Lyrical Legend- ‘Beautiful — The Carole King Musical’ tells songstress’ story

Lyrical Legend- ‘Beautiful — The Carole King Musical’ tells songstress’ story

Carole King and Gerry Goffin impacted the musical landscape with their creative genius, a story that lives on in a Broadway show coming to Scranton next week.
“Beautiful — The Carole King Musical” takes over Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave., from Tuesday, May 8, through Sunday, May 13, for eight shows thanks to Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The show traces King’s career as a songwriter and her relationship, both romantic and professional, with Goffin, as well as her coming into her own as a performer. The pair wrote numerous songs other performers made famous, and many, such as “The Locomotion,” appear in the musical. The first time King sits down at the piano and sings “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” tour star Andrew Brewer said, he can hear the audience trying to sing along.
“And the show is kind of full of those moments, especially (in) the first act, of ‘I didn’t know they wrote that’ and ‘I didn’t know they wrote that,’” he added. “It’s all these recognizable songs that we think of as (belonging to) these other groups, and then … it shows up that it’s (King).” 
King wrote “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” as a 17-year-old, and she and Goffin followed it with numerous hits for such acts as the Drifters, the Righteous Brothers and Herman’s Hermits. She began recording her own vocals, too, and her 1971 solo album, “Tapestry,” won her four Grammy awards, including best record, song and pop vocal performance (female) as well as album of the year. She has released numerous platinum and gold albums through the years and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987.
Brewer, who plays Goffin in the tour, has had a chance to see King in person a few times when she has come backstage, and he called her “very sweet.” Her story has been part of his life for several years, going back to his job as a swing — a cast member who can step into various roles when needed — on the Broadway production, which continues to run in New York City. Brewer then moved on to the national tour, where he worked his way up to the role of King’s ex-husband and songwriting partner.
The experience let him see multiple actors’ takes on the role and learn “what sort of worked with audiences or what didn’t work with audiences and kind of build my own version of that.”
It can be a tough role, too, “because he’s the catalyst for a lot of things happening in sort of a negative way,” Brewer said.
“I try to get you on his side as much as possible at the beginning and to understand and make clear that they were in love,” he said. “Despite the mistakes that he makes … through it all, he did care. And that’s the one thing I want to make sure is as clear as possible. He’s not just a bad guy doing bad stuff to be mean.”
The show has so much emotion and relatability, Brewer noted, with many moments people have all experienced, such as the fear of losing love that “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” emphasizes.
“That’s what makes the song so powerful, and the melodies play into that,” he said. “And (King and Goffin) were such a great team. … It really shows through the notes why they’ve remained so popular through the years.”
Brewer hopes that, at the bare minimum, audiences “just have a good evening” when they come to see “Beautiful.” They will hear King’s songs in context and see what the songwriters thought of as they penned them, he said. And the musical “ends on a very high note,” he added.
“It’s a very fun show,” Brewer said. “It has some heavier moments, and I think what’s surprising to a lot of people is, while it is whatever we call a ‘jukebox musical’ … there is a great story behind it that I don’t think a lot of people know.”

 

Evening of Fine Food and Wine unites culture, culinary arts

Evening of Fine Food and Wine unites culture, culinary arts

Take a tour of a historic Scranton landmark and the flavors of Northeast Pennsylvania all in one night.
The annual Evening of Fine Food and Wine returns for an 18th edition on Sunday, April 29, at 5:30 p.m. at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave., in whose unique rooms guests will sample dishes from several local restaurants.
The $100 ticket gains each audience member of sampling of food from such spots as Fire and Ice on Toby Creek, Kingston Twp., and Hilton Scranton and Conference Center, Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel and Montage Mountain Resorts, all in Scranton. Proceeds benefit the cultural center.
“It’s so important, because this is the most beautiful building in Scranton, and we need to preserve it,” said Elizabeth Murray, event co-chairwoman.
Kenny McGraw will provide music during cocktail hour, and groups then will visit rooms across the cultural center where chefs will serve tasting portions and wine. will speak with the audience about the dishes as they prepare them, and members of local media — including Times-Tribune reporters Gia Mazur and Patrice Wilding and newspaper librarian Brian Fulton — will provide background on the facility’s history.
“It’s great for the community,” Hilton chef Donnie Schmidt said, adding that the event lets the chefs break out of their “everyday routine,” too. “It definitely gives us a different outlook to the day.” 
Schmidt and Radisson chef Chris Chludzinski still were deciding on what dinner entrees to serve as of last week, while Fire and Ice chef Gary Edwards looks to make an oxtail ragu with quail hash. Wines will accompany the dishes, but event co-chairman John Murray guests also can enjoy beer pairings and cocktails that night.
Electric City Roasting Co., meanwhile, will prepare batch brews of hot coffee in addition to having cold-brew coffee on tap as guests try desserts and listen to music from the Wanabees, said Kyle Mervau, the company’s director of products.
While Montage Mountain participated in the event previously, this marks chef Tony Mendicino’s first time cooking for it. He plans to prepare a Bailey’s panacotta with Jameson salted caramel for what he expects to be a large crowd.
“(It’s) definitely going to be a good time, a great benefit,” he said.
The chefs also enjoy the camaraderie with their peers the night provides, Chludzinski noted, and he enjoys seeing familiar faces coming back year after year. Edwards said he enjoys sharing his knowledge with the patrons and connecting the culinary arts with the other arts at the cultural center, “such a wonderful facility.”
“I think they go hand in hand,” he said.
Organizers recommend guests buy tickets in advance. John Murray said they are selling fast, and only a limited amount are available.
“It’s the best event anybody will ever attend,” he said.

 

Show of talent PSU displays range of musical groups, styles with free performance

Show of talent PSU displays range of musical groups, styles with free performance

A free concert will show off Penn State Worthington Scranton’s growing music program and its wide range of musical styles this weekend.
Worthington Scranton Chorale, the Roc[k]tet show choir and Campus Jazz Band all will perform in the college’s annual spring concert Saturday, April 21, at 4 p.m. at the Theater at North, 1539 N. Main Ave., Scranton.
Sharon Ann Toman, director of music and assistant teaching professor in music, began holding the spring concerts a few years after she joined the staff in 2000. The groups performed on campus on many years, but as the years went on, the groups grew and so did the audiences for the shows. The campus auditorium can accommodate 200 people, and after the concert reached capacity two years ago, Toman knew they needed a new venue. They shifted to the Theater at North in 2017 and packed that, too, she said.

Toman

Toman has watched the groups grow since she arrived, with the chorus up to 40 members from just a dozen back then. The band, too, started small but has grown to about 20 to 25 members, she added. Some faculty and staff also sing in the chorus and play in band, which Toman called “nice because then faculty and students and staff can interact.”
“All of them have a love for music,” Toman said of her students. “They like to sing; they like to play. … I always say we work hard but we also laugh hard.
“The rehearsals are interesting. They’re light-hearted, and the students have a good time, and I think that’s important. And above everything else, while they’re having a good time, they’re learning.”
In Saturday’s four-part concert, audiences will hear the eight-member mixed show choir perform “How Far I’ll Go” from the Disney cartoon “Moana,” “Stand by Me” and “Forget You.” The chorale, a mixed chorus of about 40 voices, will perform a traditional spiritual, “Peace Like a River”; “Candle on the Water,” from “Pete’s Dragon”; Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” and Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”
“We do fun stuff. … And of course we always sing the Penn State alma mater,” Toman said.
The 25-piece campus jazz band, meanwhile, will play “everything and anything” from “Smoke on the Water” to the Blues Brothers, Toman said. 
“They play about seven songs, which is enough to show off their talents,” she added.
Under the direction of Deano Noto, Abington Heights Middle School’s eighth-grade chorus also will perform at the concert, continuing a tradition Worthington Scranton began three years ago when it invited a local school group to perform, too. The choir will perform two songs on its own and then join the college performers for a patriotic song.
People sometimes are surprised to hear Worthington Scranton has such a thriving music program, Toman said, “because when you think of music in higher-education places, you really think of Marywood (University) as well as the University of Scranton.” But her students can stand on level with those music students, she insisted.
“The unique spin on this is the fact that none of these students are music majors,” Toman said. “They could be science, they could be English, they could be business. They’re all from different majors. I don’t have music majors on campus. I’m a graduate (of) Marywood, (and my students) can keep up with the people from Marywood and the University of Scranton. I’m very blessed with a lot of talent here on campus.”

Razzle dazzle ‘Chicago’ returns to Scranton with ‘All That Jazz’ and more

Razzle dazzle ‘Chicago’ returns to Scranton with ‘All That Jazz’ and more

Walter Bobbie knows just a bit about Scranton, Broadway and all that jazz.
Well, maybe more.
Since making his way to New York City decades ago after graduating from University of Scranton, the Tony Award-winning city native built a resume full of starring roles and star-making directorial efforts, including 1996’s Broadway revival of “Chicago,” which continues to run there.
Legendary choreographer and actor Bob Fosse staged the original “Chicago” on Broadway in 1975. It ran for two years, but the revival has completed nearly 9,000 performances, won six Tonys — including one for Bobbie’s directing — and is the longest-running American musical in Broadway history. This weekend, Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania brings the national tour back to Scranton for five shows from Friday, April 13, through Sunday, April 15, at Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Bobbie, 72, had hoped to visit to his hometown “to be able to share the moment” with the “Chicago” audience, but his return to the Broadway spotlight — portraying Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, in “Saint Joan” — prevents that. The play about St. Joan of Arc — whose cast also includes Condola Rashad and Jack Davenport — opens Wednesday, April 25, at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., New York City.
The grandson of Polish coal miners, Bobbie described his beginnings in Scranton as modest. He and his family moved out of the city when he was about 11, but Bobbie returned to study at University of Scranton. During a trip to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, he saw “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” on Broadway and thought, “I’m coming back here. This is what I want to do.”
“Saint Joan” marks Bobbie’s first Broadway acting gig since he played Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the early ’90s’ “Guys and Dolls” revival. His career there began with 1971’s musical “Frank Merriwell” and picked up speed when he originated the role of Roger in “Grease” in 1972.
Bobbie acted in several other productions in the ensuing years but also developed a desire to direct. He helmed little projects here and there, he said, and conceived and directed the Tony-nominated musical revue “A Grand Night for Singing.”
“Nothing’s overnight,” Bobbie said. “It’s just that sometimes you have the opportunity to really leap forward in a way you couldn’t have planned or imagined or dreamed.”
He started directing for the “City Center’s Encores!” concert series and became its artistic director. After he directed “Chicago” for the series, he said, it “took off like a rocket”and moved to Broadway within a year.
At the time, the O.J. Simpson murder trial had recently transfixed the nation, which Bobbie felt made “Chicago’s” story of the interplay of crime and fame timely. And that “topic has never gone away,” he added, enabling “Chicago’s” record-breaking run. While the 1970s version came across as more of a satire and indictment of America’s judicial system, Bobbie said, today the story seems like “more of a documentary.”
“Basically, it’s about getting away with murder,” he said. “It’s about the use and abuse of celebrity. … As much as it is a lot of razzle-dazzle and a lot of toe-tapping, it also leaves your mind engaged.”
Bobbie and Ann Reinking — who starred as Roxie Hart in the original show and the revival, which she also choreographed — wanted to honor Fosse’s “theatrical imagination” but not replicate his ’70s version, Bobbie said. The pair started by reworking three major numbers, such as by making “Cell Block Tango” look “like one of those great Fosse chair numbers,” Bobbie explained.
“I think that one of the nicest things that’s ever been said to me (was) by the great agent of Sam Cohn. … He said, ‘If Fosse was alive today, this is how he would do it,” Bobbie said.
Eager to direct, Bobbie did not think about the show’s potential success at the time but rather his commitment to things and how they stimulate the imagination.
“(Scenic designer John Lee Beatty) and I decided early on … that we wanted to put the band in a jury box on stage,” he said. “We compressed them. Everybody should be trapped in this show. We continued to use visual metaphors that kept informing our process. And then we had all this joyous music with this singular dance vocabulary.”
Paulette Merchel — Marywood University’s former theater program director, chair of Broadway Theater’s education committee and a relative of Bobbie’s by marriage — said tears filled her eyes the first time she saw “Chicago” on Broadway, in part because it put into perspective all Bobbie had achieved. Bobbie presented “Chicago” in a more abstract, minimalist way that “makes you stop and think,” Merchel said.
“To see something that from the first moment was exciting and fresh and different and compelling and contemporary,” she said. “I appreciated it immediately as a new era. He was part of a new era of getting the message through musical comedy out in such a different way.”
The public tells whether a show succeeds, Bobbie said, and they certainly did that with “Chicago.” Besides running for decades in New York, it spawned several tours and an Oscar-winning film adaptation.
Since earning his Tony, Bobbie has gone on to direct such Broadway shows as “Sweet Charity,” “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” “Footloose” and Steve Martin’s “Bright Star.”
“I feel blessedly part of the theater community, and I have since I got here,” Bobbie said. “I don’t know how that happened. I got off the bus and started working. If they wanted to get rid of me, they missed their shot 40 years ago.” 

Bobbie has returned to Scranton through the years and said he feels honored to know the community has supported him during his career.
“All I can say is that if you’re in Scranton and you’re interested in the arts, stay there, make a difference in the arts, or do what I did and follow your dream. … I’ve been all over the planet because of ‘Chicago’ alone, (not) including my other work,” he said. “It’s important when you’re in Scranton to dream big, and if not, stay in Scranton and make a difference, because it’s a remarkable community.”
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If you go
What: “Chicago,” presented by Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania
When: Friday, April 13, 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 14, 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 15, 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Where: Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave.
Details: Tickets cost $42 to $77 and are available at the box office, ticketmaster.com and 800-745-3000. For more information, visit broadwayinscranton.com.

What: “Saint Joan,” starring Scranton native Walter Bobbie
When: Now in previews; show officially opens Wednesday, April 25
Where: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., New York City
Details: Tickets cost $65 to $145 and are available at telecharge.com/Broadway/Saint-Joan/Ticket. For more information, visit manhattantheatreclub.com.

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Dance workshop and talkback
Broadway Theater League of Northeastern Pennsylvania will offer a jazz dance workshop with members of “Chicago’s” touring company Saturday, April 14, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Ballet Theatre of Scranton’s studio, 310 Penn Ave. The program is open to intermediate and advance student dancers and dance teachers. Admission is $25 and includes a ticket to that day’s 2 p.m. “Chicago” performance. Reservations are required by today and can be made by calling Broadway Theatre League’s office at 570-342-7784.
Following that 2 p.m. show, Toyota of Scranton will present a talk-back with “Chicago” representatives in the Scranton Cultural Center theater. The free talk-back is open to workshop students and anyone from the public who wants to stay after the performance.

Chillin’ Out: Annual Lake Wallenpaupack winter festival returns with frozen fun

Chillin’ Out: Annual Lake Wallenpaupack winter festival returns with frozen fun

Bundle up to tee up at Wally Ice Fest.
Looking to return after two years of warm weather prevented the festivities, the event features not only a golf tournament but also a pond hockey competition, golf-ball driving contest and curling demonstrations, all on the frozen surface of Lake Wallenpaupack.
Activities run Saturday, Jan. 27, and Sunday, Jan. 28, on the ice outside Silver Birches, 205 Route 507, and the Boat House Restaurant, 141 Route 507, both in Palmyra Twp.
While a lack of enough ice kept the festival from going forward in recent years, this winter’s cold snap froze about a foot of the lake’s surface heading into last week’s warmer weather, said Keith Williams, Lake Wallenpaupack Visitors Center manager and one of the event organizers.
“Granted, ice doesn’t form uniformly across the entire lake, but it’s a really good start to the season. … We keep a close watch on it, so ideally we’re looking for 10 inches of ice for safety, to be able to handle the activity that we have planned on the ice,” he said.
If the lake does not freeze, enough, however, the pond hockey tournament and curling demonstrations will be moved to nearby Promised Land State Park for the weekend (the golf tournament and driving contest would be canceled). Organizers used to set aside an alternative date for the festival later in the season in the event of low ice levels, but with hockey players coming from outside the area to participate, Williams said, “it’s real difficult to shift people’s vacation schedule to accommodate” another date.
Under current plans, the adult pond hockey tournament will take place both days, and teams will play four-on-four games with two 15-minute periods and a five-minute intermission. Registration is $360 per team of four to six players, and teams are matched against one another based on skill level. Organizers will set up two rinks outside Silver Birches and four by the Boat House.
Long organized by Chamber of the Northern Poconos, the Ice Tee Golf Tournament runs Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and participants can register in advance for $20 and each day for $25.
“Sunday’s going to be the bigger day,” Williams said. “We’ll have some kind of prizes with craziest sled, craziest hat, those types of things.”
Golfers will compete on one of two nine-hole courses outside Silver Birches, where they will tee off from an artificial green and aim for a Christmas tree marking each extra-large hole (which do not go all the way through the ice).
Golfers will receive a colored golf ball, scorecard and map and should bring two clubs plus a putter.
“You don’t need any special shoes, although we recommend people dressing warm,” Williams said.
Throughout the weekend, Anthracite Curling Club of Wilkes-Barre will give free demonstrations of the Olympic sport near the Boat House and let visitors try it as well.
“That’s kind of another unique piece to (the weekend),” Williams said.
On Sunday, visitors can see how close they can hit a golf ball to a 6-foot-tall snowman dubbed Wally in a driving contest benefiting the chamber. The three hitters who come closest win prizes.
“You don’t have to play golf (in the tournament) to do that,” Williams said. “You can go down and just try.”
Participants and spectators are encouraged to park at lots off Route 507 across from Tanglwood Resort; East Shore Lodging, 2487 Route 6; the visitors center, 2512 Route 6; and Wallenpaupack Area High School, 2552 Route 6, all in Palmyra Twp., and take the shuttle bus to both event locations, since the restaurants have spaces reserved for patrons. Organizers estimate the trip will take about five minutes between each stop.
Visitors can watch the on-ice activities for free, and Williams said the festival also gives guests a chance to dine at local restaurants, visit cultural sites such as the Sculpted Ice Works Factory Tour & Ice Harvest Museum in Lakeville, which will provide ice sculptures at each tee and an ice bar at Silver Birches, plus other winter activities in an area known as a summer destination.
“We’ve got really great restaurants and pubs, and this is a really great way to bring business … to those folks,” he said.
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If you go
What: Wally Ice Fest, featuring pond hockey and Ice Tee Golf tournaments and curling demonstrations
When: Saturday, Jan. 27, and Sunday, Jan. 28
Where: The Dock on Wallenpaupack and Silver Birches, 205 Route 507, Palmyra Twp., and The Boat House Restaurant, 141 Route 507, Palmyra Twp.
Details: Participation costs $360 per hockey team, and $20 in advance and $25 the day of the event for the golf tournament. Register for the adult pond hockey and Ice Tee Golf tournaments online at WallyIceFest.com. Curling demonstrations are free.

 

Frozen festivity ShiverFest features kayak race, Thaw Party

Frozen festivity ShiverFest features kayak race, Thaw Party

Recent sub-zero temperatures could have kayakers shivering even more than usual at an annual wintertime race down the Lackawanna River.
That is, if they can even get down the river at all.
As long as ice that has built up along the Scranton section of the river breaks, the annual ShiverFest Extreme Kayak/Canoe Race will go on as planned on Saturday, Jan. 13, said Bernard McGurl, executive director of Lackawanna River Conservation Association, which runs the event. This month’s cold snap froze parts of the river, putting kayakers in danger of getting tossed into the water if they hit ice and then getting washed under the solid surface, but he said warmer temperatures expected this week could melt it.
“We’re going to hold judgment until the morning of the event,” McGurl said. “People will show up, and we’ll scout the whole course.”
Should the weather cooperate, the race will begin at noon at the Parker Street landing, travel 3 miles down the river and end around 12:35 or 12:40 p.m. at Sweeney’s Beach, about 1,000 feet downstream of Poplar Street, where the association will have a bonfire.
The race is “mostly for fun,” McGurl said, but the association does time it and give out prizes to the top three finishers. Each participant this year will receive a clear plastic, waterproof bag they can use to keep their cell phones dry while on the water. 
Racers must be at least 18, wear a personal flotation device and bring their own kayak or canoe. Helmets are not mandatory, but the association strongly suggests racers wear wetsuits.
“If you’re just coming out in casual fall attire like blue jeans or something like that or a Polartec sweater, it’s not going to cut it,” McGurl said. “You’re going to be dead in 10 minutes.”
The $30 race fee also includes a ticket to the Thaw Party, which runs from 1 to 4 p.m. at Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton, and features music from DJ Jack Martin, food, beer and other activities. Watching the race is free, and non-racers can pay $20 to attend the party.
Racers can register in advance on the association website, lrca.org, or at the launch site that day. Should the association cancel the event, those who registered in advance will receive refunds unless they want to attend the Thaw Party, which will go on no matter what the weather.
Proceeds from ShiverFest benefit the association and the work it does to support the Lackawanna River.
“If you are a kayaker and you’ve done some wintertime kayaking, it’s a great opportunity to enjoy some camaraderie with a larger group of people who are so inclined,” McGurl said. “We have several family groups that come, and the cultural aspect of costuming themselves with all kinds of accoutrements and masks. … It’s pretty colorful site for some of the participants.”
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If you go
What: ShiverFest Extreme Kayak/Canoe Race
When: Saturday, Jan. 13, noon
Where: Parker Street landing to Sweeney’s Beach on the Lackawanna River, Scranton
Details: Racers must be 18 or older, wear a personal flotation device and provide their own kayak or canoe. Wetsuits are strongly recommended. Proceeds benefit Lackawanna River Conservation Association.

What: ShiverFest Thaw Party
When: Saturday, Jan. 13, 1 to 4 p.m.
Where: Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton

Tickets
Race entry is $30 and includes a ticket to the post-race Thaw Party. Watching the race is free. Tickets for the party only are $20 and include food, drinks and entertainment. Proceeds benefit Lackawanna River Conservation Association. Visit lrca_shiverfest2018tickets.eventbrite.com for tickets. For more information, call 570-347-6311 or visit lrca.org.

Mid-East Feast-Downtown Scranton eatery prides itself on serving authentic Middle-Eastern cuisine from original family recipes

Mid-East Feast-Downtown Scranton eatery prides itself on serving authentic Middle-Eastern cuisine from original family recipes

Hamid Azizi turned to family recipes passed down among generations when he opened the Gyroz Club earlier this year.

Originally from Afghanistan, Azizi came in 2003 to Scranton, where other family members had settled. He works full-time as a supervisor at Americold in Gouldsboro but decided to open a restaurant after noticing a lack of options for people seeking kosher and halal foods locally.

Azizi and his family members have experience working in restaurant kitchens and have several cousins who own their own eateries around the country. He added his own to the fold in February when the Gyroz Club opened at 111 Wyoming Ave., the former spot of Curry Donuts.

“I saw this place was empty, vacant, for a while, and it was downtown, so it was a good opportunity,” Azizi said.

His wife, Nazifah Shah; his brother-in-law, Habib Mirzaye; his brothers and other family members all have full-time jobs, some in the medical field, but pitch in at the restaurant whenever and wherever they can, from the kitchen to the front counter. The dishes come from family recipes passed down from one generation to the next, making for a true Middle-Eastern taste that customers would find Azizi enjoying at home.

“It’s family-run, authentic,” he said. “Everything is homemade.”

The menu includes beef and chicken kabobs that all come with basmati rice he buys specially — customers can have the meat skewered or served over the rice — along with a garden salad, bread and white sauce, which Azizi calls “magic sauce.” He makes it with cucumbers, yogurt and other “secret ingredients” for what he described as a tasty, healthy combination. A Family Platter of kabobs serves four people.

On the gyro side, customers can pick from beef, chicken, vegetable, and a chicken and beef combo, all served in grilled pitas Azizi gets from a specialty store in New Jersey. They come with tzatziki, white and hot sauces, lettuce, fries and a drink.

Sandwiches, meanwhile, come with fries and a drink and include a Kabob Sandwich (marinated beef or chicken served on a pita with fried onions, grilled tomatoes, lettuce and tzatziki sauce) as well as more traditional American fare, such as the Philly Cheesesteak, Hot Wing Sub, Cheeseburger, Chicken Tenders and Hot Dog.

Customers can add on sides of rice in two sizes or fries, and then finish their meal with baklava.

Azizi shops at local grocery stores each morning to gather ingredients for the day’s dishes. The restaurant marinates its meats overnight and then slow-roasts it on a spit, shaving it off as it cooks.

“Everything is fresh,” Azizi said. “It’s not frozen or cold.”

He said he keeps his prices reasonable and serves the food fast. People from around the region have dined there, and the restaurant already has several regulars, including a family that told him they used to travel to New Jersey to get food like his. Now, they walk from their home in South Scranton.

“It gave me pride to give back something for the community,” Azizi said.

He made a few upgrades to the property when he took over, adding televisions and artwork his uncle made. Beyond the food, he and his family emphasize their heritage through music playing in the restaurant and art depicting their village back home.

The restaurant has booth seating for customers dining-in, and Azizi said it pulls in the downtown work crowd for weekday lunches and lots of families at dinner. It also offers takeout and delivers to Scranton and Dunmore with a $20 minimum order. The restaurant offers catering, too.

Azizi plans to make a few more upgrades inside the restaurant and hopes to expand to more locations one day. He has received positive feedback so far.

“The quality talks itself,” he said. “We try to keep it that way. (The food) is a bit different.”

His brother, Abdul Azizi, a nurse and former chef, described his brother as someone who embraces the community, from offering food to a homeless person who came by to a few moments of warmth inside the restaurant for people attending events downtown. Starting the business took a lot of courage and dedication, Abdul Azizi said, and his brother’s customers are there to support him.

“The guy’s got a heart of gold,” he said. “A lot of people won’t do that.”

Scranton is his home now, Hamid Azizi said, and a great place to raise his two young daughters, who’ll one day learn those family recipes.

“It’s our duty, our responsibility, to pass it on to the next generation,” he said.

Clocktower Theater Company returns with ‘Christmas Carol,’ sets 2018 season

Clocktower Theater Company returns with ‘Christmas Carol,’ sets 2018 season

A nascent theatrical troupe brings Ebenezer Scrooge, his ghostly companions and a timeless Christmas message back to the Scranton stage this weekend.
Clocktower Theater Company presents Charles Dickens’ classic holiday story, “A Christmas Carol,” from Friday, Dec. 8, through Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Theater at North, 1539 N. Main Ave., Scranton. Tickets range from $15 to $25.
Founded in 2016, the professional theatrical troupe first presented the play, its inaugural production, in Scranton last December. Executive director Brad Morgan spent many years presenting “A Christmas Carol” with the professional Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott, New York, each holiday season. When that group decided not to produce the show last year, Morgan brought it to Scranton, where he grew up and lives.
For him, “it just wouldn’t have seemed like Christmas without doing that show,” he said, and last year’s show was “very well receive by everyone who saw it.”
“It’s a holiday tradition up there (in Endicott), where that’s what I’m trying to establish down (in Scranton),” Morgan said. “But that’s going to take some time for people to become aware of our facility … (and) to build up a subscription base and some dedicated theatergoers.”
“A Christmas Carol” stars a mix of actors from the Scranton and Endicott areas, with Actors’ Equity Association actor Bernard Burak Sheredy reprising his role of Scrooge from last year. A Binghamton, New York, native, Sheredy is the son of Joe Sheredy and Mary Burak, who owned a neighborhood butcher shop and grocery in Throop. He graduated from Yale School of Drama and has appeared in the movies “Meet the Parents” and “Quiz Show” as well as TV shows “Law & Order” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
Nearly 800 local students will attend a matinee performance of “A Christmas Carol” on Dec. 8, Morgan said, noting how “every school reading list” includes Dickens’ story. He called the account of Scrooge’s transformation from miser to generous man “a classic tale.”
“Just the story, the Dickens story itself, even if you’re going to read it, it’s just so inspiring and just encapsulates (to) me the joy of the holiday season,” Morgan said.
In addition to performing the show at the Theater at North, Clocktower will present “A Christmas Carol” at Cider Mill Stage, Endicott, the former home of the Cider Mill Playhouse on the following two weekends, Dec. 15 to 17 and 21 to 23.
Morgan and his group look to expand on last year’s success by offering a full season of shows in 2018. While Scranton has several community theater companies, he said, it lacks much professional theater beyond Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania. He aims to change that with Clocktower, which pays its actors and staff.
“You’re going to notice a difference in quality,” Morgan said. “People would not see any difference in going to see our show and going to see an off-Broadway production in New York.”
The season will include “Taking Steps” in February, “Girls Night: The Musical” in March, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in June, “Rose’s Dilemma” in September, “Lucky Stiff” in November and “A Christmas Carol” again next December.
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IF YOU GO
What: “A Christmas Carol,” presented by Clocktower Theater Company
When: Friday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 9, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 10, 3 p.m.
Where: The Theater at North, 1539 N. Main Ave., Scranton
Details: Tickets are $15 to $25 and are available at the box office, 570-703-0846 and clocktowertheater.thundertix.com.

Crafty Christmas – ScrantonMade Holiday  Market returns with  skating, shopping and more

Crafty Christmas – ScrantonMade Holiday Market returns with skating, shopping and more

ScrantonMade heads back to its outdoor roots with its fifth annual Holiday Market.
While most of the action — including pictures with Santa, shopping with about 200 vendors, live music and dining — remains inside the city’s former Globe Store, 123 Wyoming Ave., Scranton, the group will set up a skating rink for the first time outside the building. The 100 block of Wyoming Avenue will shut down to accommodate the 100-foot-by-40-foot synthetic ice surface during the market, which runs Friday, Dec. 1, from 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 2, 11 to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 3, 11 to 4 p.m.
“Last year, people were so excited about (having the market in) the Globe, and it was such a big thing,” said Chrissy Manuel, ScrantonMade partner, editor and creative director. “And we were like, ‘How do we top that?’”
Organizers are still determining a ticket price for skating. Participants can borrow skates there, and a parent or guardian will need to sign a waiver for children and teens to participate.
“It gives a big-city feel as if you’re in New York City,” said Cristin Powers, ScrantonMade founder and events and marketing director. “It’s festive as well.”
ScrantonMade started its holiday market in 2013 in a tent on Courthouse Square. After second year there, it moved to the Marketplace at Steamtown for a year and then to the old Globe Store space in 2016 thanks to support from the Lackawanna County government, which owns the property and will move some of its offices there after renovations.
Returning to the site of the beloved department store, which closed in 1994, brought back a lot of memories for visitors and led to a lot of story sharing, organizers said.
“People loved it,” Powers said.  

Guests can enter the free market from both the Wyoming and Penn avenue entrances to check out vendors selling items ranging from fiber products and fine art to jewelry and artisanal food. This year, some vendors — such as Tig & Cooneys, which will sell whiskey glasses with maps of Scranton and Clarks Summit etched on the sides (visit mapabouttown.com to order) — will allow customers to order items in advance and then pick them up at the market. Decorated lightbulbs from the Electric City sign already sold out during the pre-order period, organizers said.
Items like those that have a local focus, which also include ornaments and pen-and-ink drawings, have become more popular of late. People might move out of the area, but they still have a familial or emotional connection to it, Powers pointed out.
“Scranton pride is at an all-time high, where artists are making Scranton-themed art,” she said.
Organizers also have seen more crafts geared toward men in recent years than there was when the market started, Manuel said, and people are using the market to do their holiday shopping.
“I feel like we reach a wider audience. … We’re getting the people who would be at Macy’s on the weekend shopping,” she said.
But the event has grown to encompass much more than local artisans and crafters. Visitors can bring their own cameras to take photos with Santa, check out an art exhibit from Employment Opportunity Training Center and a miniature train layout, and hear live music. They can grab food from five eateries that will set up in the former Charl-Mont restaurant space — Terra Preta, Backyard Ale House, Zuppa Del Giorno, Mendicino’s Italian Specialties and the Garden Mediterranean Cafe — while Electric City Roasting Co. will host a pop-up cafe in the Wyoming Avenue foyer.
On Saturday morning, the first 200 people in line will receive a tote bag filled with treats from vendors and other local spots. Items include sweets from local chocolatiers, airboarding tickets, free yoga passes and other samples, as participating vendors must contribute a product rather than filler, Manuel noted.
Last year, the line for the bags wrapped around the block as people came several hours before doors opened for a chance to take one home. Waiting for the bags has turned into a tradition akin to shopping on Black Friday, organizers said. Seeing hundreds of people lined up to get into the market makes all the work involved in putting it together — which includes partnerships with the county, city and more in the community — worth it, Powers said.
“It’s a surprise,” she said. “You’re getting a bag of goodies for yourself.”
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IF YOU GO
What: Fifth annual ScrantonMade Holiday Market
When: Friday, Dec. 1, 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 2, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 3, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Former Globe Store, 123 Wyoming Ave., Scranton
Details: Admission is free. The first 200 people on Saturday receive a free goodie bag. For more information, visit scrantonmade.com or the event’s Facebook page.

Light it Up – Region welcomes holiday season with annual radio tower lighting

Light it Up – Region welcomes holiday season with annual radio tower lighting

Colorful bulbs reaching to the sky will alight on Thanksgiving eve in a decades-long tradition that’s transformed into a block party full of holiday cheer.
The lights running up the radio tower atop The Scranton Times Building, 149 Penn Ave., will turn on tonight at 6 during the free annual festivities that include food, music, movies and fireworks.
“It’s a good little family thing to do while the family’s getting together,” said Ian L. Lopera, marketing and events coordinator for Times-Shamrock Communications. “Especially (with) a fireworks show, it’s always nice to get out and have a spectacle like that. … Anything associated with the Times and family kind of makes sense.”
The action starts at 4 p.m., when the building will open to guests to watch holiday movies in the fifth-floor auditorium. Short films will be shown at 4 and 5, and seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Meanwhile, outdoors, visitors can check out an exhibit of holidays photos from The Times-Tribune archives in the Newseum adjacent to the building on Penn Avenue and get a peek at Santa’s printing press through the windows of the historic pressroom along Spruce Street. Music and entertainment will take place on a stage in front of the building.
“We’ve got the Jingle Girls coming back from Ballet Theatre of Scranton,” Lopera said. “They’ll be there all dressed up, and they might bring some toy soldiers with them. And we’ve got DJ Jamie Callen, (who) is going to come and bring all the holiday classics for us.”
While they enjoy the entertainment, guests can pick up dinner and drinks, too. Zummo’s Cafe from Scranton’s Green Ridge section will bring hot beverages, while Scranton food truck Truck’n Kitchen will sell its unique eats.
“They’ve got a big variety of things,” Lopera said. “They do a Buffalo pierogie, they do cheesesteaks and kind of out-of-the box burgers. And they have a really wide variety of options.”
Former West Scranton High School and Penn State University standout football player Matt McGloin, who was recently cut from the NFL’s Houston Texans, will pull the switch to light the tower at 6 p.m.
“He’s a pretty prominent figure from Scranton, and we figured if he was available that would be great to have him along,” Lopera said.
Rock 107 will broadcast the countdown live. Weather permitting, the fireworks will immediately follow, launching from the Electric City parking garage across from the Times building. Activities will wrap up by 7.
To accommodate the event, the 100 block of Penn Avenue will close at 7 a.m., and the 200 block of Penn Avenue and the 200 and 300 blocks of Spruce Street will close around 4:30.
Lopera said he looks forward to seeing everyone coming together and filling up the streets to watch the fireworks.
“(It’s) just a good feeling to have everyone out there and be together,” he said.
__________________________________________________________________________

If you go

What: Annual Scranton Times Building radio tower lighting and festivities

When: Wednesday, Nov. 23, 4-7 p.m.

Where: The Scranton Times Building, 149 Penn Ave.

Details: Admission is free. Call 570-348-9100 for more information

It really is the thought that counts when presenting

It really is the thought that counts when presenting

Thank your holiday hosts with unique gifts that reflect their lives.
Host and hostess gifts have replaced the custom of bringing a bottle of wine to holiday gatherings, said Lora Hobbs, owner of Live With It gift shop in Peckville. People gravitate toward gifts because they know their hosts already have wine for the occasion or they feel like a bottle is not thoughtful enough, she explained.
Such gifts can range in cost from $10 to $100, Hobbs said, putting the average buy at about $30. Kathi Whitney Davis, owner of Over the Moon in Scranton, estimated her customers spend between $40 and $75 on presents for their hosts.
Be scents-ible 
“Holiday candles are always a good idea,” Davis said, and they’re one of her shop’s most popular sells for hostess gifts. Select a seasonal scent such as Fraser fir or balsam and pair it with a set of printed cocktail napkins for a gift your hosts can use during the holidays.

 

Holiday spirit 

Both shopkeepers recommended gifting glass ball ornaments, whether it be Hobbs’ detailed orbs in seasonal colors or Davis’ clear ones with “2017” emblazoned across them. They make an easy gift that can help your hosts replace decorations they might have broken, Hobbs said. And people remember where they acquired their ornaments, noted her husband, Dave, so your hosts will have something to remember you by.
Other seasonal decorations, such as small nativity scenes, can do, too. Davis carries glass Christmas trees made by Simon Pearce that come in several sizes and “are always very popular,” she said.
“A little piece of holiday gift wear is always a good recommendation,” she said.

Let’s eat 
Help hosts with future meals by gifting practical tools, such as oversize stainless steel serving utensils or bowls.
“They can always use an extra plate or an extra bowl for service,” Dave Hobbs said.
Some are part of larger collections that release a new piece annually, he added, and people come by each year to get the addition.
Or, combine two gifts in one: Make a special treat and present it on a serving platter to keep, or place goodies in a glass candy dish, such as a Christmas tree-shaped one like Davis carries.

For the kids
Not every gift goes to the adults in the home. If the hosts have a new baby, guests can bring items such as a child’s dish and utensil set or a porcelain keepsake, Dave Hobbs said.

Drink up
If your hosts prefer beer over wine, grab a well-made glass for them to pour their favorite brew into, such as ones made in the beer-making hub of Germany.
“A nice set of higher-quality, specialty beer glasses are often given,” Lora Hobbs said.

Festive Favorite: ‘A Christmas Story: The Musical’  heads from screen to stage

Festive Favorite: ‘A Christmas Story: The Musical’ heads from screen to stage

Pull on your pink bunny suit, turn off your leg lamp and be sure to drink your Ovaltine as you head out for a night with the Parker family in “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”
The Broadway adaptation of the classic 1983 movie comes to Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave., for five performances from Friday, Nov. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 19. Presented by Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the show follows 11-year-old Ralphie Parker as he longs for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and deals with his quirky family and the dilemmas of childhood in the 1940s.
“They will see all of their favorite moments (from the film): the flag pole, the pink bunny pajamas, the Bumpus hounds and my personal favorite moment of me putting the bar of soap in (Ralphie’s) mouth,” said Sara Zoe Budnik, who plays Ralphie’s mother. “All the best moments are included and done so well in the musical.”
The original film starring Peter Billingsley and Darren McGavin became a holiday viewing staple over the years, especially as channels TNT and TBS ran it for 24 hours straight on Christmas in recent years. Despite its prevalence, “A Christmas Story” never made it to Budnik’s TV screen before the California native auditioned for the musical. She thought doing her own version of the character without watching the original might be more interesting for her tryout, she said, and while she’s watched the film since then, Budnik still set out to make the character hers. 
“It’s interesting because the original actress who played the mother, Melinda Dillon, she’s so incredibly interesting and very specific and unique,” Budnik said recently by phone. “And when you translate anything from a movie to a musical, a lot changes. So it has kind of become a process of making (the role) my own, and of course you don’t want to mimic anything, but the movie is so highlighted. It’s highlighted very well in the musical version, and I think it brings a whole new zhoosh to the show, making it a musical.”
One of the most iconic scenes in the film, when the Old Man receives a lamp shaped like a sexy leg, comes to life in a big dance number in which the cast hoofs it with several lamps.
“It’s like a big, Broadway, classic showstopping number,” Budnik said. “And it’s led by the Old Man. It’s so funny, and you just have to see it.”
While Budnik’s song, “What a Mother Does,” about her character going about her daily tasks, has become one of her favorite songs she’s ever performed, Ralphie sings her top tune in the show, “Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun.”

“The song is just really incredible,” Budnik said. “The orchestrations just are so ear-catching. It’s impossible not to smile while you’re watching this kid live out his Christmas fantasy, and it just brings nostalgia back to your youth and all the things that you wanted for Christmas.” 
Budnik has to try not to laugh in the scene in which her character washes out Ralphie’s mouth with soap, and she has to make sure she gets the bar in just right. She works with about a dozen kids in the production and was surprised by their talent and how well they captured their characters.
“I’ve never worked with kids before, and it’s incredible, their voices and their dance abilities and the acting choices that they make,” Budnik said. “They’re fearless, and they’re just so excited to start the tour.”
The show reminds audiences of the Christmases of their youth, Budnik said, describing it as “incredibly relatable.”
“I think I’m just so excited for everybody to see how much heart is betrayed by each character,” she said. “Each character just shows so much love toward one another, and it’s so honest, and it’s just a show that’s for every family member.”

 

Something about Mary – Singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter ready to connect with NEPA audience

Something about Mary – Singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter ready to connect with NEPA audience

Before Taylor and Shania or Faith and Miranda, one name defined the best in country music: Mary Chapin Carpenter.
The five-time Grammy Award winner and member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame achieved stardom thanks to such ’90s hits as “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “Passionate Kisses.” Now she brings a mix of her early and newer work to Peoples Security Bank Theater at Lackawanna College, Scranton, where she’ll perform Tuesday, Oct. 24, at 7:30 p.m. Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker will open the show, which benefits Pocono Environmental Education Center.
“A lot of people don’t tour unless they have a brand new record, but we’re lucky enough that we can go out and play music whether we have something new to offer or not,” Carpenter said earlier this month by phone from her home in Virginia. “I’ve been playing a lot of songs from the new record, and that’s just been really joyful for me.”
The songstress released her 14th studio album, “The Things That We Are Made Of,” last year, the latest in a long line of work that began in the late ’80s. Carpenter really grabbed the public’s attention with “Come On Come On,” the 1992 album that produced several hits.
“There’s a lot of components that go into the success of a record, and certainly it was a moment in time that I had a certain amount of momentum with songs on the radio, and that was a whole different existence and situation as well,” Carpenter said, noting the album also had push from a major record label. “Momentum is a real thing. … Maybe people felt like it spoke to them.”
Her work has earned her numerous accolades, including Grammys for best female country vocal performance for four consecutive years — 1992 to 1995 — and best country album in 1995. The Country Music Association named her female vocalist of the year in 1992 and 1993, while the Academy of Country Music chose her as 1990’s top new female vocalist and 1992’s top female vocalist.
While Carpenter said she doesn’t consider herself “a prolifically topical songwriter,” she doesn’t shy away from social and political commentary in her music, either. But inspiration comes from everywhere, she added, and sometimes just a phrase can kick off an idea or “evoke a feeling that five minutes before I wasn’t anywhere near.” She goes long stretches without writing — usually while on tour — and prefers to work at home on her farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“It’s really beautiful, and it’s really serene,” Carpenter said. “That’s where I feel like I can get in touch with whatever that serious muse is. Right now, I’m kind of in a phase where I’m just kind of scribbling. I don’t have large themes that I’m chasing or anything like that, just small vignettes of things that haven’t yet fully blossomed.”
Her songs reflect where she was in the moment of penning them, she said, and while she might think she writes about her own experiences, she also sees how the music reaches others. Carpenter has noticed people on social media sharing how her latest album “reflects a lot of what they are going through.”
“The more personal something is, the more universal something is as well,” she said.
With a couple decades of songs to choose from, Carpenter crafts a set list that draws from “The Things That We Are Made Of” plus some of her older work, although it might change from show to show or if she accommodates a request. No matter where she plays though, from amphitheaters that seat thousands to more intimate venues, Carpenter looks to connect with the crowd.
“It’s really gratifying to look into the audience and see the faces of people who’ve come to see us year after year, and it’s also really great to see younger folks, too,” she said.

Killer  instinct ‘A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder’ opens BTL season

Killer instinct ‘A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder’ opens BTL season

Broadway Theatre League of Northeastern Pennsylvania found an apropos tale to open its season on Friday the 13th.
“A Gentleman’s Guide To Love & Murder,” the 2014 Tony Award winner for best musical, comes to Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave., for four shows from Friday, Oct. 13, through Sunday, Oct. 15.
And while this story of a man seeking to kill off the relatives who stand in his way of inheriting a fortune might sound dark, star Colleen McLaughlin assured that the musical has a lighter side with lots of laughs. Robert Freedman and Steven Lutvak wrote a complex, brilliant show stocked with jokes, she explained recently by phone from the tour’s stop in Madison, Wisconsin.
“The writing is just so incredible, but you can’t help but laugh about everything,” said McLaughlin, an Oklahoma native. “The whole entire cast is just laughing. I come out to the wings just to see some of my favorite scenes.”
Set in London in 1909, the show centers around working-class man Monty Navarro (Blake Price), who, after learning he is ninth in line to become an earl, decides to eliminate the relatives between him and the aristocratic title. All the while he hopes to marry McLaughlin’s character, Sibella Hallward.
“I’m kind of this narcissistic girl and kind of a gold digger, so I don’t want to marry him, and he thinks the only way he can win my hand in marriage is to become the Earl of Highhurst,” she said of the role.
Actor James Taylor Odom, meanwhile, portrays all eight members of the D’Ysquith family who become Navarro’s targets. 
“Every scene that James Taylor Odom is in is pretty incredible. … He’s amazing,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin praised the sets for the show, which she described as beautiful, intricate and specific to the characters, but she also noted that Peggy Hickey’s choreography “is pretty incredible.” One song she expects to blow away audiences is “I’ve Decided To Marry You,” whose choreography involves actors entering and exiting through double doors as one character tries to keep two others apart.
“The choreography is so specific. … The rehearsal process was actually really quick, but I think … each of us had to go home and practice with the doors in our apartment just to get it down perfectly,” McLaughlin said. “It was a process but enjoyable.”
The actors worked with a dialect coach to perfect their British accents, but McLaughlin noted learning the songs also posed a challenge.
“The music is beautiful,” McLaughlin said. “(It is a) beautiful score but really intricate, and your diction kind of has to be on point.”
“A Gentleman’s Guide” opened on Broadway in November 2013 and racked up more than 900 performances before closing in January 2016. In addition to best musical, it picked up Tony Awards for best director of a musical (Darko Tresnjak), best book (Freedman) and best costume design (Linda Cho).
McLaughlin described the show as “very thrilling” with “lots of shenanigans.”
“It’s just a night full of laughter,” she said.

Final bow – Lawrence Loh conducts last NEPA Philharmonic concert to the music of John Williams

Final bow – Lawrence Loh conducts last NEPA Philharmonic concert to the music of John Williams

Lawrence Loh’s tenure as music director of Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic comes to an end this weekend as the orchestra regroups.
After 12 years with the orchestra, Loh says goodbye with “The Music of John Williams,” a pops program set for Saturday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m. at Peoples Security Bank Theater at Lackawanna College in Scranton. The concert is the orchestra’s only show of the season as it suspends operations for 2017-18 to develop a plan to keep the group financially viable.
“The plan is the philharmonic will be able to fundraise and be in a strong position to have success in the future,” Loh said. “I’m hoping it’s a temporary setback for the philharmonic, because I know the people there, particularly the audience, really value the orchestra, and it has such an important history in the region. And it’s something that needs to be supported and saved.”
The philharmonic gave Loh his first job as a music director, and he believes together they “accomplished a great deal over all these years,” from letting him take an adventurous approach to classical concerts to impacting the community through activities such as educational programs and piano competitions. Nancy Sanderson, philharmonic executive director, called Loh “a community-oriented fellow” and noted that he will donate his services for Saturday’s concert.
“While he has been here, he’s cared very much about Northeast Pennsylvania,” she said. “Sometimes (for) conductors, it’s just a job. They come in, conduct and go. But it was more than that to Larry.”
Sanderson pointed out that Loh’s career is on the rise, and he had been honest with her about other job prospects. He continues to guest conduct around the country and has been named music director of West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.
“He cares so much about the orchestra,” Sanderson said. “The thing that people have said to me … is that Larry decided because of the (orchestra’s financial) situation to leave, and that’s not it at all.”
The orchestra had an entire season planned for 2017-18, but decided to go with John Williams’ popular movie soundtracks when paring it down to a lone show. Loh called Williams an “iconic composer” and said he is excited to conduct music from “E.T.,” “Jurassic Park,” “Schindler’s List” and the “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter” series.  

Conductor Lawrence Loh leads the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic during opening night of the thirty-ninth season at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre.

“I think that they probably rightfully assumed that that would have a good audience, a good draw,” Loh said. “It’s something I’m very passionate about.”
Loh does not expect his relationship with the philharmonic to end with Saturday’s final note, however. Many concerts with other orchestras will keep him busy this year, but he will continue to be available for anything the philharmonic needs and hopes people “would agree how important the orchestra is and how amazing these musicians are.”
“It’s important also because there are varying levels of arts programs in schools,” he said. “ Some are very good, and some are nonexistent, and so the philharmonic really fills that void. And I think most people agree that if people, especially young people, are allowed to express themselves artistically, it can help with every aspect of their lives. And so the philharmonic as the leading cultural institution in the region has a responsibility to be to fill that need.”
The orchestra will present seven chamber concerts this season that will serve as fundraisers for the orchestra and allow it to keep up a presence in the region, Sanderson said. The first will feature pianist Fei-Fei Dong on Saturday, Nov. 11, at Wyoming Seminary’s Kirby Center for the Creative Arts, Kingston, with a reception at nearby Kevin’s Bar & Restaurant, 247 Wyoming Ave.
While the group hopes to have a full season next year, Sanderson said, “there’s a lot to work out in the meantime.”
“We are exploring all sorts of options for doing something more sustainable,” she said. “I really am reluctant to talk about those options now before we really get them in place, but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
In the meantime, the group will say goodbye to the man who “just won a place in all of our hearts,” Sanderson said. And when he conducts on Saturday, Loh expects to feel emotional.
“I’m sure that I’ll feel a flood of memories of being with this orchestra and with these people, and I’ll just try and hold it together while I’m up there,” he said. “And I really hope it’s a sellout. I really hope that people absolutely fill the hall.”