OnStage

We all know that one of Pittsburgh's treasures spread around the world is musical theater talent, and now a group called Musical Theatre Artist of Pittsburgh -- or MTAP -- is putting the seeds of the musicals of the future on the map at home.

It was SRO for the first Hot Metal Musicals showcase Monday night the Cabaret at Theatre Square, where 18 songs representing 14 in-the-works musicals and songs by theater artists were performed by versatile artists who made the night a performance concert:

Lisa Ann Goldsmith, currently in Pittsburgh CLO's "Boeing Boeing"; Justin Lonesome, most recently in PICT Classic Theatre's "For the Tree to Drop"; Natalie Hatcher, who works behind scenes at City Theatre when she isn't onstage; Eric James Davidson, a regular at Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park, Little Lake Theatre and other local companies; Missy Moreno, who has appeared with Chicago's Second City and is currently touring schools in Pittsburgh CLO's "The Next Galileo" (more on that soon); Leon S. Zionts, a veteran theater performer seen on stages all over the area and a producer of Front Porch Theatricals; and soprano Eva Rainforth, who performed her own song from the show she is working on, "Me, Myself and Others." The song is title "I Once Dated a Man," and it's a hoot.

The night of comedy and tragedy, history and contemporary relationships got off to a strong start with "Pretend" from "Off With Her Maidenhead," a musical by Amy Claussen (book and lyrics) and James Rushin (muisc) that deconstructs the myth of the Disney Princess. There's a financial crisis solved when a nunnery is turned into a brothel ... you get the idea.

GalileoNext came the soaring title song from Joe Domencic's "The Next Galileo" is about a girl who channels Galileo and her own independent spirit to explore the possibilities of science. The musical is in full production as part of Pittsburgh CLO's Gallery of Heroes, a program that takes its 50-minute mini-musicals to Western Pennsylvania schools to educate and enlighten students about great historical figures. This one seems to educate and inspire. (More info at PittsburghCLO.org.)

There were several themes that began to emerge rom selection of songs -- European history among them, food and relationships another. "Kiss the Cook" by actress Laurie Klatscher and the "Moscow McDonald's Waltz" from the marquee-defying "The Magical Moscow McDonald's Miracle of Love" by Frank Gagliano and James Rushin were representative of the humor and emotions on display.

Some names who began here but are working elsewhere also were represented in the mix. Fox Chapel's Michael Mitnick has been making a name on stage and screen, including the screenplay for "The Giver," and with Will Connolly and Kim Rosenstock is writing "Fly By Night," described in the program as a "darkly comic rock fable." The musical was represented by the song "Cecily Smith."

The writing team of Kooman and Dimond, whose "Judge Jackie Justice" made its debut at the CLO Cabaret, was represented by work-in-progress "The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes," about a man who is living in a musical and wants to get out -- or does he?

There was the crowd-pleasing "Back to the Burgh," an anthem for expats by Laura Lind, with lyrics such as, "I get weak in the knees when I hear Pittsburghese," and much more. The accompaniest for the night, keyboardist-composer Doug Levine, is writing a musical with Marcus Stevens titled "Eastburn Avenue," which was represented by the song "Let It Be Me," sung by a daughter who is now her mother's caretaker.

MTAP is led by Stephanie Riso, working with Jeanne Drennan and Steve Cuden. They pulled togther an over-too-soon 90-minute program that left me hungry for more.

 

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TonyAwards.com posted this image today of Broadway and television star Sutton Foster and Carnegie Mellon University's Casey Cott at a photo shoot for an upcoming issue of Town & Country about the new Excellence in Theatre Education Award with the reminder that March 31 is the last day to #NominateMyTeacher! All application materials are due that day. Details at TonyAwards.com.

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Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP) will present the inaugural Hot Metal Musicals, a showcase of members' works on Monday, March 2, at 7:15 pm at the Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Ave., Downtown.

The show is free and open to the public, but MTAP encourages online reservations at https://www.artful.ly/store/events/3925.

A meet and greet reception with the artists and performers will follow the showcase. Hot Metal Musicals will focus on musical theater works-in-progress, presenting one song each from a number of new musicals, even some that have already been produced. That’s the case with Doug Levine’s and Marcus Stevens’s "Eastburn Avenue" (Playhouse Rep) and Jeremy Richter’s "[best imitation]" (2014 Pittsburgh Fringe). Joe Domencic's "The Next Galileo" is currently touring schools with the CLO's Gallery of Heroes program. Other shows have had full public readings, such as the MTAP-produced "Off With Her Maidenhead" by Amy Claussen and James Rushin and Ted Kociolek and Walter Holland's "The Age of Innocence" or Jeanne Drennan and David Berlin's "Dear Boy."

Other shows, in keeping with the focus on building new musicals from the ground up, will give us songs perhaps being heard by the public for the first time: John Keating and Sandra Lowell's "Kitty," Stephanie Riso's "The Storm," Frank Gagliano and James Rushin's "The Magical Moscow McDonald’s Miracle of Love," Eva Rainforth's one-woman show, "Me, Myself and Others," Chuck Sperry's "Lazarus" and Andy Nagraj's and Jonathan Spivey's "Murphy’s Law," which is to have a full reading in New York this February.

Funding for the Hot Metal Musicals event is from the Small Arts Initiative of the Heinz Endowments and in cooperation with the Pittsburgh CLO.

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TIship

A treasure hunt for London theater in Pittsburgh took me to SouthSide Cinemas Wednesday night, where a newly adapted play of "Treasure Island" was screened through the National Theatre Live cinema series.

This was the second of three screenings — the last is 11 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 15 — of a production in which the staging should get star billing, with Patsy Ferran as a female Jim Hawkins a close second.

It's always intriguing to see how designers use the turntable stage and its cylindrical center at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre. For "Treasure Island," designer Lizzie Clachan has created the grand illusions of a sailing ship with three tiers that rise from the depths of the theater and a descent into a labyrinth of island tunnels. The Guardian said the design "offers the most imaginative use of the Olivier's technical resources we have seen in a long time."

Byrony Lavery has adapted the Robert Louis Stevenson adventure novel to reflect her girlhood imagining herself as a pirate on the high seas with Long John Silver. She finds a kindred spirit in Ferran, who earned the Jack Tinker Award for Most Promising Newcomer for her 2014 roles in "Blithe Spirit" and "Treasure Island" from the London Critics Circle.

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The one-legged pirate Long John Silver is played with a comedic twinkle and sinister intention by Arthur Darvill (above right, with Patsy Ferran), who has played sweet, devoted Rory on "Doctor Who," a priest on "Broadchurch" and the male lead in "Once" onstage in London and Broadway. His constant companion is an animatronic talking parrot, voiced by Ben Thompson and a convincing cast member.

The production includes a couple of bloody death scenes but maintains a sense of humor throughout, notably by veteran actor Nick Fletcher as Squire and young Joshua James as Ben Gunn. Ferran and Darvill drive the action, as they forge and break alliances and put morality as well as a pirate's treasure up for grabs.

Having been to a few of these National Theatre Live screenings, this one did something I found bothersome. There was a 15-minute pre-show about upcoming screenings and trying sell the theater's 50th anniversary DVD and then a short interview about the show itself between the intermission and the second act. Normally the advertising is minimal and then you get interviews before the play, so that it runs as it would in a theater. A theater manager came in before the start to say that the whole would run about three hours, but it started on time at 7 and I was in my car by 9:40.

I'm hopeful that at some point NTL will screen Richard Armitage's "The Crucible," the acclaimed Old Vic production that was screened in UK theaters but isn't set for U.S. distribution that I can see. Check here for screenings of theatrical events such as David Hare's new play, "Behind the Beautiful Forevers," being broadcast from London to a theater new us.

 

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2015BroadwayCon0202

Oh my God, you guys! I may need a new outfit -- something in deepest, darkest Sondheim with bright touches of Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe, with a hint of Alex Timbers' influence.

BroadwayCon is coming in January 2016.

I am so there.

Theater professionals have taken a cue from the geek set -- that would be the me's of the world -- who attend comic-book/Hollywood conventions in droves and the power of Broadway fandom -- me as well -- and announced BroadwayCon, set for Jan. 22-24, 2016, at the New York Hilton Midtown hotel.

Theater fans have declared their interest, with @bwaycon gaining more than 2,000 followers in 24 hours.

Maybe I should throw in a little bit of "Rent" cosplay. Broadway.com reports that Anthony Rapp -- a sometimes guest artist with City Theatre -- is a co-creator of the event.

The website explains: 

You've seen shows, and festivals, and markets, and benefits, and concerts. BroadwayCon is all of that and more. It's a chance to get the complete Broadway fan experience, from every angle, all in one incredible weekend.

BroadwayCon brings you through the stage door to see and experience what goes on both on stage and behind the scenes. It is a place where Broadway fans can come together to celebrate the shows they love with people who bring them to life.

From January 22–24, 2016, join fellow fans, performers, and creators from some of your favorite on- and off-Broadway shows as they gather at the famed New York Hilton Midtown hotel to perform, discuss, debate, and celebrate.

Tickets go on sale March 15. A day pass is $125; general pass $250 and a VIP pass is $600. 

We are working to assemble a spectacular lineup of industry professionals, Broadway veterans, and creators to bring you an inside look at what it means to be part of the grandest of theater traditions. Witness incredible performances. Hear from our hand-picked panelists about their experiences on stage, and off. Attend panels, discussions, shows, workshops, and more with the industry's leading performers and creators. Meet some of your favorite Broadway stars through free autographs and photo opportunities away from the stage door. Be a part of a special community experience and make the kinds of memories you'll be talking about for years to come. 

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Nominations are now opened for the inaugural Excellence in Theatre Education Award, a partnership of the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University to shine the Tony's spotlight on inspirational theater educators in the United States.
       
Through March 31, nominations are being accepted online for current teachers at an accredited K-12 institution or recognized community theater organization. Anyone -- from students and school administrators to friends, neighbors and family -- can submit a worthy teacher for consideration.

Learn more about the award criteria and nominate a teacher at tonyawards.com/educatoraward

Several Broadway stars -- including CMU alums Christian Borle, Sutton Foster and Cherry Jones -- are featured in a video released today that shows them thanking teachers in their Tony acceptance speeches.



The new award is "designed to recognize a K-12 theater educator in the U.S. who has demonstrated monumental impact on the lives of students and who embodies the highest standards of the profession. A panel of judges comprised of the American Theatre Wing, The Broadway League, Carnegie Mellon University and other leaders from the theater industry will select the finalists and winner."

"At Carnegie Mellon, I have the privilege of seeing education transform the lives of talented young people every day, and then I watch as those students transform the world," said Dan Martin, dean of the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon.

Finalists will be announced in the spring and each will receive an honorarium. A single winner will be selected to receive the Excellence in Theatre Education Award on stage at Radio City Music Hall during the 69th annual Tony Awards telecast on CBS at 8 p.m. June 7. 

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2015TitussBurgessIntotheWoods0107

Pittsburgh actor/director Justin Fortunato called back during a Tuesday break in rehearsal in Miami -- he had stepped outside into the warmth of 79 degrees to do so, but he didn't rub it in -- where he is at the helm of a production of "Into the Woods" for the new Dream Catcher Theatre

Playbill.com had just posted an article about the casting of a male -- Broadway actor Tituss Burgess, above ("The Little Mermaid"; "Guys and Dolls") -- to play the Witch, a role associated with the likes of Bernadette Peters and Vanessa Williams onstage and now Golden Globe Award nominee Meryl Streep on film.

I wrote a little bit about it for Magazine section, including the fact that Billy Porter had been considered for the role by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine when the revival was being mounted in 2002. 

Director Fortunato said the casting in Miami wasn't about gender as much as about finding the right actor for the role.

Mr. Burgess won't be performing in drag, Fortunato said, but he will be referred to as a she throughout act one. The concept has the Witch's backstory revealing she was a boy who was disrespectful to girls. "When his mother punishes him for losing the magic beans [think Jack and the Beanstalk], she turns him into what he hated the most, what he perceives as an ugly old woman," the director said.

The later transformation back to a man is keyed on certain lyrics -- for example, "What would you have me be?/Handsome like a prince?" -- having to do with being a single parent to Rapunzel and the Witch's desperation to have the girl never want to leave. When the Witch transforms, "it makes it even more heartbreaking once that doesn't work," Mr. Fortunato said.

This is the third time the Pittsburgher is directing "Into the Woods" -- he presented it with Carrnivale and with West Allegheny High School. When he gets back from Miami, he goes right into rehearsal for the Sam Hazo play "Tell It to the Marines -- A Play for the Time at Hand," Feb. 6-15 at Soldiers & Sailors Hall in Oakland, then starts the audition process for West Allegheny's spring musical -- "Chicago."

Image: Tituss Burgess (credit: Artist Management)

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2015TitussBurgessIntotheWoods0107

Pittsburgh actor/director Justin Fortunato called back during a Tuesday break in rehearsal in Miami -- he had stepped outside into the warmth of 79 degrees to do so, but he didn't rub it in -- where he is at the helm of a production of "Into the Woods" for the new Dream Catcher Theatre

Playbill.com had just posted an article about the casting of a male -- Broadway actor Tituss Burgess, above ("The Little Mermaid"; "Guys and Dolls") -- to play the Witch, a role associated with the likes of Bernadette Peters and Vanessa Williams onstage and now Golden Globe Award nominee Meryl Streep on film.

I wrote a little bit about it for Magazine section, including the fact that Billy Porter had been considered for the role by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine when the revival was being mounted in 2002. 

Director Fortunato said the casting in Miami wasn't about gender as much as about finding the right actor for the role.

Mr. Burgess won't be performing in drag, Fortunato said, but he will be referred to as a she throughout act one. The concept has the Witch's backstory revealing she was a boy who was disrespectful to girls. "When his mother punishes him for losing the magic beans [think Jack and the Beanstalk], she turns him into what he hated the most, what he perceives as an ugly old woman," the director said.

The later transformation back to a man is keyed on certain lyrics -- for example, "What would you have me be?/Handsome like a prince?" -- having to do with being a single parent to Rapunzel and the Witch's desperation to have the girl never want to leave. When the Witch transforms, "it makes it even more heartbreaking once that doesn't work," Mr. Fortunato said.

This is the third time the Pittsburgher is directing "Into the Woods" -- he presented it with Carrnivale and with West Allegheny High School. When he gets back from Miami, he goes right into rehearsal for the Sam Hazo play "Tell It to the Marines -- A Play for the Time at Hand," Feb. 6-15 at Soldiers & Sailors Hall in Oakland, then starts the audition process for West Allegheny's spring musical -- "Chicago."

Image: Tituss Burgess (credit: Artist Management)

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