Douglas Levine is a relative rarity in Pittsburgh: a full-time independent musician and composer. But it was a winding path to get there.
At Bucknell University, he majored in management before switching to music. Back in his hometown, he worked at the Carnegie Museums before discovering – in the basement of that very building, in Oakland – the chance to be a piano accompanist for dance classes.
Eventually, his route led to musical direction and composition for the stage, largely at the old Pittsburgh Playhouse, in Oakland. It’s a behind-the-scenes avocation, but on Monday, Levine takes the spotlight with Theater Songs: The Music of Douglas Levine. The free concert at Rodef Shalom Congregation features selections from two decades of his original compositions for the stage.
“I’ve kind of structured this concert loosely as a chronological record of things that I’ve written,” he said. Levine, on piano, and his trio featuring bassist Paul Thompson and percussionist R.J. Heid, will back six singers, including Julianne Avolio, Lisa Ann Goldsmith, Jeff Howell, Caroline Nicolian, Shua Potter, and Jason Shavers in the 75-minute program.
Levine grew up in O’Hara Township. His stage journey in Pittsburgh began in the 1990s, composing incidental music for productions at the Playhouse (run by Point Park University) and troupes including Pittsburgh Irish & Classic Theatre. Director Scott Wise recruited him for musical-direction work at the Playhouse; Levine recalls this as his introduction to contemporary musical theater, including Adam Guettel’s 1996 work “Floyd Collins,” whose score incorporating Appalachian music Levine found “mesmerizing.”
Levine’s own first composing commission was a score for “Shakespeare Street,” a musical update on the Bard by playwright and lyricist Lynne Conner produced by the Playhouse Jr. family-theater company. The 2002 show mixed in rock, blues, jazz and even klezmer. Similarly eclectic musically was “Colorfast,” local educator Kellee Van Aken’s musical – with giant puppets – about a little girl learning how to do the laundry, which premiered at the 2004 Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival.
Both shows are sampled in Theater Songs, including a tune for “Colorfast” that was written for a singing bottle of bleach.
Levine’s later work includes a bit more in the contemporary musical-theater style. Also featured, for instance, are a few numbers from “Eastburn Avenue,” a 2008 musical drama by Levine and Point Park alum Marcus Stevens. And there’s a tune from Levine’s score for “Peer Gynt,” the 2005 reworking of the Ibsen classic by director Wise for the Playhouse.
The show, which opens the Music at Rodef Shalom season, runs 75 minutes and concludes with a dessert reception.
WESA receives funding from Rodef Shalom.