Stage Review: PICT gets Wilde with family musical

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As if it weren't enough to stage a subscription season of heavyweights Shakespeare, Wilde and Synge, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre is now double-dipping, overlapping Wilde's elegant adult comedy "An Ideal Husband" (through Saturday), with a brief world premiere run of a small family musical, "Wilde Tales."

Adapted by composer/playwright Bruce Dow from two of Oscar Wilde's moral and melancholy fairy tales, "The Happy Prince" and "The Selfish Giant," it is not, of course, just for children.

In fact, Dow argues in an articulate program essay that it isn't at all what now passes for children's entertainment, because the great fairy tales are usually defanged, "Disney-fied" and "Barney-ized," edited for political correctness and anything unpleasant.

Dow identifies a standard contemporary children's plot, similar to many sitcoms: simple misunderstanding, generic sadness, happy resolution, warm fuzzies. No characters (he cites the Harry Potter books as honorable exceptions) ever face "abandonment, imprisonment, torture or death by eating," as in the classic fairy tales.

'Wilde Tales'
  • Where: Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre at Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland.
  • When: Through May 31; Wed.-Fri. 7 p.m., Sat. 1 and 5 p.m.
  • Tickets: $17 and $30.
  • More information: or 412-394-3353.

  • Click here for an interview with writer/composer Bruce Dow.

Even these two Wilde tales fall short of that grisly, zestful Brothers Grimm mode. But both do end in death and carry a surprisingly stern moral lesson (nonsectarian but Christian) about personal responsibility.

At 45 minutes, "The Happy Prince" is the more elaborate parable. The prince is a bejeweled statue overlooking the city he used to rule, in despair over human meanness and greed. He uses a small sparrow to strip off his jewels and gold leaf to succor the poor. But society does not change, and statue and sparrow end up on the dust heap, honored only in heaven.

"The Selfish Giant" is shorter (30 minutes) and simpler. The giant starts by exiling children from his garden, which reverts to perpetual winter. When he relents, he is blessed with happiness, but he, too, must eventually die, to be rewarded by the Christ who suffered little children to come unto him.

Both stories breathe a non-doctrinaire, humanistic socialism, but they are also rich in the sense of human fallibility that I find redolent of Wilde's own end, crushed by social hypocrisy.

Both tales are directed by Sheila McKenna, choreographed by Andre Koslowski and musically directed by Melissa Yanchak with disarming simplicity, readers-theater style, in which actors provide their own narration. David Cabot (a fine giant) and Kelsey Robinson are the most accomplished in the ensemble of five, and Kelly Krepin DeFade is the principal dancer.

Dow's score -- some 20 brief pieces in each tale -- is modern, one might say Sondheimesque, without his rich melody but with a commanding presence, realized by five musicians and well sung, except for muddy lyrics in some ensemble numbers.

So are these stories for children or adults? Both, of course, depending on whether your children can tolerate sadness in their fables, or whether you can tolerate moral imperatives in your entertainment.

Ahead for PICT

What PICT calls "Wilde Affairs" continues with a much-anticipated rarity, his poetic drama "Salome" (June 12-28), introducing two Shaw Festival veterans, Nicole Underhay and Jim Mezon as Salome and Herod, with familiar PICT stars Kate Young, David Whalen and Paul Todaro, directed by Dublin's Alan Stanford.

Before that there is another nonsubscription Wilde treat, one performance only, Sunday at 2 p.m. -- Irish actor/director Stanford in his solo show, "In the Company of Oscar Wilde," a fund-raiser for PICT. Artistic director Andrew Paul says that at 6 feet 5 and 250 pounds, "Stanford is the closest thing I can imagine to having Oscar Wilde himself on the Randall Stage."

Post-Gazette theater critic Christopher Rawson can be reached at or 412-263-1666.


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