Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cultural Trust Announces PNC Broadway Across America 2015-16 Season

"Scene from "Jersey Boys" playing as part of the PNC Broadway Across America Season Photo Credit Jeremy Daniel
     Wednesday evening, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust announced its 2015-16 PNC Broadway Across America Season at a festive gala at the Byham Theater. The by-invitation only event started at 6 p.m. in the theater lobby with a cocktail hour and an array of prepared foods. At 7 p.m., patrons moved inside the theater proper for a look at the upcoming season emceed by KDKA-TV’s Ken Rice that included film clips and live performances of songs from some of the musicals.
Here’s what is in store in the coming season for Pittsburgh audiences:

Benedum Center October 27 – November 1, 2015
BEAUTIFUL – THE CAROLE KING MUSICAL tells the inspiring true story of King’s remarkable rise to stardom, from being part of a hit songwriting team with her husband Gerry Goffin, to her relationship with fellow writers and best friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann, to becoming one of the most successful solo acts in popular music history.  Along the way, Carole King made more than beautiful music, she wrote the soundtrack to a generation.
Featuring a stunning array of beloved songs written by Gerry Goffin/Carole King and Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil, including “I Feel The Earth Move,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “You’ve Got A Friend” and the title song, BEAUTIFUL has a book by and Tony® Award-nominee and Academy® Award-nominated writer Douglas McGrath, direction by Marc Bruni, choreography by Josh Prince, and took home two 2014 Tony® Awards.
Benedum Center November 17 – 22, 2015
Scene from "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder"
Getting away with murder can be so much fun… and there’s no better proof than the knock-‘em dead hit show that’s earned unanimous raves and won the 2014 Tony Award® for BEST MUSICAL—A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER!  Coming directly from New York, where a most gentlemanly NPR critic said he’d “never laughed so hard at a Broadway musical,” GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE tells the uproarious story of Monty Navarro, a distant heir to a family fortune who sets out to jump the line of succession, by any means necessary.  All the while, he’s got to juggle his mistress (she’s after more than just love), his fiancée (she’s his cousin but who’s keeping track?), and the constant threat of landing behind bars!  Of course, it will all be worth it if he can slay his way to his inheritance… and be done in time for tea.
Heinz Hall January 5 – 10, 2016
This new production of THE WIZARD OF OZ is an enchanting adaptation of the all-time classic, totally reconceived for the stage.  Developed from the ever popular MGM screenplay, this production contains the beloved songs from the Oscar®-winning movie score, all the favorite characters and iconic moments, plus a few surprises along the way, including new songs by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Click your heels together and join Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion, Dorothy and her little dog Toto as they journey through the magical land of Oz to meet the Wizard and obtain their hearts’ desires.  Watch out for the Wicked Witch of the West and her winged monkeys as you rediscover the real story of Oz in this fantastic musical treat for the whole family.

Benedum Center February 2 – 7, 2016
Direct from Broadway, the acclaimed masterpiece returns to Pittsburgh! As part of their 50th Anniversary Season, Roundabout Theatre Company is proud to present Sam Mende’s (Skyfall, American Beauty) and Rob Marshall’s (Nine and Chicago films) Tony Award®-winning production of CABARET. Welcome to the infamous Kit Kat Klub, where the Emcee, Sally Bowles and a raucous ensemble take the stage nightly to tantalize the crowd—and to leave their troubles outside.  But as life in pre-WWII Germany grows more and more uncertain, will the decadent allure of Berlin nightlife be enough to get them through their dangerous times? Come hear some of the most memorable songs in theatre history, including “Cabaret,” “Willkommen” and “Maybe This Time.”  Leave your troubles outside—life is beautiful at CABARET, John Kander, Fred Ebb and Joe Masteroff’s Tony-winning musical about following your heart while the world loses its way.
Benedum Center March 8 – 13, 2016
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, one of the most romantic stories ever written, first captured the nation’s attention as a best-selling novel and is now an irresistible, two time Tony Award®-winning Broadway musical.  This stunning new production features gorgeous, soulful music by Tony Award®-winning composer Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years) that the Daily News hails as “one of Broadway’s best scores in the last decade.”  With a book by Pulitzer Prize Winner Marsha Norman (The Secret Garden, The Color Purple) and direction by Tony Award®-winner Bartlett Sher (South Pacific), THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is the unforgettable story of two people caught between decision and desire, as a chance encounter becomes a second chance at so much more.
Benedum Center March 22 – 27, 2016
The Hills Are Alive! A brand new production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, directed by three-time Tony Award®-winner Jack O’Brien, is coming to the Benedum Center.  The spirited, romantic and beloved musical story of Maria and the Von Trapp Family will once again thrill audiences with its Tony®, Grammy® and Academy Award®-winning Best Score, including “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” “Edelweiss” and the title song. THE SOUND OF MUSIC enjoyed extraordinary success as the first live television production of a musical in over 50 years when “THE SOUND OF MUSIC Live!” aired on NBC in December, 2013 (seen by over 44 million people).  2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the film version, which continues to be the most successful movie musical in history.
Benedum Center May 31 – June 12, 2016
TIME Magazine’s #1 Show of the Year! Winner of 50 international awards including four Tony Awards®, MATILDA THE MUSICAL is the story of an extraordinary girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.  Based on the beloved novel by Roald Dahl, MATILDA continues to thrill sold-out audiences of all ages on Broadway and in London’s West End.  MATILDA is produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Dodgers.  MATILDA THE MUSICAL will be presented as part of the PNC Broadway Across America-Pittsburgh 2015-2016 series and the Pittsburgh CLO 2016 summer season.

Benedum Center September 22 – October 4, 2015
JERSEY BOYS is the Tony®, Grammy® and Olivier Award-winning Best Musical about Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Four Seasons: Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi. This is the true story of how four blue-collar kids became one of the greatest successes in pop music history. JERSEY BOYS features their hit songs “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Rag Doll,” “Oh What a Night” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
Benedum Center November 24 – 29, 2015
I LOVE LUCY® LIVE ON STAGE is the brand-new hit stage show adapted from the most beloved program in television history! It’s 1952 and you are a member of the Desilu Playhouse studio audience awaiting the filming of two hilarious and oh-so-familiar I LOVE LUCY® episodes. A charming host entertains and enlightens you to the behind-the-scenes filming process of this brand new thing called “television,” the Crystaltone Singers perform advertising jingles in perfect 50s style harmony and the sidesplitting antics of America’s favorite foursome – Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel – are presented live on stage and in color for the very first time! It’s a one-of-a-kind theatrical  experience.
Heinz Hall December 22 – 27, 2015
The beloved TV classic RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER soars off the screen and onto the stage this holiday season.  Join us in celebrating Rudolph’s 50 years on television and come see all of your favorite characters from the special including Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius  and, of course, Rudolph, as they come to life in the all new RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER: THE MUSICAL.  It’s an adventure that teaches us that what makes you different can be what makes you special.  Don’t miss this wonderful new holiday tradition that speaks to the misfit in all of us. Based on the animated television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the stage production directed and conceived by Jeff Frank and First Stage.  Script adaptation by Robert Penola.  Arrangements and orchestrations by Timothy Splain.
Heinz Hall February 23 – 28, 2016
Experience the Phenomenon. BLUE MAN GROUP is best known for their wildly popular theatrical shows and concerts which combine comedy, music, and technology to produce a totally unique form of entertainment. The New York Times heralds the show as “One of the most delightful performance pieces ever staged.” E! Entertainment News exclaims, “BLUE MAN GROUP is what every live performance aspires to be.” The Baltimore Sun raves, “BLUE MAN GROUP packs a wallop. It’s a big, loud, funny, silly, visually arresting production!”
Although it is impossible to describe, people of all ages agree that BLUE MAN GROUP is an intensely exciting and wildly outrageous show that leaves the entire audience in a blissful, euphoric state. With no spoken language, BLUE MAN GROUP is perfect for people of all ages, languages, and cultures. BLUE MAN GROUP is now on the road for its first U.S. theatrical tour. This unique experience is a form of entertainment like nothing else; guaranteed to be an outing you will never forget.
Heinz Hall April 19 – 24, 2016
THE ILLUSIONISTS - WITNESS THE IMPOSSIBLE™ is produced by Simon Painter, Tim Lawson, MagicSpace Entertainment, Road Show Entertainment LLC, and The Production Office.   Conceived by Simon Painter, the show’s creative team also includes executive producer Tim Lawson, director Neil Dorward and creative director Jim Millan.
Having shattered box office records around the world,THE ILLUSIONISTS - WITNESSTHE IMPOSSIBLE™ is now coming to captivate Pittsburgh. This mind-blowing spectacular showcases the jaw-dropping talents of five of the most incredible illusionists on earth.   Full of hilarious magic tricks, death-defying stunts and acts of breathtaking wonder, THE ILLUSIONISTS has dazzled audiences of all ages.    Creative Producer Simon Painter said, “We can’t wait to bring this electrifying show to Broadway for a truly entertaining experience for the whole family. THE ILLUSIONISTS is the most non-stop and powerful mix of outrageous and astonishing acts ever to be seen on the live stage.”
Season tickets range from $156–$502. Single tickets will go on sale approximately 6-8 weeks in advance of the show’s opening for most events. Group discounts apply to orders of 10 tickets or more for most events. 
SEASON TICKETS: | 412-456-1390
GROUP ORDERS: | 412-471-6930
For more information, please visit

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is pleased to offer pre-show talks for the PNC Broadway Across America-Pittsburgh series.  How do you prepare to see a Broadway musical? And how do you know you've had a good time? Ticket holders are invited to join Christopher Rawson, senior theater critic for KDKA-TV and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for Know The Show Before You Go.  Know The Show Before You Go provides educational and background information on each of the Broadway performances, aiming to further deepen each patron’s theatrical experience.  Select company members are interviewed at the Trust Arts Education Center (805-807 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222) on certain nights of PNC Broadway Across America – Pittsburgh series performances.  Know The Show Before You Go does not take place for Season Special performances.  For more information, please visit

Monday, February 16, 2015

Picks of the Week- Something for Every Taste

Asakir (Laurel Semerdjian) explains to her long-absent son Alwan (Resident Artist Alex DeSocio) how his father was killed in a blood feud with the Tahawis. Photo Credit: David Bachman
    Pittsburgh Opera continues its 76th season with a new production of young Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz’s SUMEIDA’S SONG, starring the company’s Resident Artists. The fourth production of the 2014-15 Pittsburgh Opera season, SUMEIDA’S SONG is on stage at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters February 21, 24, 27 and March 1. Tickets start at $40.

Based on the play Song of Death by prolific and influential Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim, SUMEIDA’S SONG is 60 minutes of gripping family drama coming from the tragic collision of traditional and modern values in a peasant village in Upper Egypt. In the story, Alwan’s mother Asakir has waited 17 years to take vengeance on Alwan’s father’s murderer, in a long-standing blood feud. Her world falls apart when Alwan, returning to his village from Cairo with plans to bring education and clean water, declares that he will not kill anyone. Hysterical at his refusal, Alwan’s mother ultimately charges his cousin Sumeida with avenging the family name, and he sings a traditional song as a signal. 
The SUMEIDA’S SONG score blends in spiraling dance rhythms, special tunings, and plaintive melodic writing that recall Mohammed Fairouz’s Arabic heritage.

Pittsburgh Opera’s Resident Artists again take the starring roles in the second opera of the season that is produced especially for the singers and directors in the company’s acclaimed training program. Laurel Semerdjian portrays Asakir, and Adelaide Boedecker is her sister Mabrouka, while Alex DeSocio is Alwan, and Adam Bonanni is Sumeida.

Tickets to SUMEIDA’S SONG start at $40, with all performances at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters, in the Strip District. To purchase tickets, call 412-456-6666 or visit
Demented, Asakir (Laurel Semerdjian) goads her nephew Sumeida (Resident Artist Adam Bonanni) until he finally agrees to carry out her revenge. Photo Credit: David Bachman
   Tiempo Libre
Tiempo Libre Brings Its Timba-style of music to the Byham Theater on Wednesday Credit Elvis Suarez/ Glassworks MultiMedia

 Pittsburgh audiences will get a chance to groove to some Latino-style rhythms when Tiempo Libre brings its sophisticated mysic to the Byham, Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh for a 7:30 p.m. concert. Tickets are $35 and $45. Phone 412-456-6666.
    Tiempo Libre has become known worldwide for its joyous and sophisticated concerts of the Cuban style of music called timba – a high-energy combination of Latin jazz and the traditional style of Cuban music called "son." As Jorge Gómez, the band’s musical director and pianist puts it, their sound is "a mix of jazz with the flavor of Cuban music, like putting together Buena Vista Social Club and Chick Corea."
    To the members of the now Miami-based group Tiempo Libre, music isn’t just a way of life, it’s a way of experiencing living. They approach their concerts as Cuban music parties. Audience members may choose whether to be a guest who sits back and enjoys the sophisticated music performed by these conservatory-trained musicians or one who claps, dances and sings along to the band’s joyous sound.  There hasn't been a concert yet where people haven't danced in the aisles. Tiempo Libre’s goal is to serve as ambassadors to their Cuban musical heritage, while celebrating their new American experience.
    The Cuban government forbade its citizens to listen to American radio when the members of Tiempo Libre were growing up in Cuba.  But, like teenagers everywhere, that which was forbidden was what the members of Tiempo Libre most desired. The musicians fashioned antennas out of salvaged aluminum foil and clothes hangers and climbed up on their rooftops secretly at night to catch music from Miami airwaves.  This music fueled their dreams of living in America and ultimately gave them the strength to leave it all behind – families, friends, a country, a life – to pursue those dreams.
    Through Tiempo Libre’s most recent timba album, My Secret Radio, the seven musicians express the thrill of their secret rooftop radio sessions as well as the difficulties they faced starting from scratch in America, a culture so foreign and different from Cuba.
    Just as jazz has traveled from New Orleans to Chicago, New York and around the world, Tiempo Libre’s members see Cuban timba music as a living, breathing art form that continues to evolve over time. Tiempo Libre's sound honors the group's Cuban musical heritage, while incorporating their American experiences – funk, hip-hop, rap, jazz, ska and pop. Tiempo Libre’s members are pure timberos. They listen to timba, they play it, they dance it, they live it. And as Cubans now living in the U.S., they absorb the musical nutrients of this country and incorporate them into their sound.
    Today, having reunited in Miami, having formed the first all-Cuban timba group in the U.S., earned three Grammy nominations, performed on NPR, at The Hollywood Bowl, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as on TV's The Tonight Show (with Joshua Bell) and Dancing with the Stars, Tiempo Libre's musicians are truly living the American dream.
    The group’s concert will feature music from its two Sony Masterworks releases, the Grammy-nominated Bach in Havana and the previously mentioned My Secret Radio.  Bach in Havana takes Bach as a starting point from which to explore a wide range of Cuban music forms and rhythms and features guest tracks with Yosvany Terry and Paquito D’Rivera. The album is a true reflection of the Tiempo Libre’s "double" lives studying classical music at Cuba’s premier Russian-style conservatories by day and by night meeting up to play the traditional music of Cuba.
    In addition to recording the duet "Para Tí" with virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell (featured on Bell’s album, At Home With Friends), Tiempo Libre’s musical director Jorge Gomez’ Cuban cha-cha-cha version of "Christmas Auld Lang Syne" for Gloria Estefan and Joshua Bell was featured on Bell’s Musical Gifts from Joshua Bell and Friends and on The Queen Latifah Show.
    Tiempo Libre recorded O’Reilly Street with flute player Sir James Galway, which includes an Afro-Cuban take on music from the jazz suites of Claude Bolling.  They bring Cuban music to new audiences by performing with leading orchestras, including the San Francisco and Houston Symphonies and the Cleveland Orchestra.
    There is not a moment the group takes for granted.  The group’s pianist and musical director Jorge Gómez, said "Every record we make, every concert we play seems like a gift. Each time we are about to walk on stage, I get a tingling sensation, that thrill that starts at the base of the spine and fills me with euphoria. It's that same thrill I felt up on that roof under the twinkling Havana stars, listening to my secret radio."
    To see and hear more of Tiempo Libre go to

Academy Award Nominated Short Film Scrrenings

Animated Short Film :The Dam Keeper" (Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi) USA Credit

 For a fun, entertaining Academy Award preview, check out the Nominated Short Subjects screening this weekend at the Olin Fine Arts Center on the campus of Washington and Jefferson College in Washington. Now in its fifth year, the screenings are held at 7:30 p.m. on two separate evenings.
    On Friday, Feb. 20, the Live Action short films get the nod with five different films from Canada, the USA, the United Kingdom, China, Isreal and France (Six countries because some co-produced the films). The following evening, Saturday, Feb 21, the Animated short films get a viewing on the Olin's large screen and in comfortable surroundings.
    The single ticket price of $12, ($10 for seniors and non W & J students), provides admission to both evening screenings. Phone 724-223-(OLIN) 6546.

Live Action Short Film Nominee "The Butter Lamp" (La Lampe au Buerre de Yak) Hu Wei and Julien Feret France and China/Tibetan

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fun Valentine's Day Charms to Please Your Sweetheart

 Rebecca Covertt and Anna Elder  Star in "Indecent Divas" Photo Credi:t Heather Mull

 Looking for ideas to help make this Valentine's Day a little sweeter? Chocolates, roses and dinner help, but here are a few miscellaneous suggestions. No, I won't mention the big, pink Teddy bears now getting air time on TV and cost $100.
 Comic Divas Entertain at Off the Wall
     For a good laugh, the Indecent Divas will return to Off the Wall Theater in Carnegie at 8 p.m. on Friday bringing with them charm, sass, bawdiness and incredible vocals to insure you'll have the Valentine's Day memory of a lifetime. These two sassy gals promise to put a new twist on love and leave you in stitches. Off the Wall staff believes their performance just might be a good way to get couples to know one another a little bit better.
Tickets are $20. Phone  412-853-3576. or www

"Indecent Divas Star at Off the Wall Theater Photo Credit Heather Mull

Love Allows Beauty to Transform the Beast
For an ultra romantic evening out, you might want to dress up and head down to the Benedum Center in Downtown Pittsburgh for a performance of "Beauty and the Beast,"now getting a lush staging by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.
Glorious Finale of "Beauty and the Beast" Photo Credit: Rosalie O'Connor
    Now getting its Pittsburgh balletic premier, the story line follows the tale of how a sympathetic kiss transforms a feral beast into a handsome prince. Set to 22 excerpts taken from works by Tchaikovsky, the ballet features stunning costumes and an enchanting array of stags, nymphs and mysterious creatures who will dance their way into your heart and exalt your spirit.
Nurlan Abougaliev and Amanda Cochrane Star in "Beauty and the Beast" Photo Credit: Rosalie O'Connor

From Thursday through Sunday, the ballet has scheduled five performance, including two matinees . For tickets, phone 412-456-6666.
Guitarist To Serenade Diners at Beechie's Place
    Famed South Hills guitarist, Bill Loughman will add to the Valentine's Day atmosphere for diners spending part of their evening at Beechie's Place in Meadowlands on Feb. 14. From 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Loughman will entertain with his soft background music taken from the 40s, 50s and up through the Beatles era.
   Located at 400 W. Pike Street in Meadowlands, Beechie's was founded by Frank (Beechie) Bonazza and his wife, Sophie, in 1952.
    Famous for their jumbo wings, Beechie's also offers appetizers,  pizza and strombolis, salads,pastas,  burgers, main dishes and desserts at reasonable prices. The menu is posted on the restaurant website at Phone 724-222-7079.

More Laughs and Dinner Too

    Comedy, live jazz and a sit-down dinner seem a lively mix for a romantic outing. You can get all three at Bella Sera, 414 Morganza Road in Canonsburg on Valentine's Day Eve, starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 13. Comedy is provided by nationally recognized Pittsburgh funny men Aaron Kleiber and Terry Jones. The jazz component  focuses on the lively sounds of Eric Johnson and the Fabulous A-Team.
    For your dining pleasure, Bella Sera has created a trio of courses sure to strike a chord with every palate . Start with a Butternut Squash Bisque laced with mascarpone and topped with honey-lemon crusted walnuts. .Move on to seared Beef Tenderloin with wild mushroom in a silky sauce of Gorgonzola and port wine or a plate of Grilled Prawns with Scampi Butter and fresh herbs along with a seasonal vegetable duet and a Romano crusted Yukon gold potato galette. End the meal with moist chocolate cake filled with creamy salted caramel kissed with fresh berries.
    This Hearts and Jokers event is $65 per person. Phone 724-745-5575, ext.111.

Skate Your Heart Out
    On Valentine's Day, pack your ice skates and favorite date in the car and head on over to Schenley Park, 500 Panther Hollow Road in Oakland. UPMC Health Plan is sponsoring an adults-only ice skating romantic evening for couples from 7 to 10 p.m. Tickets are two for one or $4 a couple. Phone 412-422-6523.

Valentine's Day Cocktail Suggestions Courtesy the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

    Here are some celebratory cocktails you've probably never heard of that also sound delicious. All four call for Champagne or sparkling wine, served in a Champagne flute.

True Love- pour 2 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur in a Champagne flute and fill rest of glass with bubbly
New Love - 2 oz. Kinky Liqueur and fill rest of glass with bubbly.
Lost in Love - 2 oz. Kinky Bluel Liqueur, 1 oz. Lemoncello and fill rest of glass with Lemoncello
Who Needs Love - 2 oz.SWeet Revenge Wild Strawberry Sour  Mash Liqueur and fill rest of glass with bubbly.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

PBT to Stage Pittsburgh Premier of "Beauty and the Beast"

PBT's :Beauty and the Beast"makes Pittsburgh Premier  Photo Credit; Duane Rieder

The timing couldn’t be better for the Pittsburgh premier of the ballet version of "Beauty and the Beast," the romantic story of the magic spell broken by love that transforms a lonely beast into a handsome prince.
For nine performances clustered around Valentine’s Day, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will present at the Benedum Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh the much loved fairy tale, made into a stage hit and Disney film.
Featuring exquisitely crafted costumes and a mysterious array of stags, nymphs and enchanted creatures, PBT’s newly acquired production of "Beauty and the Beast" presents a striking interpretation of the timeless tale of inner beauty.
    Originally created for San Francisco Ballet (SFB) in 1958 – and later restaged in 1982 – the production features music by Peter I. Tchaikovsky, costume design by José Varona and choreography by Lew Christensen, who is considered the first American born premier male dancer and is the creator of more than 110 ballets.
    In preparation for its revival, PBT is recreating set pieces, revitalizing costumes and intricate head pieces, and re-staging the production under the direction of PBT Artistic Director Terrence S. Orr.
Set to a tapestry of Tchaikovsky masterworks, Lew Christensen’s "Beauty and the Beast" contrasts an enchanted setting with choreography that conveys the emotional arc of Beauty and her Beast.
    The tale traces its roots to the ancient Greek myth, "Cupid and Psyche," but is best known through the 1756 version by French governess Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.
The ballet features an arrangement of 22 excerpts from eight different Tchaikovsky works. Against the striking backdrop of the austere castle, enchanted forest and magnificent ballroom, Christensen’s choreography conveys the transformative power of love as Beauty discovers the tenderness beneath the Beast’s intimidating exterior.
    Lew Christensen’s "Beauty and the Beast" received its world premiere in 1958 at San Francisco Ballet, where it experienced consistent box office success and critical acclaim. SFB presented it every year from 1958 to 1967, the longest run ever enjoyed by a full-length SFB ballet other than "The Nutcracker."
    After a 24-year run, the company restaged the ballet in 1982 with supplements to the choreography and score and new costumes designed by José Varona. The ballet’s creator, Lew Christensen, was an influential figure in American ballet, gaining fame as a performer and teacher under George Balanchine in the 1930s.        Throughout his more than 50-year dance career, Christensen earned a reputation as a prominent performer, choreographer and director, including his long-term tenure as SFB director and choreographer.
    PBT will stage "Beauty and the Beast" over a two weekend run from February 6 to 15. For tickets, phone 412-456-6666.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Brahman/i - Brilliance with Burnout

David Bielewicz (L) and Sanjiv Jhaveri (R) in Brahman/I Photo Credit Heather Mull 

You know what happens when you watch an eclipse of the sun without proper eye protection? The same sort of thing happened to me on an emotional level Saturday evening when I sat through a nearly two hour long, non-stop viewing of Brahman/I - an experiential brownout after watching the shimmer of the writer's fecund mind and imagination light up the stage..
The brilliance in my review’s title came from Indian-American playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil, actor Sanjiv Jhaveri and director Shishir Kurup, the man responsible for fine tuning the standup comedy format of Kapil’s stream-of-consciousness, 60-plus page script.  The burnout came from me who listened raptly as though entranced by some bald-headed Scheherazade telling me her 1001 and One Nights stories in a single sitting, but with attention span deficit setting in about 90 minutes into the routine. Not that my interest wavered much even at this point; it’s just that my energy level plummeted because of the informational overload.
Jhaveri entered the theater, not from the stage, but from the back of the comedy club setting, convincingly created by set designer Britton Mauk. Roaming through the crowd, he warmed up by sensitively sniping ad lib quips at some in the audience to hilarious effect. Once on stage his :"comedy routine" kicked in and a minute later I rashly thought "This guy is no Cris Rock." Then the magic began.
Dressed in a black leather jacket, black pants, heavy black boots, he looked like some Folsom Street biker with a bit too much eye brow makeup. He then eased into his main character, one of a dozen or so, to tell the story of a young Indian-American living in Georgia growing into puberty after being born a hijra, Hindi for hermaphrodite or someone born with both male and female genitalia.
But the girl/boy’s adaptation to the rare and unique (I assume) form of physical  sexual ambiguity is just the start of the playwright’s kinetic imagination as she takes us into mythological, historical, ethnic territory that covers everything from Odysseus and Stonehenge to the time of Britain’s colonial rule in India.
During his eclectic narrative that assumes a swarm of characters in different places and time periods, Jhaveri manages a convincing array of accents that include Indian, Cockney and the proper English spoken by Queen Victoria, one of his smaller character guises.
Accompanying the actor on bass guitar and an apparatus that produces all sorts of sound effects and noises, David Bielewicz is more than an accompanist and cue marker. At first, I was puzzled by his rather detached attitude to the performance, then, as the evening progressed, I saw his role in a much fuller context that allows his earlier demeanor to make sense.
Somewhere around the midpoint of his performance, Jhaveri underwent a visual transition that started when he removed his leather jacket to expose a bright red shirt embellished with Hindu garnishes. He then walked over to a couch on the stage and pulled off a colorfully decorated cloth that he then sensually wrapped around his body to form a sari. With his back to the audience, he added a long wig, then turned around in the new persona of Brahmani, as his female counterpart is called.
 Quantum, known for its predilection for moving to different (and interesting) performance venues, chose the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation’s Community Center at 113 N. Pacific Avenue to stage "Brahman/i. Quantum’s set designers took the building that once served as a church and now gets second life as a community center and transformed it into a "Temple of Comedy, complete with cabaret-style tables and comfy chairs."
Sanjiv Jhaveri at the bar in back of the "Temple of Comedy" Photo Credit: Heather Mull
As an aid to evoking the Indian themed performance, Quantum Theatre is including snacks and a bottle of Kingfisher beer or chai, a spiced milk tea, with the price of admission. The nearby People’s Indian Restaurant provides the edibles and is also within convenient walking distance for those wanting to dine out rather inexpensively before the show.
While the laughs in Brahman/I are plentiful, the author also segues into darker territory taking on issues of sexual identity, ethnic prejudice and the troubles those with a unique identity have fitting into a world and culture at variance with themselves.
With all this going on, Jhaveri maintains a freshness throughout the entire show. His enthusiasm and energy never seem to wane, but it was a wee bit too much of a marathon for me. A few snips here and there would have made the experience a bit easier to digest.
"Braham/I," a production of the Quantum Theatre, runs through February 22. Phone 412-362-1713.