UNIVERSITY PARK—The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State 2018–19 season features a variety of critically acclaimed Broadway hits, dance troupes with a message, a couple of center co-commissions, celebrations of figures in American pop culture, Montreal-based cirque, strong female forces and sounds from almost every corner of the world.
“The coming season offers opportunities for people to come together and share engaging performances by world-renowned artists who both entertain and enrich our life experiences, allowing us to see ourselves and the world around us in new and illuminating ways,” said center Director George Trudeau.
Tickets for “Beautiful—The Carole King Musical” are already on sale to the public. Tickets for the other 25 presentations, plus the Penn the School of Music’s annual “Mosaic” concert, will go on sale at 8 a.m. Monday, June 18.
Visit Center for the Performing Arts online for complete details about the events.
In addition to various free community engagement and Classical Coffeehouse events, the center will devote much of the season to its Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative, which aims to introduce different cultures and art forms to the community.
“I’m especially excited about this season’s events that allow us to magnify the voices of people we sometimes don’t hear,” said Amy Dupain-Vashaw, audience and program development director. “I think the arts are such a powerful way to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Jazz and vocalists
The season commences Thursday, Sept. 20, with an event featuring jazz vocalist Veronica Swift. Born into a family of jazz musicians (father Hod O’Brien and mother Stephanie Nakasian), Swift speaks the language of bebop. She acknowledges comparisons to rhythmic singer Anita O’Day and “Queen of Jazz” Ella Fitzgerald. “I try not to imitate, but emulate,” especially in reference to phrasing and tempo, Swift said.
Minnesota-based a cappella octet Cantus will return to the center’s lineup with “Alone Together” Tuesday, Sept. 25. The ensemble’s repertoire includes vocal renditions of music by Simon and Garfunkel, Pentatonix, Leonard Bernstein, Dave Matthews and Bang on a Can co-founder David Lang. “Alone Together” is a program anchored by a vocal setting of the poem “We Two” by Walt Whitman, the world premiere of a work by prolific contemporary composer Libby Larsen and other songs that aim to make meaningful connections in the modern world.
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, familiar to some patrons for the Grammy-nominated ensemble’s 2017 visit to Eisenhower with its multimedia production “Brooklyn Babylon,” will return for a retrospective performance Tuesday, Oct. 23. The program will feature a repertory of music from the contemporary big band’s 11 years together. “For a wholly original take on big band’s past, present and future, look to Darcy James Argue,” wrote a critic for Newsweek.
Virtuoso violinist Regina Carter returns to the center with a program based on her recording of “Ella: Accentuate the Positive.” With “Simply Ella,” on Thursday, Jan. 31, Carter celebrates the jazz vocalist’s 100th birthday and the inspiration Carter derived from the legend’s career. “To this very day, whenever I hear an Ella recording, it grabs me at my core,” Carter said. “She is at the top of my go-to list when learning a jazz tune.”
Two musicians who performed in the center’s past two seasons will return with the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour 60th Anniversary Celebration on Friday, March 22. Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition-winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant and DownBeat Rising Star award winner trumpeter-singer Bria Skonberg will perform with tenor saxophonist Melissa Aldana, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, drummer-vocalist Jamison Ross and pianist-music director Christian Sands. The program will feature jazz standards as well as some originals penned by the artists.
Nationally touring Broadway
“Something Rotten!”—called “Broadway’s big, fat hit” by the New York Post—will make its Penn State debut Wednesday, Nov. 7. In the Tony-, Drama Desk- and Grammy Award-winning musical, two brothers compete with master wordsmith William Shakespeare for success in the world of Elizabethan-era theater. Monty Python’s “Spamalot,” Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” and Trey Parker/Matt Stone/Robert Lopez’s “The Book of Mormon” influence the production’s satirical and referential comedy style.
“Finding Neverland” is “the kind of magical experience that transforms adults back into children and turns kids on to a lifetime of theatergoing,” said a TheaterMania reporter. The production, based on the 2004 award-winning film of the same title, arrives at Penn State on Wednesday, Jan. 23. The production tells the story of author J. M. Barrie and the inspiration he found for his play “Peter Pan.”
“Beautiful” will make its Penn State debut with seven performances, Tuesday, Feb. 19, through Sunday, Feb. 24. The Tony- and Grammy-winning musical tells the true story of King’s rise to fame from her start as part of a songwriting team with husband Gerry Goffin and later with friends Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. She went on to become one of the most successful solo acts in American pop music history with her critically acclaimed sophomore release “Tapestry,” one of the best-selling albums of all time. The musical features songs from her collection, including “I Feel the Earth Move,” “You’ve Got a Friend” “One Fine Day” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
That the center negotiated for seven performances of the production isn’t out of the ordinary.
“Having that number of performances in our smaller market definitely pushes us to reach farther outside of Centre County then we typically do,” center Marketing Director Laura Sullivan said. “If we continue to do well with longer runs and we demonstrate that our regional market can support a week tour, then we will we will have an opportunity to bring larger productions to Centre County.”
Providence Journal describes “The King and I” as “nothing less than outstanding.” The Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical will take the stage Thursday, March 28. The story, set in 1860s Bangkok, follows the unconventional relationship between a modern king living in an imperialistic world and a headstrong British schoolteacher.
Everyone just wants to have fun in the multiple Tony winner “Kinky Boots,” which will make its Happy Valley debut with two performances, Tuesday and Wednesday, April 9 and 10. Pop icon Cyndi Lauper’s acclaimed score provides the thread for a musical celebration based on the true story of a cobbler who saves the family business by creating comfortable stiletto boots for his community’s colorful cabaret performers.
In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Cirque Éloize returns to Penn State for the sixth time Wednesday, Oct. 3, with “Hotel.” Fans of the Montreal-based troupe will enjoy more of what attracts audiences to the genre—acrobatics, theatrics, dance and live music—this time influenced by the world’s avant-garde and elegant hotels. As with the troupe’s 2016 creation “Saloon,” the Center for the Performing Arts co-commissions the production.
Classical, contemporary and orchestral
Grammy-winning violinist and conductor Joshua Bell returns Thursday, Oct. 11. The former child prodigy, who made his professional solo debut with The Philadelphia Orchestra at age 14, has performed for three U.S. presidents and now directs London’s world-famous Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Among his 40-plus recordings are projects with artists of multiple genres, including Chick Corea, Gloria Estefan, Alison Krauss and Edgar Meyer. He also has recorded music for six film soundtracks, including “The Red Violin” and “Angels & Demons.”
American ensemble Escher String Quartet, named for the Dutch artist M. C. Escher, will enlist the talent of Swiss-born pianist Gilles Vonsattel for a Tuesday, Oct. 30, concert. The program will feature music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johannes Brahms, as well as the world premiere of a work by composer-pianist Anthony Cheung. The ensemble musicians are members of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Sybarite5 will return to the Center for the Performing Arts with a performance called “Outliers” on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. The ensemble, which is always looking for new works and composers to highlight, puts a unique spin on modern rock (Radiohead, David Bowie), contemporary (William Brittelle, Kenji Bunch), Armenian folk and Argentine classics. TheaterJones.com calls the quintet “a sort of millennial Kronos Quartet—a group that brings classical music to lovers of rock and vice versa.”
Czech National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Mauceri and featuring guest mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, will celebrate the legacy of the acclaimed American conductor, composer, author and pianist with “100 Years of Leonard Bernstein.” The Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, concert will highlight a number of Bernstein’s compositions, including orchestral works and Broadway scores. The orchestra, now in its 25th year, is known for performing a varied repertoire, including the classical canon, film scores and jazz and contemporary compositions, as well as concerts featuring pop artists such as George Michael and Sting.
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, in its fourth appearance at Penn State, will take a musical walk into history with “Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House” on Thursday, Feb. 28. Italian Music Director Elisa Citterio joins the ensemble this season to bring the musical history lesson to the stage in a production that explores the splendor and richness of the 18th-century coffeehouse culture of one of the world’s oldest cities and a major trading center.
The multinational troupe Ballet Hispanico will return to Penn State Wednesday, Oct. 17, with a program featuring works by Latina choreographers. Founded in 1970 in Manhattan and now led by first-generation Cuban-American Eduardo Vilaro, the dancers present a style of contemporary dance that reflects America’s changing cultural landscape.
The California-based repertory dance troupe BodyTraffic has performed for sold-out audiences at prestigious festivals across the country (including Jacob’s Pillow and New York City Center’s Fall for Dance). On Saturday, Jan. 26, the company will debut for Penn State audiences. With choreographed works that pay homage to multiple genres of dance set to the music of jazz and pop greats, as well as a tribute to the Los Angeles homeless community, “BodyTraffic suggests invention, attitude and urban edge” (The Boston Globe).
Dance-theater troupe Urban Bush Women, whose innovative programs seek to challenge assumptions about the impact of dance, will perform “Hair & Other Stories” Thursday, March 14, 2019. The program uses humor, music and dance to explore notions of social justice. “‘Hair’ is a high-energy, politically adept, physically demanding metaphor for race, gender and other intersectional issues in our country,” wrote a critic for Louisville, Ky., public radio station WFPL.
The lives of bugs are examined in the Dallas Children’s Theater production of “Diary of a Worm, a Spider and a Fly,” coming to Penn State for a Sunday, Nov. 11, matinee. In this eco-friendly musical adaptation of the picture book series by author Doreen Cronin and illustrator Harry Bliss, the insect tales promote tolerance while pitching science.
“Me … Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall,” a musical adaptation of childhood adventures culled from the burgeoning anthropologist’s life and based on the book by Patrick McDonnell, will come to Penn State Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. The Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences on Tour production follows the child Goodall and her stuffed-animal friend Jubilee on their excursions in nature. “I love the book and I am sure the live action will inspire children of all ages to pursue their dreams,” Goodall said.
“Night Train 57,” a sensory-friendly folk opera, features Grammy Award-winning singer-guitarist Dan Zanes, multi-instrumentalist Claudia Eliaza and percussionist Yuriana Sobrino. The production, which will come to the center Sunday, April 14, 2019, engages young audiences with a folk-musical approach to friendship and community. AutismSpeaks.org calls the production “festive, interactive and ideal for people of all ages, temperaments and abilities.”
World and cultural music
Bela Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer—each who has made past appearances at Eisenhower Auditorium—will come together for an evening of genre-busting music Wednesday, Nov. 14. Each is a master on his instrument of choice, and Fleck (banjo), Hussain (classical tabla) and Meyer (double bassist) performing together touch many geographical and stylistic corners of the musical world. In 2009, the trio released “The Melody of Rhythm.” “All three are at a place where music truly becomes so intuitive that a simple rehearsal … is an exercise in wordless communication,” wrote an NPR reporter of the trio’s 2010 Tiny Desk Concert. The concert is also a fund-raiser because $5 of each ticket sold will support Penn State THON.
The two-time Grammy-winning South African ensemble Soweto Gospel Choir will return to the Center for the Performing Arts with “Songs of the Free” Tuesday, Nov. 27. The program celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela and includes freedom music, African spirituals and classics, and American popular music. The choir performed for the South African president a number of times during his life and at his memorial services.
In a Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019, Penn State debut performance, Sounds of China will present its blend of Chinese music performed on traditional instruments with progressive arrangements. The ensemble is led by composer Ma Jiuyue, employed by the Chinese National Orchestra and considered a founder of Chinese neo-folk music. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma described the group’s sound as “Chinese music mixed skillfully with world music so that more and more people are able to deepen their understanding toward Chinese culture.”
Dreamers’ Circus, a Scandinavian folk trio featuring Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen (from last season’s ensemble Danish String Quartet), will perform at Penn State Wednesday, April 3, 2019, as part of its North American debut tour. The threesome hopes to introduce the rest of the world to the Nordic version of folk music with their own spin. Renowned Danish musician and physicist Peter Bastian called “Second Movement,” the ensemble’s 2015 release,” “authentic folk music from another planet … masterful and deeply heartfelt.”
A list of Center for the Performing Arts 2018–19 presentations follows.
CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS AT PENN STATE 2018–2019
Performances are in Eisenhower Auditorium, unless indicated as being in Schwab Auditorium (SA) or Pasquerilla Spiritual Center (PSC).
* Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative-themed event
– Veronica Swift, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 (SA)
– Cantus “Alone Together,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25 (PSC)
– Cirque Éloize “Hotel,” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3
– Joshua Bell, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11
– * Ballet Hispánico, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17
– Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23
– Escher String Quartet featuring pianist Gilles Vonsattel, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30 (SA)
– “Something Rotten!” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7
– “Diary of a Worm, a Spider and a Fly,” Dallas Children’s Theater, 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11
– Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain and Edgar Meyer, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14
– * Soweto Gospel Choir, “Songs of the Free,” Celebrating the Centenary of Nelson Mandela, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27
– “Finding Neverland,” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23
– BodyTraffic, 7:30 pm. Saturday, Jan. 26
– Regina Carter, “Simply Ella,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31 (SA)
– * Sounds of China, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5 (SA)
– “Me…Jane: The Dreams and Adventures of Young Jane Goodall,” 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 10
– Sybarite5, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13 (SA)
– “Beautiful—The Carole King Musical,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19–Saturday, Feb. 23 and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23–Sunday, Feb. 24
“Beautiful” does not qualify for a discounted Choice series. Group discounts are not available for 18-and-younger tickets. Group discounts are not available for Friday and Saturday evening performances.
– Czech National Symphony Orchestra, “100 Years of Leonard Bernstein,” John Mauceri, conductor, and Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27
– Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, “Tales of Two Cities: The Leipzig-Damascus Coffee House” with Elisa Citterio, music director, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 (SA)
– * Urban Bush Women “Hair & Other Stories,” 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14
– Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour 60th Anniversary Celebration, starring Cécile McLorin Salvant and featuring Melissa Aldana, Yasushi Nakamura, Jamison Ross, Christian Sands and Bria Skonberg, 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 22
– “The King and I,” 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 28
– Dreamers’ Circus, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 (SA)
– * “Kinky Boots,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9–Wednesday, April 10
– * “Night Train 57,” A Sensory-Friendly Folk Opera featuring Dan Zanes, Claudia Eliaza and Yuriana Sobrino, 4 p.m. Sunday, April 14