Pittsburgh Public Theater managing director Lou Castelli recalls a conversation the company’s staff had with Marya Sea Kaminski early in her tenure as artistic director. It was about Christmas – specifically, how much Pittsburgh seems to love it.
“She really picked up on that,” Castelli said. Staffers like life-long Pittsburgher Castelli filled in Kaminski (whose hiring was announced in December 2017) about faded traditions like the elaborate, mechanized window displays at Kaufmann’s Department Store, Downtown.
That chat, said Castelli, was the seed for Yinzer Yuletide, the Public’s new holiday festival. Yinzer Yuletide was co-conceived by the theater with local TV favorite Rick Sebak, who’ll host the two-week festival’s centerpiece: a live variety show that features Sebak telling Pittsburgh stories and hosting local talents including jazz singer Etta Cox, juggler and clown O’Ryan the O’Mazing, and 7-year-old singing sensation Victory Brinker.
Yinzer Yuletide, which runs Dec. 12-22, also includes film screenings, Breakfast With Santa, and the feature that will surely catch the most eyes: elaborate displays in the Penn Avenue theater’s expansive windows that pay homage to both “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and those bygone, classic department-store dioramas.
The tableaux are being created by Public Theater scenic artists Celeste Parrendo and Mark Kissner. To one side of the O’Reilly Theater’s front doors, “you’ll see all the [Mister Rogers] characters there, and the trolley will be moving,” said Castelli. “The other window will be the city skyline with an ice-skating rink and famous Pittsburghers from yesterday and today, skating on it.”
That round-the-clock attraction will be complemented by programming inside the building. The lobby will be outfitted with a retail shop featuring local makers from “love, Pittsburgh,” and “Nebby and Nice” bars offering hot chocolate, craft cocktails and more. On weekends, there will be ticketed daily Breakfast With Santa sessions followed by screenings of the animated half-hour Disney favorite “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.” On Fridays and Saturdays, the Public will host late-night screenings of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
The hour-long variety show is called “Pittsburgh Lights & Legends,” with eight performances starting Thursday. Host Sebak is best known for his WQED documentaries about the region, including “Things That Aren’t There Anymore.” His other "Lights & Legends" guests include Pittsburgh native Lenora Nemetz, a protégé of Bob Fosse whose credits include the original Broadway productions of both “Cabaret” and “Chicago”; indie-rock luminary Josh Verbanets (Meeting of Important People); and Ben Prisbylla, a YouTube star with his project Ukes & Suits. The music direction is by Nick Stamatakis.
“We wanted a lot of music and then some unexpected surprises, some great collaborations between those guest artists,” said Castelli.