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Cabaret Pittsburgh Breaks Off, Branches Out

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't long ago that Cabaret Pittsburgh was a coffeehouse affair, performing for small crowds in the converted, now-closed La Prima Espresso café. Today the company's Riverview Series is housed in the Symphony Room of the Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel and features acclaimed national talents. And thanks to generous donations, impending nonprofit status, and annual attendance of, some say, 20,000, what was once thought of as an intimate musical experience has gained robust independence under its new official name, Cabaret Pittsburgh Inc.

Cabaret Pittsburgh was the dream of Stephanie Riso, co-founder of the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre (PICT). As the theatre's founding managing director, she used PICT as an umbrella supporter of her cabaret project, incorporating as many talents as she could -- including singers Robert Cuccioli, Ann Hampton Callaway, and Pittsburgh native Joyce Breach. Riso's partner in the project was her husband, performer Tony Richards.

Riso has always supported PICT's mission, but "my heart is really in musical theatre," she says. "It's something that needs to be on its own."

While Cabaret Pittsburgh at first performed only three shows per year and was operated entirely by Riso and Richards, the company now has eight full-time employees and has upped its schedule to six shows annually. Its success made it difficult for Riso to divide her attention, even as PICT attained a budget of $1 million during her tenure. With the business aid of Point Park University instructor, actor, and philanthropist Richard E. Rauh, Riso gained nonprofit status for her company in late January, resigned from her post at PICT, and took on full-time operation of the cabaret as its president.

Riso's plans for Cabaret Pittsburgh involve more than just revue performances in the Renaissance Hotel. She has taken two trips to New York to "develop contacts," which she hopes will lead to touring shows and concert versions of favorite musicals (and maybe script readings as well). The trips have not resulted in official contracts, and Riso isn't name-dropping yet, but she describes the New York journeys as productive. In addition to star-studded shows, she hopes to lead choral and songwriting workshops, too.

As an accomplished singer and composer herself, Riso is currently drafting her first full-length musical, Another Day, Another Dream. Taking cabaret out of the PICT stable will allow her to pursue more-creative goals.

Cabaret Pittsburgh's first independent show will feature cabaret artist Mary Cleere Haran on May 5. For more information, call (412) 402-0360.

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