Summer stage offers timeless tales of deceit, wit

For the CDTJune 7, 2013 

The summer is scheduled to the brim with an impressive number of performances in the State College area and beyond for the summer and fall season. Shows filled with drama, comedy, music and fun family entertainment will play in several area venues, including Penn State’s Downtown Theatre Center, the State College Community Theatre at the State Theatre and the Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall.

Penn State Centre Stage

Penn State’s Centre Stage 2013-14 season will begin with a preview of “Good People” next week at the Penn State Downtown Theatre in State College. The 2011 play had its world premiere staged by the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York City and was nominated for two 2011 Tony Awards for best play and best leading actress by Frances McDormand, winning in the latter category. This production focuses on a single mother named Margie Walsh, a lifelong resident of a blue-collar Boston neighborhood trying to make ends meet. After she is fired from her job as a cashier at a dollar store, Margie tries to better her financial situation by weaving her way into the life of the father of her handicapped adult daughter Joyce. Written by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Robert W. Schneider, the play will run through June 22.

The next summer play slated for the theater is “Doubt: A Parable,” by John Patrick Shanley and directed by Jim Wise. This 2004 suspense-filled drama, which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for best play, is set in the fictional St. Nicholas Church School in the Bronx during the fall of 1964, and focuses on a progressive parish priest, addressing the importance of uncertainty.

Dan Carter, producing artistic director of Penn State Centre Stage, is excited about this season of plays, particularly “Good People” and “Doubt.”

“Every once in a while, a play comes along that stands head and shoulders above all the others in any given year, and both of the plays we’re doing this summer have that status,” he said. “ ‘Doubt’ and ‘Good People’ are both the kinds of plays that give audiences exactly what they want in a drama: fascinating characters, compelling storylines, invigorating wordplay, and twists and turns.”

The Centre Stage has shows alrady scheduled for its 2013-14 fall season. The Pavilion Theatre will host the 1969 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “No Place to Be Somebody” by Charles Gordone. This Civil Rights-era story explores racial tensions and tells the tale about a black bartender who tries to outsmart a white mobster syndicate. Charles Dumas will direct. The Playhouse Theatre will host “Guys and Dolls,” directed by Meghan C. Hakes. The play was written by Frank Loesser and the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.

The season will then continue into 2014, with “Into the Woods” at the Pavilion Theatre starting in February, and “Blood at the Root” at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center starting in March.

Carter said he feels fortunate to have such wonderful actors in the theater this summer.

“I urge everybody to take advantage of the opportunity to catch these actors at this theater this summer,” he said. “The great thing about theater is that it is live in front of you in the very moment it is created. The downside is once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

State College Community Theatre

The State College Community Theatre also will present a number of plays during the summer and fall months. The 2013 season started in May and continues with “The Producers.” This play goes against the norm of the Broadway standard, focusing on a down-on-his-luck Broadway producer who, with his accountant, conjures up a scheme to stage a notorious flop, cheating their backers out of millions. The irony is the show becomes a smash hit and the two men go to prison for their deceitful ways. “The Producers” will play later this month.

In July, the SCCT will stage another long-time favorite, “The Crucible.” Written by American playwright Arthur Miller and winner of the 1953 Tony Award for best play, this exciting drama focuses on witchcraft during the Puritan age, when the wife of a young farmer is accused of witchcraft by a young servant girl, leading to the woman’s arrest. Eventually the farmer is accused as well and condemned, along with many others. The play is an historical tale, depicting bigotry and deceit which translates to our contemporary society.

Staged by the SCCT in August is the critically acclaimed Broadway classic “The Music Man,” a musical with book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson. The family classic follows fast-talking con man Harold Hill, who cheats the citizens of River City, Iowa, out of their money by posing as a boys’ band organizer and leader, selling them band instruments and uniforms before skipping town with the cash. However, his plans are foiled when he falls in love with a librarian and piano teacher named Marian.

The troupe will present “Beyond Therapy,” and “August: Osage County” in September, and in October comes “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” Additional shows in the fall are yet to be announced, and all the shows will be held at the State Theatre.

Millbrook Playhouse

Also on the list of area venues is the Millbrook Playhouse, which will be host to a number of well-known productions for its 50th season of summer shows.

To start off the season, the Main Stage will host the classic 1950s musical “Grease” starting next week. This hit production features Rydell High’s head “greaser” Danny and new girl Sandy with their “Summer Nights,” and also includes the hot-rodding “Burger Palace Boys” and their hip-shaking “Pink Ladies” with such songs as “Greased Lightnin’ ” and “It’s Raining on Prom Night.” Book, music and lyrics are written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey.

Teresa K. Pond, producing artistic director at Millbrook Playhouse, said she is excited about the theater’s 50th season.

We’re calling it the ‘classic season’ and we’re celebrating 50 years of history,” she said.

Later this month, the Millbrook Playhouse will open its Cabaret Theatre with the first show it ever produced, Neil Simon’s “Come Blow Your Horn.” The show is a lively comedy which features Alan Baker, a swinging playboy in 1960s New York City. Alan is a ladies’ man who welcomes his rebellious and eager younger brother, Buddy, who after leaving the home of his parents, moves into Alan’s bachelor pad to live a playboy lifestyle.

A real musical treat will experienced by many generations when “The Sound of Music” plays at the Main Stage in late June and early July. The music was written by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The book was written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare will also play for this summer season with shows throughout July. One of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, this unforgettable comedy is filled with farce, romance and magic.

There are always different kinds of shows for different audiences, and this season will certainly give the general public something different each time.

“I choose a season that will balance a variety of interesting stories: musicals, comedies and mysteries, and different kinds of things that I think will be interesting to the public,” Pond said. “We get feedback from our audiences throughout the summer, and I try to match a season that I think will be most interesting to that.”

A classic country musical, “Always ... Patsy Cline,” will show in lat July and early August. Based on the life and music of the country music star and created by Ted Swindley, the musical is complete with downhome country humor, storytelling, and features some of Cline’s classic hits, such as “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces.”

Two children’s Saturday shows will also be included at Millbrook this summer, with “The Velveteen Rabbit” and “Androcles and the Lion.”

The summer brings more travelers to the area, which increases attendance.

“In a way, there’s probably a smaller crowd off-season,” Pond said. “We do our holiday show; that’s really the only major production we do off-season. But audiences come back here year after year, and we’re always expanding our audiences and hoping to have new people join us in the summer.”

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