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2021-2022 SeasonThe Current War

‘Current War’ Musical Depicts Historic Struggle Between Edison And Westinghouse

By June 2, 2021August 2nd, 2023No Comments
Actors on stage

90.5 WESA – Once upon a time, the concept of producing and distributing electricity for everyday household use was brand-new – so new that the best way to do it was not yet settled: Direct current or alternating current?

The circa-1880s conflict between Thomas Edison (who swore by the former) and George Westinghouse (who favored the latter) has been called The War of the Currents, and it occasionally turned lurid: For instance, seeking to demonize AC as deadly dangerous, Edison took to electrocuting dogs and horses with it, and even backed creation of the first electric chair.

The struggle between the two famed inventors was dramatized in “The Current War,” a 2017 feature film starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon. But the film’s screenwriter, Pittsburgh-area native Michael Mitnick, originally envisioned the story as, of all things, a musical. And about 14 years after he wrote it, that musical will premiere June 4 as possibly Pittsburgh’s biggest and most elaborate in-person stage production since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Current War’s local hook

As staged by Quantum Theatre, “The Current War” leans heavily on its Pittsburgh connections. Though Westinghouse was born in upstate New York, Pittsburgh was where he founded iconic companies like Westinghouse Air Brake and Union Switch and Signal. He also lived here for decades, starting in 1871 – in a now-demolished estate on the 10 green acres that constitute Westinghouse Park, in North Point Breeze, the very site where Quantum is presenting its outdoor show under a big white tent. A couple scenes even take place at “Solitude,” the complex of residential and lab buildings where Westinghouse, also a pioneer in natural gas, sank several gas wells.

Mitnick, whose theatrical career began when he was a student at Fox Chapel Area High School, said such connections to his work thrill him. “Just thinking about it gives me chills,” said Mitnick, now a writer and theater artist living in Brooklyn…

Read the full story here.

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