Wednesday, September 30, 2015

PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA TO PERFORM AT HEINZ FIELD AS PART OF TRIBUTE TO JEROME BETTIS

Tony DeSare Photo Credit: Bill Westmoreland


On Thursday, October 1, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will perform at a professional sporting event for the first time when they share Heinz Field with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the team takes on the Baltimore Ravens in a nationally televised game.
    During halftime, the Pittsburgh Symphony will take to the field to perform “Whitewater,” composed by conductor Jeff Tyzik, principal pops conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic and several other orchestras, a piece that describes the power of the river, roaring through the canyons. “Whitewater” provides the perfect complement to the highlight film of newly inducted Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis’ career, which will be part of the evening’s celebration of his induction.
    Renowned singer and pianist Tony DeSare, who is part of the PNC Pops: Sinatra and Beyond performances on October 2-4 celebrating Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday, will perform the national anthem with music recorded by the Pittsburgh Symphony.
“This is an incredible opportunity for the Pittsburgh Symphony to show its admiration and affection for ‘Steelers Nation,’” says President and CEO Melia Tourangeau. “I am so pleased that we can be a part of this important and dynamic event. Our sincere thanks goes to the UPMC Health Plan and the Pittsburgh Steelers for making this opportunity possible.”
Kick-off is at 8:25 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS and the NFL Network.
Jeff Tyzik Photo Credit:Tyler Boye


About the Artists
    Grammy Award-winner Jeff Tyzik is one of America’s most innovative and sought after pops conductors. Tyzik is recognized for his brilliant arrangements, original programming and engaging rapport with audiences of all ages. Tyzik holds The Dot and Paul Mason Principal Pops Conductor’s Podium at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and also serves as principal pops conductor of the Seattle Symphony, the Detroit Symphony, the Oregon Symphony and The Florida Orchestra. This season, Tyzik will celebrate his 22nd season as principal pops conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.
    Frequently invited as a guest conductor, Tyzik has appeared with the Boston Pops, Cincinnati Pops, Milwaukee Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Toronto Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. In May 2007, the Harmonia Mundi label released his recording of works by Gershwin with pianist Jon Nakamatsu and the RPO, which stayed in the Top 10 on the Billboard classical chart for over three months. Alex Ross of The New Yorker, called it “one of the snappiest Gershwin discs in years.”
     Committed to performing music of all genres, Tyzik has collaborated with such diverse artists as Chris Botti, Matthew Morrison, Wynonna Judd, Tony Bennett, Art Garfunkel, Dawn Upshaw, Marilyn Horne, Arturo Sandoval, The Chieftains, Mark O’Connor, Doc Severinsen and John Pizzarelli. He has created numerous original programs that include the greatest music from jazz and classical to Motown, Broadway, film, dance, Latin and swing. Tyzik holds Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from the Eastman School of Music.
     Named a Rising Star Male Vocalist in Downbeat magazine, Tony DeSare has lived up to this distinction by winning critical and popular acclaim for his concert performances throughout North America and abroad. From jazz clubs to Carnegie Hall to Las Vegas headlining with Don Rickles and major symphony orchestras, DeSare has brought his fresh take on old school class around the globe. DeSare has three top ten Billboard jazz albums under his belt and has been featured on the “CBS Early Show,” NPR, “A Prairie Home Companion,” the “Today” show and his music has been posted by social media celebrity juggernaut George Takei.
    Notwithstanding his critically acclaimed turns as a singer/pianist, DeSare is also an accomplished award-winning composer. He not only won first place in the USA Songwriting Contest, but has written the theme song for the motion picture, My Date with Drew, along with several broadcast commercials. DeSare’s forthcoming appearances include the Pittsburgh Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Arizona Music Festival, The Smith Center in Las Vegas and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. DeSare releases new recordings, videos of standards and new originals every few weeks on his YouTube channel, iTunes and Spotify. Follow DeSare on Facebook, Twitter and subscribe on YouTube to stay connected. Tony DeSare is a Yamaha Artist.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

“Jersey Boys” - Music-Drenched Story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons

(L to R) Keith Hines, Matthew Dailey, Aaron De Jesus and Drew Seeley  Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel


    Even those who never much cared for the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons will probably like “Jersey Boys,” the glitzy, Tony-Award winning musical now back at Pittsburgh’s Benedum Theater. The show has been staged in town twice before, and it seems that, judging by the size of the media night audience, enthusiasm for the show is still going strong.
Those who are fans of the crooner with the unique falsetto and his backup team of hipster singers of upbeat tunes that wooed audiences worldwide for 20 years starting in the early 60s should be thrilled to the point of ecstasy. “Oh, What a Night!”
            Since it opened at the August Wilson Theater on Broadway on November 6, 2005, “Jersey Boys”  has been seen by 20 million people worldwide (since August of last year), and has become  the  13th longest running Broadway show, recently surpassing “Hello, Dolly!” “Avenue Q,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray,” “My Fair Lady,” “Oklahoma,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and the original productions of “Grease” and “42nd Street
    The show obviously has staying power, something you couldn’t say for similar pop-songbook attempts that went nowhere that showcased the likes of John Lennon, the Beach Boys and even Elvis himself.
            Despite the show’s rather sketchy plot line that seems mere window dressing for the real guts of the production – the groups’ top of the charts hits that really rev up in the second act, scriptwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice manage to not only chronicle the groups ups and downs starting when Valli was a mere 16 year old, but also infuse a surprisingly good bit of drama into the script.
   Going into the show, I knew little of Valli’s personal life and was surprised to learn that, despite the largely feel-good, even ebullient, nature of most of his music, his life had many dark moments. There were the early-on struggles to get noticed, financial difficulties, trouble with both organized crime and the law (they once landed in a Cleveland jail for not paying a hotel bill), spats and ego-driven jealousies within the group and travail and sorrow in Valli’s family life.
   


(L to rR Dru Serkes, Keith Hines, Aaron De Jesus, Matthew Dailey, Drew Seeley and Thomas Fiscella Photo: Jeremy Daniel
 Understandably, the show’s main ingredient is the actor who portrays Valli and tries to capture his distinctive nasal singing style. Aaron De Jesus fares well on both counts, showing him transform from his insecure subservient early days to become a self-confident star who knows how to maneuver his way through the labyrinth of the dog-eat-dog music business.
    The rest of the quartet also manages to cast clear-cut personalities despite the kinetic, fast-paced  movement from scene to scene that leaves little time to form in-depth, flesh and blood  personalities. As Tommy DeVito, the group’s founder and organizer, Matthew Dailey projects a likable image, even though his irresponsible nature and nefarious interests propel the group on a downward spiral.
    Drew Seeley gets the role of talented songwriter and keyboardist, Bob Gaudio, the brains behind the group. Cool as a cucumber, he steers a steady course through both the Seasons’ rise to fame and its misadventures through troubled waters. Lumbering hulk, Keith Hines, perhaps the quartet’s most affable member, keeps in step with the boys to the rather sedate choreographed movements typical of their era, tame by contemporary standards.
    Given the musical’s focus on the boy band, there’ not much room for female characters who are given supporting or cameo roles. Adding a needed feminine touch, Lauren Tartaglia does a nice job in multiple roles as Frankie’s wife, mother, Nick’s date – 17 roles in all, while Jaycie Dotin morphs on and off the stage in 15 separate guises.
    For visual flash, lighting designs by Howard Binkley fill the back wall of the set with blazes of glorious color, while Michael Clark’s minimalist projections provide a sense of  place for the rapidly moving scenario. I’m not sure who decided to send blinding rays of light into the audience a la “Rent,” but I found it just as irksome in ‘Jersey Boys” as it was in the pop musical adaptation of “La Boheme.”
    The raised metal scaffolding that towered above the set to the rear proved effective in adding dimension and depth to the proscenium and gave the actors a good bit more of performance space to play around on.
    A half century after their rise to Billboard chart popularity, the Four Seasons and their music still seem to be  reverberating among audiences young and old. “Jersey Boys”’ happens to be  the next best thing to experiencing the originals in live performance. Considering the show's technological enhancements and inventive stagecraft spearheaded by director, Des McAnuff, it  may be even better..

    “Jersey Boys” is at the Benedum Center in Downtown Pittsburgh through October 4. Phone 412-456-6666.    

Friday, September 25, 2015

Exciting News from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

PITTSBURGH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA TO PERFORM AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS GAME ON OCTOBER 1
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will perform at the nationally broadcast Pittsburgh Steelers versus Baltimore Ravens game at Heinz Field on Thursday, October 1. The performance is sponsored by UPMC Health Plan.
Tony DeSare, the pianist and vocalist headlining the PNC Pops: Sinatra and Beyond program with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 2-4 at Heinz Hall, will sing the national anthem with music by the orchestra to start the game. During halftime, the symphony will take to the field to perform “Whitewater,” composed by guest conductor Jeff Tyzik, during the Jerome Bettis’ career highlight film, celebrating Bettis’ induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This is the first time that the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra will perform at a professional sporting event.
Kick-off is at 8:25 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS and the NFL Network.

Pable Villegas Photo Credit: Linda Mazzuco

In other news, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra presents a weekend of music that paints a picture — of lovers reunited, fortunes won (and lost) and times forgotten — with the BNY Mellon Grand Classics: Classical Guitar Master Pablo Villegas on October 9 & 11 at Heinz Hall
The program opens with Academy Award-nominated music from the film “There Will Be Blood,” written by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood who has gained fame in recent years for his concert works and film scores. Guest conductor Gustavo Gimeno, who makes his debut in Pittsburgh during this weekend, leads his fellow country man Pablo Villegas in Joaquín Rodrigo’s Fantasía Para un Gentilhombre, a piece rich in haunting melodies and exhilarating Spanish folk dances. The concert comes to a tender end with music from two ballets — Stravinsky’s Jeu de cartes, a ballet that imagines the dancers as cards locked in the battle of a poker game, and a suite from Ravel’s great love story, Daphnis et Chloé.
A pre-concert talk, open to all ticket holders, led by Assistant Conductor Andrés Franco will occur on stage one hour before each concert. On October 9, the Center for Young Musicians will be performing in the Grand Lobby one hour prior to the concert start. Program notes for the weekend are available online at pittsburghsymphony.org/villegas and on the PSO mobile app the day of the concert.
The concert begins at 8 p.m. on Friday and 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets, ranging in price from $20 to $94, can be purchased by calling the Heinz Hall box office at 412-392-4900 or visiting pittsburghsymphony.org/villegas.

Gustavo Gimeno Photo Credit Marco Borggreve

About the Artists
From the 2015-2016 season, Gustavo Gimeno takes up his post as music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg. He begins his partnership with a focus on the first symphonies of Beethoven, Mahler, Bruckner, Schumann and Shostakovich and with singers from the Wiener Singverein he will conduct Verdi’s Requiem. At the contemporary end of the spectrum he is conducting works of Rihm, Berg and Berio. His soloists in his first season include Isabelle Faust, Frank Peter Zimmermann, Leonidas Kavakos, Anja Harteros and Stefan Dohr.

After a sensational debut with Concertgebouw Orchestra in 2014 and return concerts in Amsterdam, he will tour with the orchestra to Taiwan and Japan. He also returns to the Munich Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Verdi Orchestra, Milan. He will make debuts on the podiums of the Orchestra National de France, Orchestra National de Capitol du Toulouse, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Dresden Staatskapelle and the Philharmonia Zurich.
Alongside his U.S. debut with Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra’s Blossom Festival, Gimeno will also make his debut with Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the 2016 Ravinia Festival. In Japan, he will also be on the podiums of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and Osaka Philharmonic.

Recent highlights included debuts in 2014-2015 season with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Danish National Symphony Orchestra. In spring 2015, Gimeno made his debut at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia conducting Bellini’s “Norma” in a new Davide Livermore production. In February 2014, on the occasion of his sensational Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra debut Gimeno conducted the European debut of Magnus Lindberg’s second Piano Concerto with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and Yefim Bronfman, (its dedicatee). Gimeno has worked closely with many composers including Theo Loevendie, Jacob ter Veldhuis, Pierre Boulez, Peter Eötvös, George Benjamin and the young Spanish composer Francisco Coll.

Gimeno’s international conducting career began in 2012 as assistant to Mariss Jansons with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He spent several insightful years assisting the late Claudio Abbado with the Orchestra Mozart, Bologna, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and Mahler Chamber Orchestra. In 2013 he also assisted Bernard Haitink with the Orchestra Mozart. Working closely with such mentors has had a profound impact on the formative years of his conducting career.

Gimeno was born in Valencia, Spain, and lives with his family in Amsterdam. Between 2001 and 2013 he was principal percussionist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Autumn Cocktails to Please the Palate

Now that fall has officially arrived, you might want to try some delicious cocktails made with seasonal ingredients -  apple and cherry flavored liqueurs mixed with year-round favorite - bourbon, perfect for fall festivals and Halloween festivities.  Here are some winners I recently came across.

 
Berentzen Oktoberfest
Berentzen Oktoberfest
1.0 oz. Berentzen Cherry Liqueur
2 dashes Bitter Truth Chocolate Bitters
Stout/porter
Add ingredients to beer-filled glass; light stir

Apple Affair
1 oz Bourbon
Apple Affair
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
.75 Berentzen Apple Liqueur
.5 Lemon Juice
Combine ingredients and shake heartily with ice
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass of your choice

Bushel Smash
2oz Berentzen Bushel & Barrel
½ of a lemon cut into wedges
6-8 Mint leaves
Muddle Mint and lemon
Add Berentzen Bushel and Barrel
Shake heartily with Ice
Strain through a fine mesh strainer
Serve over crushed ice
Garnish with a mint sprig

B&B Boo!
1.5 oz. Berentzen Bushel & Barrel
1.0 oz. apple cider
0.5 fresh lemon juice
1.0 oz. pumpkin pie filling

Shake; serve over ice in double-rocks glass, cayenne pepper garnishA

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Art in the Garden - An Alfresco Experience

A Look at Last Year's Art in the Garden
    The Washington County Historical Society is presenting its 22nd Annual Art in the Garden (AIG) Art Show and Saleon Saturday, September 26th in the historic LeMoyne House Garden, 49 E. Maiden Street in Washington. The show features more than regional artists working in a variety of mediums including clay, glass, mixed media, and two dimensional art.
     This year AIG will feature several new artists as well as many of the artists that
you have come to know and love, including the students from the Kenneth J.
and Shirley Yablonski Arts for Special Needs Program. Our featured artist for
this year is Andrew Knez. His featured piece, Frontier Fiddler, will be on
display for sale along with many of his other pieces in a special tent in the
center of the garden.
    This year’s event will also feature a number of awards for the artists including
Best in Show, People’s Choice and Buyer’s Awards. The Buyer’s Awards are
corporate sponsored awards which allow for corporations to choose a piece
of artwork for their o­ce or to donate that work to a non-pro‑t or school
system to encourage art appreciation.
    Art in the Garden schedule provides an  ideal Saturday outing The event will open in the   
LeMoyne House garden on Saturday, September 26th from 2 - 7 p.m. Admission is $20 for
adults, $10 for students, and children 12 and under are free. Street parking is free on weekends.
    Light hors d’ouevres, catered by Angelo’s Restauran of Washingtont, will be served throughout
the day, in addition to a wine bar with wine provided by Washington
Winery. Both food and drinks are free with admission.
Washington County Historical Society:
Making History by Preserving History
Founded in 1900, the Washington County Historical Society is a non-profit
organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Washington
County history. Located in the historic Francis J. LeMoyne house, the
Historical Society provides educational outreach opportunities to school,
community and historical groups. It also houses an extensive library that is
used frequently by genealogy and academic researchers.
     In addition to Art in the Garden, the Historical Society hosts numerous other events
throughout the year including the Washington County Historical Society
History Hall of Fame. Those involved with the Historical Society dedicate
their time and efforts to make sure that the history of the county is not

only saved, but is available for all who wish to learn from it.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

"The Winter’s Tale" - A Rare and Blissful Experience


Opening Scene of "The Winter's Tale Photo Credit: Heather Mull

    Area aesthetes might want to sit up and take notice of Quantum Theatre’s latest production. "The Winter’s Tale," musically adapted from Shakespeare’s play of the same name, is getting its world premiere in a work commissioned by The Benter Foundation. For anyone with the taste for the sublime, it’s a must-see experience.
The venue for the transformation of one of the Bard’s later plays into a Baroque opera couldn’t be more perfect - an intimate, 300-seat theater on the tenth floor of the gorgeous Union Trust Building in Downtown Pittsburgh.
    Shakespeare published the first folio of "The Winter’s Tale" in 1623 near the beginning of the Baroque Era (1600 to 1750), and the creative team that put together what turns out to be a visual and auditory masterpiece culled music both well known and less familiar from the catalog of Baroque era composers such as Handel, Bach, Purcell, Lully and Vivaldi.
    They then judiciously compressed Shakespeare’s text to serve as lyrics to the musical selections without losing the flow and comprehension of the plot, leaving behind much of the archaic language and expressions of the original without derogating the mood and sense of time and place. As an aid to further audience comprehension, the words sung are projected above the stage as supertitles in the current manner of most opera houses.
    The major masterminds behind the project are Karla Boos, stage director and Quantum Theatre founder; Patty Halverson, one of the original members of Chatham Baroque, a trio that specializes in the music of the Baroque Era; Scott Pauley - player of the theorbo, a plucked string instrument in the lute family; violinist Andrew Fouts;  Andreas Cladera, conductor of the opera orchestra and dancers from Attack Theater, Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope.
    The program passed out to the audience holds a lengthy but thorough synopsis of the plot and the supertitles give an in-the-moment explanation of what’s taking place on stage. Therefore, I’ll not belabor the story line other than say it centers around two kings, once boyhood friends whose relationship is fractured when one suspects the other of seducing his wife.
    Interesting plot elements include the Oracle of Delphi, a changeling, ardent lovers, a conniving comical thief, a shepherdess, a faithful man servant and lady-in-waiting, a notoriously ferocious bear - even an unexpected magical transformation that ends the play on a blithe and buoyant note.
    The singers and dancers cavort all over the stage and also make use of two large square spaces above and to the left and right of the main proscenium. Four dancers add a kinetic element to the mostly stationary singers and sometimes evoke through movement and facial expression the feelings and thoughts of the characters.
    Just below the stage, the ten-piece early music ensemble playing period instruments like the theorbo, harpsichord, viola de gamba and wooden flute provide a balanced sound that neither overpowers nor understates as  accompaniment.
    Set designer, Toni Ferrieri, and projection designer, Joseph Seamans, team up in the opening scene to give a sample of the stagecraft  inventiveness to come. They have some of the cast peer through sits in the curtain, their heads vaguely resembling some sort of floral bud, while video projections seemingly paint arabesques and filigree over the rest of the curtain.
    Periodically throughout the performance, Seamans also casts images of elaborate Baroque interiors and designs over the stage creating the visual equivalent to the lush music.
    The singing is strong on all levels, starting with the powerful voices of the two kings - Robert Frankenberry and Polixenes and David Newman as  Leontes. (Their second act duet is spellbinding. Raquel Winnica Young is a dulcet Queen Hermione who captures your heart with her natural innocence and tragic fate. Gail Novak Mosites has one of the evening’s best moments when she pleads for mercy for her accused queen. Dan Kempson and Rebecca Belczyk as the two starry-eyed lovers, Florizel and Perdita, have honey-toned voices that compliment their ardent affection.
Cosmo Clemens as Clown and Katy Williams as ShepherdessScott Pauley on Theorbo Photo Credit: Heather Mull

    As the avaricious thief Autolycus, countertenor Andrey Nemzer proves his mettle both as a singer with tremendous range and technique and a comic actor. Convincing and effective in supporting roles are Shannon Kessler Dooley as Camillo, Eugene Perry as Antigonus, Katy Williams as Shepherdess and Cosmo Clemens as Clown.
    I can’t remember a production as polished and near-to-perfection as this one. "The Winter’s Tale" is an ebullient, electric experience, one I'd recommend to anyone with a taste for exquisite artistry.
    "The Winter’s Tale," a Quantum Theatre production, is at the Union Trust Building, 501 Grant Street in Downtown Pittsburgh through October 3. Phone 412-362-1713.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Specimen ID Day at The Carnegie

ID Day at The Carnegie


    It’s not every day that amateur fossil hunters, rockhounds, entomologists, botanists, and herpetologists can pick the brain of a renowned scientific expert. On Saturday, September 26, from noon to 4 p.m., visitors will be able to do just that when Carnegie Museum of Natural History hosts its second annual Super Science Series: Specimen ID Day. Amateur collectors will have a rare opportunity to interact one on one with the museum’s knowledgeable experts on their rock, fossil, plant, insect, mammal, bird, mollusk, and anthropological finds.
   Last September the first ever Specimen ID Day brought hundreds of visitors, some carrying shoe boxes of rocks under their arms, others cradling animal bones in plastic bags or sharing photos on smartphone - all seeking out the expertise of the museum’s scientific staff to ask: What is this? Visitors learned details about their objects that they had never even considered. One visitor, lugging a large rock that his grandfather had found in Wyoming nearly 100 years ago, found out that it was actually a portion of a fossilized sauropod femur.
    Carnegie Museum of Natural History has set the following guidelines for bringing specimens into the museum:
 Bring insect and plant specimens in a clear, sealed container or plastic bag
Bring photos and sound recordings of specimens
Do not bring in live or recently deceased mammals, reptiles, amphibians, or birds
Do not bring birds’ nests, bird eggs, bird bones, or feathers. Federal law prohibits possession of any migratory bird specimens
Plan to take your specimens home with you
     Specimen ID Day is to identify specimens for amateur collectors; certifications of authenticity or appraisals will not be given.
     All activities in the Super Science Series are free with museum admission. Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh members always visit free. Become a member to participate in super science every month!
Super Science Series at Carnegie Museum of Natural History is sponsored by The Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"The Country House" -Mildly Entertaining but Flimsy

Now at the Pittsburgh Playhouse
I’m never one to shoot the messenger, no matter the content of their missive. The messenger in this particular instance is the commendable cast of "The Country House," a serio-comedy by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Donald Margulies, now getting its Pittsburgh premiere at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
More comedy than serio, the play is set in the beautiful Berkshires of western Massachusetts, home to cultural watering holes like Tanglewood, Jacob’s Pillow and the Williamstown Theater Festival. Margulies, who didn’t win the Pulitzer for "The Country House" and now I see why, taps into his own extensive familiarity with the area (he’s been thrice produced at the Williamstown Fest) and makes it the setting for his troupe of characters, a family of thespians made up of both stars and wannabees.
Obviously acquainted with the public’s fascination with celebrity, Margulies gets a jump start by peopling his cast of characters with artsy folk headed by the Patterson family matriarch, Anna, a Broadway diva resplendently played by Cary Anne Spear.
Squeezing every savory line with the aplomb and panache worthy a celebrated starlet, Patterson sets the tone for the rest of her grieving family, meeting at their country house for a memorial to her departed actress daughter, Kathy who succumbed to cancer a year earlier.
But this is not a family cut out for long bouts of lugubrious reminiscences, although there are plenty of references to the departed loved one. For these folks, the show must go and does it ever. One by one, they spill onto the stage, starting with the pert and sarcastic granddaughter, Susie, played by a youthful Maggie Carr with the swagger of acting experience seemingly beyond her years.
Next comes Michael (Paul Anthony Reynolds), a wildly successful television actor with a hit series on his hands and an old theatrical confrere of Anna’s. In Williamstown to perform at the festival, he’s invited to spend "a few days" when Anna learns that his apartment has been fumigated  and temporarily uninhabitable.
Anna’s son, Elliot (David Cabot) is the odd man out in this family of successes. Peeved by his own lackluster career in theater, he’s the one character who adds a bit of  grudging negativity to the electric circuitry sparking the interplay of relationships.
Adding a bit of awkwardness to overall camaraderie is the arrival of Ann’s widowed son-in-law, Walter, himself a flourishing film director whose made it big doing sequels of "Truck Stop," an explosion and crash series geared to an audience of adolescents. On his hip is new girl toy, Nell (Marie Elena O’Brien), a beautiful woman and aspiring actress who’s half his age but seemingly enraptured by his charisma.
Surprisingly, this potentially explosive mix of personalities gets along quite well, at least initially. While there are some delightful comic moments like the night Michael is visited bedside by all three women sequentially or the scene in which the house guests perform a reading of Elliot’s new play and give him a some unflattering critical feedback, much of Margulies’ dialogue is formulaic and annoyingly non-inventive.
Even more disconcerting is the abrupt change of mood when Anna and Elliot stir up old resentments and grudges. Their mother-and-son interplay comes on like an ill-fitting, out-of-style suit worn by someone at a formal affair and stands out as startlingly inopportune and inappropriate considering the billowy buoyancy that precedes it.
Mildly entertaining, "The Country House" is magnificently recreated by set designer Michael Thomas Essad  and  serves as a lovely springboard for this sextet of commendable actors directed by John Amplas. Unfortunately, neither cast nor crew are given the enough in the way of a script to turn this house into a home worth remembering.
"The Country House" is at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Avenue in Oakland, through September 20. Phone 412-392-8000 or visit website www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.

The Cast of "The Country House Photo Credit: Justin Merriman


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

"Educating Rita" - A Theatrical Duet, Remarkably Well Done


Although the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre (PICT for short) has been around for 19 years, I’ve only managed to see two of its productions, and these were the last two of its plays, viewed back to back.
Alas! Unlike Edith Piaff who sang "Non, je ne regrette rien" (I Regret Nothing) with believable credulity, I seem to have, at this stage of life, more regrets than dollars. One of the latest is not being able to catch more of PICT’s previous productions.
Impressed with my initial PICT encounter, a staging of "Sharon’s Grave" (you can read my review below on this blog), I was equally enthralled with its current opus, "Educating Rita," a work by Willy Russell that I hadn’t seen for years and one that left me with a rather humdrum first impression. This time around, I discovered more enjoyment, more insight and more food for thought in a production that starred two remarkably talented actors - Martin Giles as professor Frank Bryant and Karen Baum as Rita.
Set in 1970 Liverpool, England, the play opens with Giles, back to the audience, searching his floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in his university office for a specific book. The play, while tackling some weighty issues, also has a significant comedic content, and I’d prefer not to spoil Russell’s opening parry of humor by giving away the object of Giles’ search.
Before long, Rita comes knocking on the door, a swollen barrier reluctant to open despite frequent shoves and pushes. A hairdresser from a working class neighborhood, she comes in search of education and self-improvement with a zeal that captures the attention of the professor assigned to tutor her in literature.
One would imagine that a waif from the blue collar zone might be intimidated by the hallowed halls of learning, but not this Rita. She comes on with a wide-eyed zeal that shows not an inkling of shrinking before her intellectual superior. Director Alan Stanford establishes a psycho/social equilibrium between the two characters from the start that maintains itself throughout the play.
As the professor and former poet, Giles’ character is suffering from academic  malaise with self-doubt about both his ability to teach and to write. Disillusioned with his students, career and personal life, he retreats into heavy drinking that seems to cloud over his ennui or a least make it somewhat endurable.
Both characters are contrasting opposites. While the cynical professor is mired in exhaustion, Rita is full of enthusiastic optimism hoping to better herself. While her husband Denny is content to enjoy pints at the pub and while away his time with Karaoke, Rita is looking for not only a different song to sing but a new venue in which to sing it.
The play shows both characters undergoing rapid transformation, although each seems headed in opposite directions. Giles senses that Rita’s very attraction, which largely centers on her  spontaneity, freshness and lack of guile, is imperiled by her growing ever more rigid as she conforms to academic discipline and conformity to university standards and a dampening of her joie de vivre. Instead of bringing the two closer together on an intellectual plane, Rita’s ever-growing knowledge and the independence it brings seems to be making them more distant.
Despite knocking down a few too many, Giles never plays the drunk on stage, although references are made to his bouts with the bottle in the script. He remains in control of himself at all times with a soft-handed demeanor and a crisp and waggish though cynical sense of humor.
As Rita, Baum is required to show the nuances of a character undergoing rapid  changes that increase her self-confidence and self-esteem and impact her life style significantly. These she portrays quite well with assistance from Giles’ more stable characterization that serves as a solid sounding board for the piquant interplay of dialogue.
For those intending to go, "Educating Rita" is a rollicking roller coaster ride of emotional ups and downs that daringly opens up questions about inner growth, change, the value and purpose of education, class and choice. Without providing many answers by curtain fall, the play is an entertaining and provocative stimulus for the same type of self-examination for the audience that Rita eventually undergoes while getting "educated." Perhaps, as Rita suggests, there’s more to living than the mere acquisition of material goods and just plodding along in step with the crowd.
Now at the Charity Randall Theatre inside the Stephen Foster Memorial at the University of Pittsburgh, "Educating Rita," a production of the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, plays through September 19. For tickets, phone 412-561-6000 or visit website picttheatre.org.


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Cover of "In Truth" Album

Three works for soloists and orchestra by composer and conductor Lucas Richman are featured in a recent release, “IN TRUTH: Lucas Richman,” from Albany Records. The recording went on sale September 1.
   The recording features the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performing in their home venue, Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, under the baton of Richman in a performance from February 2015. “IN TRUTH” includes Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth with Jeffrey Biegel; Three Pieces for Cello and Orchestra with Inbal Segev; and Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra: The Clearing with Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida, principal oboe of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
    “When I first auditioned for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in February 1998, I could never have foreseen the evolution of a 17-year relationship with this incredible organization leading to the creation of a full album comprised of my own compositions,” said Richman, who is currently the music director of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in Maine. “The three concerti featured on the album each represent phases of my own evolution as a musician, husband and father with each soloist portraying aspects of personal discovery, conflict and resolution. Over the years it has been my honor to conduct, compose, arrange and tour for concerts with the extraordinary musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony so it was especially heartwarming to return for this project and find the orchestra fully committed and invested in bringing my music to life in such a magnificent fashion.”
    “The Clearing” is a piece commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony for DeAlmeida who gave the premiere performance in 2006 with Sir Andrew Davis conducting. Three Pieces for Cello and Orchestra premiered in May 2013 with Richman leading the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. The premiere of Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth took place in October 2013 with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, which had commissioned the piece during Richman’s tenure as music director with the orchestra (2003-2015).
This recording was made possible through the generous support of Tom and Evelyn Shaw and Thermal Label Warehouse.
“IN TRUTH Lucas Richman” is available at fine record stores, as well as online at albanyrecords.com; amazon.com, arkivmusic.com and hbdirect.com.

    Lucas Richman has served as music director for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra since 2010 and recently completed a 12-year tenure as music director for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra from 2003 to 2015. Richman received a Grammy Award (2011) in the category of Best Classical Crossover Album for having conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Christopher Tin’s classical/world fusion album, “Calling All Dawns.” He has appeared as guest conductor with orchestras worldwide including the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic among numerous others.     Richman served as assistant and resident conductor for Mariss Jansons and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra between 1998 and 2004 and, from 1988 to 1991, he was the assistant conductor for the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. Richman has collaborated with numerous film composers as their conductor, recording scores for such films as the Academy Award-nominated “The Village” (with violinist Hilary Hahn), “As Good As It Gets,” “Face/Off,” “Se7en,” “Breakdown” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”
    Recent recordings he has led from the podium include Symphony of Hope: The Haiti Project (a project from within the film music community that has generated more than $200,000 in donations), Noel Paul Stookey’s recent solo release “One & Many,” and Marvin Hamlisch’s final score, written for the Emmy Award-winning HBO movie, “Behind the Candelabra.” Also an accomplished composer, Richman has had his music performed by more than 200 orchestras and ensembles across the United States, fulfilling composition commissions most recently for the San Diego Symphony, the Knoxville Symphony, the Johnstown Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Seattle Chamber Music Society and the American Guild of Organists.
     Recordings of Richman’s music include those featuring Giora Feidman (Variations for Clarinet and Cello), the Tiroler Kammerorchester InnStrumenti of Innsbruck (The Seven Circles of Life), the San Diego Symphony (Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant) and members of the Pittsburgh Symphony (Day is Done); a listing of Richman’s compositions can be found through LeDor Group, Inc. at ledorgroup.com.