Bullseye – A review of “Bang Bang”


By Lonnie the Theater Lady

Comtra Theater was transformed into a Las Vegas style cabaret this past Friday,(May 24). Ingrid Ullrich, an international performer and Point Park dance school graduate produced and performed in “Bang Bang,” an energetic, glamorous, snazzily choreographed, musical showcase.

The choices for the musical numbers cover several decades. The eclectic variety of songs has something for everyone to enjoy. Prince, Elvis, The Weathergirls, Broadway show tunes, old classics,(Big Spender) are all part of the mix! Audience members couldn’t resist singing and clapping with many of the numbers.

Vaughn  Hudspath, the emcee, has almost as many costume changes as the cast of “Greater Tuna.”  His costumes are as sexy and glitzy as the women’s are. His humor adds to the overall celebratory tone of the show. He’s especially comical in the audience participation segments of the show. His  Improvised comments and ad-libs are truly hilarious.

Ullrch is an amazing performer. Her dance moves are fluid, graceful, funky, and spirited, in turn. Every one of her movements demonstrates an awareness of how her entire body is moving through space. Such perfection seen in a small venue is breathtaking. Sophia Tinstman and Viviana Rocca, the other dancers are exuberant, effervescent and a delight to watch, as well.

Ingrid Ulrich’s “Bang Bang.”

Ullrich is also a well accomplished vocalist, with a melodious voice that conveys a wide range of emotion. The other vocalists, Michelle Johnson and Claire DeArmitt truly rock the house. When Johnson sings, she powerfully belts it out—- eliciting shouted encouragement and enthusiastic vocal approval from the audience! DeArmitt has impressive vocal skills and a powerful stage presence coupled with real charisma.

All of the colorful costumes are gorgeous! Adorned with sequins, glitter, and beaded fringe that whirls right along with the dancers.

It was announced that this spectacular show is soon to be performed on Carnival Cruise Line ships. I’m certain that the passengers will be delighted to see these lively, explosive performers and they’ll agree that this production truly lives up to its name!

-Lonnie the Theatre Lady

For more information about upcoming events at Comtra Theatre, click here

Glee Wiz – What an Evening! – a Review of “Matthew Morrison at the Greer Cabaret Theater”

By Claire DeMarco

Matthew Morrison came to Pittsburgh to play, sing, and entertain!

Indeed, he did on Monday, May 20th.

Morrison is a multi-talented actor and singer, nominated for Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe awards (just to name several).

A few of his many television appearances include “The Good Wife,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Glee.”

With his pianist, Brad Ellis (both “Glee” alumni), Morrison regaled the audience with a multitude of vocals from an eclectic mix of songs.  Included were “On the Street Where You Live” from “My Fair Lady”, “Rocket Man” by Elton John, “The Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera”.

Note:  Ellis has been Morrison’s music director for most of his shows world-wide.

Matthew Morrison

Especially moving were Morrison’s renditions of “Send in the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” and “Smile” written by Charlie Chaplin.

He accompanied some of his songs playing a ukulele.

Morrison had a genuine and immediate rapport with the audience, engaging them throughout his performance.  They were so comfortable with his interaction that it was not unusual to hear a friendly shout out occasionally from a member of the audience, indicating their support.

His talk often centered on how he got started in the business, some of the projects he’s been involved in, plans for the future.  His main topic centered on his wife, Renee Puente and their two children.  Renee accompanied him to Pittsburgh and Morrison brought her on stage.  Puente is a wonderful singer and the couple sang several songs together.  It was delightful to watch them and marvel at their talent.

Morrison was called back to the stage for an encore and with the audience’s suggestion, he went through a litany of songs from “Hairspray.”

What a wonderful evening with a great talent!

-CED

 “Matthew Morrison” is the last production of the Trust Cabaret Series for the 2023-2024 season.  Check out the wonderful lineup for the 2024-2025 at Trustarts.org. For more information about other upcoming events, click here.

 

A Holiday to Remember – Review of “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”


By Claire DeMarco

Billie Holiday, famous jazz and swing singer/songwriter was born as Eleanora Fagan. She had a problematic childhood, grew up poor, was forced to work at a very young age. A major relief that helped allay this troubled environment was her exposure to black entertainers like Louis Lanie Robertson’s musical play tells Billie Holiday’s (Gabrielle Lee) life story. Based on stories about the famous icon and the selection of some of the songs she made famous, we have a perspective of the turbulent life she led. This musical play was based on one of Holiday’s last performances before her early death.

Note: Longtime musical partner, Lester Young, gave Holiday the nickname Lady Day.

Lee shines as Holiday. She has total command of the stage. Interspersed with the songs is the verbal walkthrough of Holiday’s life from her turbulent childhood to encounters with racism to drug and alcohol abuse. Lee subtly develops the transition in her character from a singer with a bit too much to drink to a totally intoxicated woman as she continues her life story.

Lee’s performance is anything but static. She often interacts directly with the audience, coming down from the stage, talking to them, pulling them into her world.

Billie Holiday (Gabrielle Lee) wows the crowd.

Her excellent acting is complimented by a beautiful singing voice. What a delight to hear her renditions of songs like “When a Woman Loves a Man”, “Somebody’s on My Mind” and “God Bless the Child” (a song she wrote for her mother) and “T’ain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do,” Lee’s delivery of “Strange Fruit” was especially poignant.

Kenney Green-Tilford plays Jimmy Powers, Holiday’s pianist and longtime confidant. Green-Tilford is also the musical conductor for this production.
Bow Wow to Scrappy Mason making his on-stage debut as Holiday’s canine companion, Pepi!

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grille” is a fantastic start to Pittsburgh CLO’s 78th season.

Musical play by Lanie Robertson.

Scenic Designer Holly M. Fleischer captures the essence of a well-worn nightclub with a massive brick wall as the backdrop. The use of minimal physical props allows the attention to rest solely on Lee.

Great job by Director Tomé Cousin.

-CED

“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” is a production of the Pittsburgh CLO. Performances run from May 17th – June 30th at the Greer Cabaret Theater. For more information, click here

[Please note the following from Pittsburgh CLO: Gabrielle Lee will perform the role of Billie Holiday for all performances May 17th-31st and then starting on June 1st through June 30th, she will share the role with Ayana Del Valle. Beginning on June 1st, Ayana Del Valle will perform the role of Billie Holiday on Wednesday evenings and Saturday Matinees while Gabrielle Lee will continue to perform all other performances]

A Plus for Alice – a review of “A…My Name is Still Alice”

By Michael Buzzelli

In 1983, a musical revue (with some comedic sketches) premiered under the name, “A… My Name is Alice.” The title was taken by the ABC game/rhyme, frequently sung on playgrounds across America. Now, Joan Micklin Silver and Julianne Boyd are back with “A…My Name is Still Alice,” a sequel of sorts…i.e. another musical revue (with some comedic sketches).

Side note: There is a follow-up called, “My Name Will Always Be Alice,” which is a combination of the two previous revues.

Five actors, Natalie Hatcher, Kristiann Menotiades, Delilah Picart, Saige Smith and Becki Toth play various roles (the two understudies Michaela Isenberg and Maya Fullard show up in the grand finale).

The mood and theme shift with each song, from laugh-out-loud funny to melancholy and back again.

While there’s no plot. There is a point. It’s a poignant and humorous look at women’s roles in the 90s. One scathing sketch has Toth playing a doctor who treats a problem men might have with the condescension and flippancy a male doctor would treat a genealogical illness. It’s hilarious and brilliant, and Toth ekes out every scrap of humor in her portrayal.

Cast from left to right: Becki Toth, Saige Smith, Kristiann Menotiades, Natalie Hatcher, Delilah Picart. Photo Credit: Deana Muro

The five stars of the show are amazing.

The aforementioned Toth shines in every role. Her comedic timing is flawless, and her singing is noteworthy.

Smith is charismatic and charming, lighting up the stage every time she trods the boards. There is a powerful moment where Smith and Toth play mother and daughter facing a crisis in the song, “What Did I Do Right,” that is particularly moving.

Menotiades shines in “A Lovely Little Life.”

Hatcher is another gifted comedic actor who is an accomplished singer. While she is delightful in every scene, she brings the house down in the finale like a Broadway Belter.

Picart is delightfully madcap, especially in a song called, “Sensitive New Age Men” where she pulls Doug Levine and the band into the action.

Levine and company, Paul Thompson and Lindsey Lamagna are fantastic musicians who work tirelessly throughout the show.

Nancy McNulty McGeever makes her directorial debut with Front Porch Theatricals. She does an amazing job, putting her actors everywhere on the stage, utilizing every inch of the scenery.

“A…My Name is Still Alice” is giving off a distinct 90s vibe. Jonmichael Bohach’s scenic design is Glendale Galeria meets “Saved By the Bell,” complete with turquoise and purple swirl found on cineplex soda cups, t-shirts and whatnot (Google Designer Gina Ekiss of the Sweetheart/Solo Cup company if you want to spiral down a bizarre 90s-themed rabbit hole).

While some of the show is unnecessarily prop heavy, there is brilliant moment in the song, “Wheels,” where Smith pulls a cloth headband from her hair and uses it to simulate handlebars on a bicycle.  McGeever and choreographer Ashley Harmon infuse the scene joyous abandon, and Smith plays it with childlike exuberance.

The show is PG-13. The one F-bomb was mimed silently on opening night, but the case can be made for bringing your children to see this show. In a world where ‘Roe v. Wade’ is being repealed, and football players are giving reprehensible graduation speeches about keeping women barefoot and pregnant, “A…My Name is Still Alice” might be the elixir we need.

-MB

“A…My Name is Still Alice” runs from May 17 to May 26 at the New Hazlett Theatre, 6 Allegheny Square East, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, click here.

Two Is Better Than One, But Three Will Suffice: The Frick Pittsburgh and The Frick Collection Conjoin for a Once-in-a-Lifetime Father-Daughter Art Exhibition

By Gina McKlveen

When Helen Clay Frick was a young girl living in Pittsburgh, her father, Henry Clay Frick, the famed (for better or for worse) industrialist who founded a local coke manufacturing company, H.C. Frick & Company, and chaired much of the region’s steel manufacturing business that eventually developed into the U.S. Steel conglomerate, asked Helen what she wanted as a gift to celebrate her becoming a debutante, to formally introduce herself into society, she requested that her father make a land donation to the City of Pittsburgh, which would eventually become a public park, better known today as Frick Park. Years later, long after her father passed away, Helen commissioned the building of an art museum next to this park where she kept her vast and personal art collection. This art museum is The Frick Art Museum at The Frick Pittsburgh.

Prior to founding her own art museum, Helen oversaw the establishment of Henry’s personal art collection, who bequeathed his Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City and numerous Renaissance artworks and other early 20th-century European masterpieces to the public, forming The Frick Collection. This year, The Frick Collection is closed while it undergoes its first comprehensive upgrade since the 1930s, allowing for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Henry and Helen’s art collections to conjoin for the first time ever under one roof at The Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh from now until July 14, 2024.

The banner outside the Frick.

The exhibit entitled, “Vermeer, Monet, Rembrandt: Forging the Frick Collections in Pittsburgh & New York,” is only on view for a limited time, but is a must-see, more than once if you can, because in the words of The Frick Pittsburgh’s Executive Director, Elizabeth E. Barker, “[I]t’s a project unlikely ever to be repeated.” Why? The Frick Collection’s Curator, Aimee Ng, explains, “During this exceptional period in The Frick Collection’s history—as we renovate the historic Frick house in Manhattan…[we have been able] to share our collection,” which is rarely done under normal conditions because these artworks are rarely, if ever, loaned to other museums.

A view of the gallery.

Thus, fortuitous is the timing, as the title of the exhibit suggests, the exhibition showcases more than 60 works of art from the collections of both The Frick Collection (Henry’s art collection) and The Frick Pittsburgh (Helen’s art collection), including works by Monet, Degas, Whistler, and El Greco. Other paintings featured from the collections include: Rembrandt’s iconic 1658 Self-Portrait, Sassetta’s The Virgin of Humility Crowned by Two Angels, Ingres’s Comtesse d’Haussonville, Titian’s Man in a Red Cap, Frans Hals’s Portrait of a Man, Jean-François Millet’s Woman Sewing by Lamplight.

The piece that steals the show and the attention of its audience, is Johannes Vermeer’s Girl Interrupted at Her Music, which is one of only 36 known works by this artist. This was the first painting of Vermeer’s that Henry acquired during his lifetime. He later acquired two others, Officer and Laughing Girl and Mistress and Maid, owning a sizeable fraction, one-twelfth, of all the Vermeer’s in the world. In 1936, after Henry passed away and Helen took over his collection, The Frick Collection had an opportunity to purchase a fourth Vermeer, but Helen declined. She felt three would suffice.

During Henry’s lifetime, Vermeer’s Girl Interrupted at Her Music hung at the Frick family home in Pittsburgh, called Clayton, which is where Helen grew up with her mother and older brother, Childs, and which she eventually inherited and preserved along with the property at The Frick Pittsburgh. Girl Interrupted at Her Music returning to Pittsburgh is somewhat of a full-circle moment after being featured just last year in the Rijksmuseum’s sold-out landmark Vermeer retrospective in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

While the exhibition is as much about the world-class acclaim of the art, it is every bit as connected to the Frick family. An endearing part of the exhibition is a painting titled House and Piers by none other than Childs Frick, Henry’s son and Helen’s older brother, which like the Vermeer, hung in the halls at Clayton.

One of Van Meer’s paintings.

The exhibition is also more than the museum. The Frick Pittsburgh’s Director of Learning & Visitor Experience, Amanda Gillen, developed interactive programs that complement the art with curators’ conversations, concerts featuring French Impressionist and Dutch Baroque music with Pittsburgh’s Symphony Orchestra and Daphne Alderson, guided evening exhibition tours, a day-long symposium, and multiple full-day programs at Clayton, Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark, and West Overton Village in Westmoreland County. According to Amanda Gillen, “Our art museum is her art museum. Helen spent her life caring for her family’s possessions and works of art as well as furnishing her father’s legacy. She was instrumental in a quiet background kind of way, but this exhibition is bringing Helen to the forefront.”

However, unlike Helen’s response to acquiring an additional Vermeer, visiting this exhibition just three times will not suffice, it is one to see over and over and over again. Once more, “Vermeer, Monet, Rembrandt: Forging the Frick Collections in Pittsburgh & New York,” is on display at The Frick Pittsburgh from now until July 14, 2024. For more information and to secure tickets to the exhibition and its other programs, visit https://www.thefrickpittsburgh.org/.

-GM

Don’t Wait. Rush to See Wait Until Dark

by Dr. Tiffany Knight Raymond, PhD

The second production in Little Lake Theatre Company’s 76th season is Wait Until Dark – the 2013 Jeffrey Hatcher adaptation of Frederick Knott’s 1966 play. Knott’s original play was also adapted as a 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn, which earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

This suspenseful thriller traces a coordinated home invasion against a blind woman named Susan Hendrix (Kerry McGrath). The criminals seek to regain a drug-filled doll that, unbeknownst to him, was slipped into her husband Sam’s briefcase for safe transit. Much like her cinematic predecessor, McGrath also serves up an award-worthy performance under the capable, guiding hand of director Sunny Disney Fitchett. Fitchett is a local legend, particularly in the hallowed barn of Little Lake where she served as artistic director for 23 years.

McGrath is utterly convincing as a blind woman, and Fitchett provides flawless direction. When descending the couple of stairs into her garden-level apartment, McGrath unfailingly reaches out, anxiously grasping for physical contact with the railing. As Susan, she never makes direct eye contact, looking towards others as they speak, but never at them. Reading faces and eyes instinctually helps decode communication, so it’s a testimony to both Fitchett and McGrath that she never deviates to a direct gaze.

Any flaws belong to Hatcher’s adaptation. At one point, Susan opens a closet door, and a heavy item is temporarily hanging on the back of the door. Susan notes her “other senses work overtime” since she became blind 18 months prior, so it seems unlikely she wouldn’t haven’t noticed a substantive weight difference when swinging open the door.

Photo: Kerry McGrath by Hawk Photographic and Multimedia LLC.

Vivian McGregor plays Gloria, an upstairs neighbor girl and helper to Susan. The Hendrix apartment clearly provides refuge from what we discern is a troubled home life. Gloria comes and goes at will, and Susan and Gloria emulate a feisty mother/daughter relationship. McGregor captures the seesawing emotional valence of adolescence. Gloria yearns to be older, whining “I’m not a kid,” yet also stamps around and throws silverware on the floor, demonstrating she’s more child than adult. Costume designer Sarah Boice visually reinforces Gloria’s childhood status with a long plaid-printed dress underlaid with a white, Peter Pan collared shirt, solidly anchoring Gloria in the dim trappings of childhood.

Sound designer Laura Thurman opens the play with eerie, ethereal instrumentals and fierce violins that immediately conjure the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho and signify a world set wrong. This sound cue is actualized when two criminals sequentially break into the Hendrix apartment.

The first one, Carlino (Jim Kiley), immediately establishes himself as a sloppy criminal; he’s not even wearing gloves. His examination of the apartment blends the strategic (hiding a knife) with the base (helping himself to leftovers in the fridge). Costume designer Sarah Boice visually supports his disheveled lack of attention to detail as one hem of his button down shirt is perpetually untucked.

When Carlino calls out he’s a cop to the second entrant, Roat (Patrick Daniel) immediately calls his bluff because Carlino didn’t pull a gun. It’s a nuance that brings to mind the saying you can’t con a con man.

Roat’s more discerning nature is evidenced by his gun statement and glove wearing and establishes him as the de facto leader. He also lacks self-awareness as he unironically asserts, “I cannot operate in an atmosphere of mistrust” after Carlino fails to disclose the brass knuckles he’s carrying.

However, the two men collaborate and think they can con Susan, seeing her blindness as a weakness to exploit. With the recent rise in popularity of psychological thrillers, this revival of Wait Until Dark is timely. But just when we think we have it figured out, the ground shifts yet again, plunging us all into darkness.

Wait Until Dark runs through May 26, 2024 at Little Lake Theatre Company in Canonsburg, PA. Purchase tickets online at here.

From Bridge to Bridge: Assembling Sculptures, Building Bridges, and “Crossing Paths” With Public Art Bridgeville

By Gina McKlveen

The old adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is similarly apropos for starting a local public arts program. Public Art Bridgeville was something like the brainchild of Guy and Elizabeth “Bitsy” Bellaver. The husband-and-wife team were originally from the Greater Pittsburgh area, hailing from Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair, respectively, then moved to the mid-west to chart their illustrious careers in the arts and business worlds.

Prior to the COIVD-19 outbreak, Guy and Bitsy returned to Allegheny County, settling in the Borough of Bridgeville. Shortly thereafter, at the height of the pandemic, Guy, who is a nationally recognized sculptor and artist in his own right, asked, “Who was hurting the most?” His answer, “The arts.”

From there, Guy said he and Bitsy began to brainstorm, “Was there anything we could do to help the arts? Well, we could have shows where we could pay artists to come here [to Bridgeville]. Then, let’s see if the government in Bridgeville wants to support that [and] see if we can get public donors to support that.”

Bitsy likened the idea to the iconic line, “Hey kids, let’s put on a show,” featured in Judy Garland and Mikey Rooney films such as “Babes in Arms,” “Babes on Broadway,” and “Strike up the Band.” So, she suggested, “Hey, let’s put on a sculpture show! We can do that!”

Assembling Sculptures

At the time, Guy and Bitsy also connected with the Bridgeville Borough Manager, Joe Kauer, who was exploring other public arts options through commissioning a mural on a deteriorating bridge as a means to bring the arts into this community. After various conversations and collaborations throughout 2020 and 2021, Public Art Bridgeville was eventually born.

Virginia “BJ” Bott Schneider is the current President of Public Art Bridgeville, and similarly was instrumental in the development of the organization, including establishing its board members, Bert Chery, Justine Cimarolli, Pat DeBlasio, Annette Kirkpatrick, and Kayla Lawrence, each of whom regularly support the presence of public art around the Borough.

Bridgeville Borough contributed to the establishment of Public Art Bridgeville and the Bellavers’ vision. The Borough agreed to help put in concreate pads [where the sculptures would be installed] and allowed us to use portions of their parking lot to put the sculptures,” noted Guy.”

To this day, Borough employees play a critical role in the efforts behind Public Art Bridgeville. Bitsy described one particular instance where a Maryland-based artist was arriving to the area after a show to pick up his multi-part sculpture “made from railroad ties that were shellacked and carved” and Borough employees had carefully “lined up, exactly, in equal distance, top to bottom” with the meticulousness of a seasoned museum professional. Another instance Bitsy recalled when Borough employees went above and beyond to help assemble one of the sculptures was a 20-foot tall sculpture, titled “Red Dancer,” by Pittsburgh-born, internationally recognized sculptor, Gary Kulak, which is currently seated outside the Bridgeville Public Library.

“The Borough has done really a terrific job of just getting it clean, putting in some things like some trees and bushes, working with the building owners. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s just so vastly improved even in the few years since we’ve been here,” Bitsy said.

Building Bridges

Public Art Bridgeville also established a committee to help make some of these placement decisions, to figure out how many pieces will be exhibited and where. Guy is a key voice on this committee, knowing both the aesthetics of sculpture as well as the organizational aspects from previous experience working with Public Districts in Illinois.

“The first year we had six pieces. Once we had those six pieces around town, there was a general consensus that we need more,” Bitsy commented.

So in between the first year of exhibiting sculptures around Bridgeville and the second year, Bitsy spent months developing an artist database from the network of sculptors Guy had crossed paths with and beyond. “I tried to expand the exhibition by contacting more artists, hundreds of artists. I looked for every single sculpture exhibition I could find in the United States of America,” she said. Bitsy also reached out to places Guy had exhibited his own work in Colorado, North Carolina, South Dakota, Illinois and even universities like Appalachian State University, and local colleges where Guy’s sculptures are also displayed or exhibited namely, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, Washington & Jefferson, and Saint Vincent College.

“When you develop that database over time, whether it’s outdoor artists or indoor artists, but the bulk of them are sculptors and you just know then you have a huge database,” Bitsy acknowledged. Compared to the first year when they essentially “tapped people on the shoulder” to ask for pieces, the second year, approximately “60-70 pieces, or more were submitted,” she stated.

“The second year, we expanded over to Dewey Avenue.” Guy said. “We were two years into the pandemic, most artists weren’t sure when they would get a sale, so they were glad to have us talking to them. As an artist you want to create. So, you create, but you can’t show. It’s in that stagnation where you need an incentive to create and you realize there’s a lot of incentives to be at these shows, but also to create something new.”

Now, every year Bridgeville looks forward to the addition of new sculptures arriving to its sidewalks and parks and the artists who exhibit their works here are exposed to new audiences and opportunities.

“When we started out, I went looking for who else is doing one of these. From Ohio and northeast, I did not find one single community doing one of these. There is not another one in Pennsylvania like it. We are the only show like this,” Bitsy continued, “We wanted this idea of using public art as a way to attract people to a community. This is one of the interesting things about Bridgeville: ‘From Bridge to Bridge’ is its motto, and [Public Art Bridgeville is now] literally from bridge to bridge.”

“Crossing Paths”

This year, Public Art Bridgeville’s third-annual outdoor sculpture exhibition includes ten pieces, including seven new sculptures. One of those must-see sculptures is located just outside La Bella Bean along Washington Avenue by the famous artist and Johnson & Johnson family member, Seward Johnson titled “Crossing Paths,” depicting two elegantly dressed ladies sitting on a park bench in Johnson’s recognizable trompe-l’oeil painted bronze style.

 

Bitsy aptly remarked that this sculpture is “very Pittsburgh,” in the sense that the women depicted in “Crossing Paths” remind her of the women of her mother’s generation. Growing up in Upper St. Clair, she remembers her mother getting dressed up to go to the grocery store, or run errands, something that was expected of the 1950s generation, but completely unheard of in today’s day and age.

Public Art Bridgeville has showcased previous works by Johnson, including “The Whittler,” “Waiting to Cross,” “Hell, Time to Go Fishing,” “Best Seller,” and “Inner World, Outer World.”

This year, in addition to “Crossing Paths,” Public Art Bridgeville has also selected Johnson’s sculpture of a mailman, titled “Special Delivery,” which in both aesthetics and name is reminiscent of Mr. McFeely of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Once again, another sculpture that is classically connected to the Greater Pittsburgh area.

Other artists currently on display with Public Art Bridgeville’s 2024 outdoor exhibition include, Peter Calaboyias, David Boyajian, Gary Kulak, Dan Droz, Bob Doster, and of course, Guy Bellaver. An indoor exhibition of various artworks by artists from Pittsburgh’s Society of Sculptors is also on display inside Bridgeville’s Public Library until May 17th.

-GM

Turning tears into pearls – a review of “The Kite Runner”

A. Nonny Moss

When Amir (Ramzi Khalaf) is frozen with cowardice at an inopportune time, he plummets down a shame spiral causing repercussions that follow him from Afghanistan, America and back again in “The Kite Runner.”

Amir recounts his childhood growing up in Kabul in the 70s. He spends his days on his family estate with Hassan (Shahzeb Zahid Hussain) playing, reading and flying kites.

In a conceit of the show, Amir relives these moments. The actor inserts his adult self into his childhood. Yes, Khalaf acts like a child in some of the scenes, but his work is so extraordinary that he’s able to really sell it.

Our protagonist explains his rocky relationship with his father or baba, who is simply called Baba (Haythem Noor).  Amir wants to be a writer, and Baba doesn’t think highly of the profession.

Later in the story, we meet Amir’s wife, Soraya (Awesta Zarif) and his father-in-law, General Taheri (James Rana).  The general doesn’t think fondly of writers, either.

“The Kite Runner” does have a kite contest at the center of the play, but its not really about kites. If you think you’re getting a light-hearted story about kites, i.e. Charlie Brown fighting with a neighborhood tree, you will be in for a rough time.

When Hassan chases the kite once its free of its string, he runs into Assef (played on opening night by Kevin Stevens). Amir follows, but hides in the shadows when he spots Assef and his fellow bullies. The moment changes Amir and Hassan’s friendship forever more.  His cowardice on that fateful day becomes the crux of the story.

Amir (Ramzi Khalaf) flies his kite while the spectators watch it soar in “The Kite Runner.”

In 2003, Khaled Hosseini’s book “The Kite Runner” was on the New York Times Bestseller’s list. The book became a movie in 2008. In 2009, Matthew Spangler wrote an adaptation for the theater.

If you’re wondering, “Is it still relevant today?” The answer is a resounding yes!

The entire cast is terrific.

Khalaf is marvelous as Amir.  He’s able to swiftly move from adult to child throughout the show.

Hussain’s Hassan is glorious. He is charismatic and charming. The actor shows up as another character, too, but we are steering clear of spoilers here.

Noor is imposing, threatening, but in the final act, he softens. It may seem like Baba is a stereotype, until he isn’t.

Rana’s Taheri is equally imposing, but his character is even slower to change than Baba.

Zarif has a few great moments when she reveals Soraya’s own secret shame, but both Rana and Zarif come into the story in the second act. They make great use of their limited stage time.

Stevens’ Assef is menacing. He shows up in a handful of scenes, but he terrorizes Amir in almost every moment. His character is a racist bully that uses his political beliefs to forward his own dark agenda.

From the moment the Tabla Artist (Salar Nader) comes out and sits down,  the audience is drawn in. The play clocks in roughly around two hours and thirty minutes, but you won’t feel it. It is moving, engaging, and emotional.  Spangler’s adaptation flows nicely, speeding forward with direction by Giles Croft.

While “The Kite Runner” can be bleak, it’s filled with small joyful moments. The show reminds us that even in the darkest corners there is light. A small smile can be the beginning of more smiles to come.

“The Kite Runner” is a powerful story that will bring laughter and tears, especially tears, but it ends on a cathartic line about those hints of smiles to come: “When the spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time.”

– A.N. M.

“The Kite Runner” runs from May 7 to May 12 at the Benedum Center, 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information, click here. 

The Gulf between Them – a review of “Andy Warhol in Iran”

by A. Nonny Moss

In Brent Askari’s new play, “Andy Warhol in Iran,” Andy Warhol (Jeffrey Emerson) strolls out onto the stage and chats with the audience. It starts with the truth.

Fact: In 1976, Andy Warhol went to Iran to photograph the Shah’s wife,  Farah Pahlavi. Shortly after his visit, the Iranians rose up, rebelled and removed the Shah from power.

Fiction: In his hotel room, Warhol is confronted with Farhad (Arian Rad),  who is somewhere on a sliding scale from freedom fighter to terrorist, depending on your point of view.  He and his cohorts decide to kidnap the artist to shine a light on the Shah’s tyranny.

Warhol  is the perfect representation of America. Not only is he an artist, but he is a self-made man known for his extreme heights of decadence. A cultural elite who is the epitome of crass commercialism, a prized capitalist pig.

Warhol admits to be in Iran only for the bacon (cash, moolah, scratch, etc.), which is probably a particularly poor choice of words in a Muslim country.  He wishes to stay apolitical, but Farhad makes the case that human suffering is beyond politics.

The two don’t mix together very well. Like oil and water-based paints.

The play is a philosophic debate between an idealist and an idea man, and the literal and figurative gulf between them (a Persian Gulf).

Andy Warhol (Jeffrey Emerson) gives us the lowdown before entering the story. Photo credit: Kristi Jan Hoover

Farhad (Arian Rad) explains the politics of Iran to his captive capitalist. Photo credit: Kristi Jan Hoover

Emerson plays Warhol with a vapid charm.  Even when Andy is at his most annoying, cloying and simpering, Emerson gives his sympathy, a likability that you won’t find in any actual footage of the artist (see Andy Warhol’s 1985 appearance on “The Love Boat” as a reference).

Side note: This version of the artist is more complex than the Andy Warhol in “Pop,” portrayed by Anthony Rapp in City Theatre’s production back in 2012.  Emerson is hilarious.

While the show is about tyranny, torture and terrorism, it’s filled with light funny moments.

Rad is powerful as Farhad. He is charismatic and charming, and, at times, frightening. Farhad is a freedom fighter in over his head. A compassionate poet who is destroyed by his country’s cruel government.

Marc Masterson, who is retiring as Co-Artistic Director,  cultivates the humor in Askari’s excellent script.

The end – no spoilers here – packs a powerful punch about how men  – and some women (like Imelda Marcos who is also mentioned in this play)  – can’t help themselves in their rise to power.  Evil corrupts. Absolute evil corrupts absolutely.

In his poem, “On Freedom,” Kahlil Gibran wrote, “And if it is the despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.” In other words, don’t overthrow an oppressor to become an oppressor.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, I’m looking at you.

Askari reminds us – at an important time – you can’t glide through life without paying attention to politics – you have to stand up and fight for freedom every inch of the way.

-A.N. M.

“Andy Warhol in Iran” runs from April 20 to May 12 at the City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street in the Southside. For more information, click here.

 

The Andy Warhol Museum Arts Educator, Chuck Pearson: “You Can Take Warhol Out of Pittsburgh, But You Can’t Fully Take Pittsburgh Out of Warhol” 

By Gina McKlveen

When visitors step off Sandusky Street and enter The Andy Warhol Museum, they are instantly greeted by an industrial-esque entrance hall, complete with high ceilings, exposed pipes, studio lights, metal chairs, and high top-tables, and of course, Andy Warhol’s iconic red couch from his Factory. This location was the meeting space for my recent sit-down conversation with The Andy Warhol Museum Arts Educator, Chuck Pearson, about all things Andy, the aesthetics, the artist, the artwork, and the atmosphere.

The Aesthetics

“This building, actually, this is the old Frick & Lindsay building,” Pearson stated.

“[It] was built in 1911. This was an industrial warehouse for many years during Pittsburgh’s steel era. Back in the 70s and 80s it was a music store. And then it was empty for a period of time. That of course is when the [Andy Warhol] Foundation and the Carnegie [Institute] came together, got this building, and then refit it to be the [Andy Warhol] Museum.

“It’s interesting, if you walk through this Museum and look at its structure, you’ll see that the warehouse kind of aesthetics are still in play…It’s kind of an homage to Pittsburgh’s industrial heritage, but it’s also an homage to Andy’s ‘Factory’ and being a commercial artist and having that commercial side to him.”

The Artist

Although Warhol grew up in Pittsburgh and attended college at Carnegie Tech, now known as Carnegie Mellon University, majoring there in what today may be described as ‘Graphic Design,’ after graduating in 1949 he moved to New York City.

“Back when he graduated college in 1949, Pittsburgh was still very much an industrial city. It didn’t have the same kind of cultural and artistic aspects that it has today. Back then, a Pittsburgh boy wanting to be an artist, you want to go to a place where art was thriving. At that point, New York City was the big place.

“It’s kind of ironic that even though Warhol came from blue collar roots, that Steel City background and such, when he left Pittsburgh in 1949, after he graduated college and went to New York, he did not come back to Pittsburgh very much at all. There was kind of a distance he put between himself and Pittsburgh. I don’t think he wanted to be identified with Pittsburgh necessarily. He wanted the New York scene that’s what he wanted to be identified with.”

“Even though he did make an effort to kind of distance himself from his Pittsburgh upbringing in many ways, in some ways he could never really escape it.”

One such example of Warhol’s inability to escape his Pittsburgh industrial roots was his New York studio, aptly coined ‘The Factory’ for the amount of work, specifically the artists’ silk-screen prints which were produced there almost in conveyor-belt, industry-like speed and fashion.

“There’s strong [Pittsburgh] influence in [The Factory],” said Pearson.

“Not only was [The Factory] a place to hang out and party and have fun, it was also an actual working studio.”

“The Factory, also known as his ‘Silver Factory’ was a studio, a place where he and others did art, did screen printing, made films, not only was it that but it also became some sort of a social hub. It became a place in New York where people could go to hang out, to party, to network, to make connections with other people, and it was especially valuable when members of the LGBTQ community didn’t have a lot of safe places to go to, that became one of those safe places. It became a place where a lot of people who maybe would not have normally had opportunities to get into art, to get into media, to get into shows, to do all of these sort of things. The Factory gave them an opportunity for that.

“It attracted crowds across a whole spectrum of people. Members of The Rolling Stones went there to party. The Velvet Underground, Nico, but a lot of the people who worked with Andy and kind of became a part of his circle, were a part of that Factory scene,” Pearson continued.

“The Factory went through a few different addresses over the years. It didn’t stay in the same place. Over the course of his career, in early 1964, for the next 20 years it would go through a few different places there, but all Manhattan—all the same general area.”

The Artwork

Like his Factory, Warhol’s work also moved across several iterations, styles, mediums, and expressions throughout his career.

“He spent a lot of time in the 1960s doing film, screen prints of actors and celebrities, but as he got into his commissioned portraits era in the 1970s…he moved into a period of abstract work.”

Pearson recognized, “What you’ll notice with Andy’s abstraction is sometimes it will be coupled with very realistic pieces.”

“Even when he was a commercial artist, part of what got him his success as a commercial artist was his style of commercial art was so different from what other people were doing. Most industrial artwork at that time was very ‘Norman Rockwell-ish.’ That was the norm, that was the standard, the people in post-WWII conservative America were using for commercial and professional art. Andy was not ‘Norman Rockwell-ish.’ His style of realistic expression was quite different. I think that carries over into his abstract era and his experiment with color trying to find those kind of blends.”

Some of Warhol’s most well-known works, like his silk-screen portraits of Marilyn Monroe, are on view at The Andy Warhol Museum. As an Arts Educator, Pearson offered a knowledgeable perspective on these iconic prints, sharing insights on the artists’ technique and timing.

“A lot of what Andy was trying to accomplish with his different series, particularly of like pop portraits [of] celebrities, was exploring through color different moods and aspects of a celebrity. The one we have upstairs of Marilyn that’s a 1967 series. The prominent feature of that, of course, is the hot pink lips and the earrings.

“Well, timing is kind of interesting in that…He did that in 1967. Well, what was going on in 1967? Summer of Love, Monterey Pop Festival, hippie movement, Haight Ashbury. And I’m thinking well maybe, but there’s also some darker backgrounds in that piece as well, but there’s that hot pink. Was he perhaps going with the contrast of the flower power movement of the Summer of Love verses also all the other stuff that was going around that the time, too. Because what else was happening? America was embroiling in the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and such. There was a lot of light and dark going on in America. You see a lot of that contrast with many of his pieces.

“…through color the artist, Andy, is able to explore those different shades of Marilyn. And he did that with a lot of his different celebrities and pop portraits, and of course the power of screen print process.”

The Atmosphere

Continuing Warhol’s legacy of silk-screen printing process is not limited to the artworks displayed at the Museum. In fact, the Museum operates a ‘factory’ in the downstairs portion of the building which is an actual hands-on studio that visitors can participate and create artwork in, very much like Warhol’s own Factory.

This initiative is just one of the many outreach programs and projects that the Museum participates in to adhere to its mission of promoting the arts here in Pittsburgh.

Pearson noted, “The Warhol Museum is the centerpiece of the Pop District, which for last couple years has been trying to sort of create and artistic, cultural center point here on the North Shore to invite local artists to participate [in].”

Pearson also emphasized the Museums many extra-curricular activities outside the Museum’s regular business operations, “Like the Warhol Academy, youth programs, being very much in tune with the LGBTQ community here, of course that’s a part of Andy’s legacy also and wanting to provide opportunities for inclusion… We do outreach programs to schools, to shelters, to organizations, libraries. We have opportunities for schools and other organizations to do workshops here on site. We operate the print lounge, which is a part of the Pop District. It’s kind of a larger working space to be able to do projects.”


The Museum is also expanding its reach in the coming years with a brand-new structure expected to be completed in 2026 that will mirror the part of Warhol’s Factory that was known for its social activities, hosting parties, and attracting crowds like artists, actors, and musicians.

Based on Pearson’s experience with the Museum, he stated, “People love to use the Warhol for all sorts of venues and events. With the new facility, it’s mainly going to be devoted to special event venue space [for] functions and concerts, to help attract awareness to what’s going on here.”

In the next few months, the Andy Warhol Museum will celebrate its 30th anniversary since its founding.

“The Museum opened in 1994. It has been a point of cultural and artistic interest and attraction for all of those years. Especially in a time, back in 1994, when Pittsburgh was struggling to…keep afloat, and to try to find ways to keep the city going once the whole industrial aspect of the city died. But there’s been a lot of efforts in recent years to build up Pittsburgh in terms of being a progressive and 21st century city, and bringing in arts and culture has been a major part of that. The whole cultural district downtown, the Carnegie museums, all of this, the Heinz, you know tried to help to bring a renewed sense of life to Pittsburgh, which has been very successfully done. The Warhol Museum was coming in at time when that was starting to happen, so there was opportunity.”

Those opportunities have only multiplied over the years. Starting May 18, 2024, visitors will have an opportunity to see the work of artist, KAWS, in collaboration and conversation with some of Warhol’s darker themes around death and disaster. More information on this upcoming exhibit can be found here: https://www.warhol.org/exhibition/kaws-warhol/

Chuck Pearson is a California native who relocated to Pittsburgh in June 2022 after teaching high school English for many years.  A published author, Pearson’s writing credits include the Once Upon A Realm fantasy novel series (written as C.J. Pearson) and the Fate, Chance, and Choices trilogy (written under a pen name, Ariel Archer).  For the past year and a half, he has worked at the Andy Warhol Museum as a Gallery Associate and Arts Educator.

-GM

Hear the full interview here:

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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