Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Reading's 'Genesius' musical goes behind the scenes with staged reading

One woman, a band of "kids," and a driving passion to build a community theater – despite opposition – in the heart of a city. It's the story of Jane Simmon Miller, co-founder of the Genesius Theatre in Reading, and it begins in 1969, as told by a 12-member cast of "Genesius Kids." Along with an eight-piece orchestra, all pay tribute to the vision behind a theater group of young amateurs who would be able to participate, learn and grow while putting on a show. Two public performances of a staged reading of their very own (new) musical, "Genesius," will be held on Friday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., at the venue located at 10th and Walnut streets.

"Genesius" originally debuted at the theater (the venue is named after Saint Genesius, Patron Saint of Actors) in 2008, with Cathy Miller playing Jane, followed by a staged reading at Goodspeed's Festival of New Artists in East Haddam, Conn., a full production at Civic Theatre of Allentown, and an Equity-approved Showcase in New York in 2010.

It's the true story of Jane Simmon Miller's passion for love, theater, and the opportunity to be on stage as it touches on the universal themes of reaching out and giving back while pursuing one's own dreams. It's a backstage musical with everything – humor, heart, and a scandalous affair.

The book is by L J Fecho, who also directed and produced the musical. He's currently artistic producer of Genesius, where he began his theatrical career at the age of 12, becoming one of Jane's "kids" in 1971. He's directed and produced many hits there, including "Hair," "Urinetown," "Sweeney Todd," "The Full Monty," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "The Who's Tommy" and "Man of La Mancha." He's also produced on and off Broadway.  He HHis company, Entourage Entertainment, has created and produced interactive Murder Mystery Events. His version of the interactive "Finnigan's Wake" has been performed at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem.

Michael O'Flaherty, responsible for music and lyrics, was a co-founder of Genesius Theatre. He's served in such capacities there as producer, director, music director, tech designer and performer. He's conducted on and off Broadway and was music director for the Williamstown Theatre Festival. He's currently resident music director of the Goodspeed Opera House.

Fecho and O'Flaherty wrote a Depression-era, Pennsylvania Dutch version of "A Christmas Carol" titled "The Belsnickel Scrooge," which was performed at the Genesius Theatre in 2007 and 2008.

Musical direction for this weekend's staged reading is by Christopher Sperat and Kevin Cooper, with musical assistance by Andrew Cusano and Ann Cusano. The cast includes Cathy Miller as Jane Simmon Miller, David Popovsky as David, Michael O'Flaherty as Grant Cole and Anita Lewis as Fred.

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Dave Liebman has put together a new band, Expansions, bringing in some younger musicians. He said he's following in the footsteps of Miles Davis and Elvin Jones, who mentored him in the early 1970s. Liebman said they provided the kind of experience that can only happen on the bandstand. Liebman and Expansions comes to Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown on Friday at 7:30 p.m., as part of the venue's Jazz Upstairs series.

In addition to Liebman, on soprano saxophone and wooden flute, Expansions includes Bobby Avey on piano, Matt Vashlishan on reeds, Alex Ritz on drums and percussion, and Tony Marino on bass.

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Emmaus High School '62 graduate and jazz pianist/composer Keith Jarrett, now residing in Oxford, N.J., is among those being recognized as a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master on Monday at 7:30 p.m., at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall in New York City. The award is presented to living legends in recognition of their outstanding contribution to jazz.

Jarrett, 68, an Allentown native, is recognized worldwide for his piano improvisations, many times being performed as he stands. His earlier years had him playing with Art Blakey and Miles Davis. In 1971, he began his recording collaboration with German producer Manfred Eicher and ECM Records (Editions of
Contemporary Music) and since has produced more than 60 recordings. His landmark solo piano recordings have helped redefine the role of the piano in contemporary music.

Dave Liebman, whom I mention above, was named a NEA Jazz Master in 2011.

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Satori will perform its annual midwinter concert on Jan. 18, at 7:30 p.m., at Foy Hall at Moravian College, Main and Church streets, Bethlehem. A reception will follow. Snow date is Jan. 22. Selections will be by Foote, Prokofieff and Schubert. Musicians include: Nora Suggs, flute; Deborah Andrus, clarinet; Rebecca Brown and Mary Ogletree, violins; Timothy Schwarz, viola; Deborah Davis, cello; Domenick Fiore, bass and Martha Schrempel, piano.

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On the subject of music: Broadway comes to Easton's State Theatre when pianist Todd Ellison presents a "Tribute to George Gershwin" on Saturday at 8 p.m. Ellison is former music director of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and current music director and conductor of the new Broadway production of "Annie." He will be joined by four vocalists from Broadway – Gavin Lodge, Klea Blackhurst, Ross Lekites and Nikki Daniels -- whose repertoire includes "I Got Rhythm," "Swanee," "Embraceable You," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and "S'Wonderful."

Ellison's Broadway credits include Tony Award-winning shows such as "Monty Python's Spamalot," "La Cage aux Folles" and "42nd Street."

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