Monday, December 24, 2012

Playlist "Classics" Sunday 23rd December 2012

David Matthews & the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra-"David Matthews & The Manhattan Jazz Orchestra-Bach 2000" Milestone MCD 9312-2-"Fugue No. 2" (arr: Matthews)w/ Lew Soloff, Ryan Kisor, tps-Chris Hunger, Bill Evans, sxs. (soloists? perhaps-no info)

"Art Tatum: The Complete Pablo Group Masterpieces" Pablo 6PACD 4401-2-"Deep Purple"/ "Somebody Loves Me" w/Tatum, p-Harry "Sweets" Edison, tp-Lionel Hampton, vibes-Barney Kessel, g-Buddy Rich, dms

"Nat "King" Cole-After Midnight Sessions" Capitol COP 7 48328-2-"Sometimes I'm Happy" (w/ Stuff Smith, vn)/""Don't Let It Go To Your Head" (w/Willie Smith, as)/ "I Know That You Know" (w/Stuff)

"Duke Ellington Jazz Party" Columbia LP CJ 40712-"Hello Little Girl" w/ Jimmy Rushing, voc-Dizzy Gillespie,tp-Jimmy Jones,p 

"Wilbur De Paris Plays-Jimmy Witherspoon Sings-New Orleans Blue" Atlantic LP 1266-"How Long Blues"/ "Careless Love" w/Witherspoon, voc-Wilbur De Paris,tb-Sidney De Paris, tp-Omer Simoen. cl-Sonny White, p

"Bob Brookmeyer and Friends -Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Gary Burton, Elvin Jones" Columbia LP CL 2237-"Misty"/ "Jive Hoot" w/Brookmeyer, tb-Getz, ts-Hancock, p-Carter,b-Burton, vbs-Jones, dms

"Clark Terry-Swahili" Emarcy LP MG 36007-re-issue as Trip LP TLP 5528"Swahili" (by Quincy Jones)w/Terry, tp-Jimmy Cleveland, tb- Cecil Payne, Silver, p-Oscar Pettiford, cello-Art Blakey, dms

"Herbie Mann/Phil Woods-Beyond Broooklyn" Manchester Craftsmen;s Guild MCGJ1012-"Another Shade of Blues" w/Mann, fl-Woods, cl-Gil Goldstein, accordion-Alain Mallet,p-/ "Alvin G." w/ Woods, as-Mann, fl-Jay Ashby, tb-Mallet,p

The Clayton Brothers-"The Gathering" artistShare ASO 0118-"The Happiest of Times" w/Jeff Clayton, as-Terrell Stafford,tp- Stefon Harris, vbs-Wycliffe Gordon, tb-Gerald Clayton, p

"Andy Narell-The Passage" Heads Up HUCD 3086-"Song for Mia" w/Michael Brecker, ts-/ "Mabouya" w/ Paquito D'Rivera, as- & Calypsociation

"Scott Robinson: Thinking Big" Arbors ARCD 19179-"Basso Profundo"/ Ko-Ko" Robinson, contrabass saxophone-Bucky Pizzarelli, g-Pat O'Leary, b-David Robinson, ct-Dan Barrett, tb-Richard Wyands,p

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday, 23rd December 2012

Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Fergus O'Farrell: music & lyrics-Once" (original Broadway cast) Masterworks Broadway 88691948242-excerpts w/Steve Kazee, Cristin Milioti, Will Connolly-Martin Lowe, music supervisor

Alan Menken: music & Jack Feldman: lyrics-"Disney Newsies-The Musical" (original Broadway cast) Ghostlight Records 8- 4457-excerpts w/Jeremy Jordan, Ben Fankauser, Kara Lindsay etc.-Mark Hummel, music director

Burt Bachrach: music & Hal David, lyrics-"Promises,Promises" (2010 Broadway cast) Masterworks Broadway 88697 73495 -2-excerpts w/ Tony Goldwyn, Kristin Chenoweth-Phil Reno, music director

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday, 16th December 2012

Stephen Sondheim: music & lyrics-"Follies" (2011 Broadway cast) ps classics PS1105-excerpts w/Bernadette Peters, Ron Raines, Lora Lee Gayer, Danny Burstein, Jan Maxwell, Christian Delcroix, Nick Verina, Kirsten Scott, Jayne Houdyshell, Mary Beth Pell, Susan Watson, Terri White, Elaine Page, Rosalind Elias, Leah Horowitz-James Moore, music director

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday, 16th December 2012

Howard Hanson: music & Richard L. Stokes: libretto-"Merry Mount" (opera)-Naxos 8.669012-13-excerpts w/ Richard Zeller,bar- Gino Luchetti, ten- Charles Robert Austin, b-Walter MacNeil, ten-Lauren Flanigan, sop-Byron Ellis,b/bar-Seattle Symphony Chorale, Northwest Boys Choir, Seattle Girls' Choir-Seattle Symphony-Gerard Schwarz, conductor

Robert Livingston Aldridge: music & Herschel Garfein: libretto-"Elmer Gantry"- (opera) Naxos 8.669032-33-excerpts w/Keith Phares,Vale Rideout,Heather Buck,Patricia Risley,Frank Kelley,Matthew Lee, Julia Elise Hardin,Matthew Richardson,William Johnson,Aaron Blankfield,Jamie Offenbach-Florentine Opera Chorus-Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra-William Boggs,conductor

Theatre review: "Gruesome Playground Injuries" at Off The Wall Productions-Sunday, 16th December 2012

Two fine, local actors whose talents have brightened many plays in recent years again confirm their appeal. Erika Cuenca and Tony Bingham fill the stage with warmth, depth and truth. At Off the Wall Productions, superbly guided by director Maggie Balsley, they are the cast in the unfortunately-named Gruesome Playground Injuries by awarded and much-admired Rajiv Joseph.

In choosing this play at this time of year, Off the Wall continues to confirm its name. But don’t let the title put you off, making you expect violence or nastiness as if part of some current anti-traditional trend. Do not anticipate slashing satire or brutal irony either. This gentle, sometimes sweet play doesn’t explore the unrelenting intensity we’ve witnessed this month in two local theatre productions with no obvious relation to holiday themes, Angels in America at CMU and The Crucible at Point Park Conservatory. The compelling, vivid experiences made them worth your time and attention. This matches those others when it comes to the acting and staging, even if the writing and invention do not equal Tony Kushner’s and Arthur Miller’s.

Joseph’s 2009 script comes up with a well-made character study, enriched by perceptive choices of how to present it. He delves into the lives of two wounded people who yearn to merge into one whole relationship. Imaginatively, their fractured existence is seen in 30 years worth of non-linear fragments. This is not to say that this is some kind of puzzle which you must piece together. It is always clear what has been happening to Kayleen and Doug, whose backgrounds and ideas remain simple and not thoroughly defined. Despite those limitations, they remain interesting people.

Doug is accident-prone, risking injuries in all kinds of goofy adventures from age 8 to 38. Kayleen wants to understand, even to help heal. But she has agonies of her own, physical results of emotional wounds. As they stumble into and out of each others lives, they keep getting drawn back to each other as if their spilled blood can transfuse into something healthier.

Cuenca and Bingham’s naturalness make both characters always loveable. They create especially amusing portraits of Kayleen and Doug at age 8 when they first encounter each other in a small town hospital where they will cross paths again in later life.

They and director Balsley play each scene with well-paced time for reflection and reaction, making the non-verbal moments always meaningful. They confirm that these people don’t know what they are doing and haven’t the ability to articulate complexities.

The production is full of physical business, with much time and attention given to intermittent costume changes, hair and make-up alterations. It’s possible that this is a device to create distance from the characters, to remind us that this is theatre, akin to Tony Kushner’s Brecht-like choices. Or it could imply a kind of intimacy. In any case the acting keeps us coming back to connecting with these people, as if we want to hold and comfort them. The performances make that so.

Gruesome Playground Injuries continues through December 29th at Off The Wall Productions 25 W. Main Street Carnegie, PA -1-888/ 71-TICKETS or 1-888/718 4253 – (FYI :there are $5 student tickets) 724/ 873-3576.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

FYI: new blog link

Hello! January 1st 2013 the link will become

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday 9th December 2012

Antonin Dvorak: composer-"Dvorak: String Quartets opp.96 & 105-5-5 Bagatelles-Takacs Quartet" London 430 077-2-"5 Bagatelles" w/o repeat in 3rd movement-Takacs Quartet w/Gabor Ormai, harmonium not viola

Bohuslav Martinu: composer-"Martinü_The Six Symphonies-BBC SO-Belohlavek" Onyx 4061-Symphony No. 2-BBC Symphony Orchestra-Jiri Belohlavek, conductor

Leos Janacek: composer-"Intimate Letters-Emerson String Quartet" DGG B00127770-02-String Quartet No. 1(“after Leo Tolstoy: The Kreutzer Sonata") w/Emerson Quartet

Bohuslav Martinu: composer-"Martinü-Orchestral Works-Conlon" Erato 3984-24238-2-"Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca"w/Orchestre National de France-James Conlon, conductor

Leos Janacek: composer-"Janacek: Glagolitic Mass-Wiener Philharmoniker-Chailly" London 289 460 213-2-"Glagolitic Mass": excerpts w/ Eva Urbanova, sop.-Marta Benackova, mezzo sop-Vladimir Bogachov, ten-Richard Novak, bass-Thomas Trotter, organ-Slovak Philharmonic Choir-Vienna Philharmonic-Riccardo Chailly,conductor

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday 9th December 2012

Walter Kent: music & Kim Gannon: lyrics-"Seventeen" (original Broadway cast) Masterworks Broadway 88725 42775 2 -excerpts w/Dick Kallman, Bob Backanic, Richard France, Jim Moore, Darrell Notara, Bill Reilly, John Sharpe, Kenneth Nelson, Ann Crowley, Ellen McCown, Helen Wood, Joe Bullitt, Harrison Muller-Vincent Travers, music director

Richard Nelson: lyrics & Ricky Ian Gordon, lyrics and music-"My Life with Albertine" (original off-Broadway cast) ps classics PS 313-excerpts w/ Kelli O'Hara, Donna Lynne Champlin, Chad Kimball, Brent Carver. Emily Skinner, Caroline McMahon, Brooke Sunny Moriber-Charles Prince, music director

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Theatre review: Point Park University Theatre Conservatory's "The Crucible" Sunday 9th December 2012

Director Shirley Tannenbaum has gotten impressive results from her Point Park University Conservatory student cast, vitalizing Arthur Miller’s still -gripping play The Crucible. This 1953 classic has always been seen as an indictment of McCarthyism, often called “witch hunting” to imply a kinship with what Miller portrays, dark days in early American history. Certainly the corrosive things which happened among us in the 1950s tarnished our times but this production thoroughly reminds us that Miller’s script is no simple polemic. Tannenbaum and her excellent performers dramatically make clear the culture of that period and place, focusing on characters caught up in the craziness which dominates and poisons a tightly knit community. Miller’s depiction of unbridled religious fanaticism and crowd hysteria surges on the stage. Everyone especially makes the intense second act compellingly relentless.

Miller based his script on actual events in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, but rather than suggesting a documentary, he dwells on human behavior, while revealing the primitive thinking which gave rise to such an aberration. Some of the characters have the same names as the real people but Miller did not attempt to represent them factually.

John Proctor is at the center of this tale. The good man strayed from his goodness by having an affair with 17 year old Abigail Williams. After breaking it off with Abigail, Proctor confessed his error to his wife Elizabeth. Abigail is one of five girls who, breaking out into paroxysms, claim to be under the spell of the devil and of witches among them. Their accusations are taken seriously by people with power, Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth among them. While attempting to find truth they readily give credence to the idea that there are witches and that the devil has power to dominate souls. Meanwhile Abigail, having been rejected by John, does her utmost to destroy his and Elizabeth’s lives.

Tannenbaum’s actors become a vivid ensemble, while at the same time well-defined as distinctive individuals. Joe Rittenhouse especially stands out among them as Danforth, making him always authoritative, and totally sincere in his unyielding convictions. Rittenhouse never overdoes it. And Alex Walton’s version of John Proctor remains sturdily convincing while Harrison Buzzatto’s playing of much put-upon townsman Giles Corey likewise leaves a memorable impression.

Tannenbaum has admirably paced many crucial moments, creating intense, suspenseful tension. Joan Markert’s costumes add to solid sense of reality, as does Gianni Downs’ stripped-down set, implying the raw, crude nature of how such people lived. Downs has also added a telling comment, making the walls and colors suggest the fires of hell, as if the place could actually be where the devil rules. Tannenbaum reinforces that with Steve Shapiro’s initial sound design of echoing peals of hollow laughter.

This expert production clearly reminds us that, although the Devil may not exist, evil done in the name of God still thrives all around the world. 
Performances of The Crucible continue through Sunday December 16th at Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Avenue, Oakland. 412/392-8000 or

Monday, December 3, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday 2nd December 2012

John Mackey-"Strange Humors" Naxos 8.572529-"Strange Humors" (correct) w/ Rutgers Wind Ensemble-William Berz, conductor

Reynard Burns-"Slices" Navona NV 5874-"Carnival" w/Moravian Philharmonic Winds-

"Elliott Miles McKinley-String Quartets" Navona NV 5855-String Quartet No. 4 w/Martinü Quartet

"Numinous/Joseph C. Phillips Jr.-Vipassana" innova 720-"Stillness Flows Ever Changing" w/ Ben Kono, soprano saxophone-Numinous-Phillips conductor

"In Eleanor's Words: Music of Stacy Garrop" Cedille 90000 122-"Silver Dagger for violin, cello and piano" w/Lincoln Trio

"George Tsontakis: the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra" Koch KIC CD 7592-Violin Concerto No, 2: "Surges (among stars"), "Gioco" w/ Steven Copes, violin-The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra-Douglas Boyd, conductor

Robert Muczynski-"Muczynski: Complete Works for Flute" Naxos 8.55900-Quintet for Winds, op. 45 w/ Stanford Wind Quintet

"Paul Paccione-Our Beauties Are Not Ours" New World Records 80706-2-"Five Songs from Christina Rossetti"; four of them. w/ Terry Chasteen, tenor-Molly Paccione, clarinet-Moises Molina, cello-Andrea Molina, piano

"David Kechley-Colliding Objects" innova 829-"Untimely Passages-A Slow Groove & Chaconne for Marimba & Flugelhorn" w/ Candy Chiu,marimba-Tom Bergeron, flugelhorn

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday 2nd December 2012

Tony Kushner: lyrics & Jeanine Tesori: music-"Caroline or Change" (original Broadway cast) Hollywood Records 2061-62436-2-excerpts w/ Tonya Pinkins, Chuck Cooper, Capathia Jenkins, Veanne Cox, Harrison Chad, Tracy Nicole Chapman, Marva Hicks, Ramona Keller, Aisha de Haas, Akika Noni Rose, David Constable-Linda Twine, music director

Lynn Ahrens: lyrics & Stephen Flaherty:music-"Dessa Rose" (original Broadway cast) Jay Productions CDJAY 1392-excerpts w/Eric Jordan Young, LaChanze, David Hess, Rachel York, Kecia Lewis, Rebecca Eichenberger, Michael Hayden, Norm Lewis-David Holcenberg,music director

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Theatre review: "Angels in America: Millennium Approaches" at CMU Theatre. Sunday, 2nd December 2012

The CMU School of Drama has taken on Tony Kushner’s renowned Pulitzer Prize winning Angels in America: Millennium Approaches. This production surges with vitality due to totally convincing performances by the student cast. Certainly everyone was inspired by director Jed Allen Harris’ impressive work on the interpretations. Yet some of Harris’ other conceptions look more puzzling than illuminating.

Kushner’s creation still dazzles with well-developed characters and imaginative flights of fantasy and the surreal. Experiencing it again, though, I continue to find more smoke and mirrors than a work of art saying coalescing into something substantial. Looking behind the surface certainly reveals interesting and illuminating information about what Kushner was trying to do. But you shouldn’t have to explore intentions to appreciate a work of art. What you see and hear should be enough.

Nonetheless, I did post-performance reading on background to try to understand what Kushner had in mind. Evidently he wanted to create Brecht-like theatre, i.e keep the audience distant from rather than immersed in his fable, to be deliberately didactic. Consequently, despite compelling people fleshing out his space, you could want something more significant, rather than just admiring the bones. And, at this play’s conclusion, Kushner implies that there could be a genuine point to the whole thing, but later after this ends with an angel descending to announce that there is more to come. But, so far, you too, can be left hanging.

What has such background to do with this production? It looks as if Director Harris is trying to avoid realism and emphasize the obvious mechanics of stage craft by having scenes played in tiny spaces on a vast, open and barren stage. Certainly that suggests the characters’ isolation outside mainstream society but it also makes it difficult to connect with them. Harris also has a giant wall across the back rumble and, from time to time, heavily surge forward or shift back. His use of such a device to underscore Kushner’s deliberate moving into and out of the presumably real world seems justified for whatever symbolic interpretation you’d care to conjure. But we remain in intellectual territory, our brains given dominance over our hearts.

Earnest Mormon, deeply closeted Joe Pitt and his wife Harper have an increasingly dysfunctional relationship emphasized by her dependence on escaping into Valium-induced illusions. Joe has become a protégé of powerful, nasty ex -Joe McCarthy attack dog and successful lawyer Roy Cohn. In a parallel part of New York, intellectual omnivore Louis Ironson’s lover Prior Walter has contracted AIDS and seems to be dying. Louis and Joe eventually fall in love. Meanwhile Cohn fights to the death his possible exposure as a homosexual.

The performers play these roles with convincing sincerity, giving each depth and dimension. Interpreting Prior, Trevor McQueen-Eaton gives a touching, beautiful performance. And Emily Koch’s portrayal of Harper captures all of her vulnerable confusion. As Joe and Lewis I found Adam Hagenbuch and Jesse Carrey-Beaver always truthful. But I had trouble understanding Brian Morabito’s Roy Cohn, who seemed most often to snarl and bite off his words instead of making clear his points.

There are three other minor characters listed in the program book, There are also nine more, none of them identified, each played by an uncredited person in the eight-member cast. Background reading shows that such doubling is a Kushner choice. That may be Brecht-like too, but if Kushner wants to emphasize theatricality over reality, wouldn’t he want us to be aware that these are actors practicing their versatility? I suppose director Harris has to honor what the author wants.

Harris has made an off-putting choice by combining and overlapping two scenes. In one, Joe and Harper harshly confront each other as their marriage disintegrates. In another, the bond between Lewis and Prior splits apart. Harris obliterates the essence of such urgent and dramatic developments, all four talking at the same time making clear virtually nothing except that sorrow and anger attend both couples equally, as if sacrificing Kushner’s words for some symbolic trick.

Much has been made about the idea that this is a play about AIDS. That seems debatable. Yes, bewildered Prior and Roy Cohn have it. They suffer agonies while losing their way in disturbing fantasies. But that says nothing obvious about the disease itself. I continue to see this play more about being ostracized and imperiled gay men in Ronald Reagan’s America, in a society whose emotional and physical pain pains everyone. There Kushner grabs us, even though he wants to push us away.

Why should we be distant observers, huddling in the darkness instead of reaching out to hold hands with our brothers?

Carnegie Mellon University presents Angels In America: Millennium Approaches by Tony Kushner at Philip Chosky Theater, Purnell Center for the Arts, on the CMU campus, Oakland. 412/268-2407.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

FYI: my blog link

Hello! As of January 1st 2013 I'm changing it to "" 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday 25th November 2012

Jimmy Lunceford and His Orchestra-"Lunceford Special" Columbia LP CL 6344-"Lonesome Road", "Uptown Blues," "Well, All Right Then," "What's Your Story Morning Glory?" w/Willie Smith, as-Joe Thomas,ts-Sy Oliver, tp.-Trummy Young, tb., voc

Harry James and His Sextet-"1940s The Small Groups: New Directions" Columbia LP CJ 44222-"Tuxedo Junction" w/ James, tp-Smith, as-Edward Ross,cl-Bruce McDonald,p

Harry James and His Orchestra-"Harry's Choice" Capitol LP T 1093-"Willow Weep For Me" James,tp-Smith, as-Jack Perciful, p

Harry James and His Orchestra-"The New James" Capitol LP T 1037-"Just Lucky" w/James, Smith-Jackie Mills, dms 

The Dave Brubeck Quartet-"Dave Brubeck-Time Signatures: A Career Retrospective" Columbia Legacy C4K 52945-"Perdido" w/ Brubeck,p-Paul Desmond,as

"The Dave Brubeck Quartet-The Last Time Out" Columbia Legacy 88697-81562-2-"La Paloma Azul" w/ Brubeck, Desmond-Eugene Wright,b-Joe Morello, dms

"Paul Desmond with the Modern Jazz Quartet-The Only Recorded Performance" Finesse LP FW 37487-"Jesus Christ Superstar," "Bags' New Groove" w/ Desmond, as-John Lewis, p-Milt Jackson, vibes

"Paul Desmond-Pure Desmond" CTI LP 6059 S 1-"Nuages," "Squeeze Me" w/Ed Bickert, g-Ron Carter, b

Payton-Anderson-Martin-Thomas-Blade-New Orleans Collective" Evidence ECD 22105-2-"New Orleans Revival" (by Anderson) w/Wessell Anderson, as, sopranino sx-Nicholas Payton, tp-Peter Martin

"Wynton Marsalis Septet-Live at the Village Vanguard" Columbia C7K 69876-"Play the Blues and Go" (by Duke Ellington) w/Wynton, tp-Anderson, as-Victor Goines, ts, cl-Wycliffe Gordon, tb-Eric Reed, p

"Wessell Warmdaddy Anderson-Live At The Village Vanguard" Leaning House BB 008-"Star-Crossed Lovers" (by Billy Strayhorn) "African Cowboy" w/ Anderson, as-Irvin Mayfield, tp-Xavier Davis, p-Steve Kirby

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday 25th November, 2012

This was abbreviated due to a preceding basketball game broadcast.

Jule Styne: music & Leo Robin: lyrics-"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (2012 New York City Center Encores cast) Masterworks Broadway 88725-44451-2-excerpts w/Philip Attmore, Jared Grines, Megan Sikora, Charles Thorell, Megan Hilty, Rachel York, Aaron Lazar, Deborah Rush-Rob Berman, music director

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Theatre review: "South Side Stories" at City Theatre for Sunday 2nd December 2012

I’ve lived in Pittsburgh since 2001 and have been covering theatre every year since then. Which means I’ve often gone to the South Side, especially to City Theatre. But, coming out of the theatre after witnessing Tami Dixon’s South Side Stories, I felt as if I was seeing the neighborhood for the first time, no longer a generic preponderance of narrow streets and tightly-packed row houses. I suppose you could say “Duh,” as if I had never thought about the people before. You’d be right. But what grabbed me from what Dixon put on the stage was how the same streets, the same houses immediately felt different even without people. She makes the place alive.

Dixon channels the inhabitants in a narrative in which they speak for themselves. She also has the insight and perception to choose the best and most special of what they had told her, shedding light not only on their stories but on how they speak, making it clear that every day citizens can be eloquent without intending to be.

In an hour and a half she conjures up a variety of residents, using their words in a series of portraits, most of which stand alone. I have no idea how many people she represents. Counting them serves no purpose; there’s no need to justify praising virtuosity. Dixon has come up with a cumulative effect which transcends any individual component, herself included. This isn’t about her. It’s about her community and the people whom she clearly holds dear.

There’s much in there about family, family memories of the past. And you learn about how neighbors become a kind of family. Lots of the residents have endured time and change. This is mostly about them and not the newer arrivals. Whoever they are, they become real. Dixon’s performing artistry makes it so.

David Pohl has created an impressive, imaginative array of projections on the wall behind her, sometimes, wonderfully, as if his images and Dixon’s movements have been choreographed to reflect each other. Matt M. Morrow directed; certainly his input has made everything come together superbly.

I don’t intend to tell you about most of the components of this marvel nor of specifically how well Dixon portrays so many different characters, sometimes in multi-person narratives, some amusing, some sweet, some touching. Yet she never pushes.

Dixon makes one especially memorable choice, weaving into and out of a story of woman who, unintentionally, comes across a dead body near where she lives, calling the body “empty,” knowing that the soul has moved on. Later that living woman finds new wonder in the South Side.


South Side Stories continues through December 16th at City Theatre. 1300 Bingham Street, South Side (of course) 412/ 431- CITY (2489) or

Monday, November 19, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday 18th November 2012

Thomas Newman-"Skyfall" (movie score) Sony 88765410402-excerpts w/Newman conducting

John Williams-"Lincoln" (movie score) Sony 88725446852-excerpts w/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra- Charles Bisharat, fiddle-George Doering, mandolin-Williams, conducting

John Williams-"Memoirs of a Geisha" (movie score) Sony Classical 82876747082-excerpts w/ Yo-Yo Ma, cello-Itzhak Perlman, violin-Williams conducting

Christopher Gordon-"Mao's Last Dancer" (movie score) Sony Australia-excerpts w/Clemens Leslie, piano-Michael Dauth, violin-Chai Chang Ning, flutes-Tuang Zhang, erhu-Julian Smiles, cello-Jane Rosenson, harp-Gordon conducting

Abel Korzeniowski & Shigeru Umabayashi-"A Single Man" (movie score) Relativity Music Group RMG 1006-1-excerpts w/ Roger Wilkie, violin-Arigat Orchestra-Korzeniowski conducting

Osvaldo Golijov-"Youth Without Youth" (movie score) DGG B0010309-02-excerpts w/Kalman Balogh, cimbalom-Michael Ward-Bergeman, accordion-Bucharest Metropolitan Orchestra-Radu Popa, conductor

Jerome Moross"The Big Country" (movie score) Silva Screen FILMCD 030-excerpts w/The Philharmonia Orchestra-Tony Bremner, conductor

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday 18th November 2012

Maury Yeston: music & lyrics-"Phantom" (1992 cast) RCA Victor 09026-61660-2-excerpts w/ Glory Crampton, Paul Schoeffler,Jack Dabdoub, Richard White-Jonathan Tunick, music director

Robert Wright, George Forrest, Maury Yeston: music & lyrics-"Grand Hotel" (original Broadway cast) RCA 09026-61327-2-excerpts w/Michael Jeter, Brent Barrett, David Jackson, Danny Strayhorn, Karen Akers-Jack Lee, music director

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Theatre review: "Good People" at Pittsburgh Public Theater-Sunday, 18th November 2012

Pittsburgh Public Theater offers another lightweight play, Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire. A shallow set-up dominates the first act and you have to wait until the second act for substance. There, genuine character development, significant by-play and, in this production, two solid performances give you something worth your attention. One of Pittsburgh’s best directors, Tracy Brigden, doesn’t seem to have found ways to make it work better.

Lindsay-Abaire has gained a major reputation for imagination about and perception of emotional ups and downs among families, most notably in his Pulitzer Prize winner The Rabbit Hole superbly performed at the Public in 2008. This 2011 play also touches on domestic malfunction. But principally it most looks like a fulfilling a desire to write about his old neighborhood and the people in it, in this case South Boston, aka “Southie.” His dialogue contains a lot about local legends, traditions, and practices, delivered in regional accents decorated by other presumed color. Most of it seems ordinary to me, though, not particularly special or amusing given the first act reliance on trivial gab, often watching people sitting, not a dynamic choice.

Later, revelations emerge about the three principal characters, making for dramatic confrontations, lively dialogue and a few nuggets of thought to ponder, although most of this comes across as more personal than universal.

Lower middle-class Margie has trouble keeping menial jobs. When she loses her latest, she learns that a teenage boyfriend, Michael, (“Mike” ) has triumphed over Southie origins and become a successful doctor living in an upscale Boston neighborhood. She tries to get him to help her find work, eventually inserting herself into his home when only his wife, Kate, is there with him. The couple has been discussing their continuing need for counseling. When Margie arrives Michael is seriously uncomfortable. Kate is friendly and wants to know more about her husband’s past, possibly as a tough kid. The subject of racism enters the room. So does the long-ago relationship between Mike and Margie.

Margie mostly seems tough and pushy, with a compulsion to talk too much and say too many unfunny, wrong things. Yet dialogue sometimes describes her as a good person. That contrasting quality remains hard to see, given visiting actor Kelly McAndrew’s performance. No soft interior shows. She and director Brigden never make the woman as sympathetic as she could be. In the good people category, Michael at first seems sincere and reasonable, David Whalen making the most of that. Later, when Michael’s other sides come out, Whalen remains completely convincing, making the role a thorough portrait. His reactions too always add to the impression of a totally alive and aware person. Meanwhile January LaVoy, also from out of town, gives warm and solid dimension to Kate.

There are only three other characters in this two-act, two- set play, possibly conceived in ways to not stretch producers’ budgets. It needs more of something but could also stand trimming, especially when people talk too long about minor issues. And these three neighborhood types seem penciled in to fill space around the more colorful center of the story. But this is what the cast and director have been given and they do what they can and do it well. Lindsay-Abaire has done better before.

Good People continues through December 9th at Pittsburgh Public Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, downtown. 412/ 316-1600 or

Friday, November 16, 2012

Theatre review: "Warhorse" at Benedum Center in the Broadway Series

The PNC Broadway Series presents something different from most of its visiting offerings, a drama, not a musical, a remarkable and unusual stage work in which puppets have major roles. It is Warhorse which originated in England and is derived from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel of the same name, recently adapted into a Steven Spielberg film. The stage version surpasses that.

Adapter Nick Stafford, directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris have made this an enduring work of art, involving Handspring Puppet Company evoking life-size replicas of horses, striding amid something extraordinary, something bound to stir hearts and minds of people of any age. The creators have devised a modern link to the thousand year old Japanese theatre tradition of Bunraku, wherein you see the puppeteers’ magic. This reaches across the ages, as well it should; the horror of war remains the inheritance of more than those one thousand years.

And, if you look at how the word WARHORSE is laid out, note that the first part is the color of blood. So, although the main focus is on the bonds between animals and humans, this also confronts how humans break bonds across boundaries and kill each other. The play powerfully reminds us of what it means for 
innocent young men and innocent creatures to die in battle.

The production honors its audiences by immediately jumping into the subject without exposition, at the same time reaching into ritual and fable, colored by songs that sound as if they belong to everyday people. Overhead, expressive projections frame the scenes, but in fragments, even as the story-telling gives us  all we need to know without having to fill in every detail. Suggestions of scenery and of other creatures seem like living bold strokes of Japanese brush painting. And, to start, a beautiful suggestion of a sweet, fragile colt stands unsteadily in the center of a noisy crowd.

And from there the story moves on. Young Albert Narracott, who lives on a farm in Devon, England, falls in love with that colt which he names Joey. When the First World War begins, Albert’s father sells Joey to the British cavalry. The story then follows Joey and Albert on and off battlefields. Joey is saved from danger several times, especially by a German officer, Captain Friedrich Muller.

Directors Elliott and Morris’ visual concepts, interpreted by tour director Bihan Shelbani, stay amazingly effective with what seem like simple means. They keep the focus where it should be, on humans and animals rather than on effects. At the same time, the magnificent, massive cast is called on to not only portray many different characters but also to manipulate horses, other creatures and scenery. Within this impressive ensemble, Andrew Veenstra always stands out as Albert, with touching innocence and vulnerability. Likewise memorable, Andrew May’s version of Captain Muller has all the passion and war-weariness to superbly define the role. By the way, Andrew May has performed several times at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, including, about a year ago, in Time Stands Still which also deals with the emotional wounds of modern war.

Accents abound. There are those of English people including natives of Devon as well as various others within the Army ranks. The Germans and French speak as if mirroring their own languages, implying that they are not speaking English. You may have trouble understanding everything said, despite good amplification in the sound system at Benedum Center. But what you see tells you everything essential.

You see a masterpiece.

Warhorse continues through Sunday, November 18th at 6:30 at Benedum Center, downtown. Tickets at the Box Office at Theater Square, 655 Penn Avenue, at 412/456-4800 or More information also at

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday 11th November 2012

Alan Hovhaness-"Fran Angelico"/"Requiem and Resurrection-Hovhaness" Poseidon Society LP 1002-"Fra Angelico" w/The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra-Hovhaness, conductor

"Kamran Ince-Symphony No. 5 "Galatasaray" Naxos 8. 572533-Symphony No. 5: 2nd and 5th movements w/ Tulay Uyar, sop-Levent Gunduz, ten-Anil Ktrkytlduz, boy sop-Turkish Ministry of Culture Choir-Bilkent Symphony Orchestra-Ince, conductor

William Grant Still-"Still-Afro-American Symphony-Africa" Naxos  8.559174-Symphony No. 1 ("Afro-American") w/Fort Smith Symphony-John Jeter, conductor

"Karl Berger-Strangely Familiar" Tzadik 8075-"17 Miniatures for Piano Solo" #3, 5,9,13-Berger, piano

"Stephen Barber: Astral Vinyl" Navona NV 5850-"Conversatio Morum Movement I" /"Elvis and Annabelle Movement I" w/American Repertory Ensemble/ The Boiler Makers

Christina Rusnak-"Slices" Navona NV 5874-"Kyripo" w/unidentified pianist

"Nico Muhly;A Good Understanding-Los Angeles Master Chorale-Grant Gershon" Decca B 0014741-02-"Expecting The Main Things From You: I Hear America Singing" w/Claire Fedoruk, sop-Drea Pressley, mezz-sop.-Kimo Smith, organ-Los Angeles Master Chorale etc,-Grant Gershon,conductor

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday 11th November 2012

Benj Pasek & Justin Paul: music & lyrics-"A Christmas Story-The Musical" (studio cast) Sony Masterworks Broadway 88725 45981 2-excerpts w/John Bolton, Clarke Hallum, Matthew Lewis, River Aguirre, Dexter Johnson, Tom Wopat, Liz Callaway-Ian Eisendrath, music director

Kenward Elmslie: lyrics & Claibe Richardson: music-"The Grass Harp" (original Broadway cast) Varese Sarabande VSD 6010-excerpts w/ Carol Brice, Barbara Cook, Max Showalter-Daniel Saidenberg, music director

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Playlist: "Classics" Sunday, 4th November 2012

Alan Beeler "Slices" Navona NV 5874 Flute, Clarinet,Viola & Piano Quartet No. 2 w/Lisa Hennessy, fl-Yhasmin Valenzuela, cl-Mark Berger, viola-Karolina Rojahn, p.
Ellen Taafe Zwilich 
"Zwilich: Violin Concerto-Rituals" Naxos 8.559268-"Rituals" w/ NEXUS & IRIS Chamber Orchestra-Michael Stern, conductor
Stuart Sankey "The Louisville Orchestra-Fox: Night Ceremonies-Sankey: Variations for Orchestra -Endo" Louisville LP 780 "Variations for Orchestra" w/ Louisville Symphony Orchestra-Akira Endo, conductor
Armando Bayolo "Jeffrey Weisner-Neomonology" innova 833 "Mix Tape: Kid's Got The Beat/Turn Around/AVery Brief Meditation on the Nature of Parentheses/Room to Lay The Law" w/Jeffrey Weisner, double-bass

Ronald Perera "Coro Allegro-Awakenings" Navona NV 5878 "Why I Wake Early" (poems by Mary Oliver): "Morning at Great Pond," "Summer Poem," "White Night"  w/Lisa Brooke, Sonja Larson,vns-Sandra Norter,viola-Reinmar Seidler,cello-Darryl Hollister.p-Joanna Taylor.sop.-Leah Souder.mez-sop.-Brian Abascal,ten-Kevin Verrette, bass-Coro Allegro-David Hodgkins,director

 "Jeremy Beck-Ionsound Project" innova 797 Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano w/Elisa Kohanski, cello-Rob Frankenberry,p  & 'September Music: "Retrospect" w/ Peggy Yoo,fl-Kathleen Costello, cl-Laura Motchalov,vn-Kohanski, Frankenberry

Playlist: "The Best of Broadway" Sunday, 4th November 2012

Frank Wildhorn: music & Leslie Bricusse: lyrics "Jekyll & Hyde" (2012 "concept recording" cast) Broadway Records BR CD00512 excerpts w/ Constantine Maroulis, Deborah Cox, Teal Wicks-Jason Howland, music director  

Frank Wildhorn: music & Jack Murphy: lyrics "Wonderland" (original Broadway cast) Sony Masterworks Broadway 88697 88669 2 excerpts w/ Carly Rose Sonenclar, Danny Stiles, Kate Shindle, Darren Ritchie, Janet Dacal-Jason Howland, music director

Theatre review: "Fahrenheit 451" from Prime Stage Theatre Company-Sunday, 4th November 2012

Prime Stage Theatre Company has committed its resources and energy to a major project, seeking to evoke drama and provoke thought in Ray Bradbury’s 1988 re-working of his 1953 science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451.

Bradbury did not make it easy; permutations and ideas wander all over the territory inhabited by sketchily-developed characters. Director Justin Fortunato does well in keeping the action moving and making several disturbing moments vivid, getting solid, convincing performances from his cast. They capably articulate well-verbalized ideas but stay stuck with simplistic, sometimes naïve dialogue. Fortunato might have made some better choices to clarify the story and the nature of Bradbury’s future society while more clearly illuminating hopeful moments.

Bradbury’s major premise continues along the trail blazed by George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where regimes suppress dissent. Bradbury takes up the theme of book-burning and, in so doing, touches on the pages of history that go as far back as papyrus; Egyptian priests set the precedent eradicating anything that contradicted the ruling class’s versions of truth.

In this instance, a modern society, well-furnished with intricate technology, has become a place where people are kept in the dark by firemen whose flames have demolished any written thing which could spark and illuminate thought. Moreover they deal harshly with citizens who cling to books. Montag, at first, is one such fireman but his underpinnings are dislodged during encounters with people whose behavior might threaten the rules. One person is young Clarisse whose grandfather, Faber, has been living in perilous ways.

Montag discovers what it means to read literature instead of poring over sports statistics. His boss, Fire Chief Beatty, dangerously knowing a great deal about books and what they contain, sees where Montag is heading and tries to steer him along the straight and narrow path.

The major themes here are worth exploring and Bradbury has many trenchant things to say about how modern life could evolve, foreseeing developments looming on the horizon. Some of what he feared has indeed come to pass. A remarkable first-act peroration by Beatty, superbly interpreted by Monteze Freeland, deals with where we may have been going and how those trends could permute into eventually barren existence. Bradbury also makes eloquent use of famous writing by Charles Dickens, Matthew Arnold and others.

Yet the play most looks like a vehicle for what Bradbury wants to say and, by turning that into a stage work, he has tried to create a swiftly compelling plot which doesn’t have enough depth while also calling for some potentially difficult visual effects. Although Fortunato’s imaginative opening tableau disturbingly makes firemen look menacing, he has a problem representing a new Fire Department invention, a terrifying automated hound which can sniff out heretical pages and maul the person who keeps them. The image and the concept do not become clear. Moreover Fortunato’s choice of a deliberately cluttered, fragment-filled stage designed by John Michael Bohach works against the idea that this time and place are empty and sterile. Fortunato has also cut essential dialogue from the final moments where, attempting to represent hope for the future, characters speak lines from books. In a truncated scene, the cast confusingly seems to be doubling for such characters for no evident reason.

Justin Patrick Mohr succeeds in making Montag innocent and vulnerable while also conveying his developing strengths. As Chief Beatty Monteze Freeland has a compelling presence and delivers his best speeches with urgent truth. But I found Ken Lutz’s version of Faber full of overdone quirkiness, out of sync with more simple and direct playing by cast members.

Although TV sound-bites slice and dice meaning as Bradbury observed and TV has become an opiate of the people, it has not shoved literature into the dustbin of history as he foresaw. That, he said, was the prime impetus for his original novel. People do still read books in a complex, intricate world where unfettered, media-generated ideas and opinions come at us from all directions. 

Despite Bradbury's limited intention, he has touched on many significant themes, saying much to merit your attention and thought. A differently conceived production might be able to overcome some of the problems in what he wrote, but such a daunting task remains a major challenge.

I wonder what Bradbury thought of how some people have given up paper, printers ink and binding to look at words on Kindle.

Fahrenheit 451 continues through November 11th at New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square E, North Side. Tickets: 1-800/718-4253 or and

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Theatre review: "Maple and Vine" at City Theatre. Sunday, 28th October 2012

Unconventional staging populates the territory of Maple and Vine at City Theatre but the 2011 play by Jordan Harrison, opening the season, remains thought- provocative, imaginative and amusing.

Social conventions themselves dwell in this script whose premise hovers on the borders between fantasy and reality. Certainly the essence focuses on how reality often can’t live up to fantasy, even when such fantasy can truly be explored.

Note the title of the play. It sounds like an innocent city intersection, but vines twist and turn, sometimes choking off life. And, in this fable, modern people have chosen to escape the intricacies of their existence to immerse themselves in a tight, reinforced, thoroughly constructed alternative society; they want to flower in what they perceive as a more innocent time in America: 1955. They seek to escape the presumed pitfalls, complications and anxieties of when and where they have been living. Near the start of the play you get the point; a 1950s-wardrobed man named Dean reminds us that, despite television family situation comedies, things in that period were not all black and white.

Harrison’s concept has a good satirical edge, as if sending up those of us who yearn for the presumably golden times of the past where brighter moments inhabit our memories amid the fluffy clouds of selective memory. i.e You can’t go home again. Harrison excellently furthers his premise: Katha has graphic dreams which threaten her stability, as if the dream world is getting confused with what happens when her eyes are open. Moreover, he excellently points up the idea that we sometimes disguise ourselves in order to better conform to what others expect of us.

Katha and her husband Ryu live hectic, urban lives, fractured by losing a not-yet-born baby. When she encounters a man who touts the seeming innocence and simple virtues of living in a community replicating 1955 U.S., she is strongly attracted. Katha and Ryu try to adapt to being, full-time members of the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence. They become close friends with Dean and his evidently cheery, uncomplicated wife Ellen. Ryu, a former plastic surgeon, takes a menial job supervised by Roger, whose persona embraces the standard anti-Asian prejudice of the times. But the actual pasts of all five outside this clinging cocoon still color their behavior and threaten to destroy fervent attempts to exist in a simulacrum of the good old days.

As the story progresses, some developments and revelations become a little too pat and unconvincing, as if Harrison is trying to wrap it all up into a neat package, looking almost as slick as a man in tightly-pressed pants, matching jacket, thoroughly-knotted tie, starched white shirt and firmly-perched hat.

Impeccable acting enhances it all, although, when Robin Abramson’s initially well-defined and vulnerable Katha evolves into an overly made-up, over- dressed smiley doll, that goes a little too far. The rest of the cast, coming here from out of town with major credits, give their roles the right dimensions. I found most memorable Ross Beschler’s playing of Roger, the least predictable character.

Director Kip Fagan usually keeps the playing within the right bounds, as if not pushing too hard for caricature. But I question his choice of a set design by Narelle Sisson. It spreads the action on a long platform across the entire center of the theatre, arranging the audience as if in bleachers. The play would be better served in a tighter space to make clearer the narrow, potentially oppressive confines of the characters lives, wherever they are.

Sound designer Eric Shimelonis’ choice of 1950s records sounds nifty, including zingy stingers along with darker colors for moments when things seem more black than white. And costume designer Robert C.T. Steele has even come up with the right clothes for scene-changing stage hands.

How has everything been with you? Could this turn out to be one of your good old days?

Maple and Vine continues through November 4th at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Southside. 412/431-CITY (2489) or

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Theatre review: "Ainadamar" from Quantum Theatre-Sunday, 21st October 2012

You descend stairs and more stairs, deeper and deeper in a church, as if into burial vaults beneath the hearts of houses of worship in far, old places such as those in Spain or Latin America. In this vast, shadowy space you are immersed in glorious singing and powerful music permeated by the fire, the longing, the sorrow of flamenco soul. Argentina-born famed composer Osvaldo Golijov has invoked such chords, such rhythm in his intense, compact opera Ainadamar. And Quantum Theatre, superbly guided by director Karla Boos, grabs your senses in this immersion into a tale of the martyrdom of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, revealed in the social hall of East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

It is not a straightforward telling. It is not intended to be. Rather,through music sung and played, through dance and gesture, it re-awakens the memory of a woman who, across the ocean from hers and Lorca’s homeland, a woman who loved him, lives out again what haunts her 33 years after he was executed. She evokes, too, an ancient well called Ainadamar where Lorca died.

But what counts, as the story unfolds and refolds, becomes how it sounds, how it looks, as if you witness a ritual, akin to those which transpire above, closer to sunlight streaming through colored windows. It sounds, it looks as strong as the faith of those who immerse themselves in those connections to heaven.

In Uruguay, self-exiled Catalan actress Margarita Xirgu describes her days with Lorca for her student Nuria. Xirgu harks back to the time of the Spanish Civil War when a play by the poet angered the generals by espousing freedom of expression, when it stood against terror. Xirgu wanted Lorca to save himself and flee. He refused. Falangist Ruiz Alonso arrested Lorca and had him killed.

Three extraordinary, brilliant Pittsburgh women supremely sing the roles of Margarita, Nuria and Lorca. They are Katy Williams, Leah Edmondsen Dyer and Raquel Winnica Young, while Carolina Loyola-Garcia, likewise from this city, dancing, stuns and stirs with her vibrant feet and puts fierce, menacing power into the role of Ruiz Alonso. As Lorca, Young also superbly reaches into lower notes enhancing a convincing portrait of a vulnerable young man whose dignity will not be trampled.

Director Boos gives every gesture, every meaning compelling clarity, making telling use of the space, her conception enriched by Joe Seamans’ imaginative video designs flashing on a screen hovering above a giant staircase. Meanwhile, he clarifies meaning, projecting translations of David Henry Hwang’s Spanish text across two other walls, putting Ruiz Alonso’s words into harsh capital letters. And sound designer Ryan McMasters adds to the depth using gunshots as counter-rhythms to the staccato stomping of feet and the rhythmic clapping of hands.

21 accomplished musicians interpret Golijov’s score with polish and skill, impressively directed by Andres Caldera. Amid them, guitarist John Marcinizyn plays with powerful beauty.

As the waters of Ainadamar cascade on the screen, you may be moved to flowing tears shed in Lorca’s memory. Yet his words remind us of his immortality. They are “I am the fountain from which you drink.” Lorca lives. Golijov too. Quantum Theatre makes it so.

Ainadamar continues through November 3rd at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 South Highland Ave., Tickets at ShowClix 1-888-718-4253; or

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Theatre review: "The Producers" from Point Park U's Conservatory Theatre Company-Sunday, 21st October, 2012

You might ask yourself “Self? Who came up with the musical version of Hamlet called Funny Boy? Who struck gold, titillating the public by re-working Oliver Goldsmith into She Shtupps to Conquer? Who found the road to success aboard A Streetcar Named Murray ?” Answer: Max Bialystock who claims, early in the riotous musical The Producers, that his is one of the biggest names on Broadway: 13 letters.

You see where this is heading, right? Head on over to Pittsburgh Playhouse and hold onto your seat, a hit up there onstage is socking it to ‘em. Get this: no one in the cast had even been tickling their parents featherbeds when this thing was conceived as a 1968 movie; university students have all the roles. Point Park University Conservatory Theatre students. They serve it up in spades. Dig it, thanks to Susan Stroman’s 2001 directorial concepts and choreography re-created, enriched and enhanced by Tomè Cousin.

You know, no doubt, that the musical collected a bunch of Tony Awards and packed Broadway houses for years. And you know too, that, writing this, Mel Brooks packed this package with off-the-wall, sometimes outrageous gags. 

So nu? No, it’s not new. A road company starring Lewis J. Stadlen hit Pittsburgh’s funny bone in 2005 and Pittsburgh CLO had a romp with it a year ago. Why see this one? I’d say because it’s fresh, alive and kicking doing justice to all the good things in it.

The cast plays, dances and sings everything with professional quality and class. The sets and costumes look great. The 12-member orchestra led by Douglas Levine swings and sways to perfection.

FYI: Max teams up with previously shy accountant Leo Bloom to produce the world’s worst show so that, when it quickly tanks, they can keep all the investments. They discover Franz Liebkind' s dictator-love-fest Springtime for Hitler, (“There was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon! Two coats!”) And they hire cross-dressing, disaster-prone director Roger DeBris, who gets to wear Hitler-like boots and belts. But the best laid-men’s plan falls on its tush.

Tom Driscoll’s take on Max comes full of style, stomping, flopping, swaggering. Playing Leo, Carter Ellis’ quivering, shivering charm will win you over. Jordan Ross Weinhold superbly channels a Paul Lynde-like version of Roger DeBris, shimmering in his gowns, and, as Hitler, sashaying in his swastikas. Then there’s Carmen Ghia, named for a sleek Italian body powered by German know-how. Brandon Taylor’s takes the prize as that flaming flamingo whose every bone seems made of spandex.

The cast taps superbly, and it’s got rhythm, punctuating the score with adding machines and old lady walkers.

So what if Brooks’ music sounds generic and the second act looks too padded? It doesn’t matter in the long run. Too bad this has such a short run. These students, still learning their craft in class, have the class to make this production a hoot full of style. Cousin got them there and they make the best of it.

The Producers keeps rolling them in the aisles through Sunday, October 28th at Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Avenue, Oakland. 412-392-8000 or

Monday, October 15, 2012

Theatre review: "The Other Place" at Off The Wall Productions-Sunday, 14th October 2012

Off The Wall Productions has new walls less far off from Pittsburgh than Washington, PA, now framing a congenial playing space on lively Main street in Carnegie. Appropriately, the first production there is called The Other Place. It’s by Sharr White and stars artistic director Virginia Wall Gruenert in an impressive, compelling, ultimately beautiful performance.

I say “ultimately” because the play starts out going in many directions without any obvious focus. Disjointed, bewildering fragments. Criss-crossing. Juliana Smithton paces the space. Talking to herself? Talking to you facing her. Talking to doctors. Are you there to analyze her?

As is turns out, White deliberately holds up a mirror to the increasingly fractured life of a biophysicist who has become a pharmaceutical pitchwoman. It takes time for you to realize where the story is going, even as it takes time for Juliana to realize in what direction she is heading and why. An exploration of the often-used what-is real- what-is-fantasy device.

As you come away later into the bright lights of the street, your mind can reassemble what you’ve seen and intellectually admire what you’ve witnessed on the sometimes shadowy stage. But, when it starts, you may feel  disoriented and not engaged, wondering what this is really about, until realizing it’s fundamentally about Juliana with six other characters encompassing her story.

Here are a few emerging facts: Juliana has given a talk about research into dementia, often distracted by a girl in a yellow bikini. Juliana is married to oncologist Ian. They had a daughter named Laurel who disappeared as a teenager from their Cape Cod summer home (the other place) perhaps with Richard, Juliana’s adult research assistant. Two scenes are flashbacks. One of them is the first scene. The rest is up from grabs.

Virginia Wall Gruenert's Juliana flows through it with every emotional dimension clearly, tellingly defined. Salty. Intelligent. Provocative. Infuriating. Vulnerable. Sad. Sympathetic. Hopeful. She has it all. She does it all. But never pushing. Never overboard, even though Juliana tilts and sways toward sinking.

Mark Conway Thompson portrays patient, loving husband Ian. He comes across with warm intelligence, albeit strong enough to withstand her excesses. Erika Cuenca plays three women, getting the sweet best out of a stranger who tries to comfort and reassure Juliana when mind and body are in another place.

Melissa Hill Grande directed this perceptively, getting well-tuned performances from everyone while making effective use of the large stage and an ingenious set by PICT resident scenic designer Gianni Downs.

Alas, Off The Wall does not give the audience information about the playwright in the program book as it used to do back in Washington, PA. However, the company website covers that well: White has impressive, lengthy credits.

You might want to know that this play premiered off-Broadway in March last year directed by Joe Mantello with Laurie Metcalf getting an Obie award for her interpretation of Juliana. A Broadway version opens in December. Certainly seeing and pondering this production you can realize why New York audiences and critics have been impressed. And Virginia Wall Gruenert shows how much can be done superbly with this material 370 miles west of New York on a friendly small town street.

The Other Place continues through October 27th at Off the Wall Productions,  25 West Main Street  Carnegie, PA.  724/ 873-3576 or or 412/394-3353 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Theatre review: "Born Yesterday" Sunday, 14th October 2012

Opening its season, Pittsburgh Public Theater offers a sometimes engaging period piece which should please the public, Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday. It’s from 1946 and is no doubt best remembered for one of is characters, Billie Dawn, a seemingly empty-headed, full-bodied young woman whose transformation becomes the source of comedy and some degree of depth.

You need to wait until the second act to appreciate the best in the play. The first act essentially sets up the premise revealing fairly simple people who don’t provide many laughs. Visiting performer Melissa Miller stands out making Billie wonderfully charming and always convincing amid a cast playing everything with sincerity and believability. Public Theater Artistic Director Ted Pappas keeps it all colorful with a lively pace.

You won’t find the comedy as wacky as George S. Kaufman’s nor the serious moments close to Arthur Miller’s. Think of Born Yesterday fundamentally as an entertainment which, in the most intelligent parts of the second act, says well a few worthwhile things including some about politics, which don’t seem to have changed that much.

Uncouth, corrupt, rich junk dealer, Harry Brock comes to Washington D.C, to try to buy his way out of laws impeding his business, including trying to corner the market on war-destroyed ordnance overseas. He’s been paying off Senator Norval Hodges. Also in Brock’s bulging pocket is slick lawyer Ed Devery. Brock has brought showgirl mistress Billie Dawn with him. Since Billie’s ignorance looks as if that might cheapen Brock's image, he hires journalist Paul Verrall to educate her. Paul believes in the best aspects of democracy which he sometimes finds scrapped by people like Brock. Over the course of two months Paul not only influences Billie to read thought-provoking books but also to think for herself and to newly consider Brock’s personality and behavior.

Paul is played by Pittsburgh’s Daniel Krell, giving the role warm, sell-assured integrity. Visiting actor Ted Kōch portrays Brock with equal adeptness while Larry John Meyers looks and sounds entirely right as the Senator. They give the characters as much definition as possible given their limited development in Kanin’s script. Other local actors in the cast include John Shepard, Ken Bolden and James Fitzgerald.

James Noone’s set looks magnificent and director Pappas has added decorative physical touches of his own. Communications Manager Margie Romero has contributed enlightening information about the period and popular culture of the day. Among other things, she points out that Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun was running on Broadway at the time. Sound designer Zach Moore cleverly supplements that with a song from that show to set the stage, also giving nostalgia buffs samples of other pop songs of the mid-40s. Moreover Billie, whose career includes appearing in Cole Porter’s Anything Goes, sings a few bars from the score. Since those lyrics could double as Brock’s theme song, Kanin or Pappas make good points with that.

This good-looking, polished version of the 65 year old show offers a friendly couple of hours with a few things worth considering, especially given that the serious matters of a presidential election which waits just around the corner.

Born Yesterday continues through October 28th at Pittsburgh Public Theater’s O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, downtown. 412/ 316 1600

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Theatre review : "Rope" at Pittsburgh Playhouse's The Rep-Sunday, 7th October 2012

The Rep at Pittsburgh Playhouse offers nearly two uninterrupted hours of superbly staged and performed suspense: Rope by Patrick Hamilton.The title and premise are probably best known in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 version of the 1929 English play, although they differ in several respects. This time the characters are upper- class Americans in Boston. And, unlike the movie, the three principal characters are clearly gay.

Guest director Elmore James has fashioned a compelling, well-paced, and deliberately dark evocation of the lurid tale without it ever becoming gruesome. And the all-Pittsburgh cast makes the most and the best of it, especially Pitt grad John Steffenauer and Point Park alum Ryan K. Witt in two major roles.

The play dwells on talk circling around the centerpiece, a coffin-like wooden chest on which dinner is served while inside lies the bloody carcass of freshly killed Ronald Kently, garroted by his socially privileged former classmates Wyndham Brandon and Charles Granillo. Brandon is the twisted mastermind behind the evening’s events, seeking to savor the satisfaction of motiveless murder, spurred by some of Nietzsche’s philosophy, which, as you may remember, inspired mass murderer Adolf Hitler. One guest at the dinner is poet and sometimes friend Rupert Cadell who has seemed to espouse Nietzsche-spurred amorality. Moreover, playwright Hamilton’s excellent premise implies that Brandon and Granillo’s high social standing makes them believe that they have a right to do anything they want. 

The story has often been described as analogous to a real-life and death one involving Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb just a few years before this play was written. Oddly,director James does not refer to that in his program notes.

The play’s tension derives from expecting the discovery of the crime and how or if Brandon and Granillo can pull off their deliberate provocation without falling apart. Most of Hamilton’s dialogue sounds straightforward rather than deliberately intellectual. Once Brandon has made clear what led him to the violent act abetted by his more fragile lover, chatter among the guests dominates at first, including playful speculations about violent crime. Later Rupert expounds on his beliefs in Hamilton’s most eloquent and evocative writing, getting the closest in the play to providing substance.

Those lines are delivered superbly by Ryan K. Witt whose characterization may seem Oscar Wildish but successfully so. Witt displays inner strength and sharp intelligence within a seemingly weak body. Meanwhile John Steffenauer’s Brandon makes the man’s self-importance and control thoroughly convincing. In this compelling portrait, even his reactions to other people’s words remain masterful.

Director James has expertly done much with the lighting to emphasize evil heavily breathing in the shadows or having sudden glare as conversations seek to sparkle or as revelations emerge from the gloom.

However James did not do nearly enough to suggest an actual dinner. The  food looks like canapes and snacks. The guests do not, tellingly, carve meat or sink their teeth into something seriously edible or stuff their mouths with a real meal. Yes, they nibble, even as much of their conversation has tiny fragments of thought, a good point, I suppose. But a choice which works against some of the premise.

However, this production stays so well conceived and played that you could come away admiring how this not-very-complex script gets expertly served.

Rope continues through Sunday, October 14th at Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Avenue, Oakland. 412-392-8000 or

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Theatre review: "The Rivals" at CMU- Sunday 7th October 2012

Starting its new season the CMU School of Drama offers a remarkable cast of students whose talents and skills equal professionals. They shine and shimmer in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th Century comedy of manners The Rivals. No doubt much of their appeal has been stimulated and shaped by visiting English director Annie Tyson. She has evoked thoroughly meaningful interpretations of the text and characters creating an ensemble full of style. And to make the best of the words, evidently she has not emphasized genuine English accents, but rather just suggestions, wisely giving more time and intention to essentials.

The play can be a challenge not only to the actors but also to audiences, because not a great deal of substance emerges and it all comes engulfed in elaborate talk over more than three hours. Considerable substance can be found in the excellent program book.

Looking at the character names one might think that this is a satire. Indeed it could be, although it is not played that way but, rather, interpreted with earnest sincerity. This gives it constant charm but not that many laughs. There are such people as Captain Jack Absolute and his father Sir Anthony as well as Lydia Languish with whom Jack is most devotedly in love. His rivals for her affection are a country gentleman Bob Acres and a combative Irishman Sir Lucius O’Trigger. Add to them Lydia’s guardian aunt Mrs. Malaprop, whose name has ever since become a cinnamon for people with constabulary malfunctions. Also part of the folderol is Jack’s sometimes foolish friend Mr. Faulkland; he’s in love with Lydia’s friend Julia.

Much concerns the wooing amid the social whirl of the newly emerging fashionable vacation city of Bath.

In front of a simple backdrop representing imposing interconnected Bath buildings, director Tyson calls for simple prop and furniture embellishments to represent interiors. Consequently a lot depends on her performers to make otherwise empty space alive. They do that extremely well with body language totally right for such people of the period. And they do it with impeccable timing and wonderful reactions.

The most impressive performances come from Nick Rehberger as Captain Jack Absolute and Lachlan McKinney as his father. Rehberger’s polish and vitality make it look as if he has been playing this kind of material for years, rather than being a student. Meanwhile McKinney gives the older man the perfect mannerisms, including a way of seeming always off-balance, affected by gout with a simple suggestion: a constantly bent foot.

Lydia is played by Ginna Le Vine; she has a delightful ditzy quality which she never overdoes. I was also impressed with what Dylan Schwartz-Wallach did with Sir Lucius O’Trigger, another example of making memorable a thoroughly distinctive personality. 

But while these especially stand out, the rest of the cast equals them in conveying director Tyson’s exceptional conception of the play. They always keep it alive despite it length.

The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan frolics only through next Saturday, October 13th at Philip Chosky Theater in Purnell Center on the CMU campus. 412/268-2407

Monday, August 13, 2012

Theatre review: "Ivanov" from Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre-Sunday 12th August 2012

This year, Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre’s complex venture, Chekhov Celebration, certainly gives cause for celebrating. For one thing, the project is as close as we ever get to repertory theatre in this city. 23 actors, 15 of them local, appear in nearly 50 roles in nine plays. This gives us the opportunity to see many exceptional artists together in a short time and to admire and cherish those who live among us. This is also a way to extensively experience and further understand the work of the world-renowned Russian playwright enhanced by insightful directors. Add to this a remarkable program book full of interesting, thoughtful articles about Chekhov, about Russia, about translating and about what it means to be an actor.

In that book you will learn, as you could elsewhere, that one of the plays here, Ivanov, adapted by Tom Stoppard, has always contained problems and that Chekhov himself was never fully satisfied with his script. Such flaws soon become evident in the first two scenes of the four. But, as momentum and developments build, the virtues become clear, significant and, even, actually funny.

A constant subject is Chekhov’s idea of “comedy.” As you can read, he wasn’t aiming for big laughs, but rather he saw the characters he created as amusing in their foibles, their illusions, their behavior, even when there were tragic consequences.

Except for late in the play, you probably won’t find yourself laughing, nor should you expect to; that's not Chekhov's kind of comedy. But this is live theatre, not aiming for intellectual exercise or exploration of theses.

Characteristically the people depicted in Ivanov resemble those in later, more admired plays such as Three Sisters whose exceptional PICT production is ongoing.

In this case, for too long at first, this means more talk than action, as if nothing significant is developing. At the center is Nikolay Ivanóv, once full of life but feeling bewildered and unhappy, heavily in debt to Zinaida Lebdeva, and no longer in love with his tubercular wife Anna. Dr. Lvóv, attending Anna, dislikes Nikolay and criticizes him for spending too much time with Zinaida and her husband Pavel. Their young daughter Sasha is deeply in love with Nikolay, of whom gossipy neighbors are constantly critical. Add to this a sub-plot: Count Matthew Shabelsky, Ivanov’s maternal uncle, likewise an older man, is vacillating about marrying a wealthy young widow named Marfa, a typical inventive Chekhovian parallel.

These relationships may not immediately be clear; the program book does not identify the characters in relation to each other in this case any more than it does for Three Sisters. You might want to prepare, even though you shouldn’t have to.

Director Andrew S. Paul has done several things to try to overcome the sense that nothing of consequence happens in the first two scenes; he keeps them as lively as possible, although one or twice he pushes a little too hard to make something funny. In the later parts of the play, though, he and his cast have it all together, getting the fun out of truly laughable moments while making new developments feel like a galloping horseback ride through a dense forest.

Initially he has David Whalen’s Ivanov thoroughly vigorous, seething with anger, Whalen, always a dynamic actor, doesn’t get across the melancholy Hamlet-like introspection to which Chekhov even refers. Whalen doesn’t show the debilitating side of Ivanov’s depression and self-doubts, missing the man’s more complex dimensions. This undercuts Ivanov’s emotional trajectory later, as if he hasn’t changed significantly. Moreover Paul has Nike Doukas avoid showing the effect of Anna’s debilitated state; she is supposed to be profoundly ill whereas Doukas plays those scenes sweetly and with strength. Both choices make it look as if director Paul wanted to avoid having the early scenes look too somber, evading too much darkness, emphasizing pace, not internal struggles.

In the role of Nikolay’s friend Pavel, Martin Giles superbly gets across the man’s jolly vitality and sincerity. CMU senior Katya Stepanova, playing his daughter Sasha, has all the right warmth and strength. As The Count, Nikolay’s uncle, Alan Stanford most often looks as if he’s playing Oscar Wilde wit, getting every last drop out of the lines instead of coalescing into a definite character. The Count, like Nikolay, doesn’t really know what he’s doing. Yet Stanford doesn’t show any kind of connection with Nikolay and, most of the time, seems separate rather than part of the ensemble.

The costumes, sets and music all enrich the look and feel of the entire production. Here we have a great and relatively rare chance to witness this less-known Chekhov play and to experience its virtues while watching many fine actors making the best of their art.

Ivanov continues through August 25th at Charity Randall Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland. 412/ 394-3353. Or

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Review: "StrAta" from Bricolage Production Company

Bricolage Production Company has created a highly original, extraordinarily devised conception stretching the boundaries of theatrical experience.  The ticket-holder does not look on from a safe remove, as if viewing performers on a stage. Rather, such a visitor is an inevitable participant.  It’s called StrAta.  

And, indeed, there are levels of meaning, strata, if you will, to be explored, should you choose to ponder them. But don’t think of it as some kind of intellectual conundrum.  If you allow yourself to go with the flow, you could finish your visit feeling different than when you started, which I think is the intention.  

Never fear, you will not come away harmed, shocked or shattered. If you feel what I felt,  you may leave remarkably tranquil, seeing and feeling things differently for a while, as if the rest of the world, the life on the streets and the people there seem different.

The closest thing to this in my experience came after spending a tranquil weekend at a Yoga ashram in city suburbs. Leaving, when I re-entered the city, it was as if “real” life had altered, rather than that I had. The effect was temporary. But unforgettable.

In short, from the effect of StrAta, your mind-set which guides you to work out the challenges of everyday living can be peacefully changed for a while.    

Participants who buy into this are asked to not reveal the specifics of what they went through. I hew to that agreement.

Consecutive guides take you along short downtown street routes to the insides of a large, multi-storied building.  Initially, though, your ability to see and perceive is challenged. Go along with it. It will open you up. Thereafter, so will each contrasting short event in which you participate. Moving along singly, you are guided to a series of hallways and rooms where solitary performers tell short personal stories expecting you to respond. Or another performer may challenge you to participate in a simple activity.  You could also be given an elementary, puzzling task to perform.  A couple of times you may be amused. Recorded voices add to the environment, most murmuring or exhorting or reciting what sounds like quasi-philosophical reflections. You needn’t try to listen. You can if you want. You will not be tested.

Being thoroughly open to what’s offered could have a different effect than what I experienced. Not just by playing along but by actively, creatively playing a role yourself. Another level where, alas, I did not go.

The preparation and the details have been remarkably, cleverly, thoroughly, impressively  conceived and prepared.  The wizards behind the curtain are many. They have created magic. The program book, given to you when you depart, will name them. A standing ovation is not possible. And it would be too noisy and too obvious.  

StrAta continues through September 1st

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: "The Golden Dragon" from Quantum Theatre-Sunday 5th August 2012

Inevitably any visit to a production by Quantum Theatre becomes memorable and provocative. Artistic director Karla Boos often chooses unexpected, unfamiliar settings whose properties are as much as part of the experience as the play, even when you may come away puzzled as to why she chose the material. As in this month’s experiment The Golden Dragon by contemporary German writer Roland Schimmelpfennig as translated by David Tushingham.

The location grabs you instantly. Bleachers face a stagnant pond in Highland Park (called "Lake Carnegie") its grimy surface suggesting a repository of litter, although none floats there at first. Yet, soon, characters throw things in and spit into the water. The surface is broken by what look like industrial concrete platforms, many of them laid out in a long cross terminating at a small wooden cabin. In the foreground sits a cluttered collection of pots, pans, kitchen implements, greasy boxes and battered tubs. The people moving into and out of these surroundings wear smeared aprons over cheap, worn-out clothes. Everything fits together, not so much as a puzzle but rather as a statement, evoking ugliness and disgust, clearly deliberately.

Meanwhile, as complex narratives and events unfold, Boos and her staff implement and underscore them with intricate sounds, lighting and technical effects, spending time, energy and money to enhance it all. Boos also colorfully choreographs her cast on every solid surface. Everything comes across vividly.

But what does such devotion serve? Schimmelpfennig’s script could remind you of a piece by Bertolt Brecht, deliberately distancing you from sympathy or empathy, as if to deconstruct the third wall. Performers talk to the audience and articulate stage directions, while all five step into an out of characters and costumes, giving rudimentary suggestions of who these people are.

The Golden Dragon, we are repeatedly told, is a Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai restaurant where the principal individuals, all perhaps Asian, cook in cramped surroundings, turning out complex dishes whose tasty ingredients are listed over and over as if in some ritual. The actors also portray people who eat there and/or live dreary lives nearby. In this unsavory menu, a tale emerges about a cricket who metamorphoses into a prostitute. Then, when a young illegal alien in the kitchen dies from a botched tooth extraction, that tooth takes on a complex life of its own.

The cast consists of three frequently-seen professional Pittsburgh actors, Gregory Johnstone, Catherine Moore and Mark Conway Thompson, along with Point Park University faculty member Curtis Jackson. They are joined by CMU senior Aidaa Peerzada. All five inhabit everything and everyone with skill and expertise,

What can you read into what they all do? Boos’ program notes suggest how to examine the ingredients, explaining why she decided to serve this up as well as what 
Schimmelpfennig was trying to say. Intentions, however admirable and profound, are background. A significant work of art must justify itself standing alone. Even so, without Boos' prompting, you may find something meaningful. I did not, regardless of the explanations, despite being strongly impressed with how the staging looks and feels. 

The Golden Dragon continues at Lake Carnegie in Highland Park through August 26th. Tickets at Showclix  1-888-71-TICKETS which is the same as 1-888 718 4253. Another connection: