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Reflected glory: Expatriate forces

Friday, June 01, 2001

By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

Compiling the Top 50, we've always had trouble with a group that doesn't quite fit -- Pittsburghers who've moved away.

After all, what's a Pittsburgher? (We actually talk about stuff like this.) If Mariss Jansons makes the Top 50 the day he moves to Pittsburgh (and how much of any year is he actually here, anyway?), shouldn't born-and-bred Pittsburgher John Edgar Wideman make it, even though he's moved away?

August Wilson left in 1978, when he was 33, but he continues to write about Pittsburgh. Two years ago, he appeared as No. 1 in the Top 50 because he spent a lot of that year working here; the next year, he disappeared from the list. Similarly, although Christina Aguilera made No. 2 last year, it's been a while since she's more than passed through Wexford; so she's not on the list this year.

To accommodate these and others, we've added this expatriates category. To qualify, you have to have been brought up here, even if born elsewhere, which cuts out Marc Masterson, longtime head of City Theatre and now head of the Humana Festival, because he was raised in Texas. College-only Pittsburghers don't count, either, which cuts out Steven Bochco, Holly Hunter and even Michael Chabon.

To keep the list exclusive, we limited it to 10. And there was no commedia dell'table-thumping -- we did it the right way, polling the arts and entertainment staff and counting every vote, hanging chads included. Wilson finished well ahead of the other candidates.

At the other end, No. 10 Philip Pearlstein just edged out Stephen Flaherty, composer of four Broadway musicals. Somewhat farther behind were Jon Beckerman, creator of "Ed"; Ming Na, TV-film actor; Michael Keaton, film actor; Eric Gold, agent to stars; Gary Carolla, songwriter/producer; Mel-Man, hip hop producer; and Stewart O'Nan, novelist. Those not making the finals included Dakota Staton, Gerald Stern, Charles Grodin, George Benson, Frank Gorshin, Horace Parlan, Shirley Jones and Bobby Vinton.

Let's face it, Pittsburgh exports a lot of cultural talent.

1. August Wilson, one of the greatest American playwrights

2. Christina Aguilera, pop star with a voice that promises longevity

3. Lorin Maazel, world-class orchestra conductor

4. David McCullough, a historian who changes the way we view ourselves

5. Rob and Kathleen Marshall, sibling director/choreographers with impressive Broadway credentials, and now Rob is taking on Hollywood

6. Dennis Miller, cerebral comic, commentator and football colorist

7. Ahmad Jamal, seminal jazz artist

8. Annie Dillard, deeply thoughtful memoirist and naturalist

9. John Edgar Wideman, powerful novelist and feeling memoirist

10. Philip Pearlstein, one of our foremost Realist painters.

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