When things go right, you just want to get up and sing. That would be an appropriate response to the superb job the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has done in creating the new Cabaret at Theater Square. With a chic, semi-industrial decor, the cabaret space and adjacent bar offer a classy atmosphere with many practical touches.
The Cabaret Theater seats 253 patrons, with 212 at four-person tables in the front-most section (most on the floor level, some up a step) and another 41 in "theater seating" - seven tiered rows in the rear section of the room. Food and drink are available in the bar and in the cabaret room. The menu includes an appealing and reasonably priced list of specialty drinks, appetizers and desserts (from the kitchen of Cafe Zao, also in Theater Square). Drink rails, along the front of each row of theater seating, make noshing comfortable in that section. Tables topped in attractive faux-granite and simple but stylish and comfortable chairs are spaced adequately - not so close so as to make it difficult to pass between, but close enough to make the best use of the space. The chairs are a bit noisy when "scooted," which is a bit of a problem when people leave or adjust their seats for a better view. Walls and ceiling fixtures are painted black, which helps keep the room as intimate as possible, even with a very high ceiling.
In addition to a "sit down" production, as we have in Forever Plaid, the Cabaret Theater also offers Late Night Cabaret, produced by CLO Artistic Director Jason Coll, with a schedule of Tuesday through Saturday performances with start times of 9:30 to 10:15. The slate of performers for November includes local performers and open mic nights. The remarkable Lenora Nemetz, a local treasure who has had a legendary career on Broadway, appeared on the first weekend. Although cover charges are subject to change, current information shows that Tuesday evenings are offered at no charge, Wednesdays and Thursdays have a $5 cover (reduced to $2.50 if you've attending that evening's Forever Plaid performance), and Fridays and Saturdays have a $10 cover. No minimum food or drink charges appear to be in effect.
With this being the completion of Theater Square, the stage is set for something that has been sorely missed in Pittsburgh's Cultural District - a wonderfully designed cabaret space. Hopefully, upcoming schedules will include bigger names for limited engagements along with local talent. Time will tell if there will be ample support for late night cabaret; the Cultural Trust and CLO are certainly doing their part to make this happen.
There is a plot of the very thinnest material. A '60s pop quartet died in a crash on their way to a gig, but, thanks to "the expanding holes in the ozone layer in conjunction with the position of the planets and all that astro-technical stuff," are back on Earth in the present time to perform their final show. As they say, "it's the biggest comeback since Lazarus." Some of the humor is a bit corny, but that doesn't get in the way of the real attraction - the presentation of over a dozen classic '50s and '60s songs and medleys, performed in harmony by an energetic and spunky cast. This show seems to be a good choice as the first offering in the Cabaret Theater, especially for the demographics of the expected audience.
The four Plaids are played by a cast of young actors, all recent or current college students: J.D. Daw (Jinx), Joe Domencic (Smudge), Adam Halpin (Frankie), and Marcus Stevens (Sparky). They all acquit themselves well, and will bring a little more of their personalities to their roles as time goes on. As of opening night, most is done by the book - and there is plenty to do in the 90-minute show. Until the denouement, it is a non-stop, bustling succession of choreographed songs, physical shtick, and brief acting segments. Each cast member has solo opportunities, and the group performs a lot of harmonizing pieces in the style of The Lettermen.
The group numbers are pretty solid, particularly the Beatles medley, and some individual pieces are very good. Marcus Stevens has shown his incredible vocal talents in such shows as A New Brain and Floyd Collins. He has less opportunity to shine here, but when he gets to belt, he shows the power of his voice. Making the most of what he's given in this show, bass singer Joe Domencic takes his brief solo of "Sixteen Tons" and shows great styling, bringing a lot of character to the performance. He also adds the most spark to his character and presents the most polished performance in the production.
Musical Director Deana Muro does a great job, both in her piano playing and in her acting of the dour, put-upon piano accompanist for the group. Justin Bendel also provides great support on the string bass.
Following CLO tradition of having the first performance be opening night and press night, Forever Plaid had surprisingly few staging glitches (congratulations to Director Guy Stroman and Stage Manager Gavan Pamer). Yes, the over-achieving fog machine did cause the fire alarm to go off, but it ended in time for the final song and didn't harm the evening one bit.
Forever Plaid tickets are currently available at www.CLOCabaret.com, by calling 412-456-6666 or at the Box Office at Theater Square. Performances are scheduled for Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 3:00pm and 7:30pm and Sunday at 3:00pm.
Photos: Matt Polk