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'Bullets for Broadway' welcomes audience reaction, participation

| Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Sarah McKee (from left), Chris Pastrick, Bill Fisher, Pam Farneth, Nate Newell and Missy Newell rehearse a scene from the upcoming New Kensington Civic Theatre's mystery dinner theater 'Bullets for Broadway.'
Cynthia Ansani
Sarah McKee (from left), Chris Pastrick, Bill Fisher, Pam Farneth, Nate Newell and Missy Newell rehearse a scene from the upcoming New Kensington Civic Theatre's mystery dinner theater 'Bullets for Broadway.'

Nate Newell believes it takes a different breed of actor to embrace mystery dinner theater.

“You cannot be a starchy, by the script, type of an artist,” he says. “ You cannot be afraid to take a detour when the audience, or one of your fellow actors dictates it. The whole team must move with the ebb and flow of the room.

“The true humor comes from you playing this straight as an actor, and allowing the audience to laugh at the situation.”

Newell and his castmates in New Kensington Civic Theatre's “Bullets for Broadway” will put those thespian theories into action Nov. 4 at Lower Burrell Moose Hall and Nov. 5 at Stella's Restaurant, New Kensington.

Billed as “a sort of sequel” to the Civic Theatre's presentation last year of playwright David Landau's “The Altos,” “Bullets for Broadway” finds gangster Tony Alto and wife Toffee in a story that answers the question, what would happen if “The Sopranos” met “The Producers.”

Toffee wants to be a Broadway star and Tony needs to “clean” some money. So he has hired two producers to mount a hit musical, “The Mafia Queen,” starring Toffee.

The only catch: the show must be sold out opening night and receive great reviews, or else!

The audience is invited to the party after opening night to watch as the reviews come in, along with the FBI and a few stray bullets. Audience members become critics, chorus members and back-up dancers as the production unfolds in four scenes with breaks for various courses of the meal.

“Come ready to have fun and enjoy the interaction,” says Newell, who plays Tony Alto. “He ‘knows people,' and likes things ‘his way.' ”

Among the challenges of staging this production is putting it together in less than two weeks, says director Ron Ferrara of Vandergrift.

“If the audience comes in the right mindset, it makes all of the difference,” Newell says. “If not, then we, the cast, just have to work a little harder to get them there. ... Just be willing to laugh at yourself, and those around you.”

He loves that the actors get to break the “fourth wall” of theater and interact directly with the audience. “It is nice to have the liberty to improvise when the time is right also. It is loose, but contained by the context of the script,” Newell says

Civic Theatre president Pam Farneth of New Kensington, who plays gossip columnist Mimi Sheraton, says she enjoys “the silliness of this.”

“Here in dinner theater all bets are off. And who doesn't like a bit of cheese to go with their theater? It's very cheesy,” she says.

How can you not love a production that mentions 36 Broadway shows in the course of the evening, says Bill Fisher of Arnold, who portrays producer Baxter Mallenstock.

It's a different type of theater and you never are quite sure who is going to be in the audience and what kind of responses you are going to get, Fisher says, “but it's always a good time!”

This is Sarah McKee's first dinner theater show as an actor.

“It is definitely pushing my comfort zone because I have not done improv in quite some time,” says McKee, of Murrysville, who play a chorus girl. ”But I am excited to take on this new challenge, and I think going over the top is always the way to go with a fun show such as this.”

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune Review contributing writer.

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