Category Archives: music

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

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, 412-456-6666 or by visiting the Box Office at Theater Square.


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


Story by Tomato Elf, Fred Terling, for Pennsylvania Bridges

Holiday Happenings in December!

decmber2December 1-4, 7-11, 15-18 – “A Christmas Carol” by Little Lake Theatre – Little Lake Theatre – Canonsburg, PA


December 2 – Christmas Parade – Downtown Washington, PA – 7 p.m.


December 2-4 and 9-11 – “A Gift to Remember” by the Old Schoolhouse Players – Mt. Pleasant Twp. Community Center – Hickory, PA


December 3 – Santa Luncheon – Canonsburg Senior Citizen’s Center – Canonsburg, PA – First Seating 10:30 a.m., Second Seating 12 p.m.


December 3 – 4, 10-11 and 17-18 – Santa Trolley – Pennsylvania Trolley Museum – Washington, PA

December 3-4 – Ho, Ho, Ho with the WSO – Trinity High School – Washington, PA – Saturday 8 p.m. – Sunday 3 p.m.


December 6, 10, 13, 17, 20 and 31 – Victorian Christmas Tours – Montgomery Mansion – Claysville, PA – 2 p.m. – 8 p.m


December 8-11 – The Happy Elf – California University – Steele Hall Mainstage Theater – 7 p.m. Dec. 8-10 – Matinees at 2 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11

Box Office: 724-938-5943

December 9-11 and 17-18 – Highmark Holiday Pops – Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts – Admission Info: $24-$99

December 10 – Bright Bulbs at Fifth Avenue Place – Free Event – Design personalized paper light bulb wreaths and create your very own ornament. Don’t miss the balloon art and capture the seasonal spirit with a keepsake caricature.

December 13 – Mannheim Steamroller Christmas – Benedum Center – 8 p.m.

December 16-17 – Polar Express Sleepover – Carnegie Science Center/Highmark SportsWorks – Admission Info: $39 per person – 6 p.m.-9:30 a.m. – All aboard! Your ticket to getting into the holiday spirit is just a train ride away with our Polar Express Sleepover! It’s the perfect way to warm your heart and add sparkle to the season.

December 31, 2016 – Highmark First Night Pittsburgh 2017 – A production of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh’s arts-focused New Year’s Eve celebration. Culminating with the city’s Countdown to Midnight and raising of the Future of Pittsburgh Ball, the six-hour celebration sprawls Downtown’s renowned 14-block Cultural District-inside theaters, galleries, and unique spaces and along city streets on outdoor performance stages.

Echoes Never Lie to release EP

Echoes Never Lie frontwoman Zosia West. Photo by Ron Short Photography.

Echoes Never Lie frontwoman Zosia West. Photo by Ron Short Photography.

There’s a lot of great local music. As a reporter and music enthusiast, I’ve been fortunate enough to report on a few bands that prove the best music isn’t necessarily being generated out of studio music machines. Nor does the local flavor include bands mass replicated by the machine based on what’s currently hot on the Billboard Top Twenty. They write their own songs and play their own instruments.

This month, I sat down with Zosia West, the front woman for Echoes Never Lie. They are a metal band, yes a female lead in a metal band. The band includes Mike Beaver on Drums, Jason “Sledgehammer” Iampietro on lead guitar and John Ploskina on bass. Ploskina is the newest addition to the band, only being a member of the metal quartet for six months.

“I guess we’re kind of a different genre, sort of more lite metal or performance metal, if there is such a thing. If not, I just invented it!” Zosia laughs.

Echoes Never Lie formed four years ago. Zosia had just left the band River Runs Scarlet and ENL was looking for a lead vocalist. They previously produced a demo CD, but nothing on the scale of the soon to be released EP. It has taken a year of fundraising and production to get it finally finished.

“There was a lot of back and forth in the creative process. There’s gutting and rebuilding, then gutting it again,” Zosia remarks. “We’re all pretty proud of what we’ve come up with.”

ENL has toured out of state to venues in Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia. Locally, they have played The Alter Bar and Hard Rock Café (among other venues) in Pittsburgh and The Mainstage Theater in California, Pennsylvania.

I’ve seen ENL a few times and no matter the size of the venue or who is headlining, they have the largest turnout and most rabid fans.  They come out of the gate like a hurricane and fans swarm the stage like metal minions to rock out at the beckon call of front woman, Zosia West’s summon.

Dancing around the stage like a Little Red Riding Hood succubus, West’s vocal growls bounced manically with her strong singing voice. The band crushes with lead guitar, bass and drums all culminating with a stage presence that looks like something I would see on a much larger stage and venue.

I asked Zosia where the stage Zoey comes from as she is very different from her off stage persona.

“On stage Zoey is someone I aspire to be. She is a super hero type who can’t be stopped and commands the crowd,” West says. “I mean, everyday we’re not that. I’m sitting here right now in my scrubs with my dog.”

So how does one become a screaming to operatic performance metal front woman? Zosia attended Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera for fourteen years studying opera. After graduation, she attended Point Park College for musical theater with minors in acting and dance. Her current fitness regimen includes Crossfit, 4 days a week of weight training, voice lessons, piano and pole.

For her immediate future, she plans to keep performing and promoting the EP. In March of 2017, she will begin filming as the lead in the independent feature film, Dead Edit. If all goes well, Zosia will one day realize her dream of following on the path of idol Jared Leto.

“I love that he does very odd, juicy acting roles and then gets to go on tour with his band,” Zosia echoes. (Editor’s Note: Pun intended.)

You can find out more about Echoes Never Lie and listen to their three cut EP at:

Story by Fred Terling, Lead Tomato, for Pennsylvania Bridges

Photo of Zosia West by Ron Short