A few personal theater notes

Friday, 12 October 2012 08:41 AM Written by

Playing catch up: It was a wise decision of the PG not to review “Rope,” the wheezy Patrick Hamilton murder yarn at Playhouse Rep (Sept. 27-Oct. 14). So why bring it up now? Mainly to wonder how such a production came to pass. The play might have period interest, which a period production with good actors might bring out. But to hire a guest director who chose to stage it hung up awkwardly between the present and past and between straightforward and camp just opened up it and his poor cast (recent Point Park grads) to bewilderment or ridicule. What a fall from the heights of Playhouse Rep’s previous play!

Moment in the spotlight: Scratch most theater critics and you probably find more than a bit of ham. So I was tickled last Thursday when Ken Rice asked me to do a small onstage bit before Off the Record XII (which I produced, safely offstage). At the start of the show, I came on awkwardly to announce that Ken Rice wouldn’t appear as emcee, as expected, because negotiations had broken down over the unreasonable perks he demanded. But after all, I argued, he’d been getting big-headed in the role, and wasn’t it time for a change? So we’d replaced him with David Johnson. Enter David Johnson, who cast a few funny aspersions at Ken before Ken himself came running out to take over. Several people say they actually believed me for a moment or two.

Confession: A week ago in my Thursday morning theater stint on Pittsburgh Today Live (KDKA-TV) I claimed to have appeared in “Born Yesterday” some 50 years ago in summer stock in Bar Harbor, Maine, playing the assistant hotel manager. Now that I’ve actually seen the Public Theater production, I discover there is no assistant hotel manager. So what was I misremembering? That same summer I played the second immigration officer in “A View from the Bridge” – was that it? So what did I play in “Born Yesterday,” if anything at all? I’m now searching for an old scrapbook that might answer this burning question.

Related query: The talented young teenager from Pittsburgh who did the Bar Harbor theater’s posters that summer was Billy Kolokosky (and I can’t check that spelling until I find that scrapbook). He’d be in his 60s now. Are you out there some where, Billy?

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Can't say enough about the Playhouse Rep's production of "August: Osage County," with a great cast led by Mary Rawson (below, arm-raised) as pill-popping matriarch Violet and Kathleen Turco-Lyon as put-upon oldest daughter Barbara. I finally got myself there last night, and now there are just four performances left, tonight through Sunday.


Director John Shepard keeps the chaos of the combative Weston clan at a fever pitch, and the staging is exceptional. Faced with an almost impossible space for the usual house-of-cards staging, set designer Stephanie Mayer-Staley has spread the Rauh Theatre stage in all directions to create the grand illusion of a sprawling interior, where the actors go at it with heightened emotions. 

It's a great chance to witness Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning comi-tragedy before it is flashed on the big screen, with director John Wells (CMU grad and namesake of the John Wells Directing Program there) attracting the likes of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in the meaty Violet and Barbara roles. And I never would have guessed Benedict Cumberbatch (Olivier winner, Emmy nominee and the villain in the next "Star Trek" film) as Little Charles, but I'm willing to give anything he does a chance.

On the "See It Live" menu tonight: Bricolage's "Midnight Radio 4: Secret Agents & Spies." For openers, it's take on Graham Greene's "The Third Man." The cast features Elena Alexandratos, Jeffrey Howell, Jason McCune, Bria Walker and Tami Dixon, with Jeffrey Carpenter directing; musical director is Deana Muro.


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With all of the Snow White retellings out and about these days, one that should not get lost in the shuffle is Stage Right's new family musical tonight through Sunday at the Palace Theatre. 
Artistic director Tony Marino and composer David Mahokey say in the video below that they were amazed that there had never been a full-length Snow White stage musical, and the result was the show this weekend, with lyrics by Greg Kerestan. The same team brought a new "Little Mermaid" to Greensburg in January
Stage Right's brand-new version of the classic fairy-tale stars Elly Noble as Snow White, Renata Marino as the queen, John Noble as the king and Vinnie Tresco as the prince. More at www.stagerightgreensburg.com 724-832-7464

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Yes, that's Kiesha Lalama's real voice you've been hearing on the PBS documentary "Broadway or Bust." The Point Park University instructor, CLO Academy administrator and choreographer orders, prods and pleads with 60 contestants of the National High School Music Theater Awards with a throaty rasp that you hope can't be as painful as it sounds. One viewer of the three-part documentary, which has its finale on Sunday (9 p.m. on WQED), sent Lalama an email saying she wasn't trying to be too forward, but perhaps Lalama should see a doctor about that.
Don't worry. She has.
"So many people said something that I went to a doctor at UPMC and they told me I was the enigma. They couldn't find anything wrong," said Lalama (right, image by Rahoul Ghose/PBS), who adds she has never smoked. "My grandmother and my aunt sound like this, and the doctors believe it is learned behavior, that I'm emulating what I heard growing up. And now I hear it in my son."
The sound of her voice rings in the ears of those 60 kids for three days as she prepares them to put on a high-caliber show and impress the judges and audience in the grand finale performance on Broadway. With kids from both coasts and a bunch of states in-between, including four Western Pennsylvanians who were crowned Kelly and Mancini Award winners, the talent level is difficult to assess in a matter of hours. Some have been crowned winners of their regional competitions on the strength of their voices and acting but may never have danced before; all must participate in the show's big numbers.
Lalama, Pittsburgh CLO chief Van Kaplan and music director Michael Moricz bring their expertise from the Gene Kelly Awards to national competition and the Jimmys, named for Broadway impresario James Nederlander, with each playing a key role in producing a professional Tonys-style show that crowns a male and female winner. It's a tough road for some of the kids, and there are some tears along the way.

"I feel like in so many ways, I'm right in there with them," Lalama said of the emotional roller coaster that she goes through with the kids. She acts as mother, psychologist, teacher and, when necessary, task master to get the most out of the participants so they can be seen in the best light possible.

"I'm glad you saw those other things, because I was afraid that people who were watching would just see 'drill sergeant.' I know it's been called boot camp, but it's amazing if you can push yourself and your exposed to a higher level of understanding and expectation, where you can really take yourself. ... This is all about rising to the occasion for yourself. At some point you forget it's a competition and start thinking, "I did it!" And you may not even know what 'it' is. But you feel the sense of accomplishment. That's why I think the program is just so special."

The process has Moricz, who composed the Kelly Awards group show-stopper, "Eyes on the Goal," puts together a medley using the songs that got the contestants to New York, then Lalama stages the medley into a musical number fit for a Broadway crowd.

"You can't prepare until you get there, but there is a formula and structure and I've worked with Michael Moricz for so many years," she said. "The fun part for me is trying to figure out why Michael wrote certain medley characters and used very strategic lyrics to connect them. There are certain things we know that work, so I'm a little bit secure. But the greatest thing in the world, when it doesn't work, Van always fixes it. So I do have that safety net."

She doesn't have time to worry about the individual level of dancing talent. "They don't have a choice; they have to succeed," she said. She also knows from experience that some of these performers will find themselves doing a dance step they never thought they can do.

The kids should be aware that Lalama is always pushing herself. Asked to describe her career and the many hats she wears, she said she's an artist, an educator, and an advocate for life. "I believe in the arts, I believe in education, and I believe in living. ... It sounds a little spiritual and hoky, I know. People ask me all the time, how do you do it? If I didn't do all this, I wouldn't be able to expect as much from others because I have a certain standard for myself."

Among her gigs outside of Point Park and CLO Academy, she was the choreographer on the set of "Perks of a Wallflower," working with stars Ezra Miller and Emma Watson (above, image by John Bramley) on a particular dance that she has not yet seen onscreen.

"I'm going to the premiere in Pittsburgh next week," she said. "I don't know yet how much they cut."

She hasn't stood still since then, that's for sure. The moment she got back from the Jimmys, she was setting a new work on Point Park students for the concert dance. After a brief rest, it was on to North Shore Music Theatre in Massachusetts for "All Shook Up," which played Aug. 14-26.

"I'm exhausted. But this one program," she said of the Jimmys, "it serves as a reminder that I love what I do. As much as it's inspirational and life changing of them, for me, every year these kids steal my heart. I walk away with the fact, if I'm capable to touch the lives of some of these students, I don't think anyone realizes how much they have touched mine. They have the same impact on me that I can only wish I can provide for them."

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Stage to TV: 'Broadway or Bust' opens on WQED tonight

Sunday, 09 September 2012 03:23 PM Written by
Remember to tune into WQED at 8 p.m. tonight (the Steelers don't start until 8:20, by the way) to see the first of three installments of "Broadway or Bust," a series following winners of 30 regional competitions like the Gene Kelly Awards on the path to the The National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York.
Pittsburgh CLO, a co-presenter of the Kellys, is a key player in the national competition as well. The TV doc will feature 2012 Gene Kelly Award winners Brooke Tate, Nathan Poole and CLO Academy alumna Erica Durham, a Mancini Award winner with Ryan Vander Wagen, as well as executive producer Van Kaplan and CLO Academy director Kiesha Lalama.
The show follows the process as 60 high school students leave their musical-theater stages at home to compete before a panel of judges at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.

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A visit with the Jersey girls of 'Jersey Boys'

Sunday, 09 September 2012 08:16 AM Written by

When you're watching "Jersey Boys," take your eyes off the guys who play the Four Seasons for some of the time and watch the Jersey Girls:- Natalie Gallo, Kaleigh Cronin and Rachel Schur.

The talented young women who play 50 roles among them --  moving in and out of the lives of the Four Seasons as friends, lovers, fellow singers and family -- took a few folks on a tour of their lives backstage on Friday. Each of those characters wears a different outfit and many require wigs, so any visit to the Jersey girls starts with the outfits.

The girls stood within a circular wardrobe case with a few of the outfits pulled off the racks, plus shoes (how do they move in those heels?) and accessories bagged and marked for each number. Natalie, a New Castle native joyfully staying with her family while the show is in town, showed us how she gets in and out of a short, beaded lilac dress for her quickest change that she estimates at 18 seconds. What from afar might look like a purple robe that she wears as Frankie Valli's first wife, Mary, is a lovely print with aqua embroidery at the sleeves and collar. The detail on this and other outfits, including beaded, sequined white mini dresses that sparkle for all the girls, is amazing.

In the wig room, the girls are asked about wearing the looks of the 1960s. "My mother says I look just like my grandmother," said Kaleigh, a Carnegie Mellon graduate from Providence, R.I. With all the potential for things going wrong with wigs, clothing and accessories coming off and on at lightning speed, the Jersey girls said there have been no wardrobe malfunctions to speak of. Natalie and Kaleigh have been on  the road for about a year while Rachel -- a Floridian who attended a pre-college program at CMU -- joined the tour more recently. There have been no pranks backstage, the girls say, then Kaleigh is reminded of a hotel room that was covered in toilet paper. "The boys," she said.

Natalie lamented that most of the people she knew at Point Park are probably gone, but she asks about Sheila McKenna, and was thrilled when I told her she's not only in charge but directing and performing (I hope you saw her in multiple roles in City Theatre's "Monster in the Hall"). She hadn't seen the expansion of the school on the Boulevard of the Allies just yet, what with eight shows a week and fitting in all the family time. 

Leaving the backstage area and emerging from a Benedum elevator, Natalie was greeted by an arrangement of roses that reached toward the ceiling like a beanstalk. It was from a childhood friend and it practically brought her to tears. One of the joys of the road is coming home.


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QuantumPosterNo, we did not leave Quantum Theatre's "Ainadamar" out of the Fall Arts Guide theater listings because it's considered to be a chamber opera -- it was a regrettable omission. And the misspelling in the Off the Record title, which is "Off the Record XII: Reassess This!" -- unforgivable! And The Theatre Factory is opening with "Little Shop of Horrors."

Those and other tweaks and corrections have been made in the PG's online stage guide.

Please keep the additions, subtractions, tweaks and corrections coming to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and we will continue to update as shows are added or changed.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Dig out those leg warmers and headbands — "Flashdance" is coming to Broadway. Producers said today  that the stage adaptation of the 1983 hit movie about a working-class Pittsburgh girl with dreams of becoming a professional ballet dancer hopes to boogie into New York in August 2013.

Sergio Trujillo, the choreographer of "Jersey Boys," "The Addams Family" and "Memphis," will direct and choreograph "Flashdance — The Musical."

It features a book by Robert Cary and original screenplay co-writer Tom Hedley, music by Robbie Roth and lyrics by Cary and Roth. The film starred Jennifer Beals.

Producers say it has been "substantially rewritten and completely restaged" following its short-lived debut in London in 2010. A separate company will begin a national tour Jan. 1, 2013, in Pittsburgh.


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