Pittsburgh Musical Theater offering edgy shows in more intimate setting
Patrons used to certain, perhaps more traditional, programming from Pittsburgh Musical Theater better hold onto their hats.
And prepare to laugh. And sing along. And maybe dodge a little fake blood.
The company will begin presenting professional shows this month at the Gargaro Theater in the city's West End.
"Avenue Q" is on deck for May.
The shows are part of the theater group's new Rockin' West End and After Hours series, says Colleen Doyno, executive artistic director.
Prior to these shows in a smaller, more intimate setting, all of Pittsburgh Musical Theater's professional shows were staged at the Byham Theater, and shows will continue there.
The West End site has been the theater's home base for nearly 20 years, and was purchased four years ago.
"It always was the plan when we purchased that building to, in our future, begin programs here and activate the community and activate the building," Doyno says.
The theater will, she hopes, allow increased meeting space for community groups as well as for auditions, rehearsals and shows from other theater groups.
"This year we decided to move two professional shows and one special event show here. We are excited about this. It's going to rock the West End," Doyno says.
Getting the building, a 105-year-old former school, ready for its close-up has been a labor of both love and fundraising for the group.
A capital campaign is ongoing, with renovation of the current stage planned and construction about to begin on a new, larger first-floor room accessible for all abilities, funded through a Allegheny Regional Asset District grant, Doyno says.
The theater seats 250.
"There are no bad seats. No one is too far away from the actors," says Nick Mitchell, "Evil Dead" director.
"I think people are really going to enjoy it. It's one bridge from the city and there is plenty of parking here in the West End," Doyno says.
She and Mitchell believe the first few offerings will be well-received and appeal to audiences of all ages.
"We Will Rock You" follows a group of Bohemians trying to save "rock" in a post-apocalyptic, homogeneous world where musical instruments are forbidden and rock music all but unknown.
The discovery of Brian May's (Queen) guitar brings the '70s British band's hits like "Another One Bites the Dust," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Killer Queen," and "We Will Rock You" roaring back to life.
"We are the regional premiere of 'We Will Rock You.' ... Other directors are coming to see how you do it and stage it themselves," Doyno says.
Director Lisa Elliott believes the show will resonate with "sci fi fans" and "anyone who loves Queen," from adults to teens.
"They are anthems, a lot of the songs," she says. "The story is very different, almost campy. ... It's a futuristic story, funny and crazy. The centerpiece is definitely the music."
The Gargaro Theater offers a great setting for "smaller, intimate shows, or something you want to put right in people's faces," she says. "There are a lot of shows I can think of off the top of my head that would be great in a smaller setting."
Singing through the gore
In "Evil Dead: The Musical," a comedy based on cult classic horror films, five college students accidentally unleash an evil force in a cabin in the woods, turning them all into demons.
Housewares employee Ash and his trusty chainsaw save the day. Maybe.
Set to musical accompaniment, blood squirts, limbs are severed, demons tell bad jokes.
"People want to be in the 'splash zone,' " Doyno says, laughing.
"(The creators) wrote a crazy, kitschy musical and then, much to their surprise, people loved it," says Mitchell, who is directing his first Pittsburgh Musical Theater show.
The show combines "really, really catchy music," he says, with jolting special effects like shotgun blasts and fake chainsaws.
"I'm big on dark comedy and smaller casts, finding things actors can play with," Mitchell says.
The late night performances, Mitchell says, seem to "push the boundaries" of what the troupe is known for doing.
A more intimate setting allows presentation of shows for different audiences, and can introduce musical theater to people who think they don't like musical theater, he says.
Doyno hopes expanded theater use increases opportunities for both students and regional actors and musicians.
"We consider ourselves a fiercely local company. People can make the decision to be in the arts and not have to go to New York. They can stay in Pittsburgh," she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MaryPickels.