‘Ulysses In Nighttown’ At Muhlenberg, April 27-30‏

Allentown, PA — “Ulysses,” James Joyce’s 1922 epic widely regarded as one of the most important works of modernist literature, takes the stage at Muhlenberg College, in an adaptation that director James Peck describes as “weird, sexy, and a little dangerous.” “Ulysses in Nighttown” plays April 27-30 to conclude the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department’s mainstage season.

Peck says the production employs vivid imagery, unconventional storytelling techniques, and Joyce’s own spectacularly vivid language to capture “a journey into the unconscious.” The play excerpts one lengthy episode of the novel (known to Joyce aficionados as the Circe episode), taking place mostly in the red-light district of Dublin, Ireland.

“The play gives shape to the desires of the three characters at the heart of ‘Ulysses,’” says Peck, a professor of theater at Muhlenberg. “It is surreal, stream-of-consciousness — we go inside the minds of the characters, experience their hallucinations and their faltering sanity. The play is coherent, but it’s coherent in the way that dreams are coherent.”

Aching for fellowship, middle-aged ad salesman Leopold Bloom pursues the alienated young novelist Stephen Dedalus on a late-night bender through Dublin’s red light district. There they find themselves confronting their feverish fears and passions, haunted by their transgressions and fetishes. Full of portent and hallucination, Joyce’s sprawling text takes a dark turn in this episode, which playwright Marjorie Barkentin has adapted as a stand-alone narrative, with context derived from the rest of the novel.

At a fundamental level, Peck says, “Ulysses in Nighttown” is the story of a friendship between two men dealing with loss — Stephen with the loss of his mother, and Bloom with the death of his child and the disintegration of his marriage to Molly, who he knows has taken to pursuing affairs with other men. But the play, like the novel, hardly lends itself to simple synopsis.

The production will feature an original musical score by percussionist Douglas Ovens, a professor and former department chair of music at Muhlenberg, who has previously provided music for “Orlando,” “The Other Shore,” “The Possibilities,” and other plays at Muhlenberg. Ovens will play the score himself in performance.

Peck says he was moved to direct the play by its storytelling challenges and by Joyce’s linguistic virtuosity — but also for more personal reasons.

“I hadn’t done anything strange for a while, and I wanted to do something strange,” he says. “I also think this is some of the most evocative English language that has ever been written. I wanted to delve into that language in the way that creating a production for the stage forces you to do.”

He continues: “I think when I was in my 20s, when I first read ‘Ulysses,’ I identified with the character of Stephen. Now in my 50s, I feel like I identify more with Bloom. When you’re younger, you feel like the world of possibilities is wide open. Then as you get older you find that as many doors are closed to you as are open. I think the play delves very deeply into that maturation, that sense of gain and simultaneous loss that comes with maturity.”

“Ulysses in Nighttown” plays April 27-30. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Regular admission tickets are $15. Tickets for youth and LVAIC students and staff are $8. The production is recommended for mature audiences.

Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre or by phone at 484-664-3333. Performances are in the Empire Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

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Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance 2015-2016 Season‏

ALLENTOWN, PA — Muhlenberg College’s nationally-ranked Theatre & Dance Department announces its 2015-2016 mainstage season. Highlights include works ranging from James Joyce’s “Ulysses” to 18th commedia dell’arte; a biannual festival of student-written plays; and production of the musical theatre classic “Chicago.”

The season features six fully mounted theatrical productions and three mainstage dance concerts, running from September 2015 to April 2016.

“This exciting season features the new and the newly imagined,” says Beth Schachter, chair of the department. “We are presenting world premieres and fresh versions of classics, spanning international topics and American issues through comedic and serious projects.”

The season begins with “New Voices,” Sept. 30 through Oct. 4, a new-play festival featuring the work of current Muhlenberg students. The festival features four world premiere short plays, with Schachter serving as artistic director.

The old razzle dazzle of John Kander and Fred Ebb’s electrifying Jazz Age musical “Chicago” comes to the Muhlenberg stage for the first time ever, Oct. 30 through Nov. 8. Directed by theatre program director Charles Richter, “Chicago” is a scintillating tale of greed, murder, showbiz — and all that jazz.

“Moving Stories,” Nov. 12-14, features original choreography by the department’s upperclass 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. Karen Dearborn serves as artistic director.

Carlo Goldoni’s classic 1746 comedy “Servant of Two Masters” finishes the fall schedule, Dec. 3-6, directed by Muhlenberg faculty member Francine Roussel. Presented in the classic tradition of the Italian Renaissance, the play features stock characters of the commedia dell’arte style, wearing traditional-style masks and costumes.

“Master Choreographers,” Feb. 6-8, with artistic direction by Karen Dearborn, features eight works by faculty and guest artists, including a piece by renowned choreographer Karol Armitage, sponsored by the Dexter F. & Dorothy H. Baker Foundation. Also included will be works by Shelley Oliver, Heidi Cruz-Austin, Jeffrey Peterson, and program chair Karen Dearborn.

The “New Visions” Directors’ Festival, Feb. 24-28 will feature three short plays directed by senior Muhlenberg directing students: “Terrible Beautiful Bodies,” by Muhlenberg alumni Ben Nassau and Moriah Benjoseph; “Hello Out There,” by William Saroyan; and “The Exception and the Rule,” by Bertolt Brecht.

“Dance Emerge,” April 21-24, 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 Muhlenberg Circus Workshop now in its third year, will present an evening of contemporary circus in the college’s Studio Theatre, April 21-24. The Workshop’s performances combine the talents of aerialists, acrobats, jugglers, dancers, actors and other skilled artists in an evening of interactive and energetic performances.

A portion of James Joyce’s classic novel “Ulysses” is adapted for the stage in “Ulysses in Nighttown,” April 28 – May 1. Directed by theatre professor James Peck, the play tackles the rich language of Joyce’s esoteric 1922 novel — in particular, Episode 15, the “Circe” episode, taking place in Nighttown, Dublin’s red-light district.

The mainstage performance series is produced by Muhlenberg College’s acclaimed Theatre & Dance Department, The Princeton Review consistently ranks Muhlenberg’s production program in the top 20 in the nation, including a No. 6 ranking in its current college guide. The Fiske Guide to Colleges lists both the theater and dance programs among the top small college programs in the United States.

Tickets and information: 484-664-3333 or http://muhlenberg.edu/theatre&dance. Discounts are available for packages of four or more productions.

Founded in 1848, Muhlenberg 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 2200 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.

‘Moving Stories’ Dance Concert Showcases Innovative Work By Dtudent Choreographers, Dancers In Nationally Acclaimed Dance Program

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Allentown, Pa.Muhlenberg College dancers tell their stories through movement, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents “Moving Stories,” a showcase for dance works created by emerging choreographers, Nov. 14-16 in the College’s Baker Theatre.

Dance Program chair Karen Dearborn says the nine student choreographers selected for the program have created sophisticated and innovative dances, informed by their liberal arts education, and intended to probe and illuminate the human experience. This season, the show also will feature a premiere piece by Muhlenberg faculty member Teresa VanDenend Sorge.

“‘Moving Stories’ is designed to inspire and challenge audiences,” says Dearborn, who serves as artistic director for the performance. “These visually lush dances offer a view of our present and future through contemporary eyes. It is always exciting to be enveloped in these kinetic and symbolic works of art — to be moved by the movement.”

The concert will showcase 56 dancers from the department’s dance program, among the most highly regarded programs of its kind. The concert features costume and lighting designs by the department’s acclaimed professional staff.

The ten original dances include contemporary jazz, jazz styles and modern works that investigate female body image, women’s power in the Roman Empire, self-discovery and empowerment, exploitation of female sexuality, and time and memory. Choreographers drew inspiration from everything from poetry and paintings to the relationship between a magician and his assistant.

Muhlenberg College’s Theatre & Dance Department offers one of the top-rated college performance programs in the county, according to the Princeton Review rankings. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and dance. It has been named annually among The Fiske Guide to Colleges’ top 20 small college programs in the United States, and the American College Dance Festival Association has consistently recognized dances premiered on the Muhlenberg stage for excellence in choreography and performance.

“Moving Stories” runs Nov. 14-16 in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, MuhlenbergCollege, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Performances are Thursday and Friday, Nov. 14-15, at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, Nov. 16, at 2 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for patrons 17 and under, and $8 for students, faculty and staff of all LVAIC colleges.  For groups of 15 or more, tickets are $13.

Tickets and information are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/dance

The Audience Decides The Outcome Of ‘The Mystery Of Edwin Drood,’ Opening Oct. 25 At Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College

Logo of Muhlenberg College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rupert Holmes’ Tony Award-winning musical calls on the audience to determine the ending to Dickens’ unfinished murder mystery

Allentown, PA – An ensemble of 37 actors will enlist the audience’s help to finish the story of Charles Dickens’ final novel, when the musical “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” opens at Muhlenberg College, Oct. 25.

Composer Rupert Holmes’ Tony Award-winning musical presents Dickens’ murder mystery as a play within a play. The world of Victorian music hall and melodrama is the backdrop for the exploits of the Theatre Royale, whose actors attempt to complete the unfinished story.

The musical plays Oct. 25 through Nov. 3 in Muhlenberg’s Empire Theatre, in the Baker Center for the Arts.

“‘Drood’ appeals to me because of the show’s wild spirit,” says Muhlenberg theater professor Charles Richter, who directs the production. “Hopefully our production will capture that whimsical essence.”

The play’s most whimsical and most challenging element is its ending: there isn’t one. When the actors of the Theatre Royale reach the point in the story when Dickens laid down his pen for good, they turn to the audience to determine how the story will end. Who turns out to be the murderer? It’s up to the audience.

In fact, patrons have four decisions to make about the outcome of the play. They must select a murderer, a detective in disguise, and a pair of lovers. There are hundreds of possible permutations — and the cast must be ready for any of them.

“The main hook of the show is that the audience determines what will happen,” Richter says. “As far as I know, that makes ‘Drood’ unique among musicals.”

All those extra endings make for extra work for the cast, who will prepare an entire hour of material for potential endings, much of which may never be performed. Senior Stefanie Goldberg, who plays Drood, says she expects some fierce but good-natured competition among the cast to turn the voting in their favor. After all, the “winners” get to perform an extra song at the end of the show.

“I think it’s a different process for everyone, because there are so many different layers with which to work,” Goldberg says. “It’s a challenge for any actor. It’s just as exciting for us as it is for the audience.”

Dickens began writing “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” in 1870 but died the same year. The novel was to be published in 12 installments, but he completed only six, leaving his readers on the edge of their seats. Subsequent authors and playwrights, including Dickens’ son, tried to complete the story, without success.

Fast-forward 100 years or so; pop composer Rupert Holmes rediscovered the mysterious unfinished novel. Having spent his childhood in London, Holmes was familiar with the style of British Musical Hall performances. He used his own childhood experiences at the theater and his growing interest for the novel to build the musical version of “Drood.”

Best known for his 1970s hit “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” Holmes says he undertook the project because he was looking for a challenge.

“I’d been a relatively successful pop songwriter, I’d done a couple albums with Barbra Streisand,” he says. “And I was looking at that time in my life to try to write something that wasn’t three-and-a-half minutes with a fade ending — something more expansive. I was reading the novel, and I said, ‘You know, there’s a musical in this.'”

“Drood” premiered in 1986 at the New York Shakespeare Festival, where it ran for two years. It was revived on Broadway in 2012 at the Roundabout Theatre Company. Winner of five Tony awards in 1986 and nominated for five for the recent revival, the show features zany show-stopping musical numbers, and over-the-top comedy.

The production features musical direction by Ed Bara and choreography by Jeffrey Peterson. Conductor Vince Di Mura leads an 18-piece orchestra that will round out the show’s Music Hall sensibility.

The show features a 19th century British Music Hall-inspired set by Tim Averill with elaborate scenic painting designed by Emily Baldasarra. Nicole Wee designs costumes. Susan Hamburger serves as lighting designer.

All productions are performed at Muhlenberg College, one of the top-rated college performance programs in the country according to the Princeton Review rankings. Muhlenberg is a liberal arts college of more than 2,200 students in Allentown, Pa., offering Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre and dance.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” runs Oct. 25 through Nov. 3 in the Empire Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Opening-weekend performances, Oct. 25-27, are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Second-week performances, Oct. 31 – Nov. 3, are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $22 for adults and $8 for students and children. Special rates are available for groups, subscribers, and LVAIC students and employees.

Tickets and information are available at http://www.muhlenberg.edu/theatre or 484-664-3333.

Strong Leads, Fantastic Vocals Mark Steel River’s LA CAGE

Picture 577Editor’s note:  I found this write up from www.StageMagazine.org about Steel River’s production of La Cage aux Folles.  I went Thursday night and agree, it was a great show.  Haven’t laughed that hard in a while.  Nice to see the Pottstown arts scene is getting recognition from outside the community!  There are some great pictures of the cast as well!

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (sponsored by Exelon Generation) opened this weekend and runs through Sunday, June 23rd, at the Steel River Playhouse (SRP) in Pottstown, PA, where the talented main cast exudes guts and glitter, while the supporting ensemble in high-heels trips through the dance numbers.

The opening night production was headlined by SRP’s Annual Gala, honoring co-Founder and Artistic Director Deborah Stimson-Snow, and benefactors Susan and Scott Bentley, owners of VideoRay of Pottstown.  Through the years the Bentleys have donated equipment, meeting, storage and lesson space, time and money.  The guests gathered on the second floor, enjoying live opera by talented singers (such as lyrical tenor Michael Kiesling), acknowledgements of the Guests of Honor and SRP’s staff and volunteers, who worked tirelessly to organize the night of revelry.  All of the food and accoutrements were donated by local businesses.  Some guests walked away with raffle prizes including season tickets to SRP, Phillies basesball, dinner for four to Maggiano’s, golf and more.

Co-Founder Marta Kiesling paid homage to her partner Stimson-Snow, the recent recipient of the 2013 Advocacy for Equal Opportunities Award from the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, Montgomery County Advisory Council, for her influential work at SRP in advancing civil rights, equal opportunity, intergroup opportunities or human dignity.

To read the rest of this review, click here:  http://www.stagemagazine.org/2013/06/strong-leads-fantastic-vocals-mark-steel-rivers-la-cage/

Village Productions “Noises Off”

I was fortunate enough to attend the last performance of “Noises Off” this afternoon at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center.

Again, I was very impressed with the production!  Acting, set, lighting etc… all excellent.  Nice sized crowd.  Marta Kiesling, Executive Director asked how many people were there for the first time and a ton of people raised their hands.  She said they had great attendance and good reviews for the show.

This is a wonderful resource here in Pottstown.  It adds to the quality of life for residents and brings people into the central business district.

If you have not attended any performances at the TriPAC yet, in June they are doing “Ragtime”. 

Kudos to Village Productions for another fine performance.

If you want to check out the Village Productions/Tri-County Performing Arts Center website, click their link on my blogroll for your convenience.

Dracula Takes A Bite Out Of Pottstown

By Roy Keeler

On Sunday, October 11th, I had the pleasure of attending my third Village Productions play at the Tri-County Performing Arts Center in downtown Pottstown.

I was pleasantly surprised when I walked into the Main Stage area and realized it has been totally reconfigured and everything is black.  This time, the seats are in one large row, stadium style, and the stage area is much smaller than it was for Miracle on 34th Street and The Wiz.  The set is appropriately Gothic.  We were seated in the fourth row and center stage for optimum viewing.

After a quick introduction and some housekeeping items, Marta Kiesling relayed to us that the role of Dr. Seward was being filled by her husband Bill.  The actor who was playing Dr. Seward was unable to continue in the role after Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal.  Her husband stepped in the day before opening night and took over the role.  Talk about saving the day!  Without further delay, the production began.

The room was pitch black, there was some thunder, lightening, fog and music began to play (Camille Saint-Saëns: Dance Macabre) which was extremely appropriate!  Great mood setter!

Act I takes place in the library of Dr. Seward’s sanatorium in England.  This is the longest segment and a fifteen minute intermission takes place at the end of the act.  Act II takes place in Lucy’s boudoir and is followed by a five minute “stretch”.  Act III has two scenes: back in Dr. Seward’s library and in a crypt.

This production has a strong cast and I was impressed with the acting!  There are some special effects, which are well done, but the high caliber acting by the cast draws you into the story.  Elizabeth Hennessey and Scott Minor are back for another “Village Production” after appearing in Miracle on 34th Street.  I became a fan of both actors after seeing them in Miracle on 34th Street and in this production of Dracula their acting skills are showcased even further. Scott has the role of R.M. Renfield, a bug eating lunatic in Dr. Seward’s sanatorium.  Not exactly an easy role to pull off.  Elizabeth is the female lead, Lucy Seward (Dr. Seward’s daughter) who becomes Count Dracula’s love interest/victim.  Both Scott and Elizabeth delivered superb performances.

Michael Shoeman plays John Harker, Lucy Seward’s love interest.  Michael delivers another strong performance as his character desperately struggles to save the woman he loves.  You feel the intensity and raw emotion of Michael’s performance.

Paul Dake was cast as Abraham Van Helsing.  Van Helsing is a strong character in need of a strong actor to due justice to the role.  The pivotal role as Dracula’s nemesis was skillfully executed by Paul.

As I mentioned earlier, Bill Kiesling was thrust into the role of Dr. Seward on opening night.  It is a performance using the script as there was no time to memorize hundreds of lines.  However, the script in concealed in a book that he carries at all times.  Personally, I was not bothered by it.  Several of the people who were with me felt it was distracting, although they completely understood there was no other option.  I think Bill does an amazing job with this role.  It is a main character.  The emotion and depth of feeling put into the role is excellent, especially considering he had 24 hours to ready himself.  There was no awkwardness or missed cues that I noticed.

Diane Davis as Miss Wells (maid) and Eamon Goebel as Butterworth (butler) delivered wonderful performances.  They added some comic relief which is necessary in a drama as intense as Dracula!

Last and certainly not least is Jerome Neville as Count Dracula.  In my humble opinion Jerome rocks the house as Dracula!  He has all the right moves, even down to the hissing when crosses, garlic, mirrors, Wolf’s-bane and the Blessed Sacrament are used against him.  Think Bela Lugosi!  The classic Dracula of my childhood; creepy, charming and everything in between!  Great performance!

The play runs about 2 1/2 hours including the intermissions.  Excellent costumes, sound, lighting, sets etc… It may be a little scary for small children but is otherwise great entertainment for all ages.  The special effects are excellent and I thought the ending was “killer”.  I give Dracula two fangs up!

Dracula runs through October 25th. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  For more information about tickets sales, performance times and dates visit their website at http://www.tripac.org. The Tri Country Performing Arts Center is located at 245 E. High Street, Pottstown, PA 19464.  They can also be reached by telephone at (610) 970-1199.