Oct. 24--When Kutztown University wanted to stage a splashy Broadway show to showcase its newly refurbished Schaeffer Auditorium, organizers naturally turned to 1984 Kutztown graduate Eric Schaeffer.
Schaeffer is one of Broadway's top directors. He is the director and founder of the Tony Award-winning Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va. He has directed several Tony-winning Broadway shows, including 2011's star-studded revival of the Stephen Sondheim classic musical "Follies" and "Million Dollar Quartet." Schaeffer is in previews of a world premiere musical, "Crossing," at Signature.
So, for Kutztown, Schaeffer called up a few friends.
Schaeffer's friends are a bit more high profile than most people's. They include three-time Tony nominee Rebecca Luker who is currently on Broadway in "Rodger's & Hammerstein's Cinderella"; Ron Raines, who was nominated for a Tony for his role in Schaeffer's "Follies;" Jason Danieley of Broadway's "The Full Monty," who also was nominated for an Emmy for his performance as Joe Cable in Carnegie Hall's "South Pacific," and the Tony-nominated Christiane Noll, who was on Broadway this year in the new musical "Chaplin."
"They agreed to come down to Kutztown and put on a show," says Schaeffer, who will direct the concert.
Monday's "Signature Broadway" will feature an hour and a half of Broadway showstoppers by the four stars, backed by 24-piece orchestra of university students and professional musicians. The show was scheduled for a Monday because that's when Broadway theaters traditionally are closed that day.
Schaeffer, who grew up in Fleetwood, says returning to Kutztown reminded him of old Schaeffer Auditorium, where he performed as a student.
He performed in "Sweet Charity" and "Fiddler on the Roof," in which he recalls he was oddly cast as a "Pennsylvania Dutch boy playing the rabbi's son."
"The backstage was not very hospitable then," he says.
He raves about the renovated auditorium, which he says looks "stunning," and praises the new dressing rooms, rehearsal rooms and green room.
The show will feature tunes from the 1920s to the present performed as solos and duets, and include songs from such audience favorites as the "The Sound of Music" and "Wicked."
The four singers regularly perform in concerts and will bring some of their favorite numbers as well as some surprises to Kutztown, Schaeffer says.
Luker, who made her Broadway debut as Christine Daae in "The Phantom of the Opera," replacing Sarah Brightman, will perform the seldom-heard "Why I Was Born" from the musical "Sweet Adeline," "I Got Love" from the musical "Purlie" and "Unusual Way" from "Nine," in which she performed on Broadway in 2003.
Luker will duet with Danieley on "Make Believe" from "Showboat." She was nominated for Tony for the Broadway revival.
Luker also has appeared on the Great White Way as Maria in the revival of "The Sound of Music," Marian in "The Music Man" and Mrs. Banks in "Mary Poppins." She is performing as the fairy godmother in the Broadway production of "Cinderella" through January.
Noll, who was nominated for a Tony for her role as Mother in the 2010 Broadway revival of "Ragtime," will perform her big number "Back to Before" from the show.
She also will join Raines in a medley of George Gershwin tunes.
Noll created the role of Emma in the Broadway production of "Jekyll & Hyde," appeared in the Broadway revue, "It Ain't Nothin' but the Blues," and played Hannah Chaplin in 2012's "Chaplin."
She also worked with Schaeffer when she starred in the American premiere of Cameron Mackintosh's "The Witches of Eastwick," which he directed at Signature Theatre.
And Noll will perform a medley from "The Sound of Music" arranged by her late father, Fleetwood native Ronald Noll.
Noll, who was baptized at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in the Berks County borough and spent her summers growing up visiting her grandparents in Fleetwood, says her father originally arranged the medley for her mother, soprano Sara-Ann Noll. Ronald Noll was pianist and conductor of Manhattan's Village Light Opera Group, and for many years brought the group to Fleetwood to perform during the summer. She says she still has many relatives in the area.
"I think half of the audience will be made up of my extended family," she says.
Danieley, a classically trained tenor, made his Broadway debut in the Harold Prince-directed revival of "Candide," as the title character. Danieley went on to star in the Broadway hit "The Full Monty" and in London's West End version of the show. He also starred in the Kander & Ebb musical "Curtains," for which composer John Kander wrote the song "I Miss The Music" specifically for him.
Most recently Danieley performed in the Broadway musical "Next to Normal," opposite his wife, singer Marin Mazzie, making them a real-life couple portraying an onstage couple.
Raines, is probably best-known for his role as Alan Spaulding on the long-running television soap opera "The Guiding Light," but he also has a long history of performing on Broadway in shows that have included the Broadway revival of "Show Boat" and as sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn in the long-running Broadway revival of "Chicago."
Raines was directed by Schaeffer in the Kennedy Center production of "Follies" where he starred opposite Bernadette Peters. He reprised the role in the Broadway production, for which he received a Tony nomination. He also appeared last year as Joseph in "Newsies The Musical."
Schaeffer says he has family still living in Fleetwood, who will be coming to the show.
"It's a good excuse and good reason to come home," he says. "It'll be a great celebration."
Schaeffer will not be staying long. He has to return for the opening of "Crossing." He also is directing the world premiere of a musical adaptation of "Beaches," scheduled to open at Signature in February. And he will direct a Broadway revival of the classic musical "Gigi" scheduled for the 2014/2015 season.
Schaeffer recently recast the touring production of "Million Dollar Quartet," which is in its third year and will come to the State Theatre in Easton Jan. 22. He also checks in on the show, which is in its fifth year in Chicago and has become longest-running musical production in the city's history.
"My crazy schedule keeps me young," he says.
Now he is concentrating on "Signature Broadway" and is hoping it will bring some pizazz to Kutztown's new stage.
"People are going to be surprised," he says.
-- What: Concert of Broadway showstoppers by four Broadway stars, directed by Kutztown grad and Broadway director Eric Schaeffer and backed by a full orchestra. Celebrates reopening of renovated Schaeffer Auditorium.
-- When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
-- Where: Schaeffer Auditorium, Kutztown University, 15200 Kutztown Road
-- How much: $42
-- Info: 610-683-4092 or http://www.kutztownpresents.org
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