Muhlenberg’s ‘Pirates of Penzance’
features high seas and high Cs,
Oct. 28 through Nov. 6
Samuel Reyes’ choreography, Charles Richter’s direction
propel Gilbert and Sullivan’s 136-year-old comic opera
out of the past and into the mainstream
Allentown, PA — Fresh direction and choreography will paint a new face on a classic Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta this fall, as the Muhlenberg College theater and dance department presents “The Pirates of Penzance,” Oct. 28 – Nov. 6.
“Expect a night of great family entertainment,” says theater professor Charles Richter, who directs the production. “It’s a work of comic genius and a real pleasure to direct.”
Music director Ed Bara and choreographer Samuel Antonio Reyes add a modern spin while also highlighting the original conventions of the play. Reyes choreographed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” for Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre, this past July. Bara, a member of the music department faculty, also played the lead as a guest artist in the 2014 Muhlenberg production of Kurt Weill’s American opera, “Street Scene.”
“Ed has been a mainstay of the music department for years, and is an expert at coaching students to produce the sort of sound that this show demands,” Richter says. “Sammy is our hip-hop teacher. His choreography is very spunky — really different and interesting.”
Reyes says he loves “Pirates” as much as he loves working with Richter, and that he expects that audiences will be excited by his choreography.
“It’s challenging to perform opera while you’re also moving to very specific stylized movements, gestures, and rhythms,” Reyes says. “This show features such amazing young talent.”
“Pirates” tells the story of an accidental pirate’s apprentice named Frederic and his swashbuckling misadventures on the high seas. Along the way, he encounters the beautiful Mabel, the deceitful Ruth, the powerful Pirate King, and the absurd Major-General Stanley, who patter-sings the famous “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” towards the end of the first act.
“It’s a right work out,” says Nicky Rosolino, one of the two actors who will play Major-General Stanley, of his big song. “There is nothing quite like standing on top of a barrel and boasting about your range of talents to a crowd of pirates and adopted daughters.”
Jake Parisse, the other Major-General, says, “Charlie makes sure that the comedic rhythm of the character is maintained while encouraging Nicky and me to make very different and unique choices.”
Two sets of principal actors will alternate performances to allow vocal rest between shows — and to showcase the talents of the theater and dance department. The cast performs the show’s demanding score with a 21-piece orchestra — and without benefit of microphones.
“I’d think about coming twice,” Richter says. “The show is different with each cast. I think both of them have some really great comics and some really great singers. There are bright futures here.”
Between the Mainstage season and Summer Music Theatre, this is Muhlenberg’s fifth production of “Pirates.” Members of past productions are invited to return to campus for a reunion reception after the performance on Saturday, Nov. 5.
The last production, in 2005, featured what Richter calls “an all-star cast” of actors who have gone on to high-profile success, including Frankie J. Grande (“Rock of Ages,” “Mamma Mia!” on Broadway), George Psomas (“Fiddler on the Roof,” “South Pacific” on Broadway), and Michael Biren (national tour of “Billy Elliot”), among others.
“The Pirate King was one of my favorite roles at Muhlenberg,” say Psomas, who played the fierce but loveable rogue in Richter’s last production. “Who doesn’t want to sing that incredible music, lead a band of pirates, and carry a sword? The experience taught me so much about playing into the unique style and comedy of Gilbert and Sullivan, and it also taught me that I am capable of growing mutton chops.”
Along with “HMS Pinafore” and “The Mikado,” “The Pirates of Penzance” stands the test of time as one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most widely produced and well-received operettas, Richter says. Its wry humor, clever lyrics, and catchy tunes make it popular even 136 years after its premiere.
“The play was written by the best comic writer of his time and the best composer of his time,” Richter says. “It’s a parody of 19th century melodramas and 19th century grand opera. All kinds of zany plot devices happen. Modern audiences have the best time with it. It’s opera for people who think operas are ridiculous.”
The production is family friendly, and young audiences are encouraged to attend. Children who attend the matinee performance on Sunday, Nov. 6 dressed as pirates can attend for just $4.
Thursday, Nov. 3 will be an Accessible Performance, with Open Captioning for patrons with hearing loss and Audio Description for patrons who are blind or low-vision. Please reserve tickets in advance for the accessible section of the performance by calling Jess Bien at 484-664-3087 or emailing email@example.com.
“The Pirates of Penzance” will be performed in the Empie Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts. Performances are Friday, Oct. 28, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 29, at 2 and 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 30, at 2 p.m.; Nov. 3-5, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 6, at 2 p.m. Regular admission is $22. Youth and student tickets are $8, and groups of 15 or more can purchase discount tickets for $16. Tickets and information are available at muhlenberg.edu/theatre or 484-664-3333.
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg College is a highly selective, private, four-year residential college located in Allentown, PA., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, sciences, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Muhlenberg offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. The Princeton Review ranked Muhlenberg’s theater program No. 1 in the country in its 2017 edition, and has consistently ranked the program in the top twelve in the nation. The Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States. Muhlenberg is one of only eight colleges to be listed in Fiske for both theater and dance.
|RUSH TICKETS AVAILABLE!
Last Minute Discount…Only $9.99!
|Lehigh Valley Arts Council
www.LVArtsCouncil.org ◊ www.LVArtsBoxOffice.org
Rush Ticketing is a service of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. For more information, visit:
Blue Bell, PA —Montgomery County Community College will celebrate three decades of bringing world-class entertainment, soul-enriching music, peerless comedy and thought-provoking discussion to the community through its 2016-17 Lively Arts season.
Since 1986, the Lively Art series has connected the community through electrifying musical, dance and theater performances, stimulating workshops and lectures, Young Arts Explorers events and meet-the-artist receptions. This year’s season promises even more with its family series and a new film series. Visit www.mc3.edu/livelyarts or call 215-641-6518 for more information and tickets.
The series continues with a host of musical, theater and comedy performances, including:
· The Capitol Steps (Oct. 16) – The popular, award-winning group will share its special brand of satirical political humor – just in time for the presidential election – through song parodies and skits that play off recent headlines.
· Repertorio Español’s Production of “El Quijote” (Oct. 22) – The classic story of the Man of La Mancha is told in Spanish with English captions by experienced and emerging Latino theater artists.
· The Joey Alexander Trio (Nov. 6) – Child prodigy Joey Alexander, a 13-year-old self-taught Indonesian jazz pianist who released his first album in 2015, has performed for Herbie Hancock and Bill Clinton and at prestigious jazz festivals.
· Charles Lloyd and Friends featuring Bill Frisell, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland (Dec. 4) – Venerated Memphis-born jazz musician and composer Charles Lloyd, who has played with such legends as B.B. King and Bobbie “Blue” Bland and has recorded with The Doors and the Beach Boys, brings his mastery of tenor saxophone, flute, piano and more to audiences in a blend of jazz, world music and other genres.
· Aaron Diehl Quartet featuring Warren Wolf (Feb. 11) – Diehl, a Juilliard grad and Cole Porter jazz fellow who has toured with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, is joined by Berklee-trained multi-instrumentalist and recording artist Warren Wolf for an evening of jazz blended with hip-hop, funk, rock and world music.
· Cyrille Aimée (Feb. 18) – The jazz vocalist and French native, who has been praised by the Wall Street Journal as “astonishingly creative…with a brilliant sound, fresh ideas [and] impeccable rhythm,” brings a gypsy sensibility to her singing.
· James “Blood” Ulmer Odyssey Trio (Feb. 25) – Ulmer, a jazz and blues guitarist, singer and recording artist, applies his southern roots in gospel toward a highly individualized sound described as “a cross between Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Mike Bloomfield.”
· Monnette Sudler’s Philadelphia Guitar Summit “Chord Nation” (Mar. 4) –Philadelphia-native guitar expert Monnette Sudler will present “Chord Nation,” featuring M’OUD Swing Moroccan Oriental Jazz, Paul Bollenback Portraits of Space and Time Quartet with Orin Evans, Mike Boone and Byron Landham, Gloria Galanta Harp Jazz Ensemble featuring Monnette Sudler and introducing Nasir Dickerson, soloist bringing his African melodies on the African harp-Kora.
· Sébastien Lépine (Mar. 12) – Lépine – the award-winning Canadian cellist, chamber musician, conductor and composer who breathes new life into classical music – will join forces with 4 Ailes, a string quartet that has performed all over Quebec and shared the stage with Ingrid St.-Pierre and other accomplished artists.
· Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (Apr. 1) – The Grammy-winning pianist, composer and founding artistic director of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance performs with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, which has preserved the music of his father, the legendary Arturo “Chico” O’Farrill.
· Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (Apr. 7) – Known as the “bad boys of jazz,” this troupe of seven brothers from the south side of Chicago formed a group as children under their trumpet-playing father, Kelan Phil Cohran, and has played with everyone from Prince to Mick Jones of The Clash.
· Koresh Dance Company (Apr. 29) – Now in its 25th year, this acclaimed dance company led by Israeli founder Ronen “Roni” Koresh has toured extensively and been praised for its “rich, multicultural blend of intensity and physicality” offering “all the finesse and grace of a ballet with the athleticism of an Olympic sport.”
New this year in honor of the Lively Arts’ 30th anniversary, the College will debut a film series sponsored by Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation On Screen/In Person. Films include:
· You Belong to Me (Oct. 18, 3 p.m.), an expose of what it meant to be an African American in the Jim Crow South in the 1950s as seen through the lens of a bizarre sex- and race-related murder.
· Love thy Nature (Nov. 8, 4 p.m.), a cinematic journey narrated by Liam Neeson about the beauty and intimacy of our relationship with the natural world.
· Hilleman: A Perilous Quest to Save our World’s Children (Feb. 8, 3 p.m.), which profiles the man who led a revolution in vaccine innovation that saved millions of young lives.
· Real Boy (Mar. 21, 7 p.m.), a coming-of-age story about a transgender teenager on a journey to find his voice as a musician, a friend, a son and a man.
· States of Grace (Apr. 13, 3 p.m.), an award-winning portrait of devotion and trust that documents one woman’s fight to restore her life with her partner and teenage daughter after a tragic accident results in a seven-week coma and a dozen surgeries.
In its annual Young Arts Explorers series, the College will engage children through highly entertaining, educational performances, including:
· Janet’s Planets (Jan. 26), a live performance from Janet Ivey of the popular TV show in which she explores science, technology, engineering, art, math and the wonders of the galaxy through an imaginative, interactive learning adventure
· Seussical (Jan. 27), a musical presented by TheatreWorks USA that takes audiences into the world of Dr. Seuss through a story of friendship, loyalty, the power of being unique and the importance of fighting for your beliefs
For its new Family Series, the College will engage audiences of all ages with:
· Seussical (Jan. 28), a musical presented by TheatreWorks USA that takes audiences into the world of Dr. Seuss through a story of friendship, loyalty, the power of being unique and the importance of fighting for your beliefs ·
Okee Dokee Brothers (Mar. 11), the Grammy-winning performers who use family-oriented Americana folk music to inspire kids to go outside, be creative and gain a greater respect for the natural world and their communities
The Lively Arts Series events are held in the Science Center Theater at the College’s Central Campus, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell.
For more information, visit mc3.edu/livelyarts, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Box Office at 215-641-6518. Follow the College’s “Destination Arts” page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DestinationArts.
|ALLENTOWN, PA – Dragon sightings are on the rise in the Lehigh Valley and that is exciting news for our arts community! On the big screen, movie-goers are enjoying the performance of Allentown child actor Oakes Fegley in the title role of Pete’s Dragon. Another fire-breathing beast greets visitors at the entrance of the new manufacturing facilities of Smooth-On, Inc. in East Texas. Dragons are powerful, mythological creatures that epitomize courage, vigor, and unbridled imagination—vital attributes for risk-takers like artists.
In homage to the dragons in our midst, the Lehigh Valley Arts Council invites you to ignite your imagination at ARTS COUNT 2016, the annual arts rally and grant award ceremony. The magic happens on October 19, 2016, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Smooth-On, 1725 Willow Lane, East Texas, PA 18046.
“We are very grateful to Smooth-On for hosting this event,” says Randall Forte, Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. “This international arts business is a giant in the realm of special effects.“ Smooth-On’s technologies and materials have been used to make movie figures and props for Star Wars, The Hobbit Trilogy, Harry Potter, The Walking Dead, and many other films and TV shows. (As a special treat, the Smooth-On staff will be on hand to give you scars, bruises, and bloody gashes.)
ARTS COUNT also serves as the occasion for the Lehigh Valley Arts Council to distribute grant awards to the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts (PPA) Project Stream recipients in Carbon, Lehigh and Northampton counties. Project Stream is open to individual artists and community groups who apply for support of an arts-related project with strong public impact. More than $34,000 in state funds will be awarded to 22 applicants for activities held from September 1, 2016 through August 31, 2017.
“ARTS COUNT celebrates the public/private partnerships that fuel the arts in our region,” says Executive Director Randall Forte, “and features local business and foundation leaders giving testimony on the value and impact of the arts.” Locally elected officials are invited to present checks to the grant recipients from their districts. In keeping with the spirit of fellowship, Arts Council members are encouraged to bring a guest and rally for the arts.
The October reception is free to Arts Council members and grant recipients; the cost to guests and nonmembers is $10. Refreshments will be served. R.S.V.P. to 610-437-5915 to attend.
For more information about the PPA grant application, contact PA Partners in the Arts Coordinator Zach Kleemeyer at ppa@LVArtsCouncil.org.
List of 2016-17 PPA Grant Awardees:
ALLENTOWN, PA — Muhlenberg College’s nationally-ranked Theatre & Dance Department announces its 2016-2017 mainstage season. Highlights include classics by Gilbert & Sullivan and Anton Chekhov, a dance-theatre performance based on Harlem drag ball culture, a rarely produced Gertrude Stein play, and works by acclaimed guest choreographers.
The season features six fully mounted theatrical productions and three mainstage dance concerts, running from September 2016 through April 2017.
The season begins with “Attention: New Visions Directors’ Festival,” Sept. 28 through Oct. 2, featuring two short plays directed by senior Muhlenberg directing students: “The Imaginary Audience,” by Maddie Brickman, presented in its world premiere, directed by Emma Steiger; and “Oh, the Humanity, and Other Short Plays,” by Will Eno, directed by Sarah Bedwell.
Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic swashbuckling comic opera “The Pirates of Penzance” is presented Oct. 28 through Nov. 6, directed by Charles Richter, with choreography by Samuel Antonio Reyes and musical direction by Ed Bara.
“Moving Stories,” Nov. 10-12, features original choreography by the department’s upper-class dance majors, in a variety of genres and styles. The concert showcases dance as storytelling, narration in human form, addressing themes as broad ranging as the students’ own diverse backgrounds.
“Falling: New Visions Directors’ Festival” continues this season’s series of short plays, with classic short works directed by talented senior directing students. The evening’s plays include “Salome,” by Oscar Wilde, directed by Simon Evans, and “Icarus’s Mother,” by Sam Shepard, directed by Karina Fox. The festival runs Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.
“Master Choreographers,” Feb. 9-11, will feature major restagings and original works in ballet, contemporary dance, tap, and jazz, showcasing work by nationally and internationally acclaimed guest artists and faculty. Guest choreographers include Orion Duckstein, Cristina Perera, and Trinette Singleton.
Gertrude Stein’s “Listen to Me,” directed by James Peck, is a rarely produced avant garde play — a cerebral frolic in the face of planetary crisis, in which characters philosophize, laugh, and struggle heroically to hold onto hope as their prospects dim. The show runs Feb. 22-26.
“Wig Out!,” up-and-coming playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney’s tell-it-like-it-is look at the Harlem drag ball scene, is presented March 30 through April 2. The production is directed by Troy Dwyer and features choregraphy by Samuel Antonio Reyes.
“Dance Emerge,” April 19-22, showcases the ideas and talents of our brightest young choreographers. The intimate Dance Studio Theatre is the backdrop for innovative, explorative dance pieces. Jeffrey Peterson serves as artistic director.
The season concludes with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s classic “The Cherry Orchard,” a bittersweet comedy about love and loss, playing April 26-29. Matthew Moore directs, with a faculty spotlight performance by Holly Cate.
The mainstage performance series is produced by Muhlenberg College’s acclaimed Theatre & Dance Department, currently ranked the No. 1 production program in the country by The Princeton Review. The Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.
Discounts are available for packages of four or more productions. Tickets and information: 484-664-3333 or http://www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre&dance
Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg is a highly selective, private, four-year residential, liberal arts college located in Allentown, Pa., approximately 90 miles west of New York City. With an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2200 students, Muhlenberg College is dedicated to shaping creative, compassionate, collaborative leaders through rigorous academic programs in the arts, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences as well as selected pre-professional programs, including accounting, business, education and public health. A member of the Centennial Conference, Muhlenberg competes in 22 varsity sports. Muhlenberg is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Pottstown, PA – Classical Guitarist Russell Ferrara begins the 2016 fall season with 3 formal and informal performances in Pottstown. He will perform for the Steel River Playhouse Gala on Saturday September 10 at 7:00 PM, for Pottstown FARM on High Street on September 15 with sets interspersed throughout the 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM event. On September 24 he will present informal performances as well as pop up classes on guitar and ukulele at the Pottstown Latin Festival. Information and
tickets to the Steel River Playhouse Gala are available at steelriver-playhouse.org. Pottstown FARM and the Pottstown Latin Festival are free and open to the public.
These performances mark the end of a highly productive summer for Ferrara, who has been performing and teaching in and around Pottstown since the opening of Steel River playhouse in 2008. He began the summer with a 10 day trip to Georgia to perform, teach and direct guitar ensembles with his flute playing partner Kim Robson. Upon returning from Georgia he taught ukulele classes and workshops at Pottstown Middle School and Steel River Playhouse, made his first appearance at Pottstown FARM and went immediately into rehearsals for the Wings of Hope benefit concert at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville. From there he and Robson began sessions for their completed but as yet unreleased album. He took time away from the studio only to do a run in the pit band of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at the SALT theater in Yellow Springs.
Ferrara begins this month presenting the class “Ukulele Fun” at Steel River Playhouse. Designed to provide an introduction to playing string instruments, “Ukulele Fun” uses music familiar to everyone to build solid playing skills. The format of the class is ensemble based with everyone playing together in a fast-paced fun environment. Ferrara brings his years of experience performing and directing guitar ensembles to the design and format of the class. Further information can be found at steelriver-playhouse.org.
|MESSAGE FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: What I Did This Summer
This summer I have been out front in the Lehigh Valley more than usual, surveying audiences at various arts events. The study, Arts & Economic Prosperity V, is part of a national study to determine the economic impact of the nonprofit arts industry.
Sounds dry, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s been fun to mingle with arts patrons and bump into old friends at the theatre or a concert. It is too early to tell, but attendance at these events seems very strong.
The data collection continues through 2016, and the results of the analysis will be released in Spring 2017 at a public forum, Whose Business is the Arts? For the past twenty years, the Lehigh Valley region has enjoyed double-digit increases that are far above the national average. The previous study in 2012 determined that arts and culture was a $208 million industry. It will be fascinating to see what the numbers tell us this time. Maybe I am turning into a data-geek!
Genesis Housing is joining with the Hill School, Art Fusion 19464, Pottstown Athletic Club, Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, CustomFit and others to create a day for families to spend time together learning about low-cost outdoor and indoor activities available in our area.
The Pottstown Community Field Day will take place on Saturday, August 27th from 11 AM – 2 PM (Rain date: Sunday, August 28th) at the Chestnut Street Park (Washington & Chestnut Streets). There will be 15 stations of fitness/sports or other activities for group participation for about 5 minutes. The DJ will play family appropriate music continuously until the 5 minutes are up. At that time, the DJ will use audio equipment to announce SWITCH and each group will move on to a new station. Each participant will receive a coin for every station they complete. When they complete 10 stations, participants will receive a free gift. We will track how many people completed the minimum challenge equating to at least 45 minutes of fitness.
We are asking for area businesses and organizations to participate in the 3-hour event by making a donation, facilitating fitness stations and setting up information tables. In appreciation for any organization that donates and/or participates, we will advertise their company in social media outlets and in printed materials. We will also provide the opportunity to set up an information table and include coupons or other information in the free gift packs.
For more information or to support the event, please contact me at email@example.com or (484) 300-2410. Please join us and be a part of this great day!
The attached PDF file is a wealth of information about summer events for the whole family that are going on in Pottstown this summer.
Allentown, PA — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights” — the precursor to his blockbuster Broadway hit “Hamilton” — runs July 13-31 as the second production of the Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre season. The show tells a story that many of its cast hold close to their hearts: the story of families and cultures that have been transplanted from far away.
Many of the show’s 20 actors and dancers can tell you a story about their families coming to the mainland United States from Puerto Rico, or Cuba, or the Dominican Republic. For some, that story is not so long in the past. Wilma Rivera, for example, is a professional actress, a Muhlenberg College alumna, and a first-generation American. She says “In the Heights” is the story of her family.
“When I saw ‘In the Heights’ on Broadway, there was this moment when the music of the first number started, and it captured so beautifully the experience of what it’s like to be a Latino,” says Rivera, who plays Camila. “It’s that struggle to maintain an identity and also to assimilate — especially in New York City.”
“In the Heights” was a hit when it opened in 2008, running more than a thousand performances and bringing its composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to the attention of theatergoers. Miranda’s innovative score melded the rhymes and rhythms of hip-hop with the Latin-style music of salsa and merengue, and, together with Quiara Alegría Hudes’ book, captured the sights, sounds and stories of the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.
The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical and was short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize the following year. Miranda also won the Tony for Best Score. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and musical director Alex Lacamoire also won Tony Awards for their Latin- and hip-hop-inflected choreography and orchestrations. The three would reunite with director Thomas Kail to create “Hamilton.”
“Miranda is deeply versed in ’90s hip-hop,” says James Peck, who directs the production for Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. “He picks up beats and rhythm structures and song structures from hip-hop, and he incorporates salsa, merengue, and other Latin styles — but he’s also a musical theatre fanboy from the age of five. The results are really a musical tour-de-force.”
MSMT’s production features choreography by Samuel Antonio Reyes and musical direction by Ed Bara. John Raley designed the set, Lex Gurst designed costumes, John McKernon designed lights, and Patrick Moren designed sound.
Peck credits choreographer Reyes as a driving force behind bringing the show to the MSMT stage.
“Sammy is a hip-hop dancer, a theater artist, and a Puerto Rican. He has a deep understanding of the cultural dynamics at work in this piece,” Peck says. “I wouldn’t have had the temerity to the play without him. It was Sammy saying, ‘I’ve got to do “In the Heights”‘ that made it come together.”
“In the Heights” tells the universal story of a vibrant community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood — a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind.
Miranda himself was born in Washington Heights, and grew up in Linwood, one neighborhood over. His parents had moved to New York from Puerto Rico, and every summer, he visited his grandparents back on the island.
Wilma Rivera’s classmate at Muhlenberg, Gabe Martínez, also remembers feeling like he was watching his own family’s history on stage when he first saw “In the Heights.” Martínez saw the show for the first time a year to the day after his grandmother passed away.
“The actress who played Abuela Claudia was the spitting image of my abuela,” says Martínez, who stars as Usnavi, the role that Miranda played on Broadway. “As soon as she walked out on stage, my father and I started weeping. We were at the matinee; I bought the cast recording on the way home and had it memorized by the time I went to bed.”
Martínez’s grandparents moved from Puerto Rico to New York in the 1940s, shortly after his grandfather returned from service in World War II.
“They wrote to each other every day, planning their move to New York, the American dream,” Martínez says. “When the war was over, he hadn’t been home a week when they bought a plane ticket and headed to the Bronx.”
Rivera has a similar connection to the material. Her father immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the early 1970s. Her mother was born in East Harlem, but moved to Puerto Rico as a small child. Both came from poverty, she says. Her mother was the only one in her family to go to college. When Rivera went off to Muhlenberg to study acting, she was the first in her family to attend college on the mainland — and, like Nina in “In the Heights,” she almost gave it up after her freshman year. Department chair Charles Richter talked her into staying.
“‘We need you here,’ he told me.”
Rivera and Martínez were the only two Latino students in the theater program at the time. Neither of them ever had the chance before now to play a Latino character on the Muhlenberg stage — and the opportunity is what drew them back. Both of them have worked steadily as actors since graduating — Rivera in 2009, and Martínez in 2010 — but they have had to be flexible in order to do it.
“I’ve spent my entire professional career praying to see a casting call saying ‘ethnically ambiguous — slash — Latino,'” Martínez says. “We were the only two Latino kids in our class, and now there are lots of kids, and this is their first professional gig, and we’re just so happy for them to start out this way, that these kids are having this opportunity.”
Rivera echoes his enthusiasm.
“This department has really embraced students of color and encouraged their talents, and really raised them up,” she says. “I’m very proud of this college and to be an alumna of this college, and I just hope it continues to grow.”
Martínez and Rivera’s deep connection to “In the Heights” is a common thread through the entire cast, Peck says.
“When people have a chance to be part of a show that speaks to their own experience, they make a significant personal investment in that show,” he says. “It’s rare that these stories get told, and when people have the chance to be a part of these stories, they grab onto that chance.”
In fact, Rivera’s connection to the show runs so deep that she got a tattoo of one of its lyrics, “Paciencia y fe,” a song sung by Abuela Claudia. The lyric reminds her of her own abuela, who died in January.
“It’s heartbreaking to lose that matriarch of a Latin family,” Rivera says. “She’s the stone and we’re all the ripples of what she leaves behind. It holds weight, I think, in this world, that we remember who we are and where we’re from. Gabe and I are very lucky that we have that image of our parents and remember the struggle.”
The actor who plays Abuela Claudia in the production — jazz vocalist, scholar and activist Roberta Meek — agrees. Meek had only one grandparent growing up, and ike Abuela Claudia — and like Rivera and Martínez’s abuelas — she was the keeper of the family’s stories.
“My grandmother was literally the historian of the family,” Meek says. “Her father was born into slavery, and he had been searching for his mother ever since. My grandmother was the griot,” the person who maintains the oral history tradition in many West African cultures. “You came to her for school.”
“In the Heights” is Meek’s first musical theater performance, although she has been performing as a jazz vocalist in the Lehigh Valley for more than 20 years. She also contributed stories and songs to the Touchstone Theatre project “Another River Flows: a Celebration of the Lehigh Valley Black Experience.”
One of the things that “In the Heights” gets right, Rivera says, is the sabor — the flavor of Latin culture and of the Washington Heights community.
“This show is packed full of sabor,” she says.
Some of that flavor is visual; much of it comes from the rhythm and choreographic energy that choreographer Samuel Reyes has brought to the project.
“The blend of salsa, hip-hop and contemporary movement is very exciting for me as a choreographer — and we have found such a dynamic, crazy talented cast,” Reyes says. “This show is going to punch a hole in the wall, both visually and emotionally. I’m just so damn proud to be part of it.”
“In the Heights” plays July 13-31 at Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre. Performances take place in the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Ticket prices for the first four performances are $33 regular admission; seniors, $29; students and children, $18. Prices for the rest of the run are $39 regular admission; seniors, $36; students and children, $20.
Tickets and information are available at http://www.muhlenberg.edu/smt or 484-664-3333.
The Lehigh Valley Arts Council announces to the community the release of the new ARTix Passport to the Arts, a buy-one, get-one-free ticket to eighteen arts and cultural venues through June 30, 2017. Dance, musical, theatrical, and historical offerings are just some of the travel destinations offered by the passport.
“This year marks the 18th anniversary of this successful arts marketing promotion,” says Randall Forte, Arts Council Executive Director. “The Lehigh Valley Arts Council is proud to provide regional leadership that advances the arts in this growing community.”
Over the years, the Arts Council has increased the circulation of ARTix and opened the door wider for all people to enjoy the arts. Real estate and corporate relocation offices give passports to new residents relocating to the Valley. Local health networks encourage volunteers to enjoy the arts as part of a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, the social service sector offers ARTix to their clients with disabilities, allowing them affordable access to disability-friendly events. There is definitely something for everyone to enjoy—from symphonic to folk music, fine arts to vintage cars, Shakespeare to Broadway musicals—fun and entertainment for the entire family.
The most direct way to receive your very own ARTix Passport to the Arts is simply join the Arts Council. An Individual Membership is reasonably priced at $40 annually. With passport in hand, start planning your itinerary today and build your circle of arts friends. Members also receive discounts to workshops and conferences, subscriptions to the bimonthly Inside the Arts, / Arts Calendar and Lehigh Valley Style, and free admission to the annual spring and fall membership receptions.
ARTix Passport is made possible through the support of Christmas City Printing, The County of Lehigh, and The Harry C. Trexler Trust.