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Curtain Rises: Touchstone ‘Follies’ on stage in-person

As the holiday theater season begins, Touchstone Theatre’s annual holiday-themed vaudeville show returns in person to the South Bethlehem stage for its 22nd year.

“Christmas City Follies XXII” will be presented Dec. 2 - 19 in Touchstone’s black box theater, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem.

Last season, because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic shutdown, Touchstone presented “Follies” as a video on YouTube. Touchstone Ensemble members are excited to return to live theater this year.

“Presence and interaction are at the heart of what we do at Touchstone,” says Artistic Director Jp Jordan. “Being able to be back in the theater with live audiences is the best present we could receive this year.”

“Follies” combines original sketches, characters, songs and stories presented by the Touchstone Ensemble and friends. The comedy ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, with subject matter that includes family stories, dancing hippos, snow camels, holiday yoga and kazoo-playing Christmas trees.

Students in Touchstone’s MFA program will present a preview, “A Christmasy Christmas in the Christmas City.”

The in person 15-minute “Mini-Follies” will be presented Nov. 27. Performances are 11 a.m. Nov. 27, Historic Bethlehem Museum & Sites’ 1750 Smithy; 12:30 and 2 p.m. Nov. 27, Sun Inn Courtyard’s Wintergarten, and 4 p.m. Nov. 27 at the lighting of South Side Arts District’s New Street Christmas Tree.

Touchstone and Moravian graduate students bring the spirit of the season to life with music, skits about wrestling and dreidels. Touchstone’s MFA in Performance Creation is a program in partnership with Moravian University.

“Christmas City Follies XXII” performances are 8 p.m. Dec. 2 - 4, Dec. 9 - 11 and Dec. 16 - 17; 2 p.m. Dec. 5, 12 and 19, and 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 18.

Touchstone Ensemble members and performers are fully-vaccinated and will perform without face masks. The audience is required to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within the previous 72 hours. Audience members must wear face masks.

Tickets: www.touchstone.org; 610-867-1689

Muhlenberg College “Saint Plays”:

Muhlenberg College Department of Theater & Dance students are back on stage for in-person performances for the holidays with an evening of short plays with subjects ranging from Judas to Joan of Arc.

Erik Ehn’s “The Saint Plays” will be presented 8 p.m. Dec. 2 - 3 and 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 4 - 5, Studio Theatre, Trexler Pavilion for Theatre & Dance, Allentown.

Ehn’s collection of plays includes more than 100 entries loosely based on the lives of saints and Biblical characters. Muhlenberg will present six of the plays. Muhlenberg theater professor James Peck and four students direct.

Placing the protagonists and their suffering in a modern context, Ehn produces what he calls “contemporary fairy tales for the stage.” His richly allusive, ecstatic, hallucinogenic performance poems cleave to hope and beauty in the aftermath of loss.

“The material is written by a very devout Catholic who also has some real critiques and suspicions about the ways that the institutional church embodied its mission,” Peck says.

Peck directs “Incide,” which follows Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus who betrayed him.

Ashley Hilary directs “Wholly Joan’s,” a play about Joan of Arc, the 19-year-old French woman who led an army of men to victory in battle in the 15th-century.

Katie Keller directs “The Freak,” the story of an imagined exchange between St. George, the dragon slayer, and Gunna, a girl who was born with wings in 1957 Stockholm.

Savannah Hastings directs “16670,” a play about Maximillian Kolbe, a man who was canonized after the Holocaust.

Maddi Whiting directs “Tree of Hope, Keep Firm,” a play that puts The Virgin Mary into conversation with her younger self.

“The Saint Plays” will feature original music composed by Muhlenberg student Zach Montenegro.

Tickets: www.muhlenberg.edu/seeashow; 484-664-3333

Players of the Stage “Love Labors Happily Ever After”:

Players of the Stage will present an original play that re-envisions fairy-tale endings with a Shakespearean twist as its holiday show.

“Love Labors Happily Ever After” will be staged 7 p.m. Dec. 2 - 3 and Dec. 9 - 10, and 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 4 and 11, Living Hope Presbyterian Church, 330 Schantz Road, Allentown.

Sharon Barshinger, the troupe’s interim artistic director, wrote the play and is directing.

The play picks up at the end of four familiar fairy tales and has the story’s heroes and heroines affected by plot points from Shakespeare’s plays. The result is a comedy about how each one goes about securing true love.

The theater group of mostly Christian home-schooled students, raises money for local causes. Tickets are free. Patrons are asked to donate to the chosen charity. The group has donated proceeds to Allentown Rescue Mission, American Ministries to the Deaf, Bloom (formerly Truth for Women), Bright Hope Pregnancy Center, HOPE KIDS and Restoration Life Center.

To date, the troupe has raised more than $233,000 for charities.

Tickets: potstickets@gmail.com

“Curtain Rises” is a column about the theater, stage shows, the actors in them and the directors and artists who make them happen. To request coverage, email: Paul Willistein, Focus editor, pwillistein@tnonline.com

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY OF TOUCHSTONE THEATRE Touchstone Theatre and Moravian University graduate program students present “Mini-Follies” for several performances at three venues Nov. 27 in Bethlehem.