The bright lights of Broadway will shine on College Avenue Jan. 18 when “We Are…On Broadway” brings the Theater District to State College. For one night only, this Penn State College of Arts and Architecture-sponsored production will act as a homecoming of sorts for PSU alums who are currently showcasing their talents on the Great White Way.
Featuring four Penn Staters whose credits range everywhere from “Wicked” and “Mamma Mia!” to “The Lion King” and “Cinderella,” “We Are…” will help whet the appetite of anyone who has ever left a theater with a rolled-up Playbill in their hand.
“We’re producing this concert to celebrate the nationally-renowned Penn State School of Theatre and its past, present and future students,” producer Carolyn Quinn said. “The school is a family made up of incredibly talented individuals. We’re hoping that this show draws not only current students and community members, but also our esteemed alumni. It has a kind of ‘We’re getting the band back together’ vibe attached to it.”
Held at The State Theatre, the concert will showcase the Broadway talents, along with current musical theater majors and local middle and high school students.
“The Penn State School of Theatre is, without question, the preeminent collegiate program in the nation and I believe that it is beginning an important new chapter in its trajectory,” added Mike Karns, another producer. “We have an active, growing alumni base eager to give back to the program that helped shape them and a newly-appointed head of musical theater, John Simpkins, who is an innovative leader, driving artistic force and just happens to also be directing this concert.”
With growing audiences and major film and television stars like James Franco, Bryan Cranston and Bruce Willis having taken to the Manhattan stage in recent years, Broadway is experiencing a well-deserved revival. The familiar faces and well-known properties have enticed ticket buyers who may have been a bit hesitant in the past to attend a live show.
“Today’s Broadway audiences are enjoying one of the most diverse arrays of shows in its entire history,” Quinn said. “From content to cast members, Broadway has become more relatable to a larger audience.”
“With the advent of technology and social media, and the incorporation — for better or worse — of mainstream celebrities, Broadway has moved to the forefront of culture and entertainment in America,” Karns said.
The timelessness of Broadway still resonates with contemporary audiences and performers. There is something raw, intimate — and occasionally even dangerous — about live theater that makes it an entertainment medium like no other.
“There’s a magic to Broadway. It’s hard to put into words, but there’s something in the air in those Broadway theaters,” Quinn said. “You watch a beautiful story unfold onstage with an understanding that there’s so many additional layers of how that performance came to be. The actors, playwrights and stagehands all have stories that go beyond the curtain. Every show is steeped in its own history and there’s something wonderfully magical about that.”
“As much as technology makes it easy to see whatever we want on TV, nothing will replace witnessing an actor stand center stage and belt out an incredible song or getting so lost in a scene that you forget about the actual actors portraying their characters,” said “Cinderella’s” Nathan Lucrezio, a 2009 musical theater graduate who will be featured in the Jan. 18 show.
For the performers who honed their stage skills at Penn State, taking the Broadway stage has been nothing short of remarkable.
I dreamed of being on Broadway ever since I was a little girl and everything that I did went toward fulfilling that dream.
Laurie Veldheer, 2010 Penn State graduate
“I dreamed of being on Broadway ever since I was a little girl and everything that I did went toward fulfilling that dream,” said Laurie Veldheer, a 2010 Penn State graduate who just completed a run in “Mamma Mia!” “Taking those first steps out onto that stage was surreal, wonderful and magical. It has been an incredible accomplishment for me.”
“I’ve been blessed to be a part of two Broadway companies where the people are exceptional,” Lucrezio added. “Their talent, professionalism and love for what they do has inspired me so much. I’ve made lifelong friends and memories that I’ll always treasure.”
Having the opportunity to return to State College and perform for the community and school that helped mold them is also pretty special. The actors believe that the experiences they will be able to share with each other and current theater students will be truly unique.
“When I was a freshman I looked up to the upperclassmen and would love to hear about what they would do once they moved to New York City,” Lucrezio said. “It was informative, exciting and motivating. The other three alumni performing on Monday were all a year younger than I was and I remember how enamored I was by their talent. It’ll be a joy to share the stage with them.”
“We Are…On Broadway!” also serves as the ideal representation of the cherished “Town and Gown” relationship. This show is writing a new chapter for the Penn State School of Theatre and Centre County.
“The biggest thing I hope people take away from this concert is that this is a truly collaborative event,” Karns said. “It was pivotal for me to utilize students from the State College area, because giving them experience in collaborating with professional artists may spark some inner desires that they didn’t know they had. This concert is the first of its kind that I know of to blend the School of Theatre with State College and we’re really pumped to be doing that.”
IF YOU GO
- What: “We Are ... On Broadway”
- When: 7 p.m. Jan. 18
- Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
- Info: www.thestatetheatre.org