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  1. Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre presents
  2. a joyful, celebratory 'Godspell,' July 13-31
 
  1. The music and the message are the focus in this production
  2. of the Broadway hit by 'Wicked' composer Stephen Schwartz
  3. Accessible performance July 17 will feature Audio Description
  4. and Open Captioning for visually and hearing-impaired patrons

Allentown, Pa. (June 27, 2011) – Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre will present "Godspell," Stephen Schwartz's upbeat retelling of biblical parables, as the second Mainstage production of its 2011 season. Directed by Francis X. Kuhn, the show will run July 13-31 in the College's Baker Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance.

"'Godspell' is a celebration," Kuhn says. "People should come to the theater ready to celebrate and enjoy themselves."

 Based on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, "Godspell" is one of the biggest Off-Broadway and Broadway successes of all time. Featuring a beloved and sparkling score, in a variety of musical styles from pop and folk rock to gospel and vaudeville, "Godspell" boasts a string of familiar songs, led by the international hit "Day by Day."

The show was conceived and originally directed by John-Michael Tebelak with music and new lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, the Tony Award-nominated composer of "Pippin" (1972) and "Wicked" (2003). Drawing from various traditions such as clowning, pantomime and song-and-dance, "Godspell" is a groundbreaking and unique reflection on philosophy and faith—with a message of kindness, tolerance and love.

"The story is about the discovery of divine play within ourselves," Kuhn says. "'Godspell' may be a story about Jesus but the play is really a celebration of what is divine in all of us and how we can all become better human beings."

Kuhn last directed at Muhlenberg in the summer of 1979. He has directed plays, musicals, and operas for theater and opera companies throughout the country, and he is currently an associate professor of theater at The College at Brockport (SUNY) in western New York.

Muhlenberg senior Andrew Clark, who plays Jesus, says that he appreciates the chance to play a role like this because it is different from any other character he has played.

"I'm not really what you would picture when you picture Jesus," Clark says. "Theater is a way to subvert the norm, and I think that is the essence of 'Godspell.' In the show Jesus acts as a storyteller, and we are learning about the stories for their moral values and not necessarily the religious aspects."

To emphasize the stories, set designer Curtis Dretsch and Kuhn wanted to take the look of their "Godspell" in an unusual direction. Dretsch co-founded Summer Music Theatre 31 years ago and has designed more than 100 sets for Muhlenberg.

"'Godspell' is usually overlaid with a notion of specificity — for example street people or a circus setting," says Dretsch. "For our production we wanted to create a flexible, malleable, obviously theatrical environment."

Kuhn and Dretsch want the text and the music to be the main focus. The set is very flexible and designed primarily to respond to light. Changes in atmosphere is accomplished through lighting changes.

"This is a much more straightforward, presentational version of the show," says Dretsch. "The set is there to support, nurture, and present the play."

The set and lighting also provide a showcase for the choreography by alumnus Will Porter, returning to Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre for the first time since graduating in 2008. Porter will be headed to Tokyo in August as part of the national tour of "A Chorus Line."

"Returning to Muhlenberg is a blessing," says Porter. "It's like a breath of fresh air."

Porter and Kuhn want to give the show a contemporary look and feel liberated from its 1970s roots and specifically Christian context.

"Personally, I am Buddhist," Porter says, "But I find many parallels among religions in the songs and stories in 'Godspell,' and I am using that as a jumping off point for the choreography."

The Sunday, July 17, performance at 2 p.m. will feature Open Captioning (OC) for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing and Audio Description (AD) for patrons who are blind or visually impaired. Open captioning provides the audience with an unobtrusive electronic text display to the side of the stage, displaying lyrics and dialogue in real time. Audio Description is a form of audio-visual translation, using natural pauses to insert narrative that translates the visual image into an audible form. Patrons use headsets to hear the audio description. This performance is sponsored in part by the Tri-County Accessible Arts Coalition.

"We are excited to bring the first audio described and open captioned performance to the Lehigh Valley community," says Jess Bien, general manager of Muhlenberg's Theatre and Dance Department. "By offering these types of performances, we are hoping to provide a whole new audience with the opportunity to experience live theater and some of America's greatest musicals."

To purchase audio described and open captioned tickets for the July 17 performance only, please call Jess Bien at 484-664-3087 or email boxoffice@muhlenberg.edu.

"Godspell" runs July 13–31, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Performances are in the Dorothy Hess Baker Theatre, in the Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Muhlenberg College, 2400 Chew St., Allentown.

Tickets for July 13-16 are $32; seniors age 65 and up, $28; students and children, $18. Tickets for July 17-31 are $38; seniors, $35; students and children, $20.

Sundays are Family Matinee day; tickets for children ages 5-18 are just $10 when purchased with a full-price or senior ticket. (Limit two discounted tickets per full-price ticket.) Discounts are available for subscriptions to "The Music Man" and "Godspell" and for groups of 15 or more. More information online.

Also featured in MSMT's 31st season: "Cinderella," a movement-theater production for families, June 22 – July 30.

Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre performance information and tickets are available at 484-664-3333 or www.muhlenberg.edu/SummerMusicTheatre.