For Steelers fans, August means exhibition games, which are sort of like real NFL football but not really. For Pittsburgh theater fans, August means really good shows played for real. It’s a fascinating time of year on the local theater schedule. Although most big companies haven’t yet started their seasons, and the selection of plays and musicals is not large, there are great pickings across the spectrum.
Quantum Theatre—the largest of Pittsburgh’s always-adventurous companies—presents the world premiere of a history-based bio-play with much music, Looking for Violeta. Smaller companies are giving a couple of adventurous shows their Pittsburgh premieres: 12 Peers Theater has Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Everybody, a finalist for last year’s Pulitzer Prize, while Front Porch Theatricals does Fun Home, Best Musical at the 2015 Tony Awards. Pittsburgh CLO presents a recent Tony winner, Once, and a classic older one, Hello, Dolly!
We don’t use the terms must-see or can’t-miss in the Entertainment Central theater department, so some plays must be put in the category of “Let’s just call it quite an experience.” August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean is one and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company is staging it. Meanwhile, in the category of “needs no introduction,” a touring troupe from a Chicago outfit visits town to perform The Second City: Greatest Hits, Vol. 59.
In the category of “you’ve heard this name before,” Moriah Ella Mason, creator of the one-woman show Sex Werque, premieres a new ensemble dance piece titled Queer, Jewish—Dancing in Diaspora. A more traditional number on the dance card is Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s annual free performance at Hartwood Acres, Ballet Under the Stars.
Also, the region’s community theater companies have some noteworthy shows on tap. Productions outside the city limits include Cabaret, The Savannah Sipping Society, and Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss. And within the beating heart of the Cultural District we have the long-running lampoon Spamilton.
Spotlighted shows are previewed in order of their run dates, with “other suggested productions” profiled at the end. Christopher Maggio (CM) contributed to this Guide.
Shows in the EC Spotlight for August
ONCE (musical) by Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, and Enda Walsh, from John Carney’s film. July 30 – Aug. 4, Pittsburgh CLO.
There is no pit band in Once—it’s a musical about music, so all playing (along with the singing and dancing) is done by the actors on stage. This technique is not unique to Once, but it can accentuate the mood of every song. The high-energy numbers get an extra physical charge while the intimate numbers take on the feeling of a cafe ballad, or a serenade. Once, which won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Musical, is adapted from the Irish movie of the same title. A busker on the streets of Dublin is struggling to promote his tunes while he works a day job repairing vacuum cleaners. Along comes an assertive young woman who’s also a musician and has a sweeper that won’t work. Then we’re off, as the symbolism of the home appliance theme (does Nature abhor a vacuum?) leads to music and romance. Most music in Once is by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who starred in the film and once formed the folk-rock duo The Swell Season. Pittsburgh CLO performs Once with Stuart Ward and Esther Stilwell in the lead roles. Songs include the standalone hit “Falling Slowly.” Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (MV)
EVERYBODY by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Aug. 1-18, 12 Peers Theater.
Remakes in live theater are not like remakes in the movies. Typically the original is over 100 years old, sometimes much older. Most modern remakes keep the plot outline and major characters but essentially create a new play, and many are very good. Recent highlights in Pittsburgh theater have included Stupid Fucking Bird (from Chekhov’s The Seagull), The Liar (from Corneille’s 1644 comedy of that title), and An Octoroon (from the 1859 race melodrama). Now comes a new version of a real oldie. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the New York-based playwright and Octoroon remaker, has one called Everybody. This is an update of Everyman, the morality play that was popular in the 1500s, when many people weren’t particularly interested in repenting but would watch it being done on stage. Like the original, Everybody is allegorical. Characters include God, Time, Friendship, Stuff, and Death. Unlike the original, Everybody was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize, and it is existential and experimental. Are you ready? 12 Peers Theater presents Everybody in the Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre in the Cathedral of Learning, 4200 Forbes Ave., Oakland. (MV)
LOOKING FOR VIOLETA (performance with music) by María José Galleguillos. Aug. 2-25, Quantum Theatre.
On the heels of staging King Lear at Carrie Furnaces, Quantum Theatre returns to the great outdoors—this time in Frick Park—with a world premiere titled Looking for Violeta. The subject is the late Chilean folksinger and artist Violeta Parra. Though not a household name in this country, Parra was (and still is) a legendary figure in Latin American folk music. During the course of a stormy life and career, she: became known as an interpreter of folk songs from throughout Central and South America; devoted herself to curating Chilean folk music; composed and performed her own songs; lived in and toured from Paris; exhibited her art at the Louvre; returned to Chile; recorded prolifically; and had two marriages, a longtime partner, children, grandchildren, and a famous brother. Violeta Parra committed suicide at age 50 in 1967.
Looking for Violeta is a play with music, or perhaps music with a play. Written by Venezuelan theater/screen artist María José Galleguillos, it includes original music by Pittsburgh-based singer-songwriter and ethnomusicologist Emily Pinkerton. Playing the lead role is performer and multidisciplinary artist Carolina Loyola-Garcia, professor of media arts at Robert Morris. The famous brother—poet and theoretical physicist Nicanor Parra, who died last year at age 103—is played by bass-baritone Eugene Perry. And who pulled this whole thing together? Quantum Artistic Director Karla Boos, of course. Looking for Violeta is performed under a tent at the Frick Park Lawn Bowling Greens, 7300 Reynolds St., Point Breeze. (MV)
HELLO, DOLLY! (musical) by Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart. Aug. 6-11, Pittsburgh CLO.
It’s impossible to discuss Hello, Dolly!, the musical about a matchmaker who aids the wealthy Horace Vandergelder in Yonkers, New York, without also discussing “Hello, Dolly!” the song. Louis Armstrong recorded a version of it that was used to help promote the musical, which opened on Broadway in 1964. And help it did. “Hello, Dolly!” knocked the Beatles off the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The show won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Armstrong appeared in some performances of it and in its 1969 cinematic adaptation. It has been revived four times, most recently in 2017 with Bette Midler as Dolly Gallagher Levi. Jerry Zaks directs. That production, which won four Tonys, is touring with Betty Buckley as the title character, and it arrives at Benedum Center. Lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart. 237 7th St., Cultural District. (CM)
QUEER, JEWISH—DANCING IN DIASPORA (modern dance/performance) by Moriah Ella Mason and collaborators. Aug. 8-18, the company at Carnegie Stage.
Personal identity is not simple. We’re each a mixture of multiple elements, and the modern dance piece Queer, Jewish—Dancing in Diaspora explores the intersection of some major ones. The lead creator is Pittsburgh-based Moriah Ella Mason, best known recently for her one-person show Sex Werque, about the experiences of working as a stripper. Queer, Jewish is an ensemble piece. In addition to the stated themes it deals with others, including body image. Citations from ancient Jewish texts are used. Collaborating with Mason on the feature-length show are dancers Ru Emmons, Sarah Friedlander, Harry J. Hawkins IV, and Amelia Reuss, and actor-dramaturg Olivia Tucker. At Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. (MV)
GEM OF THE OCEAN by August Wilson. Aug. 16 – Sept. 22, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.
If you are new to August Wilson, jump on this month’s chance to see Gem of the Ocean. It is the opening play of his Pittsburgh Cycle—10 plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century—and, along with the classic Wilson touches, Gem has a deeper dimension: supernatural spirituality. The year is 1904. We are at the Hill District home of Aunt Ester, who in other plays is a presence but never seen. A former slave, she has aged well and learned much in her 285 years. One day a visitor arrives, a new man in town, named Citizen Barlow. He bears a burden of guilt and wants Aunt Ester to wash his soul. This, she can do. The ritual is remarkable and so are the events that surround it. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, long known for interpreting Wilson’s work, presents Gem of the Ocean with Chrystal Bates as Aunt Ester, Jonathan Berry as Citizen, Kevin Brown as Solly Two Kings, and Wali Jamal as Caesar. The play is performed outdoors at 1839 Wylie Ave., Hill District. (MV)
FUN HOME (musical) by Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron, from Alison Bechdel’s graphic book. Aug. 16-25, Front Porch Theatricals.
Fun Home began as a graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, who grew up in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania. It’s a rural town in Clinton County, located in the upper middle part of the state. As you know if you have read it or seen Bechdel interviewed on TV, Fun Home is about growing up in a home that was emotionally hectic and often not so much fun. It primarily concerns her relationship with her father. The graphic novel employs a non-linear structure and explores other themes, such as art, mental health, and sexual identity. It was critically acclaimed upon its release in 2006 as was its musical adaptation, which opened Off-Broadway in 2013. It won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical. Front Porch Theatricals brings it to the New Hazlett Theater for its Pittsburgh premiere. With Drew Leigh Williams as Alison, Nuala Cleary as Medium Alison, Livia Rocco as Small Alison, and Daniel Krell as father Bruce. Music by Jeanine Tesori with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron. At the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (CM)
BALLET UNDER THE STARS (free, outdoor ballet revue). Aug. 18 only, 7:30 p.m., Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre at Hartwood Acres.
Ballet is one of the pricier tickets in town, except on Sunday, August 18, when it’s free. Dancers and musicians of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre visit the outdoor stage at Hartwood Acres to perform pieces from the company’s repertoire in a show called Ballet Under the Stars. As the title indicates, this is an evening performance, but fans are invited to come early for a couple of pre-show events. One is a “Family Fun” festival with free children’s activities and on-site food vendors, starting at 5 p.m. Also at 5 p.m., the VIP tent opens for dinner, drinks, and a chance to meet the PBT dancers; this event requires buying tickets (see the web link above). The free performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Since that is before sunset, not many stars will be visible at first—but they’ll come out soon, and everyone is invited to dance along with the show. Hartwood Acres Park Amphitheater, 4000 Middle Rd., Allison Park. (MV)
THE SECOND CITY: GREATEST HITS, VOL. 59 (comedy revue). Aug. 23-24, touring company hosted by Pittsburgh Public Theater.
The Second City is such a good and legendary comedy company that journalists are tempted to write awful sentences like “The Second City is second to none.” But it’s true. Evidence can be seen in Pittsburgh when the company sends its traveling show The Second City: Greatest Hits, Vol. 59. The title refers to The Second City’s founding in 1959 by a group of young Chicago theater artists. They named themselves after a satirical book that belittled their hometown, Chicago: The Second City, by New York journalist A.J. Liebling. The company’s founders popularized the idea of turning improv from an actors’ exercise into live performance for an audience. Over the years, The Second City also has pioneered a bunch of other stuff, spun off TV shows, and helped to launch the careers of famous alumni including Bill Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Steve Carell, Steven Colbert, Tina Fey, et cetera ad infinitum. You might catch a few next-gen stars in the Greatest Hits, Vol. 59 show. It’s hosted by Pittsburgh Public Theater at the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (MV)
SPAMILTON: AN AMERICAN PARODY (cabaret musical) by Gerard Alessandrini. Through Aug. 25, Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret.
When it comes to musical parody, Weird Al reigns as the contemporary master, but he’s got a peer in the world of show tunes. Writer/composer Gerard Alessandrini has authored the hit 1982 revue Forbidden Broadway and its many sequels, such as Forbidden Broadway: Rude Awakening and Forbidden Broadway Goes to Rehab. Not until recently, however, did Alessandrini focus his creative energies on spoofing a single entire Broadway musical. When he did, the result was Spamilton: An American Parody. Pittsburgh CLO now blossoms forth with a long-running (through August 25) cabaret production of Spamilton. The show won the 2017 Off-Broadway Alliance Award for “Best Unique Theatrical Experience.” Lin-Manuel Miranda reportedly loved it. Spamilton takes particular aim at Hamilton’s immense popularity, with songs including “Ticket Beggar Woman,” “Book of No More Mormons,” and “The Film When It Happens.” In a nod to Avenue Q, perhaps, Spamilton also features puppets. At the Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (MV)
Other Suggested Productions:
MOM’S GIFT by Phil Olson. Through Aug. 3, South Park Theatre.
Dysfunctional-family comedies typically involve a late-middle-aged couple and their young-adult children. The characters might be brought together at, say, a holiday gathering, where Mom and Pop’s mature oddities compete with the kids’ cutting-edge problems. In the Phil Olson play Mom’s Gift, we get an extra twist. Mom is dead. Her disembodied spirit crashes the party, because to earn her angel’s wings, she must return to the scene of the dysfunction and complete a mission. South Park Theatre performs the play at the corner of Brownsville Rd. and Corrigan Dr., South Park Township. (MV)
BOEING BOEING by Marc Camoletti. Through Aug. 3, Little Lake Theatre.
Boeing Boeing, a naughty French sex farce from the early 1960s, concerns a playboy who’s romancing flight attendants from three different airlines. He deftly juggles their “layovers” (pun intended) so the women will not meet—until, of course, one day they do. Filled with physical comedy and outré innuendo, Boeing Boeing, by Marc Camoletti, gained a new generation of fans when a Broadway production won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. Little Lake Theatre is doing Boeing Boeing with John Herrmann as the playboy and Briana Downs, Paige Borak, and Miranda Schuck as the high-flying women. 500 Lakeside Dr. South, Canonsburg. (MV)
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM (musical) by Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove, and Larry Gelbart. Through Aug. 4, Apple Hill Playhouse.
Apple Hill Playhouse presents a gripping saga of ancient Rome that has parallels to our own times, and it is not Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The Romans, like us, loved comedies. Their comedies included music. Therefore, to honor these traditions, Apple Hill Playhouse is staging A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. This winner of the 1963 Tony Award for Best Musical (also made into a hectic movie, above) was inspired by the comedies of Titus Maccius Plautus, a popular playwright in Rome around 200 BCE. His formula for making ‘em laugh was “raunchy + witty” and that spirit is channeled, extremely, in the musical. One of Plautus’s classic characters, the cunning (and punningly named) Pseudolus, even turns up as the main character in A Funny Thing. Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart; music and lyrics by a then-young Stephen Sondheim. 275 Manor Rd., Delmont. (MV)
THINGS MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME by Katherine DiSavino. Through Aug. 4, Mountain Playhouse.
Three years ago, Stephen Karam’s The Humans rather surprisingly won the Tony Award for Best Play. It’s an interesting-enough seriocomedy, about a young couple moving into a new apartment while the woman’s wacky parents try to help; the surprising part was that a relatively lightweight play received such high accolades. But there is an even lighter play you might call The Humans Lite. Katherine DiSavino, author of Nana’s Naughty Knickers, has a comedy titled Things My Mother Taught Me. Here, the young couple are moving into an apartment in Chicago, not New York, and you get a warm-hearted happy ending instead of a gloomy symbolic one. See Things My Mother Taught Me at the Mountain Playhouse, 7690 Somerset Pike, Jennerstown. (MV)
MID-LIFE 2! #WHATDIDICOMEINHEREFOR? by Bob and Jim Walton. Aug. 6-18, Mountain Playhouse.
If you liked MID-LIFE! The Crisis Musical from Mountain Playhouse’s 2014 season, then you’ll probably also like MID-LIFE 2! #WhatDidIComeInHereFor. (If you laughed out loud at the hashtag’s nod toward senior moments, then you’ll really like the musical.) Like its prequel, MID-LIFE 2! is a revue-style production that takes a comedic look at aging. Subjects again include doctors visits as well as the realization that one qualifies for the senior discount. It also promises some heart among the laughs. Brothers Bob and Jim Walton wrote the book, music, and lyrics to MID-LIFE! The Crisis Musical with Baby Boomers in mind. It premiered in 2006 and its sequel, which they also created, premiered in 2014. Their other collaborations include My Brother’s Keeper and Double Trouble. MID-LIFE 2! now arrives at the Mountain Playhouse. 7690 Somerset Pike, Jennerstown. (CM)
CABARET (musical) by Joe Masteroff, John Kander, and Fred Ebb. Aug. 8-24, Little Lake Theatre.
Cabaret is not a rock musical, but it officially rocks. A Rolling Stone readers’ poll ranked it one of the 10 best musicals ever. Set in Germany amid the Nazi takeover between the World Wars, Cabaret is a story of people trying to party or at least lead normal lives while their society goes nuts. It has everything from great songs to ironic humor to gripping drama, and each production seems to bring out new dimensions of this 1967 Tony Award winner. The 1972 movie featured an ultra-chilling rendition of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Multiple stage revivals starred Alan Cumming as the extremely kinky Emcee of the Kit Kat Klub. Little Lake Theatre presents Cabaret with Jeff Johnston as the Emcee, Ashley Harmon as Sally, and Jared Pfenningwerth as Cliff. 500 Lakeside Dr. South, Canonsburg (MV).
STAGE KISS by Sarah Ruhl. Aug. 8 – 24, South Park Theatre.
Sarah Ruhl is one cool playwright whose work isn’t seen enough around Pittsburgh. She is very funny and also makes you—what’s the word—think? Feel? Something in that ballpark. In the past few years we’ve had productions of Ruhl’s Orlando, a rousing adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel, which is much livelier than the big-budget movie version, and In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, based on the true history of the popular handheld device. Now South Park Theatre is doing Stage Kiss. The plot: an actress and actor, playing lovers onstage, cross the line from fiction to reality. That may sound fairly predictable but Ruhl makes it cool. Brownsville Rd. at Corrigan Dr., South Park Township. (MV)
MATCH GAYME: THE SHADY BUNCH (cabaret comedy show) by multiple creators. Aug. 11 only, 6 p.m., at Greer Cabaret Theater.
No, Match Gayme is not a typo. Rather, it’s a “Match Game”-style show with Pittsburgh drag queens. In “Match Game,” remember, contestants fill in the blank and hope to match their answers with celebrities’ answers. Double entendres are encouraged if not expected. The ever-ubiquitous Alec Baldwin hosts the latest version on ABC. The show premiered on NBC in 1962. In Match Gayme: The Shady Bunch, contestants will be chosen from the audience and will compete for prizes. As an added twist, and in honor of the 50th anniversary of “The Brady Bunch,” drag queens will impersonate the Brady children and also play. (Not sure if this includes Cousin Oliver. We can only hope.) Expect some performances and other surprises during the show. Joe King hosts. Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (CM)
GREASE (musical) by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Aug. 15-18, Actors and Artists of Fayette County.
Before Grease was the word, it was a shockingly gritty urban theater piece that mixed raw, raucous humor with frightening depictions of life among the tough kids at a big-city high school. This original Grease was staged by Chicago’s Kingston Mines theater company in 1971. It became an underground sensation, and writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey were told it had mass-market potential—if they would tone down the language, brighten up the script, and write more songs, turning Grease from a “play with music” into a full-blown musical. The Grease that we’ve come to know since then is much tamer, but not exactly lame. It has won generations of fans via live productions worldwide. The 1978 movie, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, was a box-office winner. Now Actors and Artists of Fayette County invite you to revisit Danny Zuko, the Pink Ladies, and their high-riding classmates at Rydell High. Geyer Performing Arts Center, 111 Pittsburgh St., Scottdale. (MV)
THE SAVANNAH SIPPING SOCIETY by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. Aug. 15 – 25, Apple Hill Playhouse.
The Savannah Sipping Society is about four middle-aged women who meet during a happy hour in beautiful Savannah, Georgia. There’s Randa, the workaholic. Dot, the widow. Marlafaye, the Texan who has also lost her husband … to a twenty-three-year-old dental hygienist. And finally Jinx, the life-coach who is ironically most in need of one herself. The play, a comedy, takes place over six months as the women continue to meet for drinks and attempt to get their lives in order. This is a chance to witness the wit and sheer talent of Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, and Jamie Wooten. They have written additional plays collectively (Dearly Beloved, The Dixie Swim Club) and countless other works for film, stage, and TV individually. The Apple Hill Playhouse, 275 Manor Rd., Delmont. (CM)
BUTTERSCOTCH by Barbara L. Smith. Aug. 29 – Sept. 14, South Park Theatre.
Butterscotch—the title refers not to candy but to a candy-yellow 1947 Ford, an appreciation of which will hopefully allow two very different people to surmount an impasse. One of those people is a New York City restaurant critic. The other is the widowed father of the woman whom the critic wishes to marry. The critic arrives in a small Pennsylvania town to persuade the father to attend the wedding in New York. Meanwhile, the bride-to-be, a news correspondent on assignment, hasn’t even told her father she’s getting married! The father has his own suitor to worry about: an elderly neighbor with bad eyesight. Add Dad’s hunting buddy and an ex-New Yorker who ruined a favorite hunting spot with a condo, and the tension builds to more laughs and perhaps the occasional tear. South Park Theatre presents Barbara L. Smith’s Butterscotch in their theater at the corner of Brownsville Rd. and Corrigan Dr., South Park Township. (CM)
Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, covers theater for Entertainment Central.
Christopher Maggio writes about a variety of subjects for EC.