The ensemble finale in Point Park's "The Boy Friend."
From left: ensemble members Adrienne Box, Grace Wetzel, Sofia Barboza, Kayleigh Rozwat (Little Sally, in front), Maura Barker and Kristofer Pomiecko.
Melessie Clark, left, as Hortense and Kristin Serafini as Polly in Point Park's "The Boy Friend."
Melessie Clark, center top, as Hortense and Dorsey Ziller, center, as Maisie with the female ensemble in Point Park's "The Boy Friend."
By Christopher Rawson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A perennial pleasure of Pittsburgh theater is its leading college programs and occasionally their shows overlap, as they did last weekend, providing a chance at a three-straight-night parlay of pleasure – so I grabbed it.
The three shows neatly reflect the three schools. Carnegie Mellon University’s “The Wiz” (just closed) was a big, boisterous version of the black adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” complete with bold performances and the technological fizz of which CMU’s undergraduate techies are capable. University of Pittsburgh’s “Urinetown” (continuing through this weekend), actually staged by a student club not the theater department, is a mixed bag of talent with a scruffy zest that neatly fits that parody of earnest musical drama. And Point Park University’s “The Boy Friend” (returning March 12-15, after spring break) is a joyous essay in the throw-back styles of the 1920s, enhanced by students from the school’s big programs in musical theater and dance.
For background, remember that CMU’s and Point Park’s are highly ranked professional training programs, feeding our national acting pool. Pitt’s is an undergraduate liberal arts program — but Pitt also has graduate programs that train teachers of theater, including some who go on to CMU or Point Park. Pittsburgh benefits from all three.
“The Boy Friend”
Point Park is fortunate in faculty director Jack Allison, whom some will remember from his years directing at Pittsburgh CLO. Here, he draws on the large undergrad performer pool to recreate the the gee-whiz, presentational, highly juiced style of the 1920s — or at least the version of it appropriate to this affectionate parody by Sandy Wilson (words and music).
The story involves lots of cute flappers and handsome guys meeting at a seaside French finishing school, where love is in the air along with sprightly pop music and lots of the Charleston. Some big dance numbers seem a touch more dutiful than effervescent, but when they take wing, you want to join in.
I’m especially taken by Kristin Serafini as the central ingenue (the role originally played on Broadway by the 18-year-old Julie Andrews). The conventional cute second couple, Dorsey Ziller and Matt Augustyniak, dance the heck out of their big number, and among the older characters, Melessie Clark (the cheeky French maid) and Emmi Veinbergs (the headmistress) make a big impression.
But the greatest effect belongs to the nonstop choreography of Eileen Grace, setting the stage almost perpetually abuzz. In the world led by her and Messrs. Wilson and Allison, parody becomes something very like the real thing.
8 p.m. March 12, 13, 14 and 2 p.m. March 13 and 14. Tickets: pittsburghplayhouse.com or 412-392-8000.
This is another parody, the original being such socially conscious musicals as those of Brecht and Weill. Two narrators, Officer Lockstock and Little Sally, keep calling our attention to the plot twists, themes and ironies of a heavily symbolic story of a town in the grip of a bloodsucking corporation taking advantage of ecological crisis.
The style is roughly that of 1930s proletarian protest, earnest to a fault, but always mocking itself with excess. For all its silliness, it feels like a timely attack on today’s corporate 1 percent as well as simplistic social reformers.
Pitt’s dark studio theater makes an appropriate setting, although arranging the acting area along the long wall complicates the acoustics. Brittany Coyne, herself an undergraduate, directs a cast heavier on freshmen and enthusiasm than on experience and skill, but zest and energy go a long way. Rachelmae Pulliam (Lockstock), Kayleigh Rozwat (Little Sally) and Molly Balk (Pennywise) are the best.
8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Tickets: 412-624-PLAY.
There are plenty of wizards at CMU, though they didn’t seem always to be on the same page under the direction and choreography of Tome Cousin and musical direction of Thomas Douglas. That is, the scenic, costume, lighting, sound and media designs, as impressive as they were individually, sometimes created a bit of a twister of their own that the performers had to struggle against.
Or maybe this is another way of saying that this musical by Charlie Smalls (music and lyrics) and William Brown (book) happens simultaneously in different sensory worlds, telling its story many ways. In the process, many talented CMU students got to tell different parts of the story in different ways.
I’m sorry if you missed it. Mainstage CMU and Point Park shows should go on your calendar on in advance, lest that happen again.
For “Urinetown,” call 412-624-PLAY; for “The Boy Friend,” 412-392-8000.
Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944.
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