City Theatre's Momentum Festival: 'POP!', 'South Side Stories' and more

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Momentum returned to City Theatre after a two-year absence with a couple of readings that had local flavor: "POP!" a musical with a hint of Pittsburgh about Andy Warhol and "South Side Stories," a project that begins high on the Slopes and ends in the Flats, where City resides.

On Saturday, introducing Matt Morrow as the director of Tami Dixon's long-term South Side project, City's Tracy Brigden also said he would join the theater as associate director. Mr. Morrow said he will move here from New York to begin his new job Aug. 15.

Momentum creates an informal, nurturing environment for playwrights and performers to hone new works, this year including "Rancho Mirage" by "Honus & Me" author Steven Dietz and "Rich Girl" by Victoria Stewart.

Here's some of what you missed by missing out on Momentum this past weekend:

The Friday reading -- and singing -- of the pop musical "POP!" took place on an anniversary that serves as an inspiration for the show: June 3, 1968, the day Andy Warhol was shot. The story is presented as a whodunit among the hangers-on and fading stars of the artist's New York Factory salon. History tells us who the culprit was, but that's not the point in the work by Maggie-Kate Coleman and Anna K. Jacobs, who are trying to get to the essence of Warhol as they see it.

Anthony Rapp, the original mark of "Rent," played Warhol with a wide-eyed blank stare and creepy disengagement, while Brian Charles Rooney was his emotional and fully engaged counterpoint as the transexual Candy Darling - in full makeup and flowing blonde wig.

"POP!" is slated for a full production at City in May 2012.

"I have concerts scheduled with ["Rent" costar] Adam Pascal in April, but, fingers crossed, I hope I can make it work," Mr. Rapp said on Saturday, where he was in the audience for Ms. Dixon's performance and talk-back.

The cast of seven includes strong roles for the women of the Factory, played by Emily Lynne Miller as Edie, Kate Reedy as Viva and Leah Fox as Valerie.

"POP!" writer Coleman and composer Jacobs, who is here from Australia, began the musical when they were teamed for a thesis project at NYU, and are working with musical director Douglas Levine and director Sam Pinkleton at City. In just a few days, they had added a song and rewritten pages of dialogue, but the reading went off to form a fully realized but still developing work.

On Saturday, Ms. Dixon gave voice to neighborhood characters that she said was 30 percent her and 70 percent transcription from two years of interviews, some arranged in advance, some garnered while sitting on a South Side street corner with a sign that said, "Tell me your story." The amazing part: She had not put the whole of it together until two days before the reading on Saturday afternoon, "although I've been living with these characters in my head for two years," she said afterward.

Her "Stories" takes the audience from her 1910 mill-era house atop the Slopes to the now trendy Flats and eventually winds up back at the neighborhood's theater, City. Even without the planned projections and reworks ahead, it's a powerful piece of history about a neighborhood's transformation and a community's character, not all of it complimentary but all of it "as true to the people as I can be," Ms. Dixon said.

Many of the recognizable faces in the audience were actors from other readings who are often seen on Pittsburgh stages - Rebecca Harris, Sam Redford, Robin Walsh and Michael Fuller were among the cast of "Rango Mirage" and Naomi Jacobson, Robin Abramson, Bridget Connors and Joel Ripka performed the reading of "Rich Girl."

The writers, performers and directors took good-natured feedback after each reading and left with new insights and ideas. An obvious one from an audience member at "POP!" had to do with the paper bags that play an integral part in the show.

"I kept waiting for someone to make a bag go 'pop!'" an audience member said. The writers and director gave an "of course" nod and took notes.

Sharon Eberson: or 412-263-1960.


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