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A & E
Stage: 'The Producers' is only the beginning

Friday, September 13, 2002

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Editor

The most produced show of the year? It must be Joe DiPietro's family comedy, "Over the River and Through the Woods," unless it's David Bottrell and Jessie Jones' funerary comedy, "Dearly Departed," although I suspect that one has the same cast popping up at different venues.

Which is to say, you can talk all you want about "The Producers" Downtown, about Shakespeare at the Public, about fizzy new plays at City or the stars of the future at CMU and Point Park -- the broad base of popular theater around here remains in the community theaters, straw hats and high schools.

But enough of that: This is a big time paper, so you want to hear about the major league stuff. Of course we really won't know what that is until we see it. Last year I said the Broadway Series looked pretty good in prospect, considering the sure-fire "Kiss Me Kate" and two big names like "Aida" and "Mamma Mia!" but who knew that "Best Little Whorehouse" and a couple of other fizzles would average out to disappointment?

That said, this year's Broadway series -- renamed PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh -- does indeed look good, with "The Producers" followed by "Contact," "Full Monty," "Seussical" and "tick, tick...BOOM!" to mention the ones I look forward to.

I'm less excited about the Public, because I still can't figure out why "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Man of La Mancha" are on the bill, but Shakespeare, August Wilson and two new plays (maybe) are strong compensation. And as I say, we won't really know until we see them. That's especially true of City, where five of the seven shows will be new to me.

Some other titles I anticipate with extra relish: "Children of Eden" at PMT; "MacHomer" at the Cultural Trust; "Speaking in Tongues" at Quantum; the whole Kuntu "Mentors & Proteges" schedule; David Edgar, Marivaux and a world premiere at CMU; and a new theater at Pitt.

Do you think this list shows evidence of post-9/11 bland-out? I can't tell. But I do know the year will turn out even busier than this advance word suggests.

THE BIG BOYS

PUBLIC THEATER: (O'Reilly Theater, Downtown): Artistic director Ted Pappas is right now hard at work on Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" (Sept. 26-Oct. 27). A couple of oft-seen warhorses follow: Alfred Uhrey's "Driving Miss Daisy" (Nov. 7-Dec. 8) and the Wasserman-Darion-Leigh "Man of La Mancha" (Jan. 30-March 2). The Public then catches up with the only August Wilson play it hasn't done, "The Piano Lesson" (March 13-April 13). A new play by Michael Healey, "The Drawer Boy" (April 24-May 25), is followed by one more title yet to be announced (June 5-July 6). 412-316-1600.

The Public has specials, starting with the annual returns of "Second City" (through tomorrow) and of the Reduced Shakespeare Co. -- "The Reducers: All the Great Books (abridged)" (Dec. 17-Jan. 4) and "The Complete History of America (abridged)" (Dec. 20-Jan. 5). In conjunction with the Cultural Trust, they're hosting Spalding Gray in Morning, Noon and Night" (Jan. 9-10).

CITY THEATRE (SOUTH SIDE): This year's diet is new and newer. The opener is a new comedy by Steven Dietz, "Inventing van Gogh" (Sept. 19-Oct. 20), followed by something newer still, a world premiere of Christopher Durang's newest (Nov. 7-Dec. 8), title still to be announced. Athol Fugard's "Sorrows and Rejoicings" (Jan. 16-Feb. 16); Karl Gajdusek"s "Fair Game" (March 6-April 6); and John Cameron Mitchell-Stephen Trask musical, "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" (May 1-June 8) round out the mainstage season.

Stepping up its programming in its Hamburg Studio, City is bringing back Jilline Ringle, who charmed Pittsburgh last year with "Mondo Mangia, with her new show, "La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life)" (Oct. 17-Jan. 5). Also in the Hamburg will be Cheryl West's "Birdie Blue: Where Are You?" (March 13-May 4). 412-431-CITY.

PITTSBURGH MUSICAL THEATER (BYHAM THEATER, DOWNTOWN): The Company Formerly Known as Gargaro has an all-Byham season, starting with "A Chorus Line" (Nov.7-17 ), the Sondheim-Gelbart et al., "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (Jan. 16-26), Jones and Schmidt's comic, wistful "The Fantasticks" (Feb. 20-March 2) and "Godspell" (April 10-19). PMT's Richard E. Rauh Conservatory students will do "Oklahoma!" (Oct. 18-20) and "Footloose" (March 14-16). 412-456-6666.

PLAYHOUSE REPERTORY COMPANY (OAKLAND): The smallest of the city's Equity companies (as opposed to Equity affiliated) has moved a degree closer to the mainstream. The 1929 Brecht-Weill satiric "Three Penny Opera," the company's first musical since it was reformed three years ago, is already running (through Sept. 29). It will be followed by the Pittsburgh premiere of "Breaker Morant" (Nov. 8-Dec. 8), a 1978 Kenneth Ross drama better known as a film. "Anton in Show Business" (Feb. 7-March 2) is a new backstage comedy by "Jane Martin," and the finale will be a multimedia "Hamlet" (May 9-June 1) directed by Rick Kemp. 412-621-4445.

TOURING PROS

BROADWAY IN PITTSBURGH: As you must have noted, the big-ticket Downtown series (a joint product of national powerhouse Clear Channel, the Cultural Trust and Symphony Society) has started with a bang with the national premiere of the touring version of Mel Brooks' "The Producers" (Benedum through Sept. 29), which is still a tough ticket on Broadway. What promises to be a good series -- recompense for last year, which looked good in advance but proved to be middling at best -- continues with "42nd Street" (Benedum, Oct. 8-13); Tony Curtis (and Lenora Nemetz) in "Some Like It Hot" (Heinz, Nov. 26-Dec. 1); "The Full Monty" (Heinz, Jan. 7-12); Susan Stroman's "dancical," "Contact" (Benedum, March 25-30); Cathy Rigby in Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' "Seussical the Musical" (Heinz, April 8-13); and Jonathan Larson's "tick, tick...BOOM!" (Byham, April 29-May 11).

As extra attractions, the series also offers "Beauty and the Beast" (Benedum, Feb. 25-March 2), returning less than a year after its first visit, and "Riverdance, The Show" (Heinz, April 15-20), back for the first time since 1999, though the imitative "The Lord of the Dance" has been along since. 412-456-1390.

CULTURAL TRUST PRESENTS: Downtown's cultural caretaker and landlord continues to expand its own programming under the two following series titles, most mixing theater with film and music events. Among the Trust's own special presentations, theatrical events include Barbara Cook Performs Mostly Sondheim (Byham, Feb. 14-15) and Savion Glover's "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk" (Benedum, May 20-25). 412-316-1600.

CONTEMPORARY VOICES (BYHAM): The former Voices for a New Millennium settles down for the long haul. "Patti Smith: Words and Music" (Sept. 28) and "Filmworks by Philip Glass" (Oct. 25-26) precede the very theatrical Squonk Opera in "BigSmorgasbrdWunderWerk" (Nov. 2) and the Spalding Gray appearance co-sponsored by the Public Theater (Jan. 9-10). 412-316-1600.

FAMILY PROGRAMMING (BYHAM): The former Live on Stage series, still an arts sampler for families, returns with "MacHomer -- The Simpsons Do Shakespeare" (Sept. 27), then the deliciously silly "Sing-a-long Sound of Music" (Oct. 2-6), the Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Nov. 3), Peking Acrobats (March 23) and Aquila Theater's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (April 6). 412-456-6666.

PALACE THEATRE, GREENSBURG: Imports include American Family Theatre's "Babes in Toyland" (Nov. 29), Robert Wagner and Jill St. John in "Love Letters" (Nov. 30) and "Barry Manilow's Copacabana" (Feb. 1). 724-836-8000.

SMALLER PROS

Mainly summertime companies, the first three have been gradually expanding into the heart of the theatrical year.

PITTSBURGH IRISH & CLASSICAL THEATRE: PICT is expanding more than that: In October, in a grand gesture of coals to Newcastle, it takes its 2000 production of Brian Friel's "Faith Healer," starring Bingo O'Malley, on a three-week tour of Ireland. As a warm-up and to give Pittsburghers a chance to cheer "Faith Healer" on its way, there'll be an Oct. 8 benefit performance at the Byham, preceded by a 5:30 p.m. reception at the Renaissance Hotel, next door. And if you don't want to pay benefit prices, you can get a taste of "Faith Healer" at Molly's Irish Pub in McMurray, 8 p.m. Sept. 26. The next regular PICT season starts in the spring. 412-394-3353.

QUANTUM THEATRE: The company that pioneers a new site with every production will continue with Andrew Bovell's "Speaking in Tongues" (Nov. 1-17), directed by Van Kaplan (yes, the CLO chief) and staged at a North Side recording studio, Anything Audio. Then, following up on last year's "Carmen," Quantum joins with Pittsburgh Opera Center to stage the Brecht-Weill "Three Penny Opera" (Feb. 22-March 2) at the Brew House on the South Side. 412-394-3353.

UNSEAM'D SHAKESPEARE: Something big is planned for this winter, with the possibility of Grendel Productions' "Beowulf -- The Whole Bloody Story," a one-man show translated and performed by Felix Noble. 412-394-3353.

MOUNTAIN PLAYHOUSE (JENNERSTOWN): The resident pro company in the mountains is finishing up with "The Gin Game" (through Sunday), "The Importance of Being Earnest" (Sept. 18-29) and a Sinatra revue, "My Way" (Oct. 2013) 814-629-9201..

SEMI-PRO

THEATRE FACTORY (TRAFFORD): This theater keeps upping the ante, using more professionals and expanding its range. The juicy Kander and Ebb review, "The World Goes Round" (through Sept. 28), leads off, followed by the drama of "The Subject Was Roses" (Oct. 25-Nov. 9), the musical "Funny Girl" (Dec. 5-22), "Funny Money" (Feb. 14-March 1), "A...My Name Is Alice" (May 9-24) and "Bells Are Ringing" (July 11-26). 412-374-9200.

JEWISH THEATRE OF PITTSBURGH: Now in its second year, staging shows at the Squirrel Hill Jewish Community Center and employing professional actors, the JToP starts with something new, a premiere of Samson Raphaelson's musical version of "The Jazz Singer" (Oct. 31-Nov. 24). Arthur Miller's "The Price" (March 20-April 6) will star Allan Pinsker, and the season closes with Alfred Uhrey's "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" (May 1-18). 412-394-3353.

OPEN STAGE THEATRE: Dates and venue are still to be announced, but the plays are chosen, Romulus Linney's "Gint" (based on Ibsen) and Elaine May and Alan Arkin's "Power Plays" among them. 412-257-4056.

PENN AVENUE THEATRE: Artistic director Michael E. Moats is closing shop, going out with a bang with a production of Eric Bogosian's "Pounding Nails in the Floor with my Forehead," two nights only, Oct. 4-5. 412-661-PENN.

GEMINI THEATRE: A tidy little theater in The Factory, Point Breeze, and an essential home for other companies, Gemini also produces children's theater and occasional adult work, including an annual New Play Festival. 412-243-6464.

SPECIALIZED

KUNTU REPERTORY THEATRE (MASONIC TEMPLE, OAKLAND): Our essential and venerable Pitt-based black student-community company has recently planned its seasons around themes. This year's is "Mentors & Proteges." Chadwick Boesman's "Hieroglyphic Graffiti" (Oct. 17-Nov. 2) is based on the Osiris myth. Sybil Roberts' "Mumia" (Nov. 8-10) is set at a Free Mumia rally. Javon Johnson wrote "Cryin' Shame" (Jan. 23-Feb. 8) and Mark Southers wrote "Ashes to Africa" (March 20-April 5) -- both are Kuntu alumni. Kuntu's guru playwright in residence, Rob Penny, supplies "Difficult Days Ahead in a Blaze" (May 22-June 7), and there will be staged readings Jan. 24-26 of plays by another Kuntu alum, August Wilson. 412-624-7298.

NEW HORIZON (EAST LIBERTY LUTHERAN CHURCH): Pittsburgh's other black company begins its year with a new musical by artistic director Ernest McCarty, "The Region" (Sept. 20-Oct. 13). 412-431-0773.

PITTSBURGH SAVOYARDS (ANDREW CARNEGIE FREE LIBRARY MUSIC HALL, CARNEGIE): One of the most popular Gilbert & Sullivan tuners is on tap, "The Pirates of Penzance" (Sept. 27-Oct. 13), with another show to follow in the spring. 412-734-8476.

SETON PIONEERS: The "intergenerational performance group" offers "Wild Oats" (Sept. 19-29), not the 18th century comedy but Wild West farce dinner theater. 412-561-8400.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Greensburg's Palace Theatre celebrates its 75th year with "Ben Vereen in Concert" (Sept. 22). 724-836-8000.

In its second year is "Off the Record II: Pledge Break Mayhem" (Byham, Sept. 26 only), a satiric revue about Pittsburgh newsmakers staged by AFTRA and the Newspaper Guild, complete with rebuttals by WQED's Rick Sebak and County Chief Executive Jim Roddey, in the mode of the "gridiron shows" that have been longtime features in other cities. 412-456-6666.

PEN PAL

The New Works Fest (through Sept. 29) is the mother lode, and there is an annual new play fest at Gemini. (There used to be one at Penn Avenue Theater, which closes down Oct. 5.)

SUNDAY NIGHT LIVE: Now in its 11th year, the weekly Sunday evening play-reading forum starts up again Oct. 20, but with Penn Avenue closed, the location isn't set.

COLLEGES

Most theater fans know that an important part of the Pittsburgh smorgasbord is served up by the colleges -- not just by the three large programs but also Duquesne, Chatham, Carlow, Seton Hill and others.

CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY: America's oldest undergraduate degree-granting drama conservatory starts with David Edgar, "Pentecost" (Oct. 17-26), then Thornton Wilder, "The Skin of Our Teeth" (Nov. 21-Dec. 7) and the McNally, Kander & Ebb musical adapted from Manuel Puig, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" (Dec. 3-7). The new year sees Marivaux's classic "The Game of Love and Chance" (Feb. 27-March 8) and the world premiere of Paris Barclay's "Letters from 'Nam" (April 17-26). 412-268-2407.

PLAYHOUSE CONSERVATORY (OAKLAND): This fall, our biggest pre-professional theater program sandwiches two classics about unhappy women around a bright Gershwin musical: Caryl Churchill's "Cloud Nine" (Oct. 2-20), a seminal modern statement of ambivalent feminism; "My One And Only" (Oct. 16-Nov. 10), another Tommy Tune musical directed by Nikki Harris, who triumphed last year with "Grand Hotel"; and Chekhov's "Three Sisters" (Nov. 20-Dec. 8). The new year will see two more musicals and one comedy: Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday" (Feb. 12-23); Kopit and Yeston's "Nine," based on Fellini's "8 1/2" (Feb. 26-March 23); William Finn's "A New Brain" (March 19-April 6). 412-621-4445.

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH: Jenny Laird's "Ballad Hunter" (Oct. 9-27) is a drama set in 1937 Appalachia; Aristophanes' "Celebrating Ladies," translated by David Slavitt (Nov. 13-24), is a satiric comedy about girl power; Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" (Jan. 29-Feb. 16) is a classic study of a frazzled family. Caryl Churchill's "Mad Forest: A Play from Romania" (Feb. 19-March 2) explores the fall of Ceausescu, and Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" (March 26-April 13) will inaugurate the new Charity Randall Theater (formerly Stephen Foster). 412-624-PLAY.

CHATHAM COLLEGE: "Daisy Pulls It Off" (Oct. 11-13); "Waiting for Godot" (March 7-9) will celebrate that great play's 50th anniversary; "New Directions 2002" (May 2-4). Note that Chatham's plays are free. 412-365-1140 or 412-365-1778.

CHILDREN

PRIME STAGE (HAZLETT THEATER, NORTH SIDE): With a mission to introduce families to the joys of theater, it offers "Treasure Island" (Oct. 4-13), complete with a parrot from the aviary; "Heidi" (Dec. 6-14); "Twelve Angry Men" (Feb. 7-16); and "Bridge to Terabithia" (April 4-13). 412-394-3353.

PLAYHOUSE JR.: Pittsburgh's kiddie flagship will begin with "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (Oct. 12-Nov. 10), then "The Masque of Beauty and the Beast" (March 22-April 13). This year's spring doubleheader will be "The Golden Bird" and "Winnie the Pooh" (both May 3-June 1). 412-621-4445.

KIDWORKS: The Theatre Factory in Trafford offers "The Reluctant Dragon" (Oct. 5-13), "Junglebook" (Jan. 11-19), "Patchwork" (Match 29-April 6) and "The Fabulous Fable Factory" (June 7-15), with an option to add the grownups' "Funny Girl" (Dec. 5-22). 412-374-9200.

GEMINI CHILDREN'S THEATER: "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (Oct.-12-27), "The Little Mermaid" (Nov. 9-24) and "A Beauty & the Beast Christmas." (Dec. 7-29).1-866-243-6460.

DINNER

There are many in this category, often of the audience-participation murder mystery variety, such as the Murder Mystery Players at Dave and Buster's on the Waterfront and McCaffery Mysteries.

CANTERBURY DINNER THEATRE: The new company in the new purpose-built space adjacent to Cathedral Hall in McKees Rocks continues with "Nunsense" (Sept. 27-Nov. 3).

STRAW HAT

Look, I don't want to get into a fight: "Straw Hat" is a loosely-defined category that just doesn't account for the varied levels of professionalism among mainly summertime theaters, especially considering that so many of them continue well into the fall or even winter. So I'm just making do until I think of a better name, OK?

Among the theaters sometimes called Straw Hats, Apple Hill has "See How They Run" (through Sept. 21), "The House of Frankenstein" (Oct. 10-26) and "Over the River and Through the Woods" (Nov. 7-23). 724-468-5050

At Little Lake, that same "Over the River and Through the Woods" (through Sept. 28) will be followed by "The Turn of the Screw" (Oct. 24-Nov. 9), proof that Little Lake is no wimpy Straw Hat; "The Dining Room" (Nov. 14-30); and the now traditional "A Tuna Christmas" (Dec. 5-21). 724-745-6300.

South Park closes with its current "The Fantasticks" (through Sept. 22). The Red Barn's finale is "And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little" (Sept. 17-29). 412-831-8552.

COMMUNITY

Here are the fall-only offerings of some theaters in this numerous class.

GREENSBURG CIVIC THEATRE: "Chicago" (Nov. 7-10 ). 724-836-PLAY.

COMTRA THEATER (Cranberry): The busiest area theater of all will have "Dearly Departed" (Sept. 20-Oct. 5), which has been making the rounds of most community theaters; "The Rocky Horror Show" (Oct. 11-26); "Perfect Wedding" (Nov. 1-16); "Hair" (Nov. 22-Dec. 7); and "Annie" (Dec. 13-28). 724-773-9896.

BUTLER LITTLE THEATRE: "Art" (Sept. 27-Oct. 5), "Red Herring" (Nov. 29-Dec. 7) "The Glass Menagerie" (Jan. 31-Feb. 8) "La Ronde" (March 21-29) and "Over the River and Through the Woods" (May 9-17). 724-287-6781.

GRAND THEATRE (Elizabeth: "Radio Gals" (Sept. 20-28), "Little Shop of Horrors" (Oct. 18-26), "Nunsense II" (Nov. 15-23), and "Scrooge -- A Christmas Carol" (Dec. 6-14). 412-384-0504.

NEW CASTLE PLAYHOUSE: "Last Night of Ballyhoo" (through Sunday), "Nunsense" (Oct. 4-20), "The Odd Couple" (Nov. 1-17) and "Scrooge" (Nov. 29-Dec. 15). 724-654-3437.

NEW KENSINGTON CIVIC THEATRE: "Perfect Wedding" (Oct. 3-6) and "Cabaret" (Nov. 21-24). 724-226-2155.

STAGE RIGHT (Greensburg): "Little Shop of Horrors" (Oct. 25-27), "Annie" (Nov. 22-24).

VERONICA'S VEIL PLAYERS (South Side): The oft-produced "Over the River and Through the Woods" (through Sunday) and "Gemini" (Nov. 1-10). 412-431-5550.


Christopher Rawson can be reached at crawson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1666.

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