November Theater Guide: ‘Hadestown’ + ‘Urinetown’ and More
November is always a big month in Pittsburgh theater—the last chance of the year to choose from a full and varied schedule of shows, before the holiday shows take over. This November is highlighted by the touring production of Hadestown. In a weird convergence, we also get another musical that’ dances through a dystopian town, as Stage 62 presents Urinetown. Other musical blockbusters include the new Les Miz tour, and Pittsburgh Opera performing Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. A few years ago the company staged this opera’s operatic prequel, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, so if you saw it and wish to follow the continuing adventures of Figaro, now is your chance.
Elsewhere: there is no such thing as too much Frankenstein. The 1818 novel keeps inspiring adaptations, and Prime Stage Theatre presents a new one which includes the backstory of the novel’s composition. Surely all this time travel can get confusing. For romantic confusion, try the comedy The Wanderers at City Theatre. And for utter seriocomic confusion, Pittsburgh Playhouse has Kentucky, a play about an assimilated New Yorker going back to her old Kentucky home.
These shows and more are previewed below in three tiers. 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. C. Prentiss Orr (C.P.O.) and Rick Handler (R.H.) contributed to this guide.
FRANKENSTEIN adapted by Lawrence C. Connolly from Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s novel and the story behind it. Prime Stage Theatre. November 4 – 13.
Prime Stage Theatre’s new play, Frankenstein, is based on Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s gothic ideation of a man assembled from body parts exhumed from the grave. However, the story, adapted here by horror writer Lawrence C. Connolly for Prime Stage, takes a slightly different and historic twist when it depicts the character of Mary Shelley and four other traveling companions taking shelter in a dark Swiss mansion. Among the interloping guests are her stepsister, Claire Claremont, her new husband, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron. As a lightning storm rages outside, the young Mrs. Shelley’s imagination is shocked and electrified with horrific visions as her fellow house guests while away their sleepless hours telling ghost stories. This was said to be true. Lord Byron was believed to be an intimate friend of Mary’s stepsister, who later bore his child. And Mary Shelley was just 18 when she wrote the classic tale. Evidence of all of this––as if anyone would doubt that monstrous things might happen in Promethean literature––is that her first edition author’s copy was signed to Lord Byron.
Prime Stage’s production promises to weave together the history and horror that is Frankenstein at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (C.P.O.)
MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS adapted by Ken Ludwig from Agatha Christie’s novel. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. November 4 – 13
Fair warning: few passengers will get to witness a Murder on the Orient Express. The stage adaptation of this long-lasting Agatha Christie mystery, patiently untangled by the ever-observant Hercule Poirot, will pull into the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center on November 4. Unfortunately, this promising passage of “reckless revenge on the rails” is sold out. Playing just two weekends in the Center’s black box theater, tickets were limited even before the train left the station. But one might try contacting the Center to inquire about a wait list or other options. 1 Lincoln Park, Midland. (C.P.O.)
THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (opera) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Pittsburgh Opera. November 5 – 13
Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro is counted among the best operas of all time. The story is centered around two servants, Figaro and Susanna, and how they outwit their philandering employer Count Almaviva to achieve their goal of getting married while Almaviva has Susanna in his lecherous crosshairs. The Marriage of Figaro is a commedia per musica (opera buffa) and has many humorous touches. It premiered in Vienna in 1786 and has been popular ever since. Pittsburgh Opera is producing the opera with bass-baritone Michael Sumuel as Figaro, soprano Natasha Te Rupe Wilson as Susanna, baritone Jarrett Ott as Count Almaviva, and soprano Nicole Cabell as Countess Almaviva. Music Director Antony Walker conducts. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (R.H.)
URINETOWN (musical) by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman. Stage 62. November 10 – 20
Dystopian musicals are rare, and only one has songs like “It’s a Privilege to Pee.” Writer Greg Kotis got the idea for Urinetown while coping with pay toilets on a low-budget trip to Europe. He imagined a scenario in which drought has severely limited a city’s water supply. A big corporation, run by a nasty CEO in league with local police, controls the elimination business. People’s homes don’t have flushable apparatus and freelance relief in the open air is a crime. By corporate decree, you must pay to go or you’re gone. Will the citizens rebel? Urinetown delivers over-the-top satire with plenty of comedy and songs that sting: The CEO’s signature number, “Don’t Be the Bunny,” celebrates the joys of being predator rather than prey. At the 2002 Tony Awards, Urinetown won for Best Book and Best Original Score (by Mark Hollman), but curiously lost the Best Musical award to Thoroughly Modern Millie. It’s thoroughly good anyhow. Stage 62, a top-notch community theater group, presents Urinetown in the Music Hall at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library. 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. (M.V.)
HADESTOWN (musical) by Anaïs Mitchell, directed by Rachel Chavkin. Touring company at the Benedum. November 15 – 20.
Our culture pays lip service to risk-taking. We applaud those who dare to do great things despite the odds. It’s seen as the very embodiment of the human spirit. Unless you fail, and then you’re a chump. Perhaps that is why the Orpheus myth, an important one to the ancient Greeks, has not been adapted much in modern American theater. Orpheus was magical. He even almost rescued his beloved Eurydice from the bowels of Hades—until he made a wrong turn and blew it. But now we have a new telling of the story that’s blowing audiences away. Hadestown, the Tony-Award-winning musical by Anaïs Mitchell, frames the entire situation differently. The underworld is not the abode of the dead; it’s a grim factory where workers are worked half to death. Eurydice is not sent to Hades by a stroke of fate; she chooses to take a job there because a poor girl’s gotta do what she gotta do. And Orpheus—well, see for yourself. Just hurry to buy tickets or try your favorite aftermarket source, as Hadestown is hot. The touring production of Hadestown visits Pittsburgh as part of the Cultural Trust’s PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)
KENTUCKY by Leah Nanako Winkler. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre. November 16 – 20.
We need a good name for comedies that are also serious. “Seriocomedy” sounds like a comedy mixed with a medical treatment, “tragicomedy” doesn’t always fit because not all serious stuff is tragic, and “dramedy” does damage to the language. For now, try Kentucky. The play, by Leah Nanako Winkler, is about a woman who has fled far from her dysfunctional family of birth by moving from said state to New York City. She returns because her younger sister is about to enter a marriage which, by progressive New York standards, appears to be all wrong, but the mission to stop the love train does not go as planned. Although it isn’t strictly true that “you can’t go home again,” there are times when one probably shouldn’t.
Kentucky, which among other things has an actor playing the role of the family cat, has won raves in Chicago and elsewhere. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre presents Kentucky in the Playhouse’s Highmark Theatre, 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. (M.V.)
LES MISÉRABLES (musical) by Alain Boublil, Jean-Marc Natel, and Claude-Michel Schönberg, with English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Touring production at the Benedum. November 22 – 27.
Which Broadway musical is the GOAT? Nostalgia drives some people to argue for old classics and recency bias favors shows like Hamilton, but a strong contender straddling the worlds of old and new is Les Misérables. Just recall that Les Miz is actually a French musical, having premiered in Paris in 1980. An English-language version didn’t appear until 1985, in London. Finally in 1987 came the Broadway premiere, and the rest (as far as we Americans are concerned) is history. Keep in mind, too, that Les Miz is seldom considered a perfect musical. Lead writer Alan Boublil and lyricist Jean-Marc Natel took tremendous liberties in cutting Victor Hugo’s epic novel down to performable size. There are key characters not fleshed out and places where the narrative is only skimmed. The writers and the composer, Claude-Michel Schönberg, caught flak from critics who felt Hugo’s story had been oversimplified and sentimentalized.
So then, what’s great about Les Miz? It has songs and scenes that are unforgettable: Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream.” The brief but fiery appearances of the revolutionary, Enjorlas. Every fan has a list of favorites, and by the way, the original story by Hugo is darn good. The musical, despite its cuts, dramatizes many high points powerfully, creating an experience that has moved millions. The latest touring production of Les Misérables stops in Pittsburgh for an eight-show run through the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)
THE WANDERERS by Anna Ziegler. City Theatre. November 26 – December 18.
Life tests us––well beyond the challenging years of SAT tests––to compare and contrast. In Anna Ziegler’s highly acclaimed wistful drama, The Wanderers, two couples play out their marriages in comparative strokes of introspection and dreams. Esther and Schmuli are two young Orthodox Jews in a traditional arranged marriage. Abe and Sophie, more modern and more fascinated with secular ideals of fame and fortune, follow more common paths to marital happiness. But, as a novelist and near-narrator of his own story, Abe flirts with temptation and, like a serpent, it bites back in ways that pose for each couple the elusive mysteries of true love. Ziegler, whose popular plays include The Last Match, Boy, and Photograph 51, has won huge praise for this sweet, wryly funny, dive into what makes humans happy. The DC Theatre Scene even lauded it as “the perfect play.” City Theatre presents The Wanderers at 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (C.P.O.)
Other Shows of Interest
Saturday, November 5
WIP Choreography Project 2022 (Texture Contemporary Ballet)
Thursday, November 10 – Sunday, November 20
Graceland and Asleep on the Wind (Little Lake Theatre)
Saturday, November 12 & Sunday, November 13
Dallas Black Dance Theatre (Point Park Playhouse)
Thursday, November 17 – Sunday, November 20
Searching For Willie Lynch (New Horizon Theater)
Saturday, November 19
Ballet Hispánico (via Pittsburgh Dance Council)
Saturday, November 19 – Wednesday, November 30
This Old Haunt (Carnegie Mellon School of Drama)
Wednesday, November 30
The Hip Hop Nutcracker (touring company at Benedum Center)
Big Shows on the Horizon
A Christmas Story (Pittsburgh Public Theater)
The Nutcracker (Pittsburgh Ballet Theater)
A Musical Christmas Carol (Pittsburgh CLO)
A Lyrical Christmas Carol (Pittsburgh Musical Theater)
Mike Vargo and C. Prentiss Orr are Pittsburgh-based writers who cover the performing and visual arts for Entertainment Central. Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.