Brace yourself, Effie! – a review of “Mrs. Doubtfire”

By Michael Buzzelli

Daniel Hillard (Rob McClure) is having a hard time keeping up with his wife Miranda (McClure’s real-life wife, Maggie Lakis) in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Miranda’s launching her own business while he keeps getting fired from acting jobs.

She thinks he’s extremely irresponsible with their three kids, Lydia (Giselle Gutierrez), Christopher (Cody Braverman sharing the role with Axel Bernard Rimmele), and Natalie (Emerson Mae Chan sharing the role with Kennedy Pitney).  After repeatedly missing their couples counseling sessions, she hands him divorce papers.

In a crushing moment in court, the Judge (David Hibbard) decides that Hillard can only see his kids one day a week. He’s devastated.

Later, when Miranda’s clothing line, M Body, begins to gain traction with a gym magnate, Stu (Leo Roberts), she realizes she needs someone to watch the kids. The unemployed Daniel begs for the gig, but Miranda denies him. Then, Daniel gets a ludicrous idea, a harebrained, whacky, this-won’t-work-anywhere-besides-movies-tv-or-stage sort of idea.

With the help of his makeup artist brother, Frank (Aaron Kaburick), and his partner, Andre (Nik Alexander), Daniel  dresses up as an old Scots woman named – spoiler alert – Mrs. Doubtfire and becomes the kids nanny.

Hijinks ensue.

There’s a whole B plot about his job as a janitor at a local TV station that becomes very important at the end, but – at no point – will you need to shout Mr. Jolly’s (Hibbard again) signature line, “I’m so confused!”

If you’ve seen the original movie with Robin Williams, Sally Field and Pierce Brosnan than you know where this story is going. “Mrs. Doubtfire” isn’t about the ending, it’s about the journey and the undeniable humor.

Miranda (Maggie Lakis) calls Daniel (Rob McClure).
Daniel AKA Mrs. Doubtfire (Rob McClure) joyously performs the household chores.
The entire cast of “Mrs. Doubtfire – The Musical.”

The actor who follows the late, great Robin Williams in the role of Mrs. Doubtfire, has to be an incredible mimic, a talented actor, and, in this case, a terrific singer. McClure has it all in spades, the talent and the chutzpah! McClure finds small ways to make the role his own. He’s delightful.

Lakis does an admirable job as Miranda. At times, Miranda can be a difficult character to like, especially when she sides with the court against her husband, but Lakis plays Miranda with warmth and affection.

Kaburick’s Frank is a scene stealer. His character has an odd tell. When he’s forced to lie, his voice gets louder and louder (the family trait carries over to his nephew Christopher in later scenes).  Watching Kaburick shout his lines is hilarious. In the hands of lesser actors this crazy character trait would be annoying, but Kaburick does it with such finesse it never grates.

Gutierrez does a marvelous job as the eldest of the Hillard children. Her singing is fantastic.

Special shout out to Lannie Rubio who shows up for one solo number, “He Lied to Me” and absolutely nails it.

“Mrs. Doubtfire” has a marvelous ensemble, great costumes (by Costume Designer Catherine Zuber) and terrific dance numbers ( by Choreographer Lorin Latarro), but, most importantly, it’s laugh out loud funny thanks to a Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, who kept much of the original material – including some improvised lines by Robin Williams.

Is it hammy? Is it shmaltzy? Is it ridiculous? Yes, yes and yes. It doesn’t matter. It’s gloriously fun. Unbuckle your willing suspension of disbelief a few notches and let the show hit you like a run-by fruiting.


“Mrs. Doubtfire – The Musical” runs from November 28 tillDecember 3 at the Benedum Center,  at the corner of Seventh and Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.

Greater than the sum of its parts – a review of ≈[Almost Equal To]

by Michael Buzzelli

As the Emcee in “Cabaret” would gloriously remind you, “Money makes the world go around, The world go around. The world go around.” That’s the straight-up vibe you’ll get in Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s ≈[Almost Equal To]. The key is almost.

There are a lot of “almosts” in ≈[Almost Equal To].  Mani (Julia Polisoto) is almost on the verge of becoming a full-time econ professor at an unnamed college.  Andrej (Jonah Hartman) almost helps his family get out of a cycle of poverty (if they’re not poor, they’re lower middle class). Martina (Clark Eileen Atkinson) almost gets the family cottage, but loses it to her sister Angelika (Katherine Bruce). Peter (Logan Kearney) almost gets $50 from Ivan (Adrian Escalona).

The characters almost get what they want. All of them are depending on one big break, much like Martina’s convenience store customers who are buying scratch-offs.

If Trickle-Down Theory Economist Milton Friedman wrote an After-School Special, it would be ≈[Almost Equal To].  There’s a lesson in all of this madness. 

Khemiri (through Rach Willson-Broyles’ translation) wants to teach us about money and how living without it can makes us dangerous creatures, causing us to steal, beg, borrow and, perhaps, inflict pain.

Mani (Julia Polisoto) frets about the future while Martina (Clark Eileen Atkinson) watches a documentary on killer whales in [Almost Equal To].
While the playwright posits some interesting scenarios while teaching us important lessons, it comes of as a little preachy. It also takes a while to get to the point. It does, however, makes some excellent points, and delivers it with humor and panache.

It’s the excellent acting makes this show.

Polisoto excels (“Excels” – a little spreadsheet humor) as Mani. Despite the ensemble nature of this show, Mani is the main character and Polisoto proves worthy of the distinction. That said, Atkinson, Hartman and Honsa get some terrific moments in the spotlight.

Atkinson is so incredibly likable, even when her character is behaving badly. When her character feels joy, it exudes out into the audience. Her stage presence is amazing.

Ironically, Peter, who says, “Hi, I’m Peter,” nearly as much as Groot says “I am Groot,” in “Guardians of the Galaxy,”  in all of the Marvels, has the most depth of character. He is brilliantly played by Logan Kearney.

Sophie Honsa’s Intermission Speaker is full of charm and kindness, until she isn’t. The character takes a dark turn, and Honsa does it with such grace and wit, you almost don’t realize how awful her character is. A few minutes later, Honsa morphs into another character, Freja, and she’s almost unrecognizable. It’s a tour de force for the young actor.

There are plenty of skilled performers in this show, some in the front as leading characters, and some in the background. The ensemble is terrific. Charlie Kennedy shines in a tiny role as the Employment Agency Man, but also gets a lion’s share of laughs in some non-speaking roles.

The Liquor Store Employee (Maddie Cox) and the Job Coach (Madison Downing) garner some good laughs as well.

There’s a lot of cruelty in ≈[Almost Equal To]. Some of it is [almost] hard to watch,  but director Adil Mansoor does a great job finding the inner beauty of this ugly beast.

There’s a layer of whimsy that Mansoor embraces that makes the show stand out. A lesson on the difference between one million, one billion and one trillion with falling Monopoly Money was particularly effective. When Casparus van Houten (Colin Villacorte) and Laura Lorenzo (Abbey Hannis) show up in the second act…well…let’s just say their fame as renown economists has…um…gone to their heads. It’s hilarious.

Fantastic scenic design by Toni Woods, making the most of the inner city rooftops. Natalie Rose Mabry’s projection design is wonderful highlight (figuratively and literally). Their fanciful video images enhance the production brining the audience into the moment.

≈[Almost Equal To] is broken up into pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces don’t really click together until the end, but there are a few nice surprises. The  fantastic acting will keep you engaged.  The play leaves an indelible mark. It’s [almost] guaranteed that you will leave the theater talking.


“[Almost Equal To] runs from November 15 – 19, 2023 at the Highmark Theatre, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.

Let’s Get Right to the Pointe! – an evening at the Bippity Boppity Ball

by Claire DeMarco

The Pittsburgh Ballet Theater (PBT) held Pointe in Time – The Bippity Boppity Ball on Saturday, November 11 at the Westin Pittsburgh Hotel.

This was PBT’s annual and largest event of the year.  It was grand, elegant and welcoming.  Formal but fun.

Executive Director Nicholas Dragga and Artistic Director Adam W. McKinney at the Bippity Boppity Ball.

The name Bippity Boppity refers to the song in the Disney classic “Cinderella.”   Cinderella was the theme for the evening’s event.  Choreographed by Jayne Smeulders it will make its U.S. premier here in Pittsburgh as the final production of the 2023-2024 season.

What a delight to tantalize the audience with selections from this upcoming Cinderella ballet with a wonderful performance by students of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School – Corey Bourbonniere, Hannah Carter, Grace Bookstool.

Melanie and Jim Crockard at the Bippity Boppity Ball.

Excerpts from other upcoming PBT performances were also highlighted.

Since the evening centered on Cinderella, many of the guests were dressed in Cinderella-inspired gowns with large hoop skirts, voluminous fabric and bright colors.

Adam W. McKinney, New Executive Director, was introduced to the audience.   He was engaging and delightful in his formal speech and just as welcoming as we watched him in casual conversations with attendees.   In an informal conversation with this reviewer, he expressed his utter excitement in his new role.

The Gala was also a PBT fundraiser.  Exciting auctions (both silent and live) featured spectacular items.  Keeping with the theme of the event one of the live auction items was titled “Cinderella’s Sparkle” and was a beautiful piece of jewelry.

The Byham Family at the Bippity Boppity Ball.

An additional aspect of fundraising was the outreach in support of another of PBT’s missions – the Community Youth Scholarship Program.  This program is “need-based, supporting training for talented students who demonstrate financial eligibility.”

Dawn and Chris Fleischner at the Bippity Boppity Ball.

What a better way to end a perfect evening by “dancing the night away” with live music featuring Michael Jackson and Earth Wind and Fire selections.

The PBT Board and Planning Committee at the Bippity Boppity Ball.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre – a gem in Pittsburgh’s cultural community.


For more information and detail on the last four shows of PBT’s season and PBT’s other programs, please click here.

There’s a Place for Us – a review of “Corsicana”

by Michael Buzzelli

When their mother dies, Christopher (Josh Reed) and Ginny (Megan Michaels) have to step up and be the adults. It’s not easy for either of them. Christopher is a failed filmmaker teaching at a nearby community college and Ginny, a young woman with Down Syndrome, has big dreams of her own in Will Arbery’s “Corsicana.”

Side note: Corsicana is a small city in Texas, fifty-six miles northeast of Waco.

A family friend, Justice (Victoria Murphy), suggests to Christopher that Ginny should study songwriting with her friend Lot (Karim Chebli).  Lot, possibly suffering from agoraphobia and several other undiagnosed mental conditions, is a reluctant teacher.

Together Lot and Ginny learn from each other.

Christopher (Josh Reed) wants Ginny (Megan Michaels) to sing in a video on his iPhone.

“Corsicana” is about love and acceptance.  Lot has a lot to learn about love. He has to accept himself and open up to others. Ginny, it turns out, has a lot of love to give. She just doesn’t know where to put it. Christopher wants a bigger life than the one he can have in a small Texas town. Justice learns her own lesson about love and acceptance.

Lot (Karim Chebli) tries to explain his theories about making art.

Chebli is marvelous as Lot. He plays a gifted man who is riddled with fear and self-loathing. Chebli manages to turn simple lines into agonizing truths. With a blazing charisma, he delivers them with wit and panache.

Director Alison Mahoney does an amazing job with her cast. She builds the tensions of Arbery’s play with a slow, steady pace, giving each character the space to breathe. “Corsicana” has a lot of little moments that build. It’s plot sneaks up on you. Its characters feel like real people living achingly real lives.

There is some clever scenic design by Gianni Downs. Lot’s living room pops with bright colors.  The space is filled with a surplus of props from the Danny Pearson and the Prop Shop.

Note: “Corsicana” is a relaxed performance. There is a live audio description for the visually impaired. There are captions, ASL interpreters (Nick Miller, Alison Bartley, Jennifer Flaggs and Heather Gray depending on which night you go) and a quiet space, a nook in the Heymann’s lobby where you can camp out if things get overwhelming. It is a very inclusive environment. Those lovely touches to include everyone can, ironically, be distracting. Before you go, be aware that the space is for everyone.

On a personal note: At first, I had difficulty looking away from the captioning and found myself reading along with the play more than watching it, but, by the second act, I settled into a groove.

Arbery does not give any tired and trite responses, and, while things end happier than where they began, he doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow. He gets to deeper truths and reminds us to do and say the scary things. Make art. Say “I love you.” Feed your soul.

In “West Side Story,” Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim wrote a song called, “Somewhere.” In it,  the lyrics read, “There’s a place for us. A time and a place for us. Hold my hand and we’re halfway there. Hold my hand and I’ll take you there.” That song is the spirit that embodies Will Arbery’s “Corsicana.”  The show is for everyone who believes that there is a place for them in the world. The Pitt Stages production cast and crew holds your hand and takes you there.


“Corsicana” runs until November 17 at the Henry Heymann Theatre, 4301 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (inside the Stephen Foster Theatre, next to the Cathedral of Learning). For more information, click here

Love – Dead or Alive in Deadrock – a review of “Crazy For You”

by Claire DeMarco

Rich kid Bobby Child (Chad Elder) has been constantly pushed by his mother Lottie Child (Amy Lynn Bonner) to pursue the family’s banking business.

Bobby has other ideas.  He loves to dance and has dreams of a vaudeville career.  It’s unfortunate that he’s not quite good enough and is rejected at an audition by producer Bela Zangler (Dominic Bell).  His family, intent that he drops his theater pursuits and embrace the banking business, send him off to Deadrock, Nevada. On behalf of his family’s bank, Child’s assignment is to foreclose on the town’s theater. 

Leaving nagging and annoying fiancé Irene Roth (Sarah Hennesy) behind Bobby heads to this small town of Deadrock in the middle of nowhere.

Soon after arriving in Deadrock, Bobby meets Polly and immediately is smitten.  Not initially divulging his name or the reason for his visit, he decides to save the theater, raising money by presenting a fundraising event.

When Polly discovers Bobby’s duplicity, she wants nothing to do with him.  Bobby, intent on winning Polly back and still having a fundraiser to save the theatre, disguises himself and successfully fools both Polly and the town (for a time, that is). 

Bobby’s false identity is unmasked, unraveling another scenario of problems and miscues.

Is there a happy ending?   Do Bobby and Polly reconcile?  Is the theater saved?

Spoiler Alert:  Yes, yes, yes!

Photo Credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia, LLC

“Crazy for You” is a 1992 production based on the 1930’s Gershwin musical “Girl Crazy.”  This 1992 production includes songs from the original show plus tunes from other Gershwin projects.  The songs are almost 100 years old, and it is refreshing to think that some younger members of the audience may be hearing them for the first time (and hopefully not the last).

Elder is outstanding as the naïve rich kid.  In almost quasi-slapstick style, he treats us to a myriad of near missteps when he overkills his audition to a total gymnastic collapse as he arrives in Deadrock.  Attempting to conceal his identity he easily transitions into a New York producer with an effective European accent.  Elder also sings and dances throughout the show and his rendition of “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” spotlights his singing talent. 

After a ten-year stage hiatus, Smith comes roaring back as the sometimes tough yet tender postmistress of Deadrock.  Gershwin songs are wonderful to begin with, but they’re even better when sung by Smith.  What a voice!   Special favorites are “Someone to Watch Over Me, “I Got Rhythm” and “But Not For Me.”  And she taps, too!  (Note:  I’m envious).

Bell is engaging as the lecherous, foreign Zangler.   He is especially effective with Elder in their perfectly timed chameleon antics, mimicking one another’s movements and facial expressions. His European accent is effective.

Hennesy carries her annoying character’s personality to Deadrock.  She softens her to a less pushy person as Irene surprisingly adapts to life in the West.

Jeff Way (Bingo), Adam Richardson (Moose) and Zachary Holderbaum (Sam) also known as the Cowboy Trio deliver a super rendition of “Bidin My Time”. 

Stage 62’s production of “Crazy for You” is pure entertainment.  What a great cast!

Music Director Andrew Peters and his orchestra are superb.

Shout out to Choreographer Cara McClaine.

Excellent direction by Art DeConcilius.


Crazy for You” is a production of Stage 62 and is presented at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, 300 Beechwood Avenue, Carnegie, PA 15106.  Performances run from November 9th through November 19th. For more information, click here.

Assassins Kills it – a review of “Assassins”

By Lonnie the Theater Lady

Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins opens in a carnival like shooting gallery where The Proprietor (Zack Spurlock) gently and convincingly persuades several misfits to play the shooting game. He makes them believe that their problems will be solved by killing a President. The play features nine historical figures who either attempted to or were successful in assassinating U.S. Presidents.
Each of their patchwork of stories is told from their own (often deranged) viewpoint. Different historical periods interact, having characters from different decades encouraging each other to commit acts of violence. The Balladeer (Carmen LoPresti) appears often to help guide the audience from one time period to another. He plays his role with a great deal of reasonableness –until he doesn’t. (No spoilers here) It’s sometimes uncomfortable watching dozens of guns being waved about, often being  aimed at the audience. And yet, somehow, this show manages to illicit lots of hearty laughs from the audience. The underlying themes are our national infatuation with gun violence and the desire that some people have to become famous, and therefore remembered, at any cost. I know–that doesn’t sound funny—but–it is.  A very dark comedy.
The cast of “Assassins.”
Sondheim’s songs and lyrics are notoriously difficult to sing and it has been said that they’re meant to be acted–not sung. Anna Gergerich (Squeaky Fromme) apparently didn’t get that memo. She  sings beautifully and manages to “act” the songs, as well! Her performance and vocal stylings are standouts. Her scene with Joyce Hinnebusch (Sara Jane Moore) is not only well sung but hilarious.
Hinnebusch, along with a sweet voice, has great comedic timing and hilarious physical comedy chops. She is a real treat to watch.
Tom Protulipac (Sam Byck)is a powerful force as he rants against Richard Nixon. His portrayal as a mentally deranged man is frighteningly authentic. He takes us on a  remarkable roller coaster ride of mercurial emotions. His monologue as he tapes a message to Leonard Bernstein convincingly showcases Sam’s mental instability. His maniacal laugh is chilling.
John Wilkes Booth (Ian C. Olson)  acts well in his portrayal of Booth, a notoriously bad actor. He engages us with his facial expressions and sometimes comical movements. His gorgeous black silky suit is a perfect choice of a  costume for a fop. Kudos to costume designer Dana Schulte.
Brandon Marzke (John Hinkley Junior) somehow manages to make Hinkley a sympathetic character. He plays him as vulnerable and somewhat pathetic in his love sickness. His duet (I’d Do Anything For You) with Anna Gergerich is deeply moving.
The very large talented cast, under the savvy direction of Jeff Johnston takes every opportunity to highlight the humor as well as the pathos in this show.
The live orchestra is in another room with their music being piped into the theater. What a perfect way to control the volume so that the vocalists are clearly heard!
 So much in this production is brilliantly done. Although the themes are dark, this production strangely satisfies and entertains. It is a challenging undertaking for a community theater to take on this bigger than life show. I’m happy to tell you that  Riverfront seamlessly meets that challenge.
– Lonnie
Runs through November 18 at Riverfront Theater Company, Allegheny RiverTrail Park, 285 River Avenue. Pittsburgh, PA 15215. For more information, click here

“The Miracle Worker”: A Miraculous Production

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

Prime Stage Theatre Co. opens its 27th season with The Miracle Worker, written by William Gibson and directed by Wayne Brinda. Gibson’s play premiered on Broadway in 1959. The Miracle Worker explores the real-life story of Annie Sullivan’s arrival to the Keller home where the 20-year-old takes charge of young Helen’s education. Helen Keller was born in Alabama in 1880, but before the age of two, illness left her both blind and deaf.

While Sullivan and Keller’s names are now inextricably linked, this play shows that was not always the case – or even a foregone conclusion. In fact, my 11-year-old son and co-reviewer aptly described the first half as “more wrestling match than play.” The undisciplined, headstrong Keller throws tantrums and has been allowed to run rampant. In Sullivan, she encounters a will stronger than her own for the first time.

Fifth grader Kendall Knotts is riveting as young Helen. She’s comfortable making it uncomfortable to watch her. She lashes out at her environment and the people in it, hitting and battling. However, she also demonstrates both intelligence and deviousness when she locks newcomer Annie in her room and hides the key in her mouth.

Knotts was already familiar with American Sign Language as she learned and performed in ASL for another production. Her familiarity with the deaf community elevates her performance. Under Wayne Brinda’s stellar direction, Knotts never focuses her vision on the objects or people in front of her, making her blindness convincing.

Just as Keller finds her real-life match in Sullivan, Knotts finds her match in Holland Adele Taylor as Annie. The pairing is dynamic. Sullivan writes in her diary that her biggest problem with Helen will be “how to discipline her without breaking her spirit,” and Brinda makes that struggle palpable.

When Sullivan tries to get Helen to sit at the table and use a spoon to eat, Knotts hurls a series of spoons around the room. Knotts crawls under the table and tries to escape, and Taylor physically lifts her, repeatedly returning the kicking child to the table. Thus, the wrestling match. Both roles are physically demanding. Brinda keeps the focus on their struggle, providing a front-row seat to Helen’s transformation under Sullivan from feral child to civilized girl. Brinda also directs Taylor to exaggerate her expressions and head motions as she repeatedly holds Helen’s hands to her face as she nods yes or shakes no to create the groundwork for meaning.

From Left to right: Kendall Knotts (Helen Keller) and Holland Adele Taylor (Annie Sullivan) in “The Miracle Worker.” Photos by Laura Slovesko

Helen’s evolution is mirrored in Ashlynn Swauger’s costume design. When we first meet Helen, her pinafore and dress are always muddy and stained. Her metamorphosis is signified in her transition to unstained white.

Stacia Palieri captures the desperation of a mother as Kate Keller. Her turning point is when Sullivan gets Helen to keep a napkin on her lap. Palieri softly repeats that in wonder, and it’s a quintessential gentile Southern manifestation of hope and pride. Kate is an advocate for her daughter but also knows how to placate her husband (Rick Dutrow).

At one point, he rails against Sullivan as a “half-blind, inexperienced Yankee.” Dutrow captures a man caught between the ages. He’s a former Confederate captain but also resists the era’s default of relegating his blind, deaf daughter to an asylum. Dialect coach Lisa Bansavage heightens the play’s tensions by contrasting the deep southern accent of the Kellers with Sullivan’s Bostonian origins as another north/south battle plays out.

Pittsburgh loves a Pittsburgh connection. It turns out there’s one with Helen Keller. In 1893, Keller and Sullivan came to Pittsburgh where Keller attended William Wade House and Finishing School in Oakmont. Keller and Wade remained close until his passing, and Keller and Sullivan were charter members of the Oakmont Women’s Club. In fact, Keller learned to horseback ride on Wade’s 30-acre estate.

– TR, Ph.D. and TR

The Miracle Worker” runs from November 3 to November 12 at the New Hazlett Theatre,  6 Allegheny Square East Pittsburgh, PA 15212. The run includes a sensory-inclusive performance as well as a signed and live captioned performance. For more information, click here.

A Ribald Revolutionary – a review of “Meow Meow”

by Michael Buzzelli

Picture it, Germany in the waning days of the Weimar Republic, those bawdy, decadent days of Isherwood’s “I am a Camera,” which later became the framework for the Kander and Ebb musical “Cabaret.”  It’s easy to picture Meow Meow in a smoky bar* in 1933 Berlin, a slender brown cigarillo clutched between her index and forefinger, standing next to a polished, black Baby Grand, music pouring out of her throat as effortlessly as the beer and wine are dispensed throughout a dark, dank club.

* Side note: Cigarettes are verboten in the Greer Cabaret.

Meow Meow, the rechristened Melissa Madden Gray, is a vamp of the highest order.  This wild woman is part Patsy Stone (“AbFab”), part Sally Bowles(of the aforementioned “Cabaret”) part Joan Collins, mashed into the slight, pliable body of Lorene Yarnell (of the mime duo Shields and Yarnell) with a coif envied only by Roseanne Roseannadanna. 

Meow Meow sings a Berthold Brecht tune in the original German. It’s not a one-off. The sultry, sequined singer crooned mostly in German with a soupçon of English thrown in. There were no subtitles but she did provide a thick copy of the English-to-German Dictionary for those brave enough to glance at the voluminous tome.

Normally, the guttural sounds of the German language grate, as if someone with a dry cough is trying to express phlegm, but, somehow, Meow Meow made the lyrics sound melodious.

Caption TBD Harmony Nichols

The post-post-modern cabaret artist sang lyrics, though over one hundred-years-old, seemed relevant today.

Politicians are magicians
Who make swindles disappear
The bribes they are taking
The deals they are making
Never reach the public’s ear
The left betrays, the right dismays
The country’s broke – and guess who pays?
But tax each swindle in the making
Profits will be record-breaking
Everyone swindles some
So vote for who will steal for you.

Meow Meow is a ribald revolutionary reminding the country that Nationalism is on the rise. She is an impudent muse of the Kabaret der Komiker, a champion of the Dadaists.

Several farcical moments brought the audience into fits of laughter, including a brief point where she read a – let’s call it a – poem that would make Sally Albright (of “Harry and Sally”) blush.

At one point, Meow Meow summoned participants to the stage, dressed them in DIY hazmat suits (i.e. face masks, plastic gloves and Glad garbage bags) and surfed over top her ersatz backup dancers in awkward balletic gyrations.

At the tail end of the show, Meow Meow launched into a teary-eyed tribute of her friend, Barry Humphries (best known as by the stage persona of Dame Edna Everage). It was a poignant recollection of her dear friend. She closed the show belting a brilliant unpublished song from a long-dead German composer.

Hey! If the Beatles can release a song this week, anyone’s music can come back to life.

Personal note: Meow Meow is the most cabaret cabaret I’ve ever seen in the Greer Cabaret.

Meow Meow is a wonderful evening of entertainment, but it’s not a break from the bleak troubles of the outside world, but a satirical poke, a strangely effervescent warning of dark times ahead.  As Dame Shirley Bassey would say, “They say the next big thing is here, that the revolution’s near, but to me it seems quite clear – that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”

The revolution has begun. 


The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Cabaret Series is at the Greer Cabaret Theater, 655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For upcoming events, please click here



Light’s Out – a review of “Mr. Burns – a Post-Electric Play”

By Claire DeMarco

When six people come through an epic disaster one might surmise that after the initial shock of this traumatic event, they’d begin to organize and search for means of survival.  Instead, Matt (David Holderbaum), Jenny (Myah E. Davis), Maria (Johnna Lefebvre), Sam (Alex Blair), Colleen (Sarah Orbin), Gibson (Gavin Calgaro) and Quincy (Elizabeth Glyptis) reflect on what appears to be an inconsequential recollection from their pre-disastrous world.  They pull the memory of the episode Cape Fear from “The Simpsons.” It becomes a means to cope with what has just happened to them.

As time goes on the group’s oral stories and recollections about the Cape Feare episode are embellished with situations that didn’t occur. The episode morphs into something it never was originally.  Bart (Lauren Connolly), Homer (Mark Barrett), Marge (Sarah Yobbi), and Lisa (Audrey Wells), are part of this evolution as are Itchy (Eric Molina) and Scratchy (Michael Phelps). Mr. Burns (Noah Kendall), the man who caused the 2024 event plays the villain in this exaggerated opera. Over 70 years are involved in the growth and development of this grandiose idea.

A kernel from the past becomes the genesis for the development of an opera and a theater that concentrates on many of the Simpson episodes.

Out of the darkness.  And then there was light!

Left to Right: Maria/Nelson (Johnna Lefebvre), Quincy (Elizabeth Glyptis), Sam (Alex Blair) Center – Gibson (Gavin Calgaro), Matt (David Holderbaum), Colleen (Sarah Orbin) and Jenny (Myah E. Davis).

Note:  In the program Critic Laura Collins-Hughes relates her experience after seeing this play.  “It’s the kind of bold, inventive show that sends you staggering out onto the street afterward, stunned and exhilarated, not sure quite what you’ve just experienced because you’ve never seen its likes before”.

Note:  I must confess even though I did not stagger onto the street afterward, stunned and exhilarated, I also wasn’t sure at times what I had experienced.  But that’s not a problem.  It’s important that theater not only entertain but challenge us with new and exciting presentations and this production certainly meets that expectation.

Holderbaum presents his character initially at the beginning of the play as exuberant, quasi-hysterical and constantly in motion as he concentrates on memories of the Cape Feare episode of “The Simpsons”.  This is his mechanism for dealing with the tragedy that just recently occurred.  Time passes and he transitions into a calmer, more rational character as he and the group continue their concentration on “The Simpsons”.

Calgaro is excellent in portraying two sides of his character.  After the tragedy event Calgaro’s coping mechanism is a constant shaking of his legs and a hesitant, soft voice.  He has difficulty talking about those lost.  As the years pass, he appears to have more control but he occasionally reverts to shaking his legs.  At one point he has a complete breakdown.

Although Kendall is only in the last act of the play, he makes his presence known.  He’s enticing as the evil, snarky and obnoxious Mr. Burns.  His twisted facial expressions and physical movements are spot on as he prances across the stage.  He sings, he dances, he does a little rap.  He does it all!

The entire cast is well balanced!

The set is minimal.  Initially a plaid sofa, several mismatched folding chairs and a trash can suggesting a fire for warmth indicate the dire circumstances of the group.

Later the plaid sofa is replaced by an over-stuffed leather chair with a mock TV in front of it.

Costume Designers Barbara Burgess-Lefebrve and Johnna Lefebrve did a great job with the costumes.  As time changes so do the costumes colors.  Following the tragic event in 2024, costumes were dark and rather non-descript.  As the play approaches 2107 the clothing was bright, flashy and colorful.


“Mr. Burns – A Post-Electric Play” runs from November 2 until November 19 at Little Lake Theater, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15301. For more information, click here.

Paranormal Investigations – a review of “The Haunting of Hill House”

By Michael Buzzelli

Halloween may be over but it’s still spooky season. Just ask the cast of “The Haunting of Hill House,” a theatrical retelling of Shirley Jackson’s supernatural thriller.

Dr. Montague (Eric Rummel) invites a group of guests to join him at an eerie mansion located in the woods (the closest city, state, county, or province, for that matter, is irrelevant).

Eleanor Vance (Erika Krenn) is the first to arrive. She’s greeted – greeted isn’t the right word, more like tolerated – by Mrs. Dudley(Kat Bowman).

Side note: When Shirley Jackson’s novel debuted in 1959, I doubt they knew what OCD was, but Mrs. Dudley has a chronic case. The character only has a few lines – all of them personal rules – and repeats them ad infinitum throughout the play.

Theodora (Taylor Javens) is the next guest to show up at the haunted house. She’s a coquettish vixen straight out a 50s B Movie.

Soon after, Dr. Montague and Luke (AJ Gross) drop their suitcases at the door and meet the ladies.

That night, Eleanor hears strange noises coming from the walls of the house. Theodora joins her in her room and the women hold each other tight through the terrors of the night until the men reappear. They didn’t hear the haunting noises but had their own strange encounter with an animal in the woods.

Things get spookier.

Mrs. Montague (Stephanie Swift) and Arthur (AJ Wittman) appear a few days later. They are excited to begin their paranormal investigation. Though Mr. & Mrs. Montague are husband and wife, Arthur’s role in their relationship is undefined, but Mrs. Montague and Arthur, a boy’s school principal, seem to be closer than just friends.

Additional side note: In the book, Luke, Theo and Eleanor are all brothers and sisters. Here, they are not. It’s a good thing, too, because there’s oodles of sexual tension between them.

From left to right: Luke (AJ Gross), Dr. Montague (Eric Rummel), Mrs. Dudley (Kat Bowman), Mrs. Montague (Stephanie Swift), Arthur (AJ Wittman), Theodora (Taylor Javens and Nell (Erika Krenn) gather at Hill House in “The Haunting of Hill House.”

The relationships in Hill House seem very confused. Luke likes Eleanor. She thinks he’s too silly. There seems to be some simmering lesbian subtext between Eleanor and Theodora.

Meanwhile Montague and Luke always wander off together, leaving the women alone often.

Mrs. Montague spends all of her free time with Arthur and none of it with her husband. But Arthur is always talking about his boys at the school – accusing them of being soft and feminine (using the antiquated term milksop) and he’s always talking about toughening them up. There’s more subtext there, too.

None of the romantic relationships are explored because the guests of Hill House are too busy fending off their supernatural enemies.

There’s also a lot of humor in this gothic horror.

“The Haunting of Hill House” is not to be confused with the movie, “House on Haunted Hill,” wherein Vincent Price was terrorizing houseguests with plastic skeletons and vats of acid.

While the first act drags, because of a lot of unnecessary exposition about the owners of the house, things pick up steam as the psychic-powered potboiler bubbles along.

There are some stand out performances that make “The Haunting of Hill House” fun.

Krenn is marvelous as the mentally tormented Eleanor.  In the third act, when Krenn’s Eleanor is wandering around Hill House, it’s hard not to shout from the audience, “Don’t go down that passageway! Don’t go through that door!”

Javens is excellent as well. She’s a hellcat. Theo gets some great lines and Javins nails the delivery with aplomb.

Javens and Krenn get the best scenes and they utilize them to the fullest potential.

Arthur is another fun character and Wittman plays him in a delightfully goofy manner.

There’s not a lot to the character of Luke, but Gross is charming and makes the most of him.

Kelsey Pollock Rhea’s costumes, especially Javin’s outfits, are perfect for this production.

If you’re in the mood for something spooky, consult your Ouija Board. The planchette might point to yes.


“The Haunting of Hill House” runs from November 3 to November 11 at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here