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Arts Around Town: Bangor Elks Men’s Chorus greets Broadway with female director at the helm

By Susan Kalan, WFMZ.com Arts Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 11 2013 11:24:38 AM CDT

Meghan Williams has taken on a most challenging role in her musical career. Not only is she continuing the tradition of a major springtime variety show in the Slate Belt, but for the first time in its 53-year history, she’s continuing the tradition as the first female chorus director for the Bangor Elks Men's Chorus. When the curtain rises on Saturday night for the first of four performances, some 30 members under her direction will deliver the best "From Stage and Screen," singing beloved tunes from Broadway musicals that found their way to the Silver Screen.

The 90-minute, family-oriented show will be held at the M. Craig Paine Auditorium at Bangor Area High School. Show times are Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., and again on April 19 and 20 at 8 p.m., and tickets are available from chorus members, local businesses, and the Bangor Elks website. Net proceeds will benefit the Pennsylvania Home Health Service, a visiting nurse program sponsored by Bangor Elks Lodge 1106.

Originally from Eagleville, Montgomery Co., Williams is a trained singer and music instructor now residing in East Stroudsburg. She’s been holding chorus rehearsals at the Bangor Elks Lodge since the first Sunday in January. Members of the all-volunteer, non-auditioned group range in age from their 20s through their 70s, from young professionals to retirees, fathers and sons, all sharing a common bond of singing with a smile. The uniqueness is that it is just that – an all-male chorus – and new members are always welcomed.

Williams put together what she calls "an eclectic mix" of recognizable tunes from stage and screen from such shows as "West Side Story," "South Pacific," "Guys and Dolls" and "Les Miserables." A show-stopping number from “Grease” is sure to leave the audience in stitches, she added. There also will be a few more modern selections from "Rock of Ages" and some made famous by Monty Python. Costume designer is Susan Houcek. Live music accompaniment will be by pianist Todd Dean, bassist Dirk Yahraes, and percussionist Dave Mollo.

"The concert is a variety show which showcases the very talented and fun-loving men's chorus singing and dancing, a barbershop quartet, the doo-wop group Ridge and The Hitchhikers, original comedy sketches and several fantastic soloists," Williams described. "The guys have been working very hard since January, and I must say, the show has come together as quite a production."

Members of the chorus have pooled their talents to help with set construction, props, program book printing/advertising, and poster design. Williams’ husband, David Pilz, a chemistry teacher in the Coatesville Area School District, also is working behind the scenes as part of the tech crew.

Williams assumed the position of choral director of the Bangor Elks Men's Chorus last fall, replacing longtime director Ellis Williams, who retired after 24 years of service. According to show co-chair Bill Craig, who’s been a chorus member for 35 years and serves as Master of Ceremonies, Williams (no relation to Ellis) is only the fourth director in the 53-year history of the organization. Previous directors were Neil Kline and Carl Kressler.

Craig, who shares the co-chair with performer Lee McDonald, said it was "pretty much unanimous" with his committee to consider a woman for the directorship. There were other women who applied for the position, he said, but Williams came with a wealth of musicality. The mezzo-soprano studied vocal performance and conducting at The Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford in Connecticut and at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. She appeared with opera companies on the East Coast, was a featured soloist on tour in Europe, and also performed in musical theater off-Broadway and with The Walt Disney Company. Locally, she performed several leading roles with Sight and Sound Theatres in Lancaster. She is a choir director in Philadelphia and a private voice, piano and violin instructor.

"Meghan has a winning personality," Craig explained. "She fits our group really well. She’s a go-getter, and she’s taken the show and run with it."

As for Williams, "I hope audiences will leave the show feeling uplifted and humming some of the tunes. This is an all-volunteer group, and if audiences leave laughing, then they were impressed with what they saw and heard."

For further info: elkschorus.com

 

ARTS ROUNDUP

The Allentown Art Museum is honoring a very special friend of the local arts scene on Saturday at its gala. That friend is Jim Musselman, a gentleman whose name is synonymous with "mentor." There are many, many lives Jim impacted in his 97 years.

More than 25 of those years were spent as an advertising executive with Musselman Advertising in downtown Allentown, a staunch supporter of the arts in the community. But Jim will admit most dear to his heart were the 35 years spent as art teacher/chair of the art department at William Allen High School. He trained a whole new generation of artists, many of whom went on to become recognizable artists, art teachers and art professionals not only in the Lehigh Valley but in the world. They can truly attest to Jim’s teachings not only in art but in life. He instilled in them the very work ethic instilled in him during his formative years living through the Depression, using a quote by Henry Ford that went something like 'Nobody ever succeeded by working an eight-hour day.' Jim even had a way of mentoring those of us arts writers who covered the local scene.

For him, there is no such thing as talent -- only practice, and plenty of it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jim pulls out his sketch pad during Saturday’s gala and starts sketching guests in attendance. If you know Jim, you know he never leaves home without his sketch pad. His legacy is widespread on the walls of homes and businesses throughout the region, not only with his watercolors but with his life portraits, or caricatures. Jim is one-of-a-kind when it comes to capturing someone’s life for a "This is Your Life" caricature that includes a sketch of the individual surrounded by milestones in his or her life. It was a labor of love each year for Jim to voluntarily design such awards for recipients of the Allentown Arts Commission's Arts Ovation.

Thank you, Jim, for your contribution to the Lehigh Valley arts, and for being the wind beneath so many wings that were able to soar to great heights.

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Touchstone Theatre will premier an original work, "Ulysses Dreams: An Exploration of Origin and Destiny," based on the classical text of Homer’s “Iliad and Odyssey,” beginning Saturday through April 21. The production will be performed outdoors behind the theater (321 E. 4th St.) on the Bethlehem Greenway's new amphitheater.

Original music and poetic text is by Jp Jordan, Touchstone artistic director, and  Christopher Shorr, ensemble associate, with choreography by Bill George, movement director, along with Gus Ripa and the Touchstone creative family. Kevin O'Boyle is musical director.

"Ulysses Dreams" finds the title character aged and reflecting on his legendary life. Bill George, Touchstone ensemble member and co-founder, plays the elder Ulysses. From playing by the sea in childhood, to going off to the Trojan War, to his journey home again, Ulysses' dreams and visions revolve around women who altered the course of his life, including his mother, his wife, nymphs, sirens and other gods and mortals. As he remembers, these dreams come to life before his eyes.

In addition to the core cast of Touchstone ensemble members and apprentices, actors include former Touchstone collaborators and community performers, including Jack Armstrong, Teague Fernandez, Susan Chase and Felix Mayes.

For further info: touchstone.org

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The Pennsylvania Playhouse on Illicks Mill Road, Bethlehem, will present the award-winning "Company," with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by George Furth, beginning Friday through April 28. The production is directed by Will Windsor Erwin, with musical direction by Lucille Kincaid and choreography by Gwen Swanson.

The show is told through a series of vignettes as main character, Bobby, finding all of his best friends married, searches for love and himself while preparing to celebrate his 35th birthday.

The cast includes Joshua Neth (Robert), Wendy Borst (Sarah), John Monahan (Harry), Brittani Doyen (Susan), Jason Zimmer (Peter), Kimberly Tassinaro (Jenny), Nina Elias (Amy), Vince Rostkowski (Paul), Andrea Cartagena (Joanne), Donald Swan, Jr. (Larry), Kendra O’Donnell (Marta), Cherly Moritz (Kathy) and Valynn Turkovich (April).

For further info: paplayhouse.org

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Huxley Home Arts, 67 N. 4th St., Easton, will showcase the art of The Alternative Gallery, Kristen Barnes, Susan Huxley, Bill Iacovone, Claudia McGill, Hal Murray, Robin Phelps and Maryann Riker, on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Work will include paintings, fiber, photography, ceramics, collage, jewelry, sculpture, and artists books.

Mixed-media artist Maryann Riker will do a papermaking demonstration from noon to 2 p.m., weather permitting, or a book arts demonstration on books made from one sheet of paper.

For further info: huxley@ptd.net        

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