By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing writer
This year marks 75 years since the founding of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, or CLO. While certainly not the anniversary year they were expecting, the COVID-19 pandemic provided the unexpected opportunity to revisit where the CLO began.
“We looked back to our roots. CLO was founded in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II as a civic engagement project to bring the community together, with musical theater as a means of doing that,” said Mark Fleischer, executive director of Pittsburgh CLO. “That happened under the stars at Pitt Stadium, so we started looking outdoors.”
This July, Pittsburgh CLO will showcase “Summer Under The Stars,” two spectacular outdoor musical performances for the whole family. For this program, CLO partnered with Heinz Field, bringing the organization back to a football field performance for the first time since 1959.
The Wizard of Oz will kick off the festivities on July 8, with a cast of talented actors and performers bringing the classic story of Dorothy and Toto to life. Amplifying the performance, dazzling IMAG video technology and the stadium’s many screens will be incorporated in the show.
Following that, Pittsburgh CLO’s celebration of its 75 years, A Broadway Musical Celebration, will hit the field July 21. Celebrity guest stars will join the talented cast for a musical revue of Broadway hits, past and present, including the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Dreamgirls, and In the Heights.
Each show will seat 3,500 audience members, and precautions to keep guests and performers safe from COVID-19 are of paramount importance. Pittsburgh CLO and Heinz Field have worked in tandem to ensure the safety of all.
“One of the things that made Heinz Field so appealing as a venue is that they’ve already welcomed 7,500 fans, as well as media, the opposing teams, staff. They’ve been holding the vaccine clinics,” said Fleischer. “They have an active and really successful COVID mitigation plan.”
In the stands, audience members will be seated in the stands in distanced pods of four and two. There will also be distanced table seating set up on the field. All surfaces will be sanitized before each performance. Masks will be required at all times, and the show will run 90 minutes with no intermission. This limits the number of potentially pandemic spreading encounters between theatergoers.
In addition to the team at Heinz Field, many hands have come together so that Pittsburgh CLO can continue ambitious projects like this. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre contributed their large mobile stage, which both shows will utilize as the main performance space.
“We’re very grateful to them for that support, and a lot of donors have worked to make sure we stayed viable and resilient, so we can do what people love, hear people sing and watch them dance,” said Fleischer.
Support from the community, especially in these pandemic times, is so critical for arts organizations everywhere. As the community supports the arts, the arts support the community in return, and Fleischer hopes these performances will help bring the community together for a night of entertainment.
“We hope that after this year of isolation and stress, that this work we’re doing brings the community out for some enjoyment, fun, and musical theater,” said Fleischer.
The Wizard of Oz will run July 8 to 10. Pittsburgh CLO’s 75th Anniversary: A Broadway Musical Celebration will run July 21 to 24. For more information, visit pittsburghCLO.org.