by David Bernabo
Recital continues our partnership with the New Hazlett Theater by publishing a preview and an editorially-independent review for the five performances in the 2021 CSA Performance Series season.
Throughout the season, Recital is meeting with each of the artists to bring you a brief profile of them and their work in the days before their opening performance. We will publish a considered review for each performance, developed from post-show discussions with a consistent panel of local experts in related disciplines.
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You may have noticed a drift towards the virtual in the local dating scene. Where meet-ups used to happen in bars and at parties, now online dating plays a much larger role. The pandemic hasn’t helped, stranding a number of local singles in their homes. Singles nights, whether at a church or community center or neighborhood wine bar, have been on a steady decline, although a vaccine-fueled renaissance may be on the horizon for late summer.
So, it’s fitting that playwright and musician Nick Navari’s new musical Local Singles is set in Pittsburgh’s last surviving support group for the lonely. Over a series of meetings, five singles will gather, bond, and attempt to leave their loneliness behind them.
“Unlike what the title suggests, they’re looking for love, but not in a typical way,” says Navari. “I tried to write something that surprised me; something that I don’t often see in media or theatre. I wanted to talk about familial love that happens outside of a family unit and how that can grow unexpectedly.”
These characters have been gestating since 2016 when Navari heard a story about a friend of a friend who went to a singles group at her church. “To me, that was a surprise,” says Navari. “I didn’t think those existed in 2016. I thought Tinder or whatever would be the predominant thing.”
At first, the task of writing a musical seemed daunting, but three years later in the summer of 2019, Navari put pen to paper (and fingers to keyboard). He pulled songs from five years’ worth of writing, some which drew inspiration from piano persons Ben Folds and Billy Joel, and then wrote a bunch of new ones. By December 2019, Local Singles was finished. The musical promises humor, fun, and a heartwarming second act.
If you glanced at Navari’s resume, he might not be the most obvious choice for writing and producing a musical. His formal education is in law and economics, which one could argue are quite theatrical fields, and he currently holds a day job in finance. But he’s always harbored an interest in music and theater.
“I would do the one play [per year] in high school and middle school,” says Navari. “Everyone did. I went to Aquinas Academy, so a really small school. My entire lacrosse team was in the The Pirates of Penzance that year.”
Fast forward to junior year in college — Navari was asked to audition to music direct a musical. “I got the gig and it was a total re-falling in love with theater. That was the turning point for me — rediscovering the beauty and joys of working in theater.”
Our group of lonely persons meets over the course of a pregnancy. Penny, recently pregnant, is now single after her boyfriend walks out. Another person, recently dumped, walks into the wrong room at the YMCA and decides to stay. There’s also a longtime attendee, a hopeless romantic, along with two hosts of the group. “They’re all in this state of what’s going to happen next?”
It’s a familiar feeling, especially as we come up on a year of living with the pandemic. Local Singles was slated to premiere last fall, but season eight of the New Hazlett Theater’s CSA program was pushed back to late March due to the winter’s drastic rise in COVID-19 cases. Originally positioned in the middle of the season, Navari’s musical will now kick things off.
The cast has been rehearsing over Zoom, drawing NFL playbook-style instructions for stage positioning and movements while respecting social distancing practices — “showing empathy is tough from eight feet away.” Luckily, the cast that was assembled last fall is still intact — Sarah Chelli as “Penny,” Sydnee Elder as “Nancy,” Emmanuel Elliot Key as “Jack,” Seth Laidlaw as “Richard,” and Adam Marino as “Wes.”
The performance will be constructed as a film with edits and three main camera angles, prioritizing longer takes resembling a filmed play over a shot-by-shot script. The goal is to retain the live energy of a play while benefiting from unique camera angles provided by a roving Steadicam.
As the tagline goes, for a good time, call Local Singles.