Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: First-time musicals to be presented by local summer theaters

For Muhlenberg College's Charlie Richter, founding artistic director of its Summer Music Theatre festival, it all started with "The Music Man," the first Broadway musical that inspired his love for the American classics of the stage. He's been directing such productions for the festival during its 35-year history, but never to the degree as this summer's first-time offering of "Hello, Dolly!" the 10-time Tony Award-winner that follows the adventures of America's most beloved matchmaker, Dolly Levi. The show opens July 8, but not before another Muhlenberg first, the fun-filled "Avenue Q" hits the main stage on Wednesday under the direction of veteran actor/director Bill Mutimer. Both shows will take place in the intimate setting of Muhlenberg's Baker Theatre in the Trexler Pavilion of Theatre and Dance.

Also opening Wednesday (with two nights of previews) will be Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's production of the iconic musical, "Les Miserables," on the main stage at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts at DeSales University in Center Valley. The show runs through June 28 and features a cast of 37 that collectively represent the most Broadway credits, most recording artists, and most national tours of any cast ever on stage in the festival's 24-year history.

According to Dennis Razze, PSF's associate artistic director and director of "Les Miserables," producing and directing the show is an epic undertaking in its own right. Razze recently directed PSF's "Fiddler on the Roof," "Oklahoma," and "Sweeney Todd."

"It took seven years for PSF to receive the rights to produce it," Razze said. "The production is by far the most expensive the company has ever done. As the director, my preparation began by listening to every recording of 'Les Miz' there was, viewing the many concert videos, and traveling as far as Orlando to see recent productions and, of course, to scout talent."

Leading the cast is Mike Eldred as Jean Valjean, a role he performed on Broadway. Scenic designer is Steve TenEyck. Musical conductor is Nathan Diehl, with musical director, Bennett Durham.

What's the secret behind the longevity of Muhlenberg's summer theater in the Lehigh Valley?

"We've maintained the quality of work and the spirit behind it," Richter explained. "It's a college setting that constantly has a renewing of talent. We've been able to build a community of theater artists with our alumni. With Bill (Mutimer) directing 'Avenue Q,' there is a new injection of talent."

Richter added that this summer's lineup also includes the world premiere children's musical, "Grimm!" opening June 17 through July 25. He said the show has never been done before on the Muhlenberg stage.

Richter said he chose Mutimer to direct "Avenue Q," a puppet-filled musical about contemporary life and youth, because he attended the Avenue Q Puppet Camp for puppetry training and staging when he directed the show last season at Northampton Community College. Musical director is Ed Bara; set designer is Curtis Dretsch. The show, which runs through June 28, is recommended for those 14 and older.

Leading the cast of "Hello, Dolly!" is Muhlenberg alumna and Equity actress Mia Scarpa as Dolly Levi. She appeared as the narrator in Muhlenberg's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and as Annie Oakley in "Annie Get Your Gun."  Jarrod Yuskauskas, director of theater at Moravian Academy, portrays Horace Vandergelder.

Richter describes "Hello, Dolly!" as "an extremely demanding show." The Muhlenberg production, which runs through July 26, is an "eye-filling spectacle," he explained, made possible by scenic designer Campbell Baird. Much like Richter being awed by his first encounter of "The Music Man," Baird was bowled over at the age of 14 by his first Broadway show, "Hello, Dolly!" and the moving scenery created by Oliver Smith.

Muhlenberg's children's musical is "Grimm!" a playful, puppet-filled interpretation of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm created by the neo-vaudeville theater group, Doppelskope, with Ora Fruchter, Chris Scheer and Toby Singer. The show is recommended for ages 4 to 10. Doppelskope performed at Muhlenberg last summer with "Gruff." This year's performances offer a free, 45-minute educational workshop with hands-on activities. Participation is limited; advance registration is recommended.

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The Pennsylvania Jazz Collective will present a special music fundraiser which will benefit the Jerry Kozic Memorial Scholarship Fund. The concert will be held Sunday at 2 p.m., at Cherry Valley Vineyards, 130 Lower Cherry Valley Road, Saylorsburg, Monroe County.

Kozic was a multi-faceted performer on piano and vocals. According to colleagues, he was concentrating on his original music and being a solo artist prior to his untimely death as a victim of a shooting on Aug. 5, 2013, in Ross Township.

Kozic was best known for his compositions and arrangements and as a producer of recordings, jingles and demos. He attended the Juilliard School, New England Conservatory, and Berklee School of Music. He toured with the Harlem Opera Society and performed locally at Pocono resorts and on area jazz stages. He was a member of saxophone legend George Young's quartet. Kozic and his wife, Linda, also performed on cruise ships. Kozic's cousin, Tom, well-known jazz guitarist, was named Pennsylvania Jazz 2013 artist of the year.

A previously unreleased CD recording by the Kozic cousins will be available to patrons who donate to the scholarship fund. The fund will be used to help student jazz musicians attend regional summer youth jazz camps and offer assistance for lessons with distinguished Pennsylvania jazz artists.

"Jerry's love of music was one of passion and joy," Linda Goss-Kozic said. "He was never so happy as when he was singing and creating the music that filled his soul. Although he loved so many genres of music, none filled his heart more than that of his beloved jazz compositions. The inspiration and joy he always brought to especially young and aspiring musicians will always be his legacy. Through the legacy of music, that inspiration will live long after the memories of all those he touched."

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The hills definitely will be alive but not with the sound of music. Rather, it's the 10th annual Hawk Mountain Arts Tour & Sale, a free and self-guided driving tour through historic Albany Township, Berks County, featuring more than a dozen wildlife and nature artists who will open their doors Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Blacksmith artist and chainsaw carver Todd Gladfelter will demonstrate his craft outside Hawk Mountain's visitors center, 1700 Hawk Mountain Rd, Kempton. Other stops will be located in the valley below. Artists will be on hand at each stop to meet and greet visitors, some even to demonstrate their art.

Hawk Mountain's Mary Linkevich suggests that guests review the free printable map and artist list on the Web site at the end of this arts blog and plan to visit their top three stops first.

"You always spend more time than you think at each stop, so don't try to do it all," Linkevich suggests.

Although the route is numbered, visitors should mix it up and begin or end at any location. Since it is self-guided, the route is up to the driver.

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An exhibition of works by leading Italian futurists titled "Italian Futurism" opens Saturday and runs through Oct. 4 at the Reading Public Museum.  An opening reception will be held June 12 from 5:30 to 7 p.m., in conjunction with "The Secrets of Mona Lisa" and "Intents to Deceive: Fakes and Forgeries in the Art World."

"Italian Futurism" is drawn from the collection of Steve and Carol Acunto and includes artists from the first (1908-1919) and second (1920s-1930s) waves of Italian Futurism, a dynamic artistic and social movement that glorified the energy and speed of modern life. The subjects of many of the works are circus performers and acrobats, constantly in motion – the perfect image for the Futurists to capture.

Mr. Acunto is honorary vice consul for Italy in New York.

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Touchstone Theatre in Bethlehem announces a new cross-culturally inspired mural, "The Tree in the Mirror," that adorns its northern wall. It was designed by international artists Deng Dafei and He Hai, directors of the Beijing-Hangzhou visual arts collective known as the Utopia Group and created in collaboration with local mural artist Jim Gloria, co-founder of the Totts Gap Arts Institute in Upper Mount Bethel Township, Northampton County, through the institute's Heritage Mural Education program. The mural is part of Touchstone's recent two-year-long community-based project, "Journey from the East," which sought to explore the history, heritage, and future of the Chinese community in the Lehigh Valley and America.

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A free poetry reading will take place Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m., at TMD Gallery, 10 S. 13th St., Allentown. Participants will include Daniello Noturo and Jude-Laure Denis until 3 p.m. Noturo has published poems in "Women Spirit," "Gaia," "Womankind," and "Juxtaposition." Denis, executive director of Power-Northeast, is a nominee for a Pushcart Prize. Following will be Cleveland Wall and friends with an open mike. Patrons are encouraged to bring work to share.

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