'Off the Record' skewers politics, Pirates, parking meters and more

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To be on the record, or to be off the record? That is not the question William Shakespeare asked.

But the bards of Pittsburgh present, unlike the poet of England past, have asked and answered:

Off. Definitely off.

The annual "Off the Record" musical satirizing Pittsburgh news and newsmakers will be performed Thursday at the Byham Theater, Downtown. The show will offer its take on the race to succeed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, while also giving a nod to Shakespeare.

'Off the Record XIII: All the Burgh's a Stage!'

When: Thursday 8 p.m.; doors open at 6:30 p.m. for hors d'oeuvres and a cash bar.

Tickets: $25-$75, trustarts.org or 412-456-6666.

Now in its 13th year, "Off the Record" is presented by the Pittsburgh Newspaper Guild/CWA, which represents Pittsburgh Post-Gazette journalists, and Pittsburgh SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors and performers, among others. Acting in the show will be some professional thespians, as well as Post-Gazette employees and a few local politicians.

"Off the Record" raises money for the unions' two scholarship funds and some other smaller organizations, but mostly it benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. In the past 12 years, the show has contributed $332,000 to the food bank, including $38,000 from the 2012 performance, said Post-Gazette writer and editor Gary Rotstein.

He should know. For those 12 years, Mr. Rotstein was the head writer for "Off the Record," sharing its management with producer Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette senior theater critic. For the 13th edition, he's left the management to Mr. Rawson, who continues as producer (plus script supervisor, casting agent, etc.), but has turned lead writing duties over to two colleagues who have helped with the writing and sometimes acted in past shows. This year's head writers are Bill Toland, who writes about business and spirits for the PG, and Dan Majors, who writes about entertainment for the paper's e-edition, The Pittsburgh Press, and has been covering the Pirates' ascent.

Also contributing to "Off the Record XIII" are two dozen actors, mainly professionals such as Barbara Russell, Bingo O'Malley, Christine Laitta and David Flick, but with some reporters, politicians and other amateurs increasing the fun. Gregory Lehane is back as director and Camille Villalpando as music director. KDKA's Ken Rice brings the funny as emcee, and the prebuttalist -- getting in his licks before the parody begins -- will be Democratic mayoral nominee Bill Peduto.

Mr. Rotstein, who this year will simply be watching the show, expressed confidence in his successors.

"They're smart, funny guys who follow the news and write well," he said. "That's all you need."

Following the news was the first step in the writing process. "When Luke Ravenstahl held his press conference to say he wouldn't be running again, it seemed pretty clear that would be the news story on which we'd hang the bulk of our script this year," Mr. Toland said.

They've also continued an approach Mr. Rotstein used, weaving a literary or cultural reference into the political plot. Mr. Rotstein, for example, used the plays of August Wilson for the 2012 performance.

This year, Mr. Majors turned to Shakespeare. The idea came to him after a third Orie sister, part of a Western Pennsylvania political family, was convicted on criminal charges. Hence, in "Off the Record," the Orie sisters as the three witches in Shakespeare's "Macbeth" will deliver their prophecy about the Pittsburgh mayoral seat. Then the mayoral race -- or the "OTR" retelling of it -- will be underway.

"It just seemed to go well," said Mr. Majors, who in addition to co-writing the show is acting in it, in one scene as a bodyguard for Mr. Ravenstahl and in another as Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

There's no need to be fully tuned in to Pittsburgh politics to get the jokes, Mr. Majors said. And the show covers other topics, ranging from the new city parking meters to the Pirates and the team's changing fortunes.

theater - electionsmunicipal

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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