May: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

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

Leslie Jackson and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

May 22-27/ Any retelling of the Cinderella story usually has a few key elements that make it the simple epitome of a fairy tale: a wicked stepmother, a glass slipper, a handsome prince. But the musical version, with its charming Rodgers and Hammerstein score, always seems to give the tale new life. Instead of cartoon mice and “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” you have the whimsical “In My Own Little Corner” and dreamy “Ten Minutes Ago.” Whether you’re rewatching one of the live action movies on Amazon or taking in the stage show, presented here by PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh, there’s always a new bit of magic to find. (Heinz Hall, 600 Penn Ave., Downtown; 412/392-4900,

Through May 20/ Pittsburgh Public Theater Producing Artistic Director Ted Pappas closes out his 18th and final season with the company with the ultimate drama, Hamlet. Pappas spent the last year working on the production, from choosing the cast to working on the set (the stage is enclosed in plexiglass as a modern feature to offset the ancient setting) with designer James Noone. “I’ve never done the play before; it’s my first ‘Hamlet,’” Pappas says. “I thought it would be a most appropriate final challenge and a wonderful ending to a good season.” (O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown; 412/316-1600,

May 12-June 3/ It’s an unlikely friendship, a beautiful coming-of-age tale and a heartbreaking look into the lives of those on the fringes of society all at once. Written by Los Angeles native Carla Ching, Nomad Motel follows Alix, who cares for her twin brothers in the California motel room they call home after their mother all but abandons them, and Mason, a teen living a comfortable life until his father disappears. The two bond over the struggle to survive, forced to become adults before they should have to. (City Theatre Mainstage, 1300 Bingham St., South Side; 412/431-2489,

by Mike May

MAY 6-JUNE 30/ “Nocturne painting” was the lyrical term James Abbott McNeill Whistler coined to describe his exploration of the world from dusk to dawn, but the beauty, opportunities and challenges of capturing that time frame attracted others before him — Rembrandt, for example.

Locally, the industrial nocturnes of early-20th-century painter Aaron Harry Gorson remain some of the most sublime images of Pittsburgh. The music of the night also inspires Diane Grguras, as the second half of the title of her show at Gallery on 43rd Street reveals: Bright Blessed Day/Dark Sacred Night.

The title, with its echo of spirituality, comes from lyrics of a song made famous by Louis Armstrong, “What a Wonderful World,” a favorite of Grguras’ mother.

“I’ve been concentrating on the sky over the past two years and find it as interesting at night as it is during the day,” the Glenshaw pastel artist says of her work. “The most intriguing times for me are pre-dawn and twilight when details and color drop away.”

That’s true for “Straight on Till Morning,” a dynamic land- and sky-scape set along Interstate 80. “Early Travelers,” a snowscape with a staccato of footprints, draws from a darker palette. The “Bright Blessed Day” side of the title offers equally engaging work. Grguras celebrates early summer in “June Day” and presents a new perspective on one of Pittsburgh’s most precipitous places in “Rialto Street.” (Pictured is “Cold Night/Hot Pasta.”) The artist, who has degrees in scientific and medical illustration, features western Pennsylvania but also goes farther afield, to spots such as Martha’s Vineyard, to find her material, which she captures en plein air. Sun up or sun down: a wonderful world. (Gallery on 43rd Street, 187 43rd St., Lawrenceville; 412/683-6488,

THROUGH JUNE 10/ May “marx” the spot. Not only is it the time when international workers are celebrated (May Day), but it’s also the birth month of revolutionary economic theorist Karl Marx. Marx@200 at SPACE, curated by Kathy M. Newman and Susanne Slavick, Carnegie Mellon University English and art professors, respectively, acknowledges Marx’s 200th birthday. It’s “a spirited, playful and international effort” to look at social and economic issues people are facing around the globe — and right here in Pittsburgh. (SPACE, 812 Liberty Ave., Downtown; 412/325-7723,

MAY 4-JULY 8/ Pittsburgh Center for the Arts features two shows with themes of collaboration:
• “Under the Blankets – Printmakers Together” presents work by Pittsburgh Print Group members as well as work from other printmakers in the tri-state region chosen by Pittsburgh Print Group members.
• “Here Is Something That You Might Like to Have” brings Imin Yeh and Paul Mullins together in an examination of how we look at the past. “The exhibition marks the physical return to a region in close proximity to both artists’ original homes and a subsequent rummaging into memories and desires of each other’s earliest art activity,” says PCA. (Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, 6300 Fifth Ave., Point Breeze; 412/361-0873,
THROUGH MAY 19/ “Michael Long: MEDIA – Mixed and Multi” showcases the styles and techniques of this multidimensional Bedford artist over a 25-year span. Long has been an artist since childhood and received his first commission at 17. He has worked in the film industry (under the mentoring of local special-effects guru Tom Savini) and experimented in a variety of ways: abstract paintings on canvas, ceramics, steel, woodworking and found objects.
Long’s solid grasp of the human — or, more accurately, humanoid — form is highlighted in “Spindleman,” whose anatomy comprises nothing but chair spindles. (Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, Altoona, 1210 11th Ave., Altoona; 814/946-4464,

photo by duane rieder


May 4-6/ Terrence Orr won’t be donning his sailor costume when Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performs Fancy Free (1944), but he once did. Orr assumed the role of the romantically inclined sailor in the 1960s and danced it at Heinz Hall in 1972 on a program presented by PBT, the troupe he now directs. The show this month is part of a Jerome Robbins/Leonard Bernstein Centennial Celebration, and the former American Ballet Theatre star has a long working history with Robbins and the ballet, which centers on three sailors on leave in New York and inspired the musical “On the Town.” “Fancy Free” is programmed with “West Side Story Suite,” another Robbins/Bernstein mega-hit, and “In the Night,” which features a Chopin score. The PBT Orchestra provides live accompaniment. (Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666,

May 12/ Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, directed by Maria Caruso, presents “Highlights,” a two-act retrospective of its 2017-2018 season, plus the premiere of Caruso’s “Submerged.” On tap are ballets first seen on the troupe’s recent Southern tour — including Caruso’s “Really?!” — and a reprise of “Doors and Windows,” which premiered in February. (Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown; 412/456-6666,

photo courtesy of Kelly Strayhorn

May 11-12/ Interdisciplinary artist Bill Shannon, known for creating movement on crutches, offers the world premiere of Touch Update, the culmination of a year-long creative process. The 70-minute performance art piece uses movement and video installation to ponder questions about human nature and interactions. Among the collaborators are dancers Teena Custer, Ron Chunn, Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, who contributed to the sound design. (newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival, Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty; 412/363-3000,

May 8-10/ New York-based Shen Yun Performing Arts, founded in 2006 by Falun Dafa practitioners, presents its 2018 multimedia showcase of Chinese classical and folk dance with live musical accompaniment. The two-hour extravaganza, comprised of at least 15 new vignettes interspersed with vocal numbers, draws on Chinese history, culture and politics. The approximately 80 cast members sport handmade, authentic costumes. (Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666,

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