Now is the time to seize the stage! That’s literal when it comes to Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s 2018-2019 season. Each of the shows they’ve chosen for “Seize The Stage” represents eclectic musical genres and types of stories. Two of the shows promise to bring the Big Apple the Byham Theater while the other three pledge to rock the West End’s Gargaro Theater. But you can only truly carpe scaenam, if you see all five.
The classic musical, Little Orphan Annie opens Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s season this year. This production is special not just because it kicks off “Seize The Stage” but also because it features a cast of students from PMT’s Richard E. Rauh Conservatory along with musical accompaniment by the Pittsburgh CAPA orchestra. Besides fantastic performances, you can expect these kids to bring an incredible level of authenticity to Annie’s New York Cinderella story.
Under the cruel guardianship of boozy broad Miss Hannigan, Annie and her fellow orphans count the days until “Tomorrow” when they imagine salvation in the form of a loving family. For Annie, it comes sooner than expected when she’s taken in by the local billionaire Oliver Warbucks. They butt heads at first, but eventually, Annie and Warbucks form a bond that not even Miss Hannigan’s scheming can sour. Sixth Street becomes “Easy Street” when Annie plays at the Byham Theater from October 25-29.
You probably don’t know her name or her story, and that’s what she’s counting on. Hedwig, the frontwoman, and the subject of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, is a down-on-her-luck glam rock star literally following in the footsteps of her ex-lover Tommy Gnosis’ concert tour. Through stories by book writer and original star John Cameron Mitchell, including one about her botched gender confirmation surgery that left her mutilated, and songs that are alternatingly hilarious and heartwrenching, Hedwig tears down her walls and leaves it all on stage.
Mitchell directed a film adaptation of the 1998 show in 2001, but Hedwig didn’t truly hit the mainstream until Neil Patrick Harris played the role on Broadway to Tony-winning effect in 2014. It’s a long way for Hedwig from her native Germany to Pittsburgh, but her tough yet warm demeanor will surely allow her to fit right in. Hedwig and the Angry Inch plays at the Gargaro Theater November 9, 10, 16, and 17.
When In The Heights first became available for licensing in 2011, most companies advertised the show with the words “The Tony-Winning Best Musical” above the title. Since 2016 though, most companies now place the words “From the creator of Hamilton” above the title. It is likely that the rest of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s career will be framed in reference to Hamilton, but it’s up to companies like PMT to remind everyone why In The Heights first made hardcore theatre fans fall in love with Miranda.
While it tells a much smaller story than that of the 10-dollar founding father, In The Heights is set not too far from much of the action of Hamilton. Washington Heights is its own melting pot where generations of Hispanic-Americans and immigrants call home. As he opens his bodega, our narrator Usnavi introduces us to a colorful cast of characters he calls friends and family dealing with financial woes, questions of identity, and sweltering temperatures. Everything changes for the residents of Washington Heights when it’s revealed that one of them has won $96,000 from the lottery. This show’s red-hot hip-hop/Broadway fusion score (penned by Miranda) is set come just in time to thaw your winter blues. In the Heights plays at the Gargaro Theater from January 24, 2019 to February 3, 2019.
If you think The Sound of Music and Sister Act are the end-all-be-all for nuns in musical theatre, you’re wrong. Those shows might be more iconic, but Nunsense is by far the most prolific. Nunsense has spawned six sequels and three spin-off shows including Meshuggah-Nuns! and Nunsense: The Mega-Musical Version. PMT is presenting the latter at the Gargaro Theater from March 21-31.
The Mega-Musical Version beefs up the original Nunsense with a host of new characters and a new original song. Tragedy strikes the Little Sisters of Hoboken when a spoiled batch and vichyssoise kills off 52 members of their missionary order. Saddled with the tremendous financial burden of making funeral arrangements for their slain sisters, the remaining nuns decide to—what else?—stage a variety show to raise the money. Songwriter/librettist Dan Goggin’s hit has seemingly been playing somewhere since its 1985 Off-Broadway debut, attracting the likes of Rue McClanahan and Darlene Love to its ranks over the years.
PMT has a long history of bringing Disney stage classics to this town and this season is no different. Following recent runs of The Little Mermaid and Tarzan, PMT invites audiences to watch what happens when the downtrodden rise up to claim their fair share in Newsies. Unlike other screen to stage Disney adaptations, the 1992 film version of Newsies did not enjoy critical acclaim. In fact, composer Alan Menken and lyricist Jack Feldman were “awarded” the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Original Song for their work on the project. Despite that, the movie amassed a huge cult following who waited patiently until 2012 when the stage adaptation made it to Broadway. Menken and Feldman eventually got the last laugh and the Tony Award for Best Original Score.
Based on the actual Newsboys Strike of 1899, Newsies humanizes a ragtag group of young men who make a living on the mean streets of New York City. Led by the fearless Jack Kelly, the newsies never imagine they’ll do anything but hand out “papes” until their names and faces are on the front covers of them. They organize a union to protest Pulitzer’s unfair policies all while executing some of the most breathtaking choreography the stage has ever seen. Newsies has it all and plays at the Byham Theater from May 2-12.
As always, there is something for everyone when Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s name is above the title. They prove with this upcoming season that, when it comes to attending the theater, you’re never fully dressed without a smile.
For more information about Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s upcoming season, click here.
Brian Pope is a playwright and pop culture obsessive who has been writing for Pittsburgh in the Round since February of 2017. His plays have been produced by his own theatre company, Non-State Actors, as well as Yinz Like Plays?!, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company. He’s also served as dramaturg for City Theatre’s 2018 Young Playwrights Festival and as both stage manager and actor for Alarum Theatre. When he’s not making or reviewing theatre, he’s actively pursuing his other passions, listening to showtunes and watching television.