Stage Notes: Theater world mourns loss of one of their own


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Musical theater lost a talented and popular member of the family when Kevin Gray died of a heart attack Monday at age 55.

The Broadway performer appeared in productions of British mega-musicals such as "The Phantom of the Opera" and as The Engineer in "Miss Saigon," a role he reprised for Pittsburgh CLO in 2003 and 2010.

His first Pittsburgh CLO role dates to 1989 in "The King and I." In 2002 and again in 2011, he had the title role in CLO's "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde."

Recently, Gray played Scar in a national tour of "The Lion King," and in 2010, when he was here for "Miss Saigon," he talked about his new role as a theater arts teacher at The Hartt School at the University of Hartford. "I do feel that at this place in my life I have a real obligation to pass down whatever it is that I've learned, and I try the best I can to do work that leads by example," he said.

A tribute on the "The Phantom of the Opera" Facebook page reads, "We are truly saddened and shocked to have to report the passing of former 'Phantom' star Kevin Gray. A former Raoul and Phantom, he was a beloved member of the Phantom family and the Broadway community. He suffered a sudden heart attack at only 55. All of our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to his beautiful wife, Dodie Pettit, an original Broadway cast Ballerina. They had just celebrated with us at the 25th anniversary. He was a true talent, teacher and gentleman who will be sorely missed by all who knew him."

Corey Cott, the star of "Newsies" who arrived on Broadway via Carnegie Mellon and the Pittsburgh CLO ensemble, tweeted, "It was truly an honor to work with you Kevin. You were an inspiration. Rest peacefully."

NYC-Pittsburgh connections

Special doings in New York by way of Pittsburgh: A City Theatre-commissioned play about the life of Judy Holliday had a reading Tuesday at New Dramatists. The private reading of the as-yet untitled show by Willy Holtzman ("The Morini Strad") was directed by Peter Flynn and featured Katie Finneran (Tony winner for "Promises, Promises" and "Noises Off"), Harry Bouvy ("The Clockmaker") and Bob Stillman ("Grey Gardens," "Dirty Blonde").

The play with music focuses on Holliday's rise to fame amid the politics of the 1950s, including her blacklisting. It opens in 1964 in a Manhattan studio, with the "Born Yesterday" and "Bells Are Ringing" star reminiscing for a recording to be left for her son, Jonathan, on his 21st birthday. Two men will play a celebrity-filled list of cameos, including Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, Harry Cohn, Ethel Barrymore, Gloria Swanson, Jack Lemmon, Adolph Green and Marilyn Monroe.

City Theatre has commissioned works from Christopher Durang and Adam Rapp, Jeffrey Hatcher and Eric Simonson, among others artists.

A 'Gem' in Dayton

The Mark Clayton Southers' production of "Gem of the Ocean" at the Dayton, Ohio, Human Race Theatre Company was the favorite play of the 2011-12 season for MostMetro.com, the city's online regional magazine.

Theater writer Russell Florence Jr. wrote that the company's "insightful August Wilson Symposium accented the splendid run of 'Gem of the Ocean,' " which was named best professional production of a play by the site. Mr. Southers, head of Pittsburgh Playwrights and theater coordinator for the August Wilson Center, was named best director. "Gem" was the top pick for set, lighting, costume and sound design, while several Pittsburgh actors who are based here or have appeared in Pittsburgh productions (Jonathan Berry as Citizen Barlow, Kevin Brown as Eli, Alan Bomar Jones as Solly Two Kings and Marva M.B. Williams as Black Mary) were among the honorable mentions.

Local writer on the rise

A quick note on the meteoric career of Michael Mitnick, with more to come soon:

The 29-year-old writer out of Harvard and Fox Chapel is seeing his work gain traction on stage and screen. His screenplay "The Current War," about Pittsburgher George Westinghouse's battle with Thomas Edison over the world's standard of electricity, is being produced by Steve Zaillian ("Moneyball," "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "Schindler's List"), with Timur Bekmambetov attached to direct. "The movie is about their DC/AC battle and how it indirectly led to the creation of the electric chair," Mr. Mitnick said via email this week.

His latest work for stage, the futuristic "Ed, Downloaded," concludes its run Sunday at the Denver Center Theatre Company. The Denver Post raved that the play is a "funny, whipsmart and melancholy sci-fi outing."

Mr. Mitnick is writing the book for a musical adaptation of "Animal House" with the band Barenaked Ladies and has a couple of projects in the works for Universal Pictures. He also has contributed lyrics to a stage spectacle of "King Kong" (music by Massive Attack and Marius de Vries; book by Craig Lucas), which will open in Melbourne, Australia, in June.

Quick scenes

The all-Pittsburgh high school production of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," planned for a Feb. 14 opening at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, has been postponed. ... Betty Buckley, who opened the Trust Cabaret series, returned to the London stage in The Charing Cross Theatre production of Jerry Herman's "Dear World," which opened Wednesday. ... Logan Rowland, a freshman at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School and a Broadway understudy in "The Addams Family," has been cast in the world-premiere musical "Treasure Island," which opens March 8 at Arkansas Repertory Theatre. ... "Newsies" director Jeff Calhoun and composer Alan Menken were among the guest stars at the annual Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta last month, attended by 4,000 school-age theater performers from 23 states.

theater

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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