Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: For David Phelps, Broadway could be next calling

David Phelps should be on a Broadway stage. He's that good. His God-given talent for singing Broadway, classical, opera or gospel makes this tenor, nicknamed "The Voice," comfortable on any stage, whether performing solo at his family farm in Culleoka, Tennessee, or singing with the Gaither Vocal Band at a major concert venue. But no matter what project he's involved in, he's always anxious to tour with his annual "David Phelps Christmas" concert, now in its 19th year and heading to the State Theatre in Easton on December 22 for a 7 p.m. performance.

In a recent phone interview from his home in Tennessee, Phelps had just completed three nights of concerts at his annual "Christmas Barn Bash," held on the family farm during the Thanksgiving weekend. With each Christmas tour, he said "we get to dust off and come up with new arrangements. People love to hear the same songs, and we love singing them. It's always a joy."

Phelps said he'll be traveling with a full band that includes some family, including his daughters on vocals, his sister on trumpet, and his wife's cousin as music director/keyboardist.

In addition to the tour, Phelps has a new children's Christmas book/CD, titled "Santa Claus Get Well Soon," based on his song of the same title. It tells the story of how the Easter Bunny is asked to step in for Santa, who slipped and broke his leg right before Christmas Eve and his insurance company won't let him fly. It turns out, the Easter Bunny has his own list of demands, but good presides over greed and Santa gets word at the last moment that, once again, he can take the reins.

Phelps said it was his wife, Lori, an elementary school teacher, who conceived the book project. Tennessee artist Melissa Fischer created the illustrations.

Phelps entered a new phase for himself and his family this past March when he departed from the Grammy- and Dove Award-winning Gaither Vocal Band, with whom he toured since 2009, to concentrate on his solo music career and other new ventures. Fans still may see him performing with the group at special Gaither events.

Phelps also began touring with his new project/CD, "Hymnal," released by Gaither Music and described as "A Journey of Faith through Hymns," which Phelps produced, arranged and composed. He said he'll resume "The Journey of Faith Tour" in January, with a live concert video recording in the works.

He played the lead in the new Broadway-style musical, "Quanah," written by and starring Grammy Award-winning country music legend Larry Gatlin. The musical was presented this past spring at the Irving Art Center Carpenter Performance Hall in Dallas, Texas. It is the story of Quanah Parker, the last Comanche chief, his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, and the Parker family settling in Texas and the survival and ascendancy of the great Comanche people.

In April 2018, Phelps will take on another stage role when he stars in the Stephen Schwartz musical, "Children of Eden," at the Leslie S. Wright Fine Arts Center at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Based on the story of Genesis, the cast will include students, professionals and area children.

When asked what his favorite musicals would be to perform in on Broadway, Phelps said he'd love to do "Les Miserables" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Along with family and friends, one Christmas activity he participates in each year is caroling at a local hospital. As for a song of hope this season, he said, "Christmas is a chance for us all to wipe the slate clean... accept the hope of a brighter tomorrow. 'Joy to the World.' 'O Holy Night.' 'A weary world rejoices.' We all need that."

His wish for the new year is "peace," paraphrasing lyrics to the song, "Agnus Dei," which he and his daughter sing -- 'Lamb of God, forgive us our sins, bring us peace.'

"This is my prayer for peace," he said.

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Lehigh University Choral Arts celebrates the holiday season with Christmas Vespers on Sunday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., at Lehigh University's Packer Memorial Church. The performance will be led by Artistic Director Steven Sametz and Associate Director Sun Min Lee.

The annual free candlelight concert has two new arrangements specially made by Sametz for the Glee Club – a setting of the medieval carol, "Nowell Sing We Both all and Some," and a new take on the traditional Welsh carol, "Suo Gan," known by many as the haunting tune from "Empire of the Sun." The program also will include hymns, readings, and a medley of spirituals.

Lehigh University Choral Arts, with more than 150 singers, will be joined by brass, harp and organ. For more than three decades, Sametz has created a new arrangement of "Lo How A Rose E're Blooming" as part of the Vespers tradition.

No tickets are required; seating is limited, early arrival is recommended.

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Nothing feels more like Christmas than an ice show performance. There's one coming to the PPL Center in Allentown on December 14 at 7 p.m., when "Symphony on Ice – Holiday Spectacular" features the Allentown Symphony Orchestra with Conductor Diane Wittry and the Bethlehem Penguin Figure Skating Club with Director Angela Davis. Local choirs also will be participating.

The show is being presented by Phantoms Charities, the recipient of all ticket sales proceeds, according to the PPL Center website. The mission of Phantom Charities is to strengthen the community by developing, instituting and operating charitable and educational programs and services aimed at improving the lives of children and adults in the Lehigh Valley and the surrounding communities, with a special emphasis on youth health, fitness, sports and education.

The Penguin Figure Skating Club, established in 1941, has been part of the Lehigh Valley for more than 75 years and is recognized as the second-oldest figure skating club in Pennsylvania, according to the website.

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Contemporary dance artists, Nicole Wolcott and Larry Keigwin of Keigwin + Company, along with students of the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, will present "Places Please!" for the seventh annual "DANCE NOW" holiday celebration on December 15 at 8 p.m., in the Musikfest Café at the ArtsQuest Center in Bethlehem.

The show, described as a modern-day version of "A Chorus Line," is being presented by DANCE NOW SteelStacks in partnership with ArtsQuest. It's a zany trip with Keigwin and Wolcott during the final moment before the curtain goes up and is presented as a dreamscape and sonic collage.
Keigwin + Company, founded in 2003 by Artistic Director Larry Keigwin and Associate Director Nicole Wolcott, has performed at theaters and dance festivals around the world. Keigwin was choreographer for the Broadway production of "If/Then," starring Idina Menzel. Wolcott is a choreographer, teacher, and performer who appeared with dance companies, rock bands, and video artists nationwide.

DANCE NOW, with directors Robin Staff, Sydney Skybetter, and Tamara Greenfield, presents young innovators and emerging and maturing artists side by side, building relationships at varying stages of development and providing comprehensive assistance to advance creativity and new career paths. In addition to ArtsQuest, it has partnered with DeSales University, Muhlenberg College, and Lehigh Valley Charter School.

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Fleetwood Community Theatre presents the musical, "Into the Woods, Jr." on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m., at the Fleetwood Middle School auditorium, 407 North Richmond Street, Fleetwood. Artistic director is Tara Sands.

The junior version, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, is performed by students in grades K-12. The main characters come from the classic fairytales Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Little Red Riding Hood, with a more original story involving a baker and his wife and their quest to begin a family.

The cast includes Steven Gehringer as the baker, Cassidy Vees as the baker's wife, Kat Ziolkowski as the witch, Riley Dauber as Cinderella, Adeline Consentino as Little Red, Ian Miller as Jack, David Hartshorne-Hesketh as the wolf, and Sara Ann Harbonic as Rapunzel.

Director is Ashley Frankhouser, with musical direction by Jenna Masenheimer. Melissa Kopicz is stage manager. Costumes are by Kari Uhler, set construction by Shane Gehringer, lighting design by Curtis Filchner, and sound design by Eko Productions/Albert Garcia.

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Repertory Dance Theatre's (RDT) "Let's Go Nutz" will bring professional and local musicians and dancers together with jazz music, dancing and singing on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown. The event features jazzed-up versions of "Nutcracker" and other holiday favorites and features the Lehigh Valley Chorus and Tap Ties.

"Let's Go Nutz" debuted last year as part of RDT's expanded programming inspired by its annual traditional production of "Nutcracker."

The traditional "Nutcracker" performed by RDT will be performed Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ronald Demkee. Artistic direction is by Jennifer Haltzman Tracy and Trinette Singleton, with professional dancers from Carolina Ballet Theatre, Ballet X, and DanceSpora. Also featured will be the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts Women's Touring Choir, directed by David Macbeth.

Following the Saturday matinee of "Nutcracker," the "Land of the Sweets" party will be held in the venue's Rodale Room.

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The Bach Choir of Bethlehem will present "A Children's Christmas" on Saturday at 8 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 3231 West Tilghman Street, Allentown, and on Sunday at 4 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church, 2344 Center Street, Bethlehem, featuring The Bel Canto Children's Chorus, directed by Dr. Joy Hirokawa.

Soloist will be David Newman performing Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Christmas Carols." Tom Goeman has arranged "O Holy Night." The children will offer the Native American "Huron Carol" and English "The Gentyle Storcke."

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"Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker" on the East Tour, in celebration of the 25th anniversary of its touring in North America, comes to the State Theatre in Easton on Sunday, with two show times – 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Featured will be leading soloists from the Mariinsky Ballet Theatre, Kiev National Theater, Perm Ballet Theatre, Odessa State Academic Ballet Theatre, and the Almaty State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. East Tour principal and featured dancers include Iryna Borysova, Kostyantyn Vinovoy, Veronika Hordina, and Olekseii Potiomkin.

Local ballet students will be participating in the performances, as part of the Moscow Ballet's Dance-with-Us program, now in its 25th year of auditioning and rehearsing student dancers in each tour city to perform with the professional company.

"Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker" features a 60-foot growing Christmas tree, seven backdrops of Russian heritage, and 10-foot-tall puppets.

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"The Santaland Diaries" will be presented at Theatre514, across from the 19th Street Theatre in Allentown, beginning Friday and continuing through December 17. Director is Will Morris.

The one-man play by David Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello is described as an alternative holiday celebration about the author's experiences as an unemployed writer taking a job as an elf at Macy's in New York. It's a winking take on how the holiday season brings out the best, and worst, in us all. It is recommended for mature audiences.

Through December 16, the 19th Street Theatre is presenting "A Christmas Carol," adapted from Charles Dickens' novella by Sharon Lee Glassman and William Sanders. The production is directed by Sanders.

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Star of the Day presents the heartwarming story of little orphan Annie in "Annie Jr." through December 17 at McCoole's Arts & Events Place, 10 South Main Street, Quakertown, Bucks County.

The cast includes Hanna Kern as Annie, Charlotte Myers as Molly, Kathryn Yaglenski as Pepper, Courtney Bodnar as Duffy, Melanie-Rose Wentum as Kate, Sofia Bezila as Tessie, Kaylee Kratz as July, Lauren Jardine as Miss Hannigan, Stephanie Appel as Grace Farrell, Alejandro Rodriguez as Oliver Warbucks, Jadyn Fuentes as Rooster Hannigan, Payton McGlory as Lily St. Regis, and Jack Warnke as FDR.

Director/choreographer is Kirsten Almeida, vocal director is Amanda Carol Pascale, stage manager is Aine Shay, and production/choreographer assistant is Dara Connelly.

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Act 1 DeSales University in Center Valley, Lehigh County, is presenting "Peter and the Starcatcher" through Sunday on the main stage at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts.

This swashbuckling musical journey takes the audience through the Neverland they never knew, with marauding pirates, jungle tyrants and unlikely heroes surrounding Molly, a starcatcher in training, and Peter as they embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

The cast includes James "Bo" Sayre as Black Stache, Ryan Reyes as Peter Pan, and Arrianna Daniels as Molly.

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