Theater Guide March 2024: March Makes Way for New Theater, Creative Dance, and Classic Broadway

Pittsburgh Opera is producing 'La Traviata' this month at the Benedum. (Photo by Dana Sohm for Lyric Opera of Kansas City.)

Pittsburgh Opera is producing ‘La Traviata’ this month at the Benedum. (Photo by Dana Sohm for Lyric Opera of Kansas City.)

If it’s true one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel, it’s no less true that one principled thinker can move mountains. As we enter Pittsburgh’s many great theaters this month, we find  monumental works that display the power one singular individual can wield. Take to heart the influence of Anne Frank, a young girl whose own tattered diary mirrored a generation of souls lost to pathetic prejudice. (And Then They Came For Me spins that mirror.) Or think what impact Shakespeare’s sad prince hath wrought on the human psyche. (Fat Ham grills the humor of our mental frailties.) Alternately, discover the difference one dire diva makes in a society of sycophants. (La Traviata sings for social change.) Then, for the more sensory starved, experience the deep diaspora of dance (African, Cuban, Latin and more) when Ronald K. Brown’s EVIDENCE spins gold from the skeins of spiritual movement. Or feel the Transformations of time, space and sound warping and weaving into wonderment. And not to be drowned out, Corningworks’ What Did You Think You Just Heard Me Say?! comes along with its curious movements concerning miscommunication deftly delivered. (Clearly, March is a month for dance!) 

For less adventurous hikers of mindful mountains or Marley-matted mesas come some masterpieces of amusement. Slip into a front row seat for Grease, light a candle for Rent, find a mate for Mama Mia!, or go incognito to The Importance of Being Earnest. Whichever your choice(s), no path in your pursuit of performance art here will steer you wrong. Not in Pittsburgh. And not with these picks for March. Make it memorable and move your mountain. The Theater Guide outline is created by the theater writers and theater editors of Entertainment Central. Mike Vargo (M.V.) also contributed to this guide.

Spotlight Picks:

AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME: Remembering the World of Anne Frank (drama with multimedia) by James Still. Prime Stage Theatre Company, March 1 – 10.

Anne Frank (Molly Frontz) shares a hopeful moment with friend Ed Silverberg (Ayden Freed) in Prime Stage Theatre's 'And Then They Came for Me ... Remembering the World of Anne Frank.' (photo: Laura Slovesko)

Anne Frank (Molly Frontz) shares a hopeful moment with friend Ed Silverberg (Ayden Freed) in Prime Stage Theatre’s ‘And Then They Came for Me … Remembering the World of Anne Frank.’ (photo: Laura Slovesko)

As if Anne Frank’s immortal diary was insufficient testimony to the impending horror of the Holocaust, And Then They Came for Me adds another layer of unforgettable truth. Holocaust survivors Ed Silverberg and Eva Schloss appear in James Still’s docudrama to relive their actual childhood memories of playing with Anne Frank. Ed Silverberg is recorded early in her famous diary as “my first boyfriend.” Another close neighbor, Eva Schloss, went into hiding on the same day as Anne. Through recorded “live” interviews and dramatic stage re-enactments by young actors, the juxtaposition of memory and reality unleashes the horror of fear and confusion for Jewish families during the Holocaust. And Then They Came For Me is more than a memory play, more than a documentary of events, and much more than any historical drama audiences will find hard to forget. Prime Stage features a cast of seven, two of whom perform the childhood roles of Ed and Eva, and one who plays Anne Frank. Performances are on Friday and Saturday evenings, with Sunday matinees. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (C.P.O.) 

FAT HAM by James Ijames. City Theatre. March 2 – 24.

How good is Fat Ham? We’re talking about the play, not a suboptimal piece of pork. And the comedy-slash-drama is so good that it won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Drama before it even had a live production in front of an audience. (The prize committee watched an early digital version and apparently saw enough to say “This is it!”) Also, Fat Ham is not a straight-up modern adaptation of Hamlet. Rather, playwright James Ijames took the bare bones of Shakespeare’s plot and fleshed them out all zany in a play set at a family barbecue. Our hero is not a prince but an ample gay Black lad named Juicy. The barbecue is to celebrate his mom’s wedding to his uncle. But lo, the ghost of Juicy’s dead dad appears, claiming the couple conspired to murder him and Juicy must avenge the deed. Will Juicy do it? Or is he, as some believe, just a suboptimal piece of pork? The play includes a rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” (“I’m a creep / I’m a weirdo,” etc.), and raises issues of Black masculinity and homophobia. But in the process, it raises the roof. City Theatre presents the Pittsburgh premiere of Fat Ham. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (M.V.)

Ronald K. Brown / EVIDENCE (dance/ballet) on tour, presented by the Pittsburgh Dance Council at the Byham Theater, March 2.

For more than thirty years, Ronald K. Brown’s dance company from Brooklyn, EVIDENCE, has been highly acclaimed for its artistic focus on traditional African dance expressed through contemporary choreography and the spoken word. It’s a meaningful mixture the New York Times critic, Brian Seibert, succinctly outlined. “There are certain givens in a dance by Ronald K. Brown. Deep, spiritual seriousness. A sophisticated mastery of stage space. [And] music that makes you want to move.”  EVIDENCE will present three distinct pieces in its visit to Pittsburgh. Brown’s new work, “The Equality of Night and Day,” is an exploration of present-day conflict faced by women, people of color, and a younger rising generation. “Open Door” will celebrate Afro Cuban dance forms with the music of Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble. And, in homage to Pittsburgh photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris, Brown’s company will present an excerpt of its larger work, “One Shot,” entitled “Palo Y Machete.” Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Cultural District. (C.P.O.)

GREASE (musical) by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. Pittsburgh Musical Theater. March 7 – 17.

PMT's 'Grease' features Broadway musical performers Davis Wayne (Danny) and Maya Santiago (Sandy). (Photo: DNapps Productions)

PMT’s ‘Grease’ features Broadway musical performers Davis Wayne (Danny) and Maya Santiago (Sandy). (Photo: DNapps Productions)

Before Grease was the word, it was a shockingly gritty urban theater piece that mixed raw, raucous humor with frightening depictions of life among the tough kids at a big-city high school. This original Grease was staged by Chicago’s Kingston Mines theater company in 1971. It became an underground sensation, and writers Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey were told it had mass-market potential—if they would tone down the language, brighten up the script, and write more songs, turning Grease from a “play with music” into a full-blown musical. The Grease that we’ve come to know since then is much tamer, but not exactly lame. It has won generations of fans via live productions worldwide. The 1978 movie, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, was a box-office winner. Now see it live: Pittsburgh Musical Theater serves up Grease with a starry cast led by Maya Santiago as Sandy and Davis Wayne as Danny. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Cultural District. (M.V.)

RENT (rock musical) with book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson. Conservatory Theatre Company at the Pittsburgh Playhouse PNC Theatre, March 13 – 17.

The show famously ran on Broadway for more than 12 years, winning the Pulitzer for Drama, and a Tony for Best Musical (among several others.) Just as famously, perhaps, its creator Jonathan Larson died the night before the show officially opened at the New York Theatre Workshop on January 26, 1996. Rent has become perhaps the most American “character musical” since A Chorus Line. But, of course, it is based on Puccini’s opera, La Boheme. Here, the musical eschews its French Restoration settings and underscores the desperate lives of modern day bohemians living in New York’s Greenwich Village; here, too, the threat of tuberculosis becomes the fear of HIV/AIDS. Yet, it all sings to the spirit of love-starved artists who, against unforgiving odds, mostly eke by. Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company stages this modern classic with just four evening shows and two matinees. PNC Theatre, 350 Forbes Ave., Downtown. (C.P.O.)  

TRANSFORMATIONS (dance/ballet) presented by Texture Contemporary Ballet, Alan Obuzor, Artistic Director.  March 15, 16, and 17.

Abigrace Diprima, Elaina Sutula, and Baylee Sullivan dance a number from Texture Contemporary Ballet's 'Transformations.' (Photo: Rachel Harman)

Abigrace Diprima, Elaina Sutula, and Baylee Sullivan dance a number from Texture Contemporary Ballet’s ‘Transformations.’ (Photo: Rachel Harman)

Priding itself in “presenting more new work than most other companies across the country,” Texture Contemporary Ballet is holding true to its promise with five new works at the New Hazlett Theater in a show titled Transformations. Kicking off the evening’s theme of change and transition, choreographer Madeline Kendall Schreiber will premiere “Verdurous,” a work for five dancers, accompanied by the music of Bach, Ólafur Arnalds, Erland Cooper and Björk/Vitamin String Quartet, among others. “Chasse Neige,” with music by Franz Liszt, follows in expanded form from its 2018 premiere choreographed by Katie Miller. Dancers Madison Cole and Jillian Sinko will perform “YES,” a 2017 work by choreographers Kelsey Bartman and Alan Obuzor. Then, celebrating the “natural ebb and flow of life that we all experience,” a refreshened “Breathe” (first presented outdoors at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater’s Open Air event in 2021) will find new life indoors with four company dancers. And, in a world premiere, Obuzor will close the evening with his latest work, “Here/There,” a piece which includes music from Anesthesia, Fun, Glass Animals, and The Airborne Toxic Event. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. (C.P.O.)

WHAT DID YOU THINK YOU JUST HEARD ME SAY?! (dance/theater) by Beth Corning.  Corningworks at City Theatre. March 15 – 24.

Beth Corning is at it again. Pittsburgh theater fans know Corning as the highly experienced choreographer, dancer, and theater artist who operates by the maxim “Never say die till you die and then it’s too late anyway.” Now she’s got a new piece which, like many of her previous, dramatizes (and comedy-izes) the quirky quandaries of modern life. What Did You Think You Just Heard Me Say?! is about miscommunication. This multimedia show includes rolling full-length mirrors, floating text, and who knows what else? More significantly it is performed by renowned dancer/actors Alberto del Saz, Evan Fisk, and Claire Porter, along with Corning. Her company, Corningworks, presents What Did You Think You Just Heard Me Say?! in the intimate confines of City Theatre’s Lillie Theatre. 1300 Bingham St., South Side. (M.V.)

LA TRAVIATA (opera) by Giuseppi Verdi, presented by Pittsburgh Opera, March 16, 19, 22 & 24.

For Pittsburgh audiences who may not have yet experienced great opera, La Traviata ranks among the most popular works to convert new fans. And, unlike many other classics, La Traviata has a simple plot and few characters to follow, a sometimes arduous task when the lyrics are all in Italian. Violetta Valéry is the central character, a “fallen woman” to her family’s social circle, but a high-spirited and beloved joy in the world of the rich and decadent. She is courted by Alfredo Germont whose father fears the worst for his son—not to mention a daughter soon to be wed—and tries his best to sabotage their romance. Yet, Violetta and Alfredo affirm their “match made in heaven,” until Violetta is forced to return to her more humble roots. Ill deeds and ill health have caused pains that may never heal. Indeed, La Traviata is a tragedy of epic and eloquent proportions. Pittsburgh Opera features soprano Vuvu Mpofu and tenor Duke Kim in the lead roles performing under the direction of Conductor Antony Walker and Stage Director Kristine McIntyre. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (C.P.O.)

MAMMA MIA! (jukebox musical) by Catherine Johnson, with songs by ABBA. Touring company; PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh series. March 26 – 31. 

One of the more puzzling success stories in contemporary theater is Mamma Mia! The show has been a long-running hit with audiences worldwide for years, despite never winning any major “Best” awards and being what seems like a niche product—a jukebox musical that’s all ABBA. To enjoy the tunes, you’ve got to like disco-inflected Europop from a group defunct since 1982. Yet Mamma Mia! premiered to sold-out houses in London in 1999. The Broadway production whiffed on Tony Awards but ran for 14 years in New York. The 2008 movie got tepid reviews but did well at the box office, and the fan base for the live musical lives on. Of course part of the draw is playwright Catherine Johnson’s script: a young bride-to-be wants to be walked down the aisle by her father, which is tricky because her mamma had more than one candidate. Maybe this funny-but-touching story combines with ABBA’s music to create a certain jag vet inte vad. That’s Swedish for je ne sais quoi. Hurry, hurry to reserve for the 25th anniversary touring production of Mamma Mia! Seats are going fast at Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (M.V.) 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Jenny Koons. Pittsburgh Public Theater. March 27 – April 14. 

Oscar Wilde’s funniest play was his last. The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in London in 1895, just as the controversy that ruined Wilde’s career was coming to a boil: He was in a same-sex love affair with the son of an English nobleman who objected mightily. Although Earnest is popular for its sheer silliness, it may contain sly allusions to Wilde’s real-life predicament. The central character is a man who enjoys having a secret identity, and wants to marry the—ahem—daughter of Lady Bracknell, an upper-crusty English noblewoman. Earnest was a hit when it opened, for its clever twitting of the era’s social conventions, and has aged well due to its nonstop flow of ditzy dialogue in absurd situations. You’ve got to love a play with lines like “To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.” Pittsburgh Public Theater presents The Importance of Being Earnest in an adaptation by New York-based theater artist Jenny Koons, who also directs. In the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (M.V.)


THE BOOK OF MORMON (musical) by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone. Touring company at Benedum Center. February 27 – March 3.

If you missed The Book of Mormon last time it played in town you’ll know to reserve tickets early. The show won nine Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2011; it has been called one of the best musicals ever. In an age when few things can shock an audience, this work by the creators of the “South Park” TV series is shockingly (and hilariously) irreverent while also being surprisingly uplifting. Two naïve young Mormon missionaries are sent to win converts in a remote part of Africa where the locals are, shall we say, skeptical. It’s like The Poisonwood Bible meets Key & Peele, but naughtier than either: Unless you want your kids to hear songs like “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” don’t bring them. The North American touring company performs The Book of Mormon here as part of the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh Series. Benedum Center, 237 7th St., Cultural District. (M.V.)

SKELETON CREW by Dominique Morisseau. Barebones productions. Through March 10. 

Karmic convergence is real. Here’s a strong theater company in a dramatic location doing a play that fits the scene. Barebones productions, known for its staging of cutting-edge modern shows, performs just east of Pittsburgh in Braddock—once a boomtown of 20,000 people, now a town on the rebound that’s home to fewer than 2,000. The company’s theater is at the edge of Braddock, directly across from U.S. Steel’s fabled Edgar Thomson Works. Built in 1875 by Andrew Carnegie, the mill is now modernized and still running—but with vastly fewer workers than it once employed. And the first play of this year at barebones is Dominique Morisseau’s Skeleton Crew. Set in an automotive sheet-metal plant near Detroit, it’s a seriocomic gripper about four workers dealing with the fact that their jobs may soon be downsized out of existence. Skeleton Crew premiered off-Broadway in 2016; a 2022 Broadway production was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. Like the other plays in Morisseau’s “Detroit Project”—a venture inspired, in part, by August Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle—this one draws raves for how it interweaves colorful characters and their stories. Barebones has Tomé Cousin directing a formidable cast including actor/singer Etta Cox. See Skeleton Crew in the barebones black box. 1211 Braddock Ave, Braddock. (M.V.)

THE PERFECT MATE (musical) by Dan Lipton and David Rossmer. Pittsburgh CLO. Through March 17. 

The year is 2063 and Joan Sweete, a young single woman with the archaic belief that true love can only be shared and nurtured one soulmate at a time, challenges her values (and libido) by entering a love-match contest. Of course, she wins the grand prize: a robot programmed with human emotion. Turns out, Miss Sweete may have found her forever lover. Yet, can a robotic Romeo deliver that which Juliet claimed “is nor hand, nor foot, nor arm, nor face, nor any other part belonging to a man?” The Perfect Mate was developed by David Rossmer and Dan Lipton as part of CLO’s inaugural SPARK festival, launched in 2018, to encourage the creation of new musical theater. The Perfect Mate features two alumnae of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama, Gena Sims and Olivia Vadnais, and is directed by Off Broadway’s seemingly ubiquitous Carolyn Cantor. Mature audience advisory. At the newly redesigned Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Ave., Cultural District, Downtown. (C.P.O.)

Big Shows on the Horizon:
(Listed by Opening Date)

April 5
Scenes From an Execution (Quantum Theatre)

April 16
Company (PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh)

April 18
Million Dollar Quartet (PMT)

April 20
Andy Warhol in Iran (City Theatre)

April 27
The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson  (Pittsburgh Opera)

April 30
Jesus Christ Superstar (Tobin Entertainment, Benedum Center)

C. Prentiss Orr writes about theater for Entertainment Central. He has worked in theater management and has also taught theater.

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