Celtic Thunder Brings Irish Music to Benedum Center; Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Staging ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ (Sun., 9/16/18)

1) Celtic Thunder is celebrating its ten-year anniversary with a new tour. Featured singers Damian McGinty, Ryan Kelly, Michael O’Dwyer, Emmet Cahill, and Neil Byrne backed by an eight-piece band that includes strings, guitar, percussion, and pipes, has something for everyone. You’ll get smooth and mesmerizing vocals along with crisscrossing genres of traditional Irish, classical, and adult-contemporary music when the super-group stops in Pittsburgh for a performance at the Benedum Center. With deep and complex harmonies, as in “Amazing Grace” and “Toora, Loora, Lay,” Celtic Thunder may give you some of those “oh-my-gosh-that-was-amazing” chills. 8 p.m.237 7th St.., Cultural District. (RH)

The real Ma Rainey knew the blues—and years later, August Wilson dramatized them. (Photo, 1917, source unknown)

The real Ma Rainey knew the blues. Years later, August Wilson dramatized them. (Photo, 1917, source unknown)

2) August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle is also known as the American Century Cycle, since it consists of 10 plays, one for each decade of the 20th century. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company is performing the only one not set in Pittsburgh, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. This turbulent tale of a jazz/blues band takes place in Chicago during the 1920s. And although the play is fiction, the title character was real. Blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was among the first African-American women to hit it big as a recording artist. In 1927, she actually did record a song about a dance craze called the Black Bottom. Wilson’s play puts us in the studio with her band on that day, imagining a session that starts contentiously and spirals out of control.

Rainey chafes at the fact that she can be a diva inside the studio but is treated a lower-class citizen outside it. Her youngest musician, a hot-headed trumpeter, dreams of a future as a freewheeling jazz man and rebels at the music he’s asked to play now. As in other Wilson stories, there’s sharp-edged humor that turns tragic as the characters’ aspirations clash with the limits placed on them. This one features plenty of music as well. Pittsburgh Playwrights presents Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with artist and performer Vanessa German as Rainey. 3 p.m. Performances through October 1. 937 Liberty Ave., Cultural District. (MV)

3) Why are some people big fans of one-act festivals? Because going to one, as opposed to seeing a full-length play, is like reading short stories versus reading a novel. You get a cross-section of stories in different styles and moods, which (a) is fun in itself, and (b) helps assure that you’ll see something you really like. The Pittsburgh New Works Festival, now in its 28th year, is one of the oldest and largest of its kind. Beginning today and continuing through September 23, a total of 18 new one-acts are presented by 18 regional theater companies.This year’s entries come from playwrights living across the United States and beyond—341 plays were submitted for possible inclusion in the festival—and the pieces range from high comedy to introspective drama.  See the Festival website for schedules and details. Carnegie Stage. 2 p.m. 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. (MV)