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


No Bad News – a review of “The Wiz”

By Michael Buzzelli

Newly orphaned Dorothy (Nichelle Lewis) isn’t vibing to Kansas, but she isn’t there too long to lament. A twister picks her up, carries her off and flies her out of the arms of her Aunt Em (Melody A. Betts). The tornado dumps her and her house smack dab in the middle of the land of Oz where the townspeople are overjoyed because she crashed down on a wicked witch and smooshed her.

Addaperle (Allyson Kaye Daniel deftly delivering the snarkiest lines in the show) and her blingy sister Glinda (Deborah Cox) give Dorothy the witch’s shoes, a pair of magic silver slippers. The sorcerous sisters send her off to meet the Wiz (Alan Mingo, Jr.) to aid her on her journey home.

Just like L. Frank Baum’s original it’s not about the destination, but the journey, and the friends she meets along the way.  Dorothy eases down the Yellow Brick Road and meets the Scarecrow (Avery Wilson), the Tinman (Phillip Johnson Richardson) and the Lion ( Kyle Ramar Freeman).

But the wicked witch’s sister, the equally wicked Evillene (Melody A. Betts), wants those darn silver shoes and she’s willing to kill to get them. Obviously, anyone named Evillene is bound to be a little bit naughty.

The Wicked Witch, Evilene (Melody A. Betts), tells her Winkies not to bring her any bad news in “The Wiz.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

“The Wiz” is not only updated from the classic, “Wizard of Oz” it’s an even more updated version of “The Wiz.” It’s not a copy of a copy but an improvement on the original production. The lines are sassier, funnier.

For some reason, the Wicked Witch runs a factory, but even her factory workers, the Winkies (the ensemble), don’t know what they’re manufacturing, but let’s not talk about “The Wiz” that was. This updated version is sheer joy.

“The Wizard of Oz” is pure fantasy where the hero is an ordinary kid who finds herself in extraordinary circumstances.  It appeals to children and adults alike. With “The Wiz” we get all of that  – and representation.

Dorothy finds her agency pretty quickly and that’s a good thing. Lewis (at 24 but looking 17) commands the stage. She is charismatic and charming.

Betts is a belter of the highest order. She has a powerful vocal instrument and uses it superbly.

Wilson’s Scarecrow was phenomenal. His movements were incredible as he flopped around like he was actually made of straw.  He also gave some great line reads.

Richardson’s Tinman is amazing. The character starts off stiff and clunky but the actor is smooth and graceful and once the Tinman’s oiled up, Richardson moves fluidly, effortlessly around the stage.

Freeman did a fantastic job as the Lion. He pounced and pranced his way into the hearts of the audience.  He’s a star.

Side note: The Lion has always been my favorite character (Burt Lahr and Ted Ross).

Mingo serves up a creepy Wiz. He’s scheming and despicable, but in the most delightful way.

Cox does such a great job as Glinda, it’s the first time I don’t want to smack her when she says, “You had the power to go home all along.”

P.S. I always wanted to grab the Tinman’s axe and chase after Billie Burke (Glinda from the original 1939 “Wizard of Oz”).

The cast is, literally and figuratively, wonderful. Every Winkie, Kalidah, Ozian and Poppy (it’s an amazing ensemble of talented actors, dancers and singers).

The kaleidoscopic costumes by Sharen Davis are out of this world. Cox’s Glinda’s outfit is a dazzling disco ball of perfection, sparkling, gleaming and dazzling the audience.

Hannah Beachler’s scenic design was amazing. Projection design by Daniel Brodie was the icing on this already delicious layer cake.

Beachler and Brodie worked in unison on the transition from Black & White to Color, like in the original 1939 Movie Musical. The audience was in awe as Dorothy left the drab Kansas farm and landed in the Crayola-colored Oz.

It was such a great show, you have to wonder why Dorothy wanted to go home.

If you want to see a fantastic production on a great big stage, ease on down the road, or in this case, avenue (Penn Avenue to be exact).


“The Wiz” runs from October 31st through November 5th at the Benedum Center, Seventh Street and Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.

Yinz is a Gender Neutral Pronoun – a film review of “Two Lives in Pittsburgh”

By Michael Buzzelli

Paramahansa Yogananda once said, “Life is a series of hellos and goodbyes.” That’s especially true for Bernie Evers (Brian Silverman) as he’s raising a child, Maddie( Emma Basques) while taking care of his mother, Carla (Annie O’Donnell), as she nears the end of her life in “Two Lives in Pittsburgh.”

The film premieres locally at the Three Rivers Film Festival on Thursday, November 9th at the Harris Theater in downtown Pittsburgh.

Carla is feisty. Maddie is fearless. Bernie, however, is riddled with fear and self-doubt. He’s having difficulty dealing with life after high school, especially when the boy he used to bully, Will Garcia (Mark McClain Wilson), shows up in his life as Maddie’s teacher.

Bernie doesn’t have a lot going for him. He’s a handyman with a crush on his mother’s caretaker, Theresa (Delissa Reynolds) and three Yinzer drinking buddies, Frizz (Robert John Brewer), Satch (Casey Braxton) and Jim (Sky Elobar). He lives a small, quiet life.

But Maddie is not content with the way things are.

It’s clear to Will, the school principal (Lola Noh), and Carla, that young Maddie was assigned male at birth, but does not want to follow that pre-designated trajectory.  When Maddie exposes her secret, other secrets brew up.

Bernie Evers (Brian Silverman) picks up Maddie( Emma Basques) and Carla (Annie O’Donnell) when Carla gets booted out of Maddie’s grade school for calling Maddie’s bully an obscene name.

The beauty of “Two Lives in Pittsburgh” is how a Yinzer who’s glory days were in high school has to contend with the secrets swirling around him.  Bernie handles it with his same steadfast normalcy. He’s the calm center, the eye of the storm.

“Two Lives in Pittsburgh” is a quiet film, but it’s low-key impact sneaks up on you. It packs a powerful punch in the final act. There’s a very charming center to the story.

Silverman wrote, directed and starred in this low-key masterpiece. He cast strong, capable actors in the roles. He gives his character some strong conflicts and doesn’t tidy everything up nice and neat. Like real life, doesn’t tie everything up in a neat bow, but gives the audience a satisfying ending.

O’Donnell is a terrific. She gets to play a wide range of emotions. She gets a tearful speech about bravery that will doubtlessly require many audience members to whip out the tissues and dab their eyes.

Basques is spectacular as Maddie.

Reynolds is another stand out in a film with strong actors. Her character, Theresa, is reasonable and logical, but approaches everyone with compassion. The actor’s own compassion seeps out.

Scenes of the city and the suburbs zip by, but Main Street in Carnegie shows up a few times. Shot by the down-to-earth cinematography of Tiffany Murray.

Bernie’s friends are perfectly cast. Silverman captures the essence of the characters – a group of subterranean Steeler fans.

Silverman’s Bernie is a working class guy, but he has a generous heart who has to learn about compassion. He passes with flying rainbow colors.

“Two Lives in Pittsburgh” is full of heart. It’s a great representation of a family facing issues that could easily overwhelm them. It’s a perfect showcase for a Pittsburgh film festival.


“Two Lives in Pittsburgh” has it’s Pittsburgh premiere at the Harris Theater, 809 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 as part of the Three Rivers Film Festival. For more information and additional details about the festival, click here


To me, you are beautiful – a review of “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk”

by Michael Buzzelli

When famous modernist artist Marc Chagall (Dan Mayhak) gets a call from a pretentious and elitist art snob (who speaks in metaphoric and bombastic gibberish), he looks back at his life with Bella Rosenfeld Chagall (Zanny Laird) in “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk.”

Marc and Bella reflect on their lives in words and songs. Perspectives between husband and wife flips a bit back and forth, but the audience gets a glorious glimpse into each of their souls.

They meet in Vitebsk ( or Vitsyebsk or Viciebsk), a small village in Russia (now Belarus), but their journey together takes them westward, geographically,  philosophically, idealistically.

Every time it looks like the world is ready to tear the Chagall’s to pieces, they rise up, fight or flee, surviving a multitude of perils. The tale is so lovingly told it’s hard not to fall in love with Marc and Bella despite their flaws.

Zanny Laird and Dan Mayhak recreate the iconic image from “Over the Town.”
Over the Town the 1918 painting by Marc Chagall.

“The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” is subtitled “The Chagall musical,” but it’s more a play with songs than an actual musical. The distinction is a slight one, but notable. The songs are interspersed into the story, but, while beautifully rendered by Douglas Levine and company, they are not integral to the plot. It’s a good thing because most of them are in another language.

Mayhak sings in Yiddish (and occasionally in English). Laird sings in Yiddish and French.  The only recognizable tune (at least for this gentle gentile) is “Bei Mir Bitsu Shein” made popular by the Andrews Sisters in the 40s (and no, I’m not THAT old).

Side note: When her now-husband, Lucas Fedele, proposed to Zanny Laird in Paris (take a moment to sigh and say, “How romantic!”), she didn’t speak a lick of French. You’d never know it. Edith Piaf would be proud.

Laird’s smile lights up the stage. Her character’s effervescent enthusiasm for life is infectious and Laird glows with charm. In the opening scenes, she bursts with joy when she details her first meeting with Chagall. Her love felt so powerfully real.

Mayhak does a remarkable job as the quixotic painter. He portrays Chagall in various stages of his life, idealistic young man, fervent artist, and despondent old codger.  In Yehuda Pen’s portrait of Chagall, Mayhak even looks like artist as a young man (in reality, Chagall looked more like Harpo Marx without the curly blond locks).

The Yiddish singing from both the actors is tremendously impressive. You don’t have to know the words to be stunned by their renditions. Their faces express the meaning of the music.

Daniel Jamieson and Ian Ross use the written word in wonderful ways (in book and lyrics). Instead of blushing, Bella describes her friend’s face as red as a freshly washed radish. The phrase seems so perfectly appropriate to spill out of the mouth of a Jewish woman from a tiny Russian village.

There’s even a meta moment when Chagall, commissioned to paint scenic backdrops for a Jewish theater company in Moscow, laments about the actors and props moving too much on stage.  Ironically, there does seem to be a little too much movement of the props under Gustavo Zajac’s direction, but his choreography of the actors is delicate and graceful. He does a fantastic job bringing this important story (at an important time) to life.

The band, Douglas Levine (keyboards), Cara Garofalo (violin) and Lenny Young (oboe, and English horn) play harmoniously, exquisitely. They also play a variety of background actors, mostly in non-speaking roles. Levine even manages to get a couple of the best laughs.

Grzegorz Labuda costumes look as if they are plucked from the Chagall closets. Bella is dressed in the frock identical to the one “Bella with White Collar,” a 1917 rendition of his wife looming large over Marc and Ida in a garden below.

Don’t let Stephanie Mayer-Staley’s stark white backgrounds fool you, they are the perfect canvas for Peter Brucker’s projection design.

Side note: This is Quantum Theatre’s 100th production and it rates high on a list of illustrious plays. This reviewer has not seen all one hundred, and it wouldn’t be fair to judge the artistic endeavors on a such a scale, but it’s another must-see show in a long line of must-see shows from Karla Boos and company.

“The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” is a marvelous proclamation of pain, loss and love. It’s about loving and living life to the fullest, even when faced with the most dire of circumstances, an affirmation of freedom joyously told.  Fly to the theater and see it.


“The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” runs from October 28 to November 26 at Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information, click here


There’s Nothing Like It – a review of “Closer Than Ever”

By Michael Buzzelli

Payten Blake, Libby Lindahl, Jantz Levin, and Will Chadek get to showcase their talents in David Shire and Richard Maltby’s “Closer Than Ever.”

There is no plot, characters, or theme in “Closer Than Ever,” but it’s a joyous revue with a plethora of catchy tunes. The two men and two women play multiple characters – at one point Man 1 (Levin) is Woman 3 in the song “Three Friends.” The first act is very heteronormative, but things get more fluid in the second act.

The show has no dialogue, except for some jocular adlibbing during the transitions. Don’t look for patterns in the show, which, ironically, has a song called, “Patterns” in it.

Just sit back, relax and let the music take you.

Payten Blake, Jantz Levin, Libby Lindahl and Will Chadek sing “Closer Than Ever.” Photo by John Altdorfer, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

There are some great songs.

Levin goes big with the zany ” What Am I Doin.'” A ditty from the POV of a stalker who is aware he’s crossed a line.  Levin sparkles in the song, and he’s never as creepy as Penn Badgley in “You.”

Joy seems to be oozing out of Levin in every performance.

Lindahl gets a fine moment to shine with “Life Story.” The song, a biography of a divorcee, frequently pops up in cabaret acts. It’s iconic and Lindahl does a terrific job with it.

Blake dazzles in “Back on Base.” The song is sultry and seductive but gently undercut with some sly humor.  She has oodles of natural charisma. If anything, Blake’s immense talent seems to be underutilized in a showcase. She is a star.

There’s a lot there when Levin and Chadek sing “There,” a reverse love song, where the two men fall out of love with one another. It’s one of the heavier songs in the production, but its delivered with enormous gravitas and pathos, heavy but not heavy-handed.

The show is at its best when all four performers grace the stage. During “Dating Again” the ensemble nails it. Each performer hits the right beats, musically and comically. The frenetic scene is adroitly choreographed by Eileen Grace Reynolds.

Hayden Bingham’s scenic design is a retro 70s musical variety show blast from the past. Picture a “Sonny & Cher” or “The Brady Bunch Variety Hour” set with the world’s largest Connect Four backdrop.

The show has more props and costume changes than it really needs, but its expertly directed by Tomé Cousin with musical direction of Robert Frankenberry. Rob even gets a moment or two to shine as well, singing some transitional music.

Catch it quick. “Closer Than Ever” closes sooner than you think. It’s up for one raucous weekend.

– MB

“Closer Than Ever” runs this weekend only from Wednesday, October 18 until Sunday, October 22 at the Highmark Theatre, 350 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.

Iolanthe and Lord Chancellor – Who Knew? – a Review of “Iolanthe”

By Claire DeMarco

Iolanthe (Savannah Simeone) is a fairy who disobeyed fairyland law by falling in love with a mortal.  This was an act absolutely forbidden! A big no, no!  She was banished for her indiscretion.

Iolanthe had a son Strephon (Andrew Mours) and more than 20 years later, history repeats itself.  Strephon is half fairy, half human.  He is captivated and falls in love with mortal Phyllis (Katie Manukyan).  Like mother, like son.  Phyllis loves Strephon. The passage of time has not changed the minds or relaxed the thinking of those in charge.  In fact, a law was passed making any matches between mortals and fairies illegal.  Strephon doesn’t face banishment like his mother, but rather death.

Strephon’s situation is additionally more tenuous than Iolanthe’s since his love has a number of mortals also interested in winning her affection.  Since Phyllis is a ward of the state, the Lord Chancellor (Logan Newman) has a lot to say about her future as do Thomas, Earl of Tolloller (Paul Yeater) and George, Earl of Mountararat (Sean Lenhart).  They all want Phyllis themselves!

Queen of the Fairies (Sarah Austin) is determined to fight this law.

What happens to Phyllis and Strephon.  Do they stay together?   Does Fairyland win the day or does Lord Chancellor and his cohorts?

Manukyan is charming and gullible as a young girl in love.  As a ward of the state and underage, she confronts roadblocks to her marriage.  She is intimidated and accepting of a future she has no control over.  Manukyan develops her character into a strong, determined woman in charge of her fate.

As a young actor Simeone is convincing as Strephon’s mother, banished from Fairyland and not accepted in the mortal world.  She portrays a natural maturity in the role and her singing voice is exceptional.

Mours portrays his character as a strong man in love, determined to marry his sweetheart. He also shows his insecurity as he ponders what happens to his immortal half fairy, half mortal side when he dies. “What’s to become of my other half when I’m buried?”

Austin holds court over the fairies.  She is firm when needed but deliciously funny as she laments her own love situation in a beautiful voice with “Oh, Foolish Fay”.  She commands respect but has a comic side seen through strong facial expressions.

Newman is delightful as the Lord Chancellor.  Totally believable as an upper-class Englishman, his movements are controlled.  His submission to movement is seen through his ever-waving white handkerchief.  Newman transitions into a more energetic human with comedic gymnastics as he sings of “Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest”.

Yeater and Lenhart shine as they join the Lord Chancellor in an amusing song and dance routine of “If You Go In.”

William Carter (Grenadier Guardsman) commands attention as he continues sentry duty with a clever delivery of “When All Night Long a Chap Remains.”

So how does a production whose theme is banishment, potential death, overbearing English peers and a group of fairies successfully become a comic opera?   Surprisingly, it’s rather easy when you have a large cast of talented vocalists and actors.

Note:  A name from the 21st century popped up during the Queen of the Fairies’ song “Oh, Foolish Fay.”  Jake Gyllenhaal?  How did that happen and why?  The original lyrics have the name as Captain Shaw.   Actor Savannah Simeone (Iolanthe) indicated that “nobody knows who Shaw was and Jake’s name was adapted in his place.”  It certainly heightens the comedic effect.

Note:  Depending on the performance date, many of the actors’ roles are performed by other members of the cast.

Kudos to the Pittsburgh Savoyards Orchestra and Conductor Guy Russo.

Excellent direction by Stage Director Michael McFaden.


“Iolanthe” is a production of Pittsburgh Savoyards and is presented at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, PA.  Performances run from October 13th through October 22. For more information, click here.

Of Horse and Home – a review of “The Bluegrass Mile”

By Michael Buzzelli

Two jockeys, Curtis Henshaw (Kymir Cogdell-Freeman) and ABCD (Malic Maat), whose name is pronounced Ab-see-dee, compete in an important horse race, “The Bluegrass Mile” in a new play written and directed by Pittsburgh Playwright’s founder, Mark Clayton Southers (the latest installment in Southers’ 19th Century Collection).

Most of the play’s action takes place in a boarding house owned and operated by Rosa Lee Drew (Chrystal Bates). Rosa Lee spends most of her day cleaning, cooking, and tending to her guests. The rest of her time is spent squabbling with longtime border, Kermit Thomas (Charles E. Timbers, Jr.).

Henshaw arrives in a mess of trouble from the local sheriff (David Whalen).  Since the young man is carrying a saddle, the sheriff assumes he stole it and possibly a horse to go with it. Rosa Lee eases tensions by offering the sheriff a drink from her bar.  The sheriff wants more. He wants Rosa Lee to sell him the house, but she won’t give up her home or her livelihood.

Meanwhile, sparks are flying between William Pickford (Kevin Brown) and Rosa Lee.

At the fateful Bluegrass Mile race, things go horribly awry. Curtis and ABCD’s lives are in danger from an incident on the track with a horse owned by Henrietta Cogsdale (Kendra McLaughlin), a rich white woman.

Southers’ play is triumphant. It’s got plenty of humor in a taut, suspenseful drama. The second act, like the Bluegrass Mile itself, races to the end. While he drops hints throughout the show, there are still a few twists that hit with audible gasps.

The show exudes a Wilsonian tone. Because it utilizes a lot of similar elements to an August Wilson show, its easy to see the comparisons. Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theater last play, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” is also set in a boarding house.

Bates is marvelous as the proprietor of the boarding house. She plays Rosa Lee with motherly reverence. The character has closed herself off after her husband died, but William Pickford’s presence stirs something inside her. Bates reveals secrets with a knowing look or a furtive smile.

Whalen portrays a bully of a sheriff. While he claims to be a lawman who upholds the rights of all of his constituents, he is threatening, menacing, and at times, almost evil. Whalen exhibits a range of strong emotions, mostly anger, hatred, greed, and distrust, but the sheriff shows a softer side.

Maat gets a fair share of funny lines and delivers them expertly. He is an accomplished actor with oodles of charm.

Brown makes the most of a smaller role.

Newcomer Cogdell-Freeman is excellent. The fifteen-year-old CAPA student has a potential to be a star in the Pittsburgh theater firmament.

McLaughlin is seen all too briefly in this play, but does a fantastic job. In the manner of any genteel, Southern lady, her character issues threats with a bright, wide smile. She is dressed in an authentic-looking costume courtesy Kimberly Brown (no relation to Kevin Brown) with hair and makeup from Cheryl El Walker.

The entire plot hinges on a monologue delivered by Timbers and he does it with passion and grace. It’s a very moving moment.

The set is another masterpiece by Tony Ferrieri. The now-retired Ferrieri shows no signs of slowing down in his decades as a scenic designer for every major theatrical production company in Pittsburgh.

Deftly stage managed by Ashley Southers (this one is related, she’s Mark Clayton Southers’ daughter).

“The Bluegrass Mile” has a lot of potential. It would be easy to picture a Broadway production of the show. Kudos to the cast and crew for making a riveting evening of theater on the Hill.

“The Bluegrass Mile” runs from October 7th – 29th at the newly christened Carter Redwood Theater in the Madison Arts Center, 3401 Milwaukee Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. For more information, click here

Where There’s a Will – a review of “The Book of Will”

By Claire DeMarco

Everyone should have friends like Henry Condell (Marc Duchin) and John Heminges (Art DeConciliis).  William Shakespeare did! After his death actors Condell and Heminges often meet with other actors regaling each other with reciting, acting out and conjecturing about Will’s work and the many roles they played.

Richard Burbage (John Reilly), also one of Shakespeare’s actors and supporters is the most vocal about the bard. He enthusiastically pontificates about Will and the roles (especially Hamlet) that he’s performed.  Burbage has more knowledge about all the plays attributed to Shakespeare.

When Burbage dies Condell and Heminges realize the importance of gathering all Shakespeare’s works.  They start a campaign to identify all his writings, collect and retrieve them, eliminate those pirated by other writers and finally publish all of his works in a First Folio.

Supporting this effort were Heminges’ wife, Rebecca (Meighan Lloyd Harding), their daughter, Alice (Amanda Weber) and Condell’s wife, Elizabeth (Stacey Rosleck).

Note:  The females all appear more than supportive with encouragement and actually are seen reading and reviewing the scripts as they are recovered.  I’m not sure this was the case in the 1600’s or that the women could even read, but I’d like to think it was so.

Shakespeare’s legacy lives on.  Thanks to friends like Henry Condell and John Heminges.

Art DeConciliis as John Heminges Photo credit : Hawk Photography and Videography LLC
Henry Condell (Marc Duchin, John Heminges (Art DeConciliis) and Alice Heminges (Amanda Weber) gather in a tavern. Photo credit : Hawk Photography and Videography LLC

Andy Coleman is outstanding as the flamboyant Jonson.  He is hilarious in his “tipsy” scene with Weber.  Without being obnoxiously drunk his delivery is intelligent, controlled and spot on. He transitions easily into a more thoughtful, caring, though at times, belligerent Shakespeare supporter.

Reilly comes out blazing as his theatrical, exuberant and dramatic presentation of Burbage captures the stage.  He is vocal, loud and proud of his delivery and participation in the Bard’s life.

Duchin’s character develops into one of the original forces behind the search for all of Shakespeare’s works.  His character changes from the friend who is more positive and confident in that search into one full of fear and anxiety as the project hits several road blocks.

DeConciliis’ character is the more hesitant of the two friends as they start their adventure. He agonizes over any obstacle that impedes the project.  He however, is the one who becomes more confident when the partners see a viable end to their venture.  His scene when personal tragedy strikes is touching and powerful.

Patrick Conner delivers as the sly, unethical businessman who has eighteen of Shakespeare’s plays (that he stole) and wants to deal.

As the daughter of the innkeeper, Weber cleverly inserts herself into much of the discussion about finding the scripts.  She is confident participating with the men on this project.

Rosleck plays Elizabeth as her husband’s supporter, prodder and equal partner in their quest for Shakespeare’s lost scripts.  Some of her clever retorts highlight her comedic side.

Lloyd Harding’s character is a strong woman able to keep her husband focused, bolstering his confidence when he falters.  She is positive, yet forceful.

“The Book of Will” is a wonderful production.  Every actor in this show was outstanding!

You’re bound to love it!

The set is minimal with a large table where most of the action occurs.  As the printing process begins, rope lines of Shakespeare’s scripts hang above the table highlighting part of the antiquated printing process.

Costume Designer Barbara Burgess-Lefebrve did a great job designing the period pieces.

Kudos to Director Sunny Disney-Fitchett.

“The Book of Will” was written by Lauren Gunderson and is based on a true story.


“The Book of Will” runs from October 5 to October 22 at Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive, Canonsburg, PA 15301. For more information, click here.


Losing My Religion- a review of “When Jesus Divorced Me”

By Michael Buzzelli

Laura Irene Young (Bubble Boy) recounts an unsuccessful marriage to her ex, who played Jesus in a Christian theme park, in her one-woman show, “When Jesus Divorced Me.”

Young’s show is part standup, and part folk concert.  She describes her unfortunate encounter with a handsome actor she met in Summer Stock in the middle of some nowhere place in Ohio.

Young literally lays out the plot of the show when she divulges a story about her mother, an amateur occultist, reads her future hubby’s palm.  The whole story is, literally and figuratively, drawn out in lines across his hand.

Young isn’t completely blind to the red flags. Much to her chagrin, Stage Manager Erika Cuenca keeps flashing the red flags on the screen behind her, but the performer, however, proceeds without caution into a relationship destined to be doomed.

The husband, like Lord Voldemort, is He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and his name is bleeped out several times with wet fart sounds (thanks to sound designer Shannon Knapp).

To further protect the ex-hubby’s anonymity, several photographs have a goofy, yellow Smiley over his face to protect, in this case, the not-so-innocent.

Laura Irene Young reclaims her power.

Scenes from a Marriage with Laura Irene Young and her former husband.

Young has created and performed a show in a way no one else could. “When Jesus Divorced Me” is a very personal story and Young manages to tell it in the most, engaging and imaginative way.  She is brimming with personality.  Young is a powerful presence on the stage.

She shares goofy songs with extremely clever rhymes mostly with a ukulele and, sometimes, a keyboard to drive home her points.

There is an excellent use of projection by Natalie Rose Mabry.  The projections actually provide important context.

Lonnie the Theatre Lady, this reviewer’s opening night companion, said, “There are so many magical moments in this show!”

The show is delightfully directed by Allison M. Weakland.
“When Jesus Divorced Me” is a surprise. It’s a wonderfully uplifting tale about Young at her lowest moments, but from the depths of despair she reaches the heights of joy and the audience goes right along with her.

“When Jesus Divorced Me” runs from October 6th-21st at the Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. For more information, click here. 

“Accent on Broadway!” – A Review of Mauricio Martínez at the Greer Cabaret Theater

By Claire DeMarco

Mexican actor and singer Mauricio Martínez excited Pittsburgh audiences at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Cabaret Series on Monday, October 2 at the Greer Cabaret Theater.  Well-known in his native Mexico, Martínez has also made inroads in the theater world here in the States.

An Enemy-winning performer, Martínez blended a combination of hit Broadway tunes with a dash of comedy and delightful interaction with the audience.

Martínez’s introduction on stage began with a montage of pre-recorded video clips  from his Sizzle Reel (video clips performers use as an audition tool) that highlighted his humor.

Mauricio Martínez sings “To Dream the Impossible Dream” from “The Man of La Mancha.”

His choice of musical numbers covered many wonderful Broadway shows.   Selections from decades of musicals included “One Night Only” (“Dreamgirls”), “The Impossible Dream” (“Man of La Mancha”), “If Ever I Should Leave You” (“Camelot”), “Another Hundred People” (“Company”),  and “You’ll Be Back” (“Hamilton”).

Martínez dedicated a song to his mom who absolutely adores “The Phantom of the Opera.”   It’s her wish that her son plays that role someday.  The song “The Music of the Night,” a moving song in English is absolutely beautiful sung in Spanish.

Martínez had excellent accompaniment by Pianist and Musical Director, Brian Nash.

It was a wonderful evening with a multi-talented singer and performer.

The next production in the Greer Cabaret Series is “Meow Meow”, Monday, November 6.  For more information, click here. or check out “Tick…Tick…Boom” running in the same space until October 22. For information about that show, click here.