A Review of “I & You” That Contains Multitudes Without Spoilers

By Joseph Szalinski

Life is full of many terrifying things: unrealized potential, death, illness, and most terribly, group projects. A last-minute poster board about Leaves of Grass by everyone’s favorite Transcendentalist they pretend to have read, Walt Whitman, pits Caroline (Maya Anabella) and Anthony (Jake Moon) in an awkwardly frenzied study session that brilliantly meters out their introductions to one another, and ultimately, themselves. Tom Mirth and Catherine Hayashi (who also provides a brief voice over) masterfully helm this production of I & You, playwright Lauren Gunderson’s take on the literary one-hit wonder, the debut of Iron Horse Theatre’s 2023 season, produced by London Cain.

Maya Anabella delivers a stirring performance as Caroline, the chronically ill student and budding photographer who takes some really sick pictures. She wonderfully captures the candor of a house-ridden teen with wanderlust and a desire to just experience a life she’s had to fight for from the start. Her verve serves her rendition suitably, occasionally claiming bits of dialogue here and there in the wake of her excitement, but she also possesses the ability to dial it back to display a tenderness that hasn’t been calcified by extended isolation or rumination on an unfair fate.

Jake Moon is immediately engaging as Anthony, the only other high school basketball player to like poetry as much as Jim Carroll, sans depravity. As much as Anthony seems like a construction of fiction—a jock who studies Latin, quotes free verse during free throws, and likes Coltrane, Jake ushers him into existence with a skillful portrayal that makes it seem like he’s a classmate we’ve all had and wanted to befriend. Even the handful of his reactions that were slightly exaggerated were still incredibly endearing, helping to illustrate the sincerely goofy dude at the heart of “the perfect son,” humanizing him further.

Anthony (Jake Moon) and Caroline (Maya Anabella) deep into their study session in “I & You.”

Their chemistry, paralleled by their unrelenting energy, naturally evolves over the 90-minute runtime, with nothing being forced. Even when they are in opposition, their rapport produces beautiful moments. Being the only two performers in a show is demanding. There are no breaks or changes in dynamic afforded by a third actor, which makes what the two of them do even more impressive.

Choosing to include an intermission in a shorter show was my only hangup, initially. Usually, it’s best to not interrupt the flow of things, but the break’s placement was wisely selected, as it resumes with a callback to an earlier joke, and then deftly finishes off with the half hour or so left. Plus, the brief pause allowed for continued exploration of the grounds and more refreshments in the outdoor portion of the property, where the audience was abuzz with discussion of what we had all just seen up until that point.

Acting aside, this show features simple, yet powerful, technical elements, orchestrated by an equally small production staff. The one room in which the events unfold is visually mesmerizing; the tapestry on the wall above Caroline’s bed doesn’t draw too much attention as it is countered by an eclectic collage of photos on the wall by the door. There’s enough going on to defy the confines of the allotted space, but it also allows the performers to receive full attention from the audience. Music plays a big role in the play. Though sparse, the inclusion of it helps flesh out the characters and reinforces the themes, particularly the jazz. Alan Hayashi is able to do so much with so little, expertly tackling lighting and sound at crucial moments in the story.

Iron Horse Theatre, with its gorgeous space and terrific curation of productions and talent, is sure to continue to establish itself as a spot to see all kinds of awesome performances.


“I and You” runs until June 17th at the Iron Horse Theater, 348 Maplewood Avenue, Ambridge, PA 15003. For more information, click here

Enter Red Barn, Exit Laughing – a review of “Exit Laughing”

By Joseph Szalinski

Nothing’s more powerful than friendship — well, maybe good liquor. Or so would argue Leona, one of the characters in The Red Barn Players’ production of Exit Laughing at The Red Barn Theatre in Fombell, PA. Directed by the talented Shelly Cary, from a script by Paul Elliott, this zany and heartwarming production boasts perhaps the bawdiest bridge club to ever play the game.

The show begins with Connie Harland (Susan L. Brown) being subjected to her daughter Rachel’s (Julianna Mistovich) rant about her date who stood her up. Enter the aforementioned Leona (Susan Allardice) stopping by to drink Connie’s house dry while lamenting the recent loss of their friend, Mary. Things get hilariously bizarre when another friend, Millie (Sue Ann Aiken), shows up with a stolen urn full of their recently deceased companion. A surprise visit from “the police” ends the first act. From there, the story finds its footing as it segues into its stronger second half where characters are fleshed out and everything is brought to a very fitting resolution.

Strong performances from the entire cast, especially the trio of friends, were the highlight of this show. Susan L. Brown delights as Connie, the host of this chaotic comedy. She brings a tempered attitude to her role that anchors everything, demonstrating the free spirit pacified by responsibility and mistreated by circumstance.

Likewise, Susan Allardice plays a phenomenally sardonic former dancer and current booze enthusiast whose penchant for the latter lends itself to her soured attitude. Instead of being limited by the source material, she elevates the character with a dogged persistence despite any damage she may have done to herself. She reveals a secret sadness that less capable performers wouldn’t notice.

Completing the “Three Mouseketeers” is Sue Ann Aiken as Millie, the absent-minded comic relief who ends up masterminding most of the unorthodox shenanigans in the show. She has an infectious energy that really propels the narrative and encourages her castmates to succumb to the fun of acting in such a wacky production. Even the few stalled lines she soldiered through came off as quirks of a character she embodies so well.

Julianna Mistovich makes even the grumpiest character a joy to see on stage. Her portrayal allows Rachel’s arc in act 2 to seem genuine, adding dimension to someone the writer slightly underdeveloped.

Eli Peel dazzles as Bobby, the aspiring psychologist who likes to stand up dates and get down on the dance floor. His ability to balance Bobby’s humor and sensitivity helped him stand out as much as his raucous routine when he’s first introduced.

My only real note was on the technical front. In act one, there’s a moment where a phone continually rings. It’s one of those gags that could’ve shaved off a couple seconds and still managed to be just as funny. Otherwise, the technical aspects were great! The set, Connie and Rachel’s living room, had a personality like the characters who hung out in it; it seemed lived in. The lighting and sound, while not incredibly dynamic, was steady and consistent, which helped establish things more thoroughly. There was even an amusing implementation of the TV screen near the end of the play.

A really reactive audience greatly complemented this well show, as did the unorthodox venue. Physical space has an unrecognized influence over such things, and the folks from The Red Barn Players know how to play to its strengths and remind the Greater Pittsburgh area that fantastic theatre is nestled in the picturesque hills of Fombell.

– JS

Exit Laughing continues its run June 8-10 & 15-17 at The Red Barn Theatre, 1279 Rte. 288 Fombell, PA, 16123. For more information, click here



Top Dog – a mini-review of “Sylvia”

By Lonnie the Theater Lady

Greg (Michael Shahen) hates his job and is experiencing a midlife crisis. Sylvia (Rebekah Hukill), a stray dog, charms Greg when they meet in the neighborhood park.  Greg brings Sylvia home—much to the dismay of his wife, Kate (Diana Ifft). She reasonably points out that a dog would be an inconvenience and would interfere with their active social life. Besides, a small New York City apartment is far from the ideal place for a dog to live. However, Greg feels differently and Sylvia stays, at Greg’s insistence. That’s where the marital tug of war starts because of Mark’s over the top affection for the anthropomorphic Sylvia.

Michael Shehan and Rebekah Hukill in “Sylvia.” Hawk Photography, Multimedia LLC
I have seen two productions of Sylvia before this one. Both of which gave off a somewhat  cringeworthy vibe. The previous productions sexualized Sylvia so that it made Greg’s affection for her feel a bit creepy. I prefer the choice that director (doubling as set designer), Robert Hockenberry makes. He keeps Sylvia’s behaviors puppy playful with lots of doggy charm and girlish appeal. No cringe, just hilarity! The austere set reflects a typical, tasteful WASP apartment in New York City in the 1990’s. It’s serenity is a good backdrop for the conflict that Sylvia brings into their lives.
Michael Shehan and Rebekah Hukill in “Sylvia.” Hawk Photography, Multimedia LLC
Rebekah Hukill clearly loves playing Sylvia. She wholeheartedly throws herself into her role with no inhibitions. She’s as frisky and energetic as a young pup. She struts, growls, sniffs,  yips and swears her way into our hearts. Her physicality is perfect, exuberant  and extremely humorous. She blossoms into a preening, hilarious, doggy diva after an appointment at the  groomer. The scene when she encounters a cat is comically memorable. The salty language and growling voice make no bones about her feelings about cats! She frequently leaves the audience howling with laughter.
Diana Ifft and Rebekah Hukill in “Sylvia.” Hawk Photography, Multimedia LLC
Michael Shahen, gives life to the somewhat clueless, amiable, sweet, confused Mark. His affection for and devotion to Sylvia is believable. He, too, gets a large portion of the many laughs in this show. Shahen makes Mark likable even when he appears to be somewhat ridiculous.
Diana Ifft, is a sympathetic  character who doesn’t have much affection for Sylvia—often referring to her as Saliva. Ifft plays Kate with humanity, patience and  an air of refined, quiet dignity.
Leslie (Anne Marie Sweeny) plays the androgynous therapist. The short haircut, unisex suit, and body movements leave us confused about her sexuality, much like the “Pat” character on SNL. A very funny scene occurs in the therapist’s office. We watch her calm demeanor as a therapist gradually gives way to rabid screaming.
The entire cast has a keen sense of comic timing. Their energy never wanes. The pace moves smoothly and quickly.
Sylvia is an exuberant, quirky, delightful, hilarious show that will leave you feeling happier than a dog with two tails! I rate this production a 5/5 on the (imaginary) Milk Bone Scale of Comedy Excellence. A laugh a minute!
“Sylvia” runs June 1-17 at the South Park Theater, Brownsville Rd &, Corrigan Dr, South Park Township, PA. For more information, click here

Dancing in Public, Fearlessly – a review of “Every Brilliant Thing”

By Michael Buzzelli

Before “Every Brilliant Thing” begins, Director Andrew Paul is handing out Oreo cookies and Mint Milano’s to the audience, while actor Marcus Weiss is handing out yellow Post-it notes with random numbers and words on them.

Number One: Ice Cream.

Number Four: The color Yellow.

Number One Thousand and Nine: Dancing in Public, Fearlessly.

“Every Brilliant Thing” is a one-man-show. It’s a biography, a TED Talk and so much more. It’s easy to forget that Weiss is playing a character, one created by Playwright Duncan McMillan.

Actor Jonny Donahue first played the role and gave it his own Zazz! Enough so, that he gets credit for his involvement.

This comedic show is about a mental illness. Weiss’s character is coping with a parent who is battling with suicidal thoughts. The character creates a list of all of the best things in life, calling it the list of “Every Brilliant Thing.? In reality, it is a simplistic coping mechanism from his childhood. The show is about how the list exits and enters his life.

Warning: There is some audience participation. Mostly, a patron will be called on to read their particular Post-It out loud. Sometimes, a theater-goer is coaxed into doing a little bit more.

Marcus Weiss Photo Credit: Richard Brusky

Weiss – and I mean this in the best possible way – is a maniac. He’s carrying Robin Williams energy, bouncing around the stage infused with boyish charm. The quips are rapid-fire. But this show is mostly about heart.

The actor puts his audience at ease. It’s easy to feel like you’re listening to a very good friend describe his childhood.

It is such a natural performance. It’s easy to forget Weiss is playing a character. Hence the reason for the near-constant reiteration of this factoid.

Paul lets Weiss loose. He gives him a nearly bare canvas to slather layers of emotion like paint on Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait.”

Note: Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait, 1889” is inches thick with oil paint, the blues and the yellows are vibrant. He also struggled with suicidal thoughts his whole life.

While it’s gauche to criticize the audience, let’s say some people are more attuned to participation more than others.

Note: If the interactivity scares you, mention it to someone before the show, but don’t let it put you off from seeing it.

Johnmichael Bohach’s set is a Romy and Michele inspired nightmare (second reference to a Prom for no good reason). Bleachers on all sides surround a simple yellow square, but the walls are adorned with Post-It notes.

Weiss describes a moment when a needle plunks down on vinyl, finds the groove and the music begins. The moment was perfectly timed and captured by Sound Designer Mark Whitehead.

Number One Million, Four Hundred and Thirty-seven: Being inspired by great works of art.

– MB

“Every Brilliant Thing” runs until June 11 at the Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre
in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland. For more information, click here.

If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately.

Deep-Fried Family Dynamics – a review of “Chicken and Biscuits”

by Michael Buzzelli

When Baneatta (Rita Gregory) hangs up on an enigmatic caller right before gathering her family for her father’s funeral, a mystery is afoot in Douglas Lyons’ “Chicken & Biscuits.”

Baneatta loves her husband, Reginald (Sheldon Ingram), and has deep-seated resentment for her sister, Beverly (Karla C. Payne). While she loves her son Kenny (Mils James), she seems to despise his partner, Logan (Cole Vecchio).

Baneatta pulls an Endora every time she mentions Kenny’s boyfriend, calling him every L-word except for Logan.

Other guests at the funeral include Baneatta’s daughter Simone (a very controlled, buttoned-down Shakira Stephens), and Beverly’s daughter La’Trice (Tajionna Clinton).

There is another guest played by Angelique A. Strothers, but revealing her identity takes us deep into Spoiler Country.

The cast of “Chicken & Biscuits” with Rita Gregory, Sheldon Ingram, Karla Spirit-Lead Payne, Mils James, Cole Vecchio, Tajionna Clinton, Angelique A. Strothers.

“Chicken & Biscuits” found the perfect recipe for its cast.

This is mostly Baneatta’s story and Gregory excels in the role of the conflicted matriarch holding secrets and grudges.

Ingram’s booming baritone voice gives him the gravitas of the patriarch of the Mabry clan.

Payne plays it big and broad, and it works for the big, broad Beverly.

Though Strothers doesn’t appear until the second act, she makes the most of her scenes on stage. The character and the actor give off an air of quiet dignity, even when surrounded by chaos.

Mils James is another bright light in a dazzling chandelier of castmates. Fitting somewhere on the middle of the scale between the reserved mother and outrageous aunt. One of his best lines was unscripted. When an audience member’s cell phone goes off, he pivoted to the patron and said, “Why you got your cell phone on at my daddy’s funeral?”

Clinton’s La’Trice is a joy. Much like many teenagers, she is equal parts of a wide-eyed innocent and a world-weary pragmatist, vacillating between bored and excited in seconds.

The costumes, designed by Reverend Deryck Tines, are an integral part of the play.  Payne’s low-cut funeral-slash-clubbing dress for Beverly is a marvel to be seen. Hint: It accentuates “the twins.” Tines also fits Gregory’s Baneatta with a hat worthy of Kentucky Derby. He also makes James look dashing in a patterned suit (that looks like it came from Tines’ own closet).

Picture a mash up between “The Jerry Springer Show” and the slow-mo instant replay of a Monday Night Football game and you get an epic fight scene choreographed by Michael Petyak.

Director Eileen J. Morris takes great care in making sure each actor gets their moment. The pacing is swift and elegant. Transitions are quick and efficient with a few well-placed props that are easily moved around to create the illusion of different locations. Projections set the scene very effectively, much like an establishing shot in a film or TV show.

Lyons’ script is breezy and light but covers a lot of territory, including race-relations, gender-identity, homophobia and religion, but it’s never heavy-handed and almost always hilarious.  It’s mostly low-brow humor, but it’s a notch above a Tyler Perry sitcom. Most importantly, the acting is on point!

If you’re looking for an evening of laughs, look no further than “Chicken & Biscuits.”


They’re serving up “Chicken and Biscuits” now until June 17th  at the Dr. Vernell Audrey Watson Lillie Theater – 1300 Bingham Street , Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here

Something Fishy’s Afoot – a review of “Red Herring”

By Joseph Szalinski

There’s been a murder at Trafford Performing Arts Center! Thankfully, it’s only onstage and part of The Theatre Factory’s fifth production of their 2022-2023 season, Red Herring. The play, from a script by Michael Hollinger, and directed by Joe Eberle, is a comedy-noir that finds three couples and a gaggle of wisecracking family and friends embroiled in a killing that may be connected to some covert Cold War shenanigans. Hilarity ensues.

While I had issues with the story itself, and other elements of the writing, the production managed to mine the text expertly enough to put on an entertaining show.

Frank (Justin Mohr), an FBI agent with the hots for homicide cop, Maggie (Misty Challingsworth), is a little more over-easy than hardboiled, but unlike a P.I., he has a government pension and health benefits. He’s the least dynamic of the characters, but when he cracks and his life becomes slightly scrambled, Mohr’s performance soars.

Challingsworth plays a wickedly tenacious Boston detective who’s a tad hesitant to return Frank’s advances. She’s able to transcend the trope-laden bounds of her character, heavy-handed dialogue and all, to deliver a performance exceedingly more palatable than Maggie’s meals.

The cast poses with their director, Joe Eberle (seated).

Wrapping up the law-adjacent lot are Noah Kendall and Matt Solter, who each play a variety of roles. Kendall is introduced as Woody, a crime scene photographer, ahem…artist, and then later as Harry, a cornfed coroner who really likes Ike. While the former is but a blip in the narrative, it’s the latter that showcases the actor’s talents, and even overshadows his later appearance as a bartender. Solter, in similar fashion, is introduced as Petey, Frank’s coworker, a role that allows him to show off some dramatic chops, but also allows for a couple of chuckle-eliciting lines. His most comedic performance comes as Herbert the hunchbacked husband, who dutifully attends to his delightfully domineering wife, Mrs. Van Nostrand (Marie Chonko). The remaining two “appearances” of his are as the polite Dr. Kasden and as the corpse.

Playing Mrs. Kravitz, an innkeeper who harbors the play’s miscreants near the harbor, is Amy Mellisen, who shows the audience how to properly talk to the police. She is complemented by Jaron Carlson’s character, Andrei, a Russian fisherman who’s arguably the most likeable character, due in part to his humanity, affinity for the arts, unique accent, and the most unorthodox manner of communication.

Rounding out the cast are Louisa Pastorius, Mike Crosby, and Jim Kiley. Pastorius primarily portrays Lynn (Senator Joe McCarthy’s Daughter), the ditzy fiancée of physicist James (Crosby). Lynn is the most engaging character, for both her humor and the guilt that plagues her throughout the show. When not playing a passenger even Charon wouldn’t kick off his boat, Pastorius is uproarious as a clerk at the marriage office in city hall. Crosby does a great job of playing a commie who used to spy with his little eye, who then becomes a quasi-Quaker-cuckold whose newfound blind faith is the least irritating thing about him. His scenes with Marie Chonko as Lynn’s mother are where the two thespians shine. Kiley, who has some of the most subversive lines as a priest and then as Major Hartwell, sadly goes underutilized. While the characters themselves couldn’t really be expanded, he easily could’ve picked up one of the extra roles his castmates were granted.

On a technical level, the production excels. Although the blackouts are a tad long, it’s impressive that all of the scene changes can be accomplished in the dark; all being done about a set that’s marvelous in its continual evolution and use of space. Costume changes are done almost as effortlessly. The music perfectly complements the upcoming scene, or in one case, adds humor to a scene that just ended.

All in all, this is a production that demonstrates proper execution can elevate any script, permitting the cast has chemistry and that the crew helps to develop a world that can intrigue an audience and hold their collective fascination for a couple hours.


“Red Herring” runs until May 27 at the Trafford Performing Arts Center, 235 Cavitt Avenue, Trafford, PA 15085. For more information, click here. 

A Tight-Knit Family unravels- a review of “Falsettos”

By Michael Buzzelli

In 1979, on the steep precipice of the 80s, Marvin (Chad Elder) leaves his wife, Trina (Jenna Kantor) and their son, Jason (Matthew Frontz) to be with his lover, Whizzer (Sal Bucci), exploding-and- then-reinventing his own high-strung, tight-knit family in “Falsettos.”

Marvin wants to have it all, his lover, his wife and his son.  While Trina is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown unable to cope with the fact that her husband left her for a man.

Marvin convinces his wife to see his psychiatrist Mendel (Justin Borak), and sparks fly between his ex-wife and the doctor.  Because Jason is having difficulty dealing with his father’s abrupt departure, they convince the boy to see Mendel. Soon, Mendel is part of the family, driving Marvin into a jealous rage. It’s unreasonable, but it’s very human.

The one thing Marvin and Trina can agree on is that they want Jason to have his bar mitzvah, but the boy would rather sit up in his room and play chess by himself.

Later, we meet the lesbians next door, Dr. Charlotte (Natalie Hatcher) and her partner, Cordelia (Lindsay Bayer) just as an unknown virus begins killing ‘bachelors’ in New York City.

When Whizzer collapses on the racquetball court and is rushed to the hospital, the AIDS storyline kicks in full throttle. Jason doesn’t want to have his bar mitzvah without Whizzer, but he might have to go from reciting the Torah to learning Kaddish.

Spoiler alert: Mirrors will be covered.

Chad Elder as Marvin (seated) and Sal Bucci as Whizzer (standing).

The cast of Front Porch Theatrical’s “Falsettos” is exceptional. In 80s parlance, they are rad, gnarly and totally tubular!

Elder steps up to be the leading man here, belting his heart out in ballads, but it’s his soft, poignant rendition of “What more can I say,” that caused audience members to pull out their handkerchief’s and Valu-Pack Kleenex.

Kantor’s “I’m breaking down” is a moment of pure joy. A triumph! Her character runs through a gamut of conflicting emotions breaking down while cooking her Carrot-Banana Surprise (which sounds heinous by the way).

Side note: Bananas were harmed in the making of this song, but Trina is as much of a mushy mess as the yellow fruit by the end of the song.

Bucci is the quintessential Whizzer. He exemplifies the late-70s unrepentant “homo,” complete with a period-appropriate moustache.  He commanded the stage with charismatic energy.

Frontz is a tiny star-in-the-making. The sixth-grader holds his own next to his incredibly talented castmates.

Borak does an exceptional job as well.

The one thing this show needs is more Hatcher and Bayer. Their characters don’t enter the show until the second act, but they manage to become so essential to the plot and story, you begin to forget they weren’t around in the first act.

During the curtain speech, co-producer Nancy Zionts said, “You won’t believe you’re watching local theater,” and this reviewer folded his arms and went, “Yeah, right.” Words I ate by the final curtain.

Director Rob James gets everything right about this show. The sensitivity of the subject matter, the drama, the wit. It was masterful.

Johnmichael Bohach’s set is an homage to Cosmo Kramer’s “Levels!” The tiered stage gives characters plenty of space to spazz out and sing in.

The full cast of “Falsettos” Standing from left to right; Natalie Hatcher, Chad Elder and Sal Bucci. Seated from left to right; Lindsay Bayer, Jenna Kantor and Justin Borak with Matthew Frontz on the ground, looking up.

There is also an amazing band under the direction of Deana Muro.

Note: “Falsettos” is a very Jewish, very gay play. If you admire Ron DeSantis, this is not the musical for you. There is a steamy tango between the two male lovers, and a shocking moment of domestic violence. While some would advise parental guidance, there is a point to be made against keeping the kids at home, especially if you have a queer-or-questioning child in your own tight-knit family.  They may feel “seen” and it could be a moment of revelation.

Use your best judgement.

At its core, “Falsettos” has a lot to say on a myriad of subjects, but they are all handled deftly by show’s creators William Finn and James Lapine.

What more can I say? It’s hot! It’s sweet! And the entire cast sparkles.

– MB

“Falsettos” runs from May 19 to May 28 at the New Hazlett Theater located at 6 Allegheny Square East Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, click here.   

Mini-Review: Sondheim on Sondheim

By Lonnie The Theater Lady

“Sondheim by Sondheim” is a funny affectionate tribute to Steven Sondheim conceived by James Lapine.

In this production, actual videos of interviews with Sondheim are projected onto an onstage screen framed by faux red velvet curtains reminiscent of those seen in movie theaters back when the audience wasn’t instructed to, “Turn off your cell phones,” but instead when signage read, “Ladies please remove your hats.” I remember feeling the excitement and the thrill of anticipation for what was to come, when the curtains slowly, majestically, gracefully rolled open at the movie’s start.

These intimate videos give insights into Sondheim’s difficult childhood. The look into his creative process is fascinating. He worked lying down–to make napping more convenient, of course. He liked to sip alcohol from a shot glass for inspiration–unless he was obsessively sharpening pencils in order to procrastinate. The film footage that highlights his  sardonic humor is a fascinating look into who he was.The footage makes the production much more meaningful and enjoyable than a typical musical revue would be.

The live show opens with the entire company singing an impressive melodic medley of snippets of Sondheim songs.The beautiful blending of the company’s voices promises a good show is ahead–promise made, promise kept.

The orchestra (including a cleverly, effectively used synthesizer) is perfectly modulated to compliment the strong vocals. Jay Weaver, the sound director rocked it, never once allowing the orchestra to overplay the vocalists. Every one of these talented vocalists deserves to be heard. And, they are. Every number is an auditory treat.

It’s difficult to highlight standout performances when every number is so entertaining and well done. I cannot say enough about the skilled vocalists’ performances. The Wedding is Off (Merrily We Roll Along) is humorously, memorably, poignantly sung by Christa Brook.

The cast of “Sondheim on Sondheim.”

See a preview here.

Ian Olsen is is frighteningly demonic as he sings Epiphany (Sweeny Todd).He portrays a man whose mind is beginning to crack as he mourns the death of his wife. His malevolent facial expressions, evil tone of voice and tense body posturing are chilling. Well sung. Well acted.

Each and every number Anna Chesney sings is a wonder. The clear, pure sound of her expressive voice is mesmerizing. That coupled with her commanding stage presence is a joy to behold!

The entire company comically performs You Are the Best Thing that Ever Happened to Me (Road Show). Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, the director, directs an exchange among the company members that has the entire audience laughing. The choices she makes in staging throughout this show keep every number interesting, unique, and often humorous.

The show runs a bit long—just over two and a half hours, but it is a gorgeous  “must see,” not only for Sondheim fans, but for everyone who appreciates remarkable performances by fine vocalists.

– Lonnie the Theater Lady
“Sondheim on Sondheim” runs from May 18-28 at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie PA, 15106. For more information,  click here

Hidden Treasures – a review of “Amélie”

By Michael Buzzelli

Amélie Poulain(Britt Dorazio), a waitress in a French cafe, is on a quest to bring joy to those around her, and, in doing so, discovers the joy deep within her in the musical version of the French film, “Amélie.”

There’s a lot of plot and a multitude of characters in this story, but we’re going to stick to the basics.

Strap in!

When her worry-wart father,  Raphael (Patrick Brannan), misdiagnoses Amélie with a heart condition at an early age, he and his wife, Amandine (Meighan Lloyd Harding) shelter her from the harshness of the world by homeschooling her. Unfortunately, during a trip to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, a suicidal tourist jumps from the roof, landing on and crushing her mother.

Raphael plants a gnome in his garden, housing the ashes of his late wife.

Cut to: Many years later, Amélie is working in a French cafe (the very real  Café des 2 Moulins), drifting and daydreaming through her life until she unlocks a small box of treasures (keepsakes and knick knacks from a young boy’s childhood) hidden in her apartment. She sets off on an adventure to find the original owner, and, thus, discovering her own long-buried secrets.

From that point, she is always concocting new and exciting ways to bring people closer together. At one point, she steals her father’s garden gnome, hands it off to her flight attendant friend who takes him with her on her excursions, sending her father photos of the gnome from around the world.

Then she “almost” meets Nino (Evan Krug) who loses his book of photos. Before she reunites him with his book, she falls for him, complicating her life in new and mysterious ways.

To open her heart, Amélie (Britt Dorazio) must open the door to Nino (Evan Krug). Photo credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

Dorazio is cuteness personified as Amélie. She is superb, charming the audience with her faux-French accent and big, bright eyes. Her hair, make-up and costume causes her to resemble the original Amélie, Audrey Tautou (“Amélie,” 2001).

Dorazio has some palpable chemistry with her leading man. Krug shines in his performance as Nino Quincampoix.

There are some stand out performances, mostly from delightful dream sequences that showcase the talents of the other performers around Dorazio and Krug. Most notably, Nathaniel Yost as fish, Gavin Calgaro as Elton John and Ben Nadler as the aforementioned garden gnome.

Don’t ask.

Suffice to say the show is brimming with quirky humor and sparks moments of pure unadulterated bliss.

Note: It might be unadulterated bliss, but, there are some very ‘adult’ situations. Not as many as you’d think, considering that Nino works in a sex shop. Enough to consider keeping the kids at home.

Other notable performances include Erin Bock as Georgette and Cait Crowley as Gina.

“Amélie” is deftly directed by Patrick Cannon, juggling multiple storylines and an enormous cast on a small stage. He capably moved the various plotlines together swiftly and seamlessly, working from the book by Craig Lucas (based on the five-time Oscar-nominated film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant).

Cannon turns the disadvantages of working in a “theater-in-the-round” stage into great advantage, turning lemons into lemonade.

“Amélie” reminds us that when we spread joy, it can return to us ten-fold. It also encourages us to embrace the miracles in the small moments. There are quite a few great moments and little miracles in this uplifting production.

– MB

“Amélie” runs from May 18 until June 4th at the Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South, Canonsburg, PA 15317. For more information, click here

The Music Man – A review of Trust Cabaret’s Norm Lewis

By Michael Buzzelli

Broadway and television star, Norm Lewis, performed at the O’Reilly Theater on Monday night, May 8, as the season finale of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Cabaret series. The performer sang iconic tunes from Broadway, starting with, of all things, “My Favorite Things,” from “The Sound of Music.”

In true Cabaret fashion, he shared trivia and personal anecdotes before launching into a each song.

Aside from his booming baritone, the performer was adept at making his audience feel comfortable, even loved. His rapport was enchanting. When Lewis spoke about being Broadway’s first Black Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” a woman in the audience shouted, “You were my first Phantom!” To which, Lewis replied, “I hope I was gentle.”

Not only did he share tidbits about his life in theater, and even shared the stage. He welcomed Pittsburgh’s own Billy Hartung to the stage. Hartung and his adult daughter Elizabeth took over for a tune. It was a beautifully rendered song between father and daughter, mere months away from when he will be walking her down the aisle.

Norm Lewis sings classic Broadway show tunes.

When Lewis returned to the stage, he brilliantly belted out Broadway tunes including “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables” and “Porgy and Bess.”

Side note: He seamlessly blended two versions of “I Got Plenty of Nuttin'” from “Porgy and Bess,” but his songs from “Les Miz” were showstoppers! They were incredibly moving renditions.

Lewis turned “You Got Trouble” from “The Music Man,” into a singalong, when he asked the audience to sing the chorus. A rousing, delightful rendition followed. It seemed like there were some ringers in the seats, because it was expertly done.

Norm Lewis took a dull, Monday evening and turned it into an event. It was a successful end to a successful series.


The 2023-2024 season begins in October with Mauricio Martinez, returning to a renovated Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. For more information, click here