News Column

Theater: Shakespeare Fest stages 'Macbeth' and 'Tenor' in repertory

July 10, 2014

By Kathy Lauer-Williams, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)

July 10--For the fourth season in a row, audiences at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival might be thinking they're seeing double as it produces two plays in repertory on its main stage: "Macbeth" and "Lend Me a Tenor."

In repertory or "rep," the fest at DeSales University in Center Valley alternates two plays with one cast in the same theater. Many of the same actors perform in both "Macbeth" and "Lend Me a Tenor," sometimes on the same day. "Lend Me a Tenor" opened Wednesday and "Macbeth" previews July 17. Both run through Aug. 3.

Actors portraying main characters in both shows are pulling double duty. Performing in repertory gives actors the chance to "stretch themselves," says Patrick Mulcahy, festival artistic director and director of "Macbeth," and gives audiences the opportunity to see favorite actors in more than one role.

Jacob Dresch plays both the opera-loving romantic lead Max in "Lend Me a Tenor" and Malcolm, the son of Duncan, King of Scotland in "Macbeth." Perry Ojeda plays world famous tenor Tito Merelli as well as the vengeful Macduff, Thane of Fife.

Carl N. Wallnau plays the frazzled Henry Saunders, general manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera and the betrayed Duncan, King of Scotland, while Susan Riley Stevens plays both the politically ambitious Lady Macbeth who descends into madness, and grande dame Julia, the chairwoman of the opera guild.

Repertory was once the standard for small community theaters where the same actors performed all the plays out of necessity. As theater companies got larger and more actors were available, directors chose different groups of actors for each play. Now rep is only done by a handful of theaters, Mulcahy says.

He says audiences could make a day of it at the festival, seeing the actors in a matinee of one show and then return to see the same actors in a different show at night.

He says choosing the right two plays to perform together can be quite complex.

"Macbeth," Shakespeare's darkest tragedy, follows the fall into darkness of Macbeth as he, urged on by his wife, first murders the king of Scotland to gain the throne for himself and then becomes a bloody despot.

"Lend Me a Tenor" is a slapstick comedy in which the passed-out famous tenor is mistakenly thought to be dead and the opera house assistant Max goes on in his place as Otello, leading to mistaken identities and confusion.

"It's a great tragedy and a raucous farce," says Mulcahy. He says the goal is to find shows that are appropriately contrasting but can work with casting.

He says one of the challenges of repertory is when the requirements for the shows are so different. He says that except for Lady Macbeth, the cast of "Macbeth" is primarily men, while "Lend Me a Tenor" is split evenly between men and women. He says this forces the directors to cast creatively and so the actresses portray not only the witches in "Macbeth" but also other unexpected characters such as the porter and the bloody captain.

In "Lend Me A Tenor," Deanna Gibson plays Maggie, who is enamored of the famous tenor, as well as the roles of one of the portentous witches, the bloody captain and Lady Macduff.

Playing the rest of the trio of witches is Suzanne O'Donnell, who also portrays Tito's jealous wife Maria, and Eleanor Handley, who also plays ambitious soprano Diana.

Also doubling up is Anthony Lawton, who plays the fan-obsessed bellhop and Macbeth's betrayed friend Banquo.

Ian Bedford, the actor playing the demanding role of the Scottish general-turned-murderer by his lust for power, is appearing only in "Macbeth."

"Lend Me a Tenor" is directed by Jim Helsinger, who directed "The Importance of Being Earnest" last season and also played the role of Lady Bracknell to rave reviews.

The hit comedy, written by York native Ken Ludwig, received nine Tony Award nominations and won two when it debuted on Broadway in 1989. It was revived on Broadway in 2010 and has been performed in more than 30 countries.

"My favorite description of the play is an accelerating snowball of laughter," Mulcahy says. "It has the class and charm of a Kaufman and Hart comedy plus all the door-slamming hilarity of a Marx Brothers classic like 'Room Service.' It's a masterwork of comic mayhem. But it's a farce that has a touch of class since they are preparing for an opera."

Mulcahy says the show contrasts perfectly with "Macbeth," written during Shakespeare's golden era.

"Macbeth" will explore "what happens to the psyche once you cross a certain line. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth each handle that differently but both pay a terrible price," he says. "In 'Macbeth' the natural and supernatural are overlapping. It also is an economical play. It is Shakespeare's shortest and very focused."

Audience members can attend "Prologue," an informal discussion of "Macbeth," in the theater 45 minutes before every show.

On Friday, join the cast of "Lend Me a Tenor" after the show for a champagne toast and meet the actors at an informal talk-back after the show July 31.

Join the cast for champagne after "Macbeth" on July 19 and meet the actors after the July 24 show.

Also available is "Savoring Shakespeare," a dinner themed to "Macbeth," with discussion by Shakespeare scholar June Schlueter. The dinners are at 5:30 p.m.Aug. 2 and 3.

PSF Associate Artistic Director Dennis Razze and Director of Development Deb Walter host a dinner themed "Lend Me a Tenor" at 5:30 p.m.July 16 and 20.

The cost for the dinners is $35 for meal and full bar.

-- "Lend Me a Tenor," 8 p.m.July 10, 11, 16, 23, 25, 31 and Aug. 2; 7 p.m.July 15; 7:30 p.m.Aug. 3; 2 p.m.July 20, 26 and 27.

-- "Macbeth," 8 p.m.July 17-19, 24, 26, 30 and Aug. 1; 7:30 p.m.July 20; 7 p.m.July 22 and 2 p.m.Aug. 2 and 3. DeSales University, Labuda Center, 2755 Station Ave., Center Valley. Tickets: $25-$50. Info: 610-282-9455, http://www.pashakespeare.org.

Civic Theatre's fall season

Civic Theatre of Allentown has announced its fall season. It features four area premieres and the 25th anniversary of the theater's annual production of "A Christmas Carol."

The season opener is "Young Frankenstein," a musical based on the 1974 comedy film "Young Frankenstein," written by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. Brooks wrote the music and lyrics, except for Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz." He also wrote the book with Thomas Meehan. The story parodies the horror film genre, particularly the film "Frankenstein," based on Mary Shelley's book. It debuted in 2007 and was nominated for three Tony awards.

The holiday show will again be "A Christmas Carol" adapted from the Charles Dickens' novel by Civic director Williams Sanders and Sharon Lee Glassman and featuring a large cast of area children.

The first show of the new year will be the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "The Flick" by Annie Baker, which was produced Off-Broadway in 2013. The play follows three employees in a run-down movie theater in central Massachusetts that features one of the last 35 mm film projectors in the state.

The rest of the 2014/2015 season includes [Title of Show] the one-act musical that chronicled its own creation in three weeks as an entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. The show features music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and a book by Hunter Bell, who was nominated for a Tony award for the book in 2008.

The final show of the season is "Breakfast at Tiffany's" based on the 1961 American romantic comedy film starring Audrey Hepburn as the eccentric Holly Golightly, which was inspired by the novella of the same name by Truman Capote.

For more information, go to http://www.civictheatre.com.

Allentown Public Theatre fundraiser

Allentown Public Theatre is holding a fundraiser to benefit its youth program and November production of long-running Off-Broadway hit "The Fantasticks."

The theater and The Associated Mess improv-comedy troupe will present "I Hop'solutely Love America Show," an evening of comedy that includes a Family Feud game show and a sketch comedy that takes on U.S. history. The show is at 8 p.m. Friday at Allentown Brew Works.

-- "I Hop'solutely Love America Show" 8 p.m. Friday. Allentown Brew Works, 812 W. Hamilton St., High Gravity Lounge. Tickets: $10. Info: 610-433-7777, http://www.allentownpublictheatre.com.

kathy.lauer@mcall.com

610-778-2235

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