Tucked away on a scenic campus in Richland is a 350-seat theater affectionately called the "Little Benedum."
The Kean Theatre has been bringing plays, concerts and movies to the community since 2002 at the St. Barnabas Health Care System campus on Meridian Road. Proceeds from the theater benefit St. Barnabas Charities.
“People call it the ‘Little Benedum’ because it is so beautiful," said Tom Madden, managing and artistic director, referring to the theater in Pittsburgh's Cultural District. "It really is an amazing theater.”
“Our goal was to ‘bring Downtown home’ so that people don’t have to drive into Pittsburgh to see great shows and plays,” said Madden. “I think we have succeeded.”
The “Broadway Series,” dinner theater, murder-mystery dinner theater, musical productions, concerts and free first-run movies are all part of the Kean's offerings.
“A lot of people don’t realize that all of our productions are open to the public. Many think you have to be one of our [St. Barnabas] residents to take advantage of these wonderful shows,” said Madden.
Madden, of Franklin Park, has been with the theater nearly since its beginning.
“I started part-time, and that lasted about a week,” he joked.
Productions also include the very popular Kean Idol Amateur Contest. Madden often works 60 to 80 hours a week managing, scheduling, directing and even writing.
“I write the murder-mystery shows. I also do some playwriting, but not for here,” said Madden. “And I write and direct Kean Idol.”
A Carnegie Mellon University theater graduate, Madden has done quite a bit of acting. He also had production, writing and directing experience when he came to Kean.
What started as seven productions a year now numbers 19.
"We will be operational 47 weekends in 2011,” said Madden.
The theater was created in The Washington Place facility on the St. Barnabas Campus. A former elementary school in the Pine-Richland School District, the building underwent extensive renovations.
The theater is named for the late Edward Kean, a longtime donor to St. Barnabas Health System, through a gift from his widow, Bethel Kean.
It’s been a busy history for the theater, said Madden. There have been more than 35 musicals, 14 murder mysteries, five original productions and more than 40 concerts in the venue.
“Concerts have included Shirley Jones, Povertyneck Hillbillies, The Lettermen, The Grass Roots, and, of course, we are Johnny Angel’s home theater,” said Madden. Angel has appeared at the Kean more than anyone else.
“Shirley Jones said she loved performing here,” said Madden.
Asylum, the in-house production company, produces the murder mysteries that Madden writes.
“We have two auditions a year and have about 35 members from all over the region,” explained Madden.
“April Fool’s Day Massacre” is the next murder mystery—slated for April 1 and 2—that incorporates the audience into the play.
“We start at dinner and really work folks into the show. We also do a lot of improvising,” he said, “Everyone really loves them.”
The free movie series -- “Tuesdays @ 2” and “Wednesdays @ 1” -- is also a popular component of Kean. Free first-rate movies are shown every Tuesday and Wednesday. Those attending may make donations for St. Barnabas' Free Care Fund, where all the profits from the theater are designated.
“We have helped provide over $5.1 million of care over the years,” said Madden.
The movie series is one of the attractions that brings Robert and Jane Anderson to the theater.
The West Deer couple often attends the Sunday matinee lunch shows and loves the murder mystery theater shows.
“It’s a wonderful place. I wish more people knew about it because it is amazing,” said Jane Anderson.
Like Madden, she said she doesn’t think many people realize the scope of the theater.
“Someone asked me if I need to take my own lawn chair," said Jane Anderson.
The state-of-the-art theater has plush seats and brass chandeliers and sconces.
"The theater is beautiful,” said Jane Anderson.
Kean Theatre's “Broadway Series” features four plays this year, and the “Summer of Fun Oldies Series” will feature six shows. Some of the productions include a dinner package with Atria’s Restaurant or lunch at the Mount Vernon Dining Room at Washington Place. For more information about events and tickets, visit www.keantheatre.com or call 724-444-5326.