Category Archives: theater

April 2017 – Spring Cleaning

april2017-coverThe April 2017 edition of Pennsylvania BridgesSpring Cleaning – is now available online & in print.

March 2017 – “Helping Hearts”

march2017-coverThe March 2017 Edition of Pennsylvania Bridges – “Helping Hearts” – is now available online & in print.

February 2017 Edition: Moments & Milestones

february2017 cover.qxdThe February 2017 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges is now available online & in print.

January 2017: New Beginnings

january2017 cover.qxdThe January 2017 edition of Pennsylvania BridgesNew Beginnings – is now available online & in print.

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.

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

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME to take stage

curiousTHE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME premieres at Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, January 3-7, 2017, as part of the 2016-2017 PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Symphony, and Broadway Across America. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday evening at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.  On Wednesday, January 4, at 6:30 p.m. PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh patrons are invited to join us for a free pre-show talk, Know The Show Before You Go, held at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805-807 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information visit: TrustArts.org/KnowTheShow.

Fifteen-year old Christopher has an extraordinary brain; he is exceptionally intelligent but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life.  When he falls under suspicion for killing his neighbor’s dog, he sets out to identify the true culprit, which leads to an earth-shattering discovery and a journey that will change his life forever.

The production is designed by Tony Award-winner Bunny Christie and Tony Award-winning video designer Finn Ross, with lighting by Tony Award-winner Paule Constable, choreography by Scott Graham and Olivier Award-winner Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly, music by Adrian Sutton, sound by Ian Dickinson for Autograph and hair and wig design by David Brian Brown. Casting is by Daniel Swee and Cindy Tolan.

CURIOUS INCIDENT, now the longest running play on Broadway in more than 10 years, opened on October 5, 2014 at the Barrymore Theatre, winning five Tony Awards including Best Play, six Drama Desk Awards including Outstanding Play, five Outer Critics Circle Awards including Outstanding Production of a Broadway Play and the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or off-Broadway Play.