Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Broadway comes to Lehigh Valley with summer offerings

A lineup of hoofers takes its audience behind the scenes, and a musician tells all from the roof. It's a wide range of musical offerings by the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre and the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival that will reach thousands of patrons in the Lehigh Valley over the next three months, beginning with "A Chorus Line" and "Fiddler on the Roof," respectively, both underway through June 29.

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre (SMT), whose home base is the Baker Center for the Arts at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, embarks on its 34th theatrical season, opening with the Tony Award-winning best play of 1975 and one of the longest running plays in Broadway history, "A Chorus Line."

Charles Richter, (left), SMT artistic director, directs the production that delves into the lives of 17 dancers auditioning for the eight spots in the chorus of an unnamed Broadway musical. It takes the audience behind the scenes and into the minds and lives of the 17 Broadway hopefuls in the midst of a soul-baring audition. As the ranks thin, the auditioners face the realities of life, love and a career in show business.

Musical director is Michael Schnack; choreographer is Muhlenberg dance program chairwoman Karen Dearborn. Joining the cast as Zach is Robert Torres, who performed in a regional tour of "A Chorus Line." Two former designers of lighting and sets for the summer theater program, Donald Holder and Beowulf Boritt, respectively, also return to Muhlenberg.

Holder was nominated for a 2014 Tony Award in the category of best lighting design of a musical for Broadway's "The Bridges of Madison County." Boritt received a nomination for best scenic design of a play for "Act One."

The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF) has opened its 23rd season at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts at DeSales University in Center Valley with the Tony Award-winning musical, "Fiddler on the Roof," directed by Dennis Razze, (left), PSF associate artistic director. Razze directed PSF's "Oklahoma" last summer. He directed "Fiddler on the Roof" at DeSales in 1990.

Portraying the role of Tevye is Joe Vincent, (right), who played Big Daddy in PSF's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" in 2012. John Ahlin returns to PSF as Lazar Wolf. Vincent has played Tevye several times around the country and looks forward to taking the stage again. He calls Tevye "a beautiful, loving and funny creature that we ALL indentify with. He is a very real Everyman."

The production features the largest cast at PSF, with 35 actors, singers and dancers. Jerome Robbins' original choreography has been taught to the dancers by Stephen Casey, who choreographed PSF's "Oklahoma."

The story, based on "Tevye the Dairyman" and other tales by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, is set in 1905 in Czarist Russia. The fiddler balanced precariously on the roof is a metaphor of survival, and of the traditions and faith that help provide balance and direction in the upheaval of challenging times. Timeless songs include "If I Were a Rich Man," "Sabbath Prayer," and "Sunrise, Sunset."

"‘A Chorus Line' is a show that doesn't date," said Richter, commenting on his strong group of dancers, all Muhlenberg students and recent graduates, and its tremendous score with such numbers as "What I Did for Love," "One," "I Can Do That," "At the Ballet," "The Music and the Mirror," and "I Hope I Get It."

"It's going to be put through the filter of kids and young people of our time," Richter said. "…Every student will bring their humanity to the character."

Due to strong adult content, the show is recommended for ages 12 and up.

Summer Music Theater continues with the Muhlenberg premiere of the Monty Python comedy, "Spamalot," directed by James Peck, July 9-27, and "Gruff!" a new family musical…with goats! It's directed by Ora Fruchter and presented by the neo-vaudeville theater group Doppelskope, June 18-July 26. Muhlenberg '07 graduate Christopher Scheer is a member of the cast. The show is recommended for ages 4 and up.

PSF's season continues with "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," directed by Matt Pfeiffer, June 18-July 13, "Lend Me a Tenor," directed by Jim Helsinger, July 9-Aug. 3, and "Macbeth," directed by Patrick Mulcahy, PSF producing artistic director, July 17-Aug. 3. Tina Packer's "Women of Will" is directed by Eric Tucker, July 20-Aug. 3. Two productions for children are "Cinderella," directed by Anne Lewis, through Aug. 2 and "Shakespeare for Kids," directed by Matt Pfeiffer, July 23-Aug. 2.

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The Lehigh Valley's largest free youth concert is about to take place tonight at 7 in Allentown's West Park, when YEAllentown! (Youth Education in the Arts) presents some 500 of its talented youth in a celebration of music and dance. The event will feature The Cadets, Cadets2, Xcape Dance Company, and Designated Hitters Drumline.

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Two-time Grammy Award-winner, pianist and conductor Peter Nero will perform "Broadway at the State Theatre" on Saturday at 8 p.m., at Easton's State Theatre. He will be accompanied by Michael Barnett, his principal bassist for 18 years.

Nero founded the Philly Pops and for 35 years directed the entity known as Peter Nero and the Philly Pops. Today, he remains as the artistic director. Hailed as one of the premier interpreters of Gershwin, he starred in the Emmy Award-winning NBC special, "S'Wonderful, S'Marvelous, S'Gershwin." He's appeared on television with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., on its July 4th special, "A Capitol Fourth." He also was music director and pianist for the PBS special, "The Songs of Johnny Mercer: Too Marvelous for Words" with co-stars Johnny Mathis, Melissa Manchester and the Philly Pops.

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The Allentown Band strikes up patriotic music for the "Salute the Troops and Flag Day Concert" on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the Musikfest Café at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem, and at 7 p.m. for the Allentown Flag Day Association Concert at the West Park Bandshell in Allentown. Both programs are free and feature Lehigh Valley soloist Evelyn Stewart.

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