Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: A BROADWAY CELEBRATION Brings the Music Back at Heinz Field

Pittsburgh CLO's 75th anniversary gala concert shines under the stars

Review: A BROADWAY CELEBRATION Brings the Music Back at Heinz Field And, we're back, people. Theatre is back. Broadway is back. COVID is back- wait, let's not talk about that one today. For now, let's focus on the good, and Pittsburgh CLO's A Broadway Celebration, held in honor of their 75th anniversary, is good through and through.

Staged on the Pittsburgh Ballet's mobile stage, positioned on the playing field at football stadium Heinz Field, the concert features Broadway stars who have worked at the CLO over the past decades. Most are well-known theatrical names like Max von Essen and Jackie Burns. A few are living legends, like Norm Lewis and Patrick Cassidy. And at least one is Pittsburgh's newest rising star, Joe Serafini of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Together, they make ninety minutes of beautiful music.

The whole evening is hosted and emceed by Clay Aiken, a local favorite after his turn in Grease as Liberace, er, Teen Angel. Aiken and a small chorus of CLO singers and dancers begin the evening with a tuneful original song about the CLO's origins, written and composed by Jason Coll. From there, it's a pleasantly fast-paced journey through a hundred years of musical theatre with stops in operetta, rock and roll, hip-hop and plenty of jazz. Early on, Max von Essen and the male ensemble start off strong with the Gaston-esque "Drinking Song" from The Student Prince, followed by a jump ahead of over 100 years to Joshua Grosso's take on Usnavi from In the Heights.

And then, the main event. Norm Lewis possesses probably the best living voice on Broadway. I'd go so far as to call him the most gifted and elastic interpreter of theatrical and popular song since Johnny Mathis; Lewis's range alone is unparallelled from basso profundo to thrilling, soulful tenor. When Lewis takes on "Being Alive" from Company, everyone in the audience falls in love. He's that good. Not only that, but he did it again at the close of the show, singing "The Impossible Dream" as the penultimate number of the night. There are plenty of moments of beauty, excitement or just pure fun that follow (the audience went nuts when Serafini, unsupported by the rest of the ensemble, busted out the famously goofy choreography to "We're All in This Together"), but the evening belongs to Norm Lewis, first last and always.

If anybody came close, it wasn't with vocal pyrotechnics or thrilling high and low notes. Local boy Patrick Cassidy, son of Shirley Jones and sibling of David and Patrick Cassidy, got a solid twenty-minute chunk of the evening to essentially do his own one-man show. Telling stories of growing up with Jones and working with legends like Robert Preston and Dick Van Dyke, Cassidy has a warm, avuncular presence and a great storytelling ability. His spirited "Trouble" and warmly melodic "'Til There Was You," the latter sung with Ali Ewoldt, are fitting tributes to his mother's famous work in The Music Man. (Although for me, it's hard to hear anyone other than Paul McCartney sing that one.)

Will we be back indoors, doing business as usual, by next summer's theatrical season? Here's hoping. But at the same time, it would be a shame to lose the al fresco, outdoor-focused productions that CLO and other local companies have given us this summer. Nature is beautiful, and it's even more beautiful when surrounded by beautiful music.

Regional Awards

From This Author - Greg Kerestan

A long-time BWW regular, Greg Kerestan is proud to join the staff of his favorite website. Greg is a graduate of Duquesne University and Seton Hill University, where he studied both theatre and Eng... (read more about this author)

Review: GRAND HOTEL Seasons Melodrama with Melody at Front Porch TheatricalsReview: GRAND HOTEL Seasons Melodrama with Melody at Front Porch Theatricals
August 24, 2022

The New Hazlett is the perfect place for this sophisticated, wildly ambitious, almost overstuffed, musical soap opera.

Review: Pittsburgh CLO's SISTER ACT Brings Disco Delight at Benedum CenterReview: Pittsburgh CLO's SISTER ACT Brings Disco Delight at Benedum Center
August 14, 2022

What a way to end the season- a toe-tapping, hilarious disco throwback.

Review: Pittsburgh CLO Slightly Reinvents GODSPELL at Benedum CenterReview: Pittsburgh CLO Slightly Reinvents GODSPELL at Benedum Center
July 19, 2022

Pittsburgh's greatest musical theatre creation comes home, in a production that's something old, something new. If you're going to talk about musicals in Pittsburgh, let alone musicals FROM Pittsburgh, the story is ultimately going to revolve around Godspell. Created by bookwriter John-Michael Tebelak as his master's thesis at CMU circa the early 1970s, the musical quickly headed to Off-Broadway, with a brief Broadway run and a historic Toronto production that formed that roots of the seventies sketch comedy scene. Soon, there was a movie, and after that point, the little Jesus-clown musical from Pittsburgh was a worldwide sensation. Pippin, which shares composer Stephen Schwartz, had a similar Pittsburgh-to-Broadway trajectory, but a show as niche and nihilistic as Pippin will never be able to compete with the mix of loose hippie vibes, vaudeville throwbacks and old-time religion that give Godspell its heart.

Review: LEND ME A TENOR Brings Classic Laughs at Saint Vincent Summer TheaterReview: LEND ME A TENOR Brings Classic Laughs at Saint Vincent Summer Theater
July 14, 2022

What did our critic think? A local institution reborn post-pandemic, the summer farce at Saint Vincent returns with a bang. When people think of summer stock, there's a mental image of college students and outdated hoofers, sometimes even a former TV star, sweating their way through outdated musicals involving straw hats and canes.

Review: Pittsburgh CLO's KINKY BOOTS Makes Everybody Say 'Yeah!' at Benedum CenterReview: Pittsburgh CLO's KINKY BOOTS Makes Everybody Say 'Yeah!' at Benedum Center
July 12, 2022

What did our critic think? This kicky, soulful musical comedy may be slightly outdated already, but it's got heels full of heart.