October Theater Guide: Action, Romance, and Introspection

A scene from School Of Rock at New London Theatre. School of Rock original London Cast. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

A scene from ‘School of Rock’ at the New London Theatre with the original London cast. The national touring company will play the Benedum as part of the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

October can be a festive month and it promises to be one on Pittsburgh stages too. First, all major Pittsburgh companies are in action. Second, many of the shows being produced have energetic plots. The dancing elephant in the theater room is the national touring production of School of Rock, part of our city’s PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. The pace continues with actors on roller skates in CLO Cabaret’s Xanadu, The Jesters’ Guild’s swashbuckling The Three Musketeers, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Dracula, who will be chasing potential victims around the stage.

Looking for something more introspective? Try Ghostlight Theatre’s Belfast Girls. The plot follows five Irish women who are orphans from the time of The Great Famine and now work the street. They embark on a journey to Australia lured by the promise of a fresh start. The Public has Peter Shaffer’s Equus, and Quantum Theatre delves into the mysteries of human consciousness with Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem.

Romance is on the boards with PICT’s Romeo and Juliet, off the WALL’s I Won’t Be in on Monday, and Pittsburgh Opera’s gripping Tosca. Lively up your October with some live theater or dance!

Shows are in chronological order. Mike Vargo (MV) and Christopher Maggio (CM) also contributed to the Guide.

Continuing from September:

BOUNDLESS (ballet/modern dance). Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, Texture Contemporary Ballet.

Texture Contemporary Ballet is a company that does what the name says: contemporary dance grounded in classical ballet discipline and techniques. Typical shows consist of several pieces in a range of styles. Past performances have included dances set to songs by Adele and to live cello-rock music by the ensemble Cello Fury, as well as a dance choreographed by a hip-hop artist and another that mixed ballet with tango. So, what will Texture do next? We’re not sure, but the company’s new production is called Boundless. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (MV)

MURDER FOR TWO by Kellen Blair and Joe Kinosian. Through Oct. 1, The Mountain Playhouse.

Arthur Whitney, a great American novelist, has been shot, and it’s up to Officer Marcus Moscowicz to solve the crime and prove he can be a detective. Is the perpetrator Whitney’s wife? The ballerina? The psychiatrist? Or one of 10 other suspects? One actor plays all 13 persons of interest, so expect laughs and intrigue in Murder for Two. The musical’s title plays off its two-person cast. Both actors will also take turns at the piano throughout the 90-minute performance. The musical premiered through the Chicago Shakespeare Theater company in 2011. Its writers won a Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Musical. Before Murder for Two toured nationally, the regional premiere was at Pittsburgh CLO. For those who missed it or want to see it again, it’s running at the Mountain Playhouse. 7690 Somerset Pike, Jennerstown. (CM)

VINTAGE HITCHCOCK: A LIVE RADIO PLAY by Joe Landry. Through Oct. 7, South Park Theatre

South Park Theatre is staging a play that imagines how the works of Alfred Hitchcock, one of the 20th century’s most respected and innovative directors, would be done as a live radio drama. Hitchcock’s use of certain shots to build suspense could be substituted possibly by sound effects, dramatic pauses, and other devices of radio theater. A radio play can be very exciting; just think of Orson Welles and company performing the H.G. Wells work War of the Worlds in 1938. It sent many in the nation into a panic despite some disclaimers during the broadcast that it was fictional. Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play adapts scenes from the early Hitchcock thrillers The Lodger, Sabotage, and The 39 Steps. The five-actor cast  even recreates vintage commercials. South Park Theatre, Brownsville Rd. and Corrigan Dr., South Park Township. (RH)

Karla (Jenny Putney) is astonished by Don (Tim McGeever) as Marcie (Helena Ruoti) and Geena (Kendra McLaughlin) recuperate. photo: Kristi Jan Hoover.

Karla (Jenny Putney) is astonished by Don (Tim McGeever) as Marcie (Helena Ruoti) l. and Geena (Kendra McLaughlin) r. recuperate. photo: Kristi Jan Hoover.

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE GYNECOLOGIC ONCOLOGY UNIT AT MEMORIAL SLOAN-KETTERING CANCER CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY by Halley Feiffer. Through Oct. 15, City Theatre.

In A Funny Thing … , struggling stand-up comedian Karla and super-nerd Don fall in love at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. However, they are not the patients. Those are their respective mothers, who share a hospital room in this heartfelt and hilarious play written by Halley Feiffer. Feiffer’s other works include I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard and Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow. She’s also acted on screen and on- and off-Broadway. Her live-acting work includes the 2011 production of The House of Blue Leaves, in which she appeared alongside Ben Stiller, Edie Falco, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. A Funny Thing … premiered off-Broadway at MCC Theater in 2016. It makes its West Coast premiere in Los Angeles this fall. Pittsburghers need only travel to City Theatre. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (CM)

EQUUS by Peter Shaffer. Sept. 28 – Oct. 29, Pittsburgh Public Theater.

British playwright Peter Shaffer is best known for Amadeus, but his most striking work is the 1973 play Equus, which has a strange backstory. Shaffer wrote Equus after hearing of a gruesome crime in which a young man blinded horses by driving spikes into their eyes. Trying to imagine what was behind such an act, Shaffer spun a fictional tale with eerie mythic overtones: A psychiatrist examining the criminal finds him to be a troubled teenager who worships horses (the boy’s horse-god is “Equus”) and is sexually attracted to them. It turns out he committed the crime when so-called normal life intruded, and the psychiatrist, himself a key character, comes to question his own views of normality. Equus was a sensation in London and won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway. Yet it later faded from the radar when Shaffer, for  reasons that aren’t clear, withheld production rights until finally approving a 2007 revival with Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe as the young man. The play is now back in circulation and Pittsburgh Public Theater opens its season with Equus. O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (MV)

EAST TEXAS HOT LINKS by Eugene Lee. Sept. 29 – Nov. 5, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.

Two years ago, veteran actor Eugene Lee visited Pittsburgh to play the role of August Wilson in How I Learned What I Learned, the one-man show about Wilson’s life. This year the attraction is a play written by Lee himself. East Texas Hot Licks has some similarities to Wilson’s Hill District epics, but it’s shorter (about 90 minutes) and set in a small-town bar in Texas. The bar is a gathering spot for local African Americans during the Jim Crow era of the 1950s. As the play unfolds, we get to know an assortment of odd characters whose high-spirited camaraderie evolves into tensions and, ultimately, tragedy. East Texas Hot Licks was staged at theaters across the country after its 1991 premiere, and a revival last year in the Chicago area drew rave reviews from that city’s major dailies. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company is presenting East Texas Hot Licks here. 937 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (MV)  

New October shows in the EC spotlight:  

SIDE SHOW (musical) by Bill Russell and Henry Krieger. Oct. 6 – 14, Split Stage Productions.

There are strange musicals, and then there is Side Show, which dramatizes a very strange true story and has a sneaky-strange effect on the audience. Daisy and Violet Hilton, born in 1908, were Siamese twins joined at the hip. Seemingly destined for lives in a circus sideshow, the Hilton sisters had a rough go of it, but went on to become skilled vaudeville performers in a joint show-biz career that peaked during the 1920s and ‘30s. The musical Side Show opens with a chilling number: “Come Look at the Freaks.” It introduces a carney troupe ranging from a bearded lady and a “cannibal king” to, of course, the Hiltons (played by two actresses who stay hip-to-hip throughout). And here’s the sneaky-strange part: Watching them sashay and struggle through their ups and downs, one can begin to identify with the conjoined twins. Who among us hasn’t felt stuck to someone else? Also, sometimes you can’t help but view them as a single person, yet their personalities are different: Who among us doesn’t have more than one side? Split Stage Productions, a company dedicated to adventurous theater in Westmoreland County, performs Side Show at Apple Hill Playhouse, 275 Manor Rd., Delmont. (MV)

ALONZO KING LINES BALLET by Alonzo King. Oct. 7, presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet has its home season at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. However, the company also tours. This fall, it will perform in cities throughout Europe and the United States, including Pittsburgh. King founded LINES Ballet in 1982. His original productions incorporate other genres, whether they are recordings of endangered indigenous languages in this year’s Figures of Speech or live jazz saxophone and piano in 2016’s Sand. “The term LINES alludes to all that is visible in the phenomenal world,” King wrote on the Artistic Vision page of the company’s website. King has received the NEA Choreographer’s Fellowship, the 2nd Annual San Francisco Mayor’s Art Award, and numerous other accolades. He is also a lauded teacher, and his company leads community and summer programs as well as offers a BFA at Dominican University of California. Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Cultural District. (CM)

TOSCA (opera) by Giacomo Puccini. Oct. 7-15, Pittsburgh Opera.

Football and opera are different. Opera has been around much longer; there are no commercial breaks, and opera singers usually only pretend to injure one another. Other than that, both are pretty awesome spectacles. Pittsburgh Opera kicks off its season with Puccini’s tumultuous Tosca. It has three acts: a first and second half, plus a guaranteed sudden-death overtime, because in tragic opera, characters must die. Tosca is set during the contentious year 1800. While Napoleon and his French troops wage war for control of Italian territories, there is turmoil between rival political factions in Rome. Two of the city’s cultural figures—Floria Tosca, a singer, and her lover Cavaradossi, a painter—wish to pursue their amorous and artistic passions, but the troubles trap them in a web of treachery. Tosca premiered in Rome in 1900, a century after the drama it depicts. With a web of gripping music spun around the story, the opera has become an audience favorite. Pittsburgh Opera has soprano Leah Crocetto as Tosca, tenor Thiago Arancam as Cavaradossi, and baritone Mark Delavan as the scheming villain Scarpia. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (MV)

Actors (and skaters) Olivia Vadnais and Reed Allen Worth have fun in CLO Cabaret's 'Xanadu.' photo: Archie Carpenter.

Actors (and skaters) Olivia Vadnais and Reed Allen Worth have fun in CLO Cabaret’s ‘Xanadu.’ photo: Archie Carpenter.

XANADU (musical) by Jeff Lynne, John Farrar, and Douglas Carter Beane. Oct. 12 – Dec. 17, CLO Cabaret.

The movie Xanadu had Olivia Newton-John, Pittsburgh’s own Gene Kelly, music by Electric Light Orchestra, and animation by Don Bluth. What could go wrong? Everything, evidently. Xanadu, which helped to inspire the Golden Raspberry Awards, flopped at the box office in 1980. The songs, which included the No. 1 “Magic,” were a hit, however. A musical adaptation previewed and later opened on Broadway in 2007. It kept the music while poking fun at the cinematic version. The combination was a hit, which garnered several Tony Award nominations. The plot involves Kira, a Greek muse who falls in love with Sonny, a mortal who wants to open the first roller disco. Their love is forbidden, and Kira’s two evil sisters intervene. CLO Cabaret performs the musical Xanadu in the Cabaret at Theater Square, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (CM)

I WON’T BE IN ON MONDAY by Anne Stockton. Oct. 12-15, off the WALL productions.

Nikki has found her true love and is looking forward to a fantasy vacation in the South Pacific with her paramour. A detective steps on her dream when he appears at her workplace and accuses her of stealing two coworkers’ rings to finance the trip. Nikki hopes the interrogations will end soon, so she can again look forward to her vacation. That’s the storyline of the play I Won’t Be in on Monday, written and performed by Anne Stockton. It’s a humorous look at how the past is prologue and how people’s views of others help form opinions. I Won’t Be in on Monday will have a New York City run in February at Urban Stages. The Pittsburgh run, which is its world premiere, is being performed at Carnegie Stage by off the WALL productions. 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. (RH)

The Three Musketeers adaptation by Ken Ludwig. Oct. 13 – 15, The Jesters’ Guild.

The clang of metal swords hitting against one another will resound throughout the New Hazlett Theater as The Three Musketeers fight the evildoers of 17th-century France. The Jesters’ Guild is staging the Ken Ludwig adaptation of the historical novel of the same name by Alexandre Dumas. The character d’Artagnan (inspired by actual musketeer Charles de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan) intends to join the Musketeers of the Guard. He is not accepted at first, but proves his ability and honor to Musketeers Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. The full name of the unit was the Musketeers of the Military Household of the King of France, and they protected the king when he  ventured outside his royal palaces. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (RH)

SCHOOL OF ROCK  (musical) by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Glenn Slater, and Julian Fellowes. Oct. 17 – 22, national touring company presented by PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh. 

School of Rock is based on the film of the same name released in 2003 starring Jack Black and directed by the noted Richard Linklater. The musical follows Dewey Finn, who’s recently been kicked out of a rock band for upstaging the singer and is staying at his friend’s place. Finn fraudulently accepts a substitute teacher position destined for his friend at a prestigious prep school. While subbing, he molds some musical students into a very good rock ensemble and helps the school lighten up a little. In the national touring production that visits Pittsburgh, Finn is played by Rob Colletti The show features music from the movie in addition to an original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, with lyrics by Glenn Slater and a book by Julian Fellowes. The Broadway production was nominated for four Tonys and five Drama Desk Awards in 2016. Presented by PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (RH)

ROMEO AND JULIET by William Shakespeare. Oct. 20 – Nov. 4, PICT Classic Theatre.

PICT Classic Theatre is really good at doing Shakespeare. Last year the company produced a sensational Merchant of Venice, not by coming from deep left field with an unconventional interpretation, but just by seeing what’s in (and between) the lines of the script and making it sing. This year PICT opens its season with Romeo and Julietanother of Shakespeare’s really good ones, for reasons beyond the dramatic pull of its tale of star-crossed lovers. When played well, it’s a rollercoaster of emotional twists and tragicomic turns. Romeo and Juliet has been made into two memorable movies: Franco Zeffirelli’s colorful 1968 version, in which supporting actor John McEnery nearly stole the show as a red-hot Mercutio, and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet, which gave the story a modern urban-mafia setting and had Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo. But the play begs to be experienced live, in the flesh, and there might not be a better chance than PICT’s production. In the Fred Rogers Studio at WQED, 4802 Fifth Ave., Oakland. (MV)

BELFAST GIRLS by Jaki McCarrick. Oct. 25 – 29, Ghostlight Theatre Troupe.  

Many Irish women (and men) were forced to seek new lives in other lands due to hardships in their homeland. Some came to America; others went to different  countries, including Australia. Belfast Girls chronicles five women of the street orphaned by the great potato famine of 1850 as they embark on a journey that stirs a wave of rollicking emotions. Belfast Girls was written by Jaki McCarrick, an award-winning playwright who developed the play at the National Theatre in London. It is based on actual women passengers aboard the Australia-bound ship Inchinnan. The play was premiered in Chicago in 2015 by Artemisia Theatre. It’s presented here by Ghostlight Theatre Troupe, a newer company under the direction of English-born Rich Kenzie, whose goal in starting the company was to give more opportunities to the fine acting talent we have in the region. Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. (RH)

DRACULA (ballet) by Ben Stevenson. Oct. 27 – 29, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

Dracula is not your grandparents’ ballet. It includes not only dancing but also levitation and pyrotechnics. Although based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, the ballet adds new characters. These include Svetlana, a soon-to-be-engaged young woman. Never mind Count Dracula’s undead brides; they bore him—Svetlana is the object of his desire. The setting, which incorporates Balkan and Romanian architecture, will transport audiences to 19th-century Transylvania. The score is by Franz Liszt, a 19th-century Hungarian composer and pianist. Former British dancer and current Texas Ballet Theater Artistic Director Ben Stevenson created the adaptation. Dracula made its world premiere at the Houston Ballet in 1997, and it has been performed in many other U.S. cities., including Pittsburgh. This time Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dances it at the Benedum Center. 237 7th St., Cultural District. (CM)

THE HARD PROBLEM by Tom Stoppard. Oct. 27 – Nov. 19, Quantum Theatre.

Just when a lot of folks thought Tom Stoppard was done with playwriting, after a long and illustrious career of turning out plays that combine philosophical wit with serious issue-wrangling—his 1966 gem, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, keeps rising from the dead in periodic revivals—and after side ventures into screenwriting, too (Terry Gilliam’s Brazil; Shakespeare in Love)—Stoppard, at age 77, came out with a new play. The Hard Problem is about one of the so-called hard problems in science: explaining the nature and origin of consciousness. The action revolves around a fictional brain institute where characters debate how humans acquired the mysterious ability to not only sense and react to the world, but also think, imagine, love or hate it, etc. The Hard Problem premiered in London in 2015 to mixed reactions, with some calling it vintage Stoppard while others felt it was short of a full bottle. We’ll see what kind of kick it delivers in the Quantum Theatre production. Energy Innovation Center, 1435 Bedford Ave., Uptown. (MV)

Other notable productions this month:

Dance Shortsan eclectic show of short pieces, danced by companies ranging from Cleveland Ballet to Pittsburgh’s FireWALL Dance Theater.  Oct. 1. Presented by Texture Contemporary Ballet.

At First Sight by Brandon Lambert—a new musical, about a divorced grandma and her granddaughter who play matchmaker for one another. Oct. 3 -15, Mountain Playhouse.

The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder—Yes, we are into matchmakers this month, as a lesser-known but intriguing play by Wilder comes to the stage. Oct. 5 – 14,  Carnegie Mellon School of Drama.

Our Town by Thornton Wilder—And we’re also into Wilder, with his moving Pulitzer Prize winner on the schedule as well. Oct. 5 – 15, Pitt Department of Theatre Arts.

Ascendance  (dance)—a multi-company show, with pieces danced by four Pittsburgh-based companies. Presented by RAE Productions. Oct. 7 – 8 at the New Hazlett Theater

Mythburgh—strange stories set in a city that’s got a million of them (Pittsburgh), in an evening of short works by playwrights who know the city inside out. Oct. 22, 12 Peers at brillobox.

Kiss Me, Kate (musical) by Cole Porter et al—We’re talking meta-musical here; this is the 1949 Tony-winning musical about a company doing a musical adapted from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Oct. 20 – 29, Point Park University Conservatory Theatre.

Between Us and Grace—a workshop production of a new play by Clare Drobot and Nathan Zoob, concerning restless young singer/songwriters stuck in a too-small town. Oct. 26, Community Supported Arts (CSA) series at the New Hazlett.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—You saw the movie (didn’t you?); now catch the stage musical. Oct. 26 – 29, Pittsburgh Musical Theater.

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and enjoys good theater and dance.

Mike Vargo is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor who covers theater for Entertainment Central.

Christopher Maggio also contributed to the Guide.