As often happens during a recession, arts groups have been turning to the classics. They're familiar, they're comfortable. And they're all over local stages this fall.
Take Pittsburgh Public Theater. What could be more cozily intimate than season-opener Ella! (Oct. 1-Nov. 1), starring Tina Fabrique as jazz great Ms. Fitzgerald? The 2008 show's book is by similarly proven commodity Jeffrey Hatcher (Compleat Female Stage Beauty). The Public gets more classic still with The Little Foxes (Nov. 12-Dec. 13). Pittsburgh's own Helena Ruoti takes the role Bette Davis made famous in the screen version of Lillian Hellman's scorching drama.
Affiliation with a classic from another genre can be similarly attractive. Thus does Hatcher do double duty, as his 2007 adaptation of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde premieres locally at City Theatre (Oct. 17-Nov. 8). The show gets a Halloween-season pairing with Count Dracula, a campy take on Bram Stoker's touchstone, at the University of Pittsburgh Repertory (Oct. 22-Nov. 1).
The Conservatory, Point Park's student company, gets literally classic with Antigone (Oct. 15-Nov. 1). John Amplas directs the tragedy about the Greek heroine. The company's second production also sticks with what works: Carousel (Nov. 5-15), the Rodgers & Hammerstein favorite about love and redemption.
And Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre wraps up its season with an adaptation of Jane Eyre (Dec. 3-20), written and directed by Alan Stanford.
There's no deviation from our theme at Carnegie Mellon, whose School of Drama stages Frank Galati's adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath (Oct. 1-10) -- then explores the lighter, more tuneful side of capitalism with How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Nov. 12-21), Frank Loesser's classic musical comedy.
Theater for young folks traditionally tends to be canonical anyway. Prime Stage Theatre, for example, offers the chestnut Our Town (Oct. 17-25). And Pittsburgh International Children's Theater opens its 40th season with Click, Clack, Moo (Oct. 11-18), Theatreworks USA's take on the popular book about literate cows. That's followed by an adaptation of the vintage book The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon (Nov. 10-15).
Even troupes known for taking risks are connecting with tradition. Quantum Theatre, for instance, offers a rare musical with Leonard Bernstein's Candide (Nov. 5-22). Seeking the best of all possible worlds, Quantum is basing its version on a recent Broadway production ... and staging it in Bloomfield's old Don Allen auto showroom.
Barebones productions is known for fare that's little-known and edgy. But this fall, barebones chose edgy and tested, with David Mamet's Glengarry Glenn Ross (Nov. 12-26). It's directed by Melissa Martin and features Pittsburgh legend Bingo O'Malley.
Familiar fare can also be stunt-like: On Nov. 7, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust hosts impressionist Charles Ross's One Man Lord of the Rings. No, really: It's the whole saga in an hour, and 40 characters played by one guy.
It is possible to find new wrinkles on local stages. The August Wilson Center, for instance, announces it's a new force with a multimedia history of the hip-hop generation by acclaimed spoken-word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph; thebreak/s: a mixtape for the stage runs Oct. 28 and 29. Hewing to tradition, too, the Center then probes its namesake's work with the Aunt Ester Cycle (Nov. 11-22), a series of talks, readings and full-scale productions exploring Wilson's iconic character.
The Andy Warhol Museum's Off the Wall series presents acclaimed storyteller David Cale's new solo show, Palomino (Nov. 20). Other new work includes David Harrower's award-winning Blackbird (Nov. 7-Dec. 13), about the fallout of a scandalous affair, at City Theatre. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co. begins its season with The Revenants (Oct. 16-31), Scott Barsotti's play about zombies invading ... Pittsburgh. (But it's also, apparently, about love, so see it with someone you'd like to gnaw better.) Bricolage Productions, meanwhile, finds its own fear factor with Jennifer Haley's Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom (Oct. 31-Nov. 28). It's a new drama about suburban teens addicted to an online horror video game.
Finally, the REP, the Pittsburgh Playhouse's professional company, stages The Queens (Nov. 19-Dec.13). Yes, it's inspired by a classic (Shakespeare's Richard III). Yes, it debuted in 1997. But Normand Chaurette's fantasy drama about six noblewomen vying for the British throne sounds a little out there -- just what you're looking for sometimes.
- Tina Fabrique in Ella! at Pittsburgh Public Theater