OnStage

DonnaLynne

Donna Lynne Champlin and Rachel Bloom in a scene from The CW's "Crazy Ex Girlfriend."

CMU/CLO alum Donna Lynne Champlin, currently co-starring in The CW's "Crazy Ex Girlfriend," has been added to the cast of the all-female production of "The Taming of the Shrew" for The Public Theater's free Shakespeare in the Park line-up in Central Park, Playbill.com reported. Champlin will play Hortensio in the play, which will run May 24-June 26 in New York. Janet McTeer and Cush Jumbo were previously announced as Petruchio and Katherina.

The rest of the cast, according to Playbill: Candy Buckley (Vincentio), Champlin (Hortensio), Rosa Gilmore (Lucentio), Judy Gold (Gremio), LaTanya Richardson Jackson (Baptista), Teresa Avia Lim (Biondello), Adrienne C. Moore (Tranio), Anne L. Nathan (Pedant), Gayle Rankin (Bianca), Pearl Rhein (Ensemble), Leenya Rideout (Ensemble), Jackie Sanders (Ensemble) and Stacey Sargeant (Grumio).

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AWmonologuewins

Naomi Allen of Obama Academy (center), winner of Pittsburgh's eighth August Wilson Monologue Competition, is flanked by first and second runners-up DaMya Gurley (left) and Lawrence Davis, both of CAPA. Photo credit: Asia Jackson

May 2 has been set as the date of the eighth annual national August Wilson Monologue Competition at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre, presented by Kenny Leon and Jordan Roth. Leon, you may recall, accompanied Denzel Washington to the competition in Pittsburgh, where Naomi Allen of Obama Academy won the night with a a speech by Rose from "Fences." First and second runners-up were DaMya Gurley and Lawrence Davis, both of CAPA, doing Tonya from "King Hedley II" and Becker from "Jitney."

All three won cash prizes and scholarships to Point Park University, and Allen will represent Pittsburgh in the national finals in New York.

Broadway.com noted that the event, which is free and open to the public, "features high school students from around the country performing monologues by the late, legendary American playwright." Or, to be more specific, Pittsburgh playwright. A panel of celebrity judges will evaluate the competitors and select the winner of a $1,500 cash prize.

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KellyStrayhornThe Kelly Strayhorn Theater shared the news tonight that it has been asked to join the the National Performance Network/Visual Arts Network as one of 77 partners representing 47 cities in 31 states.

In a press release, Kelly Strayhorn exec director Janera Solomon said, “We are honored to be invited to join NPN/VAN, an organization that supports more than 500 artists every year and represents every region in the country and to be recognized for the work we do. It’s a great feeling.”

KST, located in East Liberty, was chosen from 100 nominated organizations as one of 10 new organizations and as one of only five performing arts theaters invited to be recognized as a new member on July 1, 2016, the press release said.  

The New Orleans-based NPN/VAN is a relationship-based national network of presenters and exhibitors that serve and connect diverse cultural organizations, performers and visual artists and communities. Annually, NPN/VAN provides more than 1.5 million dollars of support to artists through its network of partners. The organization generates paid opportunities for artists to create, exhibit and tour work to diverse communities worldwide. Partners support community engagement, touring, creating and sharing ideas and knowledge. 

“The board and staff conducted thoughtful and sensitive work to come to this decision,”  Michèle Steinwald, Partnership Committee Chair and NPN Board member, said in a statement. "The slate of new partners is a dynamic group of organizations, representing varying perspectives and practices across the country.”

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The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the PNC Foundation announced the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh 2016-17 season to much fanfare tonight at the Byham Theater. Ken Rice of KDKA hosted the event, which kicked off with a video of the energizing number "It's a Musical" from the musical comedy "Something Rotten!" -- a show whose font and logo were more than hinted at in pre-announcement advertising.

Besides the holiday offering -- "A Christmas Story: The Musical," which excited the packed Byham -- all of the announced shows are currently on Broadway. Joining "Something Rotten!" are the most recent Tony Award-winning best musical, play and revival of a musical -- "Fun Home," "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" and "The King and I," as well as "Finding Neverland."

FunHomeTonys

("Fun Home" producers Barbara Whitman, Mike Isaacson and Kristin Caskey were facing the media at the Tony Awards when they were joined by writer Alison Bechdel, right.)

I am most excited for Pittsburgers to see "Fun Home," a lesbian coming-of-age story about family and survival with award-winning songs by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori, and "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" a rare nonmusical on the schedule. "Curious" author Mark Haddon, whose book inspired the play, was seen on video saying he didn't think his book -- a first-person narrative that takes readers inside the mind of an autistic teenager -- could be translated for the stage or screen. Playwright Simon Stephens, though, persuaded him otherwise, and their collaboration, along with Tony-winning director Marianne Elliott ("War Horse") and scenic designer Bunny Christie, has produced a technological marvel that is also a moving piece about a boy's bravery and family ties.

I spoke briefly about "The Curious Incident ..." with associate director Hannah Ryan, who attended the showcase tonight.

It is such a technologically complex show. How difficult will it be to have it travel?

It is a fairly similar design to Broadway and London. They have already toured it in the UK, so [the U.S. tour] was able to take modifications that they made and do a design here pretty much the same, which is really helpful for us, because it's already been tried. Some changes had to be made -- for example, the escalator, which is a very complicated technological movement, that entire scene's been cut, which is really only about a 20-second moment in the show. So he just skips the escalator. But for the most part they were able to maintain the technical integrity of the show.
 
The Broadway run has announced it's ending in September. Does that have anything to do with the tour?
 
No, the tour was already going to go on. The amazing thing is at that point, we will have already run for two years and 800 performances and 20-some previews, making it the longest running straight play in a decade -- quite a feat on Broadway.
 
The show, like the book, has a lot of appeal for a wide age range -- well, there are some very dramatic or disturbing moments ...
 
We say 10 and up is a recommended age, but it's at the parents' discretion. It definitely resonates with a variety of audience members. We've had accounts of families coming with three generations and each of those generations had an amazing and unique experience.
 
Because of the nature of the story, about entering the mind of an autistic teenager, is there a way to do this show, with all its bright lights and such, as a sensory friendly performance.
 
There is -- we've done it on Broadway already. It's what we call a 'soft' performance, where we lower the volume of some sound cues; the more high-intensity moments, we pull down a few notches; we also provided a safe, quiet space in our lower lobby in case someone was having a reaction, they could go there with their family or caregiver. That was incredibly successful and they family reactions were unbelievable, so we are definitely hoping to do another one of those, but nothing is on the books yet.
 
What do you most want to say to audiences about coming to see this show?
 
It's really an extraordinary show. It is unlike anything anyone has ever seen onstage before.

 

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Amanda Foote

I'm still catching up on theater in Pittsburgh after spending a week in London, where I saw five plays the week of March 6, three with the PG ShowPlane -- but that's another story. Back home, theater was busting out all over that second week of March.

I still haven't seen Pittsburgh Public Theater's "Disgraced," though I will. Here's what I have seen since I've been back:

Tonight I have a date with Pittsburgh Musical Theater's "Sister Act," which has its last performance tomorrow. It's quite a cast, with Amanda Foote (above) leading the way as as disco diva Deloris Van Cartier, aided and abetted by Tim Hartman, Chris Laitta, Allison Cahill, Justin Lonesome and Missy Moreno. (Info and tickets: $12.75-$49.75; pittsburghmusicals.com, trustarts.org or 412-456-6666.)

Also this weekend, if you haven't already found your way to Point Park Conservatory Theatre's "The Drowsy Chaperone" at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, well, what are you waiting for? Mason Alexander Park (Pittsburgh CLO's "Mary Poppins" and CLO Cabaret's "Altar Boyz") is building a resume of memorable performances in Pittsburgh after finding his way here from Virginia through the National High School Musical Theater Awards, when he was featured in the PBS special "Broadway or Bust." 

As Man in Chair, Park's character is more thoroughly integrated into the musical than in any production I've seen. His nervous energy is palpable, so it makes sense that he can't keep to his chair, and he has a great singing-dancing cast to play with, many of them seniors in their final performances for Point Park. 

"The Drowsy Chaperone," directed by Jack Allison with associate director and choreographer Eileen Grace, runs through March 27 in the Rockwell Theatre at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. Tickets: $24, $10 for students and seniors, at 412-392-8000 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.

So, let's see, I've seen "Sex With Strangers" at City, the Broadway Series' "Sound of Music," Pittsburgh Playwrights' "Miss Julie, Clarissa and John" ... and April is shaping up to be at least as busy.

March also is the Month of Program Announcements, with notices of upcoming seasons arriving at light speed. "An American in Paris" has already been announced for the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh 2016-17 season, and there's a hint of another show in the advertising for the live announcement of the rest of the season, an annual event for subscribers scheduled for Monday evening at the Byham Theater. Stay tuned.

 

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JackOJack O’Brien’s next Broadway venture as a director is the London transfer of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” aiming for New York in spring 2017. Like “The Sound of Music,” he is putting his own stamp on it..

When he saw the musical that was directed by Sam Mendes to raves in the West End, Mr. O’Brien thought it was too much the dark leanings of author Roald Dahl and not enough of the 1971 Gene Wilder movie that most Americans conjure with when they think of Willy Wonka and Oompa Loompas.

The book writer, David Greig, who City Theatre-goers know from productions of his “Midsummer” and “Monster in the Hall,” has been game for a rewrite, Mr. O’Brien said.

“I went over saw a show that was very much crafted for the Brits -- they grew up with the book, we grew up with the movie. They are very different experiences. And because it was conceived for the Drury Lane over there, they couldn’t remotely reproduce it in any theater in America -- the Drury Lane is like the Metropolitan Opera. So they had to start over, and start over with American designers,,” Mr. O’Brien said.

“So I talked to all the Brits, including Dave, who is the dearest guy in the world and so talented. I explained I didn’t want to do that version, I wanted to tip my hat much more to the spirit of Gene Wilder than the gloom and doom of Roald Dahl. And everyone said, ‘Oh yes! We’d love to do that!’ They were dying to throw it all out and start all over again, and amongst them the most eager was David. And I’m just mad for him, he’s very clever and a wonderful collaborator.”

Because all roads lead back to Pittsburgh, or so it seems in the theatrical world, O'Brien has local ties.

Before we say goodbye in a phone conversation last week, I ask the Michigan native if he has ever been here. 

“I adore Pittsburgh," he said. "My mother was born in Pittsburgh.”

 

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Point Park finds the beauty in 'The Bluest Eye'

Thursday, 03 March 2016 09:12 PM Written by

PecolaPP

Torre Alexandre as Pecola Breedlove, above, and Perris Drew and Amber Jones as Cholly and Pauline Breedlove, below right, in Point Park Conservatory Theatre's "The Bluest Eye."

I have been neglectful of a production seen last week that warrants attention, but there's still time to catch Point Park Conservatory's "The Bluest Eye," a worthy stage adaptation of Toni Morrison's first novel.

BreedlovesPPUgly is in the eye of the beholder in "The Bluest Eye." It is a perspective worn like a cloak by Pecola Breedlove, an abused African-American schoolgirl whose fondest desire is to have blue eyes Shirley Temple and her other screen idols.

Her fantasy world defies insight into her circumstances or herself - she believes blue eyes will allow others to see her as beautiful, and therefore worthy of being loved.

Ms. Morrison's lyrical prose have survived the translation to the stage by Lydia Diamond. In Point Park's version, your heart will break for Pecola (Torre Alexandre), but if you're like me, you'll fall head over heels for the MacTeer sisters who befriend her. 

Smart and curious – or is that redundant? – with a generous dose of sarcasm, Claudia (Kendall Claxton) and Frieda (Saige Smith) help narrate Pecola's sad life while making their own way in a strict but loving home. Claudia, in particular, has a fiesty side and has to deliver tongue-twisting monologues, while Pecola tries to identify with the "Dick and Jane" of her books. 

It's Pecola's mother who labels her as ugly from birth, and she has her own problems, including a severe limp and seemingly unhealthy love for her abusive, drunkard husband, who has his own troubled past to contend with. As the Breedloves, Amber Jones and Perris Drew stand out in a uniformly strong cast, directed by Monica Payne.

The setting in the town of Lorain, Ohio, circa 1941, is suggested with an evocative set and lighting by Stephanie Mayer Staley and Cat Wilson, respectively. Music punctuates the 90-minute play with no intermission, and there are humorous touches, such as women gossiping while rhythmically folding laundry.

"The Bluest Eye" is the unusal stage adaptation that's true to the book and yet it's own strange, surreal exploration of our ugliest and most beautiful impulses.

"The Bluest Eye" continues March 10-13 at the Rauh Theater, Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave. Oakland. For tickets and more information: pittsburghplayhouse.com or 412=392-8000.

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VividSeatSurveyThe ticket website Vivid Seats has placed Pittsburgh No. 5 on its list of "20 Best Cities for Broadway Lovers," based on 239 upcoming "musicals and Broadway events" posted on the site since the beginning of 2016.

The polling data includes "number and variety of opportunities to enjoy theater performances" and affordability. Pittsburgh placed behind New York at No. 1; Las Vegas; Lincolnshire, Ill. (home of the Marriott Theatre); and L.A.

The median ticket price for the Pittsburgh events was $145, which seems steep to me, aside, perhaps, for the national touring companies brought here by PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh CLO. I wonder of "Guys & Dolls" at the Public or CLO's summer shows were counted. 

It's also strange that Lincolnshire, Ill., could top all theater in Chicago, and it would be interesting to see what counts as "Broadway" in Las Vegas.

 

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