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January: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest stage plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.



Jan. 24-Feb. 11/ What could possibly be so great about a musical that tells the origin story of “The Wizard of Oz?” I was asking myself that question before stepping into the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway six years ago to see “Wicked” for the first time, and my question was quickly answered. The epic story that combines love, sisterhood and a fight for social justice set against fantastic sets, flying broomsticks and masterful songs, such as “Defying Gravity,” immediately became a favorite. “Wicked” follows two teenagers at a magical boarding school, Glinda and her roommate Elphaba, who will ultimately become better known as the Wicked Witch of the West. But how do the two — one blond and bubbly, one green and cynical — become best friends, teaming up against the “Something Bad” that’s happening in Oz before learning what they can do “For Good?” And which of the characters who appear along the way will become those friends Dorothy meets along the Yellow Brick Road? If you’re skeptical, as I was, put that aside and experience the magic at the Benedum Center during this PNC Broadway run. (Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org)

Jan. 25-Feb. 25/ The opening song from Tony Award winner “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” says it all: “Nothing with kings, nothing with crowns; Bring on the lovers, liars and clowns. Old situations, new complications, nothing portentous or polite; Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.” Join Pseudolus, Hero, Philia and more at Pittsburgh Public Theater for Stephen Sondheim’s version of this comedy of errors set in Ancient Rome. (O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown; 412/316-1600, ppt.org)

Jan. 20-Feb. 18/ “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey” is a one-man play by James Lecesne (a LGBT rights activist who won an Academy Award for his 1998 short film “Trevor”) that will take the stage at City Theatre’s Hamburg Studio this month. Adapted from Lecesne’s 2008 young adult novel, “Absolute Brightness,” the story is a poignant, touching and timely tale of a gay teen who goes missing and a detective, and community, who work to find out what happened to the larger-than-life 14-year-old who was just trying to be true to himself. (1300 Bingham St., South Side; 412/431-2489, citytheatrecompany.org)
 

  
photos courtesy of the artists
 

EXHIBITS

BY MIKE MAY
 

THROUGH FEB. 17/ A double-header at Silver Eye Center for Photography showcases two very different visual journeys: one biographical, the other autobiographical. Baseball provides the focus for the first show, “Fantasy Life,” described as “a space to contemplate the history of the game, the nature of ambition and the mythos of the American Dream.” Tabitha Soren followed the lives of minor-league draft picks for the Oakland A’s for 15 years. She began in 2002, as these boys of summer — Pittsburgher Brant Colamarino among them — were joining the major-league farm system out of high school or college. With her camera, Soren — a broadcast journalist who went on to pursue the fantasy life of a photographer — captured not only what happened on the field during their quest for glory, but also off: long bus trips, motels, friendships, marriages and other life passages along the way. Some stars rose, and others sank — even to homelessness. Very different places, times, circumstances and perspectives power “SISMOS,” which references the Spanish word for earthquake. Tarrah Krajnak takes us to 1979, the year of her birth in Lima, Peru, a time of seismic unrest and change. That same year, Krajnak was adopted by parents in an eastern Pennsylvania coal town. Although personal photographs are often essential elements to a visual autobiography, Krajnak does not rely on images of her or her family to tell her story. Instead, she retro-focuses back on her birth year and cobbles together archival materials, found photographs and other images “to invent something like a psychic history of that year and locate herself within it.” (Silver Eye Center for Photography, 4808 Penn Ave., Bloomfield; 412/431-1810, silvereye.org)

THROUGH JAN. 12/ Instead of cheaper by the dozen, think better by the dozen. Twelve regional artists converge for “Pittsburgh 10 (+2)”: Zivi Aviraz, Robert Bowden, Eva Damianos, Sylvester Damianos, Kathleen DePasse, Lila Hirsch-Brody, Mark Panza, Phiris Kathryn Sickels, David Sparks, Susan Sparks, Dirk VandenBerg and Francine VandenBerg. The core group started out as just half-a-dozen, six artists who had worked together at Panza Gallery in Millvale and developed strong inter-creative relationships. Their numbers increased in 2015, and they became The Pittsburgh 10 at Eastside Gallery in Forest Hills. Now, they’ve added two more for this show, offering a variety of styles and media, at BoxHeart Expressions’ main gallery. (BoxHeart Expressions, 4523 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; 412/687-8858, boxheartgallery.com)

THROUGH JAN. 28/ They’ve got rhythm. That’s the conclusion to reach at “Recurrent Rhythms,” a show of 2- and 3-D creations by glass artists that demonstrate how repetitive motifs and geometric forms can create, through the ensemble as a whole, a “rhythmic quality.” “Color, pattern and texture invite the viewer to explore how both interior and exterior dimensions add depth to the works’ complexity,” an exhibition statement explains. Participating artists include Ben Cobb, Eric Cruze and Tomo Sakai, Chad Holliday, Steve Klein, Weston Lambert, Morgan Madison, Cynthia Miller, Richard Royal and Charonne Ruth. (Morgan Contemporary Glass Gallery, 5833 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside; 412/441-5200, morganglassgallery.com)
 

Jan. 17/ Founded in 1975, Brazil’s Grupo Corpo (Body Group) has earned an international reputation for its trademark amalgamation of samba, bossa nova, capoeira, modern dance and ballet. The 21-member troupe, guided by Paulo Pederneiras, maintains 10 works in its active repertory, most featuring original music. On tap for this show is resident choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras’ “Dança Sinfônica,” a retrospective of repertory highlights accompanied by a commissioned symphony, and former company member Cassi Abranches’ 32-minute “Suite Branca,” an exploration of gravity set to music by rock musician Samuel Rosa. (Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org)
 


 

Jan. 16/ “Dancing with the Stars: Live! – Light Up the Night” presents a fresh showcase of ballroom and contemporary dance selections performed on the popular ABC network reality show, which has been a TV staple since 2005. An offshoot of “Strictly Come Dancing,” a BBC production, the weekly Los Angeles-based competition features professional dancers paired with celebrity contestants ranging from athletes to opera stars. Eliminations are based on judges’ scores and audience votes. The post-season tour brings fan favorites, such as Sharna Burgess, Artem Chigvintsev and Witney Carson, new partnerships, and favorite dances to the stage. (Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org)

Jan. 17-21/ Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, known for acrobatic, nature-inspired extravaganzas, offers “Crystal,” its 42nd production but first foray on ice. The tale follows the travels of Crystal, a misunderstood young woman who falls through the ice during a midnight skate and discovers a reflection of herself beneath the surface. Sliding and various forms of fast-paced ice skating — including extreme skating on ramps — augment the troupe’s movement vocabulary, which embraces astounding aerial and acrobatic feats. (PPG Paints Arena, 1001 Fifth Ave., Uptown; 412/642-1800, ppgpaintsarena.com/events)
 

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