On Stage Extra: ‘The Butterfingers Angel’ at Uptown!

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is bringing live theater to its stage with a rarely seen production of “The Butterfingers Angel.”

The official opening night for the comedic show is December 3. The show will run through December 23.

Created by William Gibson (The Miracle Worker), one of America’s major dramatists, this touching, funny and highly imaginative retelling of the Nativity story is presented from a fresh and richly creative point-of-view.

The action follows a free-spirited Mary who had decided that men and marriage were not for her, a suddenly cautious Joseph who contends that he is too old for his intended, and a flustered boy-angel who directs each scene from a prompt book and can only manage to get the most strangled, bleating sounds from his trumpet.

Enhanced by a talking tree, sheep and a donkey, along with traditional Christmas music, this wholly original theatre piece is both secular and sacred – often antic, but the spirit of reverence, joy, and the true significance of the occasion is never lost.

According to Uptown Artistic Director Carmen Khan, “This is the story of Mary and Joseph and the Nativity. It defies the traditional telling of the story by creating a rich tapestry of characters and mood that are fresh and creative. The feel of the play is one of ridiculous hilarity and joy, but underlying that is a sense of the reverent, forgiveness, the miracle of the birth of a child and the hope and love that accompanies that.

“I wanted to find a holiday show that was highly entertaining and also moving. This play does both those things. It is filled with Christmas songs and fun, but the true significance of the occasion is never lost.”

This story is an original, funny and heartfelt retelling of the greatest story ever told. A fumbling young Angel announces to Mary that she has been chosen to become a mother. But Mary is a free spirit, and her plans do not include marriage, or motherhood. Once a bewildered Joseph is won over, an antic pageant of Tree, Sheep, Donkey, Cow, Kings, and others set off on the road to Bethlehem.

The Music Director is Ryan Touhey, an eight-time Barrymore Award nominee. He recently led the music for The Arden Theatre’s “Into the Woods.”

“I actually didn’t know this play existed at all,” said Touhey, during a phone interview this week from the theater.

“I had known William Gibson from ‘The Miracle Worker,’ but I never knew this one existed.

“When Carmen Khan talked to me about doing this show, I was intrigued about working on it but mystified how it would play. It was a challenge figuring out how it would work and how the music would figure into it. It has a lot of different elements.”

The show is a Christmas story with a twist.

“It centers around the Nativity,” said Touhey, who grew up in Sanford, Delaware and then graduated form the University of the Arts in 2009.

“It’s a familiar story that people know. Some of it does speaks to ‘What Is God To Us?’ There is an element of hope that runs through the whole plot and all the scenes.

“It also deals with choices about bringing a child into the world. Mary looks inside and trusts in herself. There are so many different elements.

“I don’t know if it borders on sacrilegious. I’d call it highly theatrical poking fun.”

The show has an original script but no original music.

“There are 12 familiar and not-so-familiar carols that people will know,” said Touhey. “Some tunes work as transitional. Other tunes – they are there to hammer home the moral part of the play.

“There are no original songs, but I have created some original arrangements to infuse them with new life. I’d say that 95 per cent of the songs everyone will know.”

Video link for “The Butterfingers Angel” – https://youtu.be/de1ihz8FvZo.

The show will run now through December 23.

Ticket prices start at $40.

There is another show this weekend that will feature traditional holiday music along with a selection of non-holiday songs.

Chris Ruggerio

On December 5, Chris Ruggerio will bring his holiday concert show “Christmas with Chris Ruggiero” to the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com). The following day, he will be making his first national TV appearance performing on Good Morning America with Rock & Roll Hall of Famer and music legend Darlene Love.

Ruggerio’s music and performance style is an anachronism. The 23-year-old singer takes his audiences on a journey through the golden age of rock and roll, breathing new life into the timeless music of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. He has been described as an “old soul”, a millennial whose approach to his concert appearances is more in line with that of a bygone era than it is the artists of his generation.

Ruggerio just released a Christmas album – “Christmas with Chris Ruggerio.” He has four prior album releases – “Time Was,” “I Am Chris Ruggiero,” “Quiet Nights,” and “Duets.”

“Two years ago, I decided I wanted to be a professional singer,” said Ruggerio, during a phone inter Tuesday from Las Vegas.

“I was watching Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons singing and I saw the audience so happy. When I perform, I try to sing every song with a touch of class that reminds the audience of a time when entertainers put their heart and soul into their songs and delivering an exceptional concert was really important.”

No stranger to live audiences and television audiences in the Northeast, Ruggerio first came to national attention when he performed in concert on one of PBS-TV’s coast-to-coast broadcast specials, which still airs to this day. Since then, he has been traveling around the country delivering his unique brand of vintage rock and roll and sharing his passion for the classics.

According to Ruggerio, “When I’m on stage singing a classic love song and I look out into the audience and see that twinkle in their eyes, I know they’re thinking about a special time and place in their life – or maybe their first kiss. It’s magic.”

Ruggerio grew up in Somers, a small town located in northern Westchester County, New York.

“I went to college in West Chester County and majored in finance,” said Ruggerio. “Looking back, I wish I hadn’t done that. I should have started singing earlier. The first time was a PBS special when I was 18. That was my first time playing with a live band. Now, I perform with my own six-piece band that includes two horns and me singing.

“When I decided I was going to be a professional singer, it was March 2021 – two days prior to the COVID shutdown. On a positive side, the shutdown gave me a chance to work on singing and performance. I spent a lot of time working on my own show. I spent a year-and-a-half on stagecraft and finding my own voice.

“Before that, I was just doing covers. Then, I discovered my own voice and had time to work on my show. Working with legendary arranger Charlie Calello really helped.

“I sang with my own voice telling my own stories. My repertoire is full of vintage rock-and-roll – a lot from the 1950s and 1960s and some 1970s. I like singing songs about love.”

At Sellersville, Ruggerio will be singing songs about love and songs about Christmas.

“For the Christmas show, I’ll be singing a lot of traditional Christmas songs along with songs from my other albums,” said Ruggerio. “It’s half Christmas and half album.”

Ruggerio’s holiday album includes “This Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Merry Christmas Darling,” “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” “The Christmas Song,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Please Come Home for Christmas,” “It’s Christmas Once Again,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Silent Night” and a song he performed with Darlene Love, “Grown-Up Christmas List.”

“I just released the Christmas album on November 1,” said Ruggerio, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale. “We recorded it at Power Station in New York City. We also did some recording in Florida – in Pompano Beach. And we got to record a track with Darlene Love.

“Some of the ‘must play’ songs in my live show are ‘Unchained Melody,’ ‘Can’t Take my Eyes Off You,’ ‘My Cherie Amour’ and ‘Betcha By Golly Wow.’ I grew up listening to this music and nothing else from when I was 12 until now.”

It’s easy to see why Ruggerio has been described as an “old soul” whose approach to music is more in line with that of a bygone era than it is to the artists of his generation.

Video link for Chris Ruggerio — https://youtu.be/0DMc_CubxT8.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on December 5 will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $39.50 and $47.50.

Another music concert this weekend will feature music from the past – music by 18th-century classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Joshua Hong

Symphony in C’s symphonic series at the Gordon Theater, Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts (North Third Street and Pearl Avenue, Camden, New Jersey, www.symphonyinc.org) opens on December 3 at 8 p.m. The Guest Conductor will be Joshua Hong who will be joined by Metropolitan Opera soprano Alexandra Nowakowski and pianist Clayton Stephenson.

The program will feature three very diverse Mozart works – Exsultate Jubilate, K. 165; Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488; and Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550.

Mozart composed Exsultate for the Italian castrato, Venanzio Rauzzini in 1773 while in Milan. In modern times, the motet is usually sung by a female soprano. Soprano Alexandra Nowakowski, a recent graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts, is appearing courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera, where she is covering roles in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” and Puts’ “The Hours.”

“Exsultate is a motet,” said Hong, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“It’s celebratory so it’s a good work to be performed close to Christmas. It’s exciting. It’s as joyful as Mozart gets. Joy emanates through the whole piece.”

A two-time recipient of The Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award, Hong graduated in 2020 from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University. At Rice, Hong served as Music Director of the Campanile Orchestra and appeared in performance regularly with the Shepherd School Orchestras. He previously served as Music Director of the Baltimore-based Occasional Symphony and Assistant Conductor of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra.

“I grew up in Southern California – in Westlake Village,” said Hong. “I have a Bachelor of Music degree in violin performance from the Juilliard School. I’ve played piano and violin since I was six. In my last year at Juilliard, I put together an orchestra with my friends. I did readings and went to conductor master classes.

“I auditioned at a few schools and ended up at Peabody Institute in Baltimore. It was great. I had a great mentor, and he gave me a lot of podium experience. I spent four years in Baltimore. It’s my favorite city in America.”

Hong is now living and teaching in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“Joe Hart from Symphony in C reached out to me in 2019 about doing this program,” said Hong. “That was pre-COVID. That’s why we’re just doing this now.

“What is the story that Mozart wants to tell you? Joe and his staff sent me this idea and I went with it. As a pianist and violinist, Mozart is bread and butter. It’s basic. It’s like vitamins. It’s perfection – and it has so much depth.

“I’ve never done an all-Mozart program before. They suggested this exact program to me. I thought it was good. The three pieces are from quite different times in his life. Exultated is very early.”

The second piece in the program — Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 — is a concerto scored for piano solo and an orchestra consisting of one flute, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns and strings. The piano concerto has three movements.

“The first movement is intimate – calm and so lyrical. The second movement is in the realm of sadness and depression. The last movement is more energetic.”

Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550 is sometimes referred to as the “Great G minor symphony,” to distinguish it from the “Little G minor symphony, No. 25.” The two are the only extant minor key symphonies Mozart wrote.

The work is in four movements, in the usual arrangement for a classical-style symphony (fast movement, slow movement, minuet, fast movement).

“The first movement is instantly recognizable,” said Hong. “People will recognize it from commercials and TV movies. It’s dark. There is a lot of atmosphere and drama. It builds up to this wild contrapuntal flurry. It may have been inspired by Bach.

“The second movement is more relaxed and gentler. The third is a minuet with a trio. It has a lot of weight to it. In the fourth, the dark brooding atmosphere is gone and it’s very exciting.”

Video link for Joshua Hong — https://youtu.be/eEy7e3JFWKA.

The concert on December 3 will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices range from $25-$52.

The world currently is in crazy shape – on so many levels. So, now more than ever, it’s important to keep humor in our lives.

That’s where comedy comes in.

If a comedian touches your funny bone, it’s a positive. If a comedy – on stage or on television – can make you laugh, it’s a good thing.

People in the Delaware Valley should be very grateful for 1812 Productions.

1812 Productions (1812productions.org) is dedicated to creating theatrical works of comedy and comedic works of theater that explore and celebrate our sense of community, our history, and our humanity.

1812 Productions was founded in 1997 by Jennifer Childs and Peter Pryor, two long-time friends and artistic collaborators, with a dedication to comedy, theater, and Philadelphia artists.  In 1998 the company premiered with The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged) and was promptly named “Best of Philly – Theater in Infancy” by Philadelphia Magazine.

1812 Productions is the only professional theater company in the country dedicated to comedy and was the recipient of an honorary citation from the City of Philadelphia for outstanding work and commitment to the Philadelphia arts community.

In 2000, they presented the company’s first original piece created by Childs, “The Big Time: Vaudeville for the Holidays.” It was a critical and box office success and was the beginning of what would become a holiday tradition – an original piece each year that focused on an era or area of comedic history.  It introduced a unique comedic style that is signature 1812 and was the first of now over 35 original works created by the company.

Since then, 1812 has continued to combine their original work with plays and devised theater pieces by established and emerging playwrights and artists, producing three mainstage shows and several limited engagement comedy events each season.

This weekend, 1812 Productions, Philadelphia’s all comedy theatre company, begins its 2022-2023 season with the return of their popular political satire, “THIS IS THE WEEK THAT IS.”

A celebrated part of the Philadelphia theatre season for the past 17 years, the show delivers sharp satire and content that changes with the headlines. This year’s production will run now through December 31 at Plays & Players Theatre, which is located at 1714 Delancey Place in Philadelphia.

“We present ‘THIS IS THE WEEK THAT IS’ every December except during election year,” said Childs, during a phone interview Friday afternoon.

“In election years, we do the show every night in October and all the way to election night.

“This is our 26th season. I’m a huge comedy history nerd. I co-founded 1812 with my friend Peter Pryor in 1997. We did a series that looked at eras of comedy history.”

Inspired by the 1960s British television satire, “That Was The Week That Was,” 1812 Productions continues its mission to “Tell the truth and make it funny”—an edict given by comedy legend Mort Sahl.

“We sat down with Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory at a Starbucks,” said Childs. “They were on tour with Robert Klein. They gave us advice.

“The first production of the show was a huge hit. Contemporary political humor filtered in over the years. It became ‘the Daily Show meets the Carol Burnett Show.’

“Political humor changes. For example, Bush’s stupid was low-hanging fruit. We try to dig deeper and find the truth.”

The show’s content changes from year-to-year…from week-to-week…from day-to-day.

According to Childs, “‘THIS IS THE WEEK THAT IS’ continues its mission to tell the truth and make it funny with a performance ensemble that is also a writers’ room. I’m so thrilled by the collection of new voices and TW vets around the table.  I think we are all looking for hope amidst news that is often really difficult. That’s a big part of what this show is every year—hope.”

Inspired by the 1960s British television satire “That Was The Week That Was,” and created by Childs, “THIS IS THE WEEK THAT IS” features a script that changes nightly, improvised comedy, musical parodies, and a versatile cast of comedy pros.

Childs is a Co-Founder of 1812 Productions and has served as the company’s sole Artistic Director since 2006. For 1812 she has created more than 20 original works of comedic theater including “The Carols,” “To the Moon,” “It’s My Party: The Women,” “Broken Biscuits” and “Cherry Bomb.”

Her solo shows, “Why I’m Scared of Dance” and “I Will Not Go Gently” have been performed at City Theatre in Pittsburgh, Act II Playhouse, the Kohler Center for the Performing Arts in Wisconsin, People’s Light and Delaware Theatre Company. She is the recipient of three Barrymore Awards (Best Supporting Actress in a Play 1996; F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theatre Artist 1999 and Best Actress in a Musical 2016).

A native of Columbus, Ohio, she came to Philadelphia in 1986 to study at the University of the Arts. She earned a degree in theater and opted to remain in Philadelphia.

“THIS IS THE WEEK THAT IS” is directed by Tanaquil Márquez. The show features Childs, Sean Close, Pax Ressler, Brenson Thomas, Robyn Unger, Lexi Thammavong, and Jackie Soro.

“The first act is mostly songs and sketches,” said Childs. “They are evergreen sketches that look back on 2022.  There are 2022 versions of holiday classics such as ‘A White Christmas’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ The second half features weekly – and sometimes daily – changes.”

Dealing with political figures has challenges.

“With Trump, how do you parody something that is a parody itself,” said Childs. “Once he became president, we ddin’t want to give him a platform so we had our actor stop playing him.

“Our comedy is a celebration that acknowledges there is darkness but also acknowledges the fact that we’re together. When people are laughing, they are open.

“This year, our show is a celebration after the pandemic. There is a lot of joy.”

Show times are December 1 at 7 p.m., December 4 at 2 p.m., December 8 at 7 p.m., December 11 at 2 p.m., December 15 at 7 p.m., December 16 at 8 p.m., December 22 at 7 p.m. and December 29 at 7 p.m.

Ticket prices are $40-$45. Select performances are mask-required.

Childs is also involved in a local show – also a show filled with laughter.

People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, peopleslight.org) is presenting “Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Panto,” which is running now through January 1, 2023.

Each year, the People’s Light holiday panto transforms a beloved children’s story into a musical extravaganza filled with outrageous characters, toe-tapping original music, slapstick comedy, and topical humor for both kids and adults.

The beloved holiday tradition returns to People’s Light with the world premiere of “Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Panto.” The show, which is directed by Bill Fennelly, features book by Jennifer Childs and music and lyrics by Alex Bechtel.

People’s Light has adapted the theatrical form of British pantomime into its own unique brand of holiday hilarity. Audiences of all ages gather to partake in the songs, dances, topical jokes, and jovial camaraderie of this longstanding tradition.

This year, People’s Light is welcoming two Philadelphia icons to the panto family — comedy legend Jennifer Childs writes the book and award-winning drag performer Eric Jaffe is the audience’s new guide through the magical mayhem – and two veterans — Bill Fennelly, who also directed 2019’s “Little Red Robin Hood,” and composer/lyricist Alex Bechtel, who penned the music and lyrics for 2016’s “Sleeping Beauty” and has appeared as an actor in multiple past pantos.

The People’s Light panto is entertainment for the entire family, and the audience is part of the action.

“It’s a family event,” said Childs. “It has something for all ages. There are opportunities in panto for audience interaction. There are contemporary references. It keeps it very live.”

“I used the Alice story as a jumping off point. It’s set in middle school. Alice is running away from a situation – similar to the ‘Wizard Oz.’ Why does she have to go to Wonderland? There is something specific she has to learn.”

“This is a very inclusive show. The extra sparkle is born out of this. We want a really joyful explosion.”

The show at People’s Light will through January 1. Ticket prices start at $47.

Childs brings joy and laughter into people’s lives. The world needs more people like her.

The local schedule features more productions that are serving up large doses of humor and laughter.

There are lot of choices for those looking to attend live theater this weekend.

The Playhouse on Rodney Square (1007 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, www.thegrandwilmington.org/venues/the-playhouse/) is presenting “Hairspray” now through December 4.

The show’s 20th Anniversary is this year, and this is the first time “Hairspray” has toured since 2009. The show’s messages of inclusivity are as timely and relevant as ever, whether it be about self-acceptance and body positivity or the resonance with the experiences of people of color today.

“Hairspray” started out many years ago as a John Waters movie – a typically off-beat Waters piece that eventually became a cult favorite. Set in 1962 in Baltimore, Maryland (Waters’ hometown), the production follows teenage Tracy Turnblad’s dream to dance on The Corny Collins Show, a local TV dance program based on the real-life Buddy Deane Show.

The show is a lavish production with great singing, sparkling dance routines, top-notch acting and colorful sets and costumes. It is also a thought-provoking story that is set in the early 1960s and deals with prejudices against blacks and fat people.

The story has a lot of messages – especially about discrimination and desegregation. But it’s not a heavy show – it’s a feel-good show. The main thing is that people have a good time when they come to this show.

Video link for “Hairspray” — https://youtu.be/1wO6h8AuOks.

“Hairspray” will run through December 4 at the Playhouse. Ticket prices start at $48.

Now through December 4, “Tina – the Tina Turner Musical” is running on Philadelphia’s Kimmel Cultural Campus at the historic Academy of Music. This engagement is hosted by the Kimmel Cultural Campus and The Shubert Organization.

“Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” is a jukebox musical featuring the music of Tina Turner and depicting her life from her humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her transformation into a rock and roll star.

The production at the Academy of Music has a great story – and great music performed by highly talented actors. The sets are colorful and inspiring, and the audience responds energetically to such classic hits as “A Fool in Love,” “Proud Mary,” “Private Dancer,” “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “We Don’t Need Another Hero” and, of course, “(Simply) The Best.”

Video link for “Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” — https://youtu.be/Q4xlsuaZ6To.

“Tina — The Tina Turner Musical” is running now through December 4 at the Academy of Music.

Ticket prices start at $20.

Now through December 23, The Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is presenting “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”

The successful song-and-dance act of army buddies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis follow a duo of singing sisters en route to their Christmas show at a Vermont lodge, which just happens to be owned by Bob and Phil’s former army commander. Filled with laughter, romance, spectacular dance numbers and the unforgettable songs of Irving Berlin, it’s clear to see why this is a holiday favorite for the whole family.

The American Music Theatre (2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, www.AMTshows.com) is presenting its annual Christmas production “The 2022 Christmas Show: Home for the Holidays” now through December 30.

This live, original musical experience features a new cast delivering the same high-quality, Broadway-caliber performances as in years past – and it all begins the moment you arrive!

Inspired by the warm, cherished memories of family Christmases spent together with loved ones, “Home for the Holidays” opens on the joyous gathering of family and friends who celebrate with a rich tapestry of song, dance, and holiday traditions. Next, we take you to Santa’s Candy Factory where you’ll be transported to a dream world of bright colors and Candy Elves! Finally, you’ll join us at a “midnight” candlelight service for some songs of worship, traditional carols, and the powerful, harmony-filled rendition of “O Holy Night.”

Ticket prices start at $23.

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