Whether you call it homage to a native son or cashing in on his fifteen plus minutes of fame, the final production of Pittsburgh's City Theatre's 2011/2012 season which opens on Saturday, May 5th is the Andy Warhol magical musical mystery tour de force, Pop!. Pittsburgh has long had a somewhat late love affair with Warhol who was born in the city's Oakland section, went to study commercial art at what was then the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and promptly left for greener pastures where his flamboyant persona and his aesthetic vision might be better appreciated. And appreciated they were, little Andy Warhola became the notorious Andy Warhol, still little, but no longer small.
So it was not strange when a couple of years after the man died plans were afoot to open a museum in his honor. If it was not quite in the neighborhood of his birth, it was not all that far away on the North Shore. There at least he would be close to such other attractions as what would have been at the time Three Rivers Stadium—after all it makes sense to keep potential tourist attractions in reasonable proximity. Now the area boasts two stadiums, a science center and a casino. The seven floor ex-warehouse opened its doors for business in May of 1994. It is roundly touted as the largest art museum devoted to the work of a single artist. From the city's point of view it has certainly been an instrumental element in changing the Steel Town's one time shot and a beer image. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it just needs a little polishing. Warhol's panache helped to apply the polish.
Pop!, a musical by Maggie-Kate Coleman and Anna K. Jacobs, was workshopped and premiered at Yale in 2009 and has had successful staging at a regional theatre or two in the years since. The latest was an acclaimed production at the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC. As explained in the City Theatre's promotional material, the play has Warhol's life flashing before him as "he confronts an unforgettable cast of outrageous suspects and wrestles with the meaning of his own legacy." Reviewers of past performances have described it as coupling "cartoonish zaniness" with "historical authenticity."
The City Theatre production directed by Brad Rouse stars Anthony Rapp best known for his role in the Broadway production of Rent. Rapp, something of a Pittsburgh favorite has appeared in the company's productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, his brother Adam's drama Gompers, and most recently in his own one man show Without You. The show runs through May 27th.
Pop! is not the City Theatre's first venture into the world of Warhol. Back in 1997 they collaborated with experimental director Anne Bogart's Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI) Company in a production of Culture of Desire, a play which metaphorically envisions a hellish journey through the mind of a dying figure called 'A' representing Warhol in one sense and the artist in another. To emphasize the larger metaphoric sense 'A' was played by a woman. More a critique of the effect of Warhol and his work on the culture than any sort of hagiography, and perhaps a bit too experimental for Pittsburgh at the time, it received a mixed reception. Perhaps that accounts for the fifteen year lapse before another attempt, this time one that seems as advertised in a more Pop(ular) vehicle.