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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: It's Christmas in July with 'Miracle on 34th Street' in Phillipsburg

It's hard not to do a double-take when a musical like "Miracle on 34th Street" is being presented in July. For Kathy Hartman, that's exactly the reaction she's hoping for as the Phillipsburg Area Summer Youth Theatre (PASYT) in New Jersey prepares for the opening of its main stage production on Thur., July 25, at Phillipsburg High School. The musical will run through July 28.

"We went out of the box for this one," said Hartman, PASYT co-founder. "We did our research and actually found that the original 1947 film was to be distributed in the month of May and was not meant for release for the Christmas holiday."

The reasoning behind a spring release for the original Academy Award-winning film starring Maureen O'Hara was that more people attended movie theaters during the summer months, according to then-film studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, in a further search on the Internet.

"Miracle on 34th Street—The Musical" is based on a story that takes place between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day in New York City, and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real Santa. Broadway's musical version, "Here's Love," based on the original film, was written in 1963 by Meredith Willson of "The Music Man" fame.

"The musical has been a great experience for our cast who range in age from 10 to 21," said Hartman, co-managing director of PASYT along with Matt Bigelli, who also directs its performing arts camp for ages 6 to 14. The summer activities attract young performers from schools in Northampton County and northwestern New Jersey.

The cast for "Miracle on 34th Street—The Musical" includes Shannyn Rinker of Easton as Doris Walker, Celia Doll of Northampton as Susan Walker, Matthew Thomas of Phillipsburg as Fred Gailey, and Matt Gulick of Phillipsburg as Kris Kringle.

Bigelli serves as book director, Adam Josephson as musical director, and Devon Caraballo as choreographer. Josephson is an elementary instrumental music teacher with the Greenwich Township (N.J.) School District. Caraballo, a graduate of Phillipsburg High School, is a dance instructor and also choreographs PASYT's summer camp programs. She was nominated by State Theatre's Freddy Awards program this year for outstanding choreography in the high school's production of "Once on This Island."

PASYT's first summer camp production, "Schoolhouse Rock Live! Jr.," was presented earlier this month at Lopatcong Middle School in Phillipsburg. Its second presentation, "The Wizard of Oz—Young Performers' Edition," will be held Aug. 3, at the same location.

Hartman and Bigelli share a common bond in having theater arts play a vital role in the development of young people. Hartman was a music teacher at Phillipsburg High School for 23 years and currently is with the district's elementary schools. She directed many of the high school musicals, with many of her students being recognized by the Freddys.

Bigelli is a third-grade teacher with the Greenwich Township School District, where he heads the performing arts club for third to fifth graders. He has been active with PASYT on and off stage for 16 years and also is active with the Country Gate Players in Belvidere, N.J.

The Phillipsburg Area Summer Youth Theatre, Inc., was organized in 1996, by Hartman and Father Len Rusay, formerly with St. Philip & St. James Church in Phillipsburg. Hartman explained that they wanted to bring performing arts opportunities to area young people ages 12 to 24 during the summer months. Most of all, they wanted theater to be a positive experience. Every year since, PASYT has presented a fully-staged musical production, utilizing the directorial talents and mentorship of local professionals in the areas of music, dance and drama. PASYT also is involved in community service projects to support service organizations and local charities.

Past productions have included "Rent," "Damn Yankees," "Bye Bye Birdie," "Hello Dolly" and "Pajama Game," which have benefited NORWESCAP, the Burn Recovery Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Alzheimer's Association, and Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, to name some. This year's recipient is the Andover Morris Elementary School in Phillipsburg for its new playground project.

"We try to give back to Phillipsburg," Hartman said. "We greatly appreciate that the school district has been so generous to us in the use of its facilities during the summer months."

A breakfast fundraiser to benefit PASYT's scholarship program will be held Sunday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Applebee's on Easton Nazareth Highway. Monies raised will assist students who have been active with PASYT in furthering their education at a two- or four-year educational institution.

For further info:        Ticket reservations: 484-274-1705



Reading's Genesius Theatre has paired with the Conrad Weiser Music Association to present "Seussical the Musical," opening Thursday night and running through Saturday at Conrad Weiser High School, 44 Big Spring Rd., Heidelberg Township.

The musical is the adaptation of Dr. Seuss – "Cat in the Hat" – and his menagerie of characters from the animal kingdom. The cast of 50 represents students from school districts throughout Berks County.

The cast includes Emerson Gagnon as JoJo, Joshua Sell as Cat in the Hat, Jeremy Bell as Horton, Chris Gleason as Mayor, Sydney Schultz as Mrs. Mayor, Katie Weidner as Gertrude, and Kaley Herman as Mayzie.

For further info:


A blueberry festival just wouldn't be complete without a blueberry pie-eating contest. It happens this weekend at the annual Blueberry Festival at the Burnside Plantation, 1461 Schoenersville Rd., Bethlehem. The event, sponsored by the Historic Bethlehem Partnership, runs Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Activities include colonial brewing demonstrations, kids' crafts and dress-up, and high horse-powered wheel rides. There will be crafters, Native Indian flute-making, and the Embroiderers' Guild of the Lehigh Valley.

Three stages of entertainment will feature such acts as the Lehigh Valley Drum Circle, O'Grady Quinlan Academy of Irish Dance, Indian Dance by the Indian American Association of the Lehigh Valley, Mock Turtle Marionette Theatre, Native American Folk Tales and Hoop Dancing, Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, Repertory Dance Theater, Dave Fry, and Maggie Spike.

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The spotlight is on New Jersey, with yet another main stage production to open Saturday. It's the Country Gate Players' production of the Tony Award-winning "Miss Saigon" at the Country Gate Playhouse in Belvidere. The show runs through July 28, and is directed by Gina Scurato of Harmony. Musical director is Tierney Jory of Bangor.

In "Miss Saigon," the creators of "Les Miserables" bring Giacomo Puccini's opera, "Madame Butterfly," to the modern world in a moving testament to the human spirit. In the turmoil of the Vietnam War, an American soldier and a Vietnamese girl fall in love, only to be separated during the fall of Saigon. Their struggles are both tragic and hopeful in an iconic theatrical treatment of love, loss, and the collision of cultures.

The cast includes Maria Stein of Easton as Kim, Darren Morris of Easton as Christopher Scott, Manuel Alvarado of Nazareth as John Thomas, Mandy Gambal of Pocono Lake as Ellen, David Miller of Los Angeles as Thuy, Donna Bellfy of Phillipsburg as Gigi Van Tranh, Lily and Sophia Markopoulos of Wind Gap doubling in the role of Tam, and Bill Scurato of Harmony as The Engineer.

Country Gate personnel said the show contains adult content and parent discretion is advised.

For further info:


The Baum School of Art in Allentown is featuring two exhibits, "Clarence H. Carter: Realism to Surrealism" and "Milan Melicharek: Regional Landscapes," through Aug. 9.

Carter's early work was said to be in the prevailing aesthetic spirit of the times—the interests of the "common man," scenes emphasizing local places and a "homespun genre" – were the world in which he lived and created. In 1965, his artistic style moved from temporality to timelessness, with the Ovoid becoming his single most important symbol.

Melicharek's colorful work captures the captivating and moody landscapes of Pennsylvania and Maine. A teacher at Northwestern Lehigh High School for 32 years, he is a signature member of the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Watercolor Societies.

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