July 07--What does a comedy about a wise-cracking green ogre and a musical based on the scriptures have in common?
One is an over-the-top, costume-heavy extravaganza with a cast of 50 and the other is a series of parables relayed by an intimate cast of 11. But both are being produced in Bethlehem by groups of young people to raise money for causes important to them.
"Shrek, The Musical," the Tony-winning musical based on a Dreamworks hit film, runs July 11-21 at Broughal Middle School. It will be the latest production by Sing for America to raise funds for military families. To date the group, made up of the five Gilbert siblings of Easton, has raised more than $30,000 from its productions.
"Godspell" is being staged by a new group, A Bold Choice Theater Company, on July 12 and 13 at Bethlehem Catholic High School. The company, headed by a trio of college students, hopes to raise money to help teenagers struggling with depression and self-harm.
Both feature crew and casts who are doing most of the work themselves, as they fundraise to pay for theatrical rights, sets, props and costumes.
"Putting together this show has been a community effort," says Anthony Marchetta of A Bold Choice. "We have been repeatedly touched and amazed with the incredible generosity people have shown us."
Getting the rights to "Shrek The Musical," which is premiering in the Lehigh Valley, was a coup for the Gilberts, which include Taryn, Tasia, Teara, Jorne and Jewel.
Licensing for community theaters to perform the show. which ran on Broadway from 2008 to 2011, just became available in June, and Taryn Gilbert says she and her brothers and sisters had little hope of getting the first area rights.
"We applied for it," she says. "But we didn't think we'd get the rights."
However they did and now are gearing up for the two-week run of the musical, which faithfully recreates Dreamwork's 2001 blockbuster "Shrek" on stage.
The siblings, who range in age from 16 to 23, have performed as a family singing group since they were little, and always donated their proceeds to a charitable cause.
When they performed for Blue Star Mothers of Lehigh Valley, they were impressed with that group's work and have since dedicated the money they raise to the group's emergency fund, which helps local military families with bills, travel expenses and other emergency needs.
In 2011, the siblings decided to expand their efforts into producing a full length musical ,with "Cinderella: The Enchanted Edition."
"We wanted to couple doing what we love to do with something that was good for the community," Taryn Gilbert says. "And we wanted to involve others in our mission."
That successful show was followed by "White Christmas" in 2011 and "The Wiz" in 2012. Gilbert says "Shrek" has been the group's biggest challenge.
Taryn Gilbert says "Shrek" also has the largest cast they have every worked with.
She admits it's hard work putting on a show to raise money for a cause.
Challenges include constructing complicated costumes for fairy tale characters like Humpty Dumpty, the Big Bad Wolf and Pinocchio. They also will use prosthetics for Josh Simpson, who plays Shrek, and Christopher Ryland, who plays Donkey. They have built a wooden apparatus for Juan Padilla to walk on his knees as the height-impaired Lord Farquaad. There will be puppetry for the opening scene and they are creating a giant dragon puppet.
The complex set includes a forest and a moving castle turret that turns from Fiona's tower to Farquaad's castle.
A small orchestra will accompany the Grammy-nominated score, which includes songs like "Big, Bright Beautiful World," "I Know It's Today," Donkey's hilarious "Don't Let Me Go," "Freak Flag," "What's Up, Duloc?;" and "I'm a Believer," which is featured in the film.
"We knew it was going to be hard," Gilbert says. "But it's been a lot of fun. It's a really fun show."
A Bold Choice Theatre Company was founded last year by Anthony Marchetta, Brian Caboose and Travis Brewer.
Brewer, who had performed in several of Sing For America's productions, suggested to Marchetta and Caboose, that they put on their own show and have the profits go to help teenagers struggling with depression, self-harm, and thoughts of suicide.
All three had known young people suffering from depression and agreed it was an important cause to support.
"Getting help for issues stemming from depression, self-harm, and suicide isn't easy," Marchetta says. "It's always a fear in the back of your mind, when you're talking to an extremely depressed person, that suicide might be the next step. It's frightening."
He says the group's name seemed obvious.
"It was a bold choice just to attempt this," he says. "It was pretty crazy. We were people who knew nothing at all about putting on a show and with absolutely no money or resources whatsoever. We didn't know any better."
However they found supporters every step of the way. Bethlehem Catholic High School offered them a stage; the licensing company gave them a discount on the fee for the rights and even gave them one free production. Forks United Church of Christ gave them rehearsal space.
Brewer enlisted David Kunz, a theater major at Northampton Community College, as director, and Dale Grandfield, director of music at Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, as choreographer.
They rounded up a cast of fellow college students, mostly from Northampton Community College, for the musical based on the gospel according to Matthew, which features a hit score by Stephen Schwartz that includes "Day by Day." The production stars Sebastian Paff as Jesus and Brent Schlosshauer as Judas.
"They are a very young, talented, energetic cast," Marchetta says. "They are very exciting to watch perform."
-- "Shrek, The Musical," 7 p.m. July 11-13, July 18-20 and 2 p.m. July 14 and July 21, Broughal Middle School, 114 W. Morton St., Bethlehem. Tickets: $10. Info: http://www.singforamerica.com, 610-417-2189.
-- "Godspell," 7:30 p.m. July 12; 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. July 13, Bethlehem Catholic High School, 2133 Madison Ave., Bethlehem. Tickets: $12, adults; $10, students; $8, seniors, military and children under 10; donation only for Saturday matinee. 610-417-3265, email@example.com
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