Stage 62 Puts Dreamers in the Spotlight

With its remaining 2019 productions, Stage 62 raises a glass to those who dream. Following last month’s winning production of the YA musical Junie B. Jones The Musical, the company will be presenting shows featuring characters whose hopes and wishes are too great to be expressed by inner or outer monologue. They must be sung.

Producing Hairspray, Mamma Mia!, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is something of a dream for Stage 62 itself. Artistic Committee Chair John Patrick Welsh states that the company is “excited to bring [these shows] to life over the next year” after wanting to for a while. They made a conscious choice to find shows with female leading roles as a way to balance out a slew of male-dominated shows in recent years. While these shows definitely fit that criteria, they’re also notable for their positive messages and universal appeal.

Used in a sentence, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is a Tony Award-winning musical with a big brain and an even bigger heart. The witty book by Rachel Sheinkin and quirky score by William Finn tell the story of six tweens vying for the coveted championship.

One is a former champion returning to reclaim his glory. Another is an overachiever who speaks not five but six languages. All are battling personal demons ranging from puberty to overbearing parents to neglectful parents. The contest is moderated by an exceedingly optimistic adult former Putnam County spelling champion and an exceedingly deadpan vice principal. Waiting in the wings with a juice box and words of encouragement for disqualified spellers is a “comfort counselor” clocking hours for his court-ordered community service.

If that motley crew of characters isn’t enough for you, the truly unique thing about …Spelling Bee is its creative incorporation of audience interaction. A select few patrons, sometimes celebrities for high profile productions, are invited onstage to participate in the bee against the characters. If he had his way, director Rob James would welcome Tina Fey or her Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt creation Titus Andromedon for what he imagines would be two very different performances. Stop by the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall from May 9-19 for your chance at spelling bee glory.

Next, Stage 62 will be transporting audiences to the magical, tropical islands of Greece when it presents the show from July 18th through the 28th. The set up reads like a segment on The Maury Show, but that association falls away the second the ensemble launches into one of the score’s dozens of catchy choruses.

A young woman named Sophie is prepared to marry the man of her dreams until she realizes that there’s one crucial person missing from the guest list, her father. Her band leader/business owner mother Donna raised Sophie alone partly because of the exotic locale they call home and partly because she was never sure which of three past suitors actually is Sophie’s biological father.

For the last 20 years, audiences have been dancing in the aisles and singing along to the show’s literal gold hits, including “Mamma Mia”, “Dancing Queen”, and “Super Trouper”. Director Stephen Santa hopes to bring that raucous energy to his production saying that “Mamma Mia! works because the music, story, and dancing are an absolute blast”. Basically, there is something for everyone.

As a intellectual property, Hairspray has truly gone the distance. From the 1988 cult hit John Waters film to the 2003 Broadway blockbuster to the 2007 film adaptation of that Broadway Blockbuster to the 2016 live TV special that combines bits and pieces from all of them, every generation has their favorite version. But with each new Hairspray attracting talent like Ariana Grande, Harvey Fierstein, Ricki Lake, John Travolta, and more, it’s hard not to have a healthy appreciation for the lot.

Stage 62’s Hairspray (the one from the stage written by Marc Shaiman, Scott Whitman, Thomas Meehan, and Mark O’Donnell) will surely be no different. You can find out who they bring in to fill the iconic wigs of Tracy Turnblad and company from November 14-24.

All idealistic and naive Tracy wants to do is dance on her favorite television variety hour The Corny Collins Show and cozy up to her crush Link Larkin. Unfortunately, the powers that be at the network that airs the show is not in favor of people who do not fit its image taking up screen time, i.e. plus size people like Tracy or African-Americans. With her family and friends of all shapes, sizes, and colors by her side, Tracy literally marches to beat of her own drum to prove that equality is as in as her hairdo.

This year, Stage 62 brings you a bride-to-be with a vision of the perfect wedding, a pack of precocious whiz kids with a singular goal, and a teenage revolutionary with a heart of gold. These stories are both relatable and larger than life. They all also set the stage for some of the best songs the musical theatre canon has to offer.

Best of all, I’m here to tell you that this lineup is 100% real. No need to pinch yourself.

For more info about Stage 62’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 2016. 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.



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