Musical revue a long time coming; planned for former Leetsdale church
By Joanne Barron
Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
A wish Elizabeth Matthews made more than 20 years ago finally is coming true this month.
While in high school in Squirrel Hill, she heard the music for the revue “Closer Than Ever,” and thought to herself, “I can't wait until I'm old enough to do this.”
“And, now I am,” she said with a laugh as she and her husband, Jonathan Surmacz of Leetsdale, joined a few other cast members to rehearse the revue, which consists of all singing and no spoken dialogue.
The show is scheduled at 8 p.m. Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 at the former Leetsdale Presbyterian church, 200 Broad St.
Since the first time she heard the music, Matthews said she never stopped listening — first on tape, then on CD and now on her iPod. Also growing up with the music were her children, Jessica Matthews, 18, who now is majoring in stage management at Point Park University, and Abby Surmacz, 12, who attends Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School for theater and Michael Surmacz, 2, who she and Jonathan adopted.
But performing in “Closer Than Ever” is not Matthews' only dream. Since she and Surmacz moved to the area 10 years ago, they not only have been dreaming about putting together a theater production but also a theater company and a permanent place for future productions.
The pieces began to come together after many conversations with friends and neighbors, Beth and Matt Carroll, who are helping to support the show in the former church, owned by architect Denny Campbell and now called the Board Street Playhouse.
Surmacz said Campbell, who is “pro art,” is trying to help them out and loaning them the space. He is allowing them to do some construction work for the set, and Surmacz and Matthews are in the process of working out an arrangement with him.
“The street that the building is on once was called Broadway Street, so we thought that was a sign. We are bringing back Broadway to Broad Street,” said Surmacz, production manager for Conservatory of Performing Arts department of dance at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, where he graduated.
Matthews and Surmacz said they hope to someday buy and renovate the building into a permanent playhouse where their company, Well Played Productions, would stage performances. Their vision is to possibly include talented local adults, teens and children who could participate in Saturday-morning productions or in dinner-theater events.
“There are so many talented people in this area, and they appreciate the arts,” said Matthews, who worked in professional theater until about five years ago.
Including teens and children is a big goal, she said, because she is a nanny, has worked in child care for many years and directed the play “Honk” at Quaker Valley Middle School about five years ago.
For now, though, the couple agreed their biggest aspirations could be many years in the future.
Surmacz said the first show will have just two performances to benefit the theater.
“We want to see what kind of support we will have, get a feel for what kind of theater people want and see if we can raise some money to get this started,” he said.
Their ideas have a great appeal to Charles Wilson, musical director for “Closer Than Ever,” who, for a year, has been musical director for Sewickley United Methodist Church, where the cast is rehearsing.
Wilson, who was a dancer in New York for 12 years before moving to the Pittsburgh area and earning a degree in music, said he likes the idea that local talent, especially children and teens, could end up working, learning and getting training and mentoring with professional, equity actors.
However, Matthews said “Closer Than Ever,” is not a show for children.
That's not because it has lots of swearing or sexual content, but because it deals with adult topics such as aging, identity crisis, middle life, children, parenting, becoming a parent to one's parents and relationships.
The opening and closing numbers tie it all together, Matthews said.
In addition to Surmacz and Matthews, other singing cast members include Surmacz's and Matthews' friends Daniel Siford and Leah Hillgrove, with whom they have performed in various productions over the years.
Siford, originally from Whitehall, acts, sings, does voice-overs in New York and has performed a lot in the Pittsburgh area, and Hillgrove of Peters Township, who grew up in Murrysville, has performed in many Pittsburgh area productions, is a ballet dancer and also does voice-over work.
She performed with Surmacz at The Theater Factory in Trafford, where Hillgrove now is a member of the board.
Surmacz's father, Gary, was president and one of the founders of the theater, where he and Matthews met and married.
Now the four friends are back together again for “Closer Than Ever.”
“I think this will be a wonderful thing for the community,” Matthews said.
Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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