Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report, Lose Your Blues at Footloose.

Lose Your Blues at Footloose.

Pittsburgh CLO's Footloose.

June 24, 2014

By Megan Grabowski

Pittsburgh's debut of Footloose brings to stage  idyllic, youthful and perpetually  poignant  teenage strife with a musical score that is toe tapping and finger snapping.  So long as there
Stephen Wilde, Christine Laitta, Patrick Cassidy,
 Betsy Lawrence and Jeffrey Howell
are teenagers, there will be rebellion, a question of  authority and a free- spiritedness that teeters between innocence and blind stupidity for years at a time.  This message plays without a hiccup on the stage of the Benedum Center from June 24 through June 29, 2014.

Kristen Martin as Ariel, Dee Hoty as Vi Moore
 and Patrick Cassidy as Rev. Moore
The story begins when an average teen, Ren McCormack, moves from the big city of Chicago, to the small country town of Bomont.  His mother chooses to relocate after her husband, Ren's father, abandons them.  Once in Bomont Ren meets Rev. Shaw and quickly learns about a town law banning dancing.  The no dancing ordinance was passed, 5 years prior, after a horrif accident took the lives of 4  Bomont teens who had been out dancing and drinking.  In the beginning Ren struggles to make new friends but soon gains support from his peers  as he attempts to convince the town council and Rev. Shaw that a ban on dancing is not helping anyone, but rather trapping them in the pain of the past.  

Barry Ivan,  director/ choreographer,  is no stranger to the
Manuel Stark as Ren
Benedum Center and CLO. He is attentive to  what Pittsburghers expect and he undrestands what we have grown to demand from CLO productions.  Musical director, Tom Helm, ensures the audience never misses a beat of beloved 80's  top 40 hits;  “Let's Hear it for the Boy,” “Almost Paradise” and of course, the title song, “Footloose”.  The talented and accomplished orchestra duplicate these well known  hits, originally made popular by the 1984 film Footloose, with the same spunk and charm I recall from the radio play of my youth. Together, Ivan and Helm execute another enjoyable night of musical theater in Pittsburgh.

Manuel Stark as Ren and Kristen Martin as Ariel
From the opening number, I quickly caught on to the obvious cast chemistry, which works wonders  with the tightly synced choreography.   The amount of energy emmeniating from the stage throughout this rendition of Footloose is invigorating.  Lead,  Manuel Stark as Ren McCormack, is a showcase of all around talent from the moment he graces the stage.  In scence 2 when the audience is introduced to the troubled young Ren, his mannerisms, depicting an angst filled teen, are spot on, proving he is an exceptional actor and can offer the audience more than just a good voice- he is the whole package.  This is again evident  in scene 4 as  Stark accomplishs numerous dance combinations while simultaneously displaying an superb vocal range.  Opposite Stark, female lead Kristen Martin as Ariel, the teenage daughter of Rev. Shaw,  continually portrays a relatable and resonant adolescent.  Despite my initial disappointment in her vocal performance during scene 3, “The Girl Gets Around”, Martin quickly reverses  my impression.  In scence 6, “Learning to Be Silent”, Martin's performance highlights  the dynamic role she is challenged to play.  I give her much credit for  animating an adolescent  with authentic vigor and impertinence . In Act II scene 4, Ren and Ariel's delivery of “Almost Paradise” is full of the enchantment I love about musical  theater.  Their presentation  further confirms my initial sense of cast chemistry.

Rusty, played by supporting actor Jessie Hooker, belts out song after song with effortless breaths.  Her strong stage presence and infectious smile light up the stage.   Hooker's  melodious voice and skillful  harmonizing are carried out with ease, most notably  in scene 5, “Somebody's Eyes”. “Hear it for the Boy”, another of Hooker's shining moments, is the most memorable musical number from the show.    
A rock solid ensemble is a necessary foundation for any musical.  Footloose's ensemble  is uplifing, talented and vivacious.  Even
Jessie Hooker as Rusty and Billy Hartung as Cowboy Bob
during  the more serious scenes  they keep the audience cheerful and sincerely entertained. 

From the opening scence in a  Chicago night club to the final “Footloose” number in the high school gymnasium, Footloose retains its momentum.  The dancing is  fun to watch and  the music encourages the audiene to bounce their knees in their seats.

The show opens with high energy dancing and singing and ends on
Kristen Martin as Ariel and Manuel Stark as Ren
the same note.  A fun performance from start to finish.  Footloose mingles song and dance with a story encompassing the multi- generational  struggles of adult vs. juvenile with a lighhearted mood and just a hint of nostalgia. 
Through June 29, 2014
For  information, on ticket purchase and show times  please visit HERE.
Reviewed by Megan Grabowski
Professional writer, Social-Media Junkie, Community Fundraiser and Pittsburgh Enthusiast.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report, Samuel Beckett’s Sardonic Lament on the 20th Century, "Waiting for Godot."

Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett’s Sardonic Lament on the 20th Century

PICT Classic Theatre..JoAnn R. Forrester, Empress of Biz.

Good theater, a play well acted, leaves an impression with the audience for a couple of hours, or maybe  a day or two.   A great play well acted,  stays on one’s mind for days and often leaves haunting lingering questions.   Such as it is with the PICT and their presentation of Waiting for Godot”.
James FitzGerald, Martin Giles

 Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot, is  purposefully designed to tease, taunt and torment an audience with its dark humor and confusing plot laced with  sardonic laments of its main characters, Estragon and Vladimir.  Two friends, caught  in their own world of forgetfulness and sometimes shared memories.  They wait...they complain, they wait...they're hungry,they wait...they're bored...they wait.   They wait cemented together in their refusal to break free of the interminable waiting. 
Then aha...a break comes-Pozzo, ( Alan Stanford) the pompous “rich man” carrying a whip and loaded with the burden of his self importance and Lucky (Ken Bolden),the human mule,dying inch by inch from the lack of expectation.  The interplay between the two created a strong reaction in me.  I wanted to stand up and yell, “Stop being his human mule, his jackass,  kick him, bite him, leave him wallowing in his own self indulgence.”  Great acting gentlemen. 

Martin Giles, Ken Bolden, James FitzGerald, Alan Stanford
 Our two main characters, Estragon (Martin Giles) and Vladimir (James FitzGerald) play exceptionally well off one another.  They reminded me of a despairing and doomed version of Laurel and Hardy, forever caught in a confusing  no-mans land.  Two friends bonded together for 30 years.  They are at the end of their road, depleted, weak, fading memories and poverty stricken and yet they cling to one another without remembering the rhyme or reason of the bond.   Each act at the end has a slender shred of hope dangled by the young boy (Elliott Pullen)  who appears delivering the message that Godot cannot appear today--but please wait for tomorrow.

Often during the play I found myself wanting to stand up and shout, “Hey, wait a minute...what the do you mean by this? What
Martin Giles, James Fitzgerald
do you think audience?  Let’s discuss this."  After the play, my friend and I had a lengthy conversation  on the meaning of the play.  We both had different spins on the play and what we thought Samuel Beckett was trying to create.  Was it to whine in despair? Or to explain the last 20 years of war and insanity? Or was it to wail a lament on dire conditions of mid 20th century mankind,  or was it  to challenge , to prod to make us move and examine out lives of quiet desperation?
Kudo’s to the PICT, its director, Aoife Spillan-Hinks, and the fine crew for presenting this thought provoking performance of Samuel Beckett's play.  The only thing I wish would have been different, that I  could have stood up and yelled hey and started asking questions of everyone and how the play spoke to them. Aha...maybe next time!

PS…I just loved that Alan Standford, had to keep his promise of shaving off his famous trademark beard if so much money was raised.  Thank you for your sacrifice and fine leadership of Pittsburgh finest Classical Theater.

Written By: JoAnn R. Forrester
Host of Empress of Biz
Anchor Internet Radio Show on
JoAnn R. Forrester is co-host of the Empress of Biz Talkcast and co-founder, president and partner in S. I. Business Associates, Small Business Solutions, LLC and Celebrate and Share. She is an entrepreneur, writer, business growth specialist, teacher, columnist and award winning writer. JoAnn specializes in helping small businesses grow and prosper. She is the co-developer of the PRICE IT PERFECT™ cost management system for small business, and has secured over 40 million dollars in loans and investment for her clients.
For more information visit Empress of Biz on

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report - And the Award for Best Dramatic Backstage Performance Goes To… Review of Noises Off, PPT's June 5th 2014 Performance

And the Award for Best Dramatic Backstage Performance Goes To…
Review of Noises Off, Pittsburgh Public Theater's June 5th 2014 Performance

From:  Roving Pittsburgher Report and
Written By:  Stephanie Curtice  |  June 07, 2014

Upstairs: Garret Long
Downstairs (l to r): Noah Plomgren, Laura Woyasz,
Helena Ruoti, Preston Dyar, Karen Baum
Photo Courtesy: Pittsburgh Public Theater
For anyone who has ever performed on stage, probably the most memorable moments did not occur on stage, but instead at rehearsals and back stage - where there is typically WAY more drama.  The Pittsburgh Public Theater is wrapping up their 39th season with Michael Frayn’s comical farce “Noises Off,” directed by Don Stephenson.  The O’Reilly Theater was roaring with belly-aching laughter at the opening show on June 5, 2014.

Now most businesses have at least one person that is a pro at stirring up workplace drama.  You know the pretty person who somehow skates by on looks and not much more, the annoying over-analyzer, the dinosaur who is way past their prime and barely contributes, or an egotistical, arrogant, condescending boss?  Well in the world of the arts, specifically theatre, those are ALL practically cast staples only amplified – a lot.  “Noises Off” is a hilarious play full of misinterpretations, innuendo, and big personalities that is a window into the world of live stage acting.  Ok, so it may be slightly over exaggerated, that’s what a farce is… but really, only slightly.

Foreground: Helena Ruoti and Noah Plomgren
Background: Karen Baum
Photo Courtesy: Pittsburgh Public Theater
“Noises Off” is a show in a show.  No, “Nothing On” is a show in a show with a cast of actors who play actors in “Noises…”  No, that’s not right either, did the chicken or the egg?  Ok, “Noises Off” is a funny show in another funny show, in which the cast portrays a cast of actors with big personalities.  Explaining this is like those little Russian doll things, Matryoshkas or Babushkas.

Wait no I’ve got this… in the hilarious show “Noises Off” a cast of fabulous professional actors (undoubtedly with big personalities) play a troupe of mediocre British actors with stereotypical theater personalities, in “Nothing On,” a sexy comedic play about characters who, with the tiresome and haphazard orchestration of a sassy house keeper, unknowingly end up in situations that could be misinterpreted and then intertwine the cast into a swirl of humorous and compromising situations.  Whew!  We see the cast of “Nothing On” attempt a dress rehearsal, then see the same show a month into the tour, from backstage and after the cast has become shall we say more “familiar” with each other, and then finally again two months out on tour when the drama from backstage really spills over to the front and the wheels come off.  But the show must go on!

Laura Woyasz
Photo Courtesy: Pittsburgh Public Theater
Just to be clear the wheels didn’t come off “Noises Off.”  It was amazing and so much fun.  The intricate choreography of “Noises Off” to create the impression of not-quite-perfected or mistake-and-accident-prone staging of “Nothing On” was outstanding.  Characters going into closets then reappearing through the wrong door, plates of sardines remaining in the kitchen when they are supposed to be brought out by one person for a different character to play off of in the next scene in a different room, missed lines, preempted entrances, props breaking on stage, were all carefully choreographed to purposefully seem like the hokey mishaps of an Ed Wood movie or Night of the Living Dead.  If “Nothing On” was a movie, the guys from Mystery Science Theater would have a field day.

Led by the accomplished director and actor, Don Stephenson, the cast of Noises off was phenomenal.  Noah Plomgren, Laura Woyasz, Preston Dyar, and Garrett Long were all very funny, as they were creatively corralled by the hilarious Helena Ruoti as the house keeper in “Nothing On”.  The angst of the on stage director trying to coordinate this show was too funny.  Michael MacCauley reminded me of Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live and Portlandia.  The entire cast was so good and so funny!  “Noises Off” is a must-see, it was so much fun!

Additional Performances:
Show runs through June 29th, 2014 at the O’Reilly Theater

By:  Stephanie Curtice
Good News and Cultural Reporter
(c) 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report - My Favorite PSO Concert!!! Review of PSO's Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart, and Haydn Concert, June 1st 2014 Performance

My Favorite PSO Concert!!!
Review of PSO's Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart, and Haydn Concert, June 1st 2014 Performance

From:  Roving Pittsburgher Report and
Written By:  Stephanie Curtice  |  June 02, 2014

I’ll lead this review off with the tweet that I sent right after the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s Sunday, June 1st 2014 performance.  “Today was my favorite @phgsymphony concert of the season!  3 great pieces. Ye-Eun Choi was stunning. Loved Loved Loved Nicholas McGegan!”  And, that pretty much sums it up.  In my first PSO concert and review on Jan. 17, 2014 I wrote, “Now of course, I should let on that I’m partial to this era of music and the one before it.  So in my opinion Franz Joseph Haydn and his contemporaries of the first Viennese School hit that sweet spot.”  So you can imagine my excitement about this concert.  Vivaldi, Mozart, AND Haydn, it was like Christmas morning at the symphony.

Ye-Eun Choi
The concert began with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and got better and better with each concerto.  Violinist, Ye-Eun Choi making her PSO debut played beautifully.  She showcased both energetic virtuosity and lovely lyric lines full of passion.  She is very young and demonstrates the technical capabilities and musicianship that will develop even more with time like a fine wine.  By the middle movement of Autumn the entire ensemble settled into a groove with smiles and acknowledgements to each other that capture the essence and intimacy of chamber music.  The music was gorgeous and full of energy, but it is taken to a whole other level when you can observe sincere enjoyment of the players.  It was fun to listen to and watch – Baroque music is fun and makes you want to dance, not like the electric slide, but you know a Gavotte, Minuet or Chaconne!

Nicholas McGegan
The concert was lead by world-renowned conductor Nicholas McGegan, and for the Vivaldi he did so from the console of the harpsichord.  It was a treat to see the work not only played beautifully but also in this configuration that would more than likely have been how it was performed back in 1725.  The only unfortunate thing was that the big, beautiful Heinz Hall kind of swallowed up the harpsichord.  McGegan evoked both the lush swells of passion-filled themes and clean precision, full of energy, from the small ensemble.  More impressive was his ability to quickly lead the shifts from one style to the other at the manic changes characteristic of Baroque music.

The second half of the concert began with a fun and stately Mozart ditty, Chaconne from Idomeneo, Re di Creta.  It showcased several contrasting sections that were each played with due flair.  The featuring of the woodwinds was really quite lovely.  The concert was capped off with Haydn’s Symphony #103 in E-flat major and was great.  Beginning with its nickname “Drumroll,” the work featured a neat timpani part and great wind passages.  A standout was the violin solo in the second movement by concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley.  I love hearing and watching him play; he makes it look and sound so easy.

Did I say I love this style of music?  It makes me feel like Agnes from Despicable Me when she expresses her excitement about the stuffed unicorn, “It’s so fluffy.”  It’s just so fun!  The music was expressive and energetic.  I would imagine the rehearsals were fun and productive, and I would have paid to see them too with McGegan’s commentary.  The PSO rocked it (Baroque and Classical style – you could say they barocked it) and I absolutely LOVED watching Nicholas McGegan conduct!

By:  Stephanie Sue Curtice
Good News and Cultural Reporter
(c) 2014