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Eyes on the Jimmys, Classical Motown, Cabaret in Carnegie, and a ‘Titanic’ Trek

Column

By SHARON EBERSON

It’s Monday night, and the final seconds of the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals are ticking away as I write this. The live YouTube broadcast of the 2024 Jimmy Awards is over, host Josh Groban has signed off, and inspiring and arts-affirming though it was, Western Pennsylvanians weren’t among the finalists. My rooting interest for the night is done. 

On a high note, Pittsburgh CAPA’s Kai Sachon, representing the Gene Kelly Awards, and Slippery Rock High’s Anderson Franco, out of the Henry Mancini Awards, who each crushed their Jimmy Awards solos. Congrats again to them and Emma Hopf of North Hills High School and Bella McKivigan of Freeport High. I’m sure their stay in New York City, working with pros, seeing shows and the first time performing on a Broadway stage was epic. 

Kai Sachon of Pittsburgh CAPA and, below, Anderson Franco of Slippery Rock High School, in medley numbers at the 2024 Jimmy Awards, at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre.

The 2024 Jimmys’ top male and female high school performers were Damson Chola Jr. of Dallas, Texas, and Gretchen Shope of East Lansing, Michigan, winners of $25,000 each, among the monetary awards bestowed at the Minskoff Theatre Monday Night.

It’s always nice to see Pittsburgh CLO – with Van Kaplan and Kiesha Lalama – get the recognition they deserve for founding and continuing to co-produce this ever-growing Tony Awards-style show that recognizes high school musical theater excellence on a national scale. 

I rushed home from the Downtown Cultural District to watch the YouTube live stream of the Jimmys, after a sneak peek event by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust – I can’t wait to tell you all about it.

I can, however, tell you about my weekend …

TWO ORCHESTRAS, ONE KEYBOARD

My Friday-through-Sunday of “see it live” adventures took me from Downtown, to Carnegie, to Midland in Beaver County. 

The weekend began Friday at Heinz Hall, with the PSO’s Pops season finale, Let’s Groove Tonight: Motown & The Philly Sound, featuring three top-notch vocalists, accompanied by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. Pops leader and Mr. Personality Byron Stripling conducted, with the orchestra creating surround-sound for a front-and-center four-piece band. The dozens of musicians fully embraced their roles as classical stand-ins for the classic Funk Brothers, a seamless blend of at least 13 studio musicians (including Pittsburgh bassist Bob Babbitt), who played on Motown recordings for more than a dozen years. 

On opening night of a three-day Pops sit-down, I didn’t get up and dance, as some bolder audience members did. But I enjoy watching a group of women across the aisle sharing synchronized moves, channeling the Pips at the Pops.

More on the concert here:

Deana Muro at the keyboard accompanies Daina Michelle Griffith in a Saturday Soiree cabaret at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall. (Image: onStage Pittsburgh)

On Saturday, I supported the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall and it’s Saturday Soiree series that on this date featured two of my favorite women of the Pittsburgh stage, Daina Michelle Griffith, accompanied by Deana Muro for a one-night-only cabaret titled Leading Ladies of Yesteryear – I think of them as leading ladies of today, but that’s another story. 

It was a mostly friends-and-family night in the pleasant confines of the building’s studio basement, remarkable not only for the talent on display, but for Griffith having performed in barebones productions’ The Animal Kingdom at 2 p.m. – in a role where words come pouring out in waves – then arriving at the microphone in Carnegie for a 7:30 concert.

Griffith noted she does not often do musical theater these days, although two of her finest roles were in Grey Gardens (Front Porch Theatrics) and Next to Normal (Carnivale Theatrics). Rather, her cabaret journey wound through her early musical theater roots and heroes, leaning into film and recording artists Judy Garland and Rosemary Clooney (she channeled each in vintage dresses from Eons Fashion Antique in Shadyside).

At the keyboard was musical director Muro, who helped provide a grand finale: a duet of of the Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy mashup made famous by Garland and Barbra Streisand. It left me verklempt, let me tell you …

Sunday was another trip down memory lane and something new, for me: my first time seeing a professional show at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center. I was determined to see Titanic the Musical there, lured by the many familiar faces among the cast, and one in particular.

Central Catholic High and Carnegie Mellon alum Michael Campayno is fully integrating into the Pittsburgh arts community after a fruitful stay on Broadway (Wicked and The Cher Show) and on tour, and in screen roles such as The Sound of Music Live and The Other Two. Campayno has come home to found the “pre-professional training academy,” The Collective, and will be teaching at CMU this summer.

For now, he can be seen onstage as Titanic designer Thomas Andrews – perhaps the first time I’ve seen him onstage in (or very near) Pittsburgh since he toured as Fiyero in Wicked; before that, in the ensemble for Pittsburgh CLO shows, and playing Daina Griffith’s son in Next to Normal

In fact, Titanic is a Next to Normal reunion of sorts. Justin Fortunato and Robert Neumeyer, the head of Lincoln Park and the Titanic music director, respectively, founded Carnivale Theatrics. Erich Lascek, who plays multiple roles in Titanic, starred with Griffith and Campayno in Next to Normal. And, an aside, while Griffith is starring for barebones in Braddock, her husband, the award-winning actor Daniel Krell, plays the bad guy of Titanic lore, Bruce Ismay …

Titanic boasts a killer cast all around, more than two-dozen strong, including David Toole (soon to star in the Pittsburgh premiere of Bandstand for Front Porch). Any frequent musical theater-goer from Allegheny County and other nearby areas – Lincoln Park draws from West Virginia and Ohio, too – will recognize members of the talented cast. 

The Tony Award-winning best musical of 1997, Titanic features a dense, dramatic and moving score by Maury Yeston, orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick, who won his first Tony for the musical. (A dozen nominations later, Tunick won his second Tony in 2024, for Merrily We Roll Along.)

Titanic the Musical cast takes post-show bows at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center, with Michael Campayno, Tom J. Schaller as Captain E.J. Smith, center, and Daniel Krell. The show runs through June 30. (Image: onStage Pittsburgh)

One of the pleasures of this Titanic is exceptional performers, supported by a full orchestra. There are some theatrical tricks with scenery, flashing lights and startling sounds to tell the inevitable story on the “unsinkable” ship of dreams, but the emotional heart belongs to the performers and musicians. 

A recent star-studded Encores! version of Titanic at New York’s City Center enjoyed a one-week run this month — there and gone, it seems. However, in Western Pennsylvania, you can still catch Lincoln Park’s stellar production, Friday-Sunday, June 28-30, 2024. 

It’s a shlep for some of us, I’ll grant you, but it’s a destination worthy of the trip. Tickets: visit

Let’s see, what day is this? Monday … no, Tuesday. The Florida Panthers are Stanley Cup champions, and the clock has struck midnight for the Edmonton Oilers and me.

Tonight: Pittsburgh CLO’s production of The Color Purple. See you at the theater.

Pittsburgh CLO Digs into the Dark and Gritty, Light and Hopeful of ‘The Color Purple’