Thursday, December 6, 2012


In 1934, supremely talented composer Cole Porter opened another musical on Broadway, filled with gangsters and lovers, sailors and society folk. I wonder whether Mr. Porter had any idea how well his lively creation, “Anything Goes,” would stand the test of time. Seventy-eight years on, this show is still tapping its way into audience’s hearts.

Let it fill your holidays with singing, dancing and zany fun as the Ephrata Performing Arts Center opens “Anything Goes” tonight at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. 

I saw a bit of a rehearsal for the show last weekend – I was fortunate enough to catch the cast completely filling the stage with exuberant singing and tap-dancing! I can’t wait to see the show in full flower on opening night!

“Anything Goes” has had two major revivals on Broadway, has been turned into feature films and has been performed in high schools and community theaters across the country for decades. It's clear why: The show is filled with fun characters, snappy dialogue, plenty of dancing and classic show tunes that beautifully display Porter’s gift for a turn of phrase.

Just look at the title tune: “In olden days a glimpse of stocking / was looked on as something shocking / but now, God knows / Anything goes …” and “Good authors, too, who once knew better words / Now only use four-letter words writing prose / Anything goes. …” Brilliant!

“Anything Goes” is the story of Billy Crocker, a stock broker who stows away on the S.S. American as it sails from New York to London. Crocker has fallen for Hope Harcourt, fiancée of Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. On the ship, Crocker will meet up with – and conspire with – such characters as evangelist-turned-singer Reno Sweeney and Public Enemy #13 Moonface Martin and his gal-pal Erma.

As audience members are taken on this journey of love, mistaken identity and other shenanigans, they’ll be treated to such classic songs as “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “All Through the Night,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” and “You’re the Top.”

And the cast, crew, directing team, creative team and volunteers of EPAC are “The Top,” too. You’ll surely want to check out their handiwork, now through Dec. 22 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. Call (717) 733-7966 for tickets, or visit the EPAC website

If you see the show tonight (Thursday, Dec. 6), the opening night of the musical, your ticket has an added bonus; it’s also your ticket to the after-party at the Hilltop Inn, 415 E. Main St., Ephrata.

We’d like to thank the sponsors of that party, the law offices of Russell, Krafft and Gruber, LLP. We’d also like to extend our gratitude to the show’s main sponsor, RE/MAX Associates of Lancaster, and our other sponsor, The Douple Agency of Ephrata. Single-performance sponsors C.E. Pontz & Sons and an anonymous EPAC angel are also much appreciated!

And, as always, EPAC would be lost without its season sponsors, Green Mountain Cyclery and Blue Ridge Communications.

A huge thanks, too, to the Sharadin Bigler Foundation for its huge yearly gift toward paying off the theater's renovations and mortgage.

Thank you to all of these companies, organizations and individuals for their support; EPAC couldn’t continue to fulfill its mission of presenting “theater that matters” without you.


Thank you, again, to all those wonderful angels -- both known and anonymous -- for making 128 donations, totaling a whopping $11,400 (!!), to EPAC through the countywide charity event, The Extraordinary Give, on Nov. 30. You have shown how much you love this theater, and how important you consider its work. The EPAC board and staff are grateful and humbled by your generosity.


Have you voted yet for your EPAC favorites in BroadwayWorld’s 2012 Central PA theater awards? If not, please go to the website and vote. There are EPAC nominees in nearly every category … let’s get those numbers up for all these talented members of EPAC's acting, directing and performing teams, who gave us the gift of such great theater throughout this season!


Reminder: Auditions for "Angels in America," parts 1 (“Millennium Approaches”) and 2 (“Perestroika”), will be held at 1 p.m. this coming Sunday (Dec. 9) at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre, home of EPAC. To register for that audition, sign up online here, or call Edward Fernandez at (717) 733-7966, extension 2.
Also, audition dates for casting the shows for the REST of the 2013 season have been announced. Ed Fernandez said you can start checking on the EPAC website NEXT WEEK for audition information and for an online signup form through which you can schedule an appointment (it's not online yet) for the January auditions.
Here are the dates:
Thursday, Jan. 17, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 18, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 19, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Sunday, Jan. 20, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Shows to be cast in January are: “Avenue Q,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Guys and Dolls,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “Assassins” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

-- Merv Wright

Monday, November 12, 2012

'Anything Goes' at EPAC in December

The Ephrata Performing Arts Center's production of Cole Porter's high-seas musical "Anything Goes" opens Dec. 6.

And be sure to check out subscription information for EPAC’s 2013 season here: Annie Jr. (Feb. 1-3 and 8-10); “Angels in America Part 1: Millennium Approaches” (March 7-9 and 13-16); ““Angels in America Part 2: Perestroika” (March 38-30 and April 3-6);  “Avenue Q” (May 2-4,9-11 and 15-18); “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (June 13-15, 20-22 and 26-29);  “Guys and Dolls” (July 25-27 and Aug. 1-3 and 7-10); “The Glass Menagerie” (Sept. 5-7, 12-14 and 18-21); “Assassins” (Oct. 17-19, 24-26 and Oct. 30-Nov. 2), and “Fiddler on the Roof” (Dec. 5-7, 12-14 and 18-21).

Friday, October 26, 2012

EPAC presents moving, energetic 'Spring Awakening'

EPAC's "Spring Awakening" cast peforms "The Bitch of Living."

Josh Kirwin and Kate-Lynn Scheib portray Melchior and Wendla in "Spring Awakening."

The cast of the moving, spirited musical "Spring Awakening" at EPAC 

I have seen the musical “Spring Awakening” off-Broadway, on Broadway and on tour.

But as I watched the final dress-rehearsal performance of the Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s “Spring Awakening” Wednesday night, I felt as if I were seeing the show for the first time. My heart soared to watch this show that I’m so crazy about – performed by an energetic, talented young cast – on the stage of a community theater I love so much.

The show is funny, frank and touching. I laughed and cried on Wednesday as if I’d never seen the show before – as if it were all the kind of wonderful surprise I felt the first time I saw the show off-Broadway.

Director Ed Fernandez, his talented and energetic cast (with many faces new to EPAC) and the creative team have brought a moving, funny, exuberant and beautiful piece of art to life on the stage of the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. Whether you’ve never seen “Spring Awakening,” or whether you’ve seen it numerous times, you’ll be transported by EPAC’s production.

The musical is based on an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind, which was controversial for its time, as it explored German teenagers’ struggles with their sexuality and the knowledge of it denied them by the adults in their lives. “Spring Awakening,” the musical, takes this serious subject matter and injects it with energy through its modern, rock score.

It’s fun to remember that you’ll be seeing the musical on a local stage on which Broadway’s original Melchior Gabor, Lancaster County native Jonathan Groff, performed in such shows as “Honk” and “Bat Boy: The Musical.” But this cast makes this show completely its own; even if you’ve seen the show on Broadway, you have NOT seen what EPAC can do with the show. And you want to see that – believe me!!

The music, by Duncan Sheik – remember his 1996 hit “Barely Breathing”? – with lyrics by (book-writer) Steven Sater, is marvelous. I own the soundtrack, and have listened to those songs countless times; it’s so great to hear them performed by a great pit orchestra and wonderful voices in this cast, and see them given new life with great choreography. The set, lighting, sound and costume design bring the show into full bloom.

The leads, Josh Kirwin as Melchior; Vince Fazzolari as Moritz, and Kate-Lynn Scheib as Wendla, are wonderful – but, frankly, you're going to love the whole cast!! Fantastic job by all! Special kudos to Susan Barber and Larry Gessler, who play all of the adult characters who influence the young people’s lives.

A caution: “Spring Awakening” is for mature audiences only. Many aspects of teen sexuality are explored in a frank and honest way in this show. There is a bit of partial nudity. And there’s one song filled with a pretty strong curse word.

But if you’re interested in seeing a show that makes you think; that explores issues from the year 1891 that we’re still arguing over during this political season of 2012; that makes you care about its characters, and helps you see these issues from a variety of points of view – this musical is for you. It will rock your world.

Thanks to Green Mountain Cyclery; Blue Ridge Communications; John Matusek, and Steve Sellers for sponsoring the show, and to The Olde Lincoln House for hosting – and Dave Dierwechter and Marcia Stoner for sponsoring – the opening-night party.

You only have until Nov. 10 to see this amazing show, on stage at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre; don’t miss your chance. Call 733-7966, or visit the EPAC Web site for information and tickets.

                   –  Merv Wright

Monday, October 22, 2012

Don't sleep through your chance to see "Spring Awakening" at EPAC!

The cast of “Spring Awakening” at EPAC is ready to make this show its own!

Josh Kirwin and Kate-Lynn Scheib star as Melchior and Wendla in EPAC's "Spring Awakening." 

The original Melchior and Wendla: Jonathan Groff (EPAC veteran!) and Lea Michele starred in "Spring Awakening" on Broadway

'Spring Awakening' will rock EPAC

Ephrata Performing Arts Center's production of the spirited, moving rock musical "Spring Awakening" -- opening Thursday at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre -- has such special significance for the theater. 

It wasn't so very long ago that Lancaster County native Jonathan Groff trod the boards at EPAC, in such shows as "Honk" and "Batboy." When Jonathan went to New York to practice his craft, "Spring Awakening" was the show that really launched his career -- and that of "Glee" star (and Jonathan's BFF) Lea Michele.

Jonathan has continued to perform in New York, in London's West End, on the TV shows "Glee" and "Boss," and in films such as "The Conspirator." 

On Thursday, a great young cast will make the show its own at EPAC!

You can learn more about the show by listening to the "Around the Wood Stove" podcast about it, courtesy of Wood Stove House in Lancaster. EPAC's Artistic Director (and "Spring Awakening" director) Edward R. Fernandez and Josh Kirwin (who plays Melchior in the musical) talk about this edgy show and its challenges.

You can also get a sneak preview of EPAC's production by listening to two songs from the show -- "Touch Me" and "The Song of Purple Summer" -- performed by the cast at Park City last week.

Of the upcoming EPAC production, Jonathan Groff said: "It means so much to me that a theater that gave me a chance to creatively spread my wings while I was growing up in Lancaster is producing the show that changed my life and started my career in New York."

There will be more about this show on the EPAC Blog later this week.

Do NOT sleep through your chance to see "Spring Awakening" right here in Ephrata. Visit the Web site or call (717) 733-7966 for tickets. The show runs Thursday through Nov. 10.

-- Merv Wright

Wednesday, September 12, 2012



The Ephrata Performing Arts Center is playing host to the zombie apocalypse!

Well, actually, it’s the Zombie EPAC-alypse, and it’s going to be a “thriller” of a fundraiser.

The Zombie EPAC-alypse Dance-a-thon is a way to have a fantastic time during the Halloween season AND support the theater we all love! It’s being held at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, in the ballroom at Lily’s on Main, 124 E. Main St., Ephrata.

There will be dancing, refreshments, a cash bar and prizes for the top fundraisers. Liz Frank, whom you’ve seen perform in such EPAC shows as “Chicago” and “Cats,” will teach everyone the steps to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance.

Participants in the dance-a-thon will dance from 7 until 10 p.m., and then watch a fun zombie movie while the fundraising results are being tallied.

Like so many local arts organizations affected by the economic downturn over the past few years, EPAC is always in need of funds to continue presenting the edgy, interesting, provocative, entertaining and soul-shaking theater for which it’s famous. By shaking your zombie booty at the dance-a-thon, you can join fellow friends of EPAC in a fun evening of dancing, laughter, fellowship and fundraising.

To sign up for the Zombie EPAC-alypse Dance-a-Thon, visit the event’s Web site and create a fundraising page. Share it with your friends on social media, and get them to help you raise money for your evening of dancing.

You’ll need to raise a minimum of $75 in order to be admitted to the ballroom for the event; if you raise $100, you’ll get a zombie T-shirt. Gift certificates and other prizes will be awarded for those who raise $200 and $400. And the top fundraisers can choose from prizes including a two-night stay at the Landgrove Inn in Vermont.

Hurry up and register: The names of the first 25 people to register a fundraising page will be put in a special drawing for an additional prize.

Even if you’re unable to attend the event, you can still raise money for EPAC; you can still create a fundraising page and support the theater.

Note: Those under 21 must be accompanied at the event by a parent or guardian.

If you need more information, e-mail questions to:

     Mary Ellen ("Merv") Wright

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Top: Kristie Ohlinger and Tim Riggs as Hannah Jelkes and Lawrence Shannon.

Above, Kristie Ohlinger portrays Hannah Jelkes in EPAC's "Night of the Iguana." 

Below: Tricia Corcoran, as Maxine Faulk, pursues Rev. Lawrence Shannon, played by Tim Riggs.


Did you ever sit down to watch a play, and found yourself instantly transported into the world of that play?

That’s what happened to me earlier this week, as I watched one of the final rehearsals of Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “Night of the Iguana.”

Though the air conditioning made the theater cool and comfortable, I instantly felt the heat, the humidity and the sea air as the actors conjured up a summer, 1940, day in the life of some troubled tourists meeting in the seedy Costa Verde resort in Mexico.

Wearing a rumpled white suit, Tim Riggs will make you feel the mental and physical exhaustion of ex-minister Lawrence Shannon, who has led a bus-tour group of griping Baptist biddies (and one sweet young thing) to the hotel.

Shannon, who has already been “locked out” of his former pastorate in Virginia and has been institutionalized for a breakdown, needs a sea breeze on his face and a long rest in a hammock. He’s dragging enough emotional and spiritual baggage to fill that tour-bus 10 times over.

But there’s no rest for the … wicked? … in this play. No one will let Shannon be.

Maxine Faulk (Tricia Corcoran), the pushy, earthy widow of Shannon’s old friend, is trying to get him into her bed in a most un-subtle fashion. Underage Charlotte Goodall (Hannah Smith) is also pursuing him relentlessly, while her guardian, Judith Fellowes (Elizabeth Pattey) browbeats him and tries to get him fired from his low-rent tour gig.

You’ll instantly feel how completely ex-minster Shannon is – like the titular, captive iguana in this play – at the end of his rope

When a destitute, unmarried artist – they called such ladies “spinsters” back then – named Hannah Jelkes (Kristie Ohlinger) and her elderly-poet grandfather, Jonathan “Nonno” Coffin (John Kleimo) check in, the wind shifts.

Characters connect and help each other examine their lives. Shannon is forced to confront his past, his future and his understanding of God.

This is among director Ed Fernandez’s favorite plays, and he’s wanted to direct it for a very long time. He’s clearly happy with how his cast is bringing his vision to life on the stage of the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

The play is heated and intense, all right, but it’s also funny. Tennessee Williams really understood people – their joys, troubles and wounded psyches. The dude knew how to develop characters, and write dialogue that both wounds and tickles! And this great cast of EPAC veterans knows just what to do with Williams’ great gifts.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen “Night of the Iguana,” and I have only a vague recollection of how it ends. I still want to be surprised. So, I watched part of the rehearsal – the play is in three acts with two intermissions – and then went home early.

I want to experience “Iguana’s” ending when I can see the full production on its feet later this week.

This show will get under your skin. If you want to experience the world of “Iguana” – learn the characters’ secrets, woes, hopes and motivations as only Tennessee Williams could conjure them up – call the EPAC box office for tickets at (717) 733-7966. You can also order online on the EPAC Web site.

The show opens Thursday, Sept. 6 – hey, that’s tonight! – and runs through Saturday, Sept. 22.


All those who work for, perform for, volunteer for or enjoy the theater created by the Ephrata Performing Arts Center want to thank John and Mary Hayes from the bottom of our hearts. They’re sponsors for “Night of the Iguana.”

We also thank EPAC’s season sponsors, GreenMountain Cyclery and the Farrington family, and and BlueRidge Communications.

Without support of sponsors like these, EPAC would, quite simply, not be able to boast of such an extraordinary history of well-made, thought-provoking and entertaining theater.

Thanks, also, to Lily’s on Main, 124 E. Main St., Ephrata, which is sponsoring the opening-night after-party tonight. If you’re attending opening night tonight (Sept. 6), your ticket stub will get you into the party after the show. Meet the cast, and enjoy light refreshments, a cash bar and a light-fare menu.

EPAC also loves its loyal subscribers, who also help keep the place humming along.

The theater is always looking for new subscribers and new sponsors, but also for that extra, small donation from new and long-time friends.

Theatergoers’ budgets are tight, and, therefore, times are really, REALLY tough in the arts right now. EPAC can always use whatever support you can give, and will always be extremely grateful for it. Thanks!


Speaking of support: EPAC is holding a really fun peer-to-peer fundraiser, called the Zombie EPAC-alypse Dance-a-Thon, from 7-10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, at Lily’s on Main, 124 E. Main St., Ephrata.

Visit this page to learn all about how you can become a dancing fundraiser at this event, which benefits the theater.

There will be prizes for the top fundraisers, and a drawing for a prize among the first 20 people who register their fundraising pages.

You’ll learn the “Thriller” dance, enjoy an evening with people who love EPAC as much as you do, and help raise money to help EPAC continue its important work.

There will be more details in the next blog post.

--- Mary Ellen “Merv” Wright

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The cast of EPAC's production of "The Who's Tommy" will dazzle you!

Liz Frank portrays Mrs. Walker in EPAC's production of "The Who's Tommy."



First it was a late-1960s concept album and Los Angeles stage show. Picking up Elton John, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Jack Nicholson along the way, it became a trippy 1975 film. It moved to Broadway in 1993, with such Broadway notables as Norm Lewis, Alice Ripley, Sherie Rene Scott and Michael Cerveris in the ensemble.

And now, “The Who’s Tommy” hits the Sharadin Bigler Theatre stage running, as talented director-choreographer Kristin Pontz directs her young, energetic Ephrata Performing Arts Center cast in this venerable rock musical. You know Kristin’s fabulous work from such EPAC shows as “Chicago,” “Rent” and “Cats,” and from concerts by local dance troupes for which she teaches and choreographs: Rev9, Cobalt, e-dance, to name a few.

“The Who’s Tommy” will appeal to the Baby Boomers who fell in love with Pete Townshend and The Who’s music back in the Sixties, and to young adults who love seeing fabulous singing and dancing wrapped around an interesting story. And everyone else in between!!

You know the story: Young Tommy accidentally sees his father kill his mother’s lover at the end of World War II, which leaves the boy catatonic – unable to see, hear or speak. Pain awaits Tommy as his parents seek a cure. Despite – or because of – his senses being stilled, Tommy becomes a “pinball wizard,” and must deal with the consequences and the questions that arise from his fame.

This is a “PG” show; some bad things happen to Tommy that could be disturbing to children. But for everyone else, do yourself a favor and spend the evening rocking out with Tommy and a cast of talented EPAC actors, singers and dancers!

The show opens tonight (Thursday, July 19). You do not want to miss this show; you’ve got until Aug. 4 to see it, but some of the performances are filling up fast. So visit the EPAC Website or call (717) 733-7966 for your tickets!

Don’t forget that, if you’re attending opening night of “Tommy,” your ticket entitles you to enjoy a light-fare menu, light refreshments and a cash bar at the after-party at The Hilltop Inn.

EPAC would like to thank The Hilltop Inn for sponsoring the party. And a huge, HUGE thank you, as always (we can’t thank them enough!!) to Green Mountain Cyclery and the Farrington family, and to Blue Ridge Communications, for being season and show sponsors.

Thanks, also, to everyone who participated in the Pound it Park fundraiser for Parker Harley, on Wednesday’s preview night of “Tommy.” We know the Harley family appreciates your generosity.


“Central Avenue Breakdown,” a musical opening tonight at the the New York Theatre Festival, is costumed by local designer Janell Berté. Janell has costumed many shows at EPAC -- making the lovely dresses, for example, seen in this season's "Blithe Spirit." Janell was featured in a spot on WGAL today; she's headed for New York to see her costumes come to life tonight on the stage of the Pershing Square Signature Center on 42nd Street. Read about the show here.


Can you believe EPAC is halfway through its 2012 season? It's been an amazing season so far, and there's a lot more fantastic theater to be made and seen between now and the end of the year. We appreciate our sponsors, patrons and subscribers so very much; without you, there would, literally, be no EPAC. No lights, no sound, no actors, no singing, no dancing ... no shows.

There are a few paid staff members and creative and technical professionals for individual shows. But EPAC runs on thousands of volunteer hours -- from the board, the cast and crew members and lots of miscellaneous volunteers. Those of us who watch all this fabulous theater all year long are indebted to all of them.

That said: EPAC could use more show sponsors and individual donations to keep the theater running, and to keep the wonderful productions of these plays and musicals affordable to our audiences. This theater runs on a shoestring budget; any extra expense that crops up unexpectedly can be devastating to the bottom line of a nonprofit community theater.

So, if you find a few extra dollars in your wallet that you can spare, please put them in the envelope next time you're seeing a show at EPAC, and hand that envelope to Terry Kreider, EPAC's house manager and business manager. You can also use the envelope to write a check to the theater. The folks at EPAC appreciate even the smallest donation, more than you can ever know. Thank you, in advance, for your generosity.

-- Mary Ellen "Merv" Wright, a proud EPAC volunteer.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


EPAC veteran Eliseo Roman (front row, on the right) figured prominently in the "Leap of Faith" production number at the recent Tony Awards.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man! 

Did you see Lancaster native and EPAC veteran ("The Fantasticks," "Jesus Christ Superstar") Eliseo Roman in the "Leap of Faith" production number on the recent Tony Awards telecast? 

From his turn as Judas in EPAC's 1994 production of "Superstar," we knew Eliseo could play a mean tambourine as one of his many marvelous talents. This time, he showed that skill to the whole NATION during his appearance in the number from the Tony-nominated Broadway musical, "Leap of Faith."

Yay, Eliseo!

Calling all Campers!!

If you'd like your kids to experience all the arts this summer, in one FUN camp experience, check out EPAC's Center Stage Summer Theater Camp at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

Children completing grades K through 6 can experience music, dance, theater and the visual arts through a camp experience designed to inspire creativity, imagination, risk-taking and storytelling skills.

The camp runs July 9 to Aug. 3. Children can attend from one, two, three or all four weeks, culminating in performances of "Disney's Jungle Book Kids" at 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5.

NEW THIS SUMMER: Artistic Director Edward R. Fernandez is offering an Intensive Acting Workshop for students completing grades 7-12. 

The workshop, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 6-17, ends with a 2 p.m. showcase performance on Saturday, Aug. 18.

Click here to register online for the camp.

Visit the EPAC Website, and click on the summer camp logo on the right side of the home page, for camp prices.

Heed the ghost of Noel Coward!

You still have one more chance to see Coward's witty play of beyond-the-grave zaniness, "Blithe Spirit," Saturday, June 23 (today!), at 8 p.m. Kudos to the cast, director, design team and crew for a wonderful run!

Preview for Parker

You may remember a personable young man who helped operate the theater's concession stand during some of EPAC's past special events and preview nights. That's Parker Harley, son of EPAC's former managing director Stephanie Harley.

Parker has been battling some serious health issues over the past few months, and is in need of a liver transplant. So, EPAC is turning the Wednesday, July 18, preview night of "The Who's Tommy" into a benefit performance for Parker.

Your $30 ticket includes a performance of "Tommy" and a summer picnic-themed reception before the show, with food provided by Lily's on Main, The Hill Top Inn and others. Your whole ticket price goes to the Harley family for Parker's future medical needs.

Call (717) 733-7966, or visit the EPAC Website for tickets.

Proud of Pride Performance

The cast and musicians of EPAC's "The Who's Tommy" did a fantastic job performing at Lancaster PA Pride June 16! Visit the EPAC Facebook page for pictures and videos of the performance.

"The Who's Tommy" runs July 19 to Aug. 4 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

                  -- Mary Ellen ("Merv") Wright

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Kristie Ohlinger is Elvira in EPAC's "Blithe Spirit."

An urbane British writer and his wife. Friends with whom they can spend a witty evening around the séance table. A kooky-but-committed psychic medium. A wacky maid who could crack the four-minute mile in heels. A glamorous, determined ghost of a long-dead wife, conjured from The Great Beyond against her will.

Put these interesting characters in the hands of British playwright Noel Coward, and a great Ephrata Performing Arts Center cast in the hands of director Rich Repkoe, and you’ve got “Blithe Spirit.”

The cast is about halfway through its run of this breezy, paranormal farce, being performed on the stage of the Sharadin Bigler Theatre in Ephrata. The show will transport you to that wonderful, funny, entertaining place in which we all engage our minds and spirits when we’re watching really satisfying summer theater.

I’ve seen the show, and can assure you that you’ll have a great time listening to the witty banter among these players. And you’ll LOVE the special effects once the ghostly gang has its poltergeist-ly way with the props (by Fran Hill and Monica Daniels). 

I cackled aloud listening to Lynne Demers-Hunt and Tim Spiese as Ruth and Charles Condomine toss around a whole lot of bon mots, sometimes along with Dr. and Mrs. Bradman, played by Rob Adams and Tricia Corcoran. Elizabeth Pattey will crack you up as the delightful Madame Arcati, a bicycle-riding medium whose dramatic trances engender unintended consequences.

Emily Martin’s Edith the Maid will delightfully exhaust you with her desperate-to-please-her-employer antics – her fleet feet and her balancing act with trays of drinks.
And wait until Kristie Ohlinger glides onto the stage as the divine Elvira, the ghost of Charles’ first wife! This blithe spirit has got some unfinished business with the corporeal world, and mischief on her mind regarding Charles and Ruth.

And let’s give it up for the design team!  Victor Capecce’s drawing-room set, Josh Starr’s lighting, Andy Babin’s sound and Janell Berte’s stunning costumes work together well to recreate the time period (Coward wrote the play in 1941), and evoke all the ghostly goings-on. Technical Director Beth Lewis and Stage Manager Rachel Snavely have helped Rich Repkoe put together a wonderful night of theater for the EPAC audience.

You have six more chances to see it … so call 733-7966 for tickets (or visit the Web site). The show runs through June 23.

-- Mary Ellen (“Merv”) Wright

Friday, May 25, 2012



Wow! Are you as excited as I am?

Yes! It's true! "Spring Awakening," the coming-of-age rock musical that has thrilled audiences on Broadway and on tour, is coming to the Ephrata Performing Arts Center at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre! It's the fall "TBA" musical EPAC has been promising to tell you about. Now that it's SPRING ... the news is out!

The show, which, on Broadway, starred EPAC veteran Jonathan Groff and fellow "Glee" actor Lea Michele, runs at EPAC from Oct. 25 to Nov. 10. You do not want to miss this one, people! This musical was tailor-made for EPAC, and you KNOW it's going to be a fabulous production. 

Auditions for the show are set for Saturday, June 2. Please see the end of this post, and the EPAC Facebook page, for details.

I've seen "Spring Awakening" off-Broadway, on Broadway and on tour, and I've laughed, cried and marveled at this show more with every viewing. 

The musical is based on German playwright Frank Wedekind's 1892 play, "The Awakening of Spring," which is subtitled "A Children's Tragedy." That says a lot about why this show will grab you by the heart and never let go. It's a story of teenagers grappling with questions about life, love and sexuality, and with their relationships with the adults in their lives. It's both wrenching and uplifting.

"Spring Awakening" peppers Wedekind's story with lovely ballads and exuberant rock tunes by Duncan Sheik (book and lyrics by Steven Sater) that will tempt you to download the Broadway cast album on your way home from the theater!

And, in case you missed Jonathan Groff's statement about EPAC presenting the show that put him on the theatrical map, he said (via e-mail from NYC):

"I am so thrilled that EPAC is including ‘Spring Awakening’ in their 2012 season! ... Being known for their edgy/exciting work and incredibly gifted local artists, they are the best theater in the area to put on this piece.

"It also means so much to me that a theater that gave me a chance to creatively spread my wings while I was growing up in Lancaster, is producing the show that changed my life and started my career in New York. I can't wait to see it!" 

We can't either!! 

The particulars:

Due to content, language and nudity, no one under the age of 16 will be eligible to audition for this production, which is being directed by EPAC artistic director Edward R. Fernandez, with musical direction by J.P. Meyer, and choreography by Kristin Pontz. Anyone under the age of 18 will require proof of parental consent.

Open-call auditions for the student roles (ages 16-22) as well as two adults (one male, one female playing both teachers and parents) will be held on Saturday, June 2, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Callbacks are Saturday afternoon and Sunday, June 3. See the Facebook page for more information.

Any questions should be directed to director Fernandez at (717) 733-7966 or via e-mail to

Show times are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, and 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 25-Nov. 10, with a pay-what-you-will pricing for unsold tickets to the 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Nov. 10. Regular tickets are $15-$27. No one under 16 will be admitted unless accompanied by a parent or guardian. 

-- Mary Ellen "Merv" Wright

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Combine a roller-skating Muse, a catty Greek chorus of inspirational goddesses, a dim-but-sincere artist, some fabulous music from the 1970s and a truly hilarious script and you’ve got “Xanadu,” opening tonight at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.

I laughed – nay, CACKLED – during the “Xanadu” rehearsal I sat in on early this week. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the show’s book, will do that to a girl. If you were lucky enough to see the EPAC On the Edge staged reading of “The Little Dog Laughed,” you’ll know you can look forward to a really entertaining evening at EPAC.

This is a really fun show with great music. It has something to say about art, love and the creative process, but its message is wrapped up in snappy-snarky dialogue, a singable score, candy-colored costumes, neon lights and a carefree 1980 attitude. It will definitely put a big ol’ smile on your face. 
EPAC veteran Cody Smith directs and choreographs. 

You may remember the campy 1980 movie musical, “Xanadu,” starring Olivia Newton-John. The plot of the stage musical is similar, but “Xanadu” on stage is a unique creation unto itself. I saw a recent interview with Cheyenne Jackson, who played Sonny on Broadway, and he estimated that only about three lines from the movie actually made it into the play.

You’ll be in a fabulous Newton-John/Electric Light Orchestra haze as the cast rocks out on such pop standards as “Magic,” “Evil Woman,” “Suddenly,” “Strange Magic,” “Have You Ever Been Mellow” and, of course, the title tune. Music and lyrics for “Xanadu” are by ELO’s Jeff Lynne and Newton-John collaborator John Farrar.

In the show, Sonny (Brian Viera) is an artist who’s lost his mojo. Clio the Muse (Katelyn Ann Mullen) assumes human form as Sonny’s roller-skating, Aussie-accented, leg-warmer-wearing earthly muse, Kira. She helps the artist envision his artistic dream: a roller disco! Bruce Weaver plays Danny, a businessman Sonny must convince to help him attain his dream.

But watch out for BD Frey as Melpomene and Wendy Caldwell as Calliope. They’re jealous of sister Clio’s privileged position with daddy Zeus. And they’ve got some wicked, magical curses in their bags of tricks.

Rounding out the spirited cast are Greek-chorus Muses Andi Jo Hill as Euterpe; Jessica Henry as Erato; Alex Weaver as Thalia, and James Barksdale as Terpsicore.

I must give major props to David “Big Daddy” Frey; I am so jealous of how he negotiates that stage in his flowing Muse gown and heels. This cast is heaven on wheels AND heels.

The show runs through May 12; don’t miss it! Call the EPAC box office at 733-7966 for tickets. See you there!

Many, MANY thanks to “Xanadu” show sponsor H&R Block; season sponsor The Farrington Family and Green Mountain Cyclery; and season media sponsor Blue Ridge Communications.

And, remember, your opening-night ticket includes the after-party at the Hill Top Inn, 415 E. Main St., Ephrata; thanks to the folks there for hosting!

P.S. Did you see the TV spot for "Xanadu"?

           -- Mary Ellen “Merv” Wright

Friday, March 30, 2012


EPAC alumnus Jonathan Groff taps his way through "Anything Goes" at the
 MCC Theater "Miscast" gala in New York 
(photos courtesy of

EPAC alumnus Eliseo Roman, far right, rehearses with fellow cast members of Broadway's "Leap of Faith" (photo courtesy of


EPAC alumnus Jonathan Groff (“Honk,” “Bat Boy”) channeled his inner Sutton Foster/Reno Sweeney and his inner Barbra Streisand/Fanny Brice Monday night, as part of the cast of the MCC Theater’s “Miscast” fundraising gala in New York.
Wait until you see his fancy hoofin’!!

Annually, "Miscast" allows Broadway stars to perform numbers they'd normally never be cast to sing. Jonathan, who has long been obsessed with Sutton Foster, performed "Anything Goes" from the show of the same name (which the Ephrata Performing Arts Center at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre will be presenting in December).

You can see the eight-minute video of his high-energy performance here

 Jonathan also performed "The Music That Makes Me Dance" from "Funny Girl."

The gala raises money for the MCC Theater (where Jonathan recently performed in the play "Submission"), its Youth Company and its work with New York City public high school students and emerging playwrights.

Jonathan's mom, Julie Groff, was in attendance, and said the show was very elaborate, filled with talented performers, and a lot of fun to watch. Julie said Jonathan worked very hard on his tap-dance number for weeks, while flying back and forth among Los Angeles, New York and Chicago for his varied TV work.

Other Broadway stars performing at "Miscast" included "Smash" star Megan Hilty; "Follies" star Jan Maxwell; Norm Lewis of "Porgy and Bess," and Josh Gad of "Book of Mormon."

You can read more about the gala, and see more pix of its performers, here.


In more EPAC alumnus news: Lancaster native Eliseo Roman, who performed in “The Fantasticks” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar” at EPAC, and as the “Piragua Guy” in “In the Heights” on Broadway, portrays an Angel of Mercy in the new Broadway musical, “Leap of Faith,” which opens April 3 at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

 The show, which stars Raul Esparza and Jessica Phillips and has a score by multi-Oscar-winner Alan Menken, is about a flim-flam preacher trying to hustle a small town (till he meets a small-town girl who may just give him something real to believe in, that is!)

Yay, Eliseo! Break a leg!

You can read more about the show here.


All of us who sat in the audience slack-jawed, sobbing and emotionally overcome by the recent run of "Next to Normal" at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre would like to thank everyone who had anything to do with the show -- the director, musical director and choreographer; the cast, the crew, the pit orchestra, the design team ... EVERYONE! You created a true, moving work of art no one will forget. The theater received so many complimentary e-mails and Facebook posts and heard so many effusive comments about that show. KUDOS!

And now, on to "Xanadu," April 26 - May 12!! This musical comedy (based on the campy 1980 movie of the same name) concerns a Greek muse and her efforts to inspire a struggling California artist to create a roller disco.

The show has a book by Douglas Carter Beane (who wrote the wonderful "The Little Dog Laughed" that was a recent "EPAC on the Edge" offering) and music and lyrics by Jeff (Electric Light Orchestra) Lynne and John Farrar (who wrote hit songs for Olivia Newton-John).

Call (717) 433-7966, or visit the Sharadin Bigler Theatre website for tickets or more information.

          -- Mary Ellen ("Merv") Wright

Friday, March 2, 2012


For years, Diana, her family and her doctors have been wandering through a thicket – trying to treat and cope with her bipolar disorder.
We follow them all as Diana tries to make herself whole, gathering pieces of her life and trying to integrate them within her mind and her soul. What important thing can’t she remember? Is her illness in her brain or in her soul?
This is the premise of a powerful rock musical, “Next to Normal,” which is receiving its regional premiere right here at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre (March 8-24).
I watched a recent rehearsal of the show, and I can attest that this Tony Award-winning musical is profound, funny and extremely moving, and that the cast is simply stellar. Wait until you hear this cast wrap its very talented vocal cords around this rock score. They will knock your socks off!
This is a very intense show; it will move you, make you think, make you cry and make you laugh. It will get under your skin, and stay with you for days. Make sure you bring tissues or a handkerchief to the show with you; you will need them!
The show explores themes of memory, love, loyalty, grief, the nature of mental illness and even ethics in psychiatry.
The book is beautifully written and structured, and the music that propels the story forward is powerful. I love the way we, as audience members, are thrown off-kilter by the order in which we learn certain pieces of information about Diana’s psychiatric journey; we gather these pieces as she’s gathering them, and we wonder about so much until mysteries are solved in the final scenes.
The catharsis you’ll experience will be palpable.
It’s no accident that the book won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. It’s one of only eight musicals to ever have won that prize.
The show is beautifully cast with marvelous actors and voices:

Diana - Roberta (Bobbie) Bear
Dan - Bryon Smith
Natalie - Kathryn Williams
         Gabe - Corey Buller
         Henry - Matt Whalen
         Doctor Fine - Bob Breen

The Sharadin Bigler Theatre will present a special performance of “Next to Normal,” part of the proceeds from which will benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That show is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 14; all seats are $20 apiece.
To order tickets online for that benefit show – a small facility and handling fee will be added – visit this page. You can also call the box office at (717) 733-7966.
For more information about “Next to Normal” – and to see a video and some photos – visit the Sharadin Bigler Theatre website and click on the purple “Next to Normal” logo.
The Sharadin Bigler Theatre would like to extend its deep gratitude for our sponsors for this show:  Philhaven; Green MountainCyclery and BlueRidge Communications.

-- Merv Wright