Display Honors Steber’s 100th

A new display is on view at the Ohio County Public Library this month in honor of Wheeling native Eleanor Steber’s 100th birthday.

Steber, who rose to international fame as a star of the Metropolitan Opera, was born in Wheeling on July 17, 1914. She was inducted into the Wheeling Hall of Fame in 1980. The acclaimed soprano died in New York on Oct. 3, 1990.

In remembrance of the Steber centenary, a staff member filled a display case with photographs, records, letters and programs, all drawn from the extensive collection of Steber memorabilia stored in the library’s Wheeling Room.

Bethany resident Dr. Mary-Bess Halford, who cataloged the most recent additions to the library’s Steber collection and gave presentations on the soprano at several locations, observed, “Recently a fuss was made about a soprano who sang Butterfly at the Met in the evening and then agreed to sing Mimi the following afternoon.”

In April, Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais sang the title role in her first “Madama Butterfly” at the Metropolitan Opera, then was asked to replace an ailing singer in the role of Mimi for a televised performance of Puccini’s “La Boheme” the next afternoon. According to published reports, Opolais became “the first singer in the Met’s 131-year history to make two major role debuts within a day.”

While Opolais’ accomplishment is certainly notable, the late Met soprano from Wheeling once achieved an even more remarkable feat. “Steber sang Desdemona in the afternoon and Fiordiligi (‘Cosi fan Tutte’) in the evening of the same day,” Halford related. “She was always charging to the rescue like that. It made quite a news story at the time!”

Meanwhile, a number of music lovers have expressed a desire for a musical tribute in Wheeling to mark the centennial of Steber’s birth. It would be a fitting way to remember the city’s most famous classical music artist.

Meanwhile, retired West Liberty University theater director John E. Reilly is having anything but a “retiring” summer.

In addition to directing the Independent Theatre Collective’s outdoor summer production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” at Oglebay Park, Reilly is now appearing on stage in the role of the Doctor in Kinectic Theatre Co.’s Pittsburgh premiere of David Mamet’s play, “Romance.” Performances continue at the Alloy Studios, located at 5530 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, at 8 p.m. today, July 27, through Saturday, Aug. 2.

The production of “Romance” is directed by Andrew Paul, co-founder and former artistic director (from 1996 to 2013) of Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre. During Paul’s tenure at PICT, Reilly also appeared in productions with that company.

Incidentally, the final free performance of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” will be staged at Oglebay’s Anne Kuchinka Amphitheatre at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7.

Two talented theater professionals from the Upper Ohio Valley – playwright Matt Webster and actor Dale Sampson – are getting rave reviews for their work with a new show, “Propaganda! The Musical,” that debuted at the New York Musical Theatre Festival this past week.

As part of the festival, “Propaganda! The Musical” was accorded five performances in New York City. The show opened Wednesday, July 23. The final performance was slated for noon today, July 27.

Webster, a graduate of Martins Ferry High School and West Virginia University, co-wrote the musical, in which Sampson, a graduate of Wheeling Park High School, plays the leading role.

A review by Theatre in the Now, published online Thursday, July 24, praised both Ohio Valley natives and their colleagues.

The reviewer stated, “Written by Taylor Ferrera and Matt Webster, ‘Propaganda! The Musical’ is a laugh out loud comedy that pokes fun in all the right places … Ferrera and Webster have created a vibrant and cartoonish world where campy is served every second. And it works. It works real well. Ferrera and Webster are clear what this world wants to be and how large these characters can go. Ferrera and Webster, who share book, lyrics and music credits, have infused a poppy score that is catchy with instant toe tappers. If the key to a successful musical is being able to remember the music when the curtain drops, then Ferrera and Webster have succeed this with nearly every song.”

The reviewer added, “In the leading role as Rookie, Dale Sampson is brilliant. Sampson is insanely, and unfairly, talented as the sweet and endearing Rookie. His range, from heart breaker to leader to comedic genius, is quite astounding. Sampson has a voice to be jealous of and comedic timing to strive for. A star was born with that performance.”

The Theatre in the Now review concluded, “Fortunately, if you catch ‘Propaganda! The Musical’ at NYMF, chances are you’ve seen a future smash. Creators Taylor Ferrera and Matt Webster have a very bright future. Though Ferrera and Webster have an incredibly tough task in their future collaborations: figuring out a way to top perfection.”

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net.