Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Civic's 'Rock of Ages' jukebox musical is trip down memory lane

With Civic Theatre of Allentown having to temporarily close its 19th Street Theatre for renovations this year, its productions are being moved to Cedar Crest College's Alumnae Hall auditorium. For Will Morris, Civic's associate artistic director, it made sense to present a show like "Rock of Ages" as their first show in that space, one that could be done with a minimal set. Although the Tony Award-nominated musical was done rather elaborately on Broadway, Morris, as director of the Civic production, said he wanted to not take away from "the true vibe of the show." He also wanted to present patrons with a show that was "really fun, really enticing, and nostalgic so that they may be more compelled to make the journey with us over to our temporary home."

"Rock of Ages" will open Friday and continue through February 25, with an opening night reception in the auditorium lobby.

With book by Chris D'Arienzo and music by Your Favorite Rock Bands, "Rock of Ages" features vintage rock tunes from the likes of Twisted Sister and Bon Jovi – a time when big rock bands with big egos played big guitar solos and sported even bigger hair.

It traces the familiar tales of an aspiring rock star, a sweet waitress who wants to be an actress, and a greedy capitalist threatening to turn a rock club into a strip mall. Familiar tunes include "We're Not Gonna Take It," "Hit Me with Your Best Shot," and "Don't Stop Believing."

Though he never saw the Broadway production of "Rock of Ages" or the film, Morris said he is familiar with the source material having grown up in the 80s. He said he listened to the cast recording several times and really enjoyed the arrangements that they produced.

"With a jukebox musical, it can be difficult to bring the story forward because the music is the essential piece," Morris said. "Also, a lot of times the story can be very thin because the writers crafted the story around fitting the songs into the production. So, the challenge for me as a director is balancing the proper homage to the material while also allowing the characters in the story to make sense and be relatable to the audience."

Morris said he's fortunate to have found actors who are tremendous singers and who can move quite well.

"We also have cast members who came out for this production specifically because they are so connected to the source material, and it really comes through in their performance," he said. "You can just see the joy on their faces at every moment because they’re having such a good time."

The Civic cast includes Daniel Becker as Lonny, Robert Trexler as Dennis Dupree, Rae Wessel as Sherrie, Brent Schlosshauer as Stacee Jaxx, Anthony Rizzuto as Drew, Deena Linn as Regina, Chris Olson as Franz, Todd Rizzuto as Hertz, Tracy Ceschin as Justice, Eric Wilburn as Keith, Kathleen Oswalt as Waitress #1, and the ensemble: Carina Buie, Eric Wilburn, Zoli Heft, Alessandra Fanelli, Zachary Einstein, and Vince Rostkowski.

When asked if Morris had any challenges in using a space other than Civic, he replied, "Absolutely. When you work with one space so frequently for so long, you get into a certain rhythm with everything -- staging, lighting, sound, amount of space. So, when you are posed with a new space, I find that my brain ends up working faster and it’s more exciting because you have to work harder and smarter.

"The main challenges of the space are that width-wise, it’s about half of what the Civic stage is. So, that automatically changes how I conceptually view the staging for the show. It really shaped the initial idea that this production is really a rock concert where people are on stage almost all the time. That initially came out of the fact that we don’t really have backstage space to house them but in that great way that necessity breeds invention, it worked out for the best."

Musical director for the show is Tynan Hooker-Haring, who also plays in the band. Morris said he knew right away when he took on this project that he wanted him "because this style of music is so in his wheelhouse. He also is connected to several local musicians who just excel at this style of music."

The show's choreographer is Deena Linn, who is playing the role of Regina.

"She (Linn) really did her research in terms of different styles of movement that were specific to the 80s," Morris said. “There’s some Jane Fonda workout video moves in there. There are moves that one would do while attending one of these glammed-out hair band shows."

How does a show like "Rock of Ages" tie in to today's world?

"Like with any time period, there were a lot of great things about the 80s and a lot of terrible things about the 80s," Morris said. "I think our culture right now is so inundated with negativity, sadness, and hopelessness that having something like this piece is important because it causes us to look back and remember good things about our past which will hopefully alter our state of mind and allow us to proceed forward now with positivity, joy, and hope for the future."

Footnote: Civic Theatre's season continues with "Tuesdays with Morrie," May 4-20; and the Civic Theatre School production of "Shrek The Musical, Jr.," April 5-7.

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The Eric Mintel Quartet is celebrating its 25th anniversary on Friday at 8 p.m., at Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, with a program mix including originals written by Mintel, Dave Brubeck, and classic television show themes.

Joining Mintel, who plays piano, will be Nelson Hill on sax, Dave Mohn on drums, and Jack Hegyi on bass.

Mintel currently is hosting his own television show on TV 30 in Princeton, New Jersey, called "Talking Jazz with Eric Mintel." He said his guests will be musicians and people behind the scenes helping to bring jazz to the forefront of the public mindset. Episodes also can be seen on Mintel's Facebook page.

The quartet will resume touring with engagements in Georgia in April, South Carolina in July, and Wisconsin and the Midwest in December.


Also at the playhouse: Frank Ferrante brings his Groucho Marx show to Bucks County Playhouse beginning Wednesday and continuing through February 25. The actor-director-producer was discovered by Groucho's son, Arthur, when he (Ferrante) was a drama student at the University of Southern California. He originated the off-Broadway title role in "Groucho: A Life in Revue"(written by Arthur), portraying the comedian from age 15 to 85.

Ferrante won 1987's New York's Theatre World Award and was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. He reprised the role in London's West End and was nominated for the Laurence Olivier Award for comedy performance of the year.

Footnote: The Marx Brothers were known to spend much time in New Hope and Bucks County, where they would stay in George Kaufman's home, now the Barley Sheaf Bed and Breakfast, outside New Hope.

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The Allentown Symphony Orchestra presents "Scheherazade and Paganini Rhapsody" on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown. Music director and conductor is Diane Wittry.

Virtuoso pianist Joyce Yang will perform Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." Yang was a silver medalist in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2005 at the age of 19 and has performed with major orchestras and symphonies throughout the country. Born in Seoul, Korea, she studied at the Juilliard School. She appears in the documentary film, "In the Heart of Music," about the 2005 Cliburn Competition.

It will be a Lehigh Valley premiere for the performance of "The Palace of Nine Perfections," composed by Chinese-born American composer Zhou Tian. Written in 2004, the piece was inspired by a 12-panel Chinese painting of the same name from 1691 by Yuan Jiang.

Zhou's compositions have been performed by major orchestras and performers nationally as well as abroad. His recent work, "Concerto for Orchestra," commissioned, premiered and recorded by the Cincinnati Symphony and Music Director Louis Langree, was nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award for best contemporary classical composition. Zhou holds degrees from the Curtis Institute, the Juilliard School, and USC Thornton School of Music. He is Associate Professor of Composition at Michigan State University College of Music.

ASO Concertmaster Eliezer Gutman will perform the violin solo in Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade."

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Our 16th president's birthday will be celebrated on Saturday at 1 p.m., when the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum in Allentown presents leading Lincoln scholar, Dr. Joseph Fornieri, in a lecture and book-signing of "Abraham Lincoln, Philosopher Statesman."

In his book, Fornieri explores critical questions about Lincoln's leadership and shows how Lincoln combined a greatness of thought, speech and action best described as "philosophical statesmanship."

Fornieri is professor of political science and director of the Center for Statesmanship, Law, and Liberty at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Saturday's celebration will include a slice of Lincoln's favorite white-almond cake made from his wife, Mary's original recipe.

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SATORI presents its Second Sunday concert series this Sunday at 3 p.m., at Unitarian Universalist Church of the Lehigh Valley, 424 Center Street, Bethlehem.

Chamber music for oboe, flute and piano will include selections of Goossens, William Grant Still, Poulenc, Telemann, Hilary Tann, and Madeleine Dring.

Musicians will include Nora Suggs on flute, Cheryl Bishkoff on oboe, and Martha Schrempel on piano.

A reception will follow the performance. Tickets will be available at the door.

For further info: 610-866-7652


Bach at Noon continues Tuesday from 12:10 to 1 p.m., at Central Moravian Church, 73 West Church Street, Bethlehem, free and open to the public. The event is presented by members of The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and Bach Festival Orchestra. Artistic director and conductor is Greg Funfgeld.

Soprano Julie Bosworth will perform J.S. Bach's "Cantata 51 – Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!" recognized as one of the most famous cantatas and most virtuosic for solo voice.

Also on the program is Ludwig van Beethoven's "Sonata in G major, Opus 96," performed by violinist Elizabeth Field and pianist Steven Silverman. The piece is described as lyrical and subdued, Beethoven’s final violin Sonata.

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The award-winning Canadian trio, The Wailin' Jennys, will perform their special mix of Americana, pop and traditional folk on February 16 at 8 p.m., at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

The trio, with members Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse, frequently appeared on Garrison Keillor's public radio show, "A Prairie Home Companion."

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If you've ever wondered about movie magic, here's your chance to get closer to the action with "The Hollywood Special FX Show" on Saturday at 4 p.m., at the State Theatre in Easton.

A behind-the-scenes look at the science and secrets of creating movie magic brings a team of professionals who’ve been behind the effects on productions including "The Dark Knight Rises," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Phantom of the Opera," and "Game of Thrones."


Also at the State: Magical adventures come to life on stage with the Tony Award-winning musical, "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella," on February 16 at 7:30 p.m., and February 17 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

It's a fresh new take on the beloved tale of a young woman transformed from a chambermaid into a princess, and with some surprising twists. More than just a pretty face with the right shoe size, this Cinderella is a contemporary figure living in a fairytale setting. She not only fights for her own dreams, but forces the prince to open his eyes to the world around him and realize his dreams, too.

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