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On Center: The musical "Sugar Skull!" will take its audience on a sweet ride into Mexican culture

by on July 01, 2019 4:41 PM

It’s high summer in central Pennsylvania, but it won’t be long until autumn descends upon the ridges and valleys. It’ll be the ideal time of year for a musical inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

In its first visit to State College, New York City’s Mexico Beyond Mariachi will perform Sugar Skull!, A Dia de los Muertos Musical Adventure for youngsters and their families, on September 29 at Eisenhower Auditorium. The performance at Penn State will take place during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

The show centers on a girl named Vita, who thinks her family is crazy for planning a celebration for dead loved ones. But when a candy skeleton in her grandmother’s cemetery altar springs to life, Vita finds herself on a magical, musical journey to unravel the true meaning of Day of the Dead.

Sugar Skull, a charismatic confection, dreams of riding the train to Who-Knows-Where. Along with her new skeletal friend, Vita dances with ancient ancestors, sings with a sorrowful sorceress, escapes the trickster Chaneques, and even meets the famous Catrina Calavera. But can the clever youth help her sweet companion board the train before it’s too late?
Mexico Beyond Mariachi was formed 15 years ago to help communities go beyond stereotypes to learn about traditional Mexican performance styles. Company founders realized that while Mexican influences abound around us, most Americans don’t know much about the stories, legends, and myths woven into our neighbor country’s cultural fabric.

Using live music, dance, and storytelling, Mexico Beyond Mariachi artists immerse audiences in the magical realism that permeates Mexican culture.

“Equal parts artistic and educational, Mexico Beyond Mariachi re-defines the interactive entertaining experience, engaging and captivating audiences of all ages,” writes Gayle Schmidt, director of public education for New York Botanical Garden. “Each member brings a unique and personal aspect to the stage, creating cohesive, well-balanced, and engaging performances.”

The company’s school performance and arts-in-education program has reached more than 100,000 students in 250-plus school and community venues in the eastern United States. Sugar Skull!, the troupe’s second full-scale touring production, debuted last year.

“The Mexico Beyond Mariachi program appeals to the non-Latino community as an introduction to a culture that, like the country of Mexico, is just beyond the horizon of mainstream American culture,” writes Timothy G. Hart of the Ocean County (New Jersey) Cultural and Heritage Commission. “Using a judicious mix of Spanish and English, the program creates cross-cultural impact.”


Tickets for Sugar Skull! and other 2019–20 presentations go on sale July 11 to Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State members, July 12 to Choice buyers (four or more eligible events purchased in one transaction at a 10 percent discount), and July 18 to everyone. Learn about all of the events, beginning July 8, at

John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.





John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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