With 19 years under its belt, “Off The Record” is surely Pittsburgh’s longest-running satirical musical revue. But while the coronavirus pandemic won’t stop it, neither will the 20th annual production be quite the same.
The show, organized by the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh and SAG-AFTRA, the union for film, TV and radio performers, has always been live, taking over the Byham Theater one night every October for singing, dancing, and jabs at local politics, sports and culture. This year, with help from filmmakers at the United Steelworkers, Off the Record will be pre-recorded and streamed on Facebook and YouTube.
Off The Record has a storied history; its casts of local professional and amateur performers have been augmented over the years by the likes of George Romero and, in her last public appearance, former Pittsburgh mayor Sophie Masloff. But tradition isn’t the only reason the show must go on, pandemic or not, said co-producer Sharon Eberson.
“We decided … in [this] pandemic year, we had to do it for the food bank, that was the most important thing,” said Eberson, who produced the show with her fellow former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette theater critic Chris Rawson.
That would be the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, for which Off The Record has raised more than $600,000 over the past 19 years, Eberson said.
Rehearsing the show’s usual string of original production numbers, let alone staging them, wasn’t an option this year. Instead, the 2020 show is a mix of socially distanced new videos and archival clips.
The 80-minute show opens with a monologue by Ken Rice, the KDKA-TV news anchor who’s Off The Record’s longest-running host, with cameos by other local broadcast-news luminaries. Other guests include such Pittsburgh-native celebrities as Broadway star Billy Porter, billionaire Mark Cuban, and film and stage director, producer and choreographer Rob Marshall. There’s also a cartooning demonstration by former Post-Gazette political cartoonist Rob Rogers.
In addition to supporting the Food Bank, Off the Record is meant to spotlight the unions that produce it. But that facet, too, has changed. The Newspaper Guild represents Post-Gazette newsroom staffers, who are locked a long-running labor dispute with Block Communications, Inc., which owns the paper; in August, Guild members voted to strike. A potential strike still looms, but Eberson said the show didn’t take any money from the Guild this year, as it usually does.
And while viewers will surely hear messages of support for the Guild and its members (who’ve been working without a contract for three-and-a-half-years), Eberson said they shouldn’t expect any mention of the union’s recent change of leadership.
Off the Record XIX 2.0: Pandemic Edition streams at 8 p.m. Thu., Oct. 8. Watching is free, but donations to the Food Bank are requested.