Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Roving Pittsburgher Report, PPT Opens 2015-16 Season with A Diary of Anne Frank.

PPT Opens 2015-16 Season with 

A Diary of Anne Frank.

By Megan Grabowski

Pittsburgh Public Theater’s (PPT) 2015-16 inaugural show; The Diary of Anne Frank is a highly emotive performance.  Running approximately three hours, the story does not need synopsized.  Most of us, young and old, are familiar with the chronicles of Anne Frank.  She and her family spent two years in hiding during the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands during WWII. The play is based on her diary which was discovered after her death in a Nazi concentration camp.  In her diary she confessed her adolescent thoughts, dreams, fears and desires as well as those pertaining to her persecution because she was Jewish.  Anne’s diary was first published in Amsterdam in 1947 and soon became so popular that Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett recreated the accounts as an expressive tribute to her life.  

As the audience we are voyeurs watching, with a strange sense of intuition, the fate of eight people unfold before us.  Producing Artistic Director Ted Pappas has reimagined a time and place from history which allows anyone brave enough to bear witness an opportunity to examine this moment in history. 

The play opens with Otto Frank, played by Randy Kovitz, wobbling up
 Remy Zaken as Anne Frank
the attic stairs, returning to the annex above the warehouse for a final goodbye.   He meanders throughout the historically designed set gently touching items and studying the remains of his last home before being captured by the Nazi’s. The set mimics the actual floorplan of the attic space where he dwelled with his wife and two daughters, Anne and Margot.  The stage is arranged with antiquated furniture and bedding which add to the sense of time.  He is accompanied by Meip, a young Dutch woman sensitive to the Jewish cause who assisted the Frank family in securing a hiding place. Her compassion and kindness is exhibited as she escorts Mr. Frank to his family’s last residence and gently encourages him to read the discovered diary. Meip is Kelsey Carthew’s professional stage premiere. Her supporting role as a connection to the outside world for the household is essential and soul nourishing.  

Meip and Ken Bolden, as Mr. Kraler, each play the part of minor characters yet their presence is felt on stage despite their physical appearances. These characters are the cord which connects the diary entries of a 13 year old girl, relaying everyday life, to the historical events that ultimately generated the possibility of the play. 

Randy Kovitz as Otto Frank, Remy Zaken as Anne Frank and Christine Laitta as Edith Frank
Kovitz an experienced actor of both stage and television is beautifully animated.  His face twists with inconsolable grief as he recites what is written in his daughter’s diary.  As the lone survivor of his family, his pain is evident and he shakily speaks his daughter’s notes.  The story begins with Mr. Frank reading out loud then the voice of a young girl begins to filter into the theater.  The two voices meet and simultaneously narrate for a moment then only one voice can be heard, that of a young girl.  This ethereal moment reminds us of who the author of the diary really is.  So, the splay continues in Anne’s voice, with her words from her ideas, her impressions, and her experiences.  As spectators, our imaginations are instantly transported. 

Zaken’s performance as Anne is a poignant personification of a young girl. We witness the pain and frustrations of Anne as she strives for independence from her mother, Mrs. Frank, played by Pittsburgh native Christine Laitta and older sister, Margot played by local performer Erika Cuenca. Despite the living conditions in the attic or the frequent disapproval she receives from the other household members, Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, their son Peter and Mr. Dussel, Anne never gives up expressing her own personality.  She laid her head on her father’s shoulder when seeking solace and never stops believing in a better world for all. Zaken’s rendition of a young girl, sometimes playful, sometime adversarial and sometimes introspective is profound.  She effortlessly conveys the image of Anne as a child in all her moods while continually maintaining the innocence of a child.

Daniel Krell cast as Mr. Dussel, an older gentleman who joins the household half way through their hiding.  He brings the small bit of comic relief a drama of this nature allows.  His frustration toward living in captivity and sharing sleeping quarters with a child are expressed exceptionally well.  His rebukes at Anne’s childish behavior are just tolerable because we know he tries to mask his fear behind his intelligence.   Mr. Dussel is not a likable person, but Krell’s portrayal is powerful.  Despite his near constant conflicts with Anne, the humanity of his character cannot be denied. 

 As Anne grows and matures she starts to bond more with her sister Margot, with a do-gooder, mother’s helper, quiet and studious personality; the exact opposite of herself.   Cuenca, cast as Margot, does not have much to say, but her presence as a strong supporting cast member is made known during the scenes with Anne when she helps her dress and experiment with hairstyles for a ‘date’ with Peter.  David Edward Jackson, cast as Peter, the awkward and introverted teen who initially spends his time alone with his cat, eventually becomes an essential confidant to Anne.  His depiction of a young man struggling to make sense of his world is refined and his blossoming interest in Anne as a young woman is an honest transition. Zaken and Jackson make a dynamic couple, telling the world, despite all the hate and fear, there can be love and beauty.  Their relationship is the polar opposite of Peter’s parents’.  

Remy Zaken as Anne Frank and David Edward Jackson as Peter Van Daan
Mr. Van Daan played by stage and film actor David Wohl and Mrs. Van Daan, played by veteran Pittsburgh performer Helena Ruoti spend the early part of the show criticizing Anne for her liveliness and sass.   Wohl depicts a nervous and emotionally detached man who as the performance progresses spends more time concerned with cigarettes and money than his own family.  Mrs. Van Daan disgusts the household with her blatant flirtatious acts toward Mr. Frank.  Ruoti is a brilliant dramatic actor.  Her role as a temperamental and pretentious woman appears effortless.  When Mr. Van Daan plays tug of war with his wife’s beloved fur with intentions to sell it, she throws a terrific tantrum, flopping across her bed and wailing.  She grips her coat as her husband rips it from her hands.  He hands the coat to Meip with instructions to sell it, and then coolly requests she buy him cigarettes.  This scene, at first, is humorous.  It seems absurd for Mrs. Van Daan to keep the fur, and her reaction to losing it is melodramatic but no one in the audience laughed.  As bystanders, we begin to acknowledge life under the tense circumstances. 

Laitta as Mrs. Frank is the epitome of devoted wife and mother.  Her role as peacekeeper and protector of all is outstanding.  Her expressions of disheartenment by Anne’s obvious favoritism toward her father are candid and her struggle to maintain her role as a parent even as the opportunities to do so diminish are conveyed with passion.   

We know the story.  The ending is apparent, (you can’t change history).  It is the talent of the cast that truly make this performance worthwhile.  
The Diary of Anne Frank plays through October 25, 2015.  For tickets please visit :

Reviewed by Megan Grabowski

Positively Pittsburgh Good News Reviewer, Professional writer, Social-Media Junkie, Community Fundraiser and Pittsburgh Enthusiast.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Roving Pittsburgher Report, Diana Ross, "In the Name of Love," Don't Stop

Roving Pittsburgher Report, Diana Ross, 

"In the Name of Love," Don't Stop

by Good News Reporter, Joanne Quinn-Smith

As a baby boomer, myself I am ecstatic to know that Diana Ross has not stopped performing and has a timeless appeal to multiple generations. Let's not talk about her age.  It was enough to know that each time she came out on stage at the Benedum on Saturday, September 12, 2015, that as she appeared in yet again another astounding costume that she appeared each time to be even more timeless.

Way to rock out an opening!  Diana brought the audience to their feet as she belted out "I'm Coming Out" as en entrance.
A trendsetter, a pacesetter and a legend, her performance was dazzling.  At one point in time, she said, "I feel like I am singing to I phones" and asked that the audience send her the pictures.  She lamented that she was not as thin as she was in the sixties but I am sure that the audience will agree that she looks absolutely flawless.

The color pictures here on the blog, are by Kelli Robbins, my concert partner.  By the time we left the theater and were on our way home in the Lyft, Diana had liked a picture that Kelli had posted on Instagram.

Her encore was emotional and brought the audience together as she sang Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” and “I Will Survive”
As Diana continues her "In the Name of Love" Tour we wish her prosperity, love and the fulfillment that she obviously gets from performing.  It was so easy to see that she was thoroughly enjoying herself on stage and the contagion infested the audience.

Set list

1. “I’m Coming Out”
2. “More Today Than Yesterday” (The Supremes)
3. “My World Is Empty Without You” (The Supremes)
4. “Baby Love” (The Supremes)
5. “Stop! In the Name of Love,” (The Supremes)
6. “You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes)
7. “Touch Me in the Morning”
8. “Love Child” (The Supremes)
9. “The Boss”
10. “Upside Down”
11. “Love Hangover”
12. “Take Me Higher”
13. “Ease on Down the Road” (Diana Ross and Michael Jackson cover)
14. “Don’t Explain” (“Lady Sings the Blues”)
15. “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” (Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers cover)
16. “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To?)”
17. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
18. “I Will Survive” 

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. 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. 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. 

Roving Pittsburgher Report, Distant Worlds; an Otherworldly PSO

Distant Worlds; an Otherworldly Event.

By Megan Grabowski

August 1, 2015, a sultry evening in Pittsburgh.  An audience consisting of primarily Gen X through Gen Z, gathered outside the lavish Heinz Hall home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in the Cultural District.  The buzz is absolute anticipation for the long awaited music of the media franchise Final Fantasy (FF).  The repertoire is a revered piece of the 25 year history of the fantasy video game, as well as a free standing esteemed collection of an infinite number of scores and emotionally charged compositions.  

The ambience of Heinz Hall encourages a higher level of respect for the world of gaming than I ever imagined I could hold.  The orchestra situated downstage, warms up as patrons file into the posh red upholstered seats, some dressed in FF cosplay and others dressed to the nine. I quickly realize this will be a performance like nothing I have ever seen before. 

Quietly the Mendelssohn Choir moves into place.  They position themselves tucked behind the orchestra and the large projection screen hanging from the ceiling, fusing into the black curtain, a subtle backdrop creating a mysterious presence on the stage.  Arnie Roth parades onto the stage, under the spotlight, hand in hand with Hitoshi Sakimoto.  Together they bow and the audience and the crowd erupt in cheers.  As the applause subsides, the Prelude begins; next the music flows into another score, Liberi Fatali.  With each set the projector illuminates with images of FF characters, complete with fantastical places, battles and dancing. The assorted edits are date stamped; 1989-12-17, 1990- 4- 7, 2000-7-7 and so forth, highlighting more than two decades of an industrious advancement of the graphics in tandem with the ethereal sounds of the symphony and choir.

Grammy award winning music director Arnie Roth turns to face the crowd.  With sweeping gestures of his arm he waves to the audience, motions to the spectators on the balcony, and then urges the orchestra to stand.  The audience rises to their feet, the hall fills with a roar and whistling and shouting all in praise of the performance about to unfold.  Roth speaks with pride about Distant Worlds.  He expresses his passion for the show when sharing some background:  over 100 performances worldwide in a span of 8 years and always remaining open to new ideas and selections of music the fans would enjoy.  Then with dynamic enthusiasm Roth introduces Hitoshi Sakimoto, best known for his orchestral compositions for FF VII, one of the series most popular games. Sakimoto waves appreciatively and the audience continues to cheer.    

Roth then takes his place at the podium and cues up the orchestra.  A cacophony of sound ignites into the frenzied Victory Theme and The Dalmasca Estersand from FF IX.  We lose ourselves to the Roses of May, and FF XIV, Torn from the Heavens.  The layered sounds of the symphony and the choir create a synergy unique to this place at this time.  The lost score of FF VIII, transcribed for Distant Worlds, Balamb Garden conjures an auditory awakening that transports the listeners’ minds directly into the scenes shown before us; a raging battle in a fantastical land or the serenity of airy, grassy plains beneath falling feathers.  Distant Worlds is more than a symphony, it is a full sensory experience.

Next we enjoy the arrangements for FF III, DS Opening, from FF VI, a Character Medley and the 2012 Chocobo Medley, an audience participatory piece which further engages us before intermission and the mad rush to the merch tables.

Returning from intermission we are entertained by the recently composed Battle and Victory Theme Medley, FF VII, Jenova Complete and the FF X, Zanarkand.  Both Jenova and Zanarkand possess the complementary sounds of the Mendelssohn Choir. Lightning Returns: FF XIII: Light Eternal is a beautiful medley filled with the sounds of mystery, intrigue, discovery and innovation.   Next is the FF IV, Battle with the Four Fiends, which is a great gateway to the Opera, “Maria and Draco” from FF VI.  Tim Hartman, professional actor of stage and film, narrates the story, “The war between East and West…”  The three soloists; tenor George Milosh, mezzo- soprano Amelia D’Arcy and baritone Skip Napier, operatically share the story or a war, a fallen castle and a surviving soldier, narration by Hartman is interspersed between the various numbers.  The choir joins this distinct performance and the audience’s reception is wildly approving.   The evening culminates with the FF Main Theme.  At the conclusion of the final piece, the house nearly simultaneous gets up for a standing ovation.  After the bows cease, Roth returns to the stage announcing an encore number.  Once again rallying the audience into a participatory opportunity- shout it out Roth says and you know when, “Sephiroth”. 

A night listening to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is always gratifying.  The Mendelssohn Choir is nothing less than angelic sounding.  FF is engrained into the social stratosphere of our culture.  Together, these melodious elements bring a breath of fresh air into the hearts of FF fans.

Reviewed by Megan Grabowski

Positively Pittsburgh Good News Reviewer, Professional writer, Social-Media Junkie, Community Fundraiser and Pittsburgh Enthusiast.