9 to 5 or 6 to 4 – a Review of “9 to 5: The Musical”

By Joseph Szalinski

For as long as people worked, they’ve had insufferable bosses/superiors to whom they had to report. While these horrible bosses can exist in any industry or field, megalomaniacs seem to have made offices their natural habitat. I’ve met my fair share. However, I might’ve stayed longer at any former jobs if coworkers randomly busted out into song throughout the day. Nothing builds camaraderie quite like music…or kidnapping, apparently, and it’s these activities that are at the heart of the latest production at The Strand Theatre, Dolly Parton and Patricia Resnick’s 9 to 5: The Musical, directed by Nick Navari.

Part of The Strand’s Broadway on Main series, this show is also a staged adaptation of the classic cult comedy from the 80’s that helped Dolly Parton become the superstar she is. While there are some slight deviations from the film in terms of plot and placing, and most obviously the musical aspect, the rest is very similar: a woman starts at a new job after a marriage falls through; she meets a couple of kindred spirits, including another woman who is ostracized and criticized by others; all the while the boss is being a skeevy dude, which motivates the women to formulate a means to exact revenge; ultimately culminating in wacky hijinks.

The strength of the show comes from the near-constant musical numbers throughout the story, especially in the first act. Tunes range from the lively and catchy theme song to more introspective or heartfelt ones, with each piece demonstrating the prowess of the cast. Together with physical comedy, music does a tremendous job of handling the humor’s heavy lifting, “Here for You” being a prime example. The Strand Theatre Ensemble, under the direction of keyboardist Amy Kapp, marvelously flesh out the numbers, providing a brilliant instrumental supplement.

Not only are the cast great singers, but amazing dancers and actors as well. Headed by Cait Crowley as Violet Newstead, Caroline Connell as Doralee Rhodes, and Joann Spencer as Judy Bernly, everyone gives the show a piece its heart, the trio in particular during their more turbulent scenes. They all make easy work of using humor and comedy to tackle the weighty themes and messages in the script (as well as from the source material), while maintaining a good balance between the silly and the serious. Their performances are emblematic of their respective characters’ limitless persistence tinged with wonderful elements all their own.

In the realm of comic relief, Evan Krug gives a hilarious portrayal as the slimy Franklin Hart Jr. that’s as polarizing as it is repulsive. Hannah Taylor splits sides as Roz Keith, whose own dogged ambition to bone Hart depends on her attempts to thwart the trio. Paxon Masters, who plays both Josh Newstead and Mr. Tinsworthy, is quite a delight during his appearance as the latter.

Of course, a show like this wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of those behind the scenes. Caroline Connell does double-duty as a performer and thoughtful choreographer; set (Nick Navari), lighting (Kelly Page), and sound (JP Lisella) assist in bringing the stage to life; costuming by Missy Nowakowski further evokes the office environment.

Once again, The Strand, and the company of this production, put on a terrific show. One replete with jokes, sentimentality, and plenty of jams. Check it out!


“9 to 5” runs to September 17 at the Strand Theater, 119 N Main Street, Zelienople, PA. For more information, click here.

I’ll Take S’more of That – A Review of Campfire Stories

By Joe Szalinski

For many Yinzers, Camp Guyasuta conjures fond memories of childhoods spent outdoors in the pursuit of badges or some sort of self-discovery. For others, memories of staying up late to cobble together inappropriate Mad-Libs, getting punched in the face during a game of basketball, or getting run over by a runaway toboggan. However one’s experiences are flavored, Vigilance Theater Group harvests the collective nostalgia of sitting in the woods and attempting to figure out the human condition in their immersive production, Campfire Stories.

Once parked, audience members are led by a lantern-wielding guide or chauffeured via golf cart to the cozy amphitheater that’s nestled amongst the trees. Here, refreshments are offered; a couple beverages and s’mores kits that can be roasted and assembled by one of the fire tenders.

The cast of “Campfire Stories.”

After people have a chance to get seated, Tal Kroser warms up the audience with a few songs, slyly getting folks to participate by playing a set that can best be described as “WDVE in the Wild.”

Following the well-known tunes, Charmaine Baldt dazzles with sizzling dance moves that make even the spectators sweat.

The bulk of the show consists of four stories read by a respective performer, along with some brief scenes that supplement the spoken word. Tal Kroser kicks things off with frighteningly fabulistic “I Stole a Sheep from Baba Yaga. I Have Been Punished Accordingly,” by Mike Langer.

Sydney Dubose goes up next, delivering an unsettling meditation on ghosts and relationships with her rendition of “The Unhaunting” by Kevin Nguyen.

“Are You Thirsty,” a bizarre take on a beloved beverage mascot, by Nicole Brady, is fantastically told by Elizabeth Glyptis.

Completing the quartet is gruff yet vulnerable Brett Sullivan Santry, whose gradually maddening recitation of “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe closes the show.

All of the performers involved do a spectacular job of delighting and/or terrifying the audience. Each storyteller is able to inject elements of their own personality and artistry into the tales. They allow the familiar to be reexamined and enjoyed in a new way while also allowing the alien and foreign to seem familiar. The dancing is both incredibly theatrical and wonderfully fits in to Vigilance’s “season of fire.” And what would a campfire be without someone with an acoustic guitar strumming some “Boomer Bangers” and a bit of more modern stuff?

This production’s conceit, although simplistic, is brilliant as an immersive piece of theatre. Not only are there the performances to enjoy, but there’s also the olfactory nirvana from the marriage of seemingly boundless nature and a controlled blaze, the delicious taste of toasty treats, the occasional water droplet from the branches above, all soundtracked by crackling of firewood and the dulled chatter of animals heckling from the shadows. It is a combination of artistic forms and styles that simultaneously innovates and harkens back to tradition.


Campfire Stories runs September 9 & 10 at Camp Guyasuta in Pittsburgh, PA. For more information, click here

Lettice & Lovage Light up South Park Theatre – a review of “Lettice & Lovage”

By Tiffany Raymond, PhD

South Park Theatre Company presents Peter Shaffer’s 1987 play, Lettice & Lovage. The play traces Lettice Douffet (Helga Terre), a tour guide who trends towards exaggeration after she is assigned to Fustian House, the “gloomiest house” she has ever seen. Shaffer originated the role of Lettice for Maggie Smith – a role that earned her a Tony. Terre is undaunted by her predecessor and is mesmerizingly energetic, seemingly born to play the flamboyant Douffet.

The play opens with Douffet giving a factual tour of Fustian House. Director Art DeConciliis has the seven gathered tourists shiver and yawn, shifting their sluggard stances. It’s infinitely relatable. We have all had our Fustian House moment. I was immediately transported back to a 45-minute walking tour of Sundance, Wyoming that stretched into two hours. A notable feat for a five-block town with a population of a thousand.

Like any performer, Douffet is not immune to the reactions of her audience. We get to witness four sequential iterations of her tour over time. Each performance ratchets up the drama. She transforms the tour from routine to riveting through both story and gesture.

Version one’s “grand staircase” becomes a “staircase of aggrandizement” by round three. Former dullard homeowner Tom Fustian is now floating “like feathered mercury” over seven stairs. He elegantly forestalls Queen Victoria from tumbling as she trips on her dress of diamonds – a dress that was made of pearls from a sultan in the prior telling. DeConciliis directs Terre to settle on the staircase by the final round, a mark of a storyteller ready to launch a long tale and one that allows her to directly channel the aggrandizement.

The transformation is not without effect. The tourists shift from bored to bravo with each iteration. On the third retelling, a gentleman asks for references to support her story. He is practically booed by fellow tourists who defiantly defend Douffet. Her unsupervised role as historical tourguide gives her carte blanche. It’s a reminder of the social acceptance of power dynamics. In the domain of Fustian House, her position of authority imbues her as an unassailable expert.

Lettice Douffet (Helga Terre) & Lottie Shoen (Joyce Miller).
Mr. Bardolph (John Reilly), Lettice (Helga Terre) & Dottie (Joyce Miller).

The final round brings in Lotte Schoen (Joyce Miller) who, like Douffet, works for the Preservation Trust. Miller captures a dour seriousness in Schoen’s character that is emphasized by her belted grey trench coat (costume design by Rob Hockenberry), a metaphor for the tightly wound and controlled Schoen. DeConciliis has Miller furtively taking notes, cataloging Douffet’s flights of fancy and factual errors.

Schoen calls Douffet into her office. While Schoen doesn’t delight in firing Douffet, she does delight in restoring a sense of order and what is correct and accurate.

Schoen represents the rigidity of left-brain logic. Douffet is the creative, free-spirited, imaginative right brain. Schoen’s world view of leading with facts is correct. After all, that is the expectation one has for a historical tour. Douffet defends her position by saying she is “dedicated to lighting up the truth.”

Douffet is also right. A story is what makes facts memorable. It’s why we may need to sing the childhood ditty, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” in order to remember the start date of his voyage. Proof points and facts that aren’t tied to a narrative lack punch and memorability.

Ultimately, Shaffer shows us that neither left nor right brain can thrive in isolation. Schoen is too straitlaced, and Douffet strays too far from truth as she gets swept up in her storytelling drama. One ultimately needs both Lettice and Lotte. It is in the balance of the two where one finds harmony, and South Park’s production finds that harmony.

-TR, Ph.D.

Lettice & Lovage runs through September 9, 2023 at South Park Theatre, at the corner of Brownsville Road and, Corrigan Dr, South Park Township, PA 15129. For more information, click here



A Golden Ticket at Little Lake – a review of “Willy Wonka, Jr.”

by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD and Theron Raymond (5th grader)

Little Lake Theatre Company presents Willy Wonka Jr., the shortened musical version of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Junior version is geared for ages 3+.

Kathy Hawk not only directs the ensemble cast of children, but along with assistant director, Samantha Hawk, Kathy co-costume designs the production. Wrangling a large cast of child actors is never easy. The Hawk women create order from chaos. The children are purposeful in their entrances and exits. However, some could have used microphones as the music sometimes drowns out their softer speaking and singing voices.

Hawk embraces gender-neutral casting, which enhances the play’s richness. Willy Wonka, the Candy Man, Augustus Gloop, and Charlie are all female. My 11-year old co-reviewer embraced this as well, noting that “all of the actors embraced their characters and fit.” Willy Wonka (Lila McClelland) evokes a jaunty showwoman in Hawk’s costume of a top hat and vibrant purple jacket with tails.

The Candy Man is sympathetically played by Ava Arnold. Hawk appropriately costumes her in a cheerful yellow overcoat as her entrances excite the neighborhood kids. She gifts the poverty-stricken Charlie (Ember Carmichael) with “extra” candy and surreptitiously drops a nickel for Charlie to discover so she can buy a chocolate bar. The candy man is a testimony to the power of people who are a casual part of our lives but positively influence us as they choose to lead with kindness.

Hawk continues the vibrancy with the Oompa Loompas. This diminutive workforce is well-represented by child actors and is visually united with their green hair, green heart-shaped sunglasses, and suspenders. The Oompa Loompas have long been controversial in origin. This version leans into the mythology as Charlie Bucket and family suspect them to be “zombie workers.” It’s the only reasonable origin story for Wonka’s factory employees given the doors are locked and no one enters or exits. Wonka crisply clarifies they are “refugees,” giving the candymaker an air of magnanimity.

Wonka greets a line of Oompa Loompas in “Willy Wonka, Jr.” Photo Credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

Act two opens with the five lucky children who found the Golden Tickets (each with a guardian) gathered at Wonka’s factory. As each new ticket is found, prop designer Sylvia Sims-Linkish and lighting designer Nicole White collaborate to illuminate each child’s name over one of the four entrances and exits to this theatre in the round. Each child’s name is literally “in lights” as they find one of the five golden tickets that guarantee both a tour of Wonka’s factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

Charlie finds the final ticket. Charlie’s name illuminates on the wall of the ramshackle apartment where the Bucket family of seven lives. Charlie is gifted two Wonka bars on her birthday. Hawk has her hold them in pause, eyes closed and head tilted back slightly. It evokes the gleeful mental frolics of holding a lottery ticket for a massive Powerball draw. The “what if” is a dreamy escape where one wants to linger because you know the odds are against you, so that moment of dreaming is likely as close as you’ll get.

Mirroring the book and film, each of the five children fail what is ultimately revealed by Wonka to have been a “test of character.” Charlie humbly admits failure as she departs with her Grandpa Joe (gleefully played by Dylan Lawton). Kathy Hawk directs McClelland to a perfect wide grin in response, which much of the audience sees before she spins to face Charlie and declare her the “heir” to the Wonka factory. The family-minded Charlie wants to ensure inclusion of her family before accepting the offer, earning her another gold star in the character test. Dahl’s journey of good character winning out is a beautiful reminder of core values and a counterbalance to the cynicism we sometimes slip into too easily

-TKR, Ph.D. and TR

“Willy Wonka, Jr.” runs from August 17 until August 27 at Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15317. For more information, click here.

Once Bitten, Twice Entertained – a review of “Wee Beasties”

By Joseph Szalinski

Uncumber Theatrics is bringing a macabre kind of dinner theater to audiences at Bitz Opera Factory in the Strip District that ditches the pasta for Pesta and has humans as the meal in question in their innovative show, Wee Beasties.

The narrative follows little ill Louise and her mother’s at-home doctor appointments, along with a peppering of brief scenes of fleas reveling in the glory of their insatiable appetites. Infested with meditations on health, society, and humanizing the sick in medicine, as well as a cast of chronically creepy characters, this production packs plenty of interesting elements into its 45-minute runtime. Employing puppetry, perspective, and phenomenal performers, this shadow play is something even Plato would be mesmerized by.

Jalina McClarin voices Louise, an unsettling portrayal complemented by the chilling puppeteering of Kate Hagerty, tearfully tended to by her despondent and paranoid Mother (Bayley Brown). Christine Starkey periodically haunts the story as The Monster, a take on Pesta, the Scandinavian Goddess of Disease. Liam Gannon is great as the dismissive and distant Doctor who performs regular check-ups and accepts the risks that pave the way to progress.

It’s the fleas that give the most disgusting yet delightful performance(s), however, whether that is in scenes where they are the focus, or ones in which they integrate into situations peopled by pitiful persons.

A still from “Wee Beasties.”

Visuals are what allow this show to be as bizarre and brilliant as it is. While flesh-and-bone cast members are rendered shadows, doing so enables them to grow and shrink in size effortlessly, and enables them to believably co-exist in a realm with ravenous bugs that do the same. Plastered onto three of the four sides of the tent that audience members are seated inside, the drama unfolds around them, lending cinematic qualities to the immersive experience.

Should anyone show up early, there is also a flea circus near the entrance of the venue that boasts Christian Allen Diaz as the Barker, an engrossing showman who invites participants to assist him in putting on his itchy carnival. After the amusing “appetizer,” he ushers the compact crowd upstairs to intimate seating.

Staging something this beautifully strange is quite an undertaking. It’s an unorthodox piece of theatre that is as historical and alien as it is modern and familiar. Anyone curious enough to check it out will be granted an opportunity to enjoy an enjoyably unusual show that’ll stick with them for some time.


Wee Beasties runs from August  20,  August 27 at Bitz Opera Factory in the Strip District. For additional details, click here. 

It’s a hit – a review of “Merrily We Roll Along”

By Michael Buzzelli

When we meet Franklin Shepard (Danny Mayhak), Mary Flynn (Catherine Kolos) and Charles Kringas (Nathaniel Yost), their famous – perhaps infamous – friendship is dissolving in Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along.” With luck and the magic of theater, we get to rewind the spool and see how and where things go wrong and why they’re not as merry as they once were.

Important note about the Sondheim musical: “Merrily” doesn’t roll forward, but in reverse, rolling back like prices at Walmart.

The show began as a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1934, but it’s been retold and reworked a few times. This is a newest version. To be frankly frank, some of the plot is rough around the edges. The Benjamin Button meets Merlin storytelling style doesn’t help the show but hinders it. Clearly, there’s a reason the show has been reworked so many times. Something isn’t working, BUT (big capital but here) stick around. It gets better.

If you aren’t enjoying the first act, do yourself a favor and hang on until the second act. The show doesn’t just roll along – it picks up speed.  As the characters get younger, their optimism and joy of life gets bigger.  The ending (no spoilers) is an absolute joy.

From top to bottom, Catherine Kolos, Dan Mayhak and Nathaniel Yost. Photo Credit: Deana Muro Photography

Pop the champagne, because “Merrily We Roll Along” is bursting with local talent. The cast is mesmerizing. They all sparkle and shine each in their own unique ways.

Mayhak was tremendous. At the beginning of the show (toward the end of the friendship), Frank Shepard isn’t a likable guy, but Mayhak infuses the character with his own charismatic charm.

Side note: When Mayhak took his final bow, the opening night theatergoers screamed as if the Beetles walked out onto the Ed Sullivan Show stage. If the opening night audience can be trusted, Mayhak received rock star status with this role. Ironically, it’s the sort of reaction, the fictious play-within-the-play might have gotten when the characters sing “It’s a Hit” at the beginning of the second act.

Kolos – long absent from the stage – needs to be trod the boards more often. Her voice is a power tool, fixing lyrics that don’t always work.

Yost doesn’t get as much stage time as Mayhak and Kolos, but he breathes life into every moment.  He also has a powerful vocal instrument.

Michaela Isenberg is another notable standout performing the role of Gussie, Frank’s second ex. She gets some of the best lines in the show and she delivers them flawlessly. You wouldn’t want to be friends with Gussie, but you wouldn’t want to be her enemy either.

We meet Frank’s first ex, Beth (Marnie Quick) later in the show, but you will wish she was rolling along with us earlier. Quick gets a solo late in the first act, “Not a Day Goes By,” and it’s incredible.

“Merrily We Roll Along” has a large ensemble, but this ensemble has several stars in its own right.

Missy Moreno, playing a partygoer, gets the longest sustained laugh ever heard in the New Hazlett.  Personally, I may never hear the word “Gestalt” without laughing ever again.

There’s a lot of swift movement courtesy of Choreographer Alex Manalo. Manalo wrangles the aforementioned large ensemble with grace and style to peppy music provided by Music Director Doug Levine.

Kim Brown’s costumes are a delight. The show takes place in the 60s and 70s (technically, the 70s and the 60s), and Brown adorns the cast with bright, colorful clothing that looks like it came straight from a party scene in “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” Google it.

Director Daina Griffith takes big swings and knocks all of them out of the park. This production is based completely on her vision of the show.  It’s a glorious interpretation of the retold classic.

We never get the sort of closure or dénouement that we need or expect from similar shows. If you can look past that, you’re in for a helluva good time.

Bring a friend.


“Merrily We Roll Along” runs from August 18 until August 27 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For tickets and more information, click here.

Amuse-Bouche – a review of the “Living News Festival”

By Michael Buzzelli

Ripped from the headlines! Five eclectic one-act plays based on Pittsburgh area news stories comprise one entertaining evening in Throughline Theatre Company’s “Living News Festival.”

The plays include “Trauma Response,” by Matt Henderson; “Smithfield Shelter Shutdown,” by Melannie Taylor; “Gardening Tips for A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” by Clare Drobot; “Be Ashamed,” by Patrick Cannon; and “U-Haul In A Tree” by Jose Perez IV.

Each play is an amuse-bouche, a single, bite-sized hors d’oeuvre of a play, putting the amusing in the amuse-bouche.

The festival opens with a bang with “Trauma Response” based on the headline: “Mail Carrier vs. Beast: Pennsylvania Among Worst in the Country for Dog Bites.” In the story, a dog (Marsha Mayhack) is having an existential crisis while Nona (Becky Hukill) flirts with her mail carrier, Michael (Maria Postava).  Henderson’s story is outrageously funny and deftly performed.

“Smithfield Shelter Shutdown” is based on City Paper article about the Smithfield Shelter Shutdown. Of all the stories, this one stays closest to the facts but does go off wildly in the end.

“Gardening Tips for A Swiftly Tilting Planet” is based on an article about climate change and horticulture. Drobot quickly fast-forwards us into the future in an almost-post-apocalyptic-Pittsburgh. Kerry McGrath delivers a fine performance as a content creator and cat owner who is beginning to fray at the edges at the end of the world. Michael McBurney shows up in the smog and upends her life.

“Be Ashamed” is based on a story titled, “Street Artists Protest White-Out “Refresh” of Graffiti in Pittsburgh’s Color Park. The story is told with wit and charm.

“U-Haul in a Tree” is based on a story titled, “25 Years After Tornados Devastate Pittsburgh, Survivors Look Back.” It’s also loosely based on an old joke about lesbians and a U-Haul. Jeyneliz  Ortiz Valentin’s character’s has a meet-cute after a tornado destroys her home.

Rebekah Hukill, Marsha Mayhak, and Marisa Postava star in “Trauma Response” as part of the Living News Festival

Festival standouts include Mayhak’s self-actualized, neurotic puppy and Leroy’s angry artist.

Mayhak’s facial expressions add an extra layer of hilarity in Henderson’s already-comedic story.

Leroy’s Queenie is full of righteous indignation. Watching Leroy swing her cane and curse as the city paints over an iconic graffiti landmark, Jaggerbush the Turtle, is hilarious and, ultimately, poignant.  Her scenes with AJ Wittman sparkle.

In all five stories, there’s only one villain, Katy Chmura’s Pittsburgh Yuppie. She does a great job of out-Karening the most despicable of the Karens.

Ortiz Valentin is a charismatic lead in “U-Haul in a Tree,” while Mike Barnett provides some goofy charm.

Artistic Director J. Cody Spellman resurrected an old idea by turning the city’s headlines into writing prompts. It works because of the sheer talent of the writers and the strengths of their casts.

“Living News Festival” is a engaging and fun evening.


“Living News Festival” runs from August 17 until August 20 at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For tickets or more information, click here


Up in Cranberry and Under the Sea – A Review of The Little Mermaid


By: Joseph Szalinski

Bust out the wet floor signs, because Disney’s The Little Mermaid is currently running at Comtra Theatre. Directors Brandon Keller and Dylan Baughman bring their version of the adapted classic to Cranberry, PA.

Fans of the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale should expect lighter fare than his narrative, as this production is inspired by the animated musical from the 90s. Whether you’re a “Disney Adult” who’s feeling nostalgic, or you’re looking for a family-friendly outing that’s enjoyable for audience members of any age, this show is for you.

For those unfamiliar, the story follows Ariel, a mermaid, and the favorite daughter of Triton, the sea king. Feeling limited by the ocean(s), which cover most of the earth’s surface, she decides to check out what’s going on above. Usually, she finds odd items to include in her museum of recycling, but this time she finds a body that washed ashore! However, the body is still alive, and he’s a prince! After his rescue, he vows to find his savior with a beautiful voice.

Desperate to fall in love on land, Ariel makes a deal with her aunt Ursula, a sea witch with a penchant for all things devious and an army of eels and trades her voice for legs and the ability to breathe out of the water. She must race against the clock before three days are up, get a kiss from Prince Eric, or be Ursula’s mute slave for the rest of her life.

Turning a cartoon, let alone one that is a fairytale/fantasy, into a stage play calls for innovative ideas to facilitate the switch in medium. Luckily, Disney adapted their work, but this show’s crew pulls off some neat stuff. The space, though small and surrounded by seats, is decorated in nautically inspired accouterment; movement of set pieces is superfluid, despite physical limitations; props and costumes are interestingly done; and lighting and sound are good. The standout scenes in that regard are the ones that take place in Ursula’s lair. The look and feel are eerily established, and the writhing sea creatures make it feel extra creepy.

Ursula (Kristin Pacelli) poses with fans from the audience.

Kristin Pacelli is marvelous as Ursula. She distinguished herself from her cartoon counterpart between menacing energy and incredible singing. Her eel cronies, Flotsam (Mary Narvett) and Jetsam (Grace Fritsch) complement her nicely, or, I guess, meanly. The way those two move around is awesomely unsettling.

Ariel (Anna Chensny) and Prince Eric (Ian C. Olson) were cast wonderfully as well. Apart, they have great scenes, but it’s when they’re together that they shine. Their dancing scene demonstrates their chemistry.

Comic relief is always a great addition to family-friendly musicals/stage shows, and this one has plenty. While the Disney references and fish jokes got annoying, these characters buoyed the humor with their performances. Scuttle (Palmer Masciola IV) is a goofy gull who helps add extra levity to the story. Taylor Anderson and Sam Carter are Ariel’s entrusted companions, Sebastian, and Flounder, respectively. The former is exceptionally funny when fleeing the clutches of the crazed Chef Louis (Patrick Daniel). Louis is a fun character and Patrick noticeably relishes portraying him.

A musical wouldn’t be a musical without, well, music, and while the singing and dancing is impressive from everyone, it’s the live music courtesy of George Milosh, Celeste Callahan, Chris Petricca, Aldo Diiani, Kamran Mian, and Zach Spondike that really elevates the production.

Live entertainment is special for many reasons, and one of the biggest reasons is how the audience enjoys the show. Hearing audience members of all ages, from the super young to the elderly, singing along to their treasured songs, is nice. Even if the show isn’t your thing, it’s great seeing those who enjoy it, enjoy it as much as they do, and potentially witness an instance where future thespians are inspired to bring stories to life too.

– JS

“The Little Mermaid” runs until August 13 at Comtra Theatre, 20540 Route 19, Cranberry, PA 16066. For more information, click here


Ghosted – a review of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”

by Michael Buzzelli

Herald Loomis (Roosevelt Watts, Jr.) and his daughter Zonia (Saniya J.E. Lavelle) have come to Holly’s boarding house in Pittsburgh in search of his missing wife in August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”

Bertha (Shaunda Miles McDill) welcomes them, but her husband Seth (Kevin Brown) is leery of his new boarder.

People come and go from the boarding house. Though it’s most eccentric resident, Bynum (Mike Traylor), a former-slave-turned-shaman, is a fixture.

Bynum tells Loomis that, for one dollar, Rutherford Selig (Marcus Muzopappa) can find Herald’s missing wife, Martha (Karla Payne).

Meanwhile, another boarder, Jeremy Furlow (Dionysius Akeem) has taken up with Mattie Campbell (Dominique Briggs) and has invited her to share his room. Unfortunately, it’s on the same day that Molly Cunningham (Jamaica Johnson) moves into the boarding house, and Jeremy is instantly smitten.

“Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket” by Romare Bearden.

Pittsburgh playwright Wilson was inspired by a collage, “Mill Hand’s Lunch Bucket,” by Romare Bearden. Chronologically, it’s the second play in Wilson’s Century Cycle.

Abandonment seems to be at the core of the story.  Everyone is being ghosted. Mattie Campbell’s first beau left her, Martha left Herald. Zonia has to leave her father to be with her mother.

There’s also a supernatural element.

Bertha (Shaunda Miles McDill) stands as her husband, Seth (Kevin Brown), and tenant, Bynum (Mike Traylor,) eat her homemade biscuits while Herald Loomis (Roosevelt Watts, Jr.) stares out the window in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”

Brown is sensational as the beleaguered Holly, especially in his scenes with Watts. Each man is boiling with rage, but it’s sublimated in different ways. Seth has big plans for the future and Herald wants to reconcile with his past.

Watts is charismatic. He commands the stage every time he steps into a scene.

Traylor’s Bynum is the most fun. He tells tale tales and spins supernatural yarns. The character is goofy, but charming. It’s hard to discern if he’s a crackpot or the wizard of Wylie Avenue (probably a little bit of both).

Bertha Holly spends much of her time calming her hot-headed husband down, but McDill makes the most of the role.

Briggs plays Mattie Campbell as prim, proper and no-nonsense, but Mattie is a deeply lonely woman. Briggs manages to project that loneliness throughout her performance.

Lavelle’s Zonia was a darling. The young girl has a plethora of emotions to run through in the show and Lavelle excels at it, particularly in her scenes with Cameron Edwards as Reuben Mercer, the boy next door.

Note: In our COVID-cautious era, many of the roles are double cast and there is a healthy list of understudies. The review reflects the cast as they appeared on opening night.

Kudos to costume designer Cheryl El-Walker and Jameelah Platt in replicating the hats, coats and trousers of the period.

Mark Clayton Southers does a magnificent job with the material. While the first act idles as it introduces a large cast, the second act rockets to the end.

Trigger warning: Because it’s set in the 1910s, the N word is used unsparingly.

There is something to be said for outdoor theater. Despite the motorcycles roaring by, the helicopters booming overhead and the Lantern flies jumping on unsuspecting patrons, there is a visceral thrill to experiencing theater outside, especially in August Wilson’s backyard.  When the characters talk about Wylie Avenue and Locust Street, you can point to them.

“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is an emotional experience.


“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” runs from August 5 to September 10 at the historic August Wilson House, 1727 Bedford Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. For more information, click here.

The Play’s the thing – a review of “Hamlet”

by Michael Buzzelli

Nary two months from his funeral, the ghost of the former king (Dereck Walton) warns his son, Hamlet (Treasure Treasure), that he has been murdered by his brother, Claudius (Sam Turich). The ghost wants revenge and it’s the Danish prince’s duty to carry out his father’s final wish in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Claudius now wed to Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude (Robin Walsh), is suspicious of the young prince because he can’t seem to stop mourning his dead dad. He’s unaware that his dead bro snitched from his ditch.

Hamlet must prove his father’s apparition is telling the truth and sets about a course to prove the ghost. Only his one true friend Horatio (Brett Mack) witnessed the spectral sighting and Hamlet has sworn his pal to secrecy.

Elsewhere in Elsinore, Laertes (Brenden Peifer) sets off for school after saying goodbye to his sister Ophelia (Saige Smith). Right before his departure, his father, Polonius (Thom Delventhal), counsels the youth with a plethora of advice.

When a group of players come to town, Hamlet convinces them to perform “The Murder of Gonzago,” wherein a king is murdered in the same circumstance as Hamlet’s dad. Claudius gets visibly upset and Hamlet realizes he’s caught the conscious of the king.

Now, he must act. It’s time to kill his uncle and set the kingdom to right, but he is hampered by his own hesitation…and it costs him everything.

Treasure Treasure as Hamlet.

Jeffery Carpenter directs a delightful rendition of the play. It’s swift and buoyant, speeding by under three hours (plus intermission). Carpenter brings out the comedy in the tragedy. He finds the moments of Hamlet’s wit and brings them forward in this brisk retelling of the tale. It’s energetic.

Treasure is a treasure as Hamlet. She is not the morose, brooding teen, but an effervescent trickster.  While plagued with doubt, her Hamlet takes pleasure in being the smartest person in the castle, casting jibes and spilling out bon mots with electricity.

Turich is a villainous Claudius. He cuts a magnificent presence, looming large over the cast, spitting out his venomous lines in a bold baritone.

While Smith shines in every scene as Ophelia, she sings her manic monologue and it’s soulful, rocking dirge that leads to her final moments on the stage. Smith is delightfully demented.

Yes. There’s music. It’s not a full-on nod to Harold Hecuba’s production of “Hamlet: The Musical,” but it rocks out a few times. Gilligan and his fellow castaways would be proud.*

*60s sitcom reference alert.

Laertes (Brenden Peifer) confronts his sister Ophelia (Saige Smith) in Hamlet.

Polonius himself would praise Delventhal as the best actor in the world for either tragedy or comedy. Here Delventhal’s comic timing is on full display. He’s chewed up the dystopian scenery. While he has some of the most memorable lines in the show, some of the best laughs come at Polonius’s expense.

Peifer is a spot-on Laertes, full of rage and passion. While it’s tough to mourn his father’s death, Laertes and Ophelia are tragic figures caught up in Claudius and Hamlet’s deadly chess game.

Rosencrantz (Dave Mansueto) and Guildenstern (Theo Allyn) are very much alive in this production. They are bright and cheery foes for the prince. They have some clever repartee expertly delivered. Mansueto pulls double duty as the Gravedigger and the humor between he and Hamlet is marvelously executed.

The Carrie Furnace is the setting for Tony Ferrieri’s castle Elsinore. A place that lives simultaneously in a crumbling past and apocalyptic future.  It’s the Thunderdome with lots of gray brick and mortar, overshadowed by the decaying metallic monolith lit in blues and purples by C. Todd Brown. It casts a striking shadow over the entire production, rife with rusting pipes, pillars and parapets. It’s a moody, post-industrial extravaganza.

Susan Tzu’s costumes are works of art.  They are sleek, black, functional with a militaristic flare. Though a gray evening gown was an awkward choice for a swordfight, it works on Treasure’s Hamlet.

There are many “Don’t Miss it” shows in Pittsburgh, but this is more than that. It’s Shakespeare, but it’s also a grand experience. It’s a hit, a palpable hit.

– MB

“Hamlet” runs from August 4 to August 27 at the Carrie Furnace, Carrie Furnace Boulevard, Rankin, PA 15104. for more information, click here.