By GUY D’ASTOLFO
“Pittsburgh Batman” is back on the street.
The offbeat comic musical about a caped crusader with Steel City style will be staged March 20-22 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty district.
Written by Lord Grunge of hip-hop duo Grand Buffet, the musical premiered last spring at Pittsburgh’s Bricolage Theater to appreciative audiences, but critical indifference.
Moving to the much bigger Kelly-Strayhorn allowed Grunge to boost the play’s production values, while maintaining its soul.
Unlike the smallish and makeshift Bricolage, the Kelly- Strayhorn is a traditional theater.
Grunge, who also plays the title role, said the decision to move was the right one. Audiences loved the show, and he wanted to give more people a chance to see it.
“The play was written specifically for a place like Bricolage, a beautiful space, but intimate and just the right amount of raw,” he said. “We wanted to go bigger than that, but keep it a proper ‘theater’ setup, which didn’t leave too many options in terms of venues. I was skeptical about whether or not the show could work in a room that big, that grandiose, but once I was in there and checked out the Strayhorn, it all seemed to make sense.”
Grunge said the team did its best to keep the minimalist, intimate vibe of the inaugural run intact while adding more size, sights and sounds.
The story line has the cranky superhero solving a sinister plot with the help of some Pittsburgh legends.
The cast is largely the same as last year, but a second actor from Youngstown has been added.
Richard Elmsworth (aka, Ultimate Donny of Gil Mantera’s Party Dream) will reprise his role as the villain Youngstown Joker.
“I jumped at the chance to play the Youngstown Joker again,” said Elmsworth. “Even if I didn’t want to, I’d feel compelled. Who else could possibly be the Youngstown Joker?”
Elmsworth said the inaugural run was a wild ride. “The fact that it even happened at all is a small miracle,” he said. “We had no idea how voracious and supportive the audience would be. When all was said and done, we felt a huge sense of accomplishment, knowing we had just pulled off a very special caper.”
For this year’s production, the Youngstown Joker has been given a henchman who is also from Youngstown: Flyin’ Ryan Burke, a well-known local wrestler.
“I was considering hiring an acrobat, or a dancer, or like a yoga expert, or someone to act as a henchman to the Youngstown Joker, and then it occurred to me that I should hire a wrestler,” said Grunge, who is a huge wrestling fan. “I’ve known Ryan on and off for a few years, and I thought he’d be perfect. I also thought it was an added bonus to have the Youngstown Joker’s muscle actually be from the Youngstown area. I’m hoping that we’ll get to a little fight choreography, too. He’s definitely going to be an awesome addition to the show.”
The cast also includes Jackson of Grand Buffet, comedian Davon Magwood, Barebones Productions theater group founder and actor Patrick Jordan, indie-rock legend Weird Paul Petroskey and drag queen Varian “Tising” Huddleston.
Making a special appearance will be underground hip-hop mastermind Sage Francis.