productions; Annie at Comtra and The Last Five Years by Split Stages at the Theatre Factory. From the University of Pittsburgh, there is the off-Broadway classic Little Shop of Horrors and CMU presents the Drowsy Chaperone Wrapping up our list for this post is the world premiere of Up and Away at the CLO Cabaret.

Yvonne has a separate story coming later this winter on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Ted Papas’ final musical as Producing Artistic Director at the Public Theatre.  If you yearn for a touring Broadway show, the Cultural Trust / PNC Broadway Across America has How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Wicked, Love Never Dies and, The Bodyguard this winter. Lastly, what would the holidays be without the CLO’s annual A Christmas Carol at the Byham.

But now to our winter musical picks:

annieAnnie, Miss Hannigan, Daddy Warbucks and Sandy have been making the rounds of the areas community theatres this past year and Cranberry’s Comtra Theatre has snagged them right before Christmas. Despite having been around for nearly one-hundred years since Harold Gray launched his popular comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” in 1920 they haven’t aged a bit!

In case you just arrived on earth and haven’t heard of Annie, here is the story. She is an orphan who lives in the evil Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. Luckily, she gets sprung for the holidays because she has been chosen to stay over the Christmas holidays at billionaire Oliver Warbuck’s mansion. She is ever so cute and loveable and Annie wins the hearts of Warbucks and his staff.  They Honor her wish to find her parents.  Ms. Hannigan, true to form, schemes to make a buck off the deal with her brother and his “lady friend” to help.

Brent Rodgers returns to Comtra Theatre to direct Annie after last spring’s musical hit Sister Act. Brent is also the musical director at Riverside High School.   He says “You won’t want to miss the beautiful score and heartwarming story of this All-American musical.  We are bound to put everyone in the Christmas spirit!”

Recently produced by Stage 62 and the Palisade Playhouse, the Comtra Theatre features an intimate performance space with affordable tickets. It’s the perfect place to introduce young children to the live theatre experience. As an added bonus, Comtra has a nice troupe of young actors with a focus on family-friendly shows.

Annie, at the Comtra Theatre in Cranberry Township, has performances December 1st to 16th. For dates, shows times and tickets click here

upupThe CLO Cabaret Theatre is a great venue to relax have a drink, some food and enjoy a light-hearted comedy. Up and Away is the CLO’s latest offering in their mission to develop and nurture smaller-scale musicals.  Fifty different characters are played by five actors in this high-flying world-premiere comedy guaranteed to keep the suspense high and the laughs rolling!

The story features brothers Joe and Jerry Jessup who live in the not much happening, very rural hamlet of Farmtown, USA.  When Joe discovers he has superpowers, he naturally high-tails it out of town to seek fame and fortune in “Big City.” He finds trouble instead and forces his jittery brother Jerry to follow which turns their boring life upside down. Toss in an eccentric billionaire, a plucky reporter, and dastardly villains, and you’ve got the rip-roaring adventure tale of the world’s FIRST superhero.

Up and Away at the CLO Cabaret in Theatre Square has performances beginning January 25th through April 15, 2018. For tickets and times click here

l5ySplit Stage Productions wraps their season with The Last Five Years, an emotional and intimate musical with an interesting storytelling approach. Jamie Wellerstein and Cathy Hiatt are two New Yorkers in their twenties who 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.  What is theatrically interesting here is the two characters play opposite of each other and are only together on stage once, at their wedding, in the middle of the timeline.

The Last Five Years plays January 26th to February 3rd at The Theatre Factory in Trafford. For tickets and more information click here.

lsohAs winter drags on and you long for the Spring Flower Show at the Phipps, The University of Pittsburgh’s Drama Department has just the right solution, Little Shop of Horrors, a musical about a plant! Well, it is not just any plant, but a foul-mouthed, alien R&B-singing carnivore plant. A milquetoast floral assistant, Seymour Krelborn stumbles across a new breed of a plant which, he names “Audrey II” – after his coworker crush. Audrey II promises unending fame and fortune to the down and out Krelborn as long as he keeps feeding it. It loves BLOOD. Over time, Seymour discovers Audrey II’s out of this world origins and intent towards global domination!

Reginald Douglas, the Artistic Producer at the City Theatre, directs this Off-Broadway classic by playwright Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman’s the creative geniuses behind Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast, and Aladdin.

Little Shop of Horrors in performance at Charity Randall Theatre on Pitt’s campus from February 8th to February 18th.  For tickets call 412.624.PLAY (7529)

tdcThis university theatre season is a feast for musical theatre fans and that unique musical form, the musical within a musical. Point Park this fall produced Kiss Me Kate (to be seen on Broadway in 2019 with Kellie O’Hara) and it has the classic 42nd Street scheduled this spring. Carnegie Mellon grabs the winter slot with The Drowsy Chaperone, a loving send-up of the Jazz Age musical, it is Directed and Choreographed by Tony Award-nominated (Ragtime) Marcia Milgrom Dodge with Musical Direction by Pittsburgh’s Thomas Douglas.

When a diehard theatre fan plays his favorite cast album the recording comes to life and The Drowsy Chaperone begins as the man in the chair looks on. Mix in two lovers on the eve of their wedding, a bumbling best man, a desperate theatre producer, a not-so-bright hostess, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, a misguided Don Juan and an intoxicated chaperone, and you have the ingredients for an evening of madcap delight that involves gangsters, show people, millionaires, servants and of course tap dancing!

The Drowsy Chaperone “does what a musical is supposed to do! It takes you to another world and it gives you a little tune to carry in your head for when you’re feeling blue…”

Carnegie Mellon’s production of Drowsy Chaperone runs February 22nd to March 3rd. For tickets click here. 

Once again, the Pittsburgh area theatre companies provide a winter filled with almost enough (Is there ever?) singing and dancing to satisfy any musical theatre nerds’ passion. For those of you still on the fence about musicals, check out this clip from Something Rotten at the 2015 Tony Awards https://vimeo.com/139792908

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.