OnStage

Cast announced for CLO's 'Love Changes Everything'

Wednesday, 15 June 2011 05:27 PM Written by

Pittsburgh CLO has announced the cast of "Love Changes Everything," a staged concert revue of Andrew Lloyd Webber music July 8-14 at the Benedum Center. The orchestra will be onstage for the production numbers featuring songs from "The Phantom of the Opera," "Cats," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "Evita," "Variations and more.

The cast includes:

Tony-nominated Liz Callaway, a Broadway veteran making her Pittsburgh CLO debut.

Franc D'Ambrosio, who played the Phantom on Broadway and starred in Pittsburgh CLO's production of "Barry Manilow's Copacabana in 2000."

Kevin Kern makes his Benedum Center debut after Broadway roles including "Wicked' and "The Wedding Singer" and "Les Miserables."

Laurie Gayle Stephenson, another newcomer and "Phantom" veteran, toured the U.S. singing opposite Michael Crawford in the original "Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber in Concert" and has sung with symphonies across the country.

Director/choreographer Louanne Madormahas's choregraphy credits include many of Sir Andrew's works.

More info at pittsburghclo.org.

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'X-Men: First Class': My bad (spoiler alert)

Saturday, 04 June 2011 11:13 PM Written by

So, you know, when you read a character list and you write a preview based off of the list and then a movie throws a surprise at you, well, best I can say is a mea culpa. Make that a mini mea culpa.

EmmaFrost1EmmaFrost2With no preview of "X-Men: First Class" in Pittsburgh, I tried to present a primer of new characters and a short summary based on production notes, interviews, etc. I saw the movie tonight, only to find that it includes two uncredited cameos by two prominent characters, played by the original actors, from previous X-Men films. One of those cameos made a liar out of me, although it was just a two-second cameo, so ... well, I expect to hear from some people. Still, very smart cameos, guys.

Matthew Vaughn's X-Men prequel includes standout performances from James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor X and Magneto. It's not giving a lot away to say that this movie shows us how Charles Xavier became paralyzed, which wrecks the timeline from another prequel, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." That film showed Patrick Stewart, bald and walking, helping rescue mutant children, including a young Emma Frost (above, right) who shined more than January Jones' Emma Frost but didn't have the "Mad Men" actress' diamond sparkle (above, left).

Still, this movie stands on its own in the Marvel movie canon. It's not as much fun as "Thor," but it's a superhero film that makes you think. I liked that it wasn't in 3D and was shot like a 1960s-era James Bond film, with a heightened realism and special effects that didn't broadcast themselves.

Oh, and if, like me, you're excited to see the scene after the credits, as there have been in previous X-Men movies, let me say, I waited, but nothing. That's what I get for anticipation without foreknowledge.

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City Theatre has named Matthew Morrow as associate artistic director. Morrow is at City now as part of the Momentum new-play festival, directing Tami Dixon's reading of "South Side Stories." He'll move here from New York Aug. 15, he said.

City artistic director Tracy Brigden announced Morrow's new position in introducing him before yesterday's performance. He has been a frequent visitor to Pittsburgh's Bricolage theater, including a workshop of "SCarrie!! The Musical" in 2006 and "Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom" with Dixon in 2009..

Dixon has been developing characters for "South Side Stories" for two years and Momentum was the the first chance to give them voice in front of an audience. More on "POP!" and "South Side Stories"

 

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A night to remember at the Kelly Awardds

Saturday, 28 May 2011 11:33 PM Written by

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Bill Wade/Post-Gazette
Luke Halferty of Central Catholic, crowned best actor at the Kelly Awards.

Congratulations to Pittsburgh Schenley, Hampton and Woodland Hills, winners of the best musical Kelly Awards three budget categories at tonight's ceremony at the Benedum Center. I just got home from the show and I have to say, do yourself a favor next spring and get yourself to a high school musical. If you could see the talent and the energy and the joy onstage at the Benedum Center tonight for the annual Kelly Awards celebration of high school musicals, you'd understand.

I was a Kelly judge for the first time this year, and the process was eye-opening, intense and rewarding. It culminates in the showcase tonight that's a tribute to all the people involved, from the 3,000 students in 29 Allegheny County schools, the faculty members and parents and community volunteers, to the folks at Pittsburgh CLO, the judges and the accountants at Deloitte Touche who donate their time and know-how to make the Kellys a mini-Tonys here in Pittsburgh.

My favorite parts of the Kellys is the production numbers that are just for the Kellys. There's a production number at the top of the night featured the nominees from all the individual acting categories singing a mash-up of "Once in a Lifetime" and "Rain On My Parade." Later in the show, the best actor and actress nominees perform numbers from their individual shows, but re-created as a team effort. Then there's the stirring "Eyes on the Goal" finale, a big production number that includes two performers from each of the 29 eligible schools, including one of Schenley's Things from Seussical -- the bouncy balls of energy known as .

For more on the big night, images and a list of winners, visit Post-Gazette.com/theater.

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Friday, May 20 –

Today I enjoyed a favorite NYC treat, picking up my granddaughters after school, which meant going with them to their tap dance lesson. (They come by this legitimately: their grandmother on the other side is a famous tap dancer.) Then we walked home through their neighborhood, which just happens to be Greenwich Village. It constantly bemuses me to contemplate their growing up in such a rich and varied urban environment. I’m almost jealous.

To start the day, Mary and I had visited Kathleen Marshall and Scott Landis to meet their twins, just on the verge of their first birthday. A leading Broadway director and choreographer, Kathleen grew up in Pittsburgh along with her siblings, Maura and Rob. You may have heard of his “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and Kathleen’s current Broadway show is “Anything Goes,” but none of the family accomplishments beats little Nathaniel and Ella.

The day’s group show was “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” a last minute substitute for our original choice, “Wonderland,” which closed precipitously Sunday.

To explain: we pick PG ShowPlane shows five or six months in advance, in order to get a block of good seats, and we almost invariably go for what’s new. This requires a certain prophetic skill and luck. It wasn’t hard to opt for “War Horse,” which had been a hit for a couple of years in London with testimony by trustworthy critics you couldn’t ignore. “Spider-Man” seemed like a no brainer, too – in fact, we had originally booked an early preview of it for our fall trip, but that opening was delayed, only the first step in its saga of tribulation. Then, of the unusually long menu of other scheduled openings, “Catch Me If You Can” and “Wonderland” seemed like plausible choices – who knew back then that “The Book of Mormon” was going to be such a big hit?

So when “Wonderland” suddenly closed, we went to our ticket broker and felt fortunate to come up with “Priscilla.” I remembered the movie, with its mix of drag queen comedy and heart. But as it started, I was dismayed: just about every scene is the excuse for an over-the-top production number. However, the audience was with it from the start, cheering every familiar ‘70s song as soon as they saw how it was going to fit into its new context, and gradually I was more or less won over.

“Priscilla” is pretty much “Mamma Mia” all over again, with three leads in an exotic locale traveling back to pick up the emotional threads of their lives, accompanied by the disco music of their youth. The main difference is that in this case the three leads in what looks like drag are actually men.

Afterward, the group went to Sardi’s for drinks and discussion. We had the treat of a visitor, Jamie DeRoy, Pittsburgh raised (Squirrel Hill, Allderdice), who’s best known for her work with cabaret but who's now also a Broadway producer. She talked about the ups and downs of that challenging occupation and shared some off the record opinions on the current Broadway scene – plus entirely positive remarks on her two current shows, “Catch Me If You Can” and “Motherf**ker.”

How small is this world? As our group broke up, Jamie ran into a lawyer friend who works alongside another Pittsburgh native, our very good friend, Sarah Kerr. Add in the fact that Jamie grew up in the same house that later became the first house I owned in Pittsburgh, and you see that the whole world’s a stage and Pittsburgh’s at the heart of it.

Tomorrow: Mark Rylance in “Jerusalem” and Sutton Foster in “Anything Goes.”

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Thursday, May 19 –

Romare Bearden! The exhibit at the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery (24 W.57), showing 22 of his insightful collages, runs only through this Saturday, so you’re probably out of luck, but you can see all 22 images on the website. For me, seeing it in the flesh was pure serendipity, or rather, Mary’s good planning (I plan the plays, she plans everything else).

Of course Bearden is especially interesting to me because he was an inspiration to August Wilson, who said that “Joe Turner” and “Piano Lesson” began as responses to specific Bearden works. What I would give to own one! – but not as much as it would take. Even if you took off the final zero from the prices, they’d be far beyond our range unless we mortgaged our house. But we can look. And there are books. And in Pittsburgh, there’s the huge mural at the downtown subway stop, once it reopens.

Then off to the Met for “A Room with a View,” the exhibit of early 19th century paintings that feature a window, creating drama with the contrast between what you see outside and in. It is striking but not surprising how many of the artists were also designers for the stage.

And then, finally, “Spider-Man Turn off the Dark.” You know what? It’s not bad! All the prognostications of catastrophe (artistic, I mean) have been exaggerated. Replacement “creative consultant” Philip Wm. McKinley has apparently slimmed down original director Julie Taymor’s gargantuan production, and after a rather tepid Act 1 it turns legitimately exciting in Act 2.

That’s partly because of the ebullient wit of the villain, the Green Goblin, and absolutely because of the astonishing stage designs (love that Chrysler Building!), which are pretty strong in Act 1, as well. My severest criticism goes to the score, which most of the time sounds mainly like noise, but you can partly chalk that up to my age. Over-all, this is one I’m looking forward to review.

When will that be? "Spidey" No. 2 is still in previews, not opening until June. But that hasn't stopped others, including our Sharon Eberson, who wrote about No. 1, so I'll probably have something to say in a week or so. Most important, if our Post-Gazette theater tour group is representative of the marketplace, I’d say “Spidey” has a future.

Tomorrow: If you think “Spider-Man” is astonishing, wait till you see “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

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Broadway Blog 2: 'Mother******' and 'War Horse'

Friday, 20 May 2011 01:46 PM Written by

Wednesday, May 18 –

My daughter went with me to see “The Book of Mormon” last night. That’s one of the side benefits of this theater critic racket – taking others with you. I always say you ought to, because you want to have a full experience, and sharing it expands the pleasure, even if the play’s a bomb. If your opinions differ, that’s productive, too. My rule (I’ve written this often in my 30 years on this beat) is that whoever goes with me has to say at least one good thing I can steal and make it seem my own, and I’ve never been disappointed.

Today’s shows were “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” in the afternoon and, the Post-Gazette group having arrived, “War Horse” at night.

Right off, let me say that the title of “Motherf**ker” is perfectly justified by Stephen Adly Guigis’ brisk, 90-minute, intense comic drama. When you first hear the title (in the second scene, I think), you’ve heard so many curse words it just seems part of the conversation. But it’s also a kind of red herring, because, although the hat helps jump start the plot, it soon becomes irrelevant to a surprisingly touching story about two passionate (that’s hardly strong enough) lovers and three friends.

If you’ve heard anything about this play it’s probably the presence of Chris Rock, a comedian whom I admire a lot. But this is his Broadway debut, and although he’s made a lot of movies, he just isn’t a stage actor. The result is a kind of absence, or rather, the presence of Chris Rock’s TV persona (the only way I’ve seen him) in place of Ralph, the AA member he plays.

No matter, or at least not a lot of matter, because the play is propelled (which is hardly a strong enough word) by Bobby Cannavale and Elizabeth Rodriquez as would-be, have-been, may-be lovers who deserve their own circle in Dante’s Hell. Yul Vazquez and Annabella Sciorra aren’t bad, either. More on this when I write the review.

I then joined the PG group. They, Paul Busang (group leader supreme of Gulliver’s Travels), Mary and I all went to dinner at 21 Club, then on to Lincoln Center for “War Horse,” the big London hit of a couple of years standing. It’s an epic about English farm life and World War I, but the heart of it is the horses, played by life-size constructs (they call them puppets, but they’re big enough to ride) manipulated by three handlers each.

The horses seem more and more real as the play progresses, so that by Act 2 I was hardly aware of the handlers. In fact, the horses are so real -- every tremor of their flanks and twitch of their muzzles – that they focus your concern more than the humans dying around them.

With us were our daughter’s family, including granddaughters Ella (13) and Alice (9 ½). If there were tears in our eyes, imagine what it was like for Alice – scary, too. But of course she’s much more grown up than others of her age (just like everybody says about their grandchildren, right?), so she seems to have handled it well. I get to talk about it with her Friday, when we join them for dinner.

By the way, it poured all day. And it’s been pretty chilly. Is this really May?

Tomorrow, at looong last: “Spider-Man Turn off the Dark.”

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Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre is dedicating tonight’s performance of "Antony & Cleopatra" to the late Anne D. Mullaney, former PICT board member. Her husband, Judge Maurice Cohill, will be there with friends, and PICT will be asking those in attendance to make a donation in support of Anne’s most recent charity initiative – construction of schools in Haiti through the Partners in Progress nonprofit organization.

After the performance, PICT is inviting patrons and friends to Mullaney’s Harp & Fiddle in the Strip to celebrate her life.

In addition to this dedication performance, PICT advisory board member Ray Werner is designing a special memorial that will go into the PICT program encouraging support for Anne’s cause in Haiti. For more information, visit http://www.piphaiti.org/Contribute.html.

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