Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: The singing Gilbert family salutes the troops with ‘The Wiz'

At a time when most young people are heading to the shore with their friends, Easton's singing Gilbert family is deep in performance, bouncing from one Lehigh Valley musical to the next. On the heels of their appearance in Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre's "Hairspray: The Broadway Musical," which ended July 1, the five Gilbert siblings, ages 15 to 22, are teaming to present their full production of "The Wiz" at Bethlehem's IceHouse, July 18-22.

The Gilberts – Taryn (22), Tasia (21), Teara (19), Jewel (17) and Jorne (15) – were among the many performers in "Hairspray" who brought audiences to their feet during its run. Taryn, Tasia and Teara performed as the trio, The Dynamites, who sang "Welcome to the ‘60," in the style of Motown, while Jewel and Jorne were members of the Company.

Performing on Lehigh Valley stages is nothing new to the Gilberts, all homeschooled by their mother, Gina, who prefers to remain in the background, and all starting dance lessons at age 3. Their father, Bruce, who works for Wells Fargo, also has taken to Valley stages through the years. In addition to Muhlenberg, the family has performed at Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Civic Theatre of Allentown, St. Thomas More Summer Theatre Magic, and SteelStacks.

The five Gilberts were part of the Valley's Dream Kids performing troupe for 12 years, under the Dream Come True Foundation. After the 9/11 attacks, the Gilberts took their work seriously and started thinking about U.S. military troops who protect our freedoms and how to show appreciation for their sacrifice. In 2005, they founded the charitable organization, Sing for America, and continue to perform in the Valley and along the East Coast to raise donations for families of active military. They have appeared locally at Mayfair Festival of the Arts, Musikfest, The Great Allentown Fair, and Coca Cola Park. To date, they have raised more than $30,000 through donations for the Valley chapter of Blue Star Mothers.

According to Taryn Gilbert, "The Wiz" is the family's third theatrical production, which she is directing. Last November, the Gilberts assembled a singing and dancing cast of 25 for their production of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." In the spring of 2011, Sing for America presented their first musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella, the Enchanted Edition."

In addition to raising monies for military families, Taryn said she sees "The Wiz" as bridging the gap between minorities of the Lehigh Valley and the arts. "It's an opportunity for minorities in our area to get involved, so we can show Valley theater-goers that the arts are color blind. …Our goal is to show the Valley that it doesn't matter what the color of your skin is or what you look like. If you have talent, you can play any role."

The cast of "The Wiz" is a mixed bunch from the Valley with an enormous range of talent. The role of The Wiz is being played by Allentown singer/songwriter Ian Holmes, a Top 44 finalist in Season 4 of "American Idol." Dorothy is played by Juanita Shockley, a 2012 Freddy Award recipient (Outstanding Performance by a Featured Female Ensemble Member) for her portrayal of Little Inez in Dieruff High School's Hairspray." Holmes' mother, the Rev. Dr. Karen Holmes, is playing the role of Auntie Em. Holmes' sister, Kari, is portraying Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West. Veteran actor Bill Mutimer, full-time theater professor at Northampton Community College, is the Lion. Mutimer also comes to the production hot on the heels of his performance as Edna Turnblad in Muhlenberg's "Hairspray." The Scarecrow is played by Juan Padilla, while the role of the Tin Man is being shared by Jewel Gilbert and Tristan Shuler, a student at the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts. Shuler's sister, Jamika, serving with the U.S. Navy Reserves, is playing the role of Addaperle, the Good Witch of the North.
All choreography, costumes and sets are being created by the Gilberts, Taryn said, with a little help from their uncle, Joe Shemanski.

There will be a basket raffle at the show, she added, thanks to the generosity and support of local businesses. There also will be face painting for children.

Tickets to "The Wiz" are $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and $5 for children under 6.

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Arts Roundup

Summer theater productions continue in the Valley with new slates. Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore" is under way through July 29, at Muhlenberg College's Baker Theatre. Director is James Peck, who brings "a Pop Art sensibility to the production by playing with the typical production design to create something novel but still rooted in history. Imagine what Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns might have done with ‘Pinafore,' and that's where we're headed," he said. Valley native and Muhlenberg alumnus Lauren Curnow plays Little Buttercup.

For the younger crowd, "Harold and the Purple Crayon" is being presented through July 28, with an adaptation by the Enchantment Theatre Company. The show is recommended for ages 4 and up. The actors wear masks throughout the show; parents are asked to bring children 10 minutes prior to show time to examine the masks and meet with actors without their masks on.

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Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's production of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" ends its run Sunday, July 15, in the Schubert Theatre at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts on the Center Valley campus of DeSales University. Greg Wood plays Prospero. Director is Jim Helsinger.

Also playing at the festival is "Much Ado About Nothing," through Aug. 5. Upcoming productions are "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," July 19-Aug. 5, and "King John," July 25-Aug. 5.

For the children, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" continues through Aug. 4. "Shakespeare for Kids" is July 25-Aug. 4.

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