August Theater Preview: Musicals Take The Spotlight

We knew it was coming. As the summer progresses, not only do live theater productions become fewer, but so-called straight plays tend to drop from the lineup, leading to an August schedule dominated by musicals. And this month is a fine one for sampling a cross-section of recent Broadway offerings right here in town.

That is no June bride; it's Jackie Burns kicking off Musical Month in CLO's "The Wedding Singer."

That is no June bride; it’s Jackie Burns kicking off Musical Month in CLO’s “The Wedding Singer.”

Pittsburgh CLO presents three musicals in rapid-fire order, with a 1990s throwback rocker (The Wedding Singer) and a family-friendly classic (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella) sandwiched around the multi-Tony-winning Kinky Boots (starring, by the way, Pittsburgh’s Billy Porter as the drag diva Lola.) Then a heralded emerging company, Front Porch Theatricals, closes the month with the hauntingly eccentric musical The Light in the Piazza.  

In the non-musical department, a highlight is the world premiere of Anne Stockton’s one-person play I Won’t Be in on Monday.  And David Bernabo’s mixed-media piece The Reduction has music in it but is not a Broadway musical; it’s a hometown special.

Shows are previewed in order of their run dates.

THE WEDDING SINGER (musical, based on the 1998 movie) by Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin, and Tim Herlihy. Through Aug. 2, Pittsburgh CLO.

What were you doing in 1998? Investing in the dotcom bubble, listening to the Goo Goo Dolls, or just trying to make it through kindergarten? If the latter, you might have missed the Adam Sandler movie The Wedding Singer, which captured the bumbling but energetic spirit of the time. The hit comedy was later reverse-engineered into a Broadway musical that’s now being revived by Pittsburgh CLO. Although this version of The Wedding Singer leaves out some signature songs from the movie—notably, the J. Geils Band number “Love Stinks,” which Sandler belts at a wedding gig after his own bride-to-be has left him—plenty of other tunes have been added. There’s more than enough to wake the echoes of those wacky days that kissed the twentieth century goodbye. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District.

PINE by Eugenie Carabatsos. Through Aug. 8, South Park Theatre.

Pine is a comedy about a difficult subject, our longing for a loved one who has passed away. Written by emerging New York playwright Eugenie Carabatsos, the play was the prizewinner at a South Carolina new-works festival in 2013 and has been making its way around the country; South Park Theatre gives Pine its Pittsburgh premiere. In this story the departed is a young man who died in an auto accident. The catch is that he isn’t really gone. He reappears at family gatherings, visible, it seems, only to the audience and to his younger brother, while trying increasingly to make his presence known. Brownsville Rd. at Corrigan Dr., South Park Twp.

IT COULD BE ANY ONE OF US by Alan Ayckbourn. July 30 – Aug. 8, Apple Hill Playhouse.

There are typical summer-stock murder mysteries, and then there is Alan Ayckbourn’s It Could Be Any One of Us, in which not even the actors know whodunit. The identity of the killer can vary from one performance to the next depending on a random event that occurs during Act 1. Some companies cheat a little, rigging the game in advance each time, though surely the folks at Apple Hill Playhouse are above such shenanigans. It Could Be Any One of Us also delivers the usual Ayckbourn quotient of comedy, with characters including an artistically inept trio—an out-of-tune composer, an ineloquent writer, and an unsightly painter—plus a clueless detective. 275 Manor Rd., Delmont.

KINKY BOOTS (musical) by Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein. Aug. 4-9, Pittsburgh CLO.

From Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson to Jersey Boys, musicals based on true stories are an odd lot, and Pittsburgh CLO is presenting one of the oddest. Kinky Boots was derived from the true tale of a shoe-factory owner who saved his business by converting it to produce specialty footwear: the high-heeled, high-fashion boots worn by men who perform as drag queens. On Broadway, Kinky Boots won six Tony Awards in 2013, including Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical. The latter prize went to Pittsburgh native Billy Porter as Lola, the pivotal queen who inspires the factory man to get those boots rolling off the line. He’s the soloist in the music video of “Sex Is in the Heel,” and now you can see him live on stage. Porter—a graduate of CAPA High School and Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama—is taking a Broadway vacation to bring Lola home in CLO’s Kinky Boots. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District.

The Cinderella story: too good to be true? Paige Faure reprises her Broadway title role at CLO.

The Cinderella story: too good to be true? Paige Faure reprises her Broadway title role at CLO.

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA (musical). Aug. 11-16, Pittsburgh CLO.

Few people know that late in their partnership, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote a daring new musical interpretation of the Cinderella story. Truer to everyday reality, this version has Cinderella as the favored child who is both beautiful and privileged, while her dowdy stepsisters must scrub floors at minimum wage. The fairy godmother has been re-cast as a parole officer, and … Just kidding!

In fact, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella is quite faithful to the original folk tale. The fabled duo first wrote the musical for TV in 1957, with Julie Andrews as Cinderella. Years later playwright Douglas Carter Beane rewrote the show’s book for Broadway, adding new wrinkles but not tinkering overmuch. Pittsburgh CLO presents this Cinderella with Paige Faure in the title role, which she also played last year in the Broadway production. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District.

THE REDUCTION (multimedia / movement theater) by David Bernabo. Aug. 13 at the New Hazlett.

Calling David Bernabo a mixed-media artist and performer may not help much because it leaves open the question “Well, yeah, but what does he do?” So, for an introduction, see the video above, which Bernabo co-composed, made, and performed in, as a member of the band/art ensemble Host Skull. (Bernabo is the guy in eyeglasses). He also dances with the companies Maree ReMalia/merrygogo and MODULES, and has recently composed a feature-length theater piece called The Reduction. For one night only, a full production of The Reduction is being performed at the New Hazlett Theater. The piece is billed as “semi-autobiographical,” which implies that it will semi-explain Bernabo, with the help of a cast featuring some of his frequent collaborators. 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side.

I WON’T BE IN ON MONDAY by Anne Stockton. Aug. 13-16, RESCHEDULED to FEBURARY 2016. off the WALL Productions.

Anne Stockton has one of the more intriguing resumés in show business—playwright, actress, practicing psychiatrist—and now she’s back with a new one-woman play. The New York-based Stockton also knows the world of crime and police, having trained NYPD officers in issues such as hostage negotiation. A few years ago she won notice in theater circles with her solo piece The Speed Queen, adapted from Stewart O’Nan’s novel about a serial killer on death row. Her new show, I Won’t Be in on Monday, is an original number that promises to be less macabre but high in psychological tension. The character here is a woman wrongly suspected of being a jewelry thief. Off the WALL Productions is giving I Won’t Be in on Monday its world premiere, with Stockton performing and Austin Pendleton directing. At Carnegie Stage (formerly off the WALL Theater), 25 W. Main St., Carnegie.

Sara Williams (L) and Julianne Avolio know the score in "Girls Only."

Sara Williams (L) and Julianne Avolio know the score in “Girls Only.”

GIRLS ONLY—THE SECRET COMEDY OF WOMEN (cabaret revue) by Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein. Through Aug. 30, Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret.

Contrary to certain rumors, men are welcome to attend Girls Only—The Secret Comedy of Women. Seeing how readily they get the jokes may even be a good test of their gender consciousness. The sketches and songs in this revue are built around the plot device of two women comparing notes as they read through their old diaries. In such a manner, one gets a double comical dose of women’s history: the characters re-trace their personal journeys from girlhood to adulthood while conjuring up social phenomena they’ve lived through. Girls Only was conceived in Denver and has toured the country. CLO Cabaret brings it for a local run. CLO Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District.

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (musical) by Craig Lucas and Adam Guettel, adapted from Elizabeth Spencer’s novella. Aug. 21-30, Front Porch Theatricals at the New Hazlett.

Front Porch Theatricals, a company launched in 2012, already has a rep for staging unorthodox musicals. Past shows included Next to Normal (about mental illness in suburbia) and the time-travel love story The Last Five Years. Now Front Porch is doing The Light in the Piazza, based on a 1960 novel that may sound like a clichéd relic of that era—wealthy American girl, touring Italy with her mom, meets a sweet Italian guy and they fall madly in love. But there are many twists, such as the dark secret behind the young woman’s bright-eyed, childlike charm: a head injury years ago has left her developmentally disabled, casting doubt on the future of the romance. Adapted for the stage, The Light in the Piazza won multiple Tony Awards in 2005, mostly for its eclectic music. Numbers like “Octet” veer across classical and pop genres and have helped make the musical a cult favorite, as the novel once was. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side.

Photo credits: The Wedding Singer, by Matt Polk. Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, by Carol Rosegg. Girls Only, by Matt Polk.

Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer and editor, covers theater for Entertainment Central.