Peak theater season has arrived. With most of Pittsburgh’s resident companies in action, the offerings for November range wide and deep.
A standout new play is the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner, Lynn Nottage’s blue-collar drama Sweat. Alas, no recent musicals are scheduled. But the sampling of 20th-century musicals—from Guys and Dolls to Fiddler on the Roof to Hair, to Hedwig and the Angry Inch—covers quite a bit of the cultural spectrum.
In the classics department, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is still funny after all these years. Two Dickens adaptations, The Old Curiosity Shop and a new one-man version of A Christmas Carol, give notice that the holidays approach, while a modern classic, Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, reminds us that some folks don’t get the presents they want.
On the dance card: Aurélien Bory’s Compagnie 111 visits to perform the spooky architectural dance Espæce. Yabin Wang Dance of China visits with The Moon Opera. Pittsburgh’s Attack Theatre re-stages its popular In Defense of Gravity, featuring the poetry of Jimmy Cvetic. And right at the end of November … oh yeah, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre returns The Nutcracker.
Miscellaneously speaking: Pittsburgh Opera sings Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel in an English translation from the German. The Capitol Steps come to town to sing politics, and Pittsburgh Playwrights presents a festival of four plays by contemporary playwright Ray Werner.
After November, a lull lies ahead, as many companies will break for the Christmas-New Year season and spend much of January rehearsing to fire up again. So if you haven’t seen live theater in a while, choose now while the choosing is good.
Spotlighted shows are previewed in order of run dates, with “other suggested productions” profiled more briefly at the end. Christopher Maggio (CM) and Rick Handler (RH) contributed to this Guide.
In the Entertainment Central Spotlight for November:
PIPELINE by Dominique Morisseau. Through Nov. 18, City Theatre.
City Theatre staged Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby in 2015, and the company will now stage her play Pipeline. Race and education come to a head in Pipeline after a prestigious (and predominately white) private school suspends Omari following an incident involving him and a teacher. Will the dream that Omari’s mother had for him still come to fruition? Pipeline premiered in 2017 at New York City’s Lincoln Center Theatre. It won the 2018 Obie (Off-Broadway Theater) Award for Playwriting. Morisseau is from Detroit, which is the setting for her Detroit Projects, an award-winning three-play cycle. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (CM)
ESPÆCE by Aurélien Bory and Compagnie 111 (modern dance/theater). Nov. 2-3, presented by Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts.
Calling Aurélien Bory’s Compagnie 111 a dance company is a little like calling Google a search-engine company—it’s true, but that’s not all they do. Bory and company visit from France to stage the U.S. premiere of Bory’s Espæce, which promises to be memorable. The performers include an acrobat, a classical soprano, a comedian, a contortionist, and for good measure a dancer. Not to mention the gigantic hinged wall, a rolling, opening-and-closing set piece with which the performers contort, dance, and so forth. Espæce is dedicated to the late French writer Georges Perec, familiar to many English readers for his novel Life: A User’s Manual. Perec also wrote nonfiction, such as Espèces d’Espaces (Species of Spaces), and Espæce is a contraction of that title. On seeing the piece performed in France, one reviewer wrote that it evokes “minimalist fictions with existential resonances.” Can Google do that? Presented as part of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts at the August Wilson Center, 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (MV)
OF MICE AND MEN by John Steinbeck. Nov. 2-11, Prime Stage Theatre.
Of Mice and Men is more than a hard-luck tale from the Depression. It’s an enduring fable about two friends whose dreams are wrecked by their own good intentions and shortcomings. For author John Steinbeck, the work was also a literary experiment. He wrote it as both a short novel and a play, using the same story and dialogue. And the play—which opened shortly after the book’s release, in 1937—became a classic buddy-act vehicle. The ill-fated migrant workers George and Lennie have been played by famous duos ranging from Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. to Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. Pittsburgh’s Prime Stage Theatre presents Of Mice and Men with L.A.-based actor Corey Rieger as George and Liam Macik (past Artistic Director of Throughline Theatre) as Lennie. This special production is done in partnership with the National Steinbeck Center of Salinas, California, and is directed for Prime Stage by Scott P. Calhoon. At the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (MV)
HANSEL AND GRETEL (opera) by Engelbert Humperdinck and Adelheid Wette, from the Grimm brothers’ tale. Nov. 3-11, Pittsburgh Opera.
The best-known “Christmas opera” is probably Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, written for NBC-TV in 1951—yes, Virginia, there was a time when TV networks commissioned operas—but Pittsburgh Opera is leading up to the season with Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. The 1893 classic is often performed around the holidays, as it has a fairy-tale charm similar to The Nutcracker ballet. Also, per the tradition in English-speaking countries, Hansel and Gretel is sung here in English. Since it is adapted from the Grimm brothers’ tale, the plot does include a wicked witch who’s into confectionery cannibalism, yet the opera maintains an aura of fun and wonderment. Humperdinck’s sister Adelheid Wette wrote the libretto, adding magical touches while cheering up the story considerably. The composer’s folk-inspired music is lovely, and the witch’s toasty tumble into the oven carries a moral for children: One should not stick one’s nose where it doesn’t belong. Pittsburgh Opera has mezzo-soprano Corrie Stallings as Hansel—the part is written to be a trousers role—and soprano Ashley Fabian as Gretel. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (MV)
THE CAPITOL STEPS (songs and comedy). Nov. 5 only, 7:30 p.m., part of the Cohen & Grigsby Trust Presents Series.
Politicians of all stripes have provided fodder for theater and humor since the dawn of civilization, and the Capitol Steps have capitalized on this wellspring of material. The comedy troupe was started in ’81 by a group of Republican Senate staffers who sought to make fun of their bosses and the institution in which they worked. Their goal, they state, is to put the “mock” in democracy. They achieve this mainly through comedy skits and song parodies. Their latest album is Orange Is the New Barack. They will perform at the Byham Theater. 7:30 p.m. 101 6th St., Cultural District. (EC, CM)
GUYS AND DOLLS (musical) by Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows, and Jo Swerling. Nov. 8-18, Stage 62.
So, here’s a hardcore New York gambler betting he can win the heart of a beautiful woman who is out to save souls as a street-corner evangelist. That’s the central caper amid a confluence of capers in Guys and Dolls, adapted from short stories by Damon Runyon, who wrote wildly popular tall tales about the big-city underworld of the 1920s and ’30s. The 1950 musical thrilled audiences and dominated the Tony Awards by translating Runyon’s colorful style to the stage. Of the songs, only “Luck Be a Lady” became a stand-alone hit—but the songs weren’t written to stand alone. One reason Guys and Dolls has been called a “perfect” musical is that composer Frank Loesser’s music and the book (by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) work so well together. And this too is liable to work pretty well: Guys and Dolls is being performed by Stage 62, a Pittsburgh-area company highly proficient in musicals. At the Music Hall in the Andrew Carnegie Free Library, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. (MV)
THE RAY WERNER PLAY FESTIVAL (several plays by Werner, staged separately). Nov. 8 – Dec. 2, Pittsburgh Playwrights.
It’s all Ray Werner, all the time, this month at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company and that’s a really good thing. Werner, a former advertising agency owner, has become a noted Pittsburgh playwright. The world premiere plays of his being produced for The Ray Werner Play Festival are SumiSami (A Capuchin missionary rebels against celibacy), Raphael’s Angels (A teenager with Tourette Syndrome shakes things up at troubled Catholic high school), Our Lady of Drubbleduffy (a miracle of the Blessed Mother goes awry in the far West of Ireland), and An Evening of One Acts which includes “The Stuttering Pig,” and “Christmas Tassle Bell.” You can buy individual tickets or see all four with a festival pass. Pittsburgh Playwrights, 937 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (RH).
SWEAT by Lynn Nottage. Nov. 8 – Dec. 9, Pittsburgh Public Theater.
Set in nearby Reading, Pennsylvania, Sweat tells the story of nine friends. The play begins in 2008 when two men meet their parole officer. The next scene begins during happier times in a bar in 2000. The bar’s patrons work at Olstead’s Steel Tubing. The audience observes what happens over the next eight years, including layoffs and the fraught renegotiation of union contracts. It’s set over a decade ago, but the play’s themes remain timely. Part of that might be because playwright Lynn Nottage interviewed manufacturing employees in Reading as part of her research. And if all of that wasn’t enough, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2017. Nottage is the only woman so far to have won the drama prize twice; the other time was for Ruined in 2009. Pittsburgh Public Theater performs Sweat. Justin Emeka directs. O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (CM)
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (musical) by Stephen Trask and John Cameron Mitchell. Nov. 9-17, Pittsburgh Musical Theater.
There are works of theater that defy synopsis, and since we have only a paragraph, here are the basics. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical. It’s about a young German, Hansel, who had a sex change to become Hedwig, except the surgery went wrong and left an “angry inch,” into the details of which we will not go. At any rate—skipping, for now, everything about the Berlin Wall and the three sexes of humankind, and the first husband who ran off in Kansas—Hedwig is an aspiring rock star. Hedwig’s second husband, the former drag queen Yitzhak, tries to be supportive even while Hedwig is being surpassed on the quest for stardom by Tommy Gnosis, who (in a cruel irony) happens to be Hedwig’s protégé—and there you have it. Hedwig and the Angry Inch began as an off-Broadway hit in 1998. The Tony-winning 2014 Broadway revival had Neil Patrick Harris (above) in the title role. Pittsburgh Musical Theater performs Hedwig and the Angry Inch as part of its After Hours Series, meaning children stay home, please. Gargaro Theater, 327 S. Main St., West End. (MV)
GAME ON (cabaret musical) by Marcus Stevens and David Dabbon. Nov. 9 – Jan. 27, Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret.
This month offers Pittsburghers a chance to see the world premiere of a musical: Game On. Prime time game shows inspired Game On. The musical stars three contestants playing for a $10 million jackpot during a live taping in front of a studio audience. Marcus Stevens—who acted in the Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret’s inaugural production, Forever Plaid—wrote the book and lyrics. David Dabbon, who arranged the dancing for the new Beetlejuice Broadway musical, wrote the music and came up with the concept. Pittsburgh CLO Cabaret performs Game On. Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (CM)
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (musical) by Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein, from Sholem Aleichem’s stories. Nov. 20-25, North American touring company at Benedum Center.
Regardless of what you think you might like, you can’t go wrong with Fiddler on the Roof. The winner of the 1965 Tony Award for Best Musical will make you laugh AND cry, and the songs and dances are tremendous. The opening number “Tradition” rocks the house before you’ve settled into it. “If I Were a Rich Man” is playfully sublime; “Tevye’s Dream” is a hoot; “Sunrise, Sunset” is beautiful—and that’s just a sampling of numbers in Act I, omitting gems like the amazing “Bottle Dance.” Fiddler’s story, adapted from fiction by Yiddish author Sholem Aleichem, is a moving one. Set in a Russian Jewish village around 1900, it traces the adventures and misadventures of one family against the backdrop of the rampant anti-Semitism surrounding them. Some investors shied away from the original production of Fiddler, worrying it was “too Jewish.” Others since then have faulted it for being too schmaltzy, or not as authentically Jewish as Aleichem’s stories. Picky, picky. It’s a great musical. A new North American touring company brings Fiddler on the Roof to Pittsburgh. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (MV)
THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP by Alan Stanford, from the Dickens novel. Nov. 23 – Dec. 15, PICT Classic Theatre.
The story: A virtuous, hardworking orphan girl lives with her grandfather, a London shopkeeper. Grandpa, intent on providing for Little Nell, gambles with borrowed money and loses big. Evicted, Nell and grandpa flee to the countryside, where they encounter characters both colorful and frightening, while various persons with various intentions seek the fugitive pair, and … Charles Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop, published in installments during 1840-41, had readers across the British Isles and America waiting anxiously for each episode. While nations clashed and societies were being transformed in real life, the burning question for many was What’s going to happen to Little Nell? Maybe you know. But according to Alan Stanford, artistic director of PICT Classic Theatre, what’s most compelling is the journey. Considering the novel to be a sterling example of Dickens’ storytelling and character creation, Stanford has adapted The Old Curiosity Shop for the stage. PICT performs the play in the Fred Rogers Studio at WQED, 4802 Fifth Ave., Oakland. (MV)
IN DEFENSE OF GRAVITY (modern dance + poetry) by the company, f/t Jimmy Cvetic’s poetry. Nov. 29 – Dec. 2, Attack Theatre.
Attack Theatre creates striking original works of dance through unusual collaborations. Laws of Attraction, devised with input from science experts, applied the laws of physics to human relationships. Now the Attack dancers return with In Defense of Gravity, which sounds like another physics thing but isn’t. The feature-length piece was inspired by—and uses samples from—the poetry of Jimmy Cvetic, who after a career as a police detective won renown for his gritty poems with touching titles such as “You Almost Bite a Guy’s Nose Off Because He Tries to Kill You and a Whore Jumps on Your Back and You Think of the Big Whorehouse in the Sky and That Ain’t Bragging.” So then, why the title In Defense of Gravity? Attack Theatre says the piece explores how we respond to life’s “heavy” moments. With vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield and musicians Jeff Berman, Ben Brosche, and Ben Opie. In Pittsburgh Opera’s George R. White Studio, 2425 Liberty Ave., Strip District. (MV)
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (new one-person play) by Mark Coffin and Heidi Mueller Smith, from the Dickens novella. Nov. 30 – Dec. 15, off the WALL productions.
The year is 1843. Charles Dickens is hard at work on a book he hopes will secure his reputation forever: the ponderous satirical novel Martin Chuzzlewit. In between writing monthly serialized installments, he squeezes out a little novella just in time for holiday book sales. And wouldn’t you know, A Christmas Carol becomes the story that wins hearts for centuries worldwide, even in countries that don’t celebrate Christmas. There have been many adaptations and many Scrooges. Lionel Barrymore played the role on radio, in voice only; Marcel Marceau played it with no voice, in mime only. Now Pittsburgh-area audiences can see the world premiere of a new version featuring Scrooge only. Theater artists Mark Coffin and Heidi Mueller Smith have adapted A Christmas Carol as a one-person play in which Scrooge both narrates and acts the story, reflecting on life in London of the 1800s and his personal transformation from miserly greed to benevolence. The show includes multimedia. Coffin is Scrooge and Mueller Smith directs for off the WALL productions. At Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. (MV)
THE NUTCRACKER (ballet) by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, with choreography by Terrence S. Orr. Nov. 30 – Dec. 27, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
Here comes the ballet that even non-ballet fans enjoy. The Nutcracker provides a huge share of annual ticket sales for ballet companies across the nation, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production is among the grandest. It was developed by PBT artistic director Terrence S. Orr, who drew in part from the original 1892 choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. But Orr also studied contemporary versions, then teamed with his PBT colleagues to create a one-of-a-kind synthesis of classical ballet, modern artistry, and stunning stagecraft. (See the background story here.) This Nutcracker is set at an old-time Christmas party in Pittsburgh at the turn of the last century. Then, as we move into the realm of fantasy—with the Nutcracker doll coming to life and leading a cast of adult and child dancers through a visit to the Land of Enchantment—there are dazzling special dances, amazing magic tricks, and breathtaking stage effects.The music of course is by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (MV)
Other Suggested Productions:
CABARET (musical) by John Kander, Fred Ebb, and Joe Masteroff. As long as people try to party while their societies go haywire, the musical Cabaret will never grow old. Set in 1930s Germany during the Nazi takeover, Cabaret won the 1967 Tony Award for Best Musical and has been revived many times, notably in the multiple productions that starred Alan Cumming as the Emcee. Now you can catch the show done by some of Pittsburgh’s best young talent. Through Nov. 11, Point Park University Conservatory Theatre. The entire run is sold out at the new Pittsburgh Playhouse. 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. (MV)
MIDNIGHT RADIO’S FRANKENSTEIN by the company, from the novel. This year is the 200th anniversary of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein. Since 1818, her novel has become perhaps the most adapted and riffed-upon story ever. There have been stage plays, ballets, musicals, and films as strange as Frankenhooker, about an attempt to make an ideal person of that type. Midnight Radio’s Frankenstein is a more faithful live version that’s post-Halloween and postmodern, with a cast including Cotter Smith of Netflix’s “Mindhunter.” Nov. 1-10, Bricolage Production Company at 937 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (MV)
THE LION IN WINTER by James Goldman. The Lion in Winter is a seriocomic history play about a Christmas party gone haywire. King Henry II of England lets his imprisoned wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, come out for the holiday. The princely sons are scheming and the king of France is visiting, but who will save Western civilization? Nov. 1-17, Little Lake Theatre. 500 Lakeside Dr. South, Canonsburg. (MV)
HAIR (musical) by Gerome Ragni, James Rado, and Galt MacDermot. Everybody knows that Hair is the hippie musical. Those who’ve seen it know it has a seriously good story to go with the groovy songs. And very few know the Pittsburgh angle: book and lyrics were co-written by the late Gerome Ragni, from the fine small borough of East Carnegie. Now Hair moves upriver for a production by McKeesport Little Theater. Nov. 2-11, 1614 Coursin St., McKeesport. (MV)
THE MOON OPERA (modern dance) by Yabin Wang Dance.
The Moon Opera began as a novel by Chinese writer Bi Feiyu, a story of an opera diva struggling to balance her inner spiritual life, her contentious show-biz life, and her disastrous love life. Now choreographer Yabin Wang has made it into a feature-length modern dance. Her company visits Pittsburgh to dance The Moon Opera as part of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts. Nov. 3 only, 8 p.m. Presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council at the Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Cultural District. (MV)
DAMES AT SEA (musical) by George Haimsohn, Robin Miller, and Jim Wise. Dames at Sea is a parody of big, glitzy Broadway musicals of the 1930s, and since its humble off-off-Broadway premiere as a low-budget cabaret musical, it has had big, glitzy productions itself. But the spoofin’ and hoofin’ remain, as the show spoofs the absurdly starry-eyed optimism of Depression-era entertainment, and there’s plenty of hoofing to catchy tunes. Duquesne U’s Red Masquers perform Dames at Sea from Nov. 8-17 in the Genesius Theater on campus, Seitz St. at Locust St., Uptown. (MV)
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING by William Shakespeare. Most popular Shakespeare comedy? Just might be Much Ado About Nothing, with the famously bickering duo Beatrice and Benedick, the cockeyed constable Dogberry, and more. The Kenneth Branagh film had Michael Keaton as Dogberry, the Joss Whedon film is a cult favorite, and Pitt’s Department of Theatre Arts is doing Much Ado live, live, live. Nov. 8-18, Charity Randall Theatre, 4301 Forbes Ave., Oakland. (MV)
WIP (WORKS IN PROGRESS)—new dance pieces by various artists, presented by Texture Contemporary Ballet. For a look at the emerging state of local dance, the WIP (Works in Progress) show presents new short works choreographed by: Elisa-Marie Alaio, Paige Gilson, Allegra Golembiewski, Rachel Harman, Madeline Kendall, Shane Kesneck, Katie Miller, Jamie Erin Murphy, Genevieve Shultz, and Alexandra Tiso. The evening includes drinks and mingling. Nov. 10 only, 7 and 9 p.m. at Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie (MV)
CORAM BOY by Helen Edmundson, from Jamila Gavin’s novel.
Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre stages a gripping drama based on incidents from British history. The Foundling Hospital of London—a.k.a. Coram Hospital, after patron Thomas Coram—was built in the 1700s to house unwanted children, often those of unwed mothers. The charity did good work but was plagued by staff cruelty, and by freelance scammers who would promise to take a woman’s child to Coram but did not. Helen Edmundson’s play Coram Boy, adapted from the Jamila Gavin novel, interweaves these dark elements with tales of hope. Nov. 15 – Dec. 2 at the new Pittsburgh Playhouse, 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. (MV)
MAMMA MIA! (jukebox musical) by Catherine Johnson, with songs by ABBA. Attention all ABBA fans! To qualify as a truly devoted member of the inner circle, you must attend every available staging and screening of Mamma Mia!—and bring a friend who’s been resisting ABBA! Stage Right of Greensburg performs Mamma Mia! Nov. 16-18 at The Palace Theatre, 21 W. Otterman St., Greensburg. (MV)
A/B MACHINES by Philip Gates, “adapted from the work of Andy Warhol.” Sample quotation from the 1977 book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again): “They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” Time has passed, and now Philip Gates, a Directing Fellow at Carnegie Mellon, premieres his new Warhol-inspired play A/B Machines. It features three performers competing ferociously for attention while apparently ignoring another Warhol saying: “I think everybody should like everybody.” Nov. 28 – Dec. 1 in the Helen Wayne Rauh Theater at Carnegie Mellon, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland.
Mike Vargo, a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer, covers theater for Entertainment Central. Christopher Maggio is the company’s designated Renaissance Man. Rick Handler is executive producer of Entertainment Central.