Speech and Debate – a review of “What the Constitution Means To Me”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

Playwright Heidi Schreck (Tami Dixon) tells a story about her relationship with the United States constitution in “What the Constitution Means to Me.”

On paper, “What the Constitution Means to Me” begins as a one-woman show, an autobiographical tale from the multi-hyphenate Schreck (a screenwriter for “I Love Dick,” “Billions,” and “Nurse Jackie”), but, like the constitution itself, new elements are added as it progresses.

The character of Schreck tells a story of her youth, crisscrossing America, winning speech and debate money for college at a young age. It flashes backward to a rural American Legion Hall in the middle of Washington state.

She weaves a bunch of disparate elements into her story, describing the constitution as a crucible, a cauldron filled with a variety of ingredients, forged in fire.

A stern Legionnaire (Ken Bolden) steps out to stage. Later, we learn he is an actor named Mike playing the Legionnaire. Things get very meta.

Towards the end of the show, we meet Lamees Subeir, a high school debate champion (on alternate nights the role is filled by Swati Mylarappa).

The two must then debate on whether the constitution is a document worth keeping or if it’s time to strike the whole thing down and start over. The contest is ultimately decided by an audience member who chooses between two cards, Pro and Con.

It’s a gimmick that the show didn’t need. Schreck’s writing is deeply personal story that, at times, may make your blood boil, but, alternatively, cause you to howl with laughter.

Heidi Schreck (Tami Dixon) enthusiastically describes the importance of the U.S. Constitution. Photo credit is Kristi Jan Hoover.

At one point, Heidi says, “This isn’t a tangent. There are no tangents in this show.” Ironically, it is all tangential, but it works.  After all, the constitution meanders. It goes on many side trips.  It’s the strength of the writing and acting that brings it into a cohesive whole.

Dixon is incredible. She commands the stage.  The petite woman has big expressions. She slayed the audience with a sly look, a simple shrug, and a wink or two.  While well-known locally, she is a star. The number one reason to see the show.

Bolden’s shift-change between stern Legionnaire and gender-fluid actor is awe-inspiring. They are dramatically different characters played by a tremendous talent.

Lamees does a great job as well. She is a poised, confident young woman and gives this reviewer hope for the future. Unfortunately, she is part of the gimmicky section of the show. Excising this section of the show, however, could make the show a real downer. Clearly, like the play itself, there are pros and cons.

Director Marc Masterson does a masterful job of getting stellar performances out of his cast. He doesn’t keep Dixon behind the podium too long, but moves her around the room, adding a robust energy to the play.

On the heels of Tony Ferreri’s retirement, scenic designer Sasha Schwartz has some big shoes to fill, and does it with aplomb. One look at the set, and you are instantly transported to the Legion Hall, dense with jingoistic ambiance.

Bolden’s overly decorated Legionnaire costume is another terrific sight gag, a wonderful wearable prop by costume designer Richard Paraskian.

“What the Constitution Means to Me” isn’t a perfect show, but, like the constitution itself, it is more than the sum of its parts.

Theater should entertain and make us think. Schreck’s musings on America does just that. It’s a must-see production.


What the Constitution Means to Me” runs through February 12 at the City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here

Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad Rise for Kids – and Adults

by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD and Theron Raymond (4th grader)

Prime Stage fills a strategic Pittsburgh theatre gap with their Prime Sprouts series for elementary students. Much of the content for the Pittsburgh Children’s Theater Festival caters to the under 8 set. There are also abundant options for the 13+ crowd that’s more mature content ready. Prime Stage addresses this gap head on, although elementary age is more shoots than sprouts if we’re going for plant metaphors.

Series nomenclature aside, Douglas Jones’ adaptation of Tubman’s story in Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad makes for an impressive show. With a 45-minute running time, it engages and rightsizes without watering down history or cramming in too much. Given Tubman lived well into her nineties, culling her extraordinary life to 45 minutes is a no small feat.

Tubman’s best known for leading slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad, and it would be easy to just focus on that rich legacy. However, Jones opens the aperture to present a multi-dimensional view of Tubman’s life and impact, exploring her participation as a nurse and spy for the Union Army.

I took my fourth-grade son with me for the target demographic perspective. Theron was aglow about the show. In fact, he observed the lighting genius of scenic designer, Alex Barnhart. Seven Moravian star lanterns dangle from the backdrop forming the Little Dipper. The 26-pointed Moravian star is traditionally symbolic of Jesus with the many points representing his radiating love and care for all humankind. Barnhart’s Moravian stars leverage heavenly representation to signify the righteousness of the slaves’ journey northward to freedom.

Lanterns mounted on fence posts sweep along the upstage perimeter and mirror the formation of the Big Dipper. Tubman never learned to read or write, but Barnhart elegantly reminds us the stars are a universally accessible map.

Harriet Tubman (Maame Danso) has the light shone on her in Prime Stage’s “Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.”

See Danso talk about the show here.

Tubman was also a sharp reader of people. As Tubman, Maame Danso brings that to life. The play begins in darkness with dogs barking and shots fired. Tubman raps urgently on a door asking for help as one of her passengers was shot in the arm. The audience’s sense of confusion and uncertainty is mirrored by a Quaker woman (Anne Rematt) who answers the door and wavers. Danso expresses both urgency and assertiveness as their captors are closing in and converts the woman’s (and by extension, the audience’s) hesitancy into positive action to do the right thing.

In the play, author Sarah Bradford (also played by Anne Rematt) skillfully pitches her biography of Tubman to a publisher. The publisher (Isaac Miller) is immediately dismissive of Bradford basely solely on her gender. The book pitch moves in parallel with Tubman’s life, and two stories mutually reinforce one other. Miller also portrays a slave master. The two roles tie together the ways in which white men make assumptions and decisions that reinforce their own power while diminishing others.

Slavery, war and racial injustice are all serious. Director Linda Haston thoughtfully counterbalances with moments of levity. At one point, Tubman’s on a train about to be identified by a couple reading aloud from a reward poster, which notes Tubman is illiterate. Her companion (Sam Lothard) overhears and instructs her to pick up a newspaper. Lothard sings the message to her, tapping into a common communication tool for slaves as white slaveowners didn’t pay attention to song lyrics. The ruse works. The would-be captors immediately dismiss her; someone who can’t read wouldn’t look at the paper. Haston immediately cuts the tension. Lothard leans over with a knowing smile to rotate Tubman’s newspaper right side up.

Jones’ play reminds us reading takes many forms – from stars to songs to people. Illiteracy has a narrow definition that privileges reading and writing. Tubman lacked access to traditional education as a slave. And yet she was a skilled reader, in navigating north and reading human emotion.


Harriet Tubman was a 26-pointed Moravian star. Her light inspired others in and beyond her time. Learn more about the woman they called Black Moses at the New Hazlett with Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad through January 29th. Purchase tickets online here

Gritty, Grimy and Gross – a review of “Mud”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

Mae (Anita Parrott) is trapped in poverty, endlessly ironing shirts in a house where no one changes their clothes in “Mud” by María Irene Fornés. 

Her former lover and, apparently, stepbrother Lloyd (Matt Dudley) has some unexplained malady (one of the symptoms is impotence). Mae turns to Henry (Kyle Stiver) for help.

The situation gets complicated when Mae kicks Lloyd out of her bed and lets Henry into it. Yet, the three continue to cohabitate, even though the two men fight over Mae.

Things can only get worse. Boy, do they get worse!

Lloyd (Matt Dudley) tries to prove he’s more of a man to Mae (Anita Parrott) than Henry (Kyle Stiver) in “Mud.”

Like “Medea” or “The Trojan Women,” the most dramatic moments of the play happen off-stage. Fornés is an amazing playwright, but she’s not Euripides. In modern theater, “show not tell” is the rule. 

The play is a vast cavern of despair, the themes of loneliness, isolation and poverty are thoroughly explored. However some of the most interesting information about the play is in the dramaturg’s notes and not on the stage. In the notes, the readers learn that Mae and Lloyd are foster siblings – and former lovers.

Deep dive side note: X-Files aficionados may recall the season four episode of “Home.”  “Mud” reads like origin story of the Peacock family, the deranged family of hillbilly sociopaths at the center of that plot. 

There are a lot of quick scenes that keeps the show moving.

The best reason to see this show would be for the actors. They are outstanding, particularly Dudley.

Parrott is talented, but she seems to be out of place here. She is too sophisticated to be Mae. She should be playing lawyers, judges, professors, not a backwoodswoman.  While she turns in a fine performance, the character never seems to suit her.  Though, some of the fault lies with Fornés. There is an inconsistency in the work. Mae is struggling to read, but, on occasion, she will spout out a word that seems beyond her comprehension level. 

Dudley shines as Lloyd. The character is creepy, deranged, psychotic. Chillingly disturbed. The kind of person you don’t want staring at you in a rural gas station in central West Virginia.

When Henry has an accident, Stiver’s kicks into overdrive. His portrayal of the character is at top form, especially when he turns mean and manipulative.

Julian Cerminara’s set is exceptional. It has a timeless beauty while still evoking the poverty. There is one small misstep with the props; the Sunbeam Steammaster iron on top of the rickety, old ironing board looked far too modern for the surroundings.

There’s a strangely human reaction to watching a play or movie about poverty and pain. At some point, the trials and tribulations become too much to bear and several audience members (this reviewer included) start to titter with a bemused fecklessness. It’s not that we are unsympathetic to the pain, but want to shout out, “What next calamity will befall these poor souls?” and calamity strikes all over again.

Think Marty Feldman in “Young Frankenstein” saying, “Could be worse. Could be raining,” and, suddenly, there’s a massive downpour.

“Mud,” however, will make you forget your troubles, and you can commiserate with the cast at the Talk Back after the show.


“Mud” runs from January 25 to 29 at the Genesius Theater at Duquesne University. For more information, click here

That 90s Show – a review of “Jagged Little Pill”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

On the outside, the Healy family looks perfect, but you oughta know that Mary Jane Healy ( Heidi Blickenstaff) has a secret. She’s addicted to pain medication, but she is not the only member of the Healy family in crises in Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill.”

Mary Jane’s oxycodone addiction isn’t much of a secret. Pill is in the title. It’s not even the first family secret to come forward.  Every member of the family is harboring deep darks. The perfect family is far from perfect. Isn’t that ironic, don’tcha think?

Her hubby, Steve (Chris Hoch) is addicted his job and online porn.

Her adopted daughter Frankie (Lauren Chanel) has a girlfriend,  Jo (Jade McLeod) and later, a boyfriend, Phoenix (Rishi Golani). She’s a biracial, bisexual.

Her biological son, Nick (Dillon Klena) watched his bestie rape a girl, Bella (Allison Sheppard), at a kegger.

“Jagged Little Pill” is about opioid addiction, rape, bisexuality, and more.  If former Vice President Mike Pence was pissed at “Hamilton,” “Pill” would have caused his cranium to explode, blowing that housefly clean off his forehead.

You can watch a clip here.

“Jagged Little Pill” has some terrific moments for a Jukebox musical, but there’s a lot going on.

Side note: A Jukebox musical is a musical where the songs were written first and shoehorned into a story, from “Rock of Ages” to “Mama Mia!” Much of the story is trying to wrap itself around the lyrics , instead of the other way around.

There is, however, a fantastic moment when Frankie has to get up and read her poem in English class and the other students critique it. Each kid lists reasons why a particular song doesn’t work. It’s a wonder Morissette didn’t get this feedback from studio execs when she recorded the song.

Book writer Diablo Cody (“Juno”) bites off more than she can chew, and I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone. Cody’s script has a muddled plot, but the dialogue sparkles. She perfectly captures the Yuppie zeitgeist with the first serving of Paleo Pancakes with agave syrup.

The storyline is overstuffed, but the cast is dynamic. They sing and dance with exuberance.

Additional side note about the dancing: The cast is coming straight for you. They sing directly at the audience most of the time. One local theater goer described it as “whole damn show was blocked center and center front. Sixty-five percent of the numbers were face-out-park-and-barks.”

But Blickenstaff knocks it out of the park with her rendition of the title track.

McLeod’s gender swapped version of “You Oughtta Know” is fantastic. One of the show’s many highlights.

While Lucy Mackinnon’s video design had some kinks in the first few minutes of the Pittsburgh premiere, it added so much texture to the story.

Costume Designer Emily Rebholz’s quintessential grunge was, literally and figuratively, pure Nirvana.

If you love Alanis Morissette’s eponymous album, you will love the musical.  If you’re not familiar with Morissette, her music, or your TV is in resting bitch face on Fox News, avoid it like the plague – like the one you didn’t believe we just had.

While it had a few flaws, you will walk out feeling joyful, and probably singing a Morissette song all the way home.

What it all comes down to, my friend, is that everything’s gonna be quite all right. Get one hand in your pocket, and one hand holding a ticket.

– MB

“Jagged Little Pill” runs through January 29 at the Benedum Center, Seventh Street and Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For tickets and additional information, click here

Let’s get Glam – a review of “The Making of Burlesque”

By Michael Buzzelli

“Show a little more. Show a little less. Add a little smoke. Welcome to Burlesque.” Cher’s iconic words reverberated through the theater at RED City Live’s “The Making of Burlesque,” a perfect summary of the evening’s entertainment.

The show starts off with a bang. Roxy (Elisa-Marie Alaio) appears on the second-floor balcony at Enclave (the barely restored, but definitely renamed Rex Theater in the South Side). She struts down the stairs and catwalks down the aisle to “Pasties and a G-String” by Tom Waits. Once on stage, she grabs her sleeve and tears it off.  The tearaway costume comes off in large swaths of fabric. Soon, she’s gyrating around in lingerie. Her lithe body writhes around. It’s hot, sexy fun.

Roxy summons the other Express Girls to the stage. She is joined by Davina (Savionne Chambers), Elektra (Sabrina Liu), Harlow (Jaide Frost), Stella (Nicola Molea) and Rose (Sarah Mattis). It’s the entire cast, with the notable exception of Kitty (Carly DiCola).

When Kitty does make her debut, she is the janitor, sweeping up and grabbing the discarded bits of clothing left on the floor by the other girls. She’s got a Mayim Bialik/ Miranda Hart vibe, awkwardly dancing with bucket and broom, wearing glasses, a frumpy polka dot dress, and sensible shoes. Later in the show, she pulls a nerd-to-hot-girl transformation straight out of an 80s flick.

Before the butterfly bursts out of her cocoon, she’s won over the audience. At one point, the audience chanted, “Kitty! Kitty! Kitty!” Everyone loves the underdog and class clown, and Kitty is both.

The Express Girls wow the audience at the Enclave.

A video preview can be found here.

There is a plot to “The Making of Burlesque,” but it doesn’t matter. The show is a fantastic revue for the Express Girls, showing off their talents.

Note: “Talents” is not a euphemism. The girls are serious dancers having fun on the stage.  The girls have sharp, crisp movements, but they also dance fluidly together.

The show has some great numbers, all choreographed by Alaio. It’s an eclectic mix of music, including Eartha Kitt’s “My Discarded Men, ” to Brittney Spears’ “Work Bitch.” There are some specific showstoppers. The Express Girls rock out during Marilyn Manson’s version of “Tainted Love.” In the second act, they are spectacular in Valarie Pettiford’s “Big Spender.” At one point, they grab members of the audience, sit them in folding chairs and bump and grind lasciviously around their individual targets.

DiCola has a different style when she’s on stage alone, but, when dancing in the troupe, she fits in flawlessly. Her character is the comic relief, but she is more than that.

Alaio is an amazing dancer. She commands the stage. Her solo numbers are knockouts.

Chambers gets a solo and its divine.

Suz Pizano costumes bring the glam, delightful, frilly and fun. Too bad most of them spend so much time on the floor.

While the show has scantily clad women twirling about on stage, “The Making of Burlesque” is a show filled with joy.  It is naughty, but not dirty.

In a brief discussion with the RED City Live Entertainment producers and owners, Susie and Reid Gustin, the duo revealed that female audience members leave feeling empowered. Everyone leaves wanting to dance, whether clothed or not, it’s astounding.

RED City Live is bringing sexy back. I have to praise them like I should.


“The Making of Burlesque” returns in February 25 to the Enclave, 1602 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here

Will the Real Dolly Parton Please Stand Up? a review of “Here You Come Again”


Claire DeMarco

Kevin (Jamison Stern) is having a bad time!  He’s broken up with his partner and he’s a wannabe but unsuccessful comedian.  Kevin finds solace in the secure confines of his parents’ attic. Kevin’s problems are compounded as they occur in a COVID-crazed environment as he is consumed with disinfecting shopping bags, lifting a huge package of toilet paper and washing his hands multiple times.

Note:  Weren’t we all?  

If you are isolated, lonely, scared and insecure like Kevin, you can’t imagine a more empathetic, kind, joyous or positive person like your idol Dolly Parton (Tricia Paoluccio) to be the main character in your dreams.   

Dolly Parton is Kevin’s cheerleader, encouraging him, helping him see the positive side of life, to like himself.  The interaction between Dolly Parton and Kevin happens through dialogue and song.  “9 to 5” and “Jolene” are just a few of the songs sung by Dolly with Kevin occasionally joining in with other tunes.

 Paoluccio is brilliant as Dolly Parton.   The voice, the accent, the laugh, the tilted head, the walk.   It’s all there.  Trappings like the big blonde wig, glitzy clothes and very high heels complete the overall persona.

Note:  After the first few verses of the first song, ‘Burgh Vivant’s Lonnie the Theater Lady looked over at me and mouthed “is she lip syncing Dolly Parton”?   Definitely not!  

Tricia Paoluccio as Dolly Parton and Jamison Stern as Kevin sing in “Here You Come Again.” Photo Credit: Pittsburgh CLO

From her first appearance on stage to the finale, whether speaking or singing, Paoluccio is Dolly Parton!

Stern is wonderful as the unsure character made more insecure due to COVID and seclusion in his parents’ attic.  He grows through his interactions, discussions and sometimes angry moments with Dolly.  His comedic skills are highlighted as he dresses up as Dolly (wig, heels and clothes) lip-syncing as Paoluccio sings.  

The set is detailed but not overwhelming and provides hints that the occupant is looking at a long-term residency (a Halloween pumpkin, lit Christmas lights, a coffee stand, cozy bed and work desk, a full-length Dolly Parton poster on a door). 

What a wonderful new musical!

Kudos to Music Director/Orchestrator Eugene Gwozdz.

Direction and Choreography by Gabriel Barre.

“Here You Come Again” was written by Bruce Vilanch, Gabriel Barre and Tricia Paoluccio.


 Here You Come Again” is presented by Pittsburgh’s CLO Kara Cabaret Series and produced in association with Point Park’s Pittsburgh Playhouse. The show runs from January 12 – January 29 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. For more information, click here.

Lift Every Voice and Sing – a review of “Fannie – The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

Playwright Cheryl L. West takes an unflinching look at the life and times of an unsung American hero in “Fannie – The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hanner.”

Fannie Lou Haner (Robin McGee) was a sharecropper, who, at the age of 44, found out that Black People were allowed to vote in the state of Mississippi. She set off to register to vote and, the next thing you know, she became a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s.

Fannie circuitous route from her humble beginnings to her fight against Mississippi and the United States, et al, sounds like a superhero origin story.

The one-woman-show is told with song. The show never backs away from the more gruesome elements of the tale. America has an ugly history when it comes to Civil Rights. At times, it can be hard to watch McGee stand on stage and recount the more violent elements of Fannie’s past. It’s not for the squeamish.

McGee is joined on stage by the band, Morgan E. Stevenson, Spencer Bean and Dennis Garner.

Robin McGee as Fannie Lou Haner on stage at the August Wilson Center. Photo Credit: Greg Mooney

McGee is charismatic, a powerful presence on stage, and the band is terrific.

The set, by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, is magnificent in umber and burnt orange. The stage is enhanced by some fantastic projection design by Bradley Bergeron. At one point, a photo of Emmet Till drops in at the exact moment, stirring a flutter of turbulent emotions.

Note: The Civil Rights Movement started in the churches. At the time, the church was the only place to go for help if you were a poor and Black in the South. This show makes a lot of references to God, Jesus and the Holy Bible. At one point, the show seems to take on the energy of a big tent revival meeting, complete with call and response from the audience. It can be off-putting if you’re not a Christian.

While there are dark elements, the play is uplifting and joyous. Like a lesson from the bible, it starts off with some terrible injustice and bolsters you up with hope for the future with powerful words, both spoken and sung.

“Fannie – The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Haner” should be shown every election year. It instills the importance of voting and voting rights unlike anything before it. It is educational and informative, but, above all, entertaining.

It reminds us that we have the power to make America better than it ever was. We just have to keep our eyes on the prize: Liberty and Justice for all. It’s a perfect message for the Martin Luther King Weekend.


Fannie – The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Haner” plays January 13 – 16 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here

Make Space for BLACK ON BLACK LOVE – an exhibit at BOOM Concepts

by Gina McKlveen

A line of passengers waiting by the bus stop along Liberty Avenue chatter amongst themselves or stare at their phones, meanwhile behind them at The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 820 Liberty Avenue gallery, BOOM Concepts presents a visual conversation with ceramic, photographic, illustrated, painted, fiber and videographic works in an exhibit titled BLACK ON BLACK LOVE. The exhibit is designed to be a multidisciplinary survey of different expressions of Black love and how its force is expressed within and amongst the Black Community.

The title of the exhibit pays homage to Queen Latifiah’s song with the same name. Within the center, or heart, of the exhibit is a portrait of the artist’s mother with a quote of another ‘queen’ who has exemplified Black love through the arts and music in Pittsburgh–Jacques Mae, a Pittsburgh native and international singer, actress, artist, activist, business owner, and teacher. Mae’s inspirational words, “Her love is so sweet so powerful like thunder yet soft like spring’s rain,” are written to the left of a black and white rendering of the artist’s mother. The artist, Camerin “Camo” Nesbit, stylistically and intentionally chose to outline his mother’s portrait with gold paint, emphasizing the silhouette of her hair which gives his mother a regal presence like that of Queen Latifiah.

Jacques Mae is also an art royal in the Pittsburgh community. She is integrally involved in several local arts organizations and efforts including Assemble, a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) nonprofit organization based in Pittsburgh’s Friendship, Garfield, and Bloomfield neighborhoods. Using her well-versed vocal background, she has also served as a teaching artist at 1Hood Media and The Corner Pittsburgh, inspiring the next generation to use their voices in art and advocacy.


On the wall opposite of Camo’s portrait of his mother is a nearly 20-minute videographic art display by KINSELLAND, a husband-and-wife visual retelling of their love story. Through poems, spoken words and visual imagery, viewers are welcomed into intimate settings and storytelling. The pair of headsets help make the experience more intimate between listeners and the artists, closing off the sounds of the external world, but allowing each one to perceive their own experience with their own ears.

Over the shoulders of these two displays are a pair of dangling jackets and hanging prints by the artist, Sakony Burton. The back of the matching jackets have embroidered letters with the same phrase that reads: “I CAN ALWAYS BE MYSELF WHEN YOU’RE AROUND.” A welcoming phrase that allows any viewer below to be themselves in this space, to explore the depths of the love the artists here have sought to portray.


Other works featured in the exhibit are those of artists Norman Brown, Dominick Mcduffie, KINSELLAND, atiya jones, Staycee Pearl, Junyetta Seale, and Marce’ Nixon Washington.

– GM

“Black on Black Love” runs from now until January 8, 2023.  Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 820 Gallery, 820 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information click here.  








Magic till Midnight – a review of “Cinderella”

Mike Buzzelli

By Michael Buzzelli

Ella (Callie Brielle McIntyre) sits in the corner yearning for a life beyond the drudgery of her daily life when Prince Topher (Sam Greene) gallops into her neck of the woods seeking a sip of water from her well in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

Once the prince’s thirst is slated, his chief advisor, Sebastian (Adam Koda) tries to fend off Crazy Marie (Angela Jade George), but Ella defends Marie insisting she is harmless.  The prince takes pity on the pauper and notices Ella’s kindness, but the needs of the realm draw him out of the woods and back to his castle. While he’s on the throne, Sebastian manipulates him into having a masquerade ball to find a potential mate.  Sebastian’s distraction is part of his dastardly plan to keep the prince from learning about all of his evil deeds, even though a local rabble-rouser, Jean-Michel (Jackson Miller) is loudly protesting to anyone who will listen. 

Meanwhile, Ella’s evil stepmother, known simply as Madame (Marguerite Reed), and her two daughters, Gabrielle (Maya Fullard) and Charlotte (Mary Felix) return to their thatched hut after a long day of shopping. Madame is cruel to her stepdaughter, favoring the daughters from her first marriage. Because she’s covered in soot from cleaning the fireplace, the wicked stepmother mocks her and calls her Cinderella.

When Lord Pinkleton(AJ DePetris) announces the upcoming festivities the townspeople swell with cheer, ignoring Jean-Michele.

Pinkleton proclaims that everyone is invited to the ball.


If you guessed the part where Cinderella’s evil stepmother prevents Cinderella from attending the ball, you’ll probably guess the rest. Something about magic and midnight, a glass slipper, yada, yada, yada.

Side note: I never understood why all of Cinderella’s clothes transform at midnight, except for that single glass slipper. I guess that’s shoe business.

Callie Brielle McIntyre takes her bow in “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

Actually, Oscar Hammerstein, II, and Douglas Carter Beane put a new spin on an old tale. The prince gets a bit more of a back story. He’s more than a knight in shining armor in this musical adaptation.

Tomé Cousin directs a lively version of this age old story, finding fresh and innovative ways to showcase all of his talents. He has expertly picked his cast.

Greene is a dashing and charming prince with a voice big enough for Broadway.

It’s easy to fall in love with McIntyre’s Cinderella. She is a marvelous choice. Her rendition of “In my own little corner” is delightful.

Greene and McIntyre have chemistry together. Their duet, “Ten Minutes Ago” is a showstopper.

The other characters are decidedly over-the-top, but it’s a perfect choice for this bigger-than-life spectacle. Skip “The Nutcracker” and take the kids to see this instead. Hint: “The Nutcracker” will be back next year, but this is lightning in a bottle!

George’s Fairy Godmother, literally and figuratively, shines like a star, aided by a sparkly dress complete with gossamer wings.

Felix’s Charlotte also gets a grand moment singing “Stepsister’s Lament” with the distaff members of the ensemble.

Cousin, who has choreographed shows in the past, turned the choreography over to Eileen Grace Reynolds. She steps up to job with aplomb.

The scenes and props are incredible. Noah Glastier’s cottage in the woods is an efficient set piece that packs up like a suitcase and moves on and off the stage.

Shout out to Damian Dominguez who’s costume design simply amazes. Each costume is fantastic, beautiful dresses at the ball, princely attire for Topher, and even beautifully designed patchwork rags for Crazy Marie.  Dominguez stuns the audience with three spectacular costume changes (one for Crazy Marie and two for Cinderella). It’s stagecraft of the highest order. It’s practically magic.

This production is magical. A must see during its very brief run. I could not proclaim it more loudly if I were Lord Pinkleton, the exhausted and very funny town crier.

It seems impossible that a local college production of “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” could compare to a big Broadway show, but Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother are all about making the impossible possible. Go out and have a ball!

– MB

“Cinderella” runs from December 7 – 11, 2022 in the PNC Theatre inside the Pittsburgh Playhouse, 450 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.

Eyes on the Prize – a Review of “A Christmas Story – the Play”

By Claire DeMarco

Ralphie Parker (Sebastian Madoni), like all other kids as they approach Christmas, anticipates a day full of fun and presents.  This upcoming holiday in Indiana in the 1940’s is especially exciting.  Ralphie has a specific Christmas wish that has absorbed all of his time, thought and attention.

What Ralphie wants for Christmas more than anything is an “official Red Ryder Carbine Action 200 Shot Range Model Air Rifle”.

Note:  Got that?

Although he doesn’t realize it, Ralphie’s determination for an “official Red Ryder Rifle…” actually turns into a clever marketing plan.  Subtle hints, overt ads mysteriously delivered in the mail, a homework paper with reasons why it’s important to have this gun contribute to Ralphie’s relentless pursuit.

Reliving this past Christmas season now as a grown up is Adult Ralph (John Shepard).  Interspersed among the tactics to reach his goal, Adult Ralph narrates and walks us through snapshots of his life as a child. He introduces us to Mother (Jamie Agnello) and Old Man (Tim McGeever), his brother Randy (Will Chambers), teacher Miss Shields (Hope M. Anthony), childhood friends and one bully.

Although most of the vignettes are not reflective of Ralphie’s quest for the ultimate prize they are memories of that time in his life.

The show is witty, hysterical and fun for all ages. 

McGeever is a rock star, specifically as he contemplates winning a “big prize” and his possessive control of the “big prize.”  His physical movements, facial expressions and comedic timing are spot on.

Note:  The “big prize” is a leg lamp with lampshade.  Nice gam, if I say so!

Shephard is great at blending his role as narrator into the scenes without distracting from the scenes themselves. He is both the storyteller and a quasi-participant.

Agnello is great as she uses gestures and body language without speaking, counteracting McGeever’s obsessive control of the “big prize.”

Anthony shows her chops with two different and clever comedy routines.

Madoni excels as Ralphie in a consistent and well-balanced performance.

Great job Colin Bozick, Will Chambers, Suraya Love Collins, Eamonn McElfresh, Zora Rose, Charlie Julian Stull, Jude Ziggy Glover, Adjoa Opoku-Dakwa and Nikolai Zevchak.

The set is reflective of a 1940’s era home – an ice box, console radio, red and white linoleum kitchen tiles, typical furniture pieces.  The transition from the home setting is smooth as the scene changes to a school room or a department store Santa Land.

Excellent direction by Michael Berresse.

A Christmas Story, the Play” was written by Philip Grecian and is based on the 1983 film also titled “A Christmas Story”.


“A Christmas Story – the Play” is a production of Pittsburgh Public Theater.  It runs from November 30 – December 23. For more information, click here.