January 12, 2017

MLT Juniors to present ‘Madagascar’ musical

    The story of four animals that escape the New York Central Park Zoo will come to life on the McKeesport Little Theater stage with the MLT Junior’s production of “Madagascar — A Musical Adventure.”

     Show times are 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13, 14, 20 and 21, and 2 p.m. Jan. 15 and 22. Tickets are $15, $10 for students. For reservations, call 412-673-1100 and leave your name, phone number, the number of tickets, and performance date.

     Director Dorothy Fallows said the show is based on the DreamWorks animated movies. “There were four ‘Madagascar’ movies and they were combined to make a musical,” she said.

     The story follows a zebra, lion, hippopotamus and giraffe who call the zoo home. That is until the zebra thinks he’s unhappy, a thought planted by penguins that tell him he shouldn’t live there.

     That results in the foursome venturing outside of the zoo. But they run into a little problem — they scare everyone they encounter. They are tranquilized and when they wake up they discover they are on a boat heading to the island of Madagascar. Soon after they arrive, they realize life at the zoo wasn’t so bad after all.

     “This show is so much fun,” Fallows said, “and it’s great for kids. There are a lot of parts so there are a lot of kids with big parts and a lot with small parts. For some of the kids this is their first show and this is a great show for them.”

     The ages of the 26-member cast range from 5 to 18, with most being part of the Juniors program. “We do have two kids in the show who are brothers of Juniors,” she said, noting they are ages 5 and 7. “They are really cute and they really listen and they know their dances. You can tell they are having the time of their life.”

     But she says the fun isn’t limited to the cast. “I’m having a great time doing this show. It’s really, really cute and the costumes are wonderful. I had never seen the movie so I wasn’t familiar with the show.”

     Being unfamiliar with the animated films made directing the musical easier. “For me, it’s exciting to do a show for the first time. I want it to be the way I envision it from reading the script. I want to create what I see in the script. It’s been a lot of fun and the kids are wonderful.”

     Fallows said that while the show is fun, there’s also a message for theater-goers of all ages. “We all think if we do or have something else it will be better, but like the animals find out, that’s not always the case.”

     Children will have a chance to meet some of the characters at a brunch before the Jan. 15 show. Cost is $6 (tickets for the show are extra) for brunch, which is macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, fruit, dessert and a beverage. Photos can be taken with the characters. Reservations are due today (Jan. 12) and can be made by calling 412-673-1100.

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

Photos by Carol Waterloo Frazier

Volunteer Dave Lloyd and pantry coordinator Dominic Muscante II man the registration desk.

March 23, 2016

March 26, 2017


A variety of stories including previews and reviews of local theater productions will be featured.

November 11, 2016

MLT's 'Twelve Angry Men' a must-see show

     Testimony has wrapped up and the judge has sent the 12-man jury into a room to deliberate the guilt or innocence of a 19-year-old man charged with fatally stabbing his father. On the surface, the verdict seems obvious. But it doesn’t take long before the obvious becomes a bit blurred.
     That’s the scenario for McKeesport Little Theater’s impressive production of “Twelve Angry Men.” The show continues Nov. 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 13 and 20 at 2 p.m. at the 1614 Coursin St. theater in McKeesport. Tickets are $15, $10 for students.
     Director Lora Oxenreiter cast 12 strong performers who bring to life what goes on behind the closed doors of the deliberation room. They draw the audience into the arguments and explanations that result in more questions than answers.
     While all the jurors are in the spotlight, the focus is on Juror 8, brilliantly played by Randy Berner. His character methodically goes through the testimony, offering other possibilities or questioning how something said under oath could possibly be true. As the voice of reason, he constantly reminds his fellow jurors they hold the teen’s life in their hands.
     In contrast, Sean David Butler as Juror 3 turns in an outstanding performance as his character’s personal circumstances cloud any possibility the suspect may not have committed the crime. The juror’s relentless outbursts keeps his colleagues on edge, not knowing if he might act on his rage.
    This show is more than just 12 people trying to come up with a guilty or innocent verdict. It’s a fascinating look into the interaction of 12 very different personalities. Just as Jurors 8 and 3 are opposites, a similar comparison can be made of Jurors 9 and 10.
     Bill Winzeler convincingly plays the elderly Juror 9, who is soft spoken and moves slowly. His character brings a different perspective toward the suspect and one of the witnesses. On the other side of the spectrum, Dale Irvin is good as Juror 10, who bases his decision on prejudicial thoughts of a certain type of people.
     Johnny Terreri as Juror 4 does a good job coming up with scenarios to support his ideas and very clearly lays out his theories, but is open-minded to other possibilities. Zack Miller is wonderful as Juror 11, a rabbi who came to America and is proud of the freedoms he has here. He maintains the accent throughout the show, which is not an easy task to accomplish.
     There’s always one braggart in every group and David Hoffman is that overbearing Juror 12. And there’s always one who just wants to finish and go home, which is the goal of Juror 7, played by Steven F. Gallagher.
     Rounding out the jurors are Tom Sarp, who does his best to keep deliberations as civil as possible as the Foreman; Arjun Kumar as the young Juror 2; Justin Kofford as Juror 5; and Ryan Baker as Juror 6. James Brian is the infrequently seen Bailiff.
     Not only is the acting amazing, the set adds to the credibility of story, which is set in 1957. There’s a working window, ash trays (yes, they are used), a reconstruction of a jury room conference table, and actual vintage jury room chairs from the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County.
     MLT has raised the bar quite high with this amazing production. “Twelve Angry Men” is definitely a show you don’t want to miss.

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

The Duquesne Light Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show is March 10-19 at the Pittsburgh Convention Center.

Former West Mifflin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Life Member Joseph J. Walters was inducted into the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh on March 26.  Pictured around his induction plaque are three of Walters’ children: Jill Lester, left, Jeff Walters and Jan Rakas.

September 21, 2018

MLT season opens with a tale of 'Sordid Lives'

      McKeesport Little Theater opened its season with a comedy that shows the sordid lives of a family experiencing the unexpected loss of someone.
     The show continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the theater at 1614 Coursin St. in McKeesport.
     There is no doubt this show will have you laughing out loud. But a word to the wise: be prepared for some rough language from many of the characters. 
     If you're not familiar with "Sordid Lives," it's about Peggy - a mother and grandmother - who bleeds to death after hitting her head on the sink. The real story is how that happened - she tripped over her lover's wooden legs while they were in a motel room in Texas. By the way, her lover was her daughter's best friend's husband. 
     Each scene begins in the same setting - one of Ty's therapy sessions in New York where he is trying to come to terms with his sexuality. Although you never really see him during these sessions because there is only backlighting, Lukas Gerlach does a nice job portraying Ty. The scene where he tells his mother is good.
     Apryl L. Peroney plays his mother, Latrell, and turns in a fine performance. Scenes with Anna Marie Colecchi, who plays her aunt, Sissy Hickey, are great. There is a chemistry between them that makes them fun to watch.
     Elaine M Lucas-Evans is the victim's other daughter, LaVonda, who says what she's thinking. She is there for her best friend Noleta, played by Deanna Marchese It's Noleta's husband that was in the motel room with LaVonda's mom. She is definitely a woman scorned and her wrath on her husband and his two friends, Wardell his brother Odell, is priceless - and her best friend LaVonda is right there with her getting her own revenge for her brother.
      LaVonda is the only one in the family who thinks their brother, "Brother Boy," should be allowed out of the mental hospital to attend his mother's funeral. Karl Rice  does an amazing job in the scene with Dr. Eve Bollinger, amazingly played by Sydney Turnwald, who will do anything to prove her theory of dehomosexualization and complete a book deal. 
     "Brother Boy" has been institutionalized 23 years, thanks to bartender Wardell "Bubba" Owens. Jack McClaskey does a believable job in a redemption of sorts when he admits that what he did was wrong, living with the guilt ever since. In an albeit unorthodox way, he brings his friend to the funeral. Ethan Olsen portrays his brother, Odell, who is fixated on what he saw done to a pig at a fair.
    The indirect cause of all this upheaval is G.W., played by Wyatt Wilson. He blames himself for the death of the only woman he's ever loved - despite the fact he's married.
     If you're looking for something fun to do this week, "Sordid Lives" could be the answer. The cast is good and draws the audience into their lives, as sordid as they may be. But remember, it's definitely a show for an adult audience, not children.
     For tickets, go to www.mckeesportlittletheater.com.
                                                                                                                                                                                       By Carol Waterloo Frazier 

September 17, 2016

MLT season opens with strong production of Disney classic
     It’s a new season at McKeesport Little Theater and it’s off to a great start with an enjoyable production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
     The show continues at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 16, 17, 23 and 24, and 2 p.m. Sept. 18 and 25 at the theater at 1614 Coursin St. in McKeesport. For tickets, go to www.mckeesportlittletheater.com.
     The musical is based on the 1991 Disney movie about a late 18th century classic French fairy tale with a beautiful young girl named Belle, a castle, a monster, a spell, and of course, romance.
     Bringing the story to life is a talented cast led by Kristina Dalbo as Belle and Justin Addicott as the Beast/Prince. They have a chemistry that makes the courtship between their characters believable (which is a good thing — they are engaged in real life). Vocally they are good; he is especially strong with his emotion-filled songs like “If I Can’t Love Her.”
     Gaston, the show’s antagonist, is wonderfully portrayed by Ray Cygrymus. He and LeFou (Brandon  Keller does a nice job as his sidekick) shine in several production numbers including “Gaston”; “Me” is good with Dalbo.
     Costumer Ellen Rosen does a phenomenal job transforming the castle folks into objects, thanks to a spell cast by the Enchantress (played by Rosen). The costumes are amazing and so are those bringing those roles to life. Taking center stage is Jezebele Zbony-DelPercio as Lumiere, whose quick-wit and expressions are delightful.
     Sharing the spotlight with here are Derek Harrison as Cogsworth; Caitlin Harrison as Mrs. Potts, Kaitlyn Majewski as Chip, Maddie Leschak as Babette, and Mary Chess Randolph as Madame De La Grande Bouche. Along with Zbony-DelPercio, they come together for “Human Again.”
     Other cast members are Linda Baker, Maria Ferguson, Jordan Smith, Julia Lodge, Tristyn Batchelor, Amberlee Batchelor, Derek Jenkins, Rachel Good, Jade Goodes, Vanessa Kettering, and Jason Batchelor who does a good job as Belle’s father Maurice and is good on “No Matter What” (on Sept. 16, Bruce E. Tavers will play the role of Maurice).
     Ensemble cast is Kaleia Batchelor, McKenna Blake, Annie Dalbo, Jessica Freuden, Gillian Holiday, Valin Morrison, Isaac Richardson, Lydia Richardson, Dylan Stramaski, Camden Sutek, Kalie Tomiczek, and Margaret Valenine.
     Featured dancers are dance captain Riley Tate, Taylor Anderson, Jenkins, Mary Houle, and Lodge. Choreographer Tracy Rudzinski does an amazing job with the entire cast on the several large dance numbers, especially “Gaston” with a creative use of pewter mugs.
     It’s worth noting that music is provided by a band that’s off stage, but play a key role in the show’s success. Those musicians are George Pecoraro, Frank Ferguson, Suzanne Levinson, Rachel Dablo, Tom Dalbo, Stephen Kuhn, Tim Blinkhorn, and Colin McBride.
     Director Robert Hockenberry is to be commended on his MLT debut. The bar has been set for the rest of the season and it’s pretty high. “Beauty and the Beast” is definitely worth seeing and a good way to spend an evening — or Sunday afternoon — together with your family.

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

Home, garden show a one-stop shop for projects
     It’s that time of year when the Pittsburgh Convention Center is transformed into a one-stop shop for all the latest home and garden trends.
     The 36th annual Duquesne Light Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show is March 10-19. Show hours are 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $10, $4 for children 6-12, children under 6 admitted free.
     Show executive director John DeSantis said the more than 10-acre show features more than 10,000 products so homeowners can decide which products best meet their needs. “We have 1,800 exhibits, which makes this the biggest show we’ve ever had. And everything is new.”
     Well, almost everything. “We do have a number of features that we’ve had before. I don’t know if we can ever not have Dr. Lori,” DeSantis said. “People love to hear her presentations and she’s always finding incredible stuff.” This season she’s been on the History Channel’s “Curse of Oak Island” and "Strange Inheritance." 
     Some of the most innovative items are part of the top 10 life-changing new products for 2017. Introduced three years ago, the executive director said the criteria is the products were not available for purchase in 2016 but are available — or will be available — to buy in 2017. The products also must change the way we do something.
     “There are actually 12 products featured,” he said. “We get hundreds of different products and it’s hard to narrow it down to just 10. There were some products that we were not willing to get rid of so we have 12 instead of 10.”
     One of those innovative products is the June Oven, which uses circulating hot air to cook food. When an item is placed in the oven and the door closed, he said the technology knows what the food is and how long its needs to cook. “It’s something right out of ‘Star Trek’. It’s literally brand new. There’s a 10-week waiting list to get one but we have it and will demonstrate how to use it. This will definitely be a hot item.”
     With more people working from home, design students from Chatham University offer their concepts for the office of the future. “They were asked to rethink how offices are used now and take us out five years. When you do it with students, they are fresh minds and are building offices of the future. The class took all the ideas and came up with one design.”
     Not everything is for inside the home. The show features new items for outside, too. One of those items caters to Western Pennsylvania’s landscape and weather.
     “An issue in this area is water,” DeSantis said. “If you live in a valley and we get a lot of rain you will probably have standing water.” An item using recycled material drains that water away below the ground so it doesn’t pool when it’s warm or freeze if it’s cold.
     Something new at this year’s show involves using the balcony. “For the first time we are using the balcony overlooking the river,” DeSantis said. “We are putting the grill vendors there and chefs will be using the grills to prepare food that people can sample and get tips for grilling.”
     Other show features include meet-and-greets with Pittsburgh Dad, a judge’s chair from “The Voice, a variety of food vendors offering samples, Kids’ Village with a toy train and turtle races, Kids ‘Burgh with representatives of local attractions offering children’s activities, Builders Showcase, Garden Pavilion, Ask the Experts, and the Home Interior Galleries.
     “Every booth has at least one person ready to help you,” DeSantis said. “If they can’t help you with what you need they will direct you to the right vendor. At the show you can see all the different choices, meet the experts who can explain the products, and touch the products. And the prices at the show are the lowest for the year.”
     To make the most of a visit to the home and garden show, he offers three tips. “Give yourself enough time; if you walk every aisle one time you will walk 6 miles. Because of all the walking, wear comfortable shoes. Park in the Heinz Field lots for $7 and take the free shuttle bus to the front door.”
     For information about show times, go to www.pghhome.com.

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

October 19, 2016

MRA's Youth Theatre to present 'Bugsy Malone Jr.'
     The story is a 1920s gangster tale with one twist -- the gangs are all children.
     When the curtain goes up at the Grand Theatre for the Mon River Arts Youth Theatre's production of "Bugsy Malone Jr.", a cast of 13 young performers ranging in age from 8 to 16 will bring the story to life. Based on the 1976 film and featuring a score by the composer of "The Muppet Movie," there is everything from rival gangs, a unique gun, and, of course, a love story.
     The show opens Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. with a pay-what-you-can showing. Performances continue Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 22 at 2 and 6 p.m., and Oct. 23 at 2 p.m.; tickets are $10. Call the box office at 412-405-8425 or email MRAboxoffice@gmail.com.
     Describing what makes the show fun, director Lorraine Corpora Mszanski said, "They are all kids who think they are adults. It's like the Little Rascals, they are putting themselves into adult situations and that's what is funny, especially for adults."
   Because it is a youth-oriented show, Mszanski said that creats an interesting twist when it comes to how the gangs arm themselves. The solution is sweet, literally. One of the gangs, led by Dandy Dan, developes the splurge gun that shoots custard pie while wreaking havoc in the town and upon his rival gang led by Fat Sam.
     "It becomes Bugsy Malone who has to try to make peace with everyone," the director said, adding that his role as peacemaker is getting in the way of his relationship with Blousey Brown.
     Blousey is a wide-eyed would-be star from a small town who wants to make a name for herself. Bugsy wants to spend time with her but finds that's not easy to accomplish.
     Praising the young cast, Mszanski said she does not think the performers were familiar with the show when they arrived for the first rehearsal. "But they fell in love with it quickly. A lot of them came back after the first rehearsal with their parts memorized. I couldn't believe it. The kids have worked so hard and I'm really proud of them."
     While the show was created with a young cast -- and audience -- in mind, she said adults will not be disappointed. "What's great about this show is that the jokes go right above the kids' heads. The jokes are there for the adults and that's what makes it fun."
     The kids weren't the only ones embarking on the show for the first time -- this is the director's debut with the show. "I'm really enamored with this. It has quickly become one of my favorite shows."
     One of the reasons she likes the hour-long musical is the message in the final song, "Give A Little Love" and specifically, the line, "...it will all come back to you." "That is literally the last message when the show ends. That's what you hear before you leave the theater and I think that's a great message."

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

August 9, 2016

FosterCat hopes to find permanent homes for kittens
       In 1999, Alexa Howald started FosterCat, a non-profit organization providing temporary foster homes for felines until a high-quality permanent home is found.
     “That was the mission when we started,” she said, “and it’s still our mission today.”

     At any given time, FosterCat has between 20 and 30 active foster homes. “We’ve placed between 1,600 and 1,700 cats,” Howald said, noting, “that’s a drop in a bucket compared to big shelters.”
     Many of the cats seeking adoption are displayed through the Pet Smart Adoption Program. “That gives us a place to show the cats and they provide the application of the sponsoring agency,” she said.
     There are four Pet Smart locations where FosterCat has cats: Monroeville, Pleasant Hills, Ross Township, and Cranberry Township.
     Cats also are fostered at PawSpa Resort, 1701 Saw Mill Run Blvd. (Route 51) in Pittsburgh.
     When Howald receives an adoption application, the screening process begins. “We like to do due diligence because we want to make sure it’s a responsible home.”
     That screening process includes a home visit to make sure a potential adoption is a good match. She said not everyone is a good match for a particular cat.
     If the adoption is approved, a follow-up call is made a week or so later to see how the adoption is working, Howald said. “The first time we visit they may not know what to buy, how to trim the nails, or what kind of kitty litter or food to buy and we can help with that. We can also help to introduce the new pet into the home.”
     The adoptive family is encouraged to call FosterCat if there are any concerns or questions about the cat’s behavior or health. “We try to do the best we can to help the families,” she said, “because we don’t want the cats returned or tossed out onto the street.”
     Because of the home visits, Howald said adoptions are only made to homes in Allegheny, Butler, Westmoreland and Washington counties.
     FosterCat also conducts a screening process for potential foster families. That process includes completing an application and meeting with potential fost families to make sure they understand the responsibility of fostering a cat and are able — and willing — to fulfill those obligations.
     One of the requirements is having a vehicle to be able to take the cat, if necessary, to the veterinarian or to Pet Smart. They also need to be able to get a cat within 24 hours, she said.
     Two vets are used by the group — the Spay and Neuter Clinic in Penn Hills and Animal Friends in the North Hills.
     “We will visit their home and go over the procedures,” Howald said, noting the process of setting up a cage at Pet Smart to display the cat is also explained.
     The timeline varies, she said, for how long a foster family might have a cat. For instance, kittens can not receive a rabies vaccine until they are 12 weeks old and they must be spay or neutered. As a result, she said, a kitten can’t be displayed for adoption until it is at least 12 weeks old.
     Howald said the organization has had graduate students and young adults foster cats because “they had one and miss their kitty. They don’t want the responsibility of a kitten but they can foster and help us out.”
     Some folks have been fostering with FosterCat for years, she said. “I’ve been fostering cats and kittens for more than 20 years. I’ve had several hundred that have gone through my home. My own cats are used to other cats coming and going.”
     To raise funds and awareness for FosterCat, the ninth annual spaghetti dinner will be from 5-8 p.m. Sept. 10  at St. Catherine of Siena — McCann Hall, 1907 Broadway Ave. in Beechview. Cost is $9, $5 for children 5 and younger. The event includes dinner, vendors, a Chinese auction, and a 50/50 raffle.
     While the dinner is the group’s major fundraiser, the quarterly newsletter gives people a chance to make donations as well as online at fostercats.org. All serve as an outreach for volunteers and potential foster parents.
     “Through the years, we’ve been blessed with loyal and generous supporters,” Howald said.
     When it comes to foster parents, she said she hopes they see what they do as a way to help the cats. “I hope they see it as an opportunity to help kittens in need and get the satisfaction of knowing they will live the rest of their lives in a safe environment.”
     For more information about fostering or adoption,  contact FosterCat at fostercat.org or call 412-481-9144.

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

March 7, 2017

Volunteers Hope Gambet, Ming Warman and Robert Swink discuss the inventory at Glassport Food Pantry.

    Glassport Food Pantry outgrows church site
     Every month, the Glassport Food Pantry serves more than 200 borough residents at the Assembly of God Church at 210 Fifth St.
     Pantry coordinator Dominic Muscante II said the church has been the distribution site for 10 years, but a larger site is needed to meet the ever-growing needs of residents.
     “When we’re done with the distribution, we have to pack everything and store it because this area is used by the church,” he said. “Then next month we have to get everything back out and start over.”
      A new location has been found, but it needs repairs including a new roof. Fundraisers will help raise money and he’s hoping volunteers will do the work. He expects the project will take about six months.   
      Prior to moving to the church, the food pantry was housed at Winter Haven for about 12 years. Serving approximately 75 people, that location became too small.
      Prior to the monthly distributions, Muscante said the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank delivers between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of food.
      During the distribution week, seniors can visit the pantry Thursday afternoon from 3-5 p.m. while families of three or more can visit Friday from 9-10:30 a.m. and families of one or two can get food from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
      Muscante started volunteering with the food pantry a couple years ago. “I like helping the community and the people.”
     To be eligible, participants must be a resident of Glassport and show photo ID, proof of income, and proof of their current address. For more information, call 412-672-9002.
     On distribution day, recipients show up early to get in line with some type of cart to carry their food. “We give out numbers because it’s first come, first served,” he said.
      After a person’s number is called and they are checked in, they can begin their shopping. “It’s a big loop,” Muscante said in describing the area. “There are canned goods, pasta, cereal, meat, and fresh produce. We always have toilet paper and other paper goods change each month.”
     The meat is frozen and can include a variety of beef, pork and chicken along with items like lunch meats, hot dogs, or bacon.
     There are recipes available to give people ways to use the items they receive, especially the produce. Recent recipes included French onion soup, cole slaw, harvest stew, cucumber and tomato salad, and mixed yogurt pops. There was also information on ways to save fruit for future meals.
     For the many volunteers, helping at the food pantry is a labor of love.
     “I enjoy helping people who need help,” Ming Warman said. “Some people wouldn’t have food at the end of the month if they didn’t come here.”
     Barb Penman has been volunteering for four years. “People need this stuff and they can come here and get it. It’s nice to be able to help people.”
     Pastor Patrick Pugh said he’s glad to open the church for the food pantry. “There was a need and we wanted to fill it because this is very important to our community. We have so many people on fixed incomes and this really helps to fill the gap.”
     Many of the volunteers are parishioners, Pugh said, and others come from the community. “It’s nice to have a core of volunteers to serve.”
     Recipients Suzette Daniels and her daughter Tiffany See appreciate the pantry.
     “I’ve been coming since it started,” Daniels said. “It helps me out with food by giving me a little bit extra.”
     Her daughter agreed, adding, “It would be hard if we didn’t have this.”
     Volunteer Dave Lloyd praised the efforts of Muscante. “He loves the people. He is one of the best. He spends countless hours here by himself because he cares about the people and the community. Nobody knows all that he does. I’ve never seen a person as dedicated as him.”

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

May 10, 2017

Set sail for an 'Anything Goes' cruise at MLT 

          If you've ever been on a cruise, you know that feeling when you see the ship that will be your home for the next week. You'll get a similar feeling as you enter the McKeesport Little Theater. The stage is transformed into a deck of a luxury ocean liner of the 1930s, complete with portholes, railings, and the ship's name -- the S.S. American.
     Once onboard, theater-goers watch as passengers set sail from New York to London and the storylines of the Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes" quickly unfold.
     The show continues at the 1614 Coursin St. theater in McKeesport at 8 p.m. May 12, 13, 19 and 20, and at 2 p.m. May 14 and 21.
     Much of the show centers around Reno Sweeney, an evangelist turned nightclub singer played by Riley Tate. Vocally she is strong and seems to get stronger as the show progresses. She does a convincing job when interacting with the other performers, especially in a light-hearted seduction-gone-bad scene with Sam Minnick as Sir Evelyn Oakleigh. Because their characters are polar opposites, that's what makes their scenes so much fun, including "Let's Misbehave." He does a nice job maintaining the British accent throughout the show.
      Ron Clawson turns in a strong performance as Billy Crocker, who has one goal -- get his former girlfriend back, who just happens to on her way to London to get married to another passenger, Sir Evelyn. A ticketless passenger, Clawson's character uses the ticket of Snake Eyes Johnson, aka Public Enemy #1, and dons many disguises to avoid being caught. His powerful voice makes songs like "It's Delovely" seem effortless.
      The love of his life, Hope, is played by Emily-Ann Stephens and they have a chemistry that makes their love story believable. Her expressions are natural, especially when trying not to laugh each time her former love shows up incognito. Stephens and Clawson do a nice job on "All Through the Night."
     Hands down, Tim Tolbert is the scene stealer -- even if the spotlight is not on him. As Moonface Martin, aka Public Enemy #13, he dons the disguise of a priest that results in some pretty funny dialogue. His expressions are matchless and he commands attention any time he is on stage. "Be Like the Bluebird" is just one of the many scenes you can't help but laugh.
     Julia Lodge is fun as Moonface's sidekick Bonnie, who is not only a joy to watch but does a great job maintaining the New York accent even when singing and dancing to songs like "Heaven Hop." Anna Colecchi is convincing as Hope's mother, Mrs. Wadsworth T. Harcourt, who just happens to not like Billy.
      The production staff does a superb job. Kudos to director Dorothy Fallows for making the set and costumes, as well as the singing and dancing (although not as much tap as in the original Broadway show, the couple of numbers are good), worthy of an award-winning classic musical. There are only six more "cruises" left. Make sure you don't miss the boat on a superb season-closing production.

By Carol Waterloo Frazier     

January 20, 2017

Journey to ‘Madagascar’ with MLT Juniors   
     It's the middle of January — wouldn't it be great to spend some time on a nice, warm island? Madagascar might be an option.
     The cast of McKeesport Little Theatre's Juniors will take you on a journey to the island in their production of "Madagascar — A Musical Adventure." Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 and 21 and 2 p.m. Jan. 23. Tickets are $15, $10 for students.
     Director Dorothy Fallows does an amazing job with the cast of young performers who range in age from 5 to 18. Whether large or small roles, the aspiring actors and actresses to a wonderful job bringing the Dream Works animated film to life.
     The 90-minute show (including a 15-minute intermission) tells the story of Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe, Gloria the Hippo, and a group of penguins who decide to see what life is like outside of New York’s Central Park Zoo. Their adventure lands them on a ship to Madagascar, where things really get interesting.
     Portraying the four adventurous animals are Joey Young as Marty, Derek Jenkins as Alex, Jessica Freuden as Gloria, and Isaac Richardson as Melman. They complement each other nicely as a group and are good when they have their time individually in the spotlight.
     The instigators for the escape are the penguins, who are adorably played by Sierra Mitchell, Kaitlyn Majewski, Autumn Tavaglione, Sadie Mitchell, Gillian Holiday, Shane Jenkins, and Zeke Tavaglione (only in kindergarten, he doesn’t miss a beat and is a scene stealer).
     Camden Sutek and Julia Lodge are excellent as King Julien and Maurice. One of the show’s highlights is the musical number “I Like to Move It,” led by Sutek.
     Rounding out the cast are Alexis Shepherd, Abbi Ross/Mitchell, Lydia Richardson, Ashley McCalla, Colleen Boatright, Nariah Washington, Dylan Stramaski, Paige Allan, Maitlyn Cegiski, Sara Cohill, Alana Demis, Wyatt Holiday, Evan Kepich, Lauren Maneer, and Celia McBride.
     The acting and singing aren’t the only impressive aspects of the production. From the time folks enter the theatre, they are whisked to the zoo thanks to decorations and signs to create an appropriate setting.
     Lori Stramaski does an amazing job coordinating the wonderful costumes. Parents rallied together to create outstanding outfits that transform the actors into the animals they are portraying.
     If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, this show is worth seeing. It’s a fun show, the cast is great, the costumes are wonderful, and there are even some pretty impressive special sound effects.

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

Mon Valley Happenings

Former West Mifflin VFW Post 914 Life Member inducted into Hall of Valor
     Over the skies of Europe fighting against fascism, a young American airman sat cramped between two deafening .50 caliber machine guns. Sending streams of lead toward a swarming array of high-speed Messerschmitts, Focke-Wulfs and Heinkels, he knew his bomber – Chug-A-Lug Lulu – would need to be flown straight and level to have any chance of dropping its heavy bomb load on target.
     He also understood that a good bombing run would give the enemy an easy target - him.  He bravely went through more than 12 of these missions and proved himself a hero.
     Former West Mifflin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Life Member Joseph J. Walters was inducted into the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland on March 26.  A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 bomber during World War II, Walters joined 12 other local heroes enshrined during a ceremony.
     Walter's daughter Janet Rakas said, “We are very excited to be honoring Joe in this way. It makes us all feel very proud to have such a great person in our family.” She was one of 15 family members along with members of VFW Post 914 who attended the ceremony.
     Gary Ruston, a Navy veteran and quartermaster of the West Mifflin, said, "As a group of combat veterans, we've all done something that sets us apart. But Tech. Sgt. Walters' bravery during World War II that is recognized here today is truly a great accomplishment. We're all privileged to have known him and I'm proud to be at the ceremony honoring him."
     Awarded for heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight, the DFC is one of the top valor medals conferred by the United States. Walters was decoraed for actions during 15 bombing missions where he shot down enemy fighter aircraft and warded off attacks by several others. He was credited with destroying three hostile fighter planes. 

      “Sergeant. Walters displayed courage and presence of mind when he encountered experiences involving great personal danger and vital decisions under hazardous conditions,” his DFC citation states. “The courage, coolness and skill displayed by Sergeant Walters on all these occasions reflect highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.”
       Walters other awards and decorations include four awards of the Air Medal, a Purple Heart, the European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Word War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, and the Army Good Conduct Medal. His valor and combat medals were awarded during a six month span in 1943.
      Not all of Walters’ valor was displayed during air combat. After a mission over Schweinfurt, Germany in August 1943, his bomber was shot down and he was forced to parachute over enemy-controlled territory. Leaping from the crippled aircraft into a strong slipstream with his parachute barely harnessed, Walters lost consciousness as he drifted down into occupied Belgium and landed in an apple tree. With the help of Allied resistance forces, he made his way safely back to England and the United States. 
     After the war, he built a business and raised a family in West Mifflin, where he lived until his death in September 2016 at age 103.

     West Mifflin Mayor Chris Kelly said, "He had a long life at 103 years and lived most of it in peace and comfort. Because of the brave actions and sacrifices made by Tech. Sgt. Walters and the men and women of the armed forces, we all have been able to live in freedom.”
     Walters joins another Post 914 member in the Hall of Valor. In 2011, Vincent Hoover was awarded a Silver Star for his actions during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
     For more information about VFW Post 914, visit http://traa.weebly.com/vfw-post-914.html, its Facebook page, or contact Commander Jake Bradich at: 412-464-9838.
     (Submitted by Michael P. Mauer, a Life Member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Intrepid West Mifflin. He was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions as a military reporter in Operation Desert Storm.)

May 23, 2018

Communities plan events to mark Memorial Day

     The Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, a time for picnics, swimming, and traveling.
    But that's not why Memorial Day is celebrated. The holiday is a day set aside to remember the men and women who gave their lives while serving in the military.
    Several communities mark the day with parades and ceremonies.
    In Elizabeth, a parade starts at 9:30 a.m. Monday at Bayard and Third streets and continues down Third Street to Market and ends at First Street. A ceremony will follow at the fire company's bingo hall and at the boat dock.
    The White Oak American Legion Post 701 will have it's Memorial Day parade at 12:30 p.m. Monday beginning at the corner of Lincoln Way and Willard Street and continue to the legion at 2813 Capitol St.
    Glassport will mark Memorial Day on Sunday with a service at noon at the Honor Roll followed by a light lunch at the American Legion.
    A parade beginning at the Veterans Memorial outside the Floreffe Fire Hall in Jefferson Hills will end at Lobbs Cemetery with a service followed by lunch at the fire hall hosted by the Floreffe Auxiliary.
    Memorial Day dates back to the Civil War, which ended in 1865 after claiming more lives than any conflict in U.S. history - 620,000 - and required the need for the country's first national cemeteries. The first large remembrance of fallen soldiers was done by freed slaves in Charleston, S.C.
     As the Civil War was coming to a close, thousands of Union soldiers who were prisoners of war were taken to a camps in Charleston. One of the locations was at a former racetrack near the city's Citadel, where the conditions were so bad that more than 250 prisoners died from disease or exposure and were buried in a mass grave behind the track’s grandstand.
    On May 1, 1865 - three weeks after the Confederate army surrendered, more than 1,000 recently freed slaves accompanied by regiments of the U.S. Colored Troops (including the Massachusetts 54th Infantry) and a handful of white Charlestonians, gathered in the camp to consecrate a new, proper burial site for the Union dead. The group sang hymns, gave readings, and distributed flowers around the cemetery, which they dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
    By the late 1860s, people in towns and cities throughout the country began paying tribute to fallen soldiers, decorating their graves with flowers and reciting prayers. These remembrances usually took place in the spring. On May 5, 1868, Gen. John A. Logan, leader of a group for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month.
    “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion," Logan said, "and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” 
    The date for Decoration Day was chosen because no Civil War battle took place on May 30. Gen. James Garfield spoke at the first official gathering at Arlington National Cemetery where 5,000 volunteers decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. 
     By 1890, Decoration Day was an official holiday in every northern state. Before the Civil War ended, women’s groups across much of the South were gathering informally to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who died. In April 1886, the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, GA resolved to commemorate the fallen once a year, but those days of remembering varied by state and took place from spring to early summer. Nine southern states officially recognize a Confederate Memorial Day, with events on either Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ birthday, the day Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was killed, or to commemorate other symbolic events.
    For more than 50 years, the holiday remembered only those killed in the Civil War. It was not until America entered World War I that Memorial Day expanded to include those killed in all wars. 
    Although Memorial Day was starting to be used in the 1880s, the official name remained Decoration Day for more than a century when it was changed by federal law.  With the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 (which did not go in effect until 1971), the official observation of Memorial Day became the last Monday in May and also received federal holiday status.
     Veterans groups did not like that decision because they feared people would associate the holiday with first long weekend of the summer and not a day to honor the nation’s war dead. For 20 years until his death in 2012, Hawaiian senator and decorated World War II veteran Daniel Inouye reintroduced legislation at the beginning of each Congressional term to have the date of Memorial Day returned to May 30.
     Through the years, several communities claimed to be the first to have Memorial Day celebrations including Coalsburg, PA because in 1864, women gathered to mourn those killed at Gettysburg, and a parade in 1866 in Carbondale, IL led by Gen. Logan. But on May 26, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared the village of Waterloo, NY, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. 
     In the summer of 1865, prominent local druggist in Waterloo,  Henry C. Welles, told some friends that praising the soldiers who survived the Civil War was admirable, it would be good to remember those who lost their lives by placing flowers on their graves. The following spring he told Gen. John B. Murray his idea and got the support of veterans.
     On May 5, 1866, the village was decorated with flags at half mast, draped with evergreens and mourning black. Veterans, civic societies, and residents, led by Gen. Murray, marched to the three village cemeteries where ceremonies were conducted and soldiers' graves decorate. The ceremony was repeated the following year on May 5 then joined other communities in marking the observance on May 30.
     In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the National Moment of Remembrance Act which asks Americans to pause and observe a National Moment of Remembrance at 3 p.m. and requests all governors of the United States and Puerto Rico to direct the flag to be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day.

December 13, 2016

MRA's 'Wonderful Life' an inspiring Christmas show
     For many, "It's A Wonderful Life" is a holiday tradition.
     Mon River Arts brings the beloved 1946 movie to life in "It's A Wonderful Life -- A Live Radio Play."
     Curtain times are 7:30 Dec. 16 and 17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Grand Theatre, 207 South Second Ave. in Elizabeth. Tickets are $14, $12 for seniors (age 62 and older) and students (college age and younger with ID). For tickets, call 412-405-8425 or email MRAboxoffice@gmail.com or click the "Reserve Your Seat" at monriverarts.org.
     While the iconic story is best known as a movie, it was done two times on radio with James Stewart and Donna Reed reprising their roles: in March 1947 on "The Lux Radio Theatre" and in December of that year on "Camel Screen Guild Theatre." A 30-minute radio adaption was done in May 1949 on "Screen Director's Playhouse" with Stewart.
     In the nostalgia of the radio era, director Samantha A. Camp does a nice job with the five-person cast to bring the story to life. Sound effects were vital during live radio shows and that was the case with the MRA production. Joe Schneider does a great job as the Stage Manager (as well as other characters) hitting his mark with effects like walking and doors closing.
     Christopher Collier gives a strong performance as George Bailey. He convincingly takes George through a roller coaster of emotions from excitement to disappointment, despair to renewal. He lassos the audience with a couple powerful monologues that create a hush over the theater and triggers a tear or two when he realizes how blessed he is and the impact he's had on the people in Bedford Falls.
     Sarah McKee is delightful as Mary, who captures George's heart. Her expressions say what words can't -- her unconditional love for her husband, her concern when she knows something's wrong, her overwhelming sense of pride when the townfolk help him in his time of need. Her vivacious persona connects with the audience and brings a unique depth to her character.
     Collier and McKee are the only cast members with one role. The rest of the performers wear multiple hats -- literally.
     While Laura Grossman is the on-air host of the radio broadcast, she also plays two very important characters -- the mean-spirited, Scrooge-like Potter who will do anything to take over Bailey Building and Loan, and Joseph, the head angel who tells George's story to Clarence. As Potter, she dons a black hat, accent and the occasional smirk to try to swindle the business from George. As Joseph, she puts on a pair of wings. She does a nice job providing her other character with slightly different voices.
     Clarence is brought to life by Stacy DiPasquale. She does a wonderful job as the naive angel-in-training trying desperately to get his wings. She also portrays George's war hero brother Harry and others.
     Jessica Trumpeter is Billy, the absent-minded uncle whose carelessness sets the stage for George's life-changing experience. Wearing a suit coat as Billy, she puts on a shawl to become Violet, and other items for different characters.
     The different "costumes" is a great way to help identify the various characters and the cast has it down to a choreographed routine so the changes are smooth and effortless.
     If you're looking for a way to get into the Christmas spirit or if you need a break from the craziness of the season, make some time to include this as part of your holiday activities. 

By Carol Waterloo Frazier

September 15, 2017

MLT season opens with ‘Jekyll & Hyde’
      For three months, Edward Bostedo has been directing the McKeesport Little Theater cast of “Jekyll & Hyde” in preparation for opening night. After the final rehearsal, he was at a loss for words to describe the show.
     “I can’t describe it. It is very uniquely done,” he said. “At the end of the final rehearsal, people who were in the audience said it was breathtaking. They said it puts you on the edge of your seat and makes you uncomfortable.”
     That was the response Bostedo was hoping to achieve. “I wanted people to feel uncomfortable in their seats. I was not expecting it to happen but I was glad it did.”
     MLT opens its season with “Jekyll & Hyde” Sept. 15, 16, 21, 22, and 23 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. at the 1614 Coursin St. theater in McKeesport.
     Not knowing a lot about the show, the director said he did extensive research into each of the characters. “I was able to pull things out of the actors that I didn’t think I could do.”
     He praised the cast, most of whom are making their MLT debut but have performed on other stages. Others are making their theatrical debut.
     Bringing the story to life are Eric Sciulli in the title role, Jennifer Szakolczay, Randi Walker, Thomas Crone, Brandon Keller, Alex Stumpf, Josh List, James Scharer, Lena Nazarei, Anthony Martello, Scott Hamilton, Thomas Due, Benjamin Binn, Kate Kratzenberg, Antonia Ramni, Emily-Ann Stephens, Heather Due, Jade Goodes, Jessica Freuden, Laura Stumpf, and Maria Ferguson.
     Casting the title character was key, he said. “When auditions began, we toyed with the idea of having one actor for Jekyll and one for Hyde, or have one actor play both. We didn’t know what to expect. He (Sciulli) came and sang and when he called him back, he did ‘Transformation’ where he goes from Jekyll to Hyde. He made me very uncomfortable, but it was a good uncomfortable. He was amazing. Three months later and he still has the same effect.”    
     While the director has not worked with most of the cast, he is familiar with several of the performers. He worked with one 10 years ago, one was his music director, and he costumed two.
     The show is based on the classic story by Robert Louis Stevenson about a doctor trying to cure his ailing father’s mental illness. Hoping to separate good from evil in the human personality, he creates an alternate murderous personality that threatens to stay in control.
     Bostedo opted not to use typical 18th century elaborate, beautiful costumes. “I knew the show vaguely – I knew two songs – but not the story. I did research to see other productions and no one that I saw has done it this way. The best way to describe it is 18th century sci-fi. The production on the MLT stage is intense. The actors are right in the face of the audience. It pulls the audience into being part of the show.”
    The theater is something Bostedo has been involved with since he was in Woodland Hills High School. “I was bullied all my life and I found theater. I was in all the productions at school. After I graduated I did a lot of community theater. A lady at McKeesport Little Theater took me on and mentored me on how to produce, direct, and teach theater to kids. I’ve been here ever since and that was more than 20 years ago.”
     Noting a twist of irony, he said the cast includes two Woodland Hills alumni and his high school music director.
     Reflecting on his theater experience, Bostedo said he has two shows that he directed that are his favorites — “Les Mis” and “Jekyll & Hyde.” “I didn’t know anything about either of them so I was able to put my creativity with different ideas to work. I would love to do both shows again on a bigger scale production.”
     For tickets and information, call 412-673-1100 or go to mckeesportlittletheater.com.
     NOTE: The show has adult language and situations and is not suitable for children.   

By Carol Waterloo Frazier