It’s a tale as old as time — itching, burning and pain during sexual intercourse. This is how WebMD describes the symptoms of a yeast infection, which the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine took to the stage with a satirical production called “Beauty and the Yeast Infection.”
The classic tale of “Beauty and the Beast” was revamped to showcase witty songs, live music from a large orchestra, original choreography and technical spectacles.
The play is put on by Scope and Scalpel — the largest and longest-running amatuer theater company in Pittsburgh. “Beauty and the Yeast Infection” was Scope and Scalpel’s 64th annual production, stemming off past productions that included “The Gunner Games,” “Forrest’s Lump” and “Phantom of the OR.”
These annual plays are put on by graduating fourth-year Pitt medical students as a way to celebrate graduation, reflect on their last four years and pay gratitude to those who made the journey possible, including family, friends and faculty.
The multifaceted group put on an overall gracious tribute, and their intimacy and talent got the chance to shine. Music numbers that were inspired by modern-pop songs like “Cheerleader” by OMI, “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga, “(U) Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer and “Confessions” by Usher filled the auditorium with laughter through the show.
The two-act play had a total of eight scenes, and took place at Central Catholic High School. The play followed a plot that centered on breaking a research-obsessed medical school climate in hopes of encouraging exploration of other types of physician practices, such as family care.
Comedic videos streamed in between set changes to keep the audience engaged, and two awards were handed out during intermission — the Golden Apple Award and the Staff Aureus Award. Both awards were given to honor and highlight the faculty members who contributed most to their experience as students.
Dr. Susan Dunmire was given the Golden Apple Award and Laura Jeannerette was given the Staff Aureus Award. Dunmire walked on stage, thanking the crowd and laughing as she took the mic.
“This is the best show we’ve seen in 30 years,” Dunmire said.
Johnny Wang, the performance’s 27-year-old music director and graduating Pitt medical student, was so captivated by the process of putting on the play he saw during his first year of medical school — “Modern Family Medicine” — that he could not wait to use his creativity to do something that would stick in people’s mind for a “long, long” time.
“I feel like this is really a time where we all during our medical training have done rotations and kind of been split apart,” Wang said. “This is our chance to come back together and to unite again for one last time. To just be around each other — have each other for company.”
Positions such as director and producer are voluntary, while auditions were held to assign cast roles. This meant those seen on stage and in the orchestra were from Pitt’s medical school.
Wang had a vague understanding behind the process in creating a band, doing rehearsals and conducting due to his prior experience training classically in piano, and partaking in his middle school’s band.
“This is my first time actually conducting an orchestra, actually making multiple instrument arrangements for people. I think it’s gone together pretty well with a lot of hours,” Wang said.
The group agreed that “Beauty and the Beast” would be a story people could follow easily, given that the characters and music numbers are well known since a live adaption of the musical came out just last year.
This was director Joseph Israel’s first year being involved with Scope and Scalpel, aside from seeing some of its shows in the past. The Squirrel Hill resident majored in lighting design management during his undergraduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University, and wanted to make this year’s performance a musical, drawing from both his theater and backstage theatre experience.
“I never dealt with the acting side of things,” Israel said. “That was a steep learning curve. To try to figure out how to balance everything. Just making sure I was seeing the big picture, as opposed to focusing on smaller [things] like what I would do with lighting and technical things in the past.”
“Beauty and the Yeast Infection” was in the works for over a year, and began when Israel first assembled a team in May 2017. The overall team of about 60 individuals, 54 cast members, 23 orchestra members and 5 crew members began brainstorming ideas in October.
The bulk of the script writing began in January and February, which led into March, when auditions and rehearsals began.
“The vocal rehearsals, the casting, the costumes, the poster design — everyone really just came together and put it through, which is incredible,” Wang said.
The production brought together non-Pitt med students who did video, sound and lights. The performing arts director of Central Catholic High School also lent some of his instruments to the Pitt orchestra.
“If you count everyone who at some point [had] been involved and touched the show, it really is an outstanding number of people,” Wang said.
Eva Chernoff, a 26-year-old Pitt medical student, landed the role of Belle in this year’s production, drawing on her interest to be a part of Scope and Scalpel and her experience in the medical school’s a capella group.
“My journey has been a little nontraditional, as I actually took this year to get my master’s in public health,” Chernoff said. “I had an amazing time at Pitt Med and met amazing people in my class that I know I’ll continue to be in touch with long after med school ends.”
The production poked healthy fun at medical school, and allowed for those involved to reflect on their experiences — to notice how far and how much they have all accomplished since they started.
“I think the highlight was being able to spend so much time with my classmates before everyone graduated,” Chernoff said. “During our third and fourth year, everyone can get a little scattered, so it was such a wonderful experience to all be reunited and really end our experience on such a high note.”