Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre Embarks On 37th Theatrical Season

Allentown, PA — Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre at Muhlenberg College announces the lineup for its 37th summer season. The season will feature the revolutionary rock musical “Hair,” the classic “My Fair Lady,” and “Wild,” a new modern circus production for all ages.

“Hair” opens the season, running June 14 – July 2. A celebration of freewheeling 1960s youth counterculture, “Hair” commemorates the 50th anniversary of its original Broadway run.

“My Fair Lady,” running July 12-30, was the 1957 Tony Award-winning Best Musical. Lerner and Loewe’s beloved musical features a score that includes such standards as “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain in Spain.”

“Wild,” running June 28 – July 29, is a world premiere modern circus performance for audiences of all ages, featuring aerial acrobatics, clowning, spectacle, and a touch of magic. The show is recommended for adults and children ages 3 and older.

A free 45-minute circus-themed activity workshop follows each performance of “Wild.” Participation is limited, and advance registration through the box office is recommended. Evening workshops will focus on circus skills for all ages. Daytime workshops are geared toward children and will focus on storytelling and play through circus activities.

Tickets and information are available at muhlenberg.edu/SMT and 484-664-3333.

Join the Age of Aquarius and celebrate the freewheeling counterculture of the 1960s in “Hair.” Passionate, outspoken Claude must choose between submitting to the draft and continuing to fight the establishment through pacifist lifestyle. Joining him is a “tribe” of non-conformists who believe in the power of free speech and free love as they groove to the music, including beloved 1960s hits “Good Morning Starshine” and “Let the Sunshine In.” Director James Peck returns to MSMT following last season’s production of “In the Heights.” He is reunited with musical director Ed Bara and choreographer Samuel Antonio Reyes.

“My Fair Lady” tells the story of Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl in training to become a lady of society. At first, her lessons with phonetics professor Henry Higgins could not be more frustrating, but their squabbles eventually foster an unlikely partnership — Eliza and Higgins realize they have a lot to learn from each other. MSMT founding artistic director Charles Richter will direct the production. Ed Bara serves as musical director, and Karen Dearborn choreographs.

Atlas Circus Company’s world-premiere modern circus production “Wild” presents the story of a boy who runs away on an adventure through the unknown. Throughout his journey, he meets unusual characters that teach him about love, family, and what it means to be home. The show is designed for audiences of all ages, and incorporates elements of aerial acrobatics, juggling, magic, dance, theater, and clowning.

Relaxed performances of “Wild” will be presented on Saturday, July 8th at 10 am and Thursday, July 13th at 1 pm. The relaxed performances will be followed by an interactive workshop. Relaxed performances are designed for children with autism and other sensory challenges. At these performances, sound levels are reduced, and startling sounds are avoided; lights remain on at a low level during performance, and strobes and other flashy lights are omitted; patrons are free to talk or leave their seats during the show; and attendance is limited. Social stories will be available in advance from the MSMT website and the theater staff and cast will receive special training in meeting the needs of patrons with autism and sensory issues.

Audio Description and Open Captioning will be available for all three productions: “Hair” on Sunday, June 25; “My Fair Lady” on Sunday, July 23; and “Wild” on Thursday, July 20, at 10 a.m. Call 484-664-3087 for tickets in the accessible section of these performances.

“Hair” runs June 14 – July 2; “My Fair Lady” runs July 12-30. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Ticket prices for both “Hair” and “My Fair Lady” are as follows. For the first four performances: $35 regular admission; seniors, $31; students and children, $20. For the rest of the performances: $41 regular admission; seniors, $37; students and children, $24.

“Wild” runs June 28 through July 29. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. All tickets to “Wild” are $11 for the first week of performances and $13 for remaining performances.

Subscriptions and group rates are available at a discount. Contact the box office or refer to the website for details.

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

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‘The Cherry Orchard’ At Muhlenberg

ALLENTOWN, PA — Anton Chekhov’s prescient drama “The Cherry Orchard” will soon take the stage at Muhlenberg College, illuminating the class struggles that permeated early 20th century Russia — which, in turn, illuminate the class struggles of today.

“‘The Cherry Orchard’ captures the full complexity of progress and what it means to live through changing times,” says director and Muhlenberg theater faculty member Matthew Moore. “It is at the same time ordinary and supremely poetic.”

The Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department will present “The Cherry Orchard,” in a new version by American playwright Stephen Karam, in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, April 26-29.

“I think the play is ultimately about the human condition and our resilience in the face of life’s disappointments,” says Holly Cate, another theater faculty member, who plays the role of Lyubov Ranevskaya.

As Russia hurtles toward revolution at the start of the 20th century, a widowed aristocrat returns home after years abroad to her family’s estate, which is on the verge of financial ruin. Faced with the prospect of losing their beautiful cherry orchard and the world it seemed to represent, she and her brother cast about for a path forward — but they are too deeply immersed in memories and lost dreams of their youth to take control of their shifting fortunes.

A bittersweet story of love, loss, and social change, Chekhov’s last play offers a rich tapestry of characters, interwoven with poignant nostalgia and wry commentary on a society on the brink of upheaval.

“Chekhov plainly foresaw the coming revolution,” Moore says. “His characters encounter the coming change with different attitudes — some with naive optimism, some with an entrepreneurial spirit, some in mourning.”

Moore believes the anxieties at the heart of this play are contemporary.

“This feels like today’s America in many respects,” Moore says. “It’s hard to know if things are getting better or if everything’s going to hell in a handbasket. Progress and catastrophe seem intertwined.”

One of Russia’s best-known playwrights, Chekhov wrote “The Cherry Orchard in 1903. It premiered in Moscow the following year, after his death, helmed by renowned director and theatrical innovator Konstantin Stanislavski.

Chekhov pioneered theatrical naturalism — having his actors perform the everyday instead of the fantastic; the Russian public was used to romanticism, in which a more fantastical style of performance was much more common. Chekhov wanted audiences to experience honesty and realism when they came to the theater.

“The idea that nothing happens in Chekhov’s plays is totally false. Everything happens,” says Cate. “It’s life onstage. Affairs begin and end, familial relationships are torn and then repaired, people die, they are mourned, and communities rebuild.”

While Chekhov incorporated elements of his own life into all of his work, “The Cherry Orchard” is his most autobiographical play. When he was a teenager, his family’s beloved cherry orchard was cut down — his mother was tricked by contractors into selling the family territory.

“Every day in rehearsal you discover something true about the play that you didn’t know,” Moore says. “There’s no imagining circumstances here, only excavating truths.”

The production uses a celebrated new version by award-winning playwright Stephen Karam, written in an American vernacular and style, which debuted last year on Broadway. This is the first collegiate production of Karam’s adaptation.

“It’s so much funnier and more alive in the body than it is on the page,” Cate says. “I hope people understand how amazing it is that we are able to work with this new version.”

Karam won a Tony Award for Best Play for “The Humans” in 2016 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “The Humans” and “Sons of the Prophet.”

“‘The Cherry Orchard’ deserves a fresh presentation,” says Cate. “We are very lucky to be able to give it new life.”

“The Cherry Orchard” runs April 26-29. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Regular admission tickets are $15. Tickets for youth and LVAIC students and staff are $8.

Tickets and information are available online at muhlenberg.edu/theatre or by phone at 484-664-3333. Performances are in the Baker Theatre in Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance.

‘Wig Out!’ At Muhlenberg

Allentown, PA — Muhlenberg College takes a stroll down the runway and into drag ball culture, as the Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance Department presents Tarell Alvin McCraney’s “Wig Out!,” March 30 – April 2. Rarely produced since its 2008 premiere, “Wig Out!” offers an outlandish and high-style glimpse into the tight-knit world of Harlem drag balls. Muhlenberg theater professor Troy Dwyer directs.

“I’m not sure we’ve ever seen anything quite like this on our stage,” Dwyer says. “It’s going to be an extremity of design — and a leap-of-faith undertaking for the department. It’s also an opportunity to accommodate our population of truly gifted students of color, who aren’t just actors, but a variety of theater-making artists.”

“Wig Out!” focuses on the intense personal connections of  “houses,” the family units at the heart of drag culture — families that typically include a mother, a father, and a group of “children,” while also upending traditional nuclear family roles in favor of something richer and more complex. At the core of “Wig Out!” is the fictional House of Light, with mother Rey-Rey (Cameron Silliman) and father Lucian (Alan Mendez).

“’Wig Out!’ is a quick Alice in Wonderland trip into this topsy-turvy world that’s nothing like ours but very much like ours,” McCraney says. “One of my professors who saw the original run said, ‘I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s the most fun I’ve ever had.’”

Drag balls trace their roots to Harlem in the 1860s, flourishing during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s. Today’s drag ball culture took shape in the 1960s, as black drag queens began hosting predominantly black drag events. In 1990, the drag scene achieved mainstream recognition with the release of the documentary film “Paris Is Burning,” along with pop star Madonna’s drag-inspired hit “Vogue.” The balls themselves are extravagant competitions, in which contestants “walk” and are judged on a specific set of criteria, including the “realness” of their drag, their movement and dance abilities, and their fashion choices.

“What I think is so vital about ‘Wig Out!’ is that it not only makes visible sides of queer culture that aren’t typically part of mainstream culture,” Dwyer says. “It shines a more inclusive light than, say ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ which is about the extent of many people’s familiarity with drag culture.”

“Wig Out!” was first produced at the Off-Broadway Vineyard Theatre in New York City, and the same year at the Royal Court Theatre in London. It has been fully produced only once since, in any venue.

Playwright McCraney’s film “Moonlight” received 2017 Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was written by McCraney and director Barry Jenkins, based on McCraney’s unpublished semi-autobiographical play. McCraney was also recently appointed chair of playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, beginning in July. His plays have been produced by Steppenwolf Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, among others.

McCraney got together with the Muhlenberg production’s cast and creative team in February, via Skype. He shared some insights, answered questions, and engaged with the actors’ responses to the play.

Dwyer has surrounded himself with an accomplished creative team — which he says has somewhat allayed his concerns as a white director about taking artistic leadership of this project, in which most of the characters are people of color.

“What feels risky to me is making sure my white male privilege doesn’t upstage the heart of the story,” Dwyer says. “I was committed to having the story told, thinking it was probably okay for me to be a creative leader, but not by myself. I’m so fortunate to have some really brilliant, passionate artists of color around me, who are significant creative leaders on the piece.”

The production team includes managing dramaturg Dr. Sharrell Luckett, a Muhlenberg theater professor; accomplished costume designer Andy Jean; and Broadway wig and hair designer Bobbie Zlotnik. Samuel Antonio Reyes, who choreographed last summer’s acclaimed Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre production of “In the Heights,” and a veteran of the ballroom scene himself, has created the show’s extensive choreography.

The show also features makeup design by Joe Dulude II, who designed make-up for the Tony Award-winning Broadway productions of “Wicked” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Dulude is the Baker Artist-in-Residence for the 2016-17 academic year, thanks to a grant from the Dexter F. & Dorothy H. Baker Foundation. He says his own involvement in the drag scene heavily influences his approach to the work.

“My drag is often about playing with the masculine and feminine,” Dulude says. “Since my own experiences in drag and working with other drag queens is so diverse, that’s what I’m bringing to the show: not just one style of drag but a combination of styles.”

Muhlenberg Junior Evan Brooks, who plays Ms. Nina/Wilson, one of the children of the House of Light, says the production is a vital performance opportunity for theater students at Muhlenberg.

“At this moment in our nation’s history, being able to participate in this production is nothing less than a gift,” Brooks says. “I think it’s essential to provide theatrical and educational experiences for under-represented artists, who aren’t acknowledged in the same way as majority-identifying students — and that’s what the production is doing.”

Dwyer says the show’s second act will feature a drag ball performance for which audience members will be invited onstage to serve as the crowd for the ball. The production also will feature a lobby display about the history of drag, coordinated by Luckett, and a uniquely interactive intermission.

“We want the audience to leave with an appreciation for drag culture, in all its spectacular diversity,” Dwyer says. “The mainstream gets an exceptionally narrow version of queer culture, when they get any version at all — and often it comes at the expense of other, more marginalized versions. We want to broaden their horizons a bit.”

“Wig Out!” plays March 30 – April 2. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 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 and information are available online at muhlenberg.edu/theatre or by phone at 484-664-3333. Performances are in the Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

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 in the top twelve in the nation for eight years in a row, and 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.