Sewickley man eager to get back on stage in Pittsburgh Public Theater's '1776'

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

For Lou Valenzi of Sewickley, getting back to acting was like riding a bicycle.

Although Valenzi's life always has been focused on music and theater, he hasn't performed in about 10 years, staying busy with his jobs as choir teacher and musical director at Quaker Valley School District and as music director at St. James Church in Sewickley.

But when director Ted Pappas called and asked him to perform in Pittsburgh Public Theater's “1776,” opening at the O'Reilly Theater Thursday, Valenzi said, he was thrilled and wasn't about to say no.

“To work at Pittsburgh Public Theater is a privilege. I would never turn it down. I wanted to do it more than anything in the world,” he said.

Valenzi, 59, also had worked with Pappas in Gilbert and Sullivan shows, “The Pirates of Penzance,” and “H.M.S. Pinafore,” and the last time, about 10 years ago, in “Mikado.”

Although Valenzi said Pappas knew his busy schedule, he decided to take a chance anyway and ask him to perform. He said Quaker Valley Superintendent Joseph Clapper and the Rev. Thomas Burke, St. James pastor, thought it was a great idea and allowed Valenzi to take time off for rehearsals.

Valenzi said he was thrilled at being asked, but he was a bit nervous after so many years away from the stage. But, it all came back to him.

“I've never worked with 26 better actors in my life,” he said.

And, Valenzi is familiar with the Tony-award winning “best musical,” outlining how 13 colonies became the United States of America with music, dance, comic encounters and impassioned politics.

About 20 years ago, Valenzi directed and acted in “1776” at Robert Morris University, where he portrayed Edward Rutledge, who represented South Carolina in the Continental Congress.

For Pittsburgh Public Theater's production, Valenzi will portray Joseph Hewes, a representative of the Continental Congress for North Carolina in 1774, first secretary of the Navy, owner of a shipping company.

He said he enjoys being a part of the production, but it also is providing professional development for him as a director of middle school and high school musicals as he watches Pappas direct.

This is Valenzi's ninth year at Quaker Valley, and he has been at St. James for 20, part of that time teaching general music at St. James School.

A professional actor in Los Angeles at one time, Valenzi has performed on Broadway, all across the United States and Canada. He said one of the highlights of his career was a two-year tour and Broadway shows of “Pirates of Penzance” with Jim Belushi and Maureen McGovern.

He also had continual walk-on parts on several television series, including “Knot's Landing,” “Days of our Lives,” “Equal Justice,” “According to Jim” and “The Young and the Restless.”

When he first started at St. James, he also performed in “42nd Street” at the Benedum Center. And, for many years, while at St. James, he also directed plays at Pine-Richland School District.

Last year, Quaker Valley's musical, “Guys and Dolls,” which he directed, won best show at the Gene Kelly Awards in Pittsburgh. The upcoming spring show will be “Anything Goes.”

Valenzi and wife of 38 years, Maureen, who he said always has been supportive of his “crazy” schedule, have three sons, Shane, Ian and Donovan. Valenzi said the family moved back to the area from California because he and his wife wanted their sons to attend Quaker Valley.

Shane, who also has performed, is about to graduate from law school. Ian is in the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan and is scheduled to return home soon. Donovan is on the west coast driving trucks.

Valenzi, a St. James and Quaker Valley graduate, studied business at Duquesne University, where he also earned his teaching certificate later in life. He said he never formally studied theater but learned from Tom Gados, who formerly directed summer theater at Robert Morris University.

He said he definitely would like to perform in more shows, especially after he retires.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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