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17th annual ABEs: Community Theater

Here are the 17th annual ABEs for Community Theater shows presented in 2022:


Producer: William Sanders,

Civic Theater of Allentown Artistic Director. Sanders presented a creative balance of crowd-pleasers on the Main Stage (“Spamalot,” “The SpongeBob Musical,” “A Christmas Carol”) and edgy material on the Main Stage (including two Lehigh Valley premieres: “The Color Purple,” “Indecent”) and in Theatre514 (the Lehigh Valley premiere of “Significant Other”). The avant-garde shows are welcome, and are in the vein of work produced by and-or presented at the former Theatre Outlet, Allentown Public Theatre and Allentown Arts Center.

Musical: “The Color Purple,“

Civic Theatre of Allentown. From the review of the Lehigh Valley premiere: “‘The Color Purple’ at Civic Theater of Allentown is one of the most astounding locally-produced musical theater performances I’ve seen in the Lehigh Valley. ... The Civic Theatre of Allentown production of ‘The Color Purple’ will be regarded as a landmark production in Lehigh Valley theater.”

Original Musical: “The Rising:

The Irish Rebellion of 1916 in Song and Verse,” Crowded Kitchen Players.” The hybrid theatrical presentation recounts the story of the World War I Era rebellion. Although it wasn’t a musical per se in that the cast doesn’t break into song and dance, it had a lot of music. The songs, written, sung and performed on acoustic guitar by Joey Mutis III of The Electric Farm brought insight and solace to the world premiere of the original play written and directed by Ara Barlieb, CKP co-founder with Pamela McLean Wallace.

Actress, Musical: Juanita-Renay Gray

(Celie), ”The Color Purple,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. From the review: “Juanita-Renay Gray is absolutely the most astounding of the show’s astounding performers as Celie, the much put-upon protagonist. Her frame seems to transform from as fragile as that of a child to as strong as that of a superhero. Her body language and facial expressions are winsome, tragic and triumphant. Gray has several spotlight numbers, with “I’m Here” the clincher that she pours her heart, soul and phenomenal voice into.”

Actor, Musical: Micah Henning

(Jim Hardy), “Holiday Inn,” The Pennsylvania Playhouse. This was the first time I’ve seen Henning on stage. His voice is incredible, especially, in “The Little Things in Life,” “Blue Skies”; with Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson (Linda Mason), “Marching Along with Time” and “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk,” and with Marsh-Gilkeson and Trevor Colahan (Ted Hanover), “Let’s Start the New Year Right” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.”

Ensemble, Musical: “The Color Purple,”

Civic Theatre of Allentown. In addition to Juanita-Renay Gray (Celie), there’s Krystal Danielle (Shug Avery), with several showstoppers (“Push Da Button,” “Too Beautiful for Words,” “What About Love?” and the title song, “The Color Purple”); Ne’Lashee (Sofia) in “Dear God”; Veronica Cummings (Nettie) in “It’s Easter Sunday”; Abigail Ariza (Squeak) in “Brown Betty,” with Harpo (Justan Parker-Fields), Celie and the Male Ensemble, and Jaciel Cordoba (Mister) in “Mister’s Song.” From the review: “The production has powerful ensemble singing with wonderful choral work ... “

Director, Musical: Fredi Walker-Browne,

with Assistant Director Nina Elias Ace, “The Color Purple,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. From the review: “Walker-Browne keeps the production upbeat and fun, but doesn’t diminish the somber moments and serious subject matter. She has gotten consistently excellent performances from the 19-member cast.”

Choreography, Musical: Jennifer Dorn,

“Holiday Inn,” The Pennsylvania Playhouse. Several production numbers feature ensemble tap-dancing in the Lehigh Valley premiere directed by Rody Gilkeson. When the tappers form a circle and, tap-shoes outward, make the wheel turn, I was won over. Just terrific.

Play: “Indecent,”

Civic Theatre of Allentown. The Lehigh Valley premiere of “Indecent” was a courageous choice. From the review: “It’s that other play, the play that ‘Indecent’ refers to, from which the title is derived. ... ‘God of Vengeance’ by Sholem Asch, a Polish-Jewish playwright who emigrated to the United States, is the play within the play. ... “Civic Theater’s production of ‘Indecent’ tells the story in a contemplative manner as directed by William Sanders, Civic Theatre of Allentown Artistic Director. ... “Sanders’ production is elegant in design, direction and acting. Choreography by Sanders and Ava Pirie gives a fluidity to the actors’ movements, which include slow-motion, stop-action, and the exuberance of jazz-era dancing. ... ‘Indecent’ is an important work and one of the boldest theater productions in decades on the Lehigh Valley stage.”

Original Play: “All You Need to Know,”

Crowded Kitchen Players. The world premiere of the original play, written and directed by Ara Barlieb, is a humorous and thought-provoking look at government funding of the arts. The play takes a measure of those who might exploit the arts to obtain funding and those who might be exploited by the arts-funders.

Actress, Play: Veronica Bocian

(Kiki), “Significant Other,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. From the review: “Bocian makes a bawdy role cute and innocent. Her loosey-goosey mannerisms, great comedic timing and droll line delivery provide many of the play’s biggest laughs.”

Actor, Play: Matt Gurniak

(Jordan Berman), “Significant Other,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. From the review: “Gurniak was remarkable in every way, including his dance moves. Moreover, Gurniak portrays a range of emotions, hitting all the right notes that renders this a performance to remember. ... Gurniak especially conveys this joy of theater with moon-face smile, exuberant body language and an ability to fold up like a rag doll and let the emotions cry like tears. ... Those who see Gurniak in ‘Significant Other’ may say, ‘I saw him when.’ This young man is Broadway-, Netflix- and Hollywood-bound.”

Ensemble, Play: “Indecent,”

Civic Theatre of Allentown. From the review: “Each of the actors in ‘Indecent,’ true to the play’s concept, portray multiple roles and each is listed in the playbill as Actor, with the exception of Lemml, the Stage Manager. ... Jason Roth, as Lemml, creates a sense of vulnerability and enthusiasm that is emotionally-resonant. Anthony Rizzuto as Sholem Asch effectively conveys brooding, foreboding and inner turmoil. Mark Stutz is riveting in multiple roles. Will Windsor Erwin is memorable in multiple roles. Patricia Birnbaum provides comedic relief in multiple roles. Abigail Creighton and Kate Pistone are outstanding as the women in love whose love knows no bounds.”

Director, Play: Will Morris,

“Significant Other,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. From the review: “The cast is superb, as is the production, directed by Civic Theatre of Allentown Associate Artistic Director Will Morris with his trademark eye for detail (down to a double-shadow lighting effect cast by characters in key moments). Morris and Civic are establishing Theatre514 as an off-Broadway equivalent. The level of acting, stagecraft and production values are equal to what you’d see in New York or Philadelphia. Morris directs with a cinematic certainty. Sets spin. Scenes change with head-spinning speed. A character steps out of a scene for audience direct-address commentary. Another character relates an anecdote which then becomes a scene. Cell phones, emails and the like of contemporary communication inform the plot. The entire effect is like stepping into a movie. As a director, Morris has the ability to give actors flight.”

Costume Design: Florence Taylor,

“The Color Purple,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. From the review: ”The costumes are noteworthy for their variety and authenticity by Costume Designer Florence Taylor.”

Scene Design: Will Morris, Jan Joyce,

“The SpongeBob Musical,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. Scenic Designers Will Morris and Jan Joyce (also, Scenic Artist), along with Prop Master Jason Sizemore, turn the Nineteenth Theatre Main Stage into an under-the-sea fantasia.

Lighting Design: Will Morris,

“The SpongeBob Musical,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. Lighting Designer Will Morris gave the fishes something to swim about.

Sound Design: Randall Utsch,

“A Christmas Carol,” Civic Theatre of Allentown. Sound Designer Randall Utsch not only rattled the chains of The Ghost of Christmas Present (a memorable Troy Brokenshire), he creates chills for other ghostly scenes as well as the cozy comfort of the Cratchit family and their children, and the chorale finale.

Tim Roche Memorial “Meanwhile ... “ ABE Award: “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some),”

Civic Theatre of Allentown: Pat Kelly, Syd Stauffer and Cheryl Moritz are the best. Their timing, impressions, multiple roles, dancing and energy is Ah!mayZing! to behold. If you were able to get a ticket for this sold-out show, and were there, you know what I’m talking about.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BILL BASTA Juanita-Renay Gray (Celie), ”The Color Purple,” Civic Theatre of Allentown.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Fredi Walker-Browne, Director, “The Color Purple,” Civic Theatre of Allentown.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BILL BASTA Mark Stutz, standing, center, “Indecent,” Civic Theatre of Allentown.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY BILL BASTA “The SpongeBob Musical,” Civic Theatre of Allentown.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO Matt Gurniak (Jordan Berman), “Significant Other,” Civic Theatre of Allentown.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO From left: Trevor Colahan (Ted Hanover), Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson (Linda Mason), Micah Henning (Jim Hardy), ”Holiday Inn,” Pennsylvania Playhouse.
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO From left: Pat Kelly, Cheryl Moritz, Syd Stauffer, ”Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some),” Civic Theatre of Allentown.