Thursday, October 30, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report "Sleeping Beauty" Ballet a Sleeping Giant

"Sleeping Beauty" Ballet a Sleeping Giant

Review of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre 45th Season Opening Ballet

by Good News Reporter, Joanne Quinn-Smith

This past week-end the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater opened its 45th Season with a stunning performance of “Sleeping Beauty,” telling the
story of Princess Aurora and her enchanted slumber. My six year old granddaughter and I watched this classic fairy-tale come to life as more than 150 dancers in the world famous score was performed by The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Orchestra under the direction of guest conductor Martin West. In our humble view it rivaled the performances of much larger ballet companies.  With all the special effects and beautiful period costumes, my granddaughter said, "It's like a movie."

What an engaging ballet couple, Julia Erikson as Princess Aurora and Noralan Abougaliev as Prince Desire.
We especially enjoyed the fairy solos in the first act accompanied by the men of the corps de ballet. What strong and mesmerizing performances.  We often don't realize that ballet artists are real athletes.  This is particularly emphasized in the famous “Rose Adagio,” performed by Aurora and her four suitors, showcases the strength and control of the ballerina through a series of impressive balances and promenades.  Just the length of time Julia held he poses with grace and seemed to do it with such grace and ease was phenomenal to watch.
The orchestra, playing Tchaikovsky’s historic score under the baton of guest conductor Martin West, this “Sleeping Beauty” truly could feed the soul of any arts enthusiast.  Ballet is so much more exciting with a live orchestra out front and center.   
photo by Rich Sofranko.
Artists: Amanda Cochrane & Yoshiaki Nakano. 
As a grandmother it is important to me that children who attend this ballet are introduced to many Tchaikovsky classics such as “Garland Waltz” used as the tune for Disney’s “Once Upon a Dream.

“The Sleeping Beauty” features scenic and costume designs by David Walker, who evokes a 17th century theme with the regal columns and gold finery of the palace that frames the story. Costume styles include the intricate classical tutus of the fairies, elaborate robes of the courtesans and the jeweled snakes and spiders of Carabosse’s costume. I wondered at not being able to see some of the leg movements in the flowing robes but the overall effect was spellbinding.  Stage effects also enhance the atmosphere, especially with the entrance of Carabosse, whose carriage arrives onstage in a swirl of fog and thunder accompanied by her ghouls. I was particularly impressed with the sheer curtaining, barely discernible that was part of the scenery that set the mood with several acts.  We are so blessed in Pittsburgh with what his ballet theatre can produce in a relatively small city and with I am sure not the resources of bigger city corps.
Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's
'The Sleeping Beauty.' photo by 
Rich Sofranko

Anaiyah Thomas loving
the ballet
We missed the Act III cameos by Puss N Boots because a two and a half hour performance is a bit much for a six year old.  She hung in there as long as she could and then told me she was tired and wanted to go home and go to bed, not without regret.  But as we reached the wide expanse of the lobby and while waiting for our cab, she utilized the entire front lobby to imitate the ballerinas flying movements, even using her cocktail sweater as a prop, dancing from end to end of the empty lobby accompanied by the orchestra which we could hear in the lobby.  I think my granddaughter will be dancing around our houses for some time to come although I am sure not as freely as she did in the grand lobby of the Benedum as the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre played on for Act III of Sleeping Beauty.

 Joanne Quinn-Smith, Award winning internet radio broadcaster, blogger, author and internet radio and TV network editor and publisher. Joanne is the owner and CEO, Creative Energy Officer, of Dreamweaver Marketing Associates, a successful Pittsburgh-based marketing company. She is a grandmother and great grandmother, an unlikely trendsetter for online journalism and broadcasting. Joanne is internationally known as the “Get Your Google On” Gal. But better known as Techno Granny™ to over one million accumulated online listeners worldwide. Joanne has created a revolutionary online NEW MEDIA platform in Internet broadcasting, blogging and other social media participation that represents the new second generation of World Wide Web interactions, known in technology circles as Web 2.0. JQS is the online publisher of, an online community magazine to disseminate the Positive News for Positive Pittsburghers. PPL Mag is Pittsburgh’s First Internet radio and TV network with syndicated channels and online radio and TV capabilities. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report, "Macbeth" The Power of Prophecy, Betrayal, Assassination, Guilt and Revenge

The Power of Prophecy
 Betrayal, Assassination, Guilt and Revenge

Directed by Alan Stanford
PICT Classic Theater
JoAnn R. Forrester, Review

Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s shortest and darkest plays was first
David Whalen as Macbeth
staged over five hundred years. It’s insights into the human character and the thirst and consequence of greed and power still ring true.
The play Macbeth depicts the tale of a brave Scottish General, Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth, who become consumed by a prophecy of glory and power based on the prediction of witches heard shortly shortly after a major victory and promotion.  This prophesy grabs him, twists him and turns into a murderous and paranoid man who retains his power by eliminating all those he  perceives as a threat. 

Lady Macbeth passion for power is ignited when she reads the witches prophesy in a letter from her husband.   She sees herself as Queen of Scotland and what is a little murder or two to get what has been prophesized.  She is his eager partner in the royal murder and cover up.  Unexpectedly her conscience raises it head.  Lady Macbeth is gripped in remorse and guilt, and is driven to commit suicide to escape her pain. 

The witches
Macbeth, the “Scottish Play” is a play that is a great challenge to those who embark on it.  It is the one that actors desire and dread.  David Whelan, as Macbeth, is masterful and he passes the actors test.   Lady Macbeth, played by Gayle Pazerski is accomplished as Lady Macbeth who quickly is gripped by the witch’s prophecy and moves to “incite” her husband to strike while it is the opportune time.  Remind me never to be the guest of anyone who has the name Macbeth.

Alan Stoppard is a great director and has that touch that brings the theater alive, whether it is drama, comedy or tragedy.  One of his unique touches was how the witches are portrayed.  They weave an eerie spell of magic with  sinuous movements and their multi layered costumes weave a spell of first they are there and then they are not.

 The Charity Randall Theater captured my imagination with its dark gray vaulted ceiling setting the scene as medieval Scottish castle.  The use of mist to portray the mysterious atmosphere worked well.  The costumes at first seemed drab to me and I wanted to see more color and splendor.  But it worked and forced me and I believe the actors to project their character.  The choreograph scenes of the battles and murders with mist, drums and lighting conveyed the dark murderous times.

I am fascinated by English, Scottish and Irish history.  I revel in reading about the time when the sword and the pike often settle the score and decided who will reign.   It is a bloody ruthless time that we in the US find difficult to understand.  After all, we believe in the “peaceful transfer of power” and fight our battles at the polls.  Of course, if we are honest, we would admit we now use character assassination to accomplish our drive and thirst for political power.  And unfortunately wars are still fought to gain and keep power today.  Regardless of the “reasons” we have wars today; it is still based on Shakespeare’s reading of the human character. 

As one of my British friends would exclaim, “Good show”   I suggest you make the time to see PICT’S Macbeth.  It is first rate theatre.  We are so fortunate to have this first rate Theatre Company with us. Go, enjoy and be immersed in murder and intrigue at its finest. 

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.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report, A Triple Play with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

A Triple Play with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
by Helene Vidovich and Martin Thomas

Pittsburgh Dance Council of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust started their 2014-15 season on October 11th featuring three commissioned works performed by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. Aspen has a population near 7,000 -- it makes sense that they would combine efforts with Santa Fe to field a dance troupe. Both were mining towns in the Rockies and as distances go out West, not really very far from each other.
The first two sets were sparse. Black/white lighting, with the use of spotlights and
Courtesy of Company
shadowing, made things appear and disappear right before our eyes. This stage effect leads us into the depths of the dancers' creativity. The third set, awash with color, used bold lighting changes behind fabric to create the atmosphere. It is amazing what can be accomplished with good lights and a scrim, or two, or three. As the old Vaudeville adage goes, “It packs flat and plays big.” It does. .and did.
The Byham Theater is a beautiful place to watch a show, but from where we were sitting, the sound could use some adjustment. Again, the metallic and electronic sounds were so loud we needed earplugs. When the violins started, they were much softer and difficult to distinguish over the sound effects. In the first piece, “Square None” by
choreographer Norbert De La Cruz III, the music ranged from industrial sound effects that were thundering loud on the bass, to cellist and strings, and Handel Oratorio. The synthesized music on the second piece, “Beautiful Mistake” by choreographer Cayetano Soto, reminded Martin of Josquin des Prez. The third one “Heart(s) pace” by choreographer Ezio Bosso, was a minimalistic piece for strings that had more dissonance then the second -- quite the type of music you would associate with modern dance.
Courtesy Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

Three separate choreographers provided a “what will they do next” anticipation between sets.  The dancers were five women and six disparate men who worked together to become a unit while creating drama and tension. Costuming showed their physiques and accentuated their movements. They exhibited the strength of gymnastics and the grace of ballet intermingled with modern dance movements. The stories they revealed seemed intricate and complex. This provoked a lively discussion all the way to New Kensington on our ride back from "dahntahn" Pittsburgh.

Martin Thomas, Singer, Songwriter, Composer, Videographer
Helene Vidovich, Freelance Cultural Reporter, Graphic Designer, Videographer

Saturday, October 25, 2014

40 Years of Theater; PPT’s 2014 season opens with an American classic: The Glass Menagerie.

40 Years of Theater; PPT’s 2014 season opens with an American classic:  The Glass Menagerie.

Review by Megan Grabowski

Fall has officially arrived in Pittsburgh.  This means, the Pittsburgh Public Theater (PPT) is opening their doors for another season.   On October 9, 2014 I stepped inside the wide windowed atrium of the O’ Reilly Theater on Penn Avenue anticipating an evening of escapism at its’ finest.   This performance of the Tennessee Williams play The Glass Menagerie will surely clutch the strings of the collective hearts of Pittsburghers- expressly those who have supported the success of the PPT since its inception 40 years ago.  Yes, that’s right; this is the 40th anniversary of the PPT.   What better way to commemorate the achievements of the theater than by producing, Menagerie, mirroring the theater’s first season.  

The evening began when  Producing Artistic Director, Ted Pappas, bestowed upon the eager audience an honorable introduction, which included a gracious recognition of PNC and their long withstanding commitment, not only to the achievements of PPT  but to the arts as a whole in our region. Then the lights dim-
The show begins with an overview of the period by Tom Wingfield, played by Fisher Neal. Neal, a
Fisher Neal as Tom and Lynne Wintersteller as Amanda.
seasoned actor is making his Pittsburgh debut in Menagerie.  Williams writing is a vessel for Neal’s eloquence. His voice grants the audience a glimpse into the lives of his family in 1937.  As narrator, Neal reminds us, with the reflective and introverted tone, utilizing the intellect of a poet, that this story is not real; it is a memory and intended to be interpreted as such.  The show proceeds with the remaining characters, Cathyrn Wake, as Laura Wingfield, Lynne Wintersteller staring as Amanda Wingfield and Jordan Whalen cast as Jim O’Connor. Each actor shares with the audience a moment in time, a snap chat of memory and most unfortunate, the immense cruelty and weight of disenchantment that can accompany said remembrances. 

Cathryn Wake as Laura and Jordan Whalen as Jim.
The plot, centers on Laura, a painfully shy and childish young woman.   She suffers from a defect causing her to walk with a pronounced limp. Tom, Laura’s brother, is obliged to play the role of family man since their father left 16 years prior.  Amanda, Tom and Laura’s mother, is a loquacious Southern woman who possesses a parenting style which is nearly suffocating both them both.  Amanda cannot accept her children for who they are. Tom, a poet at heart, works a dead end job in a warehouse, forced to, ‘rise and shine’ day after day, in order to earn a meager wage.  Laura suffers from disillusionment and appears perfectly content to live without ambition.  She spends her time tinkering with a collection of glass figurines, her menagerie, a tactic used to elude her future and any associations with the outside world.  With no plans and no prospects for life on her own, Laura is at the mercy of her mother.  Amanda is becoming increasingly desperate to secure some manner of care for her fragile daughter.  She schemes, and then introduces Tom to a plan to find Laura a gentleman caller.  Tom invites an acquaintance from the warehouse to dinner.  Amanda, irrationally optimistic, believes this gentleman caller, the dinner guest, is Laura’s opportunity to secure a husband. Jim O’Connor, the gentleman caller, accepts Tom’s dinner invitation; totally unaware of any ulterior motives.

Fisher Neal as Tom
Wintersteller’s performance as the high strung and excitable Amanda was unquestionably authentic. Amanda’s incessant criticisms of her children followed by over simplified solutions to their shortcomings in rapid and continuous chitchat was as natural as any neighbor. The rate of her dialogue is sometimes disorienting yet entrancing, as lifelike a character to ever stroll a stage.   Neal presents Tom as astute and withdrawn. His character personifies the struggling artist; a visionary who must break free from the familiar order in to enable the growth of his creativity. Neal naturally captures his place amidst the family dynamics through his portrayal of Tom. The arguments that swell between Tom and Amanda provoke a sense that is unique to familial conflict. His cool mannered narration preserves Laura’s memory and a minute of the past, for all to take in. 

Wake portrays the meek and innocent Laura.  She is quiet and reserved, and very aware of the future unfolding before her.  Nearly a hermit, she has no goals and no self-esteem.  When Amanda announces Laura is to open the door upon Jim’s arrival she is nearly paralyzed. The anguish in her voice as she pleads with her mother not make her open the door is gut wrenching.  Then dinner is served.  Laura is summoned to the table; she collapses in a heap onto the floor.  This moment, Wake’s finest scene in the play, produced gasps and compassionate sighs from the audience.   It was during this scene I felt the burden of humanness.  Wake’s depiction of Laura awakened the memory referred to in the opening narration- Laura’s display of anxiety rings true; it is something primal. Who hasn’t, at one time, frozen with fear?  She is petrified; stifled by her own self judgment and inadequacies.    Wake’s small stature helps give rise to the young Laura.  Her shakiness, limp and near inaudible single word responses to Jim’s inquisition further enhances the model of a weakly young woman. Whatever ails sweet Laura, Wake invokes.

Whalen, cast as Jim O’Connor, the handsome has-bin with natural magnetism, incites Laura.  As a man of many talents, O’Connor excels in reading people’s dispositions.  It is this particular skill that he uses to begin coaxing Laura out of her shell.   His voice and gestures communicate a man on a mission; he’s going places.  Not just in the role of Jim O’Connor the warehouse worker by day, public speaking student at night; destined for something bigger and better than the warehouse, but as a renowned actor sure to make many more appearances on stage across the country.

PPT’s 3rd rendition of The Glass Menagerie reminds us, “Time is the longest distance between two places”. Pittsburgh in the 1970’s, and St. Louis, Missouri in the 1930’s couldn’t be more different, yet, the expertly attuned direction from Pamela Berlin captures the memory of the Wingfield’s troubles through moving dialogue and staging.  The actors make it easy for the audience to suspend their own feelings of disbelief and become swept up into the unfolding drama. But it is Williams’s words which give us an honest glance into the enduring complexities of humanity.
  The Glass Menagerie is a classic 20th century American drama and can be seen from now through November 2, 2014. Purchase tickets here:

Reviewed by Megan Grabowski

Professional writer, Social-Media Junkie, Community Fundraiser and Pittsburgh Enthusiast.