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News from Muhlenberg Theatre & Dance

Muhlenberg receives end-of-year accolades
from Lehigh Valley newspapers

Muhlenberg theatre productions received acclaim from both The Morning Call and The Lehigh Valley Press Newspapers, in their 2011 Year-in-Review theatre coverage.

In The Morning Call, Myra Outwater praised the Department Mainstage productions of Merrily We Roll Along and Curse of the Starving Class, choosing them among her top-ten productions of the year:

At Muhlenberg College, James Peck staged Merrily We Roll Along, Stephen Sondheim's 1981 musical masterpiece, with an elegant simplicity and an understated but brittle sophistication. The shows features one of Sondheim's most evocative and beautiful scores and insightful lyrics and Vincent Trovato's superb 12-piece orchestra delivered a magnificent, full bodied sound with strong brass and woodwinds.

Constance Case's costumes were a kaleidoscope of color and John McKernon's lighting was romantic and flamboyant, with jarring and moody colors ranging from chartreuse and hot pink to evening blue and green. Brooke Benedetto was a standout as Mary Flynn, a one time novelist and a now embittered drunk who belted out each of her songs with the poignancy of a cabaret singer.

I will never forget the harrowing ending of Muhlenberg College's The Curse of the Starving Class, in which Ian Jesse Curtis, as the teenage son Wesley, strides across the stage naked, returning minutes later wearing his father's worn out coat, his arms coated with blood, and then indulges in a horrifying display of deranged gluttony. Sam Shepard is not for the faint at heart, but under Francine Roussel's tight, fast paced direction, this production, while it left me gasping for breath, was an extraordinarily fascinating insight into Shepard's world.

Roussel's attention to period detail — a real gas stove, with bacon sizzling in the pan and a musical background of Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Sr., The Doors and the Mamas and the Papas' songs — all this made this drama of a family of ridiculous, eccentric and disturbing members even more haunting, riveting and real. And faculty guest artist/ actor Larry Singer held it all together with his solid portrayal of the alcoholic, unemployed, absentee father and husband Weston.

Read Ms. Outwater's full year-in-review coverage here. (Subscription may be required.)

In The Lehigh Valley Press, Paul Willistein chose Summer Music Theatre's 2011 production of Godspell as the region's Best Professional Musical of the Year, and named Lauren Curnow as Best Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of Marian in SMT's The Music Man.

[Godspell] Director Francis X. Kuhn, working with Scenic Designer Curtis Dretsch, wisely set the 1970s hippiesque romp in a theater. From the brilliantly staged opening number, "Prologue: Tower of Babble," to the well-known "Day by Day," Godspell was inspired, thought-provoking and uplifting.

Curnow's portrayal was appropriately as reserved as the books in the River City library. When she sang "My White Knight," and her "Till There Was You" duet with David Masenheimer ("Professor" Harold Hill), you were ready to sign out lots of books.

Photo: An American Tragedy world premiere, photo by Kenny Ek, Kenek Photography.