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Pittsburgh Playhouse Show Offers New Digital Twist On A Stage Musical

At a time when theater artists are looking for new ways to create, Dave Solomon thought the off-Broadway musical “Ordinary Days” provided the perfect opportunity.

Pittsburgh Playhouse presents "Ordinary Days": Wed., Dec. 9, through Sun., Dec. 13

For one, the 2008 musical about four young people making their ways in New York City has a lot of solo numbers – handy during a pandemic, when in-person group rehearsals are infeasible.

Two, Solomon is friends with the show’s composer and lyricist, Adam Gwon, who was willing to rework the show for a new production.

And three, while “Ordinary Days” is set in 2006, its themes seemed to Solomon to resonate during lockdown. The idea, he said, is that “we sometimes have to stop, and take a breath, and see what’s around us, the people around us, and make those connections and try have those moments to appreciate life instead of passing so much of it by because we’re trying to accomplish something.”

Solomon said “Ordinary Days” was the show that came to mind when Point Park University and its production partner, RWS Entertainment Group, were looking for shows to stage in the fall season at Pittsburgh Playhouse.

"Ordinary Days," which screens online Dec. 9-13, was created through an unusual rehearsal and production process.

For one, Solomon directed the whole thing without leaving his home in Brooklyn. All the rehearsals with the cast of eight Point Park musical-theater students were conducted via Zoom. That’s common these days, but the musical nature of the show presented challenges: Because of the online meeting platform’s time delays, the performers couldn’t sing together, for instance.

More novel still was the production. For filming, the actors reported to a custom-built soundstage in Point Park’s Downtown performing-arts complex, and performed for cameras in an empty room, with Solomon’s voice piped in and the technical crew positioned in another room entirely.

These solo performances were then stitched together to create scenes. The actors never worked together in person, said Solomon.

"The individuals are actually filmed entirely in isolation for the safest possible environment, but it won’t appear that way as you watch it. It’ll appear like everyone is together," said Playhouse artistic director Steven Breese.

Scenes in “Ordinary Lives” take place in locations as diverse as a taxi, an apartment-building rooftop, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most of the scenery was created via rear-projections done live while the actors performed, said Solomon. The show's production design is by Jason Ardizzone-West, who won an Emmy for "Jesus Christ Superstar Live."

Some scenery was added via green screen, said Solomon.

While his own film background was helpful, Solomon said, the camera movements are limited to some digital zooms; viewers will feel very much like they're watching a play, not a movie, he said.

To maximize opportunities for Point Park student performers, there are actually two separate productions, each with its own four-person cast. And working with Gwon, Solomon created another new wrinkle with some gender-swap casting.

The original characters in "Ordinary Days" are Jason and Claire, a couple moving in together, and Warren and Deb, who become friends after a chance encounter. In one of the Playhouse's iterations, Claire becomes Clay, a male role. In the other, Warren and Deb are recast as Drew and Lauren, with the male and female roles trading personas.

The performers include Koby Fink, Jaquel Spivey, Emily Botnen, Jana Glover, Bennett Speith, Will Cobb, and Zoey Meyers.

Each cast gets three performances.

Tickets are $5.

More information is here.

Captions for the second, third and fourth photo: Will Cobb and Zoey Meyers on the virtual stage; A behind-the-scenes look at modeling for the virtual stage; Jana Glover and Bennett Speith against a Manhattan backdrop.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: