October Theater Guide: Innovative Productions and Revered Classics

Caroline Bowman (Elsa) and the company of the Frozen North American Tour will be at the Benedum this month. (Photo: Deen van Meer)

Caroline Bowman (Elsa) and the company of the Frozen North American Tour will be at the Benedum this month. (Photo: Deen van Meer)

This month in Pittsburgh theater we have a variety of different genres represented. We have productions about legendary people in the entertainment industry. The Playhouse has Sondheim on Sondheim about one of the most innovative people in the theater industry in the later half of the 20th century—Stephen Sondheim. The Cultural Trust is hosting the Pittsburgh premier of I’m Not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce. It is a one man show about the bombastic humorist starring Ronnie Marmo and directed by Joe Mantegna. If you want to see one of Sondheim’s works onstage in Pittsburgh this month, you can catch Into the Woods at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center.

Disney’s Frozen takes the stage at the Benedum as part of the Cultural Trust and PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre kicks off its season with a mixed repertoire program of three works including one by PBT principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano. Idaspe is a co-production of Quantum Theatre and Chatham Baroque and revives and adapts a long-lost opera by Riccardo Broschi. A Raisin in the Sun was the first Broadway play authored by an African American woman and will be running at Pittsburgh Public Theater.

All are previewed below as Spotlight Picks for the month, followed by Other Shows of Interest, and Big Shows on the Horizon. Shows are listed by run dates within each category. Mike Vargo (M.V.) and C. Prentiss Orr (C.P.O.) were the main contributors to this guide. 

Spotlight Picks

DISNEY’S FROZEN (Musical). Music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and book by Jennifer Lee. PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. October 5 -16.

Along with handsome mountain man Kristoff and his trusty reindeer, Sven, Anna goes in search of her sister, Elsa, trapped in the eternal winter kingdom of Arendelle. It’s an icy world of her own making; Elsa has magical powers that both frighten her and protect her from destroying those she loves. As any young Disney fan will tell you, the plot of Frozen is about as simple as a snowball. But the joy of the story comes from an impressively well-rounded score–including a dozen new songs for this Broadway adaptation – by songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. As only Disney could pull it off, the staged production astounds audiences with special effects, spectacular choreography and mind-blowing theatrics. Frozen, nominated for three Tony Awards, slaloms onto the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust stage at the Benedum. 237 7th St., Cultural District. (C.P.O.)

Two Pittsburgh Ballet dancers performing a scene from 'Duende.'

Two Pittsburgh Ballet dancers performing a scene from ‘Duende.’

STORYTELLING IN MOTION Mixed repertoire program. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. October 7 – 9.

Opening the season at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is Storytelling in Motion, at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. And oh what beautiful motion it will be with a mixed program of world renowned contemporary pieces, including Nacho Duato’s Duende, Helen Pickett’s The Exiled and the world premiere of a new work by PBT’s own principal dancer Yoshiaki Nakano. Duato’s process usually begins with being inspired by a piece of music, in this case, French classical composer Claude Debussy’s “Duende.” In composing “Duende” Debussy was inspired by the sounds of nature. In creating the piece, Duato sought to fuse the choreography with the music. In Pickett’s The Exiled three strangers are doomed to spend eternity together in a single room with the action being narrated by two Proprietors. And capping the repertoire off is Nakano’s premier piece. 980 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (R.H.)

IDASPE (opera) by Riccardo Broschi, adapted by Claire van Kampen and Chatham Baroque. October 7 – 15. Quantum Theatre. 

Once again, Quantum Theatre is collaborating with the music ensemble Chatham Baroque to present an opera—one likely to be a rare treat even for non-opera fans. In 2015 the two companies joined with Pittsburgh’s Attack Theatre to produce an absolutely stunning (and often hilarious) opera adapted from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. If you saw it, prepare to have your mind blown further. This year’s show is a modern adaptation of the beautiful but long-neglected Idaspe, by the Italian composer Riccardo Broschi. The original was staged in Venice in 1730. Arias from Idaspe have been performed since then but the entire opera went basically un-revived until now. Quantum has recruited an international group of stars to adapt and sing Idaspe, all under the direction of London-based theater artist Claire van Kampen. Whereas the plot of Broschi’s original involved princes and princesses, the Idaspe you’ll see in Pittsburgh revolves around a gang war between competing clans in Naples. And whereas Broschi’s original provided a lead role for his brother, a famous castrato, these days we don’t castrate young men to keep their voices high. The high-register male singers are countertenors John Holiday and Wei En Chan. Quantum’s Idapse—produced with support from the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust—is sung in Italian with English translations projected. This promises to be a very interesting production. Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)

INTO THE WOODS (musical) by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. October 7 – 16.

The Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical Into the Woods has been a subject of aesthetic controversy since its 1987 Broadway debut. This dark mashup of already-dark fairy tales has been called a masterpiece by some and brilliant but flawed by others. To complicate things, many people know Into the Woods only from the 2014 movie version (see clip above), which has brilliances and flaws of its own. The musical deserves a viewing live on stage, and you can see and hear it done that way at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. Located in Midland, along the Ohio River, the Lincoln Park nonprofit enterprise is known by many for its Performing Arts Charter School, which draws students from all around the Greater Pittsburgh area. But the building complex includes a state-of-the-art mainstage theater where shows with professional actors (as well as some students) are produced. See Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, Cinderella, and the rest of the Into the Woods gang at 1 Lincoln Park, Midland. (M.V.)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN by Lorraine Hansberry. Pittsburgh Public Theater. October 12 – 30.

When Big Walter dies, his family, who have long eked out a weary life in their 1950s Chicago apartment, receives a large insurance check promising more in the way of dreams than dollars. A Raisin in the Sun, written by Lorraine Hansberry (when she was just 28 years old,) is a time-honored drama of a Black family’s despair and disappointments set aside when fortune shines – like a warm sun on a dingy, city windowsill – briefly but beautifully. The family son, young Walter, wants to start a business. Sister Beneatha wants to go to medical school. Mama just wants a backyard for her grandson. The original production premiered in 1959, directed by Lloyd Richards, featuring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Ivan Dixon and Louis Gossett (Sr.). Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production is directed by Timothy McCuen Piggee. O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Avenue, Cultural District (C.P.O.)

SONHEIM ON SONDHEIM (Multimedia musical documentary) by James Lapine. Pittsburgh Playhouse Conservatory  October 19 – 23.

Stephen Sondheim taking a smoke break during work in the 1970s.

Stephen Sondheim taking a smoke break during work in the 1970s.

Not unlike the Broadway legend himself, Sondheim on Sondheim, first produced by David Kernan in 2000 as Moving On! for London’s West End, has a much-storied and multilayered past. The musical revue, renamed Sondheim on Sondheim, was then adapted for American audiences by Director James Lapine in 2010, adding a mixed media presentation of interviews and commentary by Stephen Sondheim speaking about his artistic development and his theatrical upbringing.  An “adopted” son of Oscar Hammerstein and a wunderkind of musical composition, the young man found himself on center stage, proverbially, with West Side Story, for which he wrote the lyrics. Determined to write his own full musicals, Sondheim crafted A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, followed by Anyone Can Whistle, then Do I Hear a Waltz?  Of course, he was just beginning. Company, Follies and A Little Night Music would launch his career to another artistic plain in the early ‘70s. Few of his fans need to be reminded of his later compositions. Both a revue of more than 36 staged numbers and autobiographic documentary, Sondheim on Sondheim opens at Point Park University’s Highmark Theatre. 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. (C.P.O.)

I’M NOT A COMEDIAN … I’M LENNY BRUCE (one-man show) with Ronnie Marmo, directed by Joe Mantegna. October 21 – 22. Touring production at the Byham Theater. 

The necktie is loose, and Lenny is on the loose. Actor Ronnie Marmo portrays the late hell-raiser in 'I'm Not a Comedian ... I'm Lenny Bruce.' (Photo courtesy of the artist)

The necktie is loose, and Lenny is on the loose. Actor Ronnie Marmo portrays the late hell-raiser in ‘I’m Not a Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce.’ (Photo courtesy of the artist)

Doesn’t matter whether you are a Pittsburgh theater fan with a sense of history or a scorn for history. You might relish a one-man play about the man who was a one-man tornado onstage. I’m Not a Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce visits Pittsburgh for a two-night stand after a lauded run off Broadway. Lenny Bruce (1925-1966) was the standup comic who, more than anyone else, broke the ground for future waves of standup artists being able to do material that’s sexually explicit and socio-politically rambunctious. He did it in the 1950s and early ‘60s, an era when such antics got him busted repeatedly for obscenity—but profoundly influenced performers such as Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and many others. In the touring show, veteran actor Ronnie Marmo re-creates Bruce with direction from Joe Mantegna, a powerful actor in his own right (House of Games, TV’s “Criminal Minds,” etc.). I’m Not a Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce addresses an always-hot issue, freedom of speech, in a style quite different from court decisions. Byham Theater, 101 6th St., Cultural District. (M.V.) 

Continuing:

EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL Book and lyrics by George Reinblatt. Music by Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris and George Reinblatt. Additional lyrics by Christopher Bond. Additional music by Rob Daleman. Pittsburgh Musical Theatre. Through October 22.

Charlie Thompson (Jake), Brett Goodnack (Ash), and Callee Miles (Annie) are on the lookout for more evil occurrences in PMT's 'Evil Dead: The Musical.'

Charlie Thompson (Jake), Brett Goodnack (Ash), and Callee Miles (Annie) are on the lookout for more evil occurrences in PMT’s ‘Evil Dead: The Musical.’

So far, over 500 productions of Evil Dead: The Musical have been staged worldwide. Think of what this has required in human terms. Hundreds of talented actors, fluent at using their hands gracefully on stage, had to learn how to play a character whose right hand is replaced by a chainsaw. Yet the role is a coveted one, for Ashley “Ash” Williams is not your average bionic hero. In the Evil Dead films on which the musical is based, he duels with deadites in settings from the present-day U.S. to medieval Europe. Ash is a complexly flawed hero who bumbles through everyday life, but excels in matters such as fighting the Kandarian Demon. The British cinema magazine Empire ranked him the greatest horror movie character of all time. Pittsburgh Musical Theater—which has staged Evil Dead at least twice before—resurrects Evil Dead: The Musical by popular demand. Exuberant audience response is welcome but leave your chainsaws, and children, at home. Preferably not in the same room. West End Canopy at Gargaro Theater, 327 S. Main St., West End. (M.V., R.H.)

Other Shows of Interest

October 14
Animated Arias (Pittsburgh Opera & Point Park)

October 20 – 30
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lilly (Little Lake)

Big Shows on the Horizon

November 4 – 13
Frankenstein (Prime Stage)
Murder on the Orient Express (Lincoln Park)

November 5 – 13
The Marriage of Figaro (Pittsburgh Opera)

November 10 – 20
Urinetown (Stage 62)

November 15 – 20
Hadestown (PNC Broadway)

November 22 – 27
Les Misérables (PNC Broadway)

November 26 – December 18
The Wanderers (City Theatre)

Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central.