News Column

Young talent to shine on Civic stage

October 31, 2013


Oct. 31--A dozen young performers in the Lehigh Valley take the stage Sunday in Civic Theatre's inaugural "Broadway Kids." They will sing Broadway songs usually sung by adults.

Director William Sanders say he didn't want to present a concert of typical kids songs from shows like "Annie" or "Billy Elliot."

"I think we've all heard all the songs from 'Annie,'" he says. "I wanted to have these kids sing songs that weren't obvious for young people."

The concert will include songs from shows that include "Sweet Charity," "Annie Get Your Gun," "My Fair Lady," "Gypsy" and "Wicked."

"When I was young, it would have been a dream of mine to stand on stage and sing a Broadway song like this," Sanders says. "Most of these kids would have to wait until they are 17 or 18 to sing some of these songs."

Sanders says he wanted to feature performers who still "looked like kids," and were younger than the characters in "Babes in Arms," the classic 1939 movie that Judy Garland began filming when she was 16.

The performers, ages 9 to 13, include some who have graced local and even Broadway stages. They includd Reese Diaz, an eighth-grader at Orefield Middle School, and August Fegley, an eighth-grade student at Arts Academy, who will perform a duet. Both students recently performed in "Really Rosie" at Bucks County Playhouse. Reese also played Michael Banks in Broadway's "Mary Poppins" last year. August portrayed Baby Louise in Civic Theatre's "Gypsy" last year.

The show also features Jessica Sturm, a sixth grader at East Hills Middle School in Bethlehem, who played Baby June in Civic's "Gypsy."

Other performers are Dylan Boyd, Gabby Gormas, Rachel Knappenberger, Hannah Kurczeski, Hannah Lefurgy, Ashleigh Meskill, Julia Perose, Taylor Stehlik and Rhys Williams.

Also directing are Melissa Egan and Justin Brehm.

Sanders says the idea of staging a concert-style show grew from Civic's 2012 "Rockin Broadway," a concert that celebrated the influence of rock 'n' roll on the theater, presented in conjunction with Allentown Art Museum's "Who Shot Rock 'n' Roll: A Photographic History, 1955 to Present" exhibition. He hopes to continue staging concerts in between full productions.

-- "Broadway Kids," 2 p.m. Sunday, Civic Theatre, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown. Tickets: $12, students; $20, adults. 610-432-8943,

'Once' at Academy of Music

The premiere of the hit musical "Once" has kicked off the Broadway Philadelphia season, on stage at the Academy of Music through Nov. 10.

The Tony winner is based on the 2007 Academy Award-winning Irish film that was shot in 17 days and cost just $150,000. The film featured the music of Glen Hansard from the Irish rock band The Frames, and Mark ta Irglov . The duo won an Academy Award for Best Original song for "Falling Slowly," and the soundtrack was nominated for two Grammy Awards.

The book for the musical was written by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, who kept many of the Hansard-Irglov 's songs, including "Falling Slowly." The musical had 11 2012 Tony Award nominations, and won eight, including Best Musical, Best Actor and Best Book. The musical also won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.

"Once" tells the story of an Irish busker played by Stuart Ward and a Czech immigrant played by Dani de Waal, who meet after she hears him playing his guitar in a bar. They are drawn together by their shared love of music, and over the course of one fateful week, their friendship and collaboration evolves into a powerful but complicated romance, heightened by the raw emotion of the songs they create together.

In the musical, the cast also serves as the orchestra. There is a minimal set with a bar at center stage. Cast members who aren't in a a scene sit in chairs at the side of the stage and become the orchestra.

"Once" is directed by Scottish director John Tiffany, who also directed "Black Watch."

Ward, who played the role in the London West End production of "Once," also has appeared in PBS' "Downton Abbey," and is a rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist for British pop star Cliff Richard. De Waal has appeared in "Picnic" on Broadway and the West End's "Mamma Mia."

The set and costume design are by five-time Tony Award-winner Bob Crowley of "Mary Poppins."

Upcoming Broadway Philadelphia productions, presented by the Kimmel Center, include: "Flashdance the Musical," Nov. 19-24; "Disney's Beauty and the Beast," Nov. 26-Dec. 1 and "Jersey Boys," Dec. 11 to Jan. 5.

-- "Once," 8 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 10, Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., Philadelphia. Tickets: $20-$100., 215-893-1999.

'Dreams & Wishes' fundraiser

Local theater performers are joining to raise funds for pediatric cancer with "Dreams & Wishes," a concert of uplifting Broadway songs.

On Nov. 7, 10 singers, who have performed in the Lehigh Valley at Civic Theatre, Muhlenberg College, Pennsylvania Playhouse, Touchstone and other venues, will perform inspirational songs in the Allentown Brew Works' High Gravity Lounge.

Kirsten Rani Almeida, owner of Star of the Day Productions, which has held its spotlight cabarets at Allentown Brew Works since 2011, organized the fundraiser after learning one of her voice students is a cancer survivor.

"Since I was 14, I have been raising money and awareness for cancer in one way or another," Almeida says. "I have lost many friends and family members to the disease."

Part of the show proceeds will help fund "The Butterfly Project," an original theater project planned for 2014 which will benefit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley. The project is a play with music based on the children's book "The Butterbird," which helps children cope with the loss of a friend from childhood cancer. The show combines drama, music and dance as it explores the life and death of a young girl and how her best friend copes with losing her.

Almeida performed in the world premiere of "The Butterfly Project" in 2009 in New Jersey and wants to stage the production in the Lehigh Valley. Almedia just appeared Off-Broadway in "Professor Von Awesome's Ghost Hunting Safari" with Serious Theater Collective.

Many of the performers are familiar faces to theater audiences. Janis Greim was recently seen as Diana in Civic Theatre's production of the musical "Next to Normal." Mike Daniels appeared as Lt. Frank Cioffi in Pennsylvania Playhouse's "Curtains."

Alan Mendez appears in Muhlenberg College's current production of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," and was seen earlier this year in "Company" at Pennsylvania Playhouse. Also appearing in "Company" were Kimberly Tassinaro and Vincent Rostkowski.

Younger performers include Star of the Day high school vocal scholarship competition winners Parkland senior Paige Haring, and Marissa Brewer, a freshman at DeSales University who just appeared in Act 1's "Rodgers & Hart: A Celebration."

Musical direction is by Nate Diehl.

-- "Dreams & Wishes," 7 p.m. Nov. 7, Allentown Brew Works, High Gravity Lounge, 812 Hamilton St., Allentown. Tickets: $10.

'The Penelopiad' at Lafayette

Bestselling Canadian author Margaret Atwood has written a version of the familiar tale of "The Odyssey" that gives the women's side of the story. "The Penelopiad," on stage at Lafayette College Nov. 6-9, explores the story from the viewpoint of Queen Penelope, who must spend eternity in Hades.

Atwood, author of the critically-acclaimed science fiction novel "The Handmaid's Tale," wrote the novella "The Penelopiad" in 2005 as part of a series in which contemporary authors rewrite ancient myths. The book was adapted into a play in 2007.

Rather than focusing on the Trojan War and the exploits of Odysseus, "The Penelopiad" recounts the stories of the women left at home -- the Queen and her 12 handmaidens, who would be hanged by Odysseus and form a chanting and singing chorus. Through the play, Atwood examines gender, class and culpability in the male-dominated world of "The Odyssey."

"I've always been haunted by the hanged maids, and in 'The Penelopiad,' so is Penelope herself," Atwood writes in the foreward to the play.

"The Penelopiad" is directed by Suzanne Westfall.

-- "The Penelopiad," 8 p.m. Nov. 6-9, Lafayette College, Williams Center for the Arts, High and Hamilton streets, Easton. Tickets: $6; $2, students. 610-330-5009.



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