October Theater Guide: They’re Back

Get your tickets now. Live theater returns to Pittsburgh, with 'The Band's Visit' among the October highlights. (photo: Matthew Murphy)

Get your tickets now. Live theater returns to Pittsburgh, with ‘The Band’s Visit’ (above) among the October highlights. Photo: Matthew Murphy

Until further notice, at least, live theater is alive and well in Pittsburgh. October marks the first month since early last year with a mostly-full schedule of productions. The nameplate show is The Band’s Visit, as the touring company revisits to finish a run interrupted by the onset of the pandemic. But the big (and welcome) news is that once again we can choose from a wide selection presented by local companies. 

PICT Classic Theatre opens its 25th season with Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a comedy well worth seeing if you haven’t yet. City Theatre brings in Universes, a New York spoken word ensemble, to perform the music-infused Live From the Edge. The Public revives a Pittsburgh classic, The Chief, in a new version that highlights different aspects of the life of the late and colorful Art Rooney. 

Dance-wise, Pittsburgh Ballet dances a mixed-rep program of modern and contemporary pieces, while a more offbeat choice would be Corningworks’ The Other Shoe, which drops a few surprises. Musicals abound. Curtains (Pittsburgh Playhouse) is a comical mystery. Newsies the Musical (Lincoln Park in Midland) recreates the newsboys strike of 1899, with song and dance. Kalopsia the Musical (at the New Hazlett) offers a high-energy look at the business of getting one’s head straight. 

There is more. The informative previews below are in two categories. Spotlighted Shows come first, but please don’t skip the Other Shows of Note. Intriguing entries there include New Horizon Theater’s de Moor, which imagines a Black knight in the realm of King Arthur. Shows are listed in order of their run dates.

When reserving for any performance, check the Covid precautions and requirements. You’ll typically need proof of vaccination and a mask. 

Entertainment Central Spotlighted Shows

SLOW FOOD (filmed production online) by Wendy MacLeod. Pittsburgh Public Theater. Oct. 5 – 17.

Would you trust this man to bring you a spanakopita? Jason Shavers is the waiter in 'Slow Food.' (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Would you trust this man to bring you a spanakopita? Jason Shavers is the waiter in ‘Slow Food.’ (Photo courtesy of the artist)

When Andy Warhol was asked if he ate fast food, he said “No, I eat food fast.” He probably would’ve identified with the frustrations depicted in Slow Food. In this comedy by Wendy MacLeod, a man and woman arrive at a nice restaurant frazzled by the day’s hassles and hoping to do more than just dine. They’re ready to devour. But lo and be-slow, they get a waiter who insists on explaining, negotiating, and micromanaging every menu item while engaging in personal conversation that is irrelevant to the satisfaction of hunger. Pittsburgh Public Theater presents Slow Food online. This has allowed the play to be filmed at an actual restaurant, Con Alma in the Cultural District. Daina Michelle Griffith and Daniel Krell play the famished couple with Jason Shavers as the waiter. Online tickets to Slow Food give you on-demand viewing access from October 5 to 17. Although the production isn’t live on stage, think of it as a grand- finale bridge from our recent era of virtual theater. And there’s a consolation prize: Tickets include free access to an online cooking lesson by Con Alma chef Tasso Athans. 

NEWSIES THE MUSICAL by Alan Menken, Jack Feldman, and Harvey Fierstein, from the Disney film. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. Oct. 8 – 17.

Is there a better place than the Pittsburgh area to see a musical about labor history? Newsies The Musical (aka Disney’s Newsies) is drawn from the 1992 movie, which in turn was based on the New York newsboys’ strike of 1899. Afternoon dailies back then were sold mainly by young folks—including girls—who paid up front for a bundle of papers, then had to peddle them on the streets till they cleared a profit. When a couple of big publishers made this tough job tougher by raising the cost to the newsies, the newsies struck for better terms. And won. The Newsies musical, with a book by Harvey Fierstein, has fictional elements but is said to stay closer to how things actually went down than the film did. Characters include Joseph Pulitzer, Theodore Roosevelt, and of course the big heroes, the teenaged strike leaders. You may have to travel a bit beyond the city to see this show but the trip should be worthwhile. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center presents Newsies the Musical at 1 Lincoln Place, Midland.   

LIVE FROM THE EDGE by Universes. Presented by City Theatre. Oct. 9 – 31.  

New York's Universes ensemble roars into Pittsburgh to kick off the 2021-22 season at City Theatre.

New York’s Universes ensemble turns spoken word into a roar.

Live from the Edge, created and performed by the New York-based company Universes, comes to Pittsburgh as part of City Theatre’s new season. Universes grew out of New York’s spoken word scene in the 1990s. A few artists began performing together, then gradually turned themselves into an ensemble producing feature-length theater pieces. They use spoken, chanted, and sung words in myriad configurations limited only by the human imagination. Live from the Edge “tracks the evolution of language from childhood rhymes and community rituals to poetry and theater, hip-hop, gospel, Latin jazz and down home blues.” October 9 – 14 are pick-your-price previews; reserve online for $5 or more. Live from the Edge is on City Theatre’s Mainstage, 1300 Bingham St., South Side.

CURTAINS (musical) by Rupert Holmes, John Kander, and Fred Ebb. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory Theatre Company. Oct. 13 – 17.

Curtains is a mystery. Also, it’s a parody of a mystery: a musical sendup of murder mysteries about murders done backstage at musicals. Mainly, though, Curtains is a mystery because it hasn’t been professionally produced very often lately—nobody here at Entertainment Central has seen it—and deducing its quality is difficult. The musical has a solid gold pedigree. Its original concept and book were by the eminent stage-and-screen writer Peter Stone. He died before finishing, so completion of the project was taken up by Rupert Holmes in collaboration with the distinguished Broadway duo, Kander and Ebb. Fred Ebb also died along the way, another sad event and not a good omen. Curtains opened on Broadway in 2007 to mixed reviews, including a pan from The New York Times. However the show was nominated for eight Tony Awards, winning a Best Actor for David Hyde Pierce. Curtains is described as zany. Being a musical about musicals, it has a show within the show and features a snarky song about critics, “What Kind of Man?” See all mysteries resolved as the Pittsburgh Playhouse  Conservatory Theatre performs Curtains. 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. 

THE OTHER SHOE (modern dance and performance) by Beth Corning and others. Corningworks. Oct. 20 – 24. 

Beth Corning releases another in 'The Other Shoe.'

Beth Corning releases another in ‘The Other Shoe.’

It is redundant to say that Beth Corning has come up with an unusual idea, since she usually does. The idea this time—presented under the flag of her Corningworks dance and theater project—is a feature-length piece titled The Other Shoe. The show combines serio-sarcastic monologues and modern dance. Performed by Corning along with Kay Cummings, a noted writer-director-actor based in New York, The Other Shoe is billed as a commentary on the state of our society. (Which seems to have had quite a few other shoes dropped upon it in recent times.) Further, while Corning herself choreographed much of the show, it includes four wild-card dances choreographed by other artists. These dances are wild cards in the sense that the guest choreographers were given no thematic guidance except for the title: The Other Shoe. We will therefore see what Donald Byrd, Martha Clarke, Li Chaio-Ping, and Max Stone had to say about that in the language of dance. The Other Shoe is at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. 

THE CHIEF by Rob Zellers and Gene Collier. Pittsburgh Public Theater. Oct. 20 – Nov. 7.

The Chief returns! This one-person bio-play, in which an actor portrays the Pittsburgh Steelers’ founder and longtime owner Art Rooney, has been a favorite since it premiered at Pittsburgh Public Theater in 2003. Now The Public presents a new version. Writers Rob Zellers and Gene Collier have revised their script to bring out parts of Rooney’s colorful life that weren’t so fully treated before. Also, actor Philip Winters inherits the role played memorably by Tom Atkins in the past. Winters, a theater professor at Point Park University, has decades of experience on stage including a key qualification. He has performed The Chief previously, in a production at Saint Vincent Summer Theatre, which equips him to fill the role of a unique character. The late Art Rooney was a multitalented athlete when young: an AAU boxing champ, as well as a hard-nosed football player who used racetrack winnings to start a team of his own. Rooney kept the Steelers going through decades of misfortune until they became Super Bowl champions—and, among the oft-squabbling NFL team owners, he was known as the man who stood for doing what’s right. See The Chief at The Public’s O’Reilly Theater. 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. 

SEASON PREMIERE (four short ballets). Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Oct. 22 – 24.

One may think of ballet as stately, traditional dance, but it’s also changing and evolving. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brings this home with a show titled Season Premiere, which consists of four pieces—two from great choreographers of the 20th century and two from the 21st.  Victor Gsovsky’s 1949 “Grand Pas Classique,” set to music by the composer Daniel Auber, is a pas de deux danced in a precise classical style. George Balanchine’s “Diamonds,” the closing part of his full-length 1967 masterpiece Jewels, is an elegant piece meant to evoke the traditions of imperial Russian ballet. It is danced to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #3 in D major. “Petal,” by Helen Pickett, is energetic yet graceful and clearly contemporary. Here’s a clip of Atlanta Ballet dancing Petal, to music by Philip Glass. The newest work is a so-far-unnamed piece by Jennifer Archibald, founder of Arch Dance Company and the artist who, a few years back, was tapped to develop a hip hop dance curriculum at Columbia’s Barnard College. This excerpt from Archibald’s earlier “Leafs.Bricks.Sun” has music by Aneeliah. Pittsburgh Ballet dances its Season Premiere at Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. 

THE BAND’S VISIT (musical) by David Yazbek and Itamar Moses, from the movie. Touring company at Benedum Center. Oct. 28 – 31. 

The touring production of 'The Band's Visit' features touching moments between Dina (Janet Dacal) and Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay). Gabay starred in the film on which the musical is based. (photo: Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade. )

‘The Band’s Visit’ features touching moments between Dina (Janet Dacal, R) and Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay). Gabay starred in the film on which the musical is based. (photo: Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade)

On Broadway, The Band’s Visit won a staggering 10 Tony Awards in 2018, including the so-called Big Six: Best Musical, Book, Score, Direction, and Leading Actor and Actress. The show is also a fine example of the recent wave of offbeat, smaller-scale musicals, as it differs from traditional Broadway hits in several respects. The score has no big stand-up-and-cheer numbers. Nothing changes dramatically in the story (although it bristles with seriocomic intrigue). And the setting is far from America. The title group in The Band’s Visit is an Egyptian policemen’s band on a cultural visit to Israel. When a band member mispronounces the name of a city where they are to play, they wind up on the wrong bus, which leaves them stranded in a remote town in the Negev desert. The locals greet them by singing “Welcome to Nowhere”—and the rest is a series of interactions between unexpected Egyptians and isolated Israelis. What audiences find deeply moving is how the two groups find common ground: They’re all humans longing for connection in a fragmented world. The touring production of The Band’s Visit arrives in Pittsburgh to complete a run that was interrupted by last year’s pandemic. See our March 2020 review of the production. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. 

AS YOU LIKE IT by William Shakespeare. PICT Classic Theatre. Oct. 28 – Nov. 30. 

What’s not to like about As You Like It? The play is one of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies, which helps to explain why PICT Classic Theatre has chosen it to open the company’s 25th anniversary season. Rosalind, the comedy’s central character, is daring, resourceful, and flat-out funny. Having disguised herself as a young man, she offers manly advice on the arts of love to the man she’s in love with, and that is not all. As You Like It unfolds in a forest abounding with weirdly memorable characters. Many have taken to the woods after palace intrigues made them flee a supposedly higher form of civilized life, which provides another angle to the play. One exile, the irascible cynic Jaques, speaks the famous “All the world’s a stage” monologue, as well as odd lines like “I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs.” The comedy includes a wrestling match, music, and more. PICT stages As You Like It with the October 28 and 29 shows being pick-your-price previews. In the Fred Rogers Studio at WQED, 4802 Fifth Ave., Oakland. 

Other Shows of Note

PLUS ONE (Modern Dance) by Antonio Brown. Attack Theatre. Through Oct. 3.

Attack Theatre, one of Pittsburgh’s top modern dance outfits is celebrating their new Lawrenceville studio with their production, Plus One. explores what a party is without food,—it’s music and dancing. Attack Theatre says, “This new work is an exploration of otherness and belonging, where the plus one is all of us.” Plus One is choreographed by Antonio Brown (Antonio Brown Dance and long-time Bill T. Jones collaborator) with Attack Theatre. The production can be seen in person or livestreamed. 7:30 p.m. 212 45th St.

KALOPSIA THE MUSICAL by Monteze Freeland and Michael Meketa III. New Hazlett Theater Residency Program. Oct. 7 – 17. 

Byrd is a young man with high-flying fantasies and extravagant habits. He figures they make him happy, but do they also make him … well, not quite mentally healthy? And if so, how do you get to sanity without losing your you-ness? Kalopsia the Musical, with book by Monteze Freeland and music by Michael Meketa III, premiered in Pittsburgh in 2017. Now Kalopsia is back in even healthier, hip-hopping shape at the New Hazlett Theater. Tomé Cousin directs. 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. 

POWER/TRIP “adapted from Shakespeare” by Anne Cecelia DeMelo. Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. Oct. 12 – 16. 

According to the bio on her website, Anne Cecelia DeMelo “develops multi-disciplinary civic performances that deconstruct notions of power and control, and investigate new modes of being together.” DeMelo is currently a graduate fellow at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama, where her new play Power/Trip premieres. It is said to be adapted from Shakespeare. Tickets to Power/Trip are free, starting the day before each performance; see details on the school’s box office web page. In The Chosky Theater on the Carnegie Mellon campus, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland.  

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie. Little Lake Theatre. Oct. 14 – 23.

Long before “Survivor” came along, Agatha Christie’s play And Then There Were None held audiences spellbound. Adapted from her best-selling novel, the mystery takes place on an island where a group of castaways are eliminated, one at a time, by a method far more final than voting. Little Lake Theatre performs And Then There Were None at 500 Lakeside Dr., Canonsburg. .  

DE MOOR by Layon Gray. New Horizon Theater. Oct. 29 – 31.

When Arthur's knights set out to find the Holy Grail, was 'de Moor' among them? (image: 'The Arming and Departure of the Knights,' tapestry, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery)

When Arthur’s knights set out to find the Holy Grail, was ‘de Moor’ among them? (image: ‘The Arming and Departure of the Knights,’ tapestry, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery)

Pittsburgh’s New Horizon Theater, devoted to producing plays from African-Americans viewpoints, launches its 30th season by staging Layon Gray’s de Moor.  Writer/director Gray has built a national reputation for plays that portray real-life persons and events in U.S. history—but with de Moor, he’s trying something different. This one is a twist on the King Arthur legends. It introduces a Black knight amid the fellowship of the Round Table. Gray himself comes to Pittsburgh to direct de Moor for New Horizon. Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. 

ABDUCTION (musical) by T.J. Pieffer, Becki Toth, and Brad Kemp. Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh. Oct. 29 – 31. 

The public is invited free of charge to an incubator workshop production of Abduction, a new musical about a high school student who witnesses an alien abduction, with confusing and comical consequences. Writers-composers T.J. Pieffer, Becki Toth, and Brad Kemp are eager to see how you will respond. Abduction has reached a near-final stage of development! Reserve free tickets by contacting Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh on the web. (At the door, you’ll need proof of vaccination and a mask.) Presented by MTAP at Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. 

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