Duquesne University brings out the stars to preserve August Wilson’s legacy

Debbie Allen, Norm Nixon, Constanza Romero, and Stephen McKinley Henderson support the cause in Pittsburgh on Tony’s weekend

And a Tony Awards Broadcast Update along with  a tease for this year’s Off The Record Pittsburgh!

By Sharon Eberson

Debbie Allen was scheduled to be in New York for the Tony Awards with her husband, former NBA star Norm Nixon, but the high-powered couple answered another call instead and wound up in Pittsburgh this weekend.

The Tony winner for West Side Story and recent Kennedy Center and Emmy Award honoree was supporting her husband’s alma mater, Duquesne University, on Saturday, as the star attraction on An Evening With the Stars, as the school inaugurated the UPMC Cooper Field House, formerly the basketball team’s A.J. Palumbo Center.

Nixon, who is co-founder and runs the business end of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, said his wife was there to support him and the school where the Georgia native earned a math degree and “grew up” before a championship career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Allen said her career — as an actress, choreographer, director, and producer — all springs from her first love, dancing. 

Nixon, who has done some acting and broadcasting but prefers his work behind the scenes these days. He also has been a Broadway producer on the 2005 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof revival that starred Terrence HowardJames Earl JonesAnika Noni Rose, and his sister-in-law, Phylicia Rashad.

The couple met on the set of the, um, cult classic basketball comedy The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, where Allen became friends with the late legend Connie Hawkins. She couldn’t at first remember the name of Doctor J, among the many hoop stars in the movie, but she remembered vividly going to a game with Hawkins, where she reconnected with Nixon, and sparks flew.

The Evening with the Stars also was dedicated to Duquesne’s role in perpetuating the legacy of the late great playwright August Wilson. 

Constanza Romero, Wilson’s widow and the executrix of his estate, participated in a panel with Wilsonian Warrior Stephen McKinley Henderson, who met Wilson while traveling through Pittsburgh on the way to another city for a role in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

Photo by Duquesne University

For her support of the Duquesne University/August Wilson House Fellowship, Nancy Jones Beard and Romero received honorary doctorates from Duquesne President Ken Gormley

Romero began with “Wow,” upon accepting her honor, then read a poem by her late husband, who set out to be a poet before writing his first play. 

She also released a never before heard Wilson poem about “Freddie” finding his confidence — he was born Frederick August Kittel — recited by August Wilson Monologue Competition national winner Gerardo Navarro (now at CMU). He and runner-up Callie Holley, who were featured in the Netflix documentary on the contest, also performed monologues from Wilson plays.

The timing of today’s Tony Awards ceremony and Duquesne’s ceremony, coinciding with homecoming, seems perfectly planned.

It was three years ago to the day that Denzel Washington visited Pittsburgh to bestow nearly $5 million — garnered from friends including Oprah and Tyler Perry — for the restoration of the landmark August Wilson House on Bedford Avenue in the Hill District. 

Tony Awards for streamers only

I happen to have Paramount+ (I have to watch Christine Baranski and Audra McDonald in The Good Fight and all the Star Trek  legacy shows), but there has to be a better way for the Tony Awards to reach theater fans.

The 74th Tony Awards from Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre will stream on Paramount+ from 7 p.m. Sunday with a Broadway’s Back concert following the awards ceremony on CBS, starting at 9. 

I know that the Tonys don’t get big numbers, but once a year you can’t give theater fans who don’t have multiple streaming services a break?

For those who do tune in, a quick explanation of why Aaron Tveit (Moulin Rouge, the Musical) is the only nominee for best actor in a musical but could lose (he won’t).

Because of the COVID 19 shutdown, he was one of two eligible performers in the category. But there is a percentage-of-votes rule that cast him alone as a nominee.

Yet, despite being the only actor in his category, he still needs a majority vote to win.

Here’s the rule (that needs an overhaul if you ask me): “If the Tony Awards Nominating Committee has determined that there is only one nominee in a category listed, such category shall be submitted to the Tony Voters who may, by the affirmative vote of sixty (60%) percent of the total ballots cast, grant an Award in that category.”

Tveit was certainly a deserving nominee for Moulin Rouge, but it seems ridiculous that percentages rather than the majority rule. 

Off the Record Pittsburgh returns, virtually.

I want to be a producer … Oh wait, I am! And though it’s the toughest case I’ve yet to face, we are almost at the finish line.

It wasn’t easy to assemble actors and produce new songs in a pandemic, but we did it. Like Alexander Hamilton, we did not throw away our shot … OK, you get the idea.

Off the Record Pittsburgh is the annual musical comedy that satirizes the people and events of Pittsburgh, all for a good cause. The show took the Byham Theater stage for its first 19 years but, given the pandemic, pivoted to online in 2020 and again this year, starting at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7. The event, which has raised more than $600,000, benefits Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. 

Ken Rice returns as emcee extraordinaire, joined by KDKA colleagues and newscasters from across the Pittsburgh dial. Participants include politicians and stage and screen performers such as David ConradRick Sebak, and Joe Serafini. Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier will introduce honoree Mike LangeSally Wiggin will pay tribute to friend and OTR patron Joanne Rogers, and there are, of course, a few surprises afoot – some from the pen of Rob Rogers, winner of the 2021 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. 

This year we also salute Christopher Rawson, esteemed original OTR producer and retired Post-Gazette theater critic. 

This all-volunteer show truly is a labor of love from the Pittsburgh theater community and members of three unions — SAG-AFTRA Ohio-Pittsburgh, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, and United Steelworkers. 

Tune in for many of your favorite local performers. Familiar OTR names and faces include director/choreographer Christine Latta, music director Deana Muro, performers Lisa Ann Goldsmith, Hope Anthony, Zanna Fredland, Michael Fuller, Chuck Timbers, Michael E. MoatsWali JamalDon DiGiulioTressa Glover, and more. Plus, we welcome many newcomers, such as Drew Leigh WilliamsJ. Alex NobleBrady and Mandie PatsyJoe Jackson, and a couple of talented Pittsburgh CAPA kids. 

Through the generosity of sponsors and donors, last year’s show raised more than $33,000 for the Food Bank ($1 = 5 meals). Please check us out on Oct. 7, and if you can, help out your neighbors with food insecurities. https://www.facebook.com/OffTheRecordPGH/

Hopefully, next year, we’ll be back at the Byham, gathering around the chocolate fountain before a night of music, laughter, and celebrating the contributions of Pittsburgh’s theater artists.

Categories: Arts and Ideas

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