Thursday, December 8, 2011


Katelyn Mullen as Grizabella and Matt Rush as Old Deuteronomy

in the Sharadin Bigler Theatre's production of "Cats"

Jellicle Cats are Talented Cats

I’ve seen productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical “Cats” before, usually in large theaters, on a proscenium stage. Sure, the dancing was heavenly, but I was always, somehow, held at a remove from the action. I couldn’t quite connect with the stories of this varied group of cats vying for a chance to be reborn.

But the delightful production now prowling the Sharadin Bigler Theatre stage made a “Cats” believer out of me. Because this intimate theater space allows the cat characters to have more direct interaction with the audience, I was immediately drawn into their feline world. They brought the poetry of T.S. Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" the source material for the show to life at Wednesday night's preview performance.

You’ll see some fantastic dancing in the show – by turns mesmerizing, energetic, eye-popping and sexy. But it the acting and singing talent of this cast that made me see this show as so much more than a dance-based entertainment.

I heard some terrific singing coming out of those feline faces during Wednesday night’s preview performance. And the cat characters were clearly connecting with each other, and with all the audience members with whom they were making up-close-and-personal cat’s-eye contact all evening long.

With everyone in a feline costume, under that kitty makeup, it takes a special troupe of tomcats to make that kind of individual connection with the audience. And this SBT production is blessed with just such a special group of performers.

Kudos to them; this is truly an ensemble show, in which many of the feline characters get their own moment to shine in the spotlight. Their characterizations will surely amuse you, thrill you and move you.

Kudos to director/choreographer Kristin Pontz for a beautifully staged and choreographed production. Kudos to acting coach Rich Repkoe and musical director Derek Martin for helping this talented cast add depth to the production. The pit orchestra sounded great, as well!

A salute, too, to the designers, technical professionals, costume, makeup and props teams, who’ve enhanced the action of this show with an interesting set and great effects. Future audience members: Keep your eyes peeled while you’re watching this show. You never know when a cat will be prowling on a platform right above your head, ready to cozy up to the side of your theater seat.

My advice: Get your tickets to the Sharadin Bigler Theatre production of “Cats” now. Once the word spreads about the quality of this production, you don’t want to be left out in the cold this holiday season!

The show opens tonight (Dec. 8), and runs till Dec. 23.

Visit, or call 733-7966, for tickets. And check out the Blue Ridge Communications preview video for the show!

-- Mary Ellen "Merv" Wright

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

2012 brings variety, mirth, music and drama at EPAC


Wow. Just … wow!

The Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s marvelous 2011 season is still in full swing, and yet there’s already a whole new slate of fabulous shows to look forward to at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre in 2012!

You’ll be hearing a lot more about all these shows soon. But, for now, here’s the varied and exciting rundown:

Feb. 3-12, Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast, Jr.”

The lovely and bookish Belle wants to escape her provincial life. The Beast wants to break a curse and return to his former self. Each has something to teach the other. All that … and the teapot and the candlesticks come to singing, dancing life for your entertainment. The whole family will love this heartwarming Family-Series musical at EPAC.

March 8-24, “Next to Normal

I’ve heard wonderful things about this musical, which concerns how a family copes with a woman’s mental illness in the aftermath of tragedy. Friends who saw it on Broadway couldn’t stop talking about this show; they said it was amazing, intense, overwhelming … the effusive adjectives went on and on. I can’t wait to see what they’ve been talking about. This show won both the 2010 Pulitizer Prize for drama – only the eighth musical ever to get the honor – and Tony Awards including Best Score, so you know it’s firing on all cylinders!

April 25-May 12, “Xanadu”

You know you’re hearing Olivia Newton-John sing “Xanadu” in your mind right now, amid visions of leg warmers, roller skates and disco glory. This big, beautiful, campy show, about a Mount Olympus muse who inspires an artist to create a roller disco – with the muse’s jealous sisters causing trouble along the way – is filled with happy music and disco delights. And, bonus!: Its book is by Pennsylvania native Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote that EPAC on the Edge sensation, “The Little Dog Laughed.”

June 7-23, “Blithe Spirit”

I saw this classic comedy play by Noel Coward years ago in my hometown, and was completely captivated by the story of a married novelist; the eccentric medium he hires to perform a séance, and the vexing ghost of the novelist’s annoying late first wife, who suddenly begins appearing only to him. Marital mayhem and general zaniness ensue in this ghostly romp. Once you’ve met the medium, Madame Arcati (played in the recent Broadway revival by Angela Lansbury), you’ll never forget her!

July 19-August 4, “The Who’s Tommy”

Rock out with EPAC as The Who’s famed fable of the traumatized Tommy and his “Pinball Wizard” arcade superstardom comes to life on the Sharadin Bigler stage. You’ve seen how well EPAC handles such rock fare as “Rent,” so you won’t want to miss the chance to see what the troupe does with “Tommy.” This show will take Boomers like me back to their youth, and grab a whole new generation of theatergoers – taking us all on a thrilling, theatrical ride.

Sept. 6-22, “The Night of the Iguana”

Tennessee Williams wrote masterful plays that demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, his deep understanding of all aspects of human nature. In this work, set in a seedy Mexican hotel, an agitated defrocked minister tries to function as a tour guide while dealing with the attentions of three very different women. Ed Fernandez has been longing to sink his directorial teeth into this drama for a long time; we can’t wait to see the results.

Oct. 25-Nov. 10, To Be Announced: A Tony Award-winning, contemporary pop/rock musical

The folks at EPAC can’t yet tell you the title of this show yet. But you’ll be thrilled when they ARE able to announce it. More on this show later!!

Dec. 6-22, “Anything Goes”

Cole Porter’s classic musical about the shipboard antics of a wide variety of characters – from stowaway Billy Crocker to heiress Hope Harcourt to nightclub singer Reno Sweeney – is as popular today as it ever was. It’s no accident that this musical has had so many recent revivals; it’s a real crowd-pleaser, filled with Porter standards (and meaty roles for the actors!).

For information about subscribing to the new season, visit the EPAC website. Current subscribers can renew here.

"Beauty and the Beast, Jr." auditions, for those ages 5-16, are Saturday, Nov. 12; see the website for details, and click here to register.

Auditions for the rest of the new season will be held Jan. 7-11. Check the website for details soon.

The annual party for subscribers will be at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28.

And, don’t forget … it’s still 2011, and there’s plenty of entertainment yet in store on the Sharadin Bigler stage! “Evil Dead: The Musical” runs through Nov. 6. If you missed EPAC’s fantastic production of “The Vagina Monologues” last year, you won’t want to miss your chance again. Sharon Mellinger is again directing this funny, heartwarming play, with new monologues and a new cast. It runs Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11 and 12.

And you can celebrate the holidays in style with those singing, dancing felines of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” running Dec. 8-23.

And, P.S., don't forget to check the website for information on EPAC's online auction. There are some great prizes to bid on, including a stay at a resort in Rehoboth Beach and golf and fitness packages.

-- Mary Ellen ("Merv") Wright

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


The cast of "Evil Dead: The Musical" provides an evening of gory-good fun at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.


The chainsaw, the blood and the laughs will be flying around the stage of the Sharadin Bigler Theatre beginning Thursday night, as the Ephrata Performing Arts Center presents “Evil Dead: The Musical” as its Halloween offering for the 2011 season.

The musical embraces – and winks at – the classic-horror tropes of those campy, gore-filled, Sam Raimi-directed “Evil Dead” movies of the 1980s.

Five teenagers travel to a cabin in the woods – if you’ve ever seen a slasher film in your life, you know THAT scenario isn’t going to end well – where most of them wind up being possessed by demons.

And, as everyone, no doubt, knows, the only way a housewares employee like Ash (played at EPAC by Brian Virea) can deal with flesh-possessing demons is to dismember his zombified friends.

If all that isn’t in-your-face enough, you might want to purchase special $30 tickets in the “Splatter Zone” – front-row, on-stage seating that's closest to the mock-macabre action! You’ll be given a plastic poncho – and you’ll need it, when the gore starts flying.

With songs like “I’m Not a Killer,” “It Won’t Let Us Leave” and “What the F@#% Was That?”, “Evil Dead” will fill your evening with crazy, over-the-top Halloween fun.

Edward R. Fernandez directs. Here’s the rest of the cast list for the show.

NOTE: THIS SHOW IS BEST ENJOYED BY THOSE AGES 17 AND UP; it contains ADULT language and situations.

The show runs through Saturday, Nov. 5., with a midnight show on Saturday, Oct. 29, and a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Nov. 5. Other showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays and 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Prices for the midnight show only are $35 for regular seating and $40 for the “Splatter Zone.” Those tickets include light refreshments and adult beverages before the show.

Visit the EPAC website to order tickets online, or call 733-7966, Ext. 1, for the box office.

We’d like to salute Bob and Doreen Hershey and all the scaremasters at Jason’s Woods, that granddaddy of Lancaster County haunted attractions, for consulting on the special effects and for helping EPAC promote the show.

EPAC board vice president Jim Ruth and I recently braved the dark halls, trails and hayride of Jason’s Woods, and had a marvelous time having frightening creatures jump out at us in the dark. One of those creatures, it turned out, was Jim’s nephew!

After you check out “Evil Dead: The Musical,” go check out Jason’s Woods. It, too, is for grownups who like a good scare!

From Blood to Beer

Your ticket to opening night of “Evil Dead: The Musical” entitles you to attend the opening-night party at the Olde Lincoln House, 1398 W. Main St., Ephrata. The EPAC family would like to thank the proprietors there, along with party sponsor Green Mountain Cyclery, for giving the cast and patrons a place to chillax after a bloody-good evening at the theater.

Be our guest … and audition!

Calling all kids and teens, ages 5-16, who’d like to be involved in the theater!

Come out and audition for “Beauty and the Beast Jr.” from 1-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12. Click here to fill out an audition form.

Callbacks are at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14. Performances are Feb. 2-12, with a school-day performance on Feb. 9.

-- Mary Ellen "Merv" Wright

Saturday, October 1, 2011



(... and EPAC veteran Jonathan Groff is the star!)
(... and those going on the bus trip get a talk-back with Groff and the cast after the show!!)

According to Associated Press Drama Writer Mark Kennedy, “… MCC Theater's ‘The Submission’ is a raw, unsentimental play about race and gender that exposes the quiet prejudice and intolerance among even our most progressive thinkers. It is both uncomfortable and impossible to not watch. Discussions are certain to be sparked after the curtain has fallen, on the way out of the theater. …”

One of the stars of that play is Ephrata Performing Arts Center alumnus Jonathan Groff, of “Spring Awakening” and “Glee” fame. And, for a great price, you can go see Jonathan, along with “True Blood” star Rutina Wesley, in “The Submission” at New York’s Lucille Lortel Theater – on Christopher Street in the West Village! – on Saturday, Oct. 8.

For just $95, you’ll get motorcoach transportation to and from New York and your ticket to the show, AND you’ll be helping support EPAC with a $20 donation (included in that price). You’ll be going to see a play about theater, with a bunch of real theater fans; the bus ride to and from NYC will, no doubt, be a wonderful trip.

AND A SPECIAL BONUS ... those going on the trip will get to participate in a talk-back with Jonathan Groff and the cast after the show!!

The bus will leave the parking lot of the Sharadin Bigler Theatre at 7 a.m. and return around 10 p.m. That means you’ll have a bit of time in New York before the show starts (did I mention you’ll be in the WEST VILLAGE?!); see the 2 p.m. matinee of “The Submission,” and have a chance to grab a bite to eat before you get back on the bus for the trip home!

Call the box office of the Sharadin Bigler Theatre, (717) 733-7966, Ext. 1, for tickets or more information. You can also order online here.

In closing, here’s a bit more from the AP’s Mark Kennedy:

“… (Jonathan) Groff (‘Spring Awakening, ‘Glee’), does well in a complex role, one in which he is both likable and later despicable, a lefty who assumes he is politically evolved but still has a way to go. He plays Danny with an earnest guilelessness, unaware of the damage his words can make. Emilie is wonderfully realized by (Rutina) Wesley (‘True Blood’); she veers from sex kitten in one scene to savagely screaming invectives a few moments later. …”

Click here for the full review.

-- Mary Ellen (“Merv”) Wright

Thursday, September 29, 2011


"The Amish Project" ... this weekend only!

Remember how shocking the news of the Nickel Mines shootings of Amish children was five years ago – Oct. 2, 2006? And, afterward, remember the amazing stories of how the Amish both forgave the gunman and offered condolences to his family?

A fictional exploration of the aftermath of the shootings, “The Amish Project,” will be presented this weekend ONLY at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. Friday night’s performance is a benefit, with a reception preceding.

Sharon “Sharona” Mellinger, who has lit up the Ephrata Performing Arts Center stage for years as a director and actor, is directing this profound piece of theater Friday, Sept. 30, through Sunday, Oct. 2.

Sharona recently described the play to EPAC board Vice President Jim Ruth: “This is not a re-enactment. It focuses mainly on the aftermath of the horrible crime. There is nothing graphic, but there are some uncomfortable ideas expressed. All of the characters are fictional, although representative of both the Amish and the English communities.”

While playwright Jessica Dickey’s “The Amish Project” was originally performed as a one-woman show in New York, EPAC’s production assigns an actor to each role.

Kayla Hall and Lauren Elledge will portray Anna and Velda, two of the young Amish victims.

Matt Good appears as Eddie Stuckey, the gunman, and Matt’s real-life wife, Kathy Robb, is Carol Stuckey, the gunman’s widow.

Paola Gonzalez will play America, a young Hispanic grocery clerk; Robyn Payne appears as Sherry, a non-Amish neighbor, and Larry Gessler will play Bill North, a scholar on Amish culture.

Friday night’s 7:30 p.m. performance is a benefit for the Children’s Miracle Network. Tickets for that performance are $24 per person, and include a wine-and-cheese reception from 6-7 p.m. Thanks to Hershey Medical Center for sponsoring the evening!

Tickets for the other two performances – 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, and 2 p.m. Oct. 2 – are $15 for adults and $8 for students with a current ID.

For tickets and information, visit the website or call the box office at (717) 733-7966, Ext. 1.

-- Mary Ellen "Merv" Wright

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Photo by Andy Babin, for the Sharadin Bigler Theatre


Alan Strang, a 17-year-old boy in Britain, keeps a picture of a horse in his room. He likes horses so much that he has taken a job mucking out stalls at a local stable.

And, for reasons unknown, this boy who likes horses has blinded six of the animals with a metal spike.

A magistrate who has been dealing with Alan’s case sends him to a psychiatric hospital, where Dr. Martin Dysart must try to find out the reasons behind the boy’s heinous act – and try to help him heal. Alan’s condition sets Dysart on a voyage of self-discovery, as well.

So begins “Equus,” Peter Shaffer’s marvelous, challenging play, which the creative team at the Ephrata Performing Arts Center is unbridling and allowing to gallop upon the Sharadin Bigler Theatre stage beginning Thursday night.

OK. The horse puns stop right here. This play is too deep, too layered, too thought-provoking for that.

This is definitely a play for grownups, and not just because of the famous nude scene involving two of its characters. The late New York Times theater critic Walter Kerr said it well when he called the play “… a psychiatric detective story of infinite skill.” I’d definitely recommend this play for mature audiences only; it is psychologically complex (though eminently accessible); has full male and female nudity in one scene, and employs some curse words throughout.

I saw one of the final rehearsals of EPAC’s production, directed by Elizabethtown College theater professor Michael Swanson, and found it fascinating and moving. I saw the play years ago in Lancaster, but had forgotten so much about how beautifully Shaffer makes his plot unfold. With each piece of information, we tread farther into the psyches of Dysart, played by EPAC artistic director Ed Fernandez, and Alan, portrayed by Jeremy Ebert.

The play is about so many things: self-awareness, religion, parenting, pathology, envy, the things that influence a child’s psychological development, the Big-Question thoughts that can plague people at mid-life, and so much more.

Who is the patient here, and who is the counselor? Is Dysart practicing the healing, or harming, arts?

And then, there are those cool horses! They’ll come to life, right before your eyes, with headpieces and hooves -- and equine movement choreographed by Cody Smith.

The interesting, multi-functional set is by E-town College’s Richard Wolf-Spencer, and the lovely, effective lighting is by New York designer Josh Starr (who happens to be the nephew of EPAC regular Bob Checchia). More on the creative team in future posts.

You can see the rest of the cast listed here.

If you love to open your mind to Tony Award-winning, challenging and interesting material, “Equus” will be a great night at the theater for you. It opens this Thursday (Sept. 8) and ends Saturday, Sept. 17.

Call the EPAC box office, 733-7966, Ext. 1, or visit the Website to order tickets.

Stay tuned in the next few days for more blog posts about all the great fall events at EPAC.

-- by Mary Ellen ("Merv") Wright

Thursday, August 11, 2011



If you thrill to the sights and sounds of risk-taking modern dance that makes your heart thump in your chest; if you adore the varied music of the 1970s; if you’re crazy about The Beatles and Andy Warhol, disco, early rap or punk … then you CANNOT MISS one of the final two performances of the Rev9 Dance Company at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

Kristin Pontz and Heather Bare, the directors of Rev9, who also teach at the Susquehanna Dance Center, have created an exciting evening of dance – along with the other choreographers, Jameson Kilburn, Daniel McGee, Mike Nguyen, Kyle Schwandt and Cody Smith.

The year 1977 was a wild one in New York City. Disco was king, but punk and rap were also bubbling up in the streets and in the clubs. The .44-caliber killer (“Son of Sam”) was on the prowl and Studio 54 was the place to be seen. Those are the cultural guideposts for Rev9’s new production, “ ’77,” of which you’ll see a part during this show at EPAC.

Rev9 is also showcasing parts of two of its previous shows – the Warhol-themed “Factory” and the “White Album”-based “Revolution 9.”

You have two chances left to see the show – tonight and tomorrow night (Thursday and Friday, Aug. 11 and 12) at 8 p.m.

The soundtrack for the evening ranges from the Beatles’ “White Album,” to the music of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, the Talking Heads, Blondie and the Sex Pistols.

The dances in the two-act show are, by turns, seductive and joyous, aggressive and sly, athletic and graceful – and sometimes all of those things rolled into one. Gorgeous young men and women are climbing on chairs and platforms, hanging from silks, leaping, gyrating, break-dancing, clinging to one another and tossing each other around.

One moment, you’ll be watching a gorgeous pas de duex. Then, suddenly, the stage will be filled with undulating forms, capturing the spirit of the intense beats of the 1970s. The costumes, sets and video pieces are wonderful enhancements.

I saw the show on Sunday afternoon, and was, quite simply, blown away by the whole thing. I can’t count the number of times I said, “WOW!”

Tickets are $15. Do not miss this show!

For more information on the show, click here.

For more information on Rev9 and its future performances, click here.

-- Merv Wright

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The cast of "Chicago," which runs from July 7-23 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre, will razzle-dazzle you with song, dance and a taler of some jazz babies who are real killer dillers!

When crime and showbiz intersect, it's murder!

There’s nothing new under the sun!

With the media frenzy over the Casey Anthony murder trial still at full throttle, you can experience the live-theater, high-energy, murder-trial-as-public-entertainment musical that John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse created for Broadway way back in 1975. Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s new production of “Chicago” runs from this Thursday (July 7) through July 23rd at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre in Ephrata Community Park.

BTW: There are still tickets available for Wednesday night’s preview performance (that’s tonight … July 6!), which benefits Lancaster PA Pride. Tickets are $30, which includes a reception at 6:30 p.m. and the show at 7:30 p.m. Click here for information and tickets.

While the public’s fascination with murderers like killer-dillers Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly – and their theatrical lawyers – is nothing new, each production of “Chicago” EPAC presents has plenty of new tricks up its sleeve.

I sat in on a rehearsal last week, and saw an extremely entertaining show unfold. The talented cast is filled with high-kicking, youthful energy, and the leads and featured performers really hit it out of the park!

Chicago, of course, is a real “5-6-7-8 …” kind of musical, filled with memorable showtunes and splashy dance numbers. Director Ed Fernandez and musical director J.P. Meyer – also the audience’s emcee for the evening – have molded this production into a fun and flashy piece of theater. The cast does choreographer Kristen Pontz proud. It’s great to see choreography that gives a nod to the Fosse vocabulary but is, at the same time, very much an original.

The Fosse-Kander-Ebb musical “Chicago” is based, in turn, on a 1926 Broadway play written by Chicago journalist Maurine Dallas Watkins. Watkins had covered the 1924 trials of two “jazz babies,” Belva Gaertner and Beulah Sheriff Annan, and based her “Chicago” characters on them, their lawyers and Beulah’s husband.

Come to see EPAC’s “Chicago,” and you’ll see lots of new touches on the show you may know so well.The “Hungarian rope trick,” a.k.a. the execution of one of the Merry Murdesses of the Cook County Jail, is an eyepopping stunt that will make you gasp. Tim Spiese will “razzle-dazzle” you as lawyer-to-the-notorious, Billy Flynn, and his two most spectacularly amoral clients – Roxie Hart (played by Kristie Ohlinger) and Velma Kelly (portrayed by Elizabeth Frank) – will crack you up with their line readings and delight you with their muscular dance numbers.

The guys and gals of the ensemble are a real treat to watch; and oh, those Merry Murderesses of the Cook County Jail! You won’t know whether to be tickled or appalled!

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the show on stage, or if you’ve only seen the 2002 film version, don’t feel as if you’ve had the complete “Chicago” experience. The theater version is much grittier than the movie; futher, plenty of additional songs (in the stage show but cut from the movie) await you: “Me and My Baby” (wait until you see the dancing “babies”!), “When Velma Takes the Stand” and “My Own Best Friend,” for example. And, of course, the hilarious “Class,” sung by the classless-and-clueless Velma and Mama Morton (Cynthia Charles) was relegated to the “extras” on the “Chicago” film DVD. Big mistake, there. But you’ll love seeing it in the show at EPAC.

Don’t just stay home watching warmed-over murder-trial coverage! You won’t want to miss this wonderful, rollicking show. For tickets, call the box office at (717) 733-7966, ext. 1, or visit the website.

-- Mary Ellen ("Merv") Wright

Thursday, June 2, 2011


From left, Lynn Demers-Hunt, Barbara Strong Ellis, Brian Soutner and Bret Sassaman star in EPAC’s “Lost in Yonkers” June 2-11 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.


If you or your family members have ever pondered why you’re all the way you are – and how your family dynamic, your upbringing and your past experiences have formed you – you’ll warmly embrace Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Lost in Yonkers.” The show, which opens tonight (Thursday, June 2), is both funny and heart-warming, and it will make you think empathetically about the pain some people experience just underneath their rough exteriors.

Simon also won the Tony and the Drama Desk awards for his 1991 play, which concerns the dysfunctional Kurnitz family of Yonkers, NY, in the 1940s. As the play unfolds, some of the reasons for the family’s interpersonal problems and quirky personalities reveal themselves as this group is thrown together under difficult circumstances. Eddie Kurnitz’s wife has died, and Eddie work out of town for several months to make money and satisfy a shady loan that paid for her treatment. He needs to entrust the temporary care of his two adolescent sons, Jay and Arty, to his tough-as-nails, immigrant mother, Grandma Kurnitz, and to his sweet but childlike sister, Bella. The action of the play takes place in tight living quarters above the Kurnitz family’s candy shop.

We also meet Eddie’s brother, Uncle Louie, a shady, small-time criminal who teaches his nephews plenty of life lessons despite himself, and Aunt Gert, who suffers from a breathing ailment that seems more psychological than physical.

You’ll love watching this Kurnitz family tapestry unravel through the eyes of its youngest members, Jay (played by Bret Sassaman) and Arty (Brain Soutner). These two young actors will delight you with their humorous take on the lessons they learn amid the crazy situation into which they’ve been thrown.

Barbara Strong Ellis thoroughly inhabits the role of Grandma Kurnitz. Her stern, Germanic presence may frighten you the way it chills her children and grandchildren. But look beneath the unlikeable exterior and listen to a bit of her life story as the play progresses; you’ll come to a kinder understanding of this formidable woman. Lynn Demers-Hunt plays Bella beautifully, revealing a childlike confusion and a deep need to give and receive love. Watching these two women gradually try to come to a mutual understanding in their complicated relationship will absolutely break your heart.

Bob Checcia is clearly having a great time sinking his teeth into the role of the hilarious, swaggering Louie – who is a real character, and who has some of the funniest lines in the play. You’ll swear he and Bruce Weaver, who plays Eddie, are really brothers! Weaver brings out a more sentimental side of the Kurnitz family – cultivated, no doubt, through the outside ministrations of Eddie’s late wife. And though Sharon Mellinger’s role is relatively small, she makes a big impression as the stylish but damaged Gert – who tries to help everyone in the family get along.

Kudos to everyone involved in the production, from director Rich Repkoe and stage manager Terry Kreider to costume designer Veronica Craig, propmistress Fran Hill, set designer Matt McCormick and lighting designer Richard Wolf-Spencer. And thanks to light-board operator Kate Morgan, technical director/master electrician Stephanie Witman and master carpenter Steve Schelling.

Open your heart to the Kurnitz family, now through June 11 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. And bring your Kleenex.


You can see Blue Ridge Communication’s wonderful video preview of “Lost in Yonkers,” which features scenes from the show and interviews with the actors and the director, here.

Thanks to Blue Ridge Communications, as always, for the great video promos, and for being EPAC's season media sponsor. Thanks, also, to Terry Bigler, Terry Kurtz and Zeller Travel, the 2011 season sponsors, and to H&R Block and the Ray H. Good Business Center, 114 E. Main St., Suite B, Ephrata, for sponsoring "Lost in Yonkers."

The theater also extends its appreciation to the Olde Lincoln House for being the venue for the opening-night celebration on June 2, and to Green Mountain Cyclery for sponsoring the shindig. That post-show celebration is included in the price of your opening-night ticket.

When you see representatives of these businesses at the theater or around town, PLEASE thank them for all they do for EPAC. We owe them so much!

And, when you're at the theater seeing "Lost in Yonkers," please come say hi to your humble EPAC blogger; I'll be wearing a different hat during the run of this show, that of temporary house manager (filling in for Terry Kreider, who is house-managing "Yonkers.") I love to meet members of the EPAC family!

# Mary Ellen (“Merv”) Wright

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New beginnings & a night on the town

Laura McClune, Jordan Lausch are among the young performers who will present the "New Beginnings" cabaret at 2 p.m. Sunday at EPAC.

A cabaret, old chum

If you’re interested in supporting EPAC and in hearing some wonderful, contemporary musical theater/cabaret tunes you may have never heard before – performed by young, talented singers from the EPAC family – you’ll be in luck Sunday afternoon.

Check out the “New Beginnings” cabaret at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

You’ll recognize the talented young EPAC performers who are presenting this program of new music; they’ve starred in EPAC productions from “High School Musical” to “Rent,” and from “Altar Boyz” to “Into the Woods.” Performing will be: Laura McClune, Jordan Lausch, Devin Lewis, Nando Lucena, Jil Wiley, Donovan Hoffer, Katelyn Candiello, Emily Addis and James Wolpert.

Their set list will include songs by hot young composers on the musical theater/cabaret scene: Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk (the team behind such original musicals as “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown”); Ryan Scott Oliver (composer-lyricist of the musical “Mrs. Sharp”), and selections from Jon Hartmere Jr. and Damon Intrabartolo's pop opera, "Bare."

General-admission tickets are $5, with proceeds benefiting EPAC. Visit the website or call (717) 733-7966 for tickets.

On the town with an EPAC alum

This weekend, EPAC's New Year's Eve gala raffle winner Alixe Ingoglia will claim her prize. Alixe, who just finished doing props for EPAC's "Into the Woods," will be dining with EPAC alum, area native and Broadway/film/TV star Jonathan Groff.

Alixe and her mother will be picked up by Expressions Limousine of Lancaster and will be taken to Lily's on Main for dinner with Jonathan. They will also spend an evening at the Historic Smithton Inn. The event will be photographed by I ♥ PhotOlé.

EPAC thanks all of these companies for their services, sponsorship and support of the theater, and for helping make this a memorable weekend for our lucky raffle winner!

*** Also, check out Jonathan Groff's appearance on the MTV show "The Seven" at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 17. For more information on the show, visit the website.

--- Mary Ellen "Merv" Wright

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

EPAC on the Edge: Playwright gets Tony nod

Above: The cast of EPAC's "The Little Dog Laughed." From left: Gabrielle Lewis, Corey Buller, Christopher Michael and Sharon Mellinger. Photo courtesy of EPAC.

Below: Photo of “The Little Dog Laughed” playwright Douglas Carter Beane (taken at the 2008 Tony Awards). Photo courtesy of

EPAC presents staged reading by Tony nominee

The nominations for the 65th annual Tony Awards were announced Tuesday morning. One of the writers nominated for Best Book of a Musical is Douglas Carter Beane, for the Whoopi Goldberg-produced musical "Sister Act."

You may recognize Beane as the Tony-nominated playwright of "The Little Dog Laughed," which EPAC will present as a staged reading this coming Monday night, May 9, at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

The New York Times recently ran an article about script doctors and show doctors – the folks who rewrite existing scripts or rework whole productions that need help. Beane rewrote the book of “Sister Act,” originally penned by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner (former executive producers of the TV show “Cheers.”)

You can read the New York Times story here.

“The Little Dog Laughed” earned Beane 2007 Tony and Olivier Award nominations, and his book for the musical “Xanadu” earned him a 2008 Tony nod and a Drama Desk award.

So don’t forget to order your tickets for “The Little Dog Laughed." Order in advance and you'll save $2! Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. A wine-and-cheese reception starts at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, and the show starts at 8. This show features adult themes and language … therefore, it is for ADULTS ONLY!!

Call the EPAC box office at (717) 733-7966, ext. 1, for tickets.

And while you're at it ... don't miss EPAC's current mainstage production, the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine musical "Into the Woods." You'll love it!

BTW: The Tonys will be broadcast live on Sunday, June 12, from 8-11 p.m. on CBS.

# --- --- Mary Ellen “Merv” Wright