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Reopening of East Liberty theater set for Nov. 11

| Sunday, Sept. 9, 2001

For those of us who remember when East Liberty was the mecca of neighborhood moviegoing in Pittsburgh, Nov. 11 will be one sweet night.

That's when the renovated Kelly-Strayhorn Community Performing Arts Center will open - or reopen, depending on your perspective - for an evening called 'East Liberty: Embracing the Past - Fulfilling the Future.'

The theater's official rededication won't occur until spring. The bill of fare for the Nov. 11 event hasn't been finalized.

The Kelly-Strayhorn, named for dancer-singer-actor Gene Kelly and jazz pianist-composer Billy Strayhorn, is the former Regent Theater, at 5941 Penn Ave., which first opened Nov. 7, 1914.

The theater operated primarily as a double-feature moviehouse for decades, closing intermittently in the '50s, '60s and '70s as motion picture attendance dwindled and much of the East End population moved to suburbia.

The Regent rebounded time after time, sometimes refurbished. It outlasted such neighbors as the Family (closed in 1947), the mammoth Enright (closed in 1958), the Triangle (closed in 1959), the Cameraphone (closed in 1964) and the Liberty (closed in 1968).

But like the nearby Sheridan Square, the Regent concluded its days as a moviehouse in 1979. Both theaters sat dormant for years. The historic Sheridan Square was razed a decade ago when it was determined that restoration costs would be prohibitive.

The Regent has been in phases of renovation since the mid-1980s, but after reopening with relatively little fanfare in 1995 for occasional concerts, it closed again in 1997.

The Nov. 11 reopening will celebrate 71 artists and performers who were born in the East End, including Kelly and Strayhorn but also such others as Frank Gorshin, Billy Porter, Charles Grodin, Billy Eckstine and Frank Weaver.

Each will be honored through the installation of his or her photograph in the theater's Gallery of Stars.

The caretaker of the collection is Paul G. Brecht of North Point Breeze, executive director of the East Liberty Quarter Chamber of Commerce.

Brecht credits Anthony (Herb) Amen of Penn Hills and Irv Foreman of Pennsbury Village with collecting the photos, which are to be a permanent part of the theater.

Although it is hoped the Kelly-Strayhorn will attract many local arts groups and attractions, the primary tenant will be the Hope Academy of Music and Arts, which is based across Penn Avenue at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

Tickets for 'East Liberty: Embracing the Past - Fulfilling the Future' are $50 are may be obtained by contacting Brecht at the East Liberty Chamber of Commerce, 5907 Penn Ave., Suite 305, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15206, or phoning him at (412) 661-9660.

RETURN OF A FAVORITE

'The Road Home,' the most favorably reviewed movie here all year, is returning for a one-week run at Regent Square starting Friday.

SOON IT'S GONNA CLOSE

'The Fantasticks,' the longest running show in American theater history, will conclude its 41-year-plus engagement at off-Broadway's 135-seat Sullivan Street Playhouse Jan. 6, but not for want of business.

The musical, which opened May 3, 1960, is losing its lease, and producer Lore Noto cannot reach an agreement with the property's new owner to keep the show running with an affordable rent.

A team of reporters for Playbill Magazine indicate rumblings of a possible move, but the show is already in a shoebox of a theater where expenses were manageable.

Business is sure to boom again now that a closing notice has been posted, just as it did when a 1986 closing was announced. (Talk about a reprieve.)

'The Fantasticks' is a whimsical, stylized fantasy about neighboring fathers - one with a son and the other with a daughter - who feign a feud in order to encourage their offspring to marry.

It features such songs as 'Soon It's Gonna Rain' and 'Try to Remember.'

OFF WITH THEE, 'KATE'

The superb Broadway revival of 'Kiss Me, Kate' will quit Dec. 30 after more than 800 performances because business has been off in recent months since the departures of stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie.

HAVE GUN, GONE BYE-BYE

The annoyingly revisionist Broadway revival 'Annie Get Your Gun' folded on short notice over the Labor Day weekend after 1,046 performances, which was close to the 1,147 enjoyed by the original 1946 production with Ethel Merman.

The revival drew well, but not weekly capacity, with Bernadette Peters, but slipped a lot when Cheryl Ladd took over. Attendance swelled considerably when Reba McEntire replaced Ladd for a few months. McEntire attracted a lot of followup reviews, all of them raves. Once the less-well-known Crystal Bernard took over, business slumped severely.

TWILIGHT FOR 'STARLIGHT'

The inexplicably popular London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Starlight Express' will fold Jan. 12, 2002, only a couple of months before its 19th anniversary.

It will have played 7,406 performances, which is a heck of a run for a musical without a single memorable song or moment.

It's already second only to Lloyd Webber's 'Cats' as the longest running musical in the history of London's Broadway equivalent, the West End.

DON'T CALL IT BLATTY'S

The profitable 2000 re-release of 'The Exorcist' (1973) was lost on no one, least of all remake-happy and sequel-crazed Hollywood.

We've already had two unsatisfactory sequels, 'The Exorcist II: The Heretic' (1977), with Richard Burton and three original cast members (Linda Blair, Kitty Winn and Max von Sydow), and 'The Exorcist III' (1990), with George C. Scott and original cast member Jason Miller.

The latter was directed by William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original novel and screenplay but had distanced himself from the first sequel.

The next version will be a prequel about the first encounter of Father Merrin (the von Sydow character) with a devil while he was a missionary in post-World War II Africa, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

William Wisher wrote the first draft, Caleb Carr a revise.

The good news is that it will be directed by John Frankenheimer ('Birdman of Alcatraz,' 'Seven Days in May,' 'The Manchurian Candidate').

The bad news is that Blatty has denied in the trade paper Variety that he endorses the planned fourth installment.

He says audiences would laugh at the exorcism in Wisher's draft of the script and that he found Carr's draft boring.

'I don't like people playing with one of my very central characters,' Blatty said. 'It does not have my blessing. Far from it.'

BUT IS IT 'THE WOMEN'•

For years Julia Roberts was planning to appear with several other major Hollywood names (Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer and others were mentioned) in a remake of Clare Booth Luce's all-female comedy, 'The Women,' a hit 1936 Broadway comedy full of bickering women from which the 1939 all-star film was made.

It was never clear whether they planned to do it as conceived - very much a '30s period piece with an abundance of gossipy cat-fighting and a home-and-hearth heroine.

The remake has been on the back burner for several years.

Maybe they never could figure out how to have fun with it and to recreate the gender politics of the '30s without playing against the contemporary feminist take that pervades virtually all films today.

Everything from the past that is even somewhat politically (or genderly) incorrect gets tweaked, or given an ironic overview. Such an approach may involve massive revision, as with the current 'Annie Get Your Gun,' or a bit, as in the recent Richard Chamberlain revival of 'My Fair Lady.'

Maybe that movie of 'The Women' will happen now, spurred by any publicity attendant to a limited run Broadway revival that begins previewing Oct. 12 and opens Nov. 8.

Cynthia Nixon will play Mary (the old Norma Shearer part), with Jennifer Tilly as Chrystal (Joan Crawford), Kristen Johnston as Sylvia (Rosalind Russell), Rue McClanahan as Countess De Lage (Mary Boland), Mary Louise Wilson as Mrs. Morehead (Lucile Watson), Lynne Collins as Miriam (Paulette Goddard) and Amy Ryan as Peggy (Joan Fontaine).

A spokesman for the production company says the 1936 script will be used, 'but there might be a few interpolations.'

It's the interpolations that keep me up nights.

TIME TO GET UPSCALE

Now that most of the film companies have earned a fortune on their abominable summer slate, they'll begin getting serious about awards season, stacking the period of October through February with the higher prestige pictures that they list in the other half of their portfolios.

KUDOS FOR SWINTON

It remains to be seen if 40-year-old Tilda Swinton has whatever it takes to be a major movie star, but her performances in 'Orlando,' 'The Beach' and the current 'The Deep End' suggest she had the distinctiveness and at least some of the gifts of Meryl Streep and Glenn Close.

If Swinton reminds me of anyone, though, it's Cate Blanchett.

Swinton has a cerebral quality that invites you to consider what she's thinking. George C. Scott had that, too.

BACK IN BUSINESS

Not one but both of the actors who won Tony Awards in June for 'The Invention of Love' are sticking around Broadway.

No sooner did Robert Sean Leonard take over the lead in the ongoing revival of 'The Music Man,' but Richard Easton has signed open on Broadway Oct. 16 in a revival of 'Noises Off' with Patti LuPone, Faith Prince (lately of 'Bells Are Ringing') and Peter Gallagher.

DVDs PENETRATING U.S. HOMES

DVD sales are torrid. Two years ago, 4.8 million American homes had DVD players, according to the trade paper Variety. Now 19.6 million so. That's 25 percent of all American homes.

Because it's apparent that the format has caught in, more studios are releasing more classics. One of the pictures that won't be out in DVD for more than a year, though, is 'E.T.' because Steven Spielberg plans a theatrical release for it in 2002, its 20th anniversary.

Ed Blank is the Tribune-Review's Broadway theater critic. He can be reached at (412) 854-5555 or eblank@tribweb.com .


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