Musical theatre pair are mother and son

Mother and son on a stage
Betsy and Daniel Lawrence appeared together for the first time in February’s performance of Fiddler on the Roof at Heinz Hall.

When the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra launched into the concert performance of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof this past February, there were two generations of the Lawrence family of Mt. Lebanon onstage.

Daniel Lawrence, 27, sang the role of Fyedka, a young soldier who elopes with Tevye’s daughter, Chava. His mother, Betsy Lawrence, sang the part of Shandel, the mother of a poor tailor who marries another daughter.

“I was so excited about performing with Danny!” said Betsy. “This was the first time we were on stage together as professionals.”

Betsy, who grew up in Mt. Lebanon, is director of the jazz choir at Carnegie Mellon and teaches voice, jazz, and musical theater there, as well as running a private voice studio. With degrees in opera and musical theater from CMU and Manhattan School of Music, she sang with the New York City Opera and other companies for 10 years. In 2004, when Danny and his sister, Georgia, were 7 and 5, respectively, Betsy moved back to Pittsburgh. She continues to sing professionally around the country; last summer she performed in The Sound of Music with CLO.

Danny has followed in his mother’s footsteps. “I feel like I was kind of born into it,” he said. “I grew up listening to voice lessons in the house.”

Betsy vividly remembers an incident from his childhood when he was riding in the car with her. “He was seven years old, and it’s his first day coming to work with me,” she recalled. “I looked in the rear-view mirror and said, ‘Daniel, are you excited to go with me?’ He goes, ‘Mom, I’ve been sitting under your piano all these years. It’s my turn now!’

“And within two months he was in a professional production of Seussical!”

As a child, Danny honed his skills at Pittsburgh Musical Theater and in the high school’s theater productions. After graduating in 2015, he enrolled in the musical theater program at Manhattan School of Music.

“It was an awesome, awesome experience,” he said. “Ever since I graduated, I’ve just been auditioning for things. I’ve been back and forth between here and New York for a while.” Because he graduated at a time when theaters were mostly closed because of the pandemic, he also auditioned for acting roles.

“I’ve been doing some things that were filming here in Pittsburgh over the last few years, like American Rust and the Billy Porter movie.”

The Lawrences auditioned for their parts on separate days in December and got callbacks shortly afterwards. Danny sang On the Street Where You Live, from My Fair Lady, and Betsy auditioned with I Don’t Need a Roof, from Big Fish.

The live concert at Heinz Hall on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, February 23-25, featured the Pittsburgh Symphony in collaboration with Pittsburgh CLO. The original music and lyrics for the 1964 Broadway production were by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. This production featured John Williams’ Oscar-winning score adaptation from the 1971 feature film of the musical. The concert was directed and choreographed by New York director Gustavo Zajac.

“What was really fantastic was that these were pretty big-time New York directors and choreographers,” said Danny. “So we’re Pittsburghers being seen by the top people. That wouldn’t happen in New York.”

“And they mentioned to me that they were shocked at all the talent in Pittsburgh!” Betsy reported. “I said CMU attracts a lot of talent and so does Point Park University.”

Betsy loves the school system in Mt. Lebanon, where she lives with her husband, David Kendall, on Pinetree Road. “It was the best move I ever made. The kids thrived here. It was a no-brainer for me. I still get gigs all over the country, but why pay the rents in New York?

“And there are so many things we get here in Mt. Lebanon,” she continued. “The walkability, the services, the restaurants. This is a wonderful, wonderful community.”

Danny agrees. “I felt and still feel that a Mt. Lebanon education is stellar,” he said. “Plus we’ve got a little bit of the midwestern niceness. People are kind pretty much everywhere I’ve been, but I just love how nice people are here in Pittsburgh.”