The first-ever free concert kicks off the 31st Musikfest on the Sands Steel Stage at PNC Plaza in Bethlehem on Friday. That's when local blues icon the Craig Thatcher Band and guitarist Mike Dugan perform "An Evening with the Allman Brothers" show at 7 p.m. Also taking the stage will be local rock band, the joEs.

It's all happening in place of the ZZ Top show originally scheduled to open the festival but with a last-minute cancellation due to kidney-stone surgery for one of its band members. According to Thatcher, some ZZ Top numbers may be added to the show, which is sure to turn into a memorable evening under the stars.

Musikfest runs through Aug. 10, with new and unexpected attractions this year. Among them, the music and dance of Tahiti and Hawaii take center stage at Handwerkplatz as traditional Polynesian dancers, including a Maori Fire Poi dancer, perform evenings Friday through Tuesday. Dinosaurs start stomping the festival grounds Aug. 8-10, when the Netherlands-based street theater group, Close Act Theatre, presents "Saurus." The 18-foot-tall, artistic dinosaurs can be seen in the area between Festplatz and Plaza Tropical beginning at 4 p.m. And at Plaza Tropical, the Space Shuttle Blake, a 4/10-scale replica of a U.S. space shuttle, features a state-of-the-art classroom in space missions and travel.

Footnote: ArtsQuest founder and president Jeff Parks, who’s been at the helm of Musikfest since its inception, will be retiring as of January 2015. His new role will be as first executive director of the ArtsQuest Foundation, established to help support the long-term sustainability of ArtsQuest. He will assume the part-time position in May 2015. Taking over for Parks as president and CEO is Kassie Hilgert, who currently serves as ArtsQuest's senior vice president of marketing and advancement.

For further info: musikfest.org      artsquest.org

ARTS ROUNDUP

Other major outdoor happenings in August include the seventh season of Allentown Shakespeare in the Park, Aug. 8-9, at scenic Joseph S. Daddona Lake and Terrace at St. Elmo and Union streets. This year’s free offering is the great tragedy, "Othello," directed by award-winning New York director and projection designer Erik Pearson (Spike Lee’s “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” on Broadway/HBO). Performances, rain or shine, are scheduled for Aug. 8 at 8 p.m., and Aug. 9 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Patrons are encouraged to bring along a picnic dinner along with lawn chairs or blankets.

According to Sarah Steele, founder and producer of Allentown Shakespeare in the Park, the classic will be performed by a troupe of professional New York City actors plus high school students from the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts (Alyssa Karounos ’14, and Albert Nelthropp '15) and William Allen High School (Kayla Jimenez '15, and Elie Nassar '16). The students are participating in the company’s Actor Apprentice Program and have been attending weekend rehearsals in Allentown.

A devastating tale of the power of love and the destructiveness of jealousy, "Othello" tells the story of a talented Moorish general whose life is destroyed when the evil lago cunningly deceives him into thinking his virtuous wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful. The Allentown performances will be set in the late 1940s, just after the racial integration of the U.S. military, highlighting the play's themes of diversity and betrayal that resonate loudly today.

Nine professional actors will play multiple roles in the production -- Ashley Brooke, Jessica Frey, Jeff Hathcoat, Jacqueline Marriott, Christopher McFarland, Brian Morabito, Kenneth Acosta Robinson, Brendon Schaefer and Michael Sutherland. The creative team, along with Morris, includes Elizabeth Barrett Groth for costumes, Joel Abbott for sound, and Brian Belcinski for fight choreography.

Steele said Robert Rhoads and Christy Alvord of the Allentown Department of Parks and Recreation have been most supportive of Allentown Shakespeare in the Park and its mission of bringing a free cultural event to the city.

Pearson and set designer Edward Morris have undertaken the challenge of staging the story in a way that embraces the striking design and natural beauty of the park’s amphitheater. This is Pearson’s first time being involved with a Shakespeare production, Steele said, though he’s familiar with outdoor productions since his alma mater, the University of California at Santa Cruz, had been affiliated with the Santa Cruz Shakespeare festival.

"The stage is very large, even by outdoor summer Shakespeare festival standards," Pearson explained, adding that it's more than twice as wide as the stage of the Metropolitan Opera house in New York City.

"We have worked to embrace this epic scale while creating some limits to the areas the performers will actually use," he continued. "Whenever possible, we have looked for ways to incorporate the dominant features of the amphitheater into the staging of the play – including both the stream and the rock pillars that flank the stage left and right. I hope the final effect will be transformative – an experience of Daddona Park truly unique to this play."

For further info: facebook.com/AllentownShakespeareinthePark

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The world's top drum corps returns home to Allentown for a two-day performance on Friday and Saturday at 6:30 p.m., at J. Birney Crum Stadium, Linden and 20th streets. Drum Corps International is presenting the 2014 DCI Eastern Classic.

Friday's performing corps are: Blue Devils, Concord, California; Blue Knights, Denver, Colorado; Blue Stars, La Crosse, Wisconsin; Boston Crusaders, Boston, Massachusetts; Cascades, Seattle, Washington; Colts, Dubuque, Iowa; Oregon Crusaders, Portland, Oregon; Pacific Crest, Diamond Bar, California; Phantom Regiment, Rockford, Illinois; Pioneer, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Santa Clara Vanguard, Santa Clara, California.

Saturday’s slate is: Blue Coats, Canton, Ohio; Bridgeman Alumni, Bayonne, New Jersey; Carolina Crown, Ft. Mill, South Carolina; Crossmen, San Antonio, Texas; Defenders, Rockland, Massachusetts; Jersey Surf, Camden County, New Jersey; Madison Scouts, Madison, Wisconsin; Mandarins, Sacramento, California; Spirit of Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia; The Academy, Tempe, Arizona; The Cadets, Allentown, Pennsylvania; The Cavaliers, Rosemont, Illinois, and Troopers, Casper, Wyoming.

For those who just can't get enough, there will be a special film showing, one night only on Aug. 7, from DCI titled, "Big, Loud & Live 11," featuring a behind-the-scenes view of these marching wonders. Locally, it will be shown at the Promenade 16, 2805 Center Valley Parkway, Center Valley, at the Reading Movies 11 with IMAX, 30 N. Second St., Reading and at Digiplex Cinema Center at Fairgrounds Square, 3050 N. Fifth St. Highway, Muhlenberg Township.

For further info: dci.org

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Genesius Theatre is presenting the original version of the rock musical, "Godspell," based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, beginning Friday through Aug. 10, at the venue located at 153 N. 10th St., Reading. The musical was conceived and written by John-Michael Tebelak and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

"Godspell" (an archaic spelling of "gospel") opened off-Broadway in 1971 and Broadway in 1976. It recently marked its 40th anniversary with a production at the Union Theatre in London. Messages of love, generosity, joy and faith are presented in song, dance and all forms of theatrical play in the production featuring such songs as "God Save the People," "All Good Gifts," and "Day By Day."

Based on the Gospel According to St. Matthew, a small group of people helps Jesus Christ tell different parables by using a wide variety of games, storytelling techniques, and a hefty dose of comic timing. An eclectic blend of songs ranging in style from pop to vaudeville is employed as the story of Jesus' life dances across the stage. Dissolving hauntingly into the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, Jesus' messages of kindness, tolerance and love come vibrantly to life.