OnStage

raisinPatricia Sheridan's "Breakfast With ..." interview with actor Joe Morton stirred memories of the then-young actor's electric 1976 appearance in the second year of the Pittsburgh Public Theater in Athol Fugard's "Sizwe Banzi Is Dead."
 
That ironic, comi-tragic account of life under apartheid co-starred an older actor, Joe Seneca, and famously impacted the young August Wilson, who remembered it was the first full-length play that impressed him. Presumably it contributed to his switch at just about that time from being a poet to an aspiring playwright, and a few years later, Mr. Seneca was featured in Mr. Wilson's first Broadway play, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
 
I wonder if Mr. Morton, a fine stage actor who won a 1974 Tony nomination in "Raisin" (left, with Debbie Allen and Ernestine Jackson) ever did a Wilson play?

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Trevor

Billy Porter’s return to Pittsburgh also has brought back fellow CMU alum Trevor McQueen, Porter’s assistant in New York and a vocalist and entertainer who will play a set at Jazz at Andy’s at the Fairmont Hotel, Downtown, tonight. 

You may know Trevor from his standout performances on the Carnegie Mellon stage — he played Moritz in a 2013 production of "Spring Awakening" — or his summers with Pittsburgh CLO. Before that, he made his Broadway debut opposite Bernadette Peters (he was Trevor McQueen Eaton then) as Lil Jake Oakley in the 1999-01 revival of "Annie Get Your Gun." He has performed several cabaret acts at Birdland in New York, backed by a 17-piece orchestra at one gig and a trio at another, paying tribute to heroes from Sammy Davis Jr. to Sondheim and re-interpreting "The Sounds of ’66."

 

Trevor's Sunday gig, 7-10 p.m., at Jazz at Andy’s, will come as Tony and Grammy winner Porter finishes up his triumphant week at the Benedum with the tour of "Kinky Boots." Trevor will be backed by Brett Williams on piano, George Heid III on drums and Anton DeFade bass. 

 

Last week, Trevor sat down for a chat in the aptly named Zebra Lounge of Carnegie Mellon’s College of Fine Arts and discussed everything from Billy Porter’s influence on his career to his work with Third Space, an NYC collective of Carnegie Mellon alumni working together to get their work — theater, music, film and art — produced and seen. Third Space, founded by Benjamin Viertel and Bryce Cutler, announced last week that Porter would be executive producer of their new play "Fireface," a award-winning play by German writer Marius von Mayenburg, translation by Maja Zade. 

The play, opening Aug. 26, is part of Third Space’s time in the The Brick Resident Artists Program. The Brick Theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is a winner of the The Caffe Cino Fellowship Award and described by the New York Times as a destination "for the nerds, outcasts and mad experimenters of theater."

We'll have more on Trevor and his Third Space colleagues' projects in the near future.

 

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CLOEnsembleCab

All you need to know about the Pittsburgh CLO ensemble is that Blake Stadnik of Ellwood City, a Penn State grad making his Pittsburgh CLO debut this summer, will be playing Billy Lawlor in the upcoming national tour of “42nd Street.”

Actually there is a lot more to get to know, and if you weren’t at the PCLO ensemble’s late-night cabaret Saturday night, you missed the chance to see the stars of today and tomorrow cutting loose.

The late-night cabaret at the Cabaret at Theater Square unleashed featured players from “The Wedding Singer,” who joined ensemble members, interns and host (roaster?) Richard Rockage for a night of song, dance and a last creative fling for the PCLO ensemble of summer 2015. 

Stadnik, for instance, offered a stirring heartthrob solo of “I Know,” which he also performed for the Penn State senior Spotlight. Blake is legally blind but that hasn't stopped him from pursuing a career on the stage. 

Marc Robin, the director/choreographer of "Les Misérables" at the North Shore Music Theater in Beverly, Mass., who directed Stadnik as Marius and in several shows at the Maine State Music Theatre, told The Boston Globe, "You'd have to be a pretty discriminatory person to not use someone who's as talented as Blake."

 

 

 

Another highlight was Alle-Faye Monka (Agnes in “Gypsy”), one of several ensemble members from the University of Michigan, who sang her own touching and funny lyrics to “Copacabana” for her parents, who met at the club. They came from New Jersey to see their daughter at the Cabaret at Theatre Square and to celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary.

J. Michael Zygo, star of “The Wedding Singer,” opened the show on the "Girls Only" set (at CLO Cabaret through Aug. 30) with Zach Miller and Point Park's Justin Lonesome (all pictured above) as perhaps the best-possible wedding cover band, channeling the Doobie Brothers for “Listen to the Music.” 

As the clock was striking midnight, things got a little “Wicked.” Jackie Burns and Mallory Michaellan, a rising senior at Michigan, sang “I Have Been Changed for Good.” After Mallory opened the song as Glinda, Burns — Elphaba on Broadway and the national tour — said, “That was gooood.” 

Veteran Pittsburgh performer Chris Laitta shared her audition song with lyrics that were PCLO-specific, and newbie Sandy Rosenberg, a pro who came through Pittsburgh once before, with the tour of “Jekyll and Hyde,” got a standing O for her comedic, operatic “A Diva’s Work Is Never Done.”

L’ogan Jones, another Wolverine, clowned through “I’m Not Smart” from “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”; and Brooke Lacy, Dallas Padoven, Ben Bogen and Kevin Paul were among those who sang songs about love or losing it. 

Danny Bevins, the ensemble dance captain and a strong performer this season, and Kevin Clay performed a flirty, funny pas de deux. Bevins — you may remember him as the sadistic Pedro in “Man of La Mancha” — is the recipient of the 16th-annual Julia Deberson Award, awarded by the directors and production staff to the ensemble who exemplifies Ms. Deberson’s ideals: “professional skill, high work ethic, an optimistic attitude, the ability to work well with others and, above all, a passion for one’s work.”

To close out the PCLO production season (tours of “Kinky Boots,” featuring Billy Porter, and “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” are up next), host Rockage kept things spicy and insider-ish, so that you almost felt like it all should be off the record — except that the performance was open to the public and $5 at the door. Watch for it next year and you, too, can guess who will be the next Billy Porter or Corey Cott to emerge from the group. 

After production manager Jason Daunter sang a heartfelt song about keeping your humor when times are rough, Point Park grad Melessie Clark, making her PCLO debut, closed the show with a jazzy version of “Skylark.”

 

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The cast of the CLO Cabaret premiere of "Altar Boyz," Sept. 24-Dec. 20, will be Pittsburgh CLO alumni Mike Greer as Luke and Mason Alexander Park as Mark, as well as newcomers Michael Brown, Carter Ellis and Javier Manente. 

More on the cast, via Pittsburgh CLO:

Michael Brown (Matthew) is a recent graduate from Point Park University with a BFA in Musical Theatre and Dance minor. His favorite Pittsburgh credits include: The Wind in the Willows (Otter), The Boy Friend (Tony Brockhurst) and, most recently, A Grand Night for Singing (Comic Juvenile).

Carter Ellis (Abraham) is also a recent Musical Theater graduate from Point Park University. His recent credits include Urinetown (McQueen) and The Producers (Leo). As a native of Kansas City, he has also been seen on the KC Starlight Stage in productions such as Cinderella and Xanadu.

Michael Greer (Luke) is a Pittsburgh CLO veteran whose credits with CLO include The Full Monty (Keno), Les Miserables, 42nd Street, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Legally Blonde. Other credits include You Say Tomato, I Say Shutup! (Jeff Kahn) at the Denver Center, Shrek The Musical (Big Bad Wolf) at North Shore Music Theatre, Miss Saigon (2010 Tour), Beauty & the Beast (Gaston), Footloose (Willard) with Pittsburgh Musical Theater and Jesus Christ Superstar at Kansas City Starlight. Up next is Guys & Dolls at PPT.

Mason Alexander Park (Mark) was last seen at the Cabaret as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, and at the Benedum as the first male countertenor to regionally play Miss Andrew in Pittsburgh CLO's Mary Poppins. He was introduced to Pittsburgh CLO through the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, during which time he was featured on PBS's reality series "Broadway or Bust." He recently performed at the Kennedy Center in D.C. as the 2013 Presidential Scholar in the Arts for Musical Theatre, which featured him in the PBS documentary, "Becoming an Artist". He can also be seen on other shows such as "iCarly."

Javier Manente (Juan) is making his Pittsburgh CLO debut. US credits: In the Heights, The Boy Friend, Oklahoma!, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Honk! and the world premiere of 21 The Musical. Argentina credits: Spring Awakening, Rent, Locos Recuerdos and Grease, among others. Mr. Manente is a current senior musical theatre student at Point Park University.

Adam Cassel (Understudy) makes his Pittsburgh CLO debut and as he returns to 'Raise the Praise' with the "Boyz." After graduation from Brown University, Adam joined the National Tour of "Altar Boyz" as Abraham. He then joined the National Tour of Hairspray (IQ) and was honored to be a part of the tour's closing company.

The Story

The Altar Boyz are on a mission from above to put the "pop" back in piety, wooing legions of bingo hall and pancake breakfast fans throughout their "Raise the Praise" tour. Next stop? Pittsburgh! The musical parody about a heavenly boy-band features songs such as "Girl You Make Me Wanna Wait" and "Jesus Called Me On My Cell Phone."

Performance Schedule
Wednesdays 7:30pm
Thursdays 1:00pm* & 7:30pm * Thursday matinees–10/29, 11/19, 12/17
Fridays 7:30pm
Saturdays 2:00pm & 7:30pm
Sundays 2:00pm

Tickets: Individual tickets go on sale July 13. Tickets start at $34.75 at CLOCabaret.com or 412-456-6666.

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Staged readings for the 2015 National Playwrights Conference begin this week at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Wateford, Conn. The conference will develop eight new plays, selected from a pool of 1,300 submissions.

Jane Kaczmarek (Lois on "Malcolm in the Middle"), Tony Award- and Olivier Award-winning Michael Beresse (director/choreographer of "[title of show]") and Tony nominee Reed Birney are cast in the Wendy MacLeod new play "Slow Food." Songwriter Duncan Sheik and playwright Steven Sater ("Spring Awakening") are reunited in the development of "No One's Sonata," with a cast led by Laila Robins and Frank Wood and directed by O'Neill artistic director Wendy C. Goldberg.

"These eight new plays come to us at a period of remarkable success for the National Playwrights Conference. Seven projects developed over the last few years will premier during the 2015 and 2016 off-Broadway seasons, at Atlantic, Roundabout, MCC, Women's Project Theater, and Manhattan Theatre Club," said Ms. Goldberg in a statement.

The play "End of Shift" is a reunion for director Daniella Topol and Pittsburgh actor Nick Lehane ("This is Our Youth" on Broadway), who worked together on Quantum Theatre's "The Electric Baby."

The full slate and casting for 2015 National Playwrights Conference, July 1-25:

"Leftovers" by Josh Wilder, directed by Reginald Douglas. Synopsis: In inner city Philadelphia, an abnormally huge dandelion has grown through the sidewalk in front of the house of Jalil and Kwamaine, two brothers who are waiting for the arrival of their father. Leftovers tells the story of the brothers as they figure out their journey to discovering the reality of their dreams. A poignant, poetic, gritty play full of family, magic, and Cliff Huxtable.

Casting: Starla Benford, Eric Berryman, Christopher Livingston, Morocco Omari, Jefferson A. Russell, Vladimir Versailles.

"Good Ol' Boys" by Joe Waechter, directed by Mike Donahue. Synopsis: Three Southern businessmen rent a hunting cabin for a weekend of shooting some guns, drinking some beer, and hopefully finding the mysterious giant deer that lurks in the forest. When one of the men brings his son along, things take a turn for the worst. Secrets bubble up to the surface, and with all that testosterone, all that camouflage, and all those bags full of guns, someone's bound to get hurt.

Casting: Andrew Garman, John Kroft, Paul Niebanck, Stephen Barker Turner.

"End of Shift" by Jenny Connell Davis, directed by Daniella Topol. Synopsis: It's the end of a long day washing dishes at the Spurwink Country Kitchen, and friends-for-life Jesse, Ben, and Max are on a mission to create a fitting memorial to their fallen hometown hero. But when the prettiest girl in town shows up on their doorstep, everything the boys know about love, life and loyalty gets called into question.

Casting: Michael Angarano, Reyna De Courcy, Nick Lehane, Alec Shaw, Erin Wilhelmi.

"No One's Sonata" by Steven Sater, directed by Wendy Goldberg, music by Mahler and Beethoven, reimagined by composer Duncan Sheik; music direction by Benjamin M. Rauhala. Synopsis: Can we mediate our family pain with language? Can music help relieve us of our past? On a mound of broken glass, grown children gather -- to celebrate the 45th anniversary of their Viennese immigrant parents, and to try and bridge the distance that they feel from their father's death.

Casting: Kieran Campion, Laila Robins, Kristen Sieh, Amy Spanger, Frank Wood.

"Cardboard Piano" by Hansol Jung, directed by Liz Diamond. Synopsis: Northern Uganda on the eve of the millennium: The daughter of American missionaries and a local teenage girl steal into a darkened church to seal their love in a secret, makeshift wedding ceremony. But when the surrounding war zone encroaches on their fragile union, they cannot escape its reach. Confronting the religious and cultural roots of intolerance, Cardboard Piano explores violence and its aftermath, as well as the human capacity for hatred, forgiveness and love.

Casting: Segun Akande, Deonna Bouye, Mattie Hawkinson, Terrell Donnell Sledge.

"Halftime With Don" by Ken Weitzman, directed by Giovanna Sardelli. Synopsis: Retired NFL player Don Devers has had over forty surgeries, experiences violent outbursts, and relies on a blizzard of yellow Post-It notes lining barcalounger in order to offset his ravaged memory. When a long-time fan appears at his doorstep, Don seeks to salvage his life with a single act of heroic self-sacrifice.

Casting: Cassie Beck, Scott Drummond, Michael Gaston, Makela Spielman.

"Nomad Motel" by Carla Ching, directed by Bart DeLorenzo. Synopsis: Alix lives in a cramped motel room with her entire family. Mason lives alone in an empty house while his father runs jobs for the Hong Kong Triad. When both of their parents disappear, Mason and Alex develop an unlikely friendship, struggling to survive on their own. A play about Motel Kids and Parachute Kids living at the poverty line in a land of plenty.

Casting: Nadia Bowers, Shahine Ezell, Ruy Iskandar, Nelson Lee, Gabriella Rhodeen.

"Slow Food" by Wendy MacLeod, directed by Kent Nicholson. Synopsis: A vacationing couple celebrates their anniversary at a Greek restaurant in Palm Springs - but will the marriage survive the service? As a needy waiter insinuates his way into their meal - and their lives - the couple examine their past and their future together. A tender, uproarious comedy that delves deeply into what we hunger for.

Casting: Michael Berresse, Reed Birney, Jane Kaczmarek.

For more information, visit www.theoneill.org, call 1-860-443- 5378 ext. 213 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Point Park University's Conservatory Theatre Company has announced five productions for the 2015-16 season, which opens Oct. 16 with the musical "Into the Woods" and concludes in March 2016 with Kander and Ebb's "Chicago."

Other productions are Henrik Ibsen's family drama "The Wild Duck"; the dark comedy "Our Lady of 121st Street" by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis ("Between Riverside and Crazy"); and Lydia Diamond's adaptation of the Toni Morrison novel "The Bluest Eye."

Season subscriptions are available now; single tickets go on sale Sept. 8; 412-392-8000 or visit www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.

The 2015-16 season at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland:

Into the Woods
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Zeva Barzell, musical theater coordinator for Point Park's musical theater program
Friday, Oct. 16 – Sunday, Oct. 25; preview Oct. 15
Rockwell Theatre

The Wild Duck
By Henrik Ibsen
Directed by Shirley Tannenbaum, former head of acting at Point Park
Friday, Nov. 6 – Sunday, Nov. 22; preview Nov. 5
Studio Theatre

Our Lady of 121st Street
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Steven Wilson, Point Park grad, director, actor, educator and Pittsburgh native
Friday, Dec. 4 – Sunday, Dec. 13; preview Dec. 3
Rauh Theatre

The Bluest Eye
By Lydia Diamond, based on the novel by Toni Morrison
Directed by Monica Payne,founder of Theatre Lumina, a company devoted to cross-cultural collaboration and international exchange
Friday, Feb. 26 – Sunday, Feb. 28 & Thursday, March 10 – Sunday, March 13, 2016; preview Feb. 25
Rauh Theatre

Chicago
Music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, book by Ebb and Bob Fosse
Directed by Jack Allison has directed at most of the major regional theaters in the United States and across Canada and Europe
Friday, March 18 – Sunday, March 27, 2016; preview March 17
Rockwell Theatre

 

 

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AAiP

The cast of "An American in Paris" performs at the Tony Awards. (AP image) 

I ran into Pittsburgh CLO executive Van Kaplan at intermission of the season-opening production of "Mary Poppins," exhausted after a weekend that included the CLO's annual gala, with Billy Porter as the feature guest, and then of course the Tony Awards, which was an all-day into early-morning event on Sunday.
 
Kaplan, a co-producer of 12-time Tony nominee "An American in Paris," said he is good friends with the producers of best musical winner "Fun Home" and sat with them at the morning's dress rehearsal.
 
"And if you have to lose, it's better if it is to your friends," he said, adding he had sent along his congratulations.
 
"An American in Paris" took home four Tonys, for set design, orchestrations, choreography and light. The cast's after-Tony party at the lower level of Rockefeller Center was packed with well-wishers from Pittsburgh. "It went until they kicked us out around 2. We rocked the night away," Mr. Kaplan said.
 
When I suggested that comparing the two shows was like comparing apples and oranges, he said, "Apples and asparagus, as [his wife] Mary Jane says."
 
He added that "An American in Paris" had a great week at the box office before the Tonys and tickets continued to sell well afterward. Tweets like ""Still can't get over about how perfect @AmericaninParis’ performance on the Tony Awards!!!" lit up the Twitter-verse after Tony nominees Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Max Von Essen, Brandon Uranowitz and the company of "AAiP" performed a medley from the show at the Tony Awards.
 
Two days earlier, Tony-winner Christian Borle (below), of Fox Chapel and Carnegie Mellon, was at the podium in the media room, moments after his win for "Something Rotten!," his second Tony in hand, when "AAiP's" performance was live on a screen beside him. I asked him if it seemed that Pittsbugh's theatrical exports were  being celebrated even more than usual at the Tonys this year, including the new CMU/Tony award for Excellence in Theatre Education.
 
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He said, "There's something in the water in Pittsburgh" that produces so much talent, and he pointed to the screen as an example of Pittsburgh's presence at the Tony Awards. "You know, I couldn't get arrested by Pittsburgh CLO when I was there, so I have mixed feelings about this," he said, then he added, "But I'd like to go back now." As he left, he looked back at the monitor and realized the number had ended. 
 
"I missed 'An American in Paris'," he said with regret.
 
Borle goes back to eight shows a week on Broadway, while Kaplan is now immersed in the just-begun Pittsburgh CLO season. Asked when he could relax, Kaplan thought for a second and said, "August."
 
The CLO season ends Aug.16, with touring shows "Kinky Boots," starring Tony-winner Billy Porter, and "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella."
 
*   *   *
The company of "An American in Paris" has been named winner of the ninth annual award for Outstanding Broadway Chorus, presented by Equity's Advisory Committee on Chorus Affairs (ACCA), according to Playbill.com.
 
The award is "the only industry accolade of its kind to honor the distinctive talents and contributions made by the original chorus members of a Broadway musical," the ACCA's press release said.

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The Drama Desk Awards ceremony Sunday was a great evening's entertainment on Sunday night (I DVRed "Game of Thrones," of course), with the off-Broadway musical "Hamilton" and the Broadway play "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" walking away as the big winners.

Watching the live stream, courtesy of Theatermania.com (you can replay it here), 

Bob Crowley was a winner for the gorgeous and innovative set design of "An American in Paris" and Christopher Wheeldon won for choreography after "Hamilton's" Andy Blankenbuehler received a special award for his work. Robert Fairchild also broke "Hamilton's" streak by taking best actor in a musical.

Fairchild, a ballet dancer making a stunning Broadway debut, an artist and war veteran caught up in the romance of post-WWII Paris, a role originated in the movie version by Hollywood legend and Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly. For his acceptance Sunday, Fairchild began, "Gene Kelly, you are an incredible inspiration and the reason I am a dancer."

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When winning "Hamilton" director Thomas Kail came to the podium, he thanked his grandfathers -- including his maternal grandfather in Pittsburgh, who sold scrap metal -- for helping him get there.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," with six Drama Desk Awards including best play, led a British invasion that included Dame Helen Mirren's best actress win for "The Audience." Other lead acting awards went to Alex Sharp for "Curious Incident" and Kristin Chenoweth for "On the Twentieth Century." Top revivals were "The King and I" and "The Elephant Man." Christian Borle won for his supporting role in the musical "Something's Rotten!"

Another winner is one to watch for: Benjamin Scheuer's "The Lion" won best solo performance; it's already on City Theatre's schedule for the 2015-16 season.

For predictors of the Tony Awards, it wasn't a big help in the musical categories. "Hamilton" is not eligible for the Tonys this year; the show begins in previews at the Richard Rodgers Theater on July 13. And "Fun Home," tied with "An American in Paris" with 12 Tony nominations, was a big winner against other competition when it was still off-Broadway last season. 

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Watch for the PG's predictions, courtesy of Chris Rawson and yours truly, in Wednesday's Magazine section.

Photos by Getty Images
Top: Robert Fairchild with his "An American in Paris" co-star, Leanne Cope.

Below: "Hamilton" director Thomas Kail (far right), with composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and music director Alex Lacamoire.

 

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