Monthly Archives: November 2016

“Gone with the Wind” celebrates 75th birthday

Dashing Rhett Butler at the film's premiere

Dashing Rhett Butler at the film’s premiere

“Frankly my dear…” If you are any kind of film buff, you know those words. They are engraved permanently in your memory. Perhaps the greatest line from arguably the greatest film of all time, Gone with the Wind. If you’ve never seen it, and that is a sin, the film was first released on December 15, 1939. It is an American epic historical romance film adapted from Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel Gone with the Wind. It was produced by David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures and directed by Victor Fleming.

The film is a complex love story set in the American South against the backdrop of the American Civil War and Reconstruction era. The film is the story of Scarlett O’Hara, the strong-willed daughter of a Georgia plantation owner, from her romantic pursuit of Ashley Wilkes, who is married to his cousin, Melanie Hamilton, to her marriage to black sheep Rhett Butler. The leading roles are portrayed by Vivien Leigh (Scarlett), Clark Gable (Rhett), Leslie Howard (Ashley), and Olivia de Havilland (Melanie). Scarlett’s love for her plantation, Tara, plays a very strong subliminal role as the foundation of her past, present and future.

The film premiered at the Loew’s Grand Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia on December 15, 1939. A double bill of Hawaiian Nights and Beau Geste was playing, and after the first feature it was announced that the theater would be screening a preview; the audience was informed they could leave but would not be readmitted once the film had begun, nor would phone calls be allowed once the theater had been sealed. When the title appeared on the screen the audience cheered, and after it had finished it received a standing ovation.

It was the climax of three days of festivities hosted by Mayor William B. Hartsfield, which included a parade of limousines featuring stars from the film, receptions, thousands of Confederate flags, and a costume ball. Eurith D. Rivers, the governor of Georgia, declared December 15 a state holiday. An estimated three hundred thousand residents and visitors to Atlanta lined the streets for up to seven miles to watch a procession of limousines chauffeuring the stars from the airport. Only Leslie Howard and Victor Fleming chose not to attend: Howard had returned to England due to the outbreak of World War II, and Fleming had fallen out with Selznick and declined to attend any of the premieres. Hattie McDaniel was also absent, as she and the other black cast members were prevented from attending the premiere due to Georgia’s Jim Crow laws, which would have kept them from sitting with their white colleagues. Upon learning that McDaniel had been barred from the premiere, Clark Gable threatened to boycott the event, but McDaniel convinced him to attend.

Premieres in New York and Los Angeles followed, the latter attended by some of the actresses that had been considered for the part of Scarlett, among them Paulette Goddard, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford.

From December 1939 to July 1940, the film played only advance-ticket road show engagements at a limited number of theaters at prices upwards of $1, more than double the price of a regular first-run feature, with MGM collecting an unprecedented 70 percent of the box office receipts (as opposed to the typical 30-35 percent of the period). After reaching saturation as a roadshow, MGM revised its terms to a 50 percent cut and halved the prices, before it finally entered general release in 1941 at “popular” prices. Along with its distribution and advertising costs, total expenditure on the film was as high as $7 million.

Story by Fred Terling for Pennsylvania Bridges

Were the ghosts that haunted Scrooge real or just his imagination?

scrooges_third_visitor-john_leech1843The following is a special installment in our ongoing series, Exploring the Paranormal with Reanna Roberts.

There are not a lot of Christmas or holiday themed paranormal events to write about for this issue, and this time of year also isn’t a particularly noticeably active time of year for the paranormal. For this issue, I decided to address, and attempt to debunk (or at least give opinions on what causes) the ghosts that Ebenezer Scrooge sees in Charles

Dickens’ fictional novel A Christmas Carol.

Most people are familiar with the story of A Christmas Carol, whether it be from the book itself, the stage presentation, or one of the many film adaptations. Just in case you are not familiar, though, let’s review the main characters in the film

Ebenezer Scrooge – Elderly money-lender (think overpriced loan agent, ‘pay day loan’ style lender.)  He and a good friend of his, Jacob Marley, owned the business together until Marley’s death. This is also where the term scrooge came from, generally directed as a person that’s not very perky or chipper around the holidays.

Jacob Marley – Scrooge’s business partner who passed away seven years before this takes place. Also the first ghost to visit Scrooge.

Bob Cratchit – Scrooge’s clerk, very mild and meek, very family oriented. Low income, large family, which includes a disabled son Tiny Tim, the pride and joy of the Cratchit family.

The Ghost of Christmas Past – The first apparition after Marley’s visit, shows Scrooge’s childhood, we meet his sister, and see his family holidays.

The Ghost of Christmas Present – The second apparition after Marley’s visit, shows Scrooge Fred’s house, whose invitation he turned down, where they are talking about how cranky he

always is.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – The third apparition after Marley’s visit, shows Scrooge his own grave a year later, and also what happens to Tiny

Tim and the Cratchit family in the following year.

There are also a few other characters, such as Fred and Fan, or Fannie, Scrooge’s relatives. Fan is his deceased sister, Fred is her son, Scrooge’s nephew. There is also Fezziwig, Scrooge’s former employer from his youth, who throws lavish holiday parties.

What could possibly cause these ghosts to visit such a wretched old man? Were there ghosts actually visiting him, or were they some sort of hallucinations? Possibly, they were dreams. There are quite a few options, but I want to briefly touch on a few.

First, loneliness can do strange things. Although Scrooge is known for his “bah humbug” attitude, the older he gets, the more he realizes he has no one. He had his nephew Fred, to an extent, but he never really associates with him, he never really visits, and he detests spending holidays with family. He may very well have been realizing he’s going to be alone for the rest of his life, and while wondering what he would do as he fell asleep, his subconscious conjured up these visitors to show him his ‘options.’ Suffer for eternity, like Marley, remind him of the parties Fezziwig threw and make him feel all warm and fuzzy inside recalling that, show him what fun Fred and his guests are having while they mock him since he is not there, once again, and then finally shows him the ‘Christmas Yet to Come’ where he sees his own demise and also sees how empty the Cratchit house is after losing Tiny Tim. After the ghosts visit him and he wakes up, he’s filled with merriment, buys presents, feasts, and visits family. He’s a changed man. Was this because he subconsciously saw how lonely he was, though? Were there actually ghosts visiting him?

Perhaps, since he is an elderly man, he has something similar to dementia setting in. I am not a medical doctor, nor am I a psychologist, but I do know that those suffering from dementia imagine some people are others from their past. Maybe this spilled over into his dreams. Maybe he just missed his old friend Marley and his sister, and maybe he subconsciously felt bad about Tiny Tim.

Or, maybe they were really ghosts. It is a work of fiction, and it could be ghosts actually visiting, but in all of the years I have investigated the paranormal, I’ve never heard of time traveling ghosts. That’s a new theory to me. Just because I know nothing about it, though, doesn’t actually mean it’s not accurate. Really, I feel like whatever was able to get through to Scrooge in this story is the best thing to happen for those that surround him and are stuck with him as a boss or family member.

I guess I didn’t really succeed at debunking, but I hope I made your brain work a little in regards to time traveling ghosts and what could have caused the ghosts in A Christmas Carol. If not, well, “Bah, humbug.”

Have a question about the paranormal? Email Reanna Roberts at PABridges.Reanna@comcast.net

23rd annual Highmark First Night announces headliner Nigel Hall Band

fn17_fn_logo_final-black-colorThe Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced today that the Nigel Hall Band will perform as the headline act for the largest family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration in the region-the  23rd annual Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. In addition, the theme for this year’s celebration is PITTSBURGH: THE NEXT 200 YEARS, chosen to reflect the culmination of the City’s year-long Bicentennial celebration and serving as an impetus for citizens to think about what is to come in the City’s future.

For the sixth consecutive year, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield will serve as the presenting sponsor for the event, produced by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

A full announcement regarding the programming schedule for Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017 will take place on Tuesday, December 6 at 10 a.m. at the Trust Arts Education Center (805-807 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh) in the Peirce Studio. KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today Live co-hosts Kristine Sorensen and Jon Burnett will host the festive press preview.

“With over 40,000 anticipated for the Trust’s largest open house of the year, we are thrilled to present a band that promises to warm everyone’s soul on First Night,” shared Sarah Aziz, the newly appointed director of Highmark First Night. “We are also honored to serve as the culminating event for Pittsburgh’s Bicentennial and hope to curate an evening of events that reflect the history, innovation and diversity of our City, and that leaves every attendee hopeful about the 200 years ahead of us.”

Ninety percent (90%) of all Highmark First Night Pittsburgh events are held indoors. At the end of the evening, visitors enjoy the Future of Pittsburgh Grand Finale: the countdown to midnight, raising of the 1,000 lbs. Future of Pittsburgh ball 150 feet in the air above Penn Avenue Place, and a spectacular Zambelli fireworks finale. The Nigel Hall Band will perform on the Highmark Stage during this rousing Grand Finale.

Nigel Hall grew up in Washington, D.C., in a highly musical family. His fingers first touched the keys before he hit kindergarten age, and his ears were wide open. “I grew up with records,” he said. “That’s why I’m obsessed. My father had a vast collection. I’d be in third grade with my Walkman and everyone’s listening to Ace of Bass, and I’m listening to ‘Return to Forever,’” Chick Corea’s fusion project with Stanley Clarke. The vintage sounds of LADIES & GENTLEMEN… NIGEL HALL, infused with his electric freshness, together make both an audible autobiography and Nigel Hall’s musical mission statement.

“I like to sing songs that reflect my being and who I am as a person,” he said. “Because that really touches me. When you hear a song and it makes you cry, or it makes you happy or it evokes any kind of feeling, that is music. That is what music is supposed to do. And music is the last pure thing we have left on this earth. It’s the only pure thing.”

This soul provider’s debut album is out and soaring along with kudos from critics across the country as well as incredible live shows to celebrate the release. With the digital version and vinyl LP currently available, Feel Music Group released it on CD Friday, February 19, 2016. LADIES & GENTLEMEN… NIGEL HALL captures the spirit of the songs that made Hall a musician. It was produced by Eric Krasno, guitarist and producer of a dizzying array of artists including Norah Jones, Justin Timberlake, Talib Kweli, Aaron Neville and Matisyahu.

Admission Buttons are $10 in advance or at the door (children 5 and under FREE) and are worn by attendees on New Year’s Eve, giving access to all indoor and outdoor attractions at Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. Admission Buttons are on sale at TrustArts.org/FirstNightPGH, the Box Office at Theater Square (655 Penn Avenue), or at 412-456-6666. Additionally, participating Giant Eagle store locations will have buttons available for sale starting in early December. Some indoor performances also require seating vouchers, which are free tickets. Events requiring vouchers are listed at TrustArts.org/FirstNightPGH.

Reserve your spot to celebrate in comfort and style during Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017. This priority reservation opportunity is your chance to lock in low pricing before it goes up for the general public on December 6. Enjoy priority seating, access, parking, and more! For more information on becoming a part of this special sponsorship opportunity, visit this link or please call 412-471-3518.

Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2016 sponsors as of release date include: Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield as the presenting sponsor, Dollar Bank, First National Bank, Giant Eagle and PNC. FedEx Ground returns as a title sponsor for the annual parade which includes special themed puppets designed by Studio Capezzuti. Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017 community supporters include The Buhl Foundation and The Fine Foundation and The Grable Foundation. Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017 media partners currently include KDKA TV and Pittsburgh City Paper.

Highmark First Night Pittsburgh, a production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, is an arts-focused and family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration in downtown Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. It is the largest single-day celebration in the region offering 100+ events at dozens of indoor and outdoor locations within the 14-block Cultural District. The celebration offers something for everyone.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announces the opening of BOUGAINVILLEA: A BOTANIC PERMUTATION at 709 Penn Gallery, 709 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The exhibition features 2D artwork by Don Dugal, an artist inspired by the showy-colored, warm-weather bit of flora which has traditionally been overlooked by artists because of its amorphous blooms and inability to ‘pose’ as a cut flower.

Dugal explains: “My interest in Bougainvillea stems from my intimate contact with it during my residence in Honolulu, where the plant is a common garden feature. For 20 years I lived with a huge mass of Bougainvillea growing outside my kitchen windows, where in bloom and full sun, it would flood half of the house with a surprisingly intense, reflective, pink glow. Having taught Art courses that emphasized the importance of color in Nature, as well as those that explored the historical use of artist’s pigments, Bougainvillea presented itself as a natural subject. My art has always leaned to a synthesis of the perceptual with the psychological – accompanied by garnishes of Art and Music history.”

Don Dugal was born and educated in Detroit when automobile culture, devotion to beer and frantic urban expansion were at their zenith. He received a BFA in Painting from Wayne State University, studying under professors David Mitchell and Robert Wilbert, and then found his way to the state of Hawaii, where, having studied with professors Ben Norris and Ken Bushnell, he received, in 1969, an MFA in Drawing and Painting, from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Successful exhibitions in Honolulu prompted him to stay on in Hawaii where he initiated a 41-year career of teaching Painting, Drawing and Design at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Significant solo exhibitions include those at the Contemporary Museum in 1980, 1994 and 1999 and the Honolulu Academy of Arts (now the Honolulu Museum) in 1983 and 2007. His work is in the collections of the Hawaii State Art Museum, the Honolulu Museum, the Honolulu City Arts Commission and the Springfield, Illinois Arts Commission. He was awarded an Individual Artist Grant from the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts in 1999, and several commissioned works by Dugal may be found at the Hawaii Convention Center and the Honolulu City Medical Examiner’s Office. He retired from the University of Hawaii in 2010 and in 2011, after careful research, chose Pittsburgh as a home.

709 Penn Gallery: A project of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust  and managed by the Trust’s Education and Community Engagement department, 709 Penn Gallery features exhibits by local and regional artists working in multiple disciplines and is located at 709 Penn Avenue near the intersection of Penn and Seventh Street. Gallery hours are Wed., Thurs. from 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Fri., Sat. from 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., and Sun. from 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. FMI about all gallery exhibitions featured in the Cultural District, please visit www.trustarts.org.

JazzLive December Schedule

270913_collage_jazzThe Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and BNY Mellon Jazz Presents JazzLive, a year-round FREE live jazz series taking place at the Backstage Bar, Cabaret at Theater Square and Katz Plaza. Open to the public, this popular Pittsburgh Cultural Trust music series showcases some of the region’s finest jazz musicians every Tuesday from 5-7 PM in the heart of the Cultural District. From September to May, all performances take place in the Backstage Bar at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA.

This season will feature local favorites, as well as flavors from every genre, including Latin and reggae. The fall season will end with a holiday performance by Benny Benack III, a Pittsburgh-born musician who, at the age of the 25, is heralded as one of the most versatile and virtuosic voices of his generation.

The following is a schedule of the remaining fall JazzLive performances:

November 29 – Thomas Wendt

December 6 – Yoko Suzuki

December 13 – Poogie Bell

December 20 – Roger Humphries

December 27 – Benny Benack III: The Holiday Session

For more information and a full schedule, call 412-456-6666.

Showcase Noir artist & designer exhibit seeks submissions

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced today that it is now accepting submissions for Showcase Noir, Artist & Designer Exhibit and Sale to be held February 24-26, 2017 at the August Wilson Center. For the first time in the history of this Exhibit and Sale-showcasing paintings, sculptures, photographs, fiber art, jewelry, pottery and art in various mediums from emerging and established artists, both local and national, will be held over the course of an entire weekend. This art sale and show features work by artists representing the African Diaspora.

“Showcase Noir provides an opportunity for the most talented artists and designers from around the country to display and sell their art. Work derived from the African Diaspora, ranging from fine jewelry, to beautiful abstract paintings, to pottery and sculpture, is available for the entire Pittsburgh community to view and to purchase. Attendees will have the opportunity to simultaneously experience some of the finest craftsmanship and high quality art while celebrating the culture of the African Diaspora,” comments Janis Burley-Wilson, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

Interested artists should submit photos of completed work, resume, artist statement and relevant supporting materials. Deadline for entry is January 16, 2017. Artists will be selected and notified shortly thereafter.

To submit your work for review, mail submission materials via wetransfer to goode@trustarts.org or mail to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Attn: DeVonne Goode, 803 Liberty Avenue Pittsburgh, PA. 15222 by January 16, 2017. If you have questions, contact DeVonne Goode at goode@trustarts.org or call (412) 471-6070.

Showcase Noir has been presented in Pittsburgh for well over a decade. The event will take at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, located in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, 980 Liberty Avenue. Admission is free and open to the public.

The sleekly modern August Wilson Center, located in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District, 980 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15222, offers multiple exhibition galleries, a 472-seat theater for performances in all genres, an education center for classes, lectures and hands-on learning, and dazzling spaces for community programs and events.

For rental inquiries, visit TrustArts.org or email Devonne Goode, Program Manager-Pittsburgh Cultural Trust at goode@trustarts.org. FMI and a calendar of events presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust taking place at the Center, visit TrustArts.org or call 412-456-6666.

Rich Engler Presents Michael W. Smith Dec. 14

Coming live to the Benedum Center on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 7:30pm, Rich Engler Presents Michael W. Smith joined by Republic recording artist Jordan Smith, Season 9 winner of NBC’s The Voice. Incorporating a 53 piece symphony orchestra at each performance, this seasonal crowd-pleaser will travel to nearly 20 major markets.

With a vast collection of critically-acclaimed holiday albums, the 2016 Christmas tour will showcase selections from Michael’s extensive Christmas repertoire. Additionally, the Christmas tour will help benefit Operation Christmas Child, known for distributing over 135 million shoeboxes of Christmas gifts to children in need in 150 countries.

“Being on stage with a full symphony orchestra, performing some of my all-time favorite songs, is a dream come true”, says Michael W. Smith. “And I have to say, I have never heard a voice quite as pure and beautiful as Jordan Smith’s. It’s going to be a great night! Christmas is my favorite time of year, and performing these holiday shows each November and December is a major highlight for me.”

“One of my favorite things about Christmas is the music that accompanies the season,” shares Jordan Smith.

Don’t miss this wonderful “family oriented” Holiday Show Dec. 14 at the Benedum Center. Tickets are reserved at $45.75, $55.75 and $65.75. Some limited gold circle seats are also available, and are on sale now at the Theatre Square Box Office, by phone at 412-456-6666 or online at www.trustarts.org.

Waynesburg U students participate in collegiate choir

singersSix Waynesburg University students successfully auditioned and participated in the recent 2016 Pennsylvania Collegiate Choir held at Susquehanna University.

Dr. A. Jan Taylor, director of choirs and music education at Prairie View A&M University, led the choir of 95 singers.

A total of nine Pennsylvania colleges and universities were represented at the festival.

This was the first year that Waynesburg University music students were represented at the festival, according to Melanie Catana, director of choral music and instructor of vocal music at the University.

Students who participated include:

Susan Dunsworth, freshman entrepreneurship major from Erie (Northwest Pennsylvania Collegiate Academy)

Briana Ryan, sophomore music ministry major from Monongahela (Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School)

Rachel Philipp, junior arts administration (music concentration) major from McMurray (Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School)

Kayla Goncalves, junior music ministry major from Boca Raton, Florida (Olympic Heights Community High School)

Thomas Faye, freshman music ministry major from Pittsburgh (Penn Hills High School)

Philip Hurd, recent music ministry alumnus from Elizabeth

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” celebrates its 15th season

nutcrackerPittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker” celebrates its 15th season onstage with a 26-performance run Dec. 2-27, at the Benedum Center.

Fittingly, the milestone intersects with the 20th anniversary season of the man who created it: PBT Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr.

When Orr arrived in Pittsburgh in 1997 to take the helm of PBT, a new “Nutcracker” was on his mind. He’d just relocated from New York City’s American Ballet Theatre and was experiencing the city’s traditions and history through fresh eyes.

When it came time to reimagine PBT’s rendition of the perennial holiday classic, the concept felt intuitive: He planned to revive classic story elements of “The Nutcracker” while creating a sense of place unique to Pittsburgh. His new staging debuted in December 2002 at the Benedum.

“I wanted this production to be the city’s own. I wanted Pittsburghers to feel a sense of familiarity, of home, because this show is such a tradition for so many families,” Orr said.

With help from artists, historians and locals, he began assembling relics and references to weave into the traditional scenes and story of “The Nutcracker.”

He commissioned scenic designer Zack Brown to conceive the sets and costumes, designed to reflect the color and vibrancy of Tchaikovsky’s score.

He consulted with the late Milan Stitt, then head of dramatic writing at Carnegie Mellon University, to help write the libretto and call forward essential elements of the original E.T.A. Hoffmann tale published in 1816.

He brought in an old friend and dramaturge – Long Island native Byam Stevens – to help implement this new dramatization, believing that the story telling, the theater, was vital to enhancing the dancing.

When a board member unearthed a vintage copy of “Kaufmann’s Christmas Stories for Boys and Girls,” commissioned by Kaufmann’s Department store at the turn of the 20th century, Orr wove it into the story. Onstage, the book spills out a cadre of toy characters who spring to the defense of The Nutcracker and Marie in the Act I Battle Scene.

And, of course, “The Nutcracker” is “nothing short of magical (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).” Local magician Paul Gertner trained the company in the art of illusion – mysteries that Orr’s performers hold close to the vest. For over a decade, Drosselmeyer’s sleight-of-hand tricks have left audience members of all ages marveling.

Inside the PBT Costume Shop, Janet Groom Campbell and her team brought Zack Brown’s costume renderings to life with 18 shimmering snowflakes, 16 colorful tutus resembling flower petals, a stage full of elaborate Victorian party dresses and many more hand-crafted costumes.

Of the 215 costumes of “The Nutcracker,” 110 were built in the PBT Costume Shop. For specialty pieces, the company enlisted artisans, like Pittsburgh local Svi Roussanoff, who constructed the head pieces for The Nutcracker as well as his rival, the Rat King, and his rodent army.

The scenery and special effects complete the picture with colorful set pieces and drops, including a growing Christmas tree and flurries of snow.

Throughout the show Pittsburghers can spot local character, including the Snow Scene’s Mount Washington view, a proscenium clock inspired by the Kaufmann’s clock at Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street downtown, and a Land of Enchantment that pays homage to Pittsburgh’s historic amusement parks.

Over time, Orr has added new nods to Pittsburgh culture – and its sports. Act I has seen a toy penguin wearing a hockey jersey, rats waving Terrible Towels and even Party Scene cameos by local celebrities like Mr. McFeely, Hines Ward and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

Beyond the Pittsburgh and pop culture references, Orr has a tradition of creating unique casting combinations to ensure that no two performances are exactly alike.

“It carries the comfort and warmth of tradition, yet it is never the same show twice. We are always finding new wrinkles in the characters, new layers to the story and variations in the dancing,” Orr said. “I really do believe that you could watch each of the 26 shows and discover something new each time. There is something magical about that.”

Among the 26 performances, the company will present a Student Matinee performance, sponsored by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 2, as well as a sensory-friendly performance adapted for patrons with special needs at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27. (Photo by Rich Sofranko)

Tickets start at $28 and are available at www.pbt.org, 412-456-6666 or by visiting the Box Office at Theater Square.

FMI: pbt.org

The Happy Elf premieres at Cal U this holiday season

The Happy Elf runs December 8, 9 and 10 at 7pm, and December 10 and 11 at 2pm.

The Happy Elf runs December 8, 9 and 10 at 7pm, and December 10 and 11 at 2pm.

For over twenty years, the California University Theater Department and Community have teamed up for a Holiday production. What was once offered as the Nutcracker Ballet at this time of year, changed when the school’s ballet program shifted to a more inclusive musical theater.

For five years, A Christmas Carol was the show, then three years, A Miracle on 34th Street, took the stage.

“There’s not a lot of high quality holiday musicals out there as securing the rights are near impossible,” says the Musical Theatre Department head and Director, Michele Pagen, PhD. “Then Harry Connick, Jr. created the wonderful song, ‘The Happy Elf.’”

Claire, left, plays Molly and Jeshua Myers portrays Eubie the happy elf in the Cal U Theatre Department's holiday musical. The Happy Elf runs December 8, 9 and 10 at 7pm, and December 10 and 11 at 2pm.

Claire, left, plays Molly and Jeshua Myers portrays Eubie the happy elf in the Cal U Theatre Department’s holiday musical. The Happy Elf runs December 8, 9 and 10 at 7pm, and December 10 and 11 at 2pm.

The song was such a hit, it inspired an animated special under the same name by Film Roman, an IDT Entertainment company, the same animation company known for producing The Simpsons. The special inspired an additional 19 songs that came on an accompanying CD. Following the success of the animated special, Andrew Fishman reworked the book, with music and lyrics by Connick who had added five new songs for the musical.

The story centers on Eubie the Elf and his friends Hamm and Gilda. While sorting through Santa’s naughty and nice list, Eubie notices an overwhelming amount of kids on the naughty list, all from Bluesville. He takes it upon himself to visit Bluesville and introduce them to the spirit of Christmas. Unfortunately, Eubie’s nemesis, Norbert finds out and plans to undermine his efforts for his own selfish reasons.

I was fortunate to be permitted to a rehearsal at Steele Hall, where the performance will also take place, by Dr. Pagen. The cast is huge and the complexity of blocking and choreography is a massive undertaking.

“We have a cast of 58, ages ranging from 6 to 56,” Michelle stated. “I want every single one of them to have a part, not merely to be stage dressing. Then there’s the challenge of coordinating schedules for so many players.”

Dr. Pagen holds auditions on the same day for all roles and casts one at a time in one day. Jesh Myers jumped right out for the lead role of Eubie. “Jesh shares most of the characteristics of Eubie, particularly when he began to sing,” Dr. Pagen says.

Annabel Lorence as Mrs. Claus and Nick Franczak as Santa struggle between cookies and carrots. The Happy Elf runs December 8, 9 and 10 at 7pm, and December 10 and 11 at 2pm.

Annabel Lorence as Mrs. Claus and Nick Franczak as Santa struggle between cookies and carrots. The Happy Elf runs December 8, 9 and 10 at 7pm, and December 10 and 11 at 2pm.

As I watched rehearsals, all of the actors, dancers and singers were wonderful. The music, superb. A few stood out and I decided to sit down and talk briefly with them so you know who they are when you head out to watch this wonderful production, Pennsylvania Bridges readers.

Jeshua “Jesh” Myers (Eubie the Elf). Jesh, pictured top right, began singing at age three. His mother had an all children’s choir. He is a sophomore Theater Major and gets super excited about the audition process. It’s his first major role in college, his last was in High School. His biggest challenge is finding a balance between school work and dedicating time to his character. Jesh is working hard to find a balance in Eubie’s character also. He wants him to be excited and animated but not too over the top. I found his comment about auditions interesting as most actors dread them. His answer was very inspiring.

“It’s what I want to do as a career and the audition process is part of that, so I want to do my best.” Jesh continued, “I know if I do my best, I feel like whatever I end up with, I earned.”

Mark Barrett (Hamm the Elf). Mark is a junior Theater Major. He has reveled in the past month and a half of rehearsals. The role of being an elf has inspired Mark’s imagination to wander and he enjoys the role of being Eubie’s best friend. It’s the human element of friendship, interwoven with the imaginative aspects of the character that Mark is enjoying. He too has found the most challenging part of the production finding balance between school work and character development time. Playing Hamm however, has been a joy.

“Hamm is mostly kind of child-like,” Mark says. “He’s innocent and joyful and how they interact with each other is like letting their inner-child out.”

Kayla Grimm (Gilda the Elf). Kayla is a junior Theater Major. She started in theater at age 5. Not entirely sure her future was headed for theater, Kayla also had a major interest in science. Eventually, she settled on theater. I have to take an editorial moment and say, I absolutely adored her character. From the moment she comes on stage, every subtle nuance from the way she shuffles on her tip-toes to her sheepish mannerisms when talking with Eubie, just great stuff. When we sat down to talk, I was taken aback slightly that her voice wasn’t the high pitched Gilda voice I had heard onstage.

“I really love doing voices,” Kayla explained. “Every character I play, I create a voice for them. For Gilda, she’s very, very happy person and full of energy, especially when she’s around Eubie.”

Jordan Brooks (Norbert the Elf). Jordan is a Cal U Alumni. A professional actor, he is currently on break from the Missoula Children’s Theater and will resume productions in January of 2017. Jordan was a late comer to the theatrical field. It wasn’t until middle school that he developed his love for theater and never looked back. His character, Norbert, is the play’s heavy. He is always scheming and a complete heel. I love his performance, possibly my favorite character. To sit and talk with him after watching him on stage, again, a bit surprising. He is the nicest, most charismatic person you could meet. You can tell in his quote when I asked what his motivation was for coming back as an alumni.

“I’m so happy the Holiday Show is community based and the public is welcome,” says Jordan. “That’s really what the Christmas spirit is all about, everyone coming together.”

One final aspect of the play I would like to cover, the costumes. Imagine if you can, prepping 58 costumes for people of varying shapes and sizes. That enormous task is being executed by the Costume Shop Manager, Joni Farquhar. Typically, Joni works with a designer to help with the costumes, but not for this production, she is the designer as well. Her walls are lined with various costumes, designed specifically for the Elves’ various jobs. As pictured, this is the shirt for the tailor elf. Each elf has the smallest details and touches worked out by Joni. Measuring tape trim with a spool of thread pocket emblem, just by looking at the costume, one can determine the elf’s job in the North Pole. I won’t share more, you have to come and see the rest of Joni’s wonderful creations for yourself, live and in person.

“The Happy Elf” will be performed at 7 p.m. Dec. 8-10, with matinees at 2 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11. All shows are in Cal U’s Steele Hall Mainstage Theatre. Performances are open to the public.

Ticket price is $12 for adults, seniors and children. Cal U students with valid CalCards pay 50 cents, plus a $5 deposit that is refunded at the show.

Location Information:

Main Campus – Steele Hall

816 Third Street

California, PA

Room: Steele Hall–Mainstage Theatre

Contact Information:

Name: Steele Hall Box Office

Phone: 724-938-5943

Email: walmsley@calu.edu

Story by Tomato Elf, Fred Terling, for Pennsylvania Bridges

Holidays House Tours in Brownsville

300-front-st-brownsvilleThe Brownsville Northside Beautification Committee will showcase its neighborhood Dec. 10-11 when doors will swing open on seven festively decorated homes to raise funds for community projects in the historic district. This year’s self-guided tour will include three properties that are new to the bi-annual event – 300 Front St., 103 Barnett Ave. and 502 Market St. The Front Street home was built in 1855 by Congressman John Littleton Dawson and later served as the residence for Adam Jacobs, a riverboat captain and boat builder, and the Robinson family, local merchants. The Barnett Avenue home is fully constructed of recycled materials from razed structures in the area. Built by “Gypsy Steve” and “Uncle Charlie” for a local businessman in the 1970s, unusual features include marble, slate and wood from torn down structures in Brownsville, Belle Vernon and Washington, beams from long-gone schools and bathtubs from a now-demolished early 20th century hotel. The third stop is Market Street Emporium, built in 1902 and currently an eclectic retail shop, which will extend its business hours for the tour.

The tour also includes a collection of 19th century homes built by some of Brownsville’s wealthiest businessmen, whose lifestyles are reflected in the rich finishes and architectural embellishments on the interior and exterior of their residences – Tiffany-stained glass windows, marble mantles, beveled-glass windows, inlaid hand-made parquet floors, grand and circular staircases, a turret and mid-1800s “painted glass” window. The period homes are 131 Front St., 209 Front St., 212 Front St. and 514 Market St.

Each home will be festively decked out for the fundraiser.  Decorating at some of the larger homes has been underway since late September. The varied interiors will feature Victorian decorations, live greens and a variety of themed trees and rooms, such as Western and hunting motifs at the Barnett Avenue home.

Tickets are $15 per person for the self-guided tours. The properties will be open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 10 and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 11. Tickets will go on sale 30 minutes prior to the start of the tours at Brownsville Fire Co. 1, 520 Market St. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

Also that night, the congregation of the 156-year-old Christ Church Anglican, 305 Church St., will be holding a special service, beginning at 7 pm. It is based on the first American prayer book written in 1789.

Brownsville Historical Society also will be conducting candlelight tours at Nemacolin Castle, a National Trust landmark located at 136 Front St. The December calendar for the 22-room house mansion calls for doors to be open Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Dec. 28 and Dec. 29 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and closed Dec. 24, 25, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Tickets are $10 for

adults and $4 for children 12 years old and under.

The Brownsville Northside Beautification Committee will showcase its neighborhood Dec. 10-11 when doors will swing open on seven festively decorated homes to raise funds for community projects in the historic district. This year’s self-guided tour will include three properties that are new to the bi-annual event – 300 Front St., 103 Barnett Ave. and 502 Market St. The Front Street home was built in 1855 by Congressman John Littleton Dawson and later served as the residence for Adam Jacobs, a riverboat captain and boat builder, and the Robinson family, local merchants. The Barnett Avenue home is fully constructed of recycled materials from razed structures in the area. Built by “Gypsy Steve” and “Uncle Charlie” for a local businessman in the 1970s, unusual features include marble, slate and wood from torn down structures in Brownsville, Belle Vernon and Washington, beams from long-gone schools and bathtubs from a now-demolished early 20th century hotel. The third stop is Market Street Emporium, built in 1902 and currently an eclectic retail shop, which will extend its business hours for the tour.

The tour also includes a collection of 19th century homes built by some of Brownsville’s wealthiest businessmen, whose lifestyles are reflected in the rich finishes and architectural embellishments on the interior and exterior of their residences – Tiffany-stained glass windows, marble mantles, beveled-glass windows, inlaid hand-made parquet floors, grand and circular staircases, a turret and mid-1800s “painted glass” window. The period homes are 131 Front St., 209 Front St., 212 Front St. and 514 Market St.

Each home will be festively decked out for the fundraiser.  Decorating at some of the larger homes has been underway since late September. The varied interiors will feature Victorian decorations, live greens and a variety of themed trees and rooms, such as Western and hunting motifs at the Barnett Avenue home.

Tickets are $15 per person for the self-guided tours. The properties will be open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 10 and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 11. Tickets will go on sale 30 minutes prior to the start of the tours at Brownsville Fire Co. 1, 520 Market St. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

Also that night, the congregation of the 156-year-old Christ Church Anglican, 305 Church St., will be holding a special service, beginning at 7 pm. It is based on the first American prayer book written in 1789.

Brownsville Historical Society also will be conducting candlelight tours at Nemacolin Castle, a National Trust landmark located at 136 Front St. The December calendar for the 22-room house mansion calls for doors to be open Fridays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Dec. 28 and Dec. 29 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; and closed Dec. 24, 25, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Tickets are $10 for adults and $4 for children 12 years old and under.