Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Toner family stages original Freckle Face Fudge as its main act

A Hellertown, Northampton Co., family with ties to the Lehigh Valley theater scene has been creating flavorful recipes no sweet tooth can resist with Freckle Face Fudge. The ‘Freckle Face' belongs to 11-year-old Maggie Toner who, along with parents John and Jeni, collaborates on the more than 50 flavors that have positioned the family-owned business at farmers markets in Hellertown, Macungie and Easton and at special events throughout the valley this year.

"Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith," said John Toner, who was a professional fund raiser before he turned chief fudge artist. He happily whips up to 200 pounds of the delectable treat each week at a commercial space he rents in Bethlehem.

Toner said it was about two years ago, while watching a program on the Food Network, that he saw a four-course meal being prepared with dark chocolate salted fudge as the dessert. On a whim, he recalled shouting, "I can do that!" and tried his hand at making the same dessert, even taking it a step further with a second dish of white chocolate cookies and crème. His samplings received a thumbs-up review from family and friends, motivating him to experiment in the months ahead. Eventually he was getting requests, but filling orders wasn't exactly in the family plan, he said. Everyone already had a busy schedule.

Jeni, whom John met in 1994 while both were involved with Civic Theatre in Allentown (he was working backstage as she was performing in "The Secret Garden") teaches at Saucon Valley Elementary School and works at Build-A-Bear Workshop at the Lehigh Valley Mall. She's also taught theater classes at Civic and at the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre in Bethlehem.

Maggie, a sixth grade student at Saucon Valley Middle School, takes classes at Pennsylvania Youth Theatre and lessons in voice, piano and saxophone. She also sings in the choir at First Presbyterian Church in Bethlehem, under the direction of Greg Funfgeld, and is performing in her school's Broadway revue, "The Theatre Will Rock!" directed by Sal Ritz, Nov. 14-16, at 7 p.m. Last Christmas season, she and her mom worked together for the first time in the Harry Connick Jr. musical, "The Happy Elf," in conjunction with Pennsylvania Youth Theatre.

Like her dad, Maggie is a fan of the Food Network and especially enjoys watching shows like "Worst Cooks in America" with host, Chef Anne Burrell. She was literally "bouncing," according to her parents, when she got to meet Burrell earlier this month during a guest appearance at Wegmans. Of course, Maggie presented Burrell with a special gift of homemade autumn spice and cherry fudge.

The Toner family has taken fudge to a whole new level to be enjoyed year-round at farmers markets. Seasonal flavors include autumn spice, pumpkin marshmallow, caramel apple, peppermint bark, eggnog, and fruitcake. Valley-wide bacon fests have presented challenges in whipping up batches of white chocolate maple bacon. Partnerships also have been created with Weyerbacher Brewing Company and Vynecrest Vineyard & Winery for new flavors.

"We've had more opportunities with our business than we have manpower," Toner said. "But we love what we're doing. We not only want people to walk away with fudge but also to think that they've tasted something ‘wow!' better than they thought. We want them to leave with a smile."

Sweet tooths can sample the Christmas flavors of Freckle Face Fudge at Lehigh Christian Academy's annual "The Holly and The Ivy Craft Fair" on Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The school is located on the campus of Cedar Crest Bible Fellowship Church in Salisbury Twp., Lehigh Co.

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The 64th annual Juried Holiday Fine Arts & Craft Festival will be held Saturday (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Sunday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), at Kutztown University's Keystone Hall at Trexler Avenue (South Campus Drive) and Baldy Street. The event will have a selection of quality handcrafted traditional and contemporary work by master craftsmen and fine artisans. Kutztown art students also will display their work. Live music will be provided by the Acoustic Roadshow.

The festival is presented by the Reading-Berks Chapter of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen in partnership with the Pennsylvania German Scholarship Studies, the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center and Kutztown University. Proceeds benefit the guild's educational programs.

In conjunction with the festival, a silent art auction of work by the late W. Gene Burkhart Jr., will be held at the O'Pake Field House, 312 Trexler Ave. Bids will be taken until 2 p.m. Sunday, when winners will be announced. The event will benefit the guild's student scholarship programs. Burkhart was a lifetime guild member and internationally recognized award-winning artist. He was a Philadelphia Flower Show judge and a retired special education and art teacher.

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Kids ranging in age from 9 to 13 will be singing in the spotlight for "Broadway Kids," performing an inaugural concert on Sunday at 2 p.m., on the main stage of the 19th Street (Civic) Theatre in Allentown. It's the return of Civic's rock musical retrospective, "Rockin' Broadway," featuring young actors – some for the very first time -- in musical numbers from such Broadway shows as "Sweet Charity," "A Chorus Line," "Annie Get Your Gun" and ‘Wicked." Co-directors of the ensemble are William Sanders and Melissa Egan, with music direction by Justin Brehm.

"The kids will be singing songs that adults normally do," said Sanders, Civic's artistic director. He added that there will be solos, duets and group numbers. "I'm gratified by their interest and abilities," he said.

Featured performers include: Hannah Kurczeski, Ashleigh Meskill, Jessica Sturm, Rachel Knappenberger, Hannah Lefurgy, August Fegley, Taylor Stehlik, Rhys Williams, Gabby Gormas, Dylan Boyd and Julia Perose.

Sanders looks next at the holiday season with Civic's annual "A Christmas Carol," Dec. 6-21, with Kirk Lawrence ("August: Osage County," "33 Variations") as Scrooge and a new set design by Jason Sherwood ("Spring Awakening"), to 2014 with Pulitzer Prize finalist "Other Desert Cities," Feb. 28-March 9, and "Urinetown: The Musical," May 2-18.

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Last year's Hurricane Sandy put a damper on some Halloween happenings in our area, among them, "The Phantom of the Opera" at St. John's Lutheran Church, 37 S. Fifth St., Allentown. The event was rescheduled for this year and will take place Friday at 7 p.m., with live, haunting organ accompaniment by Baltimore's Michael Britt to the classic black-and-white silent film. The event is part of the Arts at St. John's series. Britt is minister of music and organist at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Baltimore and performs theater organ music throughout the country as a silent film accompanist.

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November marks the third annual Lehigh Valley Photography Month, presented by the Olympus InVision Photo Festival in a celebration of fine photography. Twenty local venues, including our college campuses, will be featuring exhibitions, workshops, parties and presentations through the end of November and most are free to the public. First Friday at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem features an opening reception for photographic exhibitions and competitions from 6 to 9 p.m., followed by weekend events at the ArtsQuest Center.

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The Baum School of Art in Allentown held its annual Holiday Card Juried Exhibition and recognized Hub Willson's original acrylic, "Log Cabin-Lehigh Parkway," for its 2013 holiday card. All work by local and regional painters who participated in the competition is on exhibit at Baum through Nov. 8.

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Mark Russell brings his wit and American Flag-themed piano to the State Theatre in Easton on Friday at 7:30 p.m., as he dares to joke and sing about the absurdities in Washington. Russell is known for a series of PBS specials that ran from 1975-2004, consisting of political stand-up comedy and musical parodies. Though he retired from public performances in 2010, he made a comeback earlier this year.

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Fox-TV's hit series "Glee" star, Matthew Morrison, performs a variety of Broadway standards and hits of the Great American Songbook with a 65-piece orchestra on Saturday at 8 p.m., at Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. The Emmy, Tony and Golden Globe-nominated star comes to the Lehigh Valley as the headliner for Zoellner's Gala 2013.

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