April 2023 Theater Guide: April Showers Our Stages with Diversity and Drama

Navid Nackman as Melvin Goldman and Anne Rematt as Lee Goldman in Prime Stage's 'Perseverance' about a Holocaust survivor who owned a jewelry store in Squirrel Hill. (Photo: Laura Slovesko)

Navid Nackman as Melvin Goldman and Anne Rematt as Lee Goldman in Prime Stage’s ‘Perseverance’ about a Holocaust survivor who owned a jewelry store in Squirrel Hill. (Photo: Laura Slovesko)

What, if not diversity, enraptures the soul of American Theater today? Since modern drama was born when Nora first shut behind her the door to her stifling doll house, or when the Tyrone family journeyed their long day into the depths and delusions of hypocrisy, it’s been an arduous and circuitous road for the once Great White Way to celebrate culture that is not white. Yet, today, diversity of culture, religion, heritage and hope is what makes exciting the promise of good theater. 

For April in Pittsburgh, we are showered with a fountain of choices to experience diversity in all its forms. And of these nine picks, we are presented with not one, but five different world premieres. From Quantum Theatre comes a Faustian bargain, pitting a high tech exec against a world of alternate facts; from Prime Stage, a very personal journey of one Auschwitz survivor to a jeweler’s studio in Squirrel Hill; from Pittsburgh Public Theater, a cross-country comedy of an Asian family learning the American way; and, from City Theatre, a Muslim basketball player pits her fame against the faith of her mother. 

On other stages this April, Pittsburghers will find masterful modern dance with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and intimate and multi-disciplined choreography, using stagecraft and video, with Corningworks at City Theatre’s Lillie Theatre. Tina Turner’s journey from the backwoods of Tennessee to box office superstardom plays at the Benedum. And, off the Wall productions echos the terror, torment and torture of the Holocaust through a riveting rendition of one woman’s account of her final days. Whether Asian, Muslim, Jewish or African-American, the stories that are our history will help shape an America that still struggles to understand the value of its inherent diversity. Herewith are our picks for the stage this spring. Celebrate new growth while understanding its roots.      

These shows and more are previewed below in three sections. Spotlight Picks for the month are followed by Other Shows of Interest, and then a look-ahead to Big Shows on the Horizon. Productions are listed by run dates within each category. Mike Vargo (M.V.) and Rick Handler (R.H.) also contributed to this guide.

Spotlight Picks

TINA—THE TINA TURNER MUSICAL directed by Phyllida Lloyd from a book by Katori Hall, with Frank Ketelaar & Kees Prins. PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh Series. April 4 – 9.

'We Don't Need Another Hero' unless it's PNC Broadway's 'Tina - The Tina Turner Musical.' (photo courtesy of the production and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)

‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’ unless it’s PNC Broadway’s ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical.’ (photo courtesy of the production and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)

Jukebox musicals have become the bread and butter of Broadway, often formulaic stage biographies of musical artists whose life journey has brought them inordinate fame with equal amounts of sorrow and insecurity. Tina—The Tina Turner Musical presents a mostly true narrative which follows her earliest days singing in the Nutbush (Tennessee) Spring Hill Baptist Church to commanding the then-highest ticketed concert tour of any solo artist. Born Anna Mae Bullock, the youngest of three sisters, she discovered her calling when, in late-fifties St. Louis, she took the microphone during an intermission of Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm concert at the Manhattan Club. But “the rest is history” does not apply in this particularly insightful stage biography. Of course, all of Ike and Tina Turner’s hits fit in to inform their background and driving ambitions, as do Tina’s solo works when she stunned record producers and concert promoters worldwide with her over-the-top success with hits like “What’s Love Got to Do With It,”  “Proud Mary,” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero (Thunderdome.)”  Like her life, Tina—The Tina Turner Musical is a high energy exposition of the spirit and soul of a true legend. Reserve promptly or find alternate ticket sources for the nearly-sold-out run of this show, presented as part of the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (C.P.O.)


THE DEVIL IS A LIE by Jennifer Chang. Quantum Theatre. April 7 – 30.

Where would we be without Faustian bargains? A lot of what’s done in our modern world is done by people selling their souls for fame, fortune, and/or power. The old Faust legend could use an update, which Quantum Theatre provides with the world premiere of The Devil Is a Lie. This play—quite different from Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and mercifully shorter than Goethe’s marathon Faust—was written by Jennifer Chang, a California-based theater artist. Her Faust figure is the head of a high-flying high tech company. There’s also a DJ, since much of the action unfolds at a party. The Devil Is a Lie is audience-interactive and immersive, so bring your opinions. Facts are optional. And please note that the play’s title can be read in more than one way. It can mean that Satan doesn’t exist—or, that he lives, in the form of lies. Quantum presents The Devil Is a Lie in the Tenant Innovation Center in the Frick Building, 437 Grant St., Downtown. (M.V.) 


THE MASTERS PROGRAM: BALANCHINE AND BEYOND (mixed repertoire ballet program) Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. April 14 – 16.

David O'Matz performs an amazing ballet routine from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's ' The Masters Program: Balanchine and Beyond.' (photo: Duane Rieder)

David O’Matz performs an amazing ballet routine from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s ‘ The Masters Program: Balanchine and Beyond.’ (photo: Duane Rieder)

The Masters Program at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is not some type of classroom educational work towards an advanced degree, however, it is an education in three masters in the dance entertainment genre of ballet. The program presents works that feature classical dancing with contemporary twists, highlighted by live music from the PBT Orchestra. Included in the program are Tony Award-winner Christopher Wheeldon’s emotional romantic drama Polyphonia, Jorma Elo’s detailed 1st Flash, and the splendid Theme and Variations from George Balanchine, the true master of 20th-century ballet. “We are thrilled to present this magnificent and majestic trio of works from three master ballet choreographers,” said Adam W. McKinney, artistic director at PBT.  “Audiences will marvel at the intricate choreography and amazingly versatile dance skills on display, performed to powerful music from the PBT Orchestra.” The Masters Program: Balanchine and Beyond will be performed at the Benedum Center. 237 7th Ave., Cultural District. (R.H.)


THE FISHERMAN, THE BUTTERFLY, EVE & HER LOVER—A PARABLE (modern dance/theater). Corningworks. April 15 – 23. 

Corningworks' 'the fisherman, the butterfly, eve & her lover' is a parable that addresses the ever-growing devastation of climate change — delving into the questions of consumption, globalization, and the world’s developing ecological crisis. (photo: Frank Walsh)

Corningworks’ ‘the fisherman, the butterfly, eve & her lover’ is a parable that addresses the ever-growing devastation of climate change — delving into the questions of consumption, globalization, and the world’s developing ecological crisis. (photo: Frank Walsh)

Although few people know what a domo is, clearly Beth Corning is the major domo at Corningworks. Her company produces original, feature-length works that blend dance with theater, stagecraft, and multimedia. The productions tend to be playfully imaginative while exploring serious subjects. And there’s arguably none more serious than climate change, the subject of Corningworks’ latest. Titled the fisherman, the butterfly, eve & her lover—a parable, this new piece shares several qualities with the company’s previous works. It is choreographed by Corning, but the overall product of a diverse creative team. The performers are drawn from a nationwide talent pool. And it’s performed in an intimate space, bringing audience members up close—which means limited audience size (in this case, only 50 per show)—which in turn means to reserve tickets early, because the company has plenty of diehard fans. Corningworks performs the fisherman, the butterfly, eve & her lover—a parable in City Theatre’s Lillie Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (M.V.) 


PERSEVERANCE: A Holocaust Survivor’s Journey from Poland to America from a book by Melvin Goldman and Lee Goldman Kikel, adapted for the stage by L.E. McCullough. Prime Stage Theatre. April 15 – 16, live, and April 24 – May 7, streamed recording.

From his own collection of audio recordings on cassette, Melvin Goldman and his daughter, Lee Goldman Kikel, have created a memoir of one man’s journey from Auschwitz to a jewelry shop in postwar Pittsburgh. A world premiere, Prime Stage Theatre’s production of Perseverance shines a light on a singular soul whose cheerful countenance masked a dark and doomed adolescence in Poland during the Holocaust. Resolute in his faith in humanity, Melvin Goldman made a magical career, crafting personal jewelry for his adoring customers in his Squirrel Hill shop during the 1960s and ‘70s. The play addresses antisemitism normalized still in American culture and lends its personal perspective on a world in which we all share a moral obligation to advance hope in every path we take. Adapted by L.E. McCullough and directed by Art DeConciliis, Prime Stage’s Perseverance offers two live performances, Saturday, April 15 at 8 pm, and Sunday, April 16 at 2:30 pm. Tickets go on sale in mid-April to stream recorded performances of Perseverance through May 7. Live performances are at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (C.P.O.)      


ETTY by Susan Stein. Presented by off the WALL productions. April 21 – 23. 

Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jewish author who wrote about her religious awakening and the hardships of Jews in Amsterdam during WWII's German occupation. Off the WALL Production's 'Etty,' is a one woman show about the writer by Susan Stein. (photo: copyright Ricardo Barros)

Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jewish author who wrote about her religious awakening and the hardships of Jews in Amsterdam during WWII’s German occupation. Off the WALL Production’s ‘Etty,’ is a one woman show about the writer by Susan Stein. (photo: copyright Ricardo Barros)

Etty, a one-person play by New York theater artist Susan Stein, re-creates the story of a remarkable woman who has been called an adult counterpart to Anne Frank. Esther “Etty” Hillesum was, like Frank, Jewish and living in Amsterdam when the Nazis invaded. She too kept a diary that was later published, in book form, after her death in a concentration camp. But the parallels end there. During the Nazi occupation, Etty Hillesum never went into hiding. She was in her twenties at the time, highly educated and keenly inquisitive. Her writings reflect a young woman living a full and somewhat chaotic life, while searching earnestly for a spiritual grounding and her rightful place in the world—a search greatly complicated by the terrors she witnessed, as the campaign to eliminate the Jews closed in around her. Stein’s play, drawn from Etty’s diary and letters she wrote, has been acclaimed as profoundly moving. Off the WALL productions first presented Stein performing Etty for Pittsburgh-area audiences in 2019. Now, courtesy of off the WALL, Stein and Etty return. Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. (M.V.)


YOUNG AMERICANS by Lauren Yee, directed by Desdemona Chiang. Pittsburgh Public Theater, April 26 – May 14.

In yet another world premiere, Pittsburgh Public Theater, in co-production with Portland Center Stage, presents Young Americans, a riotous comedy of a young Asian immigrant who woos his soon-to-be fiancé, Jenny, while driving from Washington D.C. to Portland, Oregon. They discover an America they had never thought to find, forced to take detours along the way that test their incredulity. Twenty years later the father drives their adopted daughter to college back east, a road trip that takes them both in directions they had not planned on and, yet, which enlightens their respective journeys in ways that are both silly and sublime. Advance publicity for the new comedy says it “pieces together [a] bittersweet family history in [a] beautiful new comedy about the lengths we will go for the people we love.” Playwright Lauren Yee, best known for her musical hit, Cambodian Rock Band, now playing at Berkeley Rep, is one of the hot new voices in American theater. Young Americans plays in Pittsburgh Public Theater’s O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (C.P.O.)


AMERICAN FAST by Kareem Fahmy. City Theatre, April 29 – May 21.

When March Madness coincides with Ramadan—the month-long Islamic holy period requiring Muslims to fast until sundown—college basketball superstar Khady lies to her mother about holding true to her religious obligations. Yet, if American sports tradition begs every team to win at any cost, at what cost does one hold up Islamic tradition? Therein lies the rub. The basketball phenom becomes the shining star of Muslim women everywhere—except in her own home. Canadian playwright Kareem Fahmy, a naturalized Egyptian, has written a deep and heartfelt exploration pitting family against faith, and fame against fasting. City Theatre’s production of American Fast is the third of four rolling world premieres, that is, four consecutive productions of a new play staged independently at four of the country’s best regional theaters. American Fast premieres in Pittsburgh on City Theatre’s mainstage,1300 Bingham St., South Side. (C.P.O.)   


Other Shows of Interest
(Opening dates)

April 1
Godspell (The Strand)

April 6
Popcorn Falls (Little Lake)

April 7
Plan 9 From Outer Space (Stage Warp Productions)

April 12
Sense and Sensibility (Pittsburgh Playhouse) 

April 14 & 15
Shamel Pitts | TRIBE 
Black Hole: Trilogy And Triathlon (Kelly Strayhorn Theater)

April 21
Solo Shoe Show (Attack Theatre)

April 28
An American in Paris (Lincoln Park)


Big Shows on the Horizon
(Opening dates)

May 2
Dear Evan Hansen (PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh)

May 4
Jersey Boys (PMT)

May 6
Denis & Katya (Pittsburgh Opera)

May 9
Alvin Ailey (Pittsburgh Dance Council)

May 12
Madagascar (PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh)

May 19
Falsettos (Front Porch)

Prentiss Orr writes about theater for Entertainment Central. He has worked in theater management and has also taught theater. His latest book, The Surveyor and the Silversmith, is a history of white settlement, genocide, and land speculation in Western Pennsylvania.

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