Tito Braunstein had a rough spell with his health that put the Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh on hold for five years, but as soon as he was feeling up to it, the 83-year-old gathered a group that shared his passion for theater and relaunched the company.
The Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh makes its return Tuesday at Rodef Shalom's Levy Hall, with the show that started it all for the company and Mr. Braunstein. A cast of four couples and two musicians will be onstage for "That's Life," a revue of songs based on true-life experiences.
"When it closed several years ago, I was unable to find anyone who wanted to take up the responsibility. I'm fine now, so it was time to come back to it because theater is the premier passion of my life," said Mr. Braunstein, a Pittsburgh native and longtime attorney who was born Maurice Braunstein. He practiced law into his 70s and during all that time, he kept one foot in the door of theater, as an actor, director and producer. "I always wanted to continue it as soon as I could. This is the first opportunity to fulfill the passion and love of my life in an active way."
From 2001 to 2006, the Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh produced 19 shows with Mr. Braunstein at the helm. The company went dark until December of last year. Familiar local theater names -- Annette Ferrieri, the company's managing director, Leon Zionts, Richard Rauh, Richard Keitel, Marsha Rosenthal and Marci Woodruff -- joined the board of directors to facilitate a comeback.
Mr. Braunstein, producing artistic director, said the company was "welcomed with great hospitality" by Rabbi Aaron Bisno and the executive director, Jeffrey Herzog, to Rodef Shalom's 350-seat Levy Hall.
Jewish Theatre of Pittsburgh opens the 2012 season with "That's Life," directed by Pittsburgh CAPA theater department chair Mindy Rossi-Stabler, who was the show's director back in 2001, too. The show, conceived and directed by Helen Butleroff, had a long New York run for the Jewish Repertory Theatre in the mid-1990s. It also provided a boost for the fledgling Pittsburgh company in its former home, the Katz auditorium at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.
"We opened the first weekend with 65 people, and I thought, this is a disaster. The next weekend, we had 500, all because of word of mouth," Mr. Braunstein recalled. "It's really a fantastic piece of work. It consists of 17 songs, and they derive from 12 true-life stories. They have been turned into songs, and the conversion worked very well. Each song is a different story, no continuity, no line that runs through all of them."
The show about contemporary Jewish life fits the company's mission "to produce theater of the highest quality with universal appeal from a Jewish perspective as well as other perspectives," Mr. Braunstein said. "We try to touch the heart and jog the memory and give people who come to see the plays an enlightening and educational and entertaining experience."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. First Published June 10, 2012 12:00 AM