A.I. Will Run Amok in Annual OFF THE RECORD! Musical Satire


The Annual Show Is a Collaboration of Three Unions, Benefiting Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

By Sharon Eberson

You can feel it all around you. It’s that time when the air is crisp, football and hockey are under way, and OFF THE RECORD!, Pittsburgh’s annual musical satire for a good cause, elbows its way into a gazillion openings in local theater. 

If you’ve seen less of me about town or on these digital pages, it is because I am the show’s producer. It is year No. 23 for OTR, and No. 3 for me.

OFF THE RECORD XXIII: A.I. – It’s a Drag in rehearsal three days before opening, with director Chris Laitta (right). The annual show is about news and newsmakers,
so of course, there will be spotted lanternflies. (Images: Sharon Eberson)

Unlike Leo Bloom in The Producers, who wants to be “the greatest, grandest and most fabulous producer in the world!,” I want to be a helper, like Mister Rogers taught me to be, reducing the stress as best I can for everyone else. I find lessening the stress for others reduces my own, although I could use Leo’s blue blankey now and then.

Oh, I do love every one of the ever-growing OFF THE RECORD! family of professionals, amateurs, volunteers, dedicated souls and goofballs who donate their time and talent to create a night of laughter, song and off-the-chart energy, all to raise $$$ for folks in our region with food insecurities.

In anticipation of the show at the Byham Theater on Thursday, generous sponsors and patrons have already raised $24,600 for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, where $1 equals 3 meals equals, to this point, 73,800 meals. (Donate here or text record23 to 50155.)

But I have to admit, the whole, “I want to be a producer …” thing? It’s not like me to disagree with Mel Brooks, but … If only I’d read the description before I agreed to take on OFF THE RECORD!:

“A producer oversees all aspects of a theater production, from the generation of an idea to the day-to-day management when it is on stage. They are the person responsible for the financial, strategic and managerial aspects of staging the production.”

They forgot to say: For better or worse, in sickness and in health, til wealth do us part …

I watched mostly from the sidelines while my colleague and friend, Chris Rawson, do this for 20 years. I arrived late on the scene as a proud collaborator, working with some of the most talented people in the region. 

And now here I am, second live onstage at the Byham – partnering with director, choreographer and that singular energy source, Chris Laitta, and stage manager Jessica Haidet Pedatella, producing OFF THE RECORDI (we at OTR use caps and exclamation points a lot!). 

I joined the hard-working steering committee of OTR more than 10 years in, proud to be representing the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and working alongside members of SAG-AFTRA and United Steelworkers locals.

I was a helper lite then. I wasn’t in the trenches. Then came the pandemic …

And now here we are, second year in-person after two online-only shows, and Chris Rawson, how the heck did you do this for 20 years?

Remember, this is a revolving cast mostly made up of stage pros like our director, local broadcasters, the occasional politician, people who write stuff and volunteers.  We take co-creator Gary Rotstein’s “off the record” concept seriously, using news of the day to craft an 80-minute show with no intermission. We can be very, um, randy in our satire. You literally have to be there – at the Byham Theater Thursday, October 12; doors open at 6:30 p.m., show’s at 8 – to believe how down and dirty we might get. 

Personally, I would go just to her what OTR’s fabulous emcee, Ken Rice, has to say, always starting us off on the right path. 

In our 23rd year, we also acknowledge our honorees, including “prebuttalist” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. He will have his say before we say a few words about him. We also honor the memory of the late great sportscaster Stan Savran, and remember patron of the arts RuthAnn Molloy, and Tom Conway, president of the United Steelworkers union.

OTR comeback in 2022 at the Byham Theater.

In years past, we have taken on themes from Shakespeare (All the Burgh’s a Stage!) to the movie Birdman, from WQED to culling deer in Mt. Lebanon. In 2023, for OFF THE RECORD XXIII: A.I. – It’s A Real Drag!, we also boast the talents of Pittsburgh CAPA musical theater majors flitting around as spotted lanternflies, with the overall theme of artificial intelligence run amok, plus a drag queen takeover. 

You will recognize some faces and voices and learn about several more – KDKA meteorologist Mary Ours, singing and dancing up a storm; former PG columnist Samantha Bennett, who has appeared in all OTR shows over 23 years, and Chi Chi de Vivre, who blew away the audience last year and is set to do so again … There also are a few surprise guests. One and all are deserving of our appreciation, admiration and attention.

I can’t say enough about the time and effort that they put into this, matched only by Chris L., Jessica and music director Nick Stamatakis. We also have a four-piece band! We have free lobby food! We have a cash bar! …

But we don’t have Heather Abraham in person, I’m sorry to say. Heather came down with COVID during the home stretch after being hilarious in rehearsals. 

KDKA’s Heather Abraham, with Mary Ours, far right, was a hoot in OTR rehearsals before getting COVID. Here she is making us laugh, wiith, from left,
Connor McCanlus, Victor Capone, Rich Keitel and Garbie Dukes.

Get better soon, Heather! (And thanks for sharing David Highfield with us!)

As Mark Fleischer, executive producer of Pittsburgh CLO, likes to say about his own company, ours is a show by Pittsburghers and for Pittsburghers. It takes a village to put on OFF THE RECORD!, and without helpers like Mark and his team from CLO, the Byham Theater managers and crew, Pittsburgh Musical Theater, City Theatre and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, the show could not go on.

Back to producing this night of madness, mayhem and raising money for Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

We at OFF THE RECORD are proud to have raised in the neighborhood of $800,000 for the Food Bank, plus other charities and scholarships in the first 22 years. 

As for all the things that a producer has on their plate before, during and after a production, it’s nothing compared to the daring feet … er, feat … of Connor McCanlus strutting through an entire show in hot pink heels. 

I want to go on the record as saying that alone is not to be missed. 


Tickets: https://trustarts.org/production/91949/off-the-record-xxiii-ai-its-a-real-drag. Donate any time to: https://secure.qgiv.com/event/offtherecordxxiiiai-itsarealdrag/ or text record23 to 50155.

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