Centre County summer theater season to kick off

Members of State College Community Theatre rehearse a scene from “The Producers” in summer 2013.
Members of State College Community Theatre rehearse a scene from “The Producers” in summer 2013. Photo provided

The month of June once again kicks off with an impressive number of performances at theater troupes in the State College area and beyond for this summer season. Shows filled with drama, comedy, music and fun family entertainment will play in several area venues.

State College Community Theatre

Celebrating 60 years of enriching, educating and entertaining the State College community, State College Community Theatre will once again be host to a number of musicals this summer, with productions running at the State Theatre and the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center.

First up is “Grease,” one of the world’s most popular musicals. Featuring Rydell High’s senior class of 1959, it recalls the music that became the soundtrack of a generation. The hot-rodding “Burger Palace Boys” and the gum-snapping, hip-shaking “Pink Ladies” in bobby sox and pedal pushers evoke the look and sound of the 1950s in this rollicking musical with songs such as “Greased Lightnin’,” “It’s Raining on Prom Night” and “Alone at the Drive-In Movie.”

In July, the tempo changes with one of Tennessee Williams’ best known works, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” The play is set in the plantation home in the Mississippi Delta of Big Daddy Pollitt, a wealthy cotton tycoon who is celebrating his 65th birthday. The play examines the relationships among members of Big Daddy’s family, primarily between his son Brick and Maggie “the cat,” Brick’s wife.

“Gypsy” will wrap up the summer season at the State College Community Theatre. The 1959 musical focuses on a wildly determined stage mother trying to make her young daughters into famous vaudeville performers. This classic Broadway musical features memorable songs like “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Together (Wherever We Go).”

Nittany Theatre at the Barn

In June, Nittany Theatre at the Barn will premiere “Forever Plaid” and “The Taffetas,” presented in repertory style through June 27. Each show will be presented every other day for 24 straight days — a first in Happy Valley.

These shows feature the first professional directors at the Barn, Stage Directors and Choreographers Society union members Richard Roland and Emmy Frank, each with Broadway and other professional regional credits and feature eight top Penn State BFA students, another first at the Barn and in the area.

“Next up in July is “1776,” featuring an all-female cast; another first for the Barn — and for the nation, east of the Mississippi,” said David Saxe, producing artistic director for Nittany Theatre.

In August, the Barn will feature the world premiere of “Betty Crocker, Kinsey, and Rock ’n’ Roll: A New 1950s Comedy,” directed by Richard Roland.

“We close the summer season with the ooky, kooky and spookiest of all Broadway musicals: “The Addams Family,” directed by Courtney Young, another with extensive Broadway experience, and starring C.J. Greer, an Actors Equity performer with Broadway experience,” Saxe said.

Penn States School of Theatre

Penn State Centre Stage is in transition this summer as it reevaluates its contribution to summer entertainment.

“State College Community Theatre is currently without a permanent home, and they’ll produce two shows at the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center,” said Dan Carter, producing artistic director for Penn State Centre Stage. “Nittany Theatre at the Barn is an exciting new venture which is engaging many of our students. Also, we will again offer our free noontime series of musical reviews, and we’ll also offer our NU.Musical Festival this summer.”

The Penn State School of Theatre will present the 2015 Broadway on Allen series in collaboration with FUSE Productions and the NU. Musical Theatre Festival, the annual new works festival that allows up-and-coming artists to workshop their original musical theater pieces at Penn State.

This season’s series includes FUSE’s Disney Tribute on June 10-12; sneak-peek performances on June 17-19 of FUSE’s upcoming production of “Les Misérables”; and preview performances of the Penn State NU. Musical Theatre Festival’s 2015 season June 24-26. All Broadway on Allen performances take place at noon and are free and open to the public.

In addition, the NU. Musical Theatre Festival’s Cabernet and Cabaret performances will feature a salute to new musical theater works June 12, and special guest Nicole Johndrow and her critically acclaimed show “Mixtape Confession: The Diary of a Teenage Optimist” on July 3.

Millbrook Playhouse

Millbrook Playhouse has previously presented plays filled with musical performance, with shows about legendary artists Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline. The trend continues starting July 24 with “Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.”

“They’re all in that vein where the actors play instruments,” said David Leidholt, producing artistic director at Millbrook Playhouse. “It’s not necessarily a book musical, where there is a full script. It’s really the music of Johnny Cash, told through five different performers — his life through song, basically. It’s a good show for people who are new to theater, and it’s a good way to get them involved. Those shows seem to be very popular, as this is an area that likes country music.”

“My Vaudeville Man,” a new musical for Millbrook, has only been done in New York. It’s a show Leidholt discovered while he was working for the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

“I remembered it and I wrote the writers and the producer got back to me,” he said. “I had to go through different channels to get it. It’s a lovely two-person musical about a famous vaudeville tap-dancer.”

Other shows on tap for the summer include “Leading Ladies,” a classic farce about mistaken identity; “Dial ‘M’ for Murder,” a play version of the 1950s Alfred Hitchcock classic; “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” based on the music of the ’50s and ’60s; “Guys and Dolls”; and an audience favorite and local premiere, “Mary Poppins.”