After 144 performances of seven different productions presented over 55 days, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival concluded the 27th season with its rotating repertory of Shakespeare in Love and King Richard II, and its “Extreme Shakespeare” production of All’s Well That Ends Well.
The season closed Sunday, August 5, at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts on the Center Valley campus of DeSales University.
The Festival’s performances of seven productions over ten weeks were accomplished by a seasonal company of 225 artists and artisans coming to the Lehigh Valley from 20 states, including accomplished Broadway, feature film, and television stars with award-winning directors and designers.
Under the helm of Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy, the ambitious 27th season, which boasted critical acclaim throughout the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia, included three Shakespeare plays: Twelfth Night, King Richard II, and All’s Well That Ends Well; a Shakespeare-themed production, Shakespeare in Love, (the stage adaptation based on the Academy Award-winning screenplay); and the timely Tony Award-winning musical, Ragtime.
“It is an honor each summer to produce these great plays, works of exquisite depth and dimension. Our mission is to deliver inspiring and enriching works of art, and great plays are a key ingredient,” says Mulcahy.
Our recent vision-centered growth, plus the success of the preceding three years, puts PSF in a stronger position to expand in ways that are even more central to our mission. Depth is an important form of progress for an arts organization and the latitude to produce profound and important plays like King Richard II and Ragtime deepen the PSF experience for our patrons.”
The 2018 season focused on the Festival’s goal for world-class theatre close to home through organizational and artistic growth as a unique cultural resource in the Lehigh Valley with ongoing national recognition as an influential regional theatre. Playbill.com recently recognized PSF as one of the “Must Know Regional Theatres” in the nation.
“This season reflected an intentional shift towards opportunities to dig deeper into Shakespeare’s canon with a lesser known but brilliant play; to produce a musical that enriches the community through the illumination of fundamental truths of the human experience; and a title that increases our exploration of the great playwright himself, with the Pennsylvania premiere of Shakespeare in Love,” says Mulcahy.
The season launched on the Main Stage with Ragtime, which opened to critical acclaim with testaments to Associate Artistic Director Dennis Razze’s direction, and the Festival’s mission to produce world-class work.
In his review of Ragtime for theThe Reading Eagle, George Hatza wrote: “An artistic triumph…the show may be the boldest mounting ever attempted by the Festival. Ragtime just may be a valiant historic leap for this cherished regional institution.”
The Schubert Theatre opened with equal praise for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by Matt Pfeiffer who “proves again why he’s the region’s most reliable director of William Shakespeare,” wrote Mark Cofta for the Broad Street Review, adding it was a “deep and delightful…very special production.”
A 1999 graduate of the theatre program at DeSales University (then Allentown College), Pfeiffer is a former student of Mulcahy’s, who has led the University’s acting program since 1996. “Two decades ago, a student brought me a scene from Twelfth Nightand said, ‘I have these ideas about music in Shakespeare plays,’ then 20 years later, as one of Philly’s leading directors, Matt Pfeiffer directed a stunning and profound Twelfth Night here at the Festival in an ongoing partnership with Alex Bechtel to examine how music can be central in Shakespeare‘s storytelling.”
Contributing to the musical magic and storytelling, Twelfth Night featured a cast of PSF veteran actors: Greg Wood, Eric Hissom, Eleanor Handley, Suzanne O’Donnell, Akeem Davis, and Scott Greer. PSF newcomer Victoria Janicki played Shakespeare’s charming heroine Viola, following her run as Joan in the National Tour of Broadway’s Fun Home.
Seeking to grow in its role as a national theatre destination, PSF continued to produce two plays in repertory with the same actors alternating performances daily on the Main Stage. A Lehigh Valley patron would have to travel nine hours to find the nearest opportunity to attend a professional theatre that produces musicals in addition to Shakespeare and other classics playing in rotating repertory within a few weeks’ time. This allows a destination theatre traveler to see multiple productions in a single visit. PSF is just one of seven theatres on the continent offering this range and scale of programming for summer destination patrons, and producing three Shakespeare plays in a single summer season. This season, Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s stage adaptation of Shakespeare in Love and Shakespeare’s epic history play, King Richard II ran in repertory for three weeks.
Directed by Patrick Mulcahy, the joyful and poignant Shakespeare in Love made its Pennsylvania premier and garnered high praise in numerous reviews, notably Philadelphia Magazine regarded the play as “extravagantly enjoyable magic.” Paul Willistein of Lehigh Valley Press agreed: “Superb on so many levels.
Mulcahy hits all the right notes…a monumental achievement.”
Howie Shapiro of WHYY added it was, “a super sized gift…performed with haunting beauty.”
King Richard II was equally highly regarded: “A stunning piece of theatre…brilliant, ” wrote Kathy Lauer-Williams of The Morning Call.
The renowned British actor Christian Coulson, most recognized for his role as Tom Riddle in the feature film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, illuminated the travails of a reckless monarch in his masterful performance as King Richard. Hatza wrote that the production was “quite simply a masterpiece,” and praised Coulson’s performance in the title role as “grand and memorable,” in his review for The Reading Eagle.
King Richard II was the 30th of Shakespeare’s 38 plays that PSF has produced. As the Festival makes its ambitious progression through the canon, Shakespeare enthusiasts can look forward to the next chapters in the cycle Henry IV, Parts I and II, which will be produced in the coming seasons.
The accolades continued throughout the summer, concluding with All’s Well That Ends Well, the Festival’s eighth annual “Extreme Shakespeare” production, rehearsed and produced in the way Shakespeare’s company likely would have: the actors arrive with their lines learned, rehearse in a few days, wear what they can find, and without a director or designers, open for an audience later that week.(Most productions at PSF rehearse for three-plus weeks.)
All’s Well That Ends Well played to numerous sold-out houses and the process was highly lauded: “These actors are consummate professionals,” said Shapiro of WHYY. “If you didn’t know how it was produced you’d probably not be able to guess. That’s the highest compliment for an original-practice production.” The production played to 96% capacity in the intimate Schubert theatre, and was the second highest attended “Extreme Shakespeare” production in the Festival’s history.
Other highlights of the 27th season included two one night only performances by Festival favorites: Anthony Lawton retuned with his allegorical journey The Great Divorce; and Dan Domenech, in Bootleg Famous: To Broadway and Beyond, a concert which included songs and stories from his 16-year career spanning Broadway and world tours. Domenech played the role of Ché in last season’s hit production, Evita.
Integral to PSF programming since its inception, children’s shows continued to delight families—Alice and Wonderlandand Shakespeare for Kids (which celebrated its 10 year anniversary), played to an audience of more than 8,700 children and families.
Expanded accessibility initiatives included an additionalRelaxed Performance (RP), a sensory friendly performance designed to create a judgment-free and inclusive environment for patrons on the autism spectrum or those with a wide range of sensory and communication differences. With the support of the Lehigh Valley Arts Council’s Arts & Access program through an Audience Accommodation Grant, PSF hosted its first Open Captioned performances, in addition to the Festival’s continuing American Sign Language-interpreted and Audio Described performances. With an ongoing focus to reach the widest possible audience, more than 1,600 tickets were donated to students and community groups throughout the region as part of the Festival’s FreeWill program for free tickets and transportation to Festival productions throughout the summer.
PSF’s annual fundraiser, the Luminosity Gala, netted a record-breaking $120,000 in support of the Festival’s artistic and education programs with 486 people in attendance at the June 2 event. The Festival also renewed several major national grants to support ongoing education initiatives including awards from the Shubert Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts’ Artworks program, and Shakespeare in American Communities from the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest.
“Donors make all of this possible, not only for the thousands who travels to see these works, or the tens of thousands of Lehigh Valley residents who experience them each year, but especially for the thousands of students who are able to experience that same enriching experience because of the admirable generosity of our donors, sponsors, and supporters.”
The 2018 Season Sponsors were Keith and Stefanie Wexler. The Associate Season Sponsors were Linda Lapos and Paul Wirth, Kathleen Kund Nolan and Timothy E. Nolan, the Szarko Family, and Harry C. Trexler Trust.
Preparations for the 2019 season are already underway with a season soon to be announced. A collaborative one night only concert performance with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra on the Labuda stage is already scheduled, as is a PSF/ASO collaboration on the Symphony’s March 2019 concert featuring Mendelssohn’sA Midsummer Night’s Dream.
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Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival is a professional company in residence on the idyllic Center Valley campus of DeSales University, featuring acclaimed actors from New York, Philadelphia and L.A.
About Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival
Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy, is the only professional Equity theatre of its scope and scale within a 50-mile radius. PSF is one of only a handful of theatres on the continent producing Shakespeare, musicals, classics, and contemporary plays, all of which can all be seen in rep and in multiple spaces within a few visits in a single summer season. Similarly, PSF was among just a handful of theatres on the continent this summer to produce three Shakespeare plays in a single summer season. A patron would have to travel seven to nine hours from PSF to find a comparable range of offerings at a single theatre within a few weeks’ time.
The Festival’s award-winning company of many world-class artists includes Broadway, film, and television veterans, and winners and nominees of the Tony, Emmy, Obie, Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, Jefferson, Hayes, Lortel, and Barrymore awards. A leading Shakespeare theatre with a national reputation for excellence, PSF has received coverage in The Washington Post, NPR, American Theatre Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and in recent seasons The New York Times has identified PSF as one of the leading summer theatre festivals in the nation. “A world-class theater experience on a par with the top Bard fests,” is how one New York Drama Desk reviewer characterized PSF.
Founded in 1992 and the Official Shakespeare Festival of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, PSF’s mission is to enrich, inspire, engage, and entertain the widest possible audience through first-rate productions of classical and contemporary plays, with a core commitment to Shakespeare and other master dramatists, and through an array of education and mentorship programs. A not-for-profit theatre, PSF receives significant support from its host, DeSales University, from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts. With 150 performances of seven productions, the Festival attracts patrons each summer from 30+ states. In 27 years, PSF has offered 168 total productions (72 Shakespeare), and entertained 900,000+ patrons from 50 states, now averaging 34,000-40,000 in attendance each summer season, plus another 13,000 students each year through its WillPower Tour. PSF is a multi-year recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts: Shakespeare in American Communities, and is a constituent of Theatre Communications Group, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, and the Shakespeare Theatre Association. In 2013, leaders of the world’s premier Shakespeare theatres gathered at PSF as the Festival hosted the international STA Conference.
The Festival’s vision is for world-class work.
PATRICK MULCAHY (Producing Artistic Director, PSF) Since assuming leadership in 2003, Mulcahy has led PSF’s surge in artistic excellence, financial stability, and national recognition. Accomplishments include first-ever grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, attracting a multitude of award-winning artists including winners and nominees of the Tony, Obie, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Barrymore, and Emmy awards, a 75% increase in annual attendance, a successful campaign to double the Festival’s endowment, and the expansion of the number of Actors’ Equity contracts per season. He led the strategic planning process that led to PSF’sVision 2030, a commitment to world-class professional theatre, and coverage inThe New York Times,The Philadelphia Inquirer, andThe Washington Post. As a professional director, actor, and fight director, credits include Broadway, Off-Broadway, regional theatre, television and radio. Mr. Mulcahy has acted with many industry luminaries including Don Cheadle, Angela Bassett, Cynthia Nixon, and Tony Shaloub at the New York Shakespeare Festival, The Roundabout Theatre, Hartford Stage, Great Lakes Theatre Festival, and the Walnut Street Theatre. He served as fight director forA Few Good Menon Broadway, and multiple Off-Broadway productions starring Marcia Gay Harden, John Mahoney, Patrick Dempsey, and John Savage. He directed Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga inThe Real Thing, and, for PSF, directed The Winter’s Tale, Henry IV, Part 1, The Tempest, Antony and Cleopatra, Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Shakespeare in Love. Also Head of Acting at DeSales, Patrick holds degrees in acting and directing from Syracuse University.