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FUSE Productions Unveils 2017-18 Theatre Season

by on September 12, 2017 5:00 AM

FUSE Productions will once again present a mix of classic and contemporary musical theatre productions and play readings for its 2017-18 season.

FUSE will present all of its 2017-18 Mainstage shows in Schwab Auditorium on Penn State’s University Park campus, and season tickets are now available for the first time. The fully staged performances feature live musical accompaniment and casts that include a mix of local actors; Penn State students, faculty, and alumni, and professionals from around the country.

As in previous years, the Mainstage Season shows will be accompanied by a Play Reading Series, Musical Theatre Cabarets and a children’s musical.

Mainstage Season

“We have found our niche in the local theatre scene,” says Rich Biever, FUSE producing artistic director. “Since our recent productions of Parade and Assassins, we have become known for doing adventuresome pieces, and our upcoming season is no exception. We are thrilled to once again present a season of works that are either new or not often produced.”

Leading off the Mainstage Season will be a production of the 2015 Tony Award winner for best musical, “Fun Home,” Thursday, Sept. 21 through Saturday, Sept. 23.

“Fun Home” is a coming-of-age story about sexuality and a gay father. It won five Tony Awards in 2015, and the cast album received a Grammy nomination in 2016. Adapted from a 2006 graphic memoir by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, it is the first Broadway musical to have an openly lesbian protagonist.

“It’s heavy at times,” says Biever, “but there’s obvious social value in presenting it. The characters are very relatable, as are the themes of growing up and navigating family relationships.”  

Also notable about “Fun Home” is the setting of the musical in nearby Beech Creek, Pa., where Bechdel grew up.

“Ours will be the first State College production of this show,” says Biever, “and regionally, only the Millbrook Playhouse will have presented it before us. So it feels very timely.”

Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s adventuresome Merrily We Roll Along, will run Feb. 22-24.

Perhaps the most complex of the three musicals, “Merrily We Roll Along” relates, in reverse chronological order, the artistic journey of a gifted composer of musicals who has left behind many friends and creative ideals to become a movie producer. Told almost entirely in a series of flashbacks that move backward in time, the musical is based on a 1934 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart.

“Again, ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ is a very relatable, very human story,” says Biever. “It’s really about integrity and how seriously you take friendship.  Should you pursue what will make you well-liked? Or simply what moves you? It’s about ambitions, compromises, and friendships getting mangled along the way. You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate it.”

The original 1981 Broadway production ran for only 52 previews and 16 performances, despite a cast that featured Jason Alexander, Liz Callaway, Tonya Pinkins and Giancarlo Esposito, among others. It was revised and presented Off-Broadway in 1994, a production on which the FUSE Productions show will be based.

The final musical in the FUSE Mainstage Season, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” will be performed June 21-24. The  2015 musical based on the Disney animated film and featuring a score by Alan Menken,  is one of many adaptations of the famous 1831 Victor Hugo dramatic novel about a disfigured bell ringer, Quasimodo, whose loyalties are tested in 15th-century Paris. The musical has a book by Peter Parnell and songs by Menken and Stephen Schwartz.

Originally produced by Walt Disney Theatrical in Germany in 1999, the show is a slightly darker version of the 1996 animated Disney feature film. The German musical, which ran in Berlin for more than 1,200 performances over four years, was then revised and presented in America by La Jolla Playhouse in California in 2014 and the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2015. Menken and Schwartz wrote several new songs for each stage version of the musical while retaining many songs from the original animated movie.

“Alan Menken has said that this is his favorite score,” says Biever, “and it draws more heavily on classical music than some of his other work. Ours will be the first production of it in State College. Technically, it will be comparable to our recent production of ‘Les Miserables,’ with a big cast. We’ve had a lot of interest in this show from Penn State School of Theatre alumni and others. And as we did with ‘Camelot,’ we’re delighted to collaborate once again with the State College Choral Society, who will provide a choir to enhance our sound.

“This will be a major production and a not-to-be-missed event in Schwab Auditorium in June.”

Play Reading Series, Musical Theatre Cabarets, and Children’s Musical

FUSE’s popular Play Reading Series also will continue in the new season with a reading of a new, locally written play, Cindy Simmons’ “Riot Walkers” on Saturday, Oct. 14.

On Saturday, Nov. 4, Ronald Harwood’s “The Dresser,” will be read. The play is about an aging British actor during the waning months of World War II. “The Dresser” garnered a 1982 Tony nomination and was adapted into a 1983 movie starring Albert Finney and a recent BBC television movie starring Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins.

FUSE will also resume its regular series of Musical Theatre Cabarets, featuring the songs of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman on Oct. 7; the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loewe on Nov. 11; and the annual Holiday Cabaret on Dec. 16.

All play readings and cabarets are held at FUSE Productions’ 1108 S. Pugh Street rehearsal studio.

Rounding out the FUSE Productions 2017-18 season will be a May production of the 2010 children’s musical “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical,” co-written by the popular children’s book author Mo Willems.



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