Shakespeare for everyone: Broadway in Center Valley returns to DeSales campus for Pa. Shakespeare Festival
The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF), with its Main Stage Theatre production of “Evita” opening June 14, bodes to be bigger and better than ever for its 26th season.
Already, the 2017 season has set a record.
PSF set a new one-day sales record Feb. 15, opening day of single-ticket sales for the summer 2017 season. In one day, 938 tickets were sold for a more than $43,000 total. That’s a 64 percent increase, compared to the first day of single ticket sales in 2016, the Festival’s record-breaking 25th anniversary season.
“It’s certainly a healthy and high number,” says PSF Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy.
The previous single-day sales record was set in 2015 when 809 tickets were sold for a $38,000 total, predominantly for “Les Miserablés,” the Festival’s highest-ever attended production.
And the numbers aren’t only on the upswing at the box office.
“Our count of actors who have received high-level recognition in the industry continues to grow, not only actors, but artists and designers and directors. They’re all very accomplished,” Mulcahy says.
Tony Award-winning actor and world-renowned opera singer Paulo Szot stars in “Evita” in the role of Juan Perón, opposite Broadway star Dee Roscioli, who plays the title role of Eva Perón.
Szot received a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical in 2008 for his portrayal of Emile De Becque in the Broadway revival of “South Pacific.”
Roscioli, an Easton native and DeSales University graduate, is best-known for her long run as Elphaba on Broadway, and in the Chicago, San Francisco, and national touring productions of the hit musical “Wicked.”
Dan Domenech stars as Che in “Evita.” Domenech is best-known for starring in the Broadway musical, “Rock of Ages.” He’s appeared on Fox television’s “Gotham,” and had a recurring role on the hit television series, “Glee.”
“‘Evita’ is probably the largest cast in a musical we’ve had,” Mulcahy says. “There are 40 actors in that. It’s the largest cast of anything we’ve ever done.
“We have the same director and design team we had two years on ‘Les Miz,’ which is a very successful team. It includes Lisa Zinni as costume designer, who’s the associate designer for four or five Broadway shows the last two years. Dennis Razze [PSF Associate Artistic Director] is directing, Eric Haugan is lighting designer. Steve TenEyck is scenic designer.
“Evita has a lot of meaning for Dennis [Razze] in terms of his experience with it. But it’s a great fit because he’s the master of musicals.
“Getting that team together [for ‘Evita’], none of that is accidental,” continues Mulcahy. “This is all part of the plan of producing world-class work, and getting to the point where PSF is a machine that cranks out world-class work that just happens here.”
Sleuthing “The Hound”
The PSF season runs June 2 through Aug. 6 in Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, situated amidst the picturesque rolling hillsides of Center Valley in Upper Saucon Township.
Main Stage Theatre productions are: “Evita,” June 14 - July 2; “The Three Musketeers,” July 12 - Aug. 6; “As You Like It,” July 20 - Aug. 6, and “Shakespeare for Kids,” July 26 - Aug. 6.
Schubert Theatre productions are: “The Ice Princess,” June 2 - Aug. 6; “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” June 21 - July 16, and “Troilus and Cressida,” July 26 - Aug. 6.
After “Evita” opens, up next is “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
Says Mulcahy,”’Hound’ is a three-actor play. It’s a quick-change comedy where the actors play 16 roles.
“I think part of its charm is that it’s even sillier than ‘The 39 Steps.’ As a Shakespeare theater, we do a fair number of plays that have a lot of weight to them. It’s also nice in the summer to make sure that you have a bunch of comedies.
“‘Hound’ is a silly, slapstick spoof. That’s so different than the Festival’s thoughtful comedy that ‘As You Like It’ is. The mystery thriller genre is just a lot of fun to spoof. By nature, a mystery thriller is serious. It’s not profound in any way. So spoofing that seriousness is half the fun.
“Jim Helsinger is directing. Jim is the master of the comedy. The three actors are Greg Wood, Carl Wallnau and Jacob Dretsch. It doesn’t get any better than that.
“Greg’s been here for 23 of 24 seasons. It’ll be the first time that he wears a dress. He’s playing Sherlock Holmes and a bunch of other characters.”
This year’s rep
This years repertory selections, whereby virtually the same cast is in two productions presented back to back on the Main Stage Theatre, are “The Three Musketeers,” July 12 - Aug. 6, and “As You Like It,” July 20 - Aug. 6.
“We have one of the leading fight choreographers in the world, Rick Sordelet, directing ‘Three Musketeers.’ He was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his fight choreography for ‘Troilus and Cressida’ for Shakespeare in the Park [in New York City] last year.
“He was nominated along with Michael Rossmy, our Tibalt in 2010 when Rick directed ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Mike will be in our production [of ‘Three Musketeers’]. This is the ‘Indiana Jones’ in our season. It’s an action-packed swashbuckling adventure.
“It’s also very much a comedy. This is Ken Ludwig’s adaptation. He did ‘Lend Me A Tenor.’ Ken felt that the novel was akin to a comic book. It was originally written as a serial and then was pulled together as a novel. So, it’s episodic nature was similar to a comic book.
“The Three Musketeers” stars PSF favorites Ian Merrill Peakes, Zack Robidas and Marnie Schulenburg, who are in both productions, with PSF veteran Matt Pfeiffer directing Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”
One of the Musketeers, Alexander Sovronsky, is composing music for “As You Like It,” to be performed by the actors.
Says Mulcahy, “‘As You Like It’ is a rollicking comedy. It’s a rom-com [romantic-comedy]. It’s almost told like a campfire story.
“This is a play that starts with loss and a flight to something more alive, the forest of Arden, where characters seek to reconnect with their humanity. Court life is a pressure-cooker, but the forest is freedom and release. The forest might be dangerous, but not as dangerous as the machinations of mankind back at court.
“Most theater professionals try to think deeply about these plays. Whether I’m wearing my director’s hat or producer’s hat or artistic director’s hat, all roads lead to the play. And answering that question: What’s the play about?”
With that in mind, Mulcahy recommends the “Prologues,” presented 45 minutes before performances of “As You Like It” and “Troilus and Cressida,” where theater-goers can learn more about the plays.
There are also “Talk-Backs” with actors for question-and-answer sessions after Thursday evening performances. Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” has its PSF debut for summer 2017.
“This is the sort of a bucket list for patrons, and critics. It’s bucket list for the actors, too. It’s our hit-and-run,” Mulcahy says, referring to the PSF production not having a director. There’s a minimal set. Actors choose their own wardrobes. Greg Wood and Susan Riley Stevens star.
“Who doesn’t love a comedy about the Trojan War?,” quips Mulcahy.
State of Shakespeare
Shakespeare is alive and well and living in Center Valley.
Mulcahy says the Bard is in good health at Shakespeare festivals across the United States:
“The 400th anniversary of his passing was last year. And that really stirred the pot. There’s been a lot of activity. And that followed by two years, the 450th anniversary of his birth.
“Every year, he’s the most produced playwright nationwide. Millions of millions of patrons seem to want to see his plays, which we’re in favor of.
“We’ve been doing very well. We’ve had a lot of growth. Yes, generally, Shakespeare is alive and well in this country,” says Mulcahy.
This year’s 26th PSF season is the 14th season for Mulcahy at the helm of the Festival, founded by the late Rev. Gerard J. Schubert, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. Schubert founded the theater department at DeSales.
“What we’re working toward is part of a plan, a vision, a 20-year-plan that we’re about a third of the way through.
“It’s been very exciting to set very ambitious goals and then have the good fortune to exceed them. Life doesn’t always work that way.
“But this is a pretty special place. There was a kind of magic that Father Schubert set in motion. And it’s deeply satisfying to continue to carry it to the next levels.”
Ticket information: pashakespeare.org; 610-282-WILL