Arts Around Town: Bach is back with re-staged 'Mr. Bach Comes to Call'

Mark McKenna of Touchstone Theatreas "Mr. Bach"

When 12-year-old Bethlehem piano student Elizabeth suddenly has her lesson observed by Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, a time-traveling journey begins the story of friendship and connections across the centuries. It all happens when The Bach Choir of Bethlehem presents its family concert, "Mr. Bach Comes to Call," on February 25 at 3 p.m., in Baker Hall at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem.

The production has been re-staged for the 10th anniversary of The Bach Choir/Classical Kids Film release. It is the first live performance since 2006. The story was originally authored by Susan Hammond of Classical Kids and staged in collaboration with The Bach Choir and Touchstone Theatre.

The program includes excerpts from more than 20 works by Bach, performed by The Bach Choir and the Bach Festival Orchestra, under the direction of Greg Funfgeld. Five actors directed by Bill George of Touchstone Theatre tell the story through music and drama, offering families the perfect introduction to Bach and classical compositions.

Mark McKenna returns in the role of Mr. Bach, which he played in the stage premiere and the Classical Kids film. Shannon Aloise, a member of The Bach Choir, portrays Bach's wife, Anna Magdalena Bach, as she sings the aria, "Bist du bei Mir."

A new cast of children includes Elizabeth played by Abriana Ferrari, 13, an eighth-grader who's homeschooled. The three choir boys who time-travel with Mr. Bach are played by Silas Taylor, 12, a sixth-grader at Arts Academy Charter Middle School; Ethan Silver, 11, a sixth-grader at Springhouse Middle School, and Matilda Snyder, 9, a fourth-grader at Southern Lehigh Intermediate School. Abriana, Silas and Matilda are members of the Bel Canto Children's Chorus of The Bach Choir.

"For children of all ages, and those new to the world of Bach, it's a chance to make an amazing and wonderful new friend," said Funfgeld. "Bach accompanies us on life's journey with exquisite, spirit-filled, astonishing music, and our lives are forever enriched. This is a concert that anyone who loves children should not miss, and bring all those kids that you love so much. What an experience to share and to treasure!"

The Classical Kids film, produced by The Bach Choir in collaboration with Green Treks Network and Touchstone Theatre, was broadcast nationally on PBS in 2008 and continues to be distributed internationally by the Children's Group/Linus Entertainment.

Footnote: For the first time, The Bach Choir will perform at the State Theatre in Easton on March 17 at 7:30 p.m., for "A Celebration of the Choral Art." The Bach Choir celebrates its 120th birthday, and Artistic Director Greg Funfgeld observes his 35th anniversary leading the choir. The State Theatre marked 90 years of WOW this past season.

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"The Diary of Anne Frank," a play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, will be presented by the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, Friday through Sunday, at the Charles A. Brown Historic Ice House in Bethlehem.

Based upon "Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl" and newly adapted by Wendy Kesselman, Anne emerges from history a living, lyrical, intensely gifted young girl who confronts her rapidly changing life and the increasing horror of her time with astonishing honesty, wit, and determination. An impassioned drama about the lives of eight people hiding from the Nazis in a concealed storage attic, it captures the claustrophobic realities of their daily existence - their fear, hope, laughter, and grief.

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Birdland All-Stars with Tommy Igoe perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, at Kutztown University's Schaeffer Auditorium, led by drumming sensation Tommy Igoe.

These fine musicians from New York return to the road for the first time in five years. They've been thrilling audiences at "The Jazz Corner of the World" for the last 10 years.

New arrangements will feature the music of David Bowie, The Police, and Steely Dan, as well as fresh treatments of iconic compositions by Charlie Parker, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock.

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Sweden's 70-piece Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra will perform "All Beethoven" on Saturday at 4 p.m., at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem. Music director is Stefan Solyom.

The program will include soloist Catherine Manoukian performing "Violin Concerto in D major," plus "Symphony No. 3 Eroica," and "Egmont Overture."

In conjunction with the concert, there will be a free pre-show lecture at 3 p.m. with Darin John Lewis, Lafayette Chamber Orchestra music director/conductor. He is the founder and artistic director of the Simpatico Chamber Ensemble in New York City.

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"Ubu Roi" kicks off Muhlenberg College Theater and Dance Department's spring main stage theater season on Wednesday with Alfred Jarry's absurd 19th-century play. Director is theater faculty member Francine Roussel. Original score is by Douglas Ovens. The show runs through February 25.

The production is about the rise and fall of ambition and the abuse of political power, according to Roussel, who added, "It's violent, it has a great sense of humor, and it is, unfortunately, totally real."

A riot broke out as the curtain fell on opening night of "Ubu Roi" in Paris in 1896; the play was shouted down as an ugly vulgarity and outlawed from the French stage. Since then, it has been recognized as an essential work of the avant-garde theater, a precursor to Dada, Surrealism, and Theatre of the Absurd.

Muhlenberg senior David Raccio plays Papa Ubu, the titular despot; Gabi Adamo plays the manipulative matriarch Mama Ubu.

The show is recommended for mature audiences.

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The seventh annual SteelStacks High School Jazz Band Showcase continues Sunday, beginning at noon, at the ArtsQuest Center's Musikfest Cafe at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.

Scheduled at noon are Delaware Valley High School, Easton High School, The Hill School, and Saucon Valley High School. At 4 p.m., it will be Joe's Jazz Cafe, Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, Quakertown High School, Upper Moreland High School, and William Tennent High School.

Schools that recently performed were Belvidere High School, Bernards High School, Freedom High School, Phillipsburg High School, Warren Hills High School, Wilson High School, Brandywine Heights High School, Fleetwood High School, Kutztown Area High School, Pocono Mountain East High School, North Penn High School Columbia Jazz Band, and North Penn High School Navy Jazz Band.

The top six groups will advance to the finals March 11 at the ArtsQuest Center; the top three finalists will earn the chance to open for artists at the RiverJazz series at SteelStacks this summer.

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Act 1 DeSales University Theatre continues its 2017-2018 season with George Bernard Shaw's classic comedy, "The Devil's Disciple," beginning Wednesday and continuing through March 4 on the main stage of the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts on the Center Valley campus. Director is Wayne S. Turney, professor of theater, with original music by Dennis Razze, chair of theater.

The play, set in 1777 Revolutionary America, involves rascal Richard "Dick" Dungeon, the black sheep of the family who, after his father's death, returns home in all of his irreverent, yet charming glory. His disrespectful attitude and debaucherous lifestyle compels a visiting minister to warn him of the impending danger posed by the occupying British forces, fearing they would hang him as a rebel. However, unbeknownst to the Minister, it is he who is in danger.

Sets are by faculty designer Will Neuert, costumes by faculty designer Amy Best, and lighting design by alumna Allison Newhard '15.

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Berks Arts Council has announced winners of the 2018 Fast Lane Art competition, with jurors Meg Davis and Jeff Copus, founders of Harrisburg's Sprocket Mural Works.

Six pieces were chosen for display on billboards throughout Berks County, courtesy of Land Displays. Two people's choice award winners, selected using Facebook "likes," will be displayed on digital billboards. Additionally, the Fast Lane Art Committee chose a piece from each participating school to be displayed on digital billboards in the coming months.

Student artists are: Laura Berry, Daniel Boone Area High School, "Laura's Feather," grand prize - Alma Woods Memorial Award; Joseph Guiliano, Daniel Boone Area High School, "Timmy," second prize, and Christian Scott, Wyomissing Area Junior/Senior High School, "Frog in A Can," third prize.

Professional/adult artists are: Cheryl Elmo, "Abby Road," grand prize, Jack Coggins Memorial Award; Kris Jackson, "Deep Seeing," second prize, and Steve Fabian, "Looking for A Fight," third prize.

A special student exhibition is being held at Freedom Auto Group in Tilden Township through March 9. Additional prizes will be distributed at a student and teacher art appreciation event on Tuesday, including Freedom of Expression prizes for school art departments, and a Freedom to Create student prize.

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