Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Lehigh Valley gets reeling start to St. Patrick's Day with 'Finnegan's Farewell'

First it was a wedding. Now it's a wake. From the co-creator who brought us "Tony & Tina's Wedding," the longest running interactive comedy show in off-Broadway history, comes a new production from New York, "Finnegan's Farewell," making its Lehigh Valley premiere Thursday night at 7, and running through Sunday at the Musikfest Café at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. In place of a wedding's pasta dinner will be a Shepherd's Pie dinner for audiences who'll be participating in the fun of old and new Irish family traditions.

"Finnegan's Farewell" was co-conceived by Kevin Leonidas Alexander, co-creator of "Tony & Tina's Wedding," and Chuck Santoro, who serves as director. "Tony & Tina's Wedding" played the Musikfest Café in January 2011 and made a return engagement last month.

In "Finnegan's Farewell," it's time to say goodbye to Paddy Finnegan (Bob Cohen), a beloved U.S. postman who won $10 million in Atlantic City and almost immediately fell dead. Father Seamus (Anthony Donnelly) presides over the authentic Irish wake, but it turns out the corpse is missing. While the cast searches for the body, there's plenty of entertaining by the Dublineers (Jordan Tirrell Wysocki and Matt Jensen) and the champion Riverkids. There's even the reading of the will by Max Goldstein (Gary Crivellaro), and a surprise twist of the tale.

"Finnegan's Farewell" brings Brooklyn's Santoro to the Lehigh Valley for the first time. He appeared in the off-Broadway cast of "Tony & Tina's Wedding," playing 12 different roles during his five-year run with the production. He's also known as "The Toy Boy" who, in the 90s, started his work in the world of toys as the famous toy soldier outside FAO Schwarz in New York City. The gig eventually landed him the position of director of entertainment and demonstration for the entire company. Maybe he wasn't the inspiration for the Tom Hanks' character in the film, "Big," but that's really how it all began for Santoro. Now as a founder and chief creative at Proscenium, an event marketing company in New York City, he's put his talent to work in corporate theater. He's directed industrials that have included Ben Stiller, Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah, and for such majors as Walmart, T-Mobile, Boeing, and Discovery Networks.

Santoro said productions of "Finnegan's Farewell" are customized according to the locale where it plays. For its Bethlehem premiere, Lehigh Valley auditions for major and minor roles were held in January at the Banana Factory.

What's an Irish musical comedy without Irish step dancers? That's when sisters Dawn and Jacque Parker, co-founders of Irish Stars Parker School of Irish Dance in nearby Hellertown, stepped in (no pun intended). The Parkers, who started Moravian College's Moravian Star Irish Dance Club and Performance Troupe in 2005, became involved when they received a call at their studio from Kevin Alexander. He explained that "Finnegan's Farewell" was coming to the valley and asked if they would choreograph their Irish dancers for the show. Costumes would not be a problem for the Parkers since their dancers already own multiple changes for performing locally and regionally as well as in national championship competitions.

"He wanted anybody to audition," Jacque explained. "He wanted local Irish step dancers who could sing, dance and act. They had to be comfortable dancing on stage, smile, and interact with the audience in their character. We had all of our students come to the studio for a special night of singing, dancing and acting. It gave me and Dawn an opportunity to look at our dancers in a way we hadn't before."

The Parkers were excited for the challenge and came up with a group of dancers ranging in age from 8 to 18, who will be showing off some fancy footwork including flip jigs, hard and soft shoe reels, and even a face-off with hip hop. Their brother, Dale Parker, 28, also a dancer, will be performing in the show as Brian Finnegan. An intense rehearsal schedule for the entire cast began Monday, with only four days to pull everything together for Thursday night's opening.

Following the weekend performances, Dawn and Jacque Parker will be back in the studio rehearsing dancers for the upcoming Allentown St. Patrick's Day Parade on Sun., Mar. 17. Most recently, 10 of their students competed at the 2013 CRN (Cumann Rince Naisiunta) USA National Championship Competition in Washington, D.C., and collectively brought home 23 awards. Their first qualifying student will travel to Wexford, Ireland, in June for the 2013 CRN World Championship Competition at the Wexford Opera House.

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Spring into action! It's the Valley Flower & Garden Show happening this weekend, featuring the National Pool & Spa Expo. The show, themed "Treasures of the Garden," runs Friday through Sunday at Ag-Hall at the Allentown Fairgrounds, between 17th and Chew streets.

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The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and Bach Festival Orchestra will perform Mendelssohn's choral masterpiece, "Elijah," in its only Lehigh Valley performance on Sunday at 4 p.m., at First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem. The fiery oratorio recounts the story of the biblical prophet with vast and intense drama. In the title role is bass-baritone Dashon Burton, with soprano Rosa Lamoreaux, mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson and tenor Mark A. Boyle. Joining the Bach Choir will be the Millersville Keystone Singers (Collegiate Ensemble) conducted by Boyle.

A pre-concert lecture by Greg Funfgeld, Bach's artistic director and conductor, will be held at 3 p.m.

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Best-selling author and star of TV's new series, "Leader of the Pack," Cesar Millan, pays a visit to Easton's State Theatre on Friday at 8 p.m. Man's best friend may be a dog, but a dog's best friend is the "Dog Whisperer" himself, recognized as the world's best dog trainer. Millan has a way, "Cesar's Way," in sharing the secret to happier, healthier relationships between humans and their canine companions – and it starts with transforming ourselves.

Prior to the show, the Lehigh Valley's Peaceable Kingdom will feature adoptable pets at 6:30 p.m., in the theater's Brown-Daub Gallery.

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A 30-year retrospective of paintings and prints by Curlee Raven Holton, professor of art at Lafayette College in Easton and founding director of the Experimental Printmaking Institute (EPI), is on view through March 29, on campus at the Williams Center Gallery.

Holton, a master printmaker, also works in a variety of mediums including drawing, painting and bookmaking. The exhibition was first shown last spring at the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, Ga.

An installation titled "Room of Relief" by Holton, Veronica Ceci and Francine K. Affourtit, involving the entire space of the college's Grossman Gallery, will be held March 15 through April 27.

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Another family-friendly silent film event is planned for Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., at the Civic Theatre of Allentown. It's a double-bill with physical comedian Harold Lloyd in "Why Worry?" and "An Eastern Westerner," accompanied by live organ music by master organist Don Kinnier. Kinnier made his Civic debut last year when he played for the venue's screening of the silent film, "The General."

Tickets to the event are available in advance.

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