Arts, Entertainment, Living

October 17: 'Rhythm Sweet & Hot' Day in PA

Friday, 09 October 2015 06:46 AM Written by



Abraham holding a blue Decca 78, Plaskett holding one from RCA.

October 17 is officially Rhythm, Sweet and Hot day in the State of Pennsylvania, commemorating the show's nearly 35 years on local airwaves.

The Saturday night (6-8 PM) WESA-FM big band show hosted by Mike Plaskett and Dale Abraham was honored with an official proclamation last Saturday night. State Representative Joe Petrarca (D-Vandergrift) visited the studios during the broadcast to advise them of the honor, House Resolution 497.

RS&H, as it's known, was the only music show that survived the transition from WDUQ to WESA when new management shifted jazz programming to their HD channel (a still-controversial move).  It focuses on the Big Band Era of the 1920's through the 1940's with occasional forays into later eras. It's described as music that "can't be found at the local mall," an archaic characterization in an age when few physical record stores exist anywhere.

The Big Band Era, which peaked from roughly the 1930's until the years just after World War II, may be far in the past, but on RS&H it thrives. Plaskett and Abraham, longtime collectors of vintage 78 rpm recordings, play a broader mix of jazz, swing and sweet music from the 20's through the 50's.  For the record, "sweet" refers to what were once called Sweet Bands, softer, more mellow and commercial than Benny Goodman or Count Basie (think Freddy Martin or Guy Lombardo). What's not in Plaskett's or Abraham's own 78 collections, they get from vinyl LP or CD reissues. That includes material from transcriptions (pre-recorded music for radio broadcast) radio airchecks and live recordings. Onstage, many bands played hotter than they did in a sterile recording studio. 

Actually, the show is more diverse than big bands alone.  They also feature a good bit of small-group swing, with and without vocalists. Unlike music programming that features song after song with just bits of talk in between as background music. RS&H is meant to be a listened to. It's a weekly conversation between Plaskett and Abraham as they discuss the music just played or the tunes they're about to play.  Plaskett is more oriented to the "hot," while Abraham has a deep knowledge of "sweet" bands, who were more commercial and whose music was less jazzy.  Even so, both have broad enough tastes to work both sides of the fence.  Plaskett can laud a sweet band and Abraham can present some driving swing, some of it recorded by bands normally considered "sweet."

Their rapport is entertaining, and Abraham's witty, irreverent remarks can plunge Plaskett into hysterics.  Overall, it's s a far cry from the tiresome and campy big band "nostalgia" programs that self-consciously try to re-create the era.  Plaskett and Abraham see this music as still worth hearing as music, not some voyage "back to the good old days."  That may be why the show's fan base includes more younger listeners than many might assume..

RS&H began in 1981 as a joint effort of veteran Big Band record collector Ken Crawford (1925-2006), whose collection was legendary for its depth and scope, and Plaskett, who worked in promotion at KDKA and WJAS.  They did the show at WQED-FM for a year before moving to WDUQ, where they stayed until the 2011 sale of the station. Abraham stepped into the co-host role after Crawford died in 2006. Concerns the show would end were quickly squelched when the new owners retained it, though they cut it from three hours to two.

An indepth profile of the show, written when Plaskett and Crawford co-hosted and Abraham produced can be found here.

In a town that rightly considers its few remaining record stores cultural treasures, especially Jerry's, Whistlin' Willie's, the Attic, Dave's Music Mine and Sound Cat Records, it only makes sense RS&H thrives here, just as it makes equal sense to honor something that's lasted this long.

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TV Q&A: 'Longmire,' 'Doc Martin' and local TV news

Friday, 09 October 2015 12:00 AM Written by

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Recasting the original Billy on 'Melrose Place'

Thursday, 08 October 2015 12:11 PM Written by


Last week I wrote about lifetime's "Unauthorized Story" movies about "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place," and I noted that the "Melrose Place" movie (pictured above), premiering at 8 p.m. Saturday, gets the name of the actor who was originally cast as Billy wrong.

For some reason the film calls the recast Canadian actor Stephen Dale, but his name is actually Stephen Fanning who played Billy for a few days during production of the "Melrose Place" pilot before being replaced by Andrew Shue. I'm not sure if this was an oversight or if there was some legal reason for changing the name. (The movie says he was fired because he had a flabby belly, which just wouldn't work for a show like "MP" with all its bed-hopping.)

How did I know this piece of obscure trivia? My favorite part of the now ancient history book I wrote about Generation X and television was the inclusion of a cast photo from "Melrose" that was shot early in production of the pilot, before Fanning was fired. See that photo after the jump. ...

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A Theater of One's Own

Thursday, 08 October 2015 09:06 AM Written by


“When we moved to Carnegie our decision was to have the majority of all plays produced be written by women, also the majority directed by women,” said Hans Gruenert, co-founder of Off-The-Wall Productions. “All the plays that we pick have to have something to do with women’s issues.”

Off-The-Wall Productions is a professional Actors Equity theater company, one of five in the Pittsburgh area, and produces a minimum of four plays a year at Carnegie Stage. It began in 2007 in Washington, PA, when Virginia Wall Gruenert, co-founder and Artistic Director of the company, wrote a play called Shaken & Stirred.

“We originally started with one of her works,” said Hans. “We were new to the area and really didn’t know anybody. We decided to produce it all ourselves. We found a run-down facility in downtown Washington and we put the whole thing together.”

“I had a play inside of me that needed to come out -- and it just did,” she remembered. “And this is even before we had any thought of opening a theater. It was about four women who have been touched by alcohol, who were alcoholics themselves or in love with an alcoholic -- about how they survived. It just poured out of me.”

To stage the play, Virginia called an old friend from Massachusetts to direct, decided to play all of the roles herself, a friend’s daughter was brought on board as stage manager, and they located someone to handle the lighting. “It was sort of piecemeal, putting the puzzle pieces together,” she said “The first production was one actor --me -- and very limited sets, the way I love to do theater: the simpler the better.”

Shaken & Stirred was in 2007 and in 2008, says Virginia, “We got the ball rolling. I put some feelers out there and got some names of directors. I knew what plays I wanted to do in my head and I just needed to find a way to put it all together. After that we just took off.”

After a move to Carnegie in 2012, Hans stated, the company wasn’t the same as it was when it stated out in Washington.  “We basically started out a little on the mainstream side. We’re always looking for plays that are a little bit challenging, plays that have something to say.”  

The company’s emphasis on plays that have something to say, especially plays by women, has been recognized by the International Centre for Women Playwrights. In September, for the second year in a row, Off-The-Wall Productions received an award acknowledging that more than 50 percent of the plays it produced in 2014 were written by women.

In addition, in August, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize invited the Carnegie-based theater company to become one of its “Source Theatres” and was asked to submit a new play written by a woman to be considered for the Prize. The invitation included the following remark: “Your commitment to new plays and plays by women has distinguished you in the field, and we would be honored if you would join our family.”

Women are also a critical part of the day-to-day activities of the company. “Women are grossly under-represented in the theater and have been forever -- since the beginning of time,” said Virginia. “So I’m very much into gender-parity and there are women out there who are enormously talented and when I find them I hire them. My associate artistic director is female, my stage manager, my technical director, my costume designer. It’s wonderful to work with all these women and I love to work with female directors.

“It’s nothing against the guys -- we love the guys,” she concluded. “But I like to focus on talented women when I can because they don’t get the opportunity as much.”

Off-The-Wall’s production of Tunnel Vision by Andrea Lepcio begins performances at Carnegie Stage on October 16th and runs through October 31st.

This is the third part of our four-part There’s Something About Carnegie series.


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Those Who Kill 1

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Although her shot-in-Pittsburgh A&E series “Those Who Kill” lasted just a single season in early 2014, actress Chloe Sevigny remains fond of Pittsburgh.

“I was just talking to a friend of mine about going back to spend more time at the Warhol Museum and just visit some friends I met there,” Sevigny said after a press conference for the new season of "American Horror Story: Hotel" (10 tonight, FX). “I really love that town.” (Read my "AHS" review here.)

Read more after the jump. ...

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1980s-set comedy 'Red Oaks' debuts on Amazon

Tuesday, 06 October 2015 09:21 AM Written by

red oaks

On Friday Amazon debuts all 10 half-hour episodes of its latest comedy series, "Red Oaks," a coming-of-age dramedy set in 1985 at a New Jersey country club.

Like so many cable half-hour scripted shows, "Red Oaks" is more drama than comedy. And when leans into comedy, it's more amusing than ha-ha, laugh-out-loud funny.

Read more after the jump. ...

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PS4If you bought your PS4 back in 2013, or even in early 2014, chances are you’ve thought about upgrading its hard drive. The stock 500 Gb drive fills up fast with game installations, downloadable content, game saves, apps, captures and everything else that comes with gaming in the 21st century. OWC (Other World Computing) offers a DIY solution for PS4 owners that has everything you need to swap your current hard drive for a superior one. Well, almost everything. It all depends on how you’re planning on getting your old data onto the new hard drive.


The OWC Upgrade Bundle solution comes with the 2 Tb hard drive, a 2.5” SATA drive enclosure (this allows a hard drive to be plugged into a PS4, PC or Mac via USB), an 8 Gb USB flash drive and a phillips head screwdriver for the drive removal. This bundle comes with a price tag of $139, which is not too shabby considering everything that comes inside.

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