Find Holiday Magic at Little Lake’s White Christmas

Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD

Mid-century classic movies like White Christmas (1954) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) are synonymous with the holidays. Unlike visits from some relatives, these films are a happy, feel-good part of the holiday reunion season. The 2000 theatrical musical adaptation of White Christmas by Irving Berlin, Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, Melvin Frank, David Ives, and Paul Blake features 17 enchanting Irving Berlin songs.

As Little Lake Theatre Company closes its 75th anniversary season with White Christmas, two classics unite. What makes this particular show incredibly special is that real-life Hawk sisters Alexis (Betty) and Samantha (Judy) play the fictional sister singing act, the Haynes Sisters. They authentically capture the range of intuition, banter, cattiness, and the sixth sense of sisters whose shared childhood has them in lockstep sync, whether they want to be or not. The sisterly duo turns family trio as mom Kathy Hawk capably steers the show as director.

The play tracks WW2 veterans and musical act, Captain Bob Wallace (Dylan Pal) and Private Phil Davis (EJ Christopher). We see them go from performing for their compadres in army camo to appearing bedecked in sequins on The Ed Sullivan Show. Kathy Hawk deftly directs Pal and Christopher to evolve from slightly hapless to polished professionals in the space of those sequences to demonstrate the refinement and evolution of their act.

The cast of “White Christmas.” Photo credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

The play subtly demonstrates how military hierarchy extends beyond the bounds of service. Costume designer Ayana Sicheri has Captain Wallace in a black sequined blazer, whereas the lower ranked Private Davis only gets a black sequined vest. Later, their assistant Tessie (Audrey Wells) pointedly notes to Wallace that “You and Mr. Davis are on the train.” Kathy Hawk has Wells adjust her tone and issue a subtle eye roll to indicate Davis is the lesser of the duo. They do end up on a train – but to Pine Tree, Vermont instead of Miami – as Wallace and Davis fall for (and follow) the singing Haynes sisters.

After dreaming of a White Christmas, Pine Tree, Vermont finally gets snow. Photo credit: Hawk Photography and Multimedia LLC

The flipside of privilege is discrimination, and we see military service isn’t always a benefit. The duo’s former commanding officer, General Waverly (John Herrmann), is in danger of losing his Vermont inn. The song “What Can You Do With a General?” reinforces the paradox of the general – respected but overqualified for civilian life. Wallace and Davis organize the original GoFundMe to save Waverly’s inn by calling in their 151st division mates to descend on his inn for Christmas.

Military service isn’t the only discrimination we see in the play. As Phil, Christopher consistently ogles the ladies, even after he unites with Judy, reinforcing stereotypes of the lowly private as uncouth. Pal demonstrates a sense of discernment associated with rank. As Captain, he is more subtle in his pursuit of the ladies and focuses more on the duo’s career advancements.

As career military, the General seems clueless about women. He huffs at his innkeeper, Martha (Lisa McCoy), that he “got along just fine without you in the army.” McCoy’s snappy comeback that “It took 17,000 men to take my place,” elicits laughter and foreshadows feminism with her post-WW2 Rosie the Riveter confidence. By the end of the play, Waverly has evolved and realized the truth in her statement. He refers to Martha as “his superior,” suggesting a new worldview in which men no longer anchor gender to hierarchy.

The play opens on Christmas Eve 1944 as Wallace and Davis perform for the troops. They ponder what 1945 will bring and then wonder where everyone will be in 10 years in impossibly far away 1954 (no one suspects Pine Tree, VT). In the midst of war, they solemnize, “let’s pray it’s a better world.” As 2023 bends into 2024, one thinks of the coming year and a seemingly far decade out. Let’s hope history holds, and it’s a better world in 2033 too.


Find joy this holiday season. White Christmas runs through December 16, 2023 at Little Lake Theatre Company in Canonsburg, PA. Purchase tickets online at

If Ignorance is Bliss, Why Are All These Polish People So Ornery – A Review of The Last Mass at St. Casimir’s

By: Joseph Szalinski

Nineteen-seventy-seven was the year that Buffalo, New York saw a lot of snow. And I’m not just talking about Rick James’ house. The infamous Blizzard of ’77 ravaged the city, shutting it down and claiming a few lives in the process. It’s during this winter calamity that Butler Little Theatre’s latest show, The Last Mass at St. Casimir’s, produced by Karen O’Donnell, takes place. While being the third entry in a semi-autobiographical trilogy of plays by Buffalo playwright, Tom Dudzick, audiences aren’t required to have seen the first two to understand or appreciate the swan song of a saga that traces the trajectory of the Pazinski family as they navigate life and all of its complexities.

Our glimpse into the lives of these pieróg enthusiasts begins with siblings Eddie (Steve Kalina) and Annie (Deanna Sparrow) hobbling into their family’s former tavern as the latter is suffering from an encounter with a lamppost. You know, a pole she isn’t related to. The pair are eventually joined by their brothers George (Matt Leslie) and Rudy (Sam Thinnes), and ultimately the matriarch of the family, their mother, Ellen (Katie Moore).

Everyone has gathered to see off the tavern and attend one final mass at St. Casimir’s before its imminent demolition. It’s almost like a Slavic-American spin on Deliverance’s “one last hurrah” that’s set on Lake Erie instead of the Chattooga River, and without the murder, pig squealing, or inbred banjo players. Thank God. As the storm rages on, our five favorite Polka People find themselves trapped by the snowfall, forced to face hard truths, argue about religion, and handle some big news. All dealt with splendidly by a compelling quintet. The cast is rounded out by a handful of voiceover roles heard via the Pazinski’s radio, performed by Disco Jake, Bob Cupp, Tyler Friel, Ryan Saeler, Jay Kline, Bob Dandoy, and director Jerry Johnston.

The cast of “The Last Mass of St. Casimir” from left to right: Deanna Sparrow, Katie Moore, Steve Kalina (Back at the bar) Matt Leslie and Sam Thinness.

Deanna Sparrow is fantastic as Annie, the sole Pazinski sister. She masterfully demonstrates her comfortability slipping into character. Oscillating between comedic moments and dramatic ones, Sparrow’s turn as Annie is both riotous and raw.

Steve Kalina is terrific as Eddie, a veteran with a passion for art who isn’t Bob Ross. He embodies someone who’s tough and tortured, a balance brilliantly brought to the stage.

Sam Thinnes charms and occasionally annoys as Rudy, the witty youngest brother of a Polish family who is skeptical about faith and aspires to be a writer, all the while cracking insensitive jokes. Yeah, totally not relatable at all…haha…far more than the playwright’s self-insert, Rudy symbolizes a rejection of the derivative development that shackles his siblings yet is spackled with echoes of a way of life he’s desperate to deviate from. Thinnes’ performance is wonderful and perfectly demonstrates his capability as an actor.

Matt Leslie delights as George, or Georgie as he’s called. His rendition of the character avoids caricaturizing someone facing mental illness, and instead provides plenty of depth equally bottomless as Georgie’s stomach. Despite having less variety in dialogue than his castmates, his performance is still powerful, due largely to his layered physicality.

Katie Moore is a joy to watch as Ellen. A character whose blend of stubbornness and being a source of comfort and sober judgement, is executed effortlessly.

The play’s sixth character comes in the form of the tavern itself. Being a place so instrumental in the upbringing of the Pazinski children, Chet’s Bar and Grill, named after their late father, is as much of a relative as any of the other family members who are merely mentioned and not featured onstage. For as cold as the scene is outside the windows of the closed establishment, there is a warmth that exists within its walls. It feels familiar. Even to those who’ve never ventured to Western New York or were alive during disco’s heyday. Chet’s is a place that we wouldn’t mind being trapped in ourselves, provided there’s plenty of Coca-Cola and potato chips to help us weather whatever weather that rears its ugly head.

Reflecting on the environment also enables one to acknowledge BLT’s position as a storied staple of the community that houses it. An inviting venue that boasts phenomenal productions, Butler Little Theatre is a pioneering institution in a city that is embracing the arts more and more, particularly live entertainment. The Last Mass of St. Casimir’s is another great show in their 2023-2024 season.


The Last Mass of St. Casimir runs Through December 9th at the Butler Little Theatre, One Howard Street, Butler, PA 16001. For more information, click here

Naughty, Naughty, Naughty – a Review of “Who’s Holiday”

By Claire DeMarco

Does the name Cindy Lou Who (Lara Hayhurst) ring a bell with you?   If not, here’s a clue. Cindy was one of the children involved in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.

Several decades later, we meet grown up Cindy Lou as she meticulously and with finite detail tells her story from that earlier point in time to the present.  Peppered with every sentence and history (as she often takes a drink or two) is a barrage of expletives and some intimate stories that affected her life since she was a child.

Cindy Lou is hosting a Christmas party and she chats with the audience while waiting for her guests to arrive.  We learn about her marriage and divorce plus the birth of her only child.  Also revealing is her past problem with the law.  Cindy Lou is not a “cry me a river” personality and although she has many life regrets and sorrows, she delivers most of her troubles with humor and is upbeat about the future.

Note:  Cindy Lou’s entire delivery is done in rhyming verse.

After several invitees call indicating that they can’t attend, we get the idea that no one is coming.

Note:  Someone does come to her party after all!  Surprise guest!

Cindy Lou Who (Lara Hayhurst) is all grown up and ready to party. Photo credit: kgtunney

This adult show is outrageously funny with plenty of laughs sprinkled among the more serious subjects.

Hayhurst delights as Cindy Lou.  Her engagement with the audience is intimate and direct. She easily pulls the audience into Cindy Lou’s life story.   Constantly moving around the set, her energy is contagious.  Even the foul language and innuendoes that spew from her mouth aren’t as offensive since she delivers them with a smile or a laugh. In spite of all her off color and bold remarks, Hayhurst highlights her character’s loneliness.

The set is detailed. The living room/kitchen of her trailer is glitzy, sparkling and festive, displaying every shade of red and green imaginable. Several full-sized Christmas trees are on the perimeter of the stage and huge Christmas ornaments hang above it.  Gift packages are piled high.  Lights explode everywhere. Kudos to Set and Video Designer Bruce Cutler.

Shout out to Lighting Designer Cat Wilson.

Excellent Direction by Trey Compton.

“Who’s Holiday” was written by Matthew Lombardo.

Now it’s time to end this review.                                                                                           With a rhyme created just for you.                                                                                             If you want an evening of fun and sin                                                                                  See this show!  Come right in!

Warning!  This is an adult only production and is not suited for children due to the obscene language and depictions of substance and alcohol abuse.


 “Who’s Holiday” is a production of the Pittsburgh CLO Kara Cabaret Series. Performances at the Greer Cabaret Theater run from December 1st through December 31st. For more information, click here.


Mary’s Christmas – a review of “Miss Bennett: Christmas at Pemberley”

By Michael Buzzelli

Mary Bennet(Gabrielle Kogut ) gets the spotlight when she meets and falls madly in love with Lord Arthur de Bourgh (Michael Patrick Trimm) in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.”

Those Bennet girls are together again – straight outta “Pride and Prejuidice.”

Elizabeth Darcy (Sophia Macy) – our protagonist from the O.G. book (miniseries, movies, etc.) – has invited the entire Bennet clan for Christmas.  Right before their arrival, Mr. Fitzwilliam-we-never-use-his-first-name Darcy (Hansel Tan) discovers his cousin Arthur is also joining the festivities. Huzzah! 

A very pregnant Jane Bingley (Alex Manalo) and her husband Charles (James Counihan) descend on Pemberley with sister Mary in tow.  There are immediate sparks between Arthur and Mary. The duo bond over their various interests from geography, cartography, philosophy, anthropology, and more (all of the ologies).

Always the problem child, Lydia Wickham ( a zany Alex Sheffield) shows up and, though married to the wicked Mr. Wickham (who is forever banished from Pemberley), sets her sights on Lord de Bourgh for some flirty fun.

Another complication plops down on the doorstep of Pemberley manor when the once-jilted never-shy Lady Anne de Bourgh ( a marvelously snooty Leyla Davis) rears her haughty head. Anne’s nose is so high in the air it’s a wonder said proboscis doesn’t scrape the vaulted ceilings.

Things come to a crescendo on the piano forte and in the drawing room on Christmas Eve, but, luckily, all is resolved by Christmas morn!

Mr. Bingley (James Counihan), Miss. Bennet (Alex Manalo), (Sophia Macy), and (Gabrielle Kogut) all gather around the Christmas tree in “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley.” Photo Credit: Kristi Jan Hoover.

Playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon holiday sequel to “Pride and Prejudice” is incredibly faithful Austen’s beloved book.  All of Bennet’s, Bingley’s and Darcy’s retain their personalities from the source material.  Its as if the characters from the books stepped off the page to tell us what happens after the “Happily Ever After.” Wisely, the duo aims their lens at Mary, the unsung middle child, but still gives Elizabeth and Darcy some beautiful bon mots.

Side note: Arthur is the only character created for this play. Gunderson and Melcon wedge him into the stratified society of the de Bourgh’s and Darcy’s like expert Tetris players.

“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” is a delightful holiday excursion with a dynamite cast.

Kogut shines as the know-it-all-but-not-really Mary. She gets to portray a myriad of emotions and she does it adroitly.

Timm’s de Bourgh wears his heart on his gorgeously-tailored sleeve (shout out to Hugh Hanson’s costumes). It’s a great performance.

Macy is pure perfection. She’s the Lizzy from every adaptation rolled into one, a quintessential Elizabeth Bennet Darcy. When Macy and Manalo are on stage together, everyone’s favorite sisters are back and better than ever. Their affection for one another seemed so beautifully genuine.

Tan does a marvelous job as the stuffy-but-lovable Mr. Darcy (its almost as if his first name is Mister).  He even gets in an actual Austen line or two, parroting lines from his wife/the book.

While this comedy of manners is replete with dialogue there are some wonderful moments that take place in silence. Counihan’s Bingley gets a marvelous bit of business in a scene with Tan’s Darcy. It’s laugh-out loud lunacy as they discuss the imminent arrival of Baby Bingley.

Anne Mundell’s sumptuous scenic design brings you right into Pemberley. When the second act curtain rises, there’s a moment of pure Christmas joy.

While there is certainly enough drama in this comedy, Jane’s pregnancy seems to break a Chekhovian rule.  She’s so very pregnant and, yet, never gives birth. They might want to scale back the baby bump in future productions.

Under a lesser director, “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” could have easily become a vacuous Hallmark Christmas movie, but Kyle Haden moves the romcom to higher ground.

If you’re ready for some Christmas magic, this is the show for you. Somehow, Gunderson and Melcon are able to turn the simple unfurling of a map into a powerful emotional moment.

As an Austen aficionado, I didn’t plan on liking “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” but, as Jane Austen once wrote in P & P, “I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.”


“Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” runs from November 27 till December 17 at the Pittsburgh City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.

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