Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Hometown Freddy hoofer makes imprint with 'Mary Poppins' tour

With the 10th season of the Freddy Awards now under way across the Lehigh Valley, Freddy fever is definitely spreading as the stages of local high schools are lighting up with a variety of musical theater productions for the public. The successful longevity of the awards program can be mirrored in its alumni, many of whom have moved on to pursue careers in the arts. One such product of the Freddys is Easton's own Jordan Grubb, 25, who's currently traveling with the national touring company of "Mary Poppins."

Grubb was a junior at Easton Area High School back in 2003, when he performed as silent movie star Dan Lockwood in his school production of "Singin' in the Rain." His tap-dancing made points with Freddy evaluators who named him Best Dancer in the program's inaugural year. It also captured the hearts of students representing other high schools that night when they gave him a standing ovation for his fancy footwork. The following year, Grubb won Freddys in the categories of Best Actor, Dancer and Duet for his role as J. Pierpont Finch in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

"I remember vividly the first time I saw Jordan perform on our stage," recalled Shelley Brown, president and CEO of the State Theatre and creator of the Freddy Awards program. "He could sing, dance, act…he is what we call a triple-threat. There was no doubt even then that he would have a successful performing career. I am delighted that we can call him part of our Freddy family."

Sitting in his hotel room in Providence, R.I., where "Mary Poppins" opened Feb. 8, Grubb reflected on those long nights of rehearsals at the theater for the opening production numbers of the Freddy Awards program. He said it was during that time that he found himself surrounded by "like-minded people" who shared his passion for the stage. He has since stayed in touch with many Freddy alumni.

An Equity actor residing in Manhattan, Grubb will be with the "Mary Poppins" tour for a year as a member of the ensemble and an understudy for the roles of Robertson Ay, Neleus and Valentine. The tour was organized and rehearsed in New York before it took off for three weeks of previews in North Charleston, S.C. (The Broadway production, a co-production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh, continues its run at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York).

"The show is physically demanding," Grubb described. "It's keeping me in pretty good shape. I'll go to a gym and also maintain a good diet."

Grubb said he's also enjoying his travels with the cast and having "a sense of routine" on the road, as compared to his fluctuating schedule back in New York. He was looking forward to last weekend when a caravan of family and friends from the Easton area were planning to catch his performance in Providence before he headed to Grand Rapids and Milwaukee. The tour includes such cities as Louisville, Nashville and Fort Worth before it heads west to Las Vegas, San Jose and Spokane and then to Canada. According to his itinerary, Grubb said he would be performing in Pittsburgh from Oct. 15-21, and in Hershey from Dec. 3-9.

Grubb is a son of Charles and Amie Grubb of Easton, and the younger brother of Rick and Lauren. He said he was inspired to dance as a youngster when he would see Lauren performing on stage. He was editor-in-chief of his high school paper, The Junto, and a member of the choir, but he took an interest in theater when an English teacher encouraged him to audition for the spring musical production of "Once Upon a Mattress." He landed the role of the Jester and that's when, in his words, "I got the bug."

He graduated magna cum laude from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, where he majored in musical theater. In 2008, he was selected from among 13 of his classmates to perform in a showcase before an audience of agents, casting directors and other industry personnel in New York and Los Angeles.

"My childhood dream was coming true," he said.

Grubb has since performed at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, Pittsburgh Playhouse, Kansas City Starlight Theatre, and Sacramento Music Circus, in such musicals as "42nd Street" and "The Music Man." Back in New York, he performed in "My Fair Lady" and "42nd Street" at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, in "My Fair Lady" at North Shore Theatre, and in the New York Musical Theater Festival. He also performed for the 2008 and 2010 star-studded "On Broadway/Dancers Benefit," hosted by Angela Lansbury at Lincoln Center and honoring Tommy Tune and Twyla Tharp, respectively.

Upon returning to New York after the "Mary Poppins" tour, Grubb said he plans to continue classes and pursue auditions. It'll be back to the fluctuation of life until a new role comes his way. 

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There is a connection between art and healing, said Heather Rodale, president and founder of Healing Through the Arts, a nonprofit organization described as "where those who are healing find strength, hope and inspiration through the arts."

Rodale is a survivor of melanoma cancer and speaks from experience. She explained how studies show that patients who have access to views of art work, visual images or nature are more hopeful and optimistic about their treatment options. Some patients even need less pain medication or are able to leave the hospital sooner. That's why she's heading the second annual Hope & Healing Juried Art Show for High School Students, whose opening reception is tonight from 5:30 to 7, at the State Theatre's Brown-Daub Gallery in Easton. A fundraising reception with an awards ceremony and silent auction will be held April 5 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

For the Hope & Healing show, students had to submit original, two-dimensional art that promoted hope and healing by communicating a message of peace, calm, comfort and inspiration. Students also had to include a short description of how the art communicates that message. Rodale said judges of the art were from various arts backgrounds and included a curator/photographer, health-related photographer, painter, and graphic designer. She added that the judges also had to have some experience in dealing with cancer.

Rodale explained that the art project helps change the quality of health and healing beginning at the patient and caregiver level, as well as supporting the talents of young artists in the community. After the show's run, the student art will be donated to any hospital in the community for specific placement in patient rooms or treatment areas. Art work from the 2011 show can be found at the Lehigh Valley Health Network (main hallway of the Cancer Center at the Cedar Crest campus), and St. Luke's Hospital & Health Network (Cancer Center in Easton).

Participating high schools for this year's Hope & Healing show include Colonial Academy, Easton, Emmaus, Liberty (Bethlehem), Lincoln Leadership Academy Charter School, Moravian Academy, Nazareth, Parkland, Upper Perkiomen, and Whitehall Coplay.

Danny Moyer, department chair of the art department at Whitehall Coplay High School, said he hopes visitors to the gallery will be surprised by how talented the students are in their work.

"They (students) know their art is going somewhere," Moyer said. "I hope visitors will have an appreciation for what they're viewing, and that they especially experience the generosity of the students in donating their work with hope and healing."

Rodale added that this year's show has involved a larger number of students from the area who have created moving pieces for hospitals and health care facilities with the goal to inspire more patients and caregivers. She told the story of how one hospital patient said he had nothing to view during his extended hospital stay except the shadow of the sun moving across his hospital wall from sunrise to sunset. Not every day is a sunny day, she said.

"As we inspire others, together we all become stronger, healing through the arts," she added.

The art gallery will be open 90 minutes prior to theater show times. Donations and proceeds from the April 5th reception/awards ceremony/silent auction will help reach more students to participate in future art shows, thus supplying more art to hospital rooms in the Lehigh Valley. Admission to the reception is $50 per person; reservations are requested in advance.

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The annual Festival of Bands takes place Sunday at 2:45 p.m., at Dieruff High School, with the Lehigh Valley's own adult concert bands: the Pioneer Band, conducted by Robert Billig; Municipal Band, conducted by Dick Steltz; Marine Band, conducted by Thomas Heinick; and Allentown Band, conducted by Ronald Demkee. Proceeds benefit Lehigh Valley children and adults with developmental disabilities.

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"Dancing with Bach: Baroque, Blue & Brilliant" will be performed Sunday at the Zoellner Arts Center in Bethlehem. The Bach Choir and Bach Festival Orchestra will perform with the Muhlenberg College Dancers, under the direction of Corrie Cowart, and the dance program of the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts, under the direction of Kimberly Maniscalco. Bach's maestro is Greg Fungfeld.

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