Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre Alumni Are Back For More In ‘The Music Man’

Familiar faces in the first show of the SMT season will include Broadway star David Masenheimer, opera singer Lauren Curnow

Allentown, Pa. (May 25, 2011)—Harold Hill, the central figure in Meredith Willson‘s classic “The Music Man,” is a con artist—a stranger in town. But when the musical opens this year’s Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre season, the man playing Hill will be anything but a stranger. In fact, the production will be a homecoming of sorts for several of Muhlenberg College‘s best-known theater alumni.

This year, in its 31st season, the college’s popular summer theater festival will welcome back two alumni with international reputations as performing artists: Broadway star David Masenheimer as Hill, and opera singer Lauren Curnow as Hill’s love interest, Marian Paroo. Also joining the cast are MSMT veterans and Muhlenberg alumni Neil Hever and Gabriel Martínez.

 “The Music Man” runs June 15 through July 3. Charles Richter, Summer Music Theatre’s co-founder and artistic director, will direct the show; Karen Dearborn and Ed Bara will provide choreography and musical direction, respectively. All three are Muhlenberg faculty members.

“It will be wonderful to have some familiar folks—some very talented folks—joining us for this production,” Richter says. “There will be some serious star power on stage. We’re very fortunate.”

Masenheimer, a 1981 Muhlenberg graduate, starred in more than 1,000 performances of Broadway’s “Les Misérables” as Inspector Javert. Other Broadway credits include “Ragtime” and “Sideshow.” Curnow, a 1996 graduate, has appeared on opera stages around the world, including The Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Teatro Maggio Musicale in Florence, Italy, the Wolftrap Opera, and the Santa Fe Opera. A lyric mezzo-soprano, Curnow holds master’s degrees from The Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music.

 “The Music Man” tells the story of Harold Hill, a fast-talking con artist who comes to River City to make a fast buck, selling his phony dreams of a splendiferous town marching band. But then he meets the town librarian (and her kid brother), and finds himself transformed by the power of love. The score features several of Broadway’s best-known songs, including “Seventy-Six Trombones,” “(Ya Got) Trouble,” “Till There Was You,” and “The Wells Fargo Wagon.” The production won five Tony Awards in 1957, including Best Musical.

“In fact,” Richter points out, “this is the show that beat out ‘West Side Story’ for Best Musical. Willson did some incredibly innovative things with the score, and it took him five years to develop as a result.

“This is our third production of ‘The Music Man,’ and I believe our most exciting,” he says. “It is the first in our very intimate Baker Theatre, and that space will be very well suited to this talented cast.”

DAVID MASENHEIMER: A RETURN TO THE STAGE

David Masenheimer’s career as an actor began before college, when he spent vacations in summer stock productions. He acted regularly at Muhlenberg, arriving just a year after the opening of the Baker Center for the Arts, in the first days of the Theatre Department, arriving at the college a year before department founder Charles Richter.

Masenheimer started as a science major, but soon realized he had other interests to pursue. He got the lead in the student musical his freshman year, playing the Emcee in “Cabaret,” and that pointed him in a different direction—in a couple different directions, actually.

“I had some carpentry skills thanks to Muhlenberg,” he says. “I was a work-study carpenter and eventually was the technical director for the MTA,” the student-run Muhlenberg Theatre Association, which produced the plays. “I was not very popular in my fraternity, because I basically lived in the Center for the Arts.”

After graduation, Masenheimer went on tour in a number of shows, including “Les Misérables,” then in 1995, took on the role of Javert in the Broadway production. Other Broadway appearances have included the original cast of “Side Show” (1997) as well as roles in “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1999), Ragtime (1999), and “The Wild Party” (2000).

For the most part—give or take a concert or two—Masenheimer gave up performing professionally about seven years ago. He now mostly pursues that other direction, building custom furniture and merchandising fixtures—and the occasional piece of theatrical scenery—with his carpentry company, Rampart Productions. He says the life of the performer got to be too much.

 “I’m so glad I did what I did when I did it,” he says. “But while I was packing up to come to Allentown, it occurred to me, if I was really in this business, I’d be packing up and going on tour for a year, and that’s just completely unappealing to me. I wanted some control over what I was going to do and when I was going to do it.”

Masenheimer says “The Music Man” is among his favorites. He played Harold Hill in high school and feels a connection to the show and the character. After 34 years, he still remembers the lyrics to “(Ya Got) Trouble,” the show’s notoriously difficult patter song: “… right here in River City, with a capital T, and that rhymes with P and that stands for ‘pool.'”

“The show is a really well written piece of Americana,” he says. “The music is lovely, and I just love all the characters; it’s such a great ensemble piece.”

So does “The Music Man” signal a possible return to the stage for Masenheimer?

“No, this is it,” he says. “This is about Muhlenberg, and being back at Muhlenberg. I’m really looking forward to this whole process, though. It’s kind of a vacation.”

LAUREN CURNOW: A RETURN TO ROOTS

“The Music Man” marks Lauren Curnow’s first foray into Broadway-style musical theater since her student days, when she starred as Laurey in a 1995 Muhlenberg Theatre Association production of “Oklahoma!”

Since graduation, she has concentrated strictly on opera. She got a job in an opera chorus right out of college, then a paid apprenticeship at the prestigious Lyric Opera Company of Chicago, then graduate-level study at Juilliard and the Curtis Institute. Since then, she has worked consistently as a performer, with opera companies around the world.

In a way, “The Music Man” marks a return to roots for Curnow.

I started out being musical theater all the way,” she says. “But from the time I started at Muhlenberg, I was taking lessons with Jeremy Slavin,” A Muhlenberg faculty member and MSMT co-founder, who just retired this spring. “And he started training me classically. So I started thinking about myself as a singer in a different way.”

Curnow said the biggest adjustment for her as an opera singer will be to incorporate dialogue in her performance.

“Going back and forth between singing and speaking is something I’m not as used to as I was,” she says. “You really have to pace yourself. You have to think about how you’re projecting on the stage, so that when it’s time to sing, you’re ready to go.”

This role will be unusual for Curnow in another way, as well. As a mezzo-soprano, she says she gets to play mostly supporting characters—the “compremario” roles. “The Music Man” gives her an opportunity to play the romantic lead for a change.

“I don’t often get to be the ingenue, which will be fun,” she says. “In opera, the lovers are usually more in the soprano range, for some reason. We mezzos get to be the best friends and funny maids.”

A SUMMER THEATER HOMECOMING

Neil Hever, Muhlenberg Class of 1982, played alongside Masenheimer, back in that first Summer Music Theatre season, 31 years ago. He has been a fixture on the MSMT stage ever since—most recently starring in last season’s “The Mikado.” He will play Charlie Cowell in “The Music Man.”

“I’ve seen MSMT grow and evolve into a very professional and high quality program over time,” Hever says. “The adult actors and Muhlenberg teaching staff I worked with as a student at the very beginning were a great source of inspiration. I hope that now, as an adult, I am helping today’s students grow and improve as actors by example.”

Another familiar face, of a more recent vintage, is Gabriel Martínez, the 2010 grad who played William Barfée (rhymes with “parfait”) in last season’s “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Before that, he appeared in 2009’s “Forever Plaid” and 2008’s “A Year with Frog and Toad” and “The Who’s Tommy.” This year, he’ll play Marcellus Washburn.

The production will also welcome another MSMT prodigal: conductor Donald Spieth, best known locally as the conductor of the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, although he has conducted numerous ensembles in the Lehigh Valley region and beyond. Spieth conducted the orchestra for MSMT’s first season, 31 years ago, and returns to the orchestra pit for “The Music Man.”

Prominent cast members who are not Muhlenberg alumni include two longtime members of the Lehigh Valley theatre community: veteran MSMT performer and director Bill Mutimer, as Mayor Shinn, and Arts Ovation Award winner JoAnn Wilchek Basist, as Eulalie Shinn.

The show will feature scenic design by Campbell Baird, whose last MSMT assignment was the east-meets-west costume design for last season’s “The Mikado.” “The Music Man’s” costume designer is Kevin Thacker. Lighting designer is MSMT veteran John McKernon.

“The Music Man” runs June 15 through July 3, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Performances are in the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Tickets for June 15-18 are $32; seniors age 65 and up, $28; students and children, $18. Tickets for June 19 through July 3 are $38; seniors, $35; students and children, $20.

Sundays are Family Matinee day; tickets for children ages 5-18 are just $10 when purchased with a full-price or senior ticket. (Limit two discounted tickets per full-price ticket.) Discounts are available for subscriptions to “The Music Man” and “Godspell” and for groups of 15 or more. More information online.

The rest of the MSMT season for 2011 will feature “Godspell,” July 13-31, and “Cinderella,” a movement-theater production for children, June 22 – July 30.

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/SummerMusicTheatre.

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre

Auditions for MSMT 2011 season—’The Music Man,’
Godspell,’—will be held Feb. 27 and 28.

Children’s auditions for ‘Music Man’ scheduled for March 1-2

Technical positions and high school internships also available.


Allentown, Pa. (Feb. 10, 2011) — Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre will hold open auditions for adult performers on Feb. 27 and 28, and for children ages 6 to 13 on March 1 and 2. Performers will be cast for both of the season’s mainstage productions: Meredith Willson‘s “The Music Man,” June 15 – July 3, and Stephen Schwartz’s “Godspell,” July 13-31.

The following audition details can also be found online, at www.summerbroadway.org.

Vocal auditions for adults (ages 16 and up) will be held Sunday, Feb. 27, from 2 to 7 p.m., and Monday, Feb. 28, from 6 to 11 p.m. Auditions will be held in the Empie Theatre, Baker Center for the Arts, on the Muhlenberg College campus. Vocal audition appointments are three minutes.

Dance auditions for adults only will be held Sunday, Feb. 27, from 12 to 2 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 28, from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Dance Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance. Dance auditions will take about half an hour. Auditioners will be taught a short dance sequence, which they will then perform. No preparation is required.

Children ages 6 to 13 will be cast for the ensemble of “The Music Man” in a special audition, Tuesday, March 1, and Wednesday March 2, from 5 to 7 p.m, in the rehearsal hall in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre and Dance. There is no dance audition for children. Children must be under five feet tall in order to audition. Auditions are in three-minute appointments.

All auditioners must register in advance and schedule an audition. Auditioners should send an e-mail to boxoffice@muhlenberg.edu before Friday, Feb. 25, indicating available dates and times within the scheduled audition, and providing a mobile phone number where the auditioner can be reached with questions.

Those without access to e-mail should call the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance office at 484-664-3087, during regular office hours before Thursday, Feb. 24. Voice messages should contain all of the above information.

All adult auditioners will be assigned a time for both a dance audition and a vocal audition, and should plan to dance and sing, even if they concentrate in just one area. It is possible for a performer to be cast based on a strong audition in just singing or just dance.
Auditioners for both shows—including children ages 6 to 13—should prepare a memorized vocal selection of 16 to 32 bars. Adults should sing something from a classical Broadway show other than “The Music Man,” from about 1980 or earlier. Women should not use a belt voice or mix; men interested in the role of Marcellus may belt.

In the children’s audition, girls should sing a ballad in the style of “The Music Man”; no belting, please. Boys should prepare an up-tempo number, also in the style of the show; belt voice is okay.

The musical directors request that you do not sing from the “The Music Man” or “Godspell” scores. An accompanist will be provided for the vocal audition. You must bring sheet music in the key in which you would like to sing, with your 16- to 32-bar selection indicated and any cuts clearly noted.  Please no accompaniment tapes.

The directors are looking for a wide range of ages and types for each production, and community members are strongly encouraged to audition.

Callback auditions will be held March 17-21, and will include acting auditions, reading from the script. Details will be provided as necessary, but auditioners should hold the dates if possible.
Non-performing opportunities are available for technicians and costumers. Carpenters, electricians, props technicians, light board and sound board operators, and stage crew are needed for productions. Costumers, first hand, stitchers, and wardrobe running crew are needed in the costume shop.

High school stage management internships are available for those who will be at least 16 years old by the time they begin working for MSMT. Interns work alongside college students and professionals from the College, and guest artists from New York, learning valuable skills that they can take back to their high school programs. Interns receive a $400 stipend for the summer.

The application deadline for technicians, costumers, and administrative personnel is March 1. Applications can be found online at www.summerbroadway.org. Completed applications can be sent to boxoffice@muhlenberg.edu.