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Bethel brings a modern, complex musical to the stage

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The choice of Bethel College’s spring musical this year very much reflects student choice.

The college’s music and theater departments present The Light in the Piazza March 5, 6 and 7 on the Krehbiel Auditorium stage.

Based on the novella by Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza tells the story of an American mother and daughter on vacation in Florence, Italy, in 1953. The daughter, Clara, meets and falls in love with an Italian boy, Fabrizio. Their love faces various obstacles, including Clara’s mother, Margaret.

Spencer’s work was adapted into a musical that debuted on Broadway in 2005. The production is so recent that rights to perform The Light in the Piazza are still unavailable to most professional companies.

Bethel College, as a small, private institution, is fortunate to perform this musical, said director Suzanna Mathews, instructor of communication arts.

“This is not a tired, stale, old musical,” said Mathews. “It will be refreshing for the community to see something recent and it will be special that they are exposed to this in a timely fashion.”

The choice to perform The Light in the Piazza was student-driven.

“I can say that Kelly Reed [junior from Edinburg, Texas] and I seemed to be the movers and the shakers to get this show going,” said Joshua Powell, junior from Basehor.

Powell plays the part of Fabrizio, Clara’s Italian love interest.

“The significance in this show I think lies in what the show itself has been doing for the musical theater world,” said Powell. “This is probably one of the most elaborate and very challenging shows that the [theater and music] departments have attempted to put on in many years.

“I believe that this show will re-define what people think about stage work at Bethel,” he continued, “showcasing the incredible talent and commitment everyone working the performance arena has.”

Powell co-stars alongside Reed in the part of Clara.

“I think that it is significant that Bethel is performing this musical, because no other college near us is performing it,” Reed said. “It is certainly not a musical that is routinely chosen to be performed by college students.”

Mathews sings the praises of Powell and Reed, especially the maturity with which they lobbied for The Light in the Piazza.

“They almost cast themselves, knowing which roles they had the most affinity for, and I think they did so aptly,” said Mathews.

Mathews also recognized her colleague and co-worker William Eash, professor of music, for his work preparing students musically.

“It’s really vocally challenging,” said Mathews. “This is probably some of the most complex music these students will have dealt with in their college careers – it sets the bar high.”

Reed also noted the complexity of the musical. “The music is very challenging,” she said, “and it is sometimes hard to present a fully developed character to the audience because of the way the script is written, but I think that we can overcome these things and give Bethel a very good musical.”

Powell is just as positive.

“Audiences should come see this show because they will not be disappointed with what they will get,” he said. “Everyone is putting their heart and soul in this show preparing to put on some of the best performances, in some cases, of our college careers.”

Mathews also praised the efforts of lead carpenter Eric Goering, freshman from McPherson, who helped accomplish her vision to imitate Italian architecture and art in the set. “At any given moment in the play, the combination of set, costumes and lighting produces a beautifully composed picture on the stage,” she said.

In addition to Reed as Clara Johnson, Sarah Pohl, freshman from Moundridge, as Margaret Johnson, and Powell as Fabrizio Naccarelli, the cast of The Light in the Piazza includes Andrew Voth, freshman from Topeka, as Guiseppe Naccarelli; Monica Schmidt, sophomore from Mount Hope, as Signora Naccarelli; Kelsey Easterday, junior from Manhattan, as Franca Naccarelli; Ryan Goertzen, freshman from Goessel, as Signor Naccarelli; Aimee Siebert, senior from Topeka, as the Tour Guide; Clint Harris, sophomore from Manhattan, as the Priest; and Evan Conrad, freshman from Lakewood, Colo., as Roy Johnson. The cast also features Naomi Graber, freshman from Elkhart, Ind., Kelsey Ortman, freshman from Marion, S.D., Sierra Pryce, sophomore from North Newton, Sara Volweider, freshman from Haven, and Brittany Voth, junior from Goessel, as Maids. Caleb Stephens, sophomore from Lawrence, joins these five and Harris to make up the Ensemble.

Crew members include Goering along with Sarah Howard-Willms, freshman from St. Louis, as costume coordinator and seamstress; Andrea Kaufman, senior from Harrisburg, S.D., as lighting designer; and Hannah Massey, sophomore from Valley Center, and Seth Williams, freshman from Newton, as co-stage managers.

Rich Toevs, Newton, was the rehearsal accompanist. Chamber orchestra members for The Light in the Piazza are Bethel adjunct instructor of violin Nancy Johnson, community members Dominique Corbeil and Mary Goering, and Rachel Voran, freshman from Newton, on violin; freshmen Anna Cook, Lawrence, and Erica Buller, Lenexa, on cello; Bethel Assistant Professor of Music James Pisano on clarinet; Heather Robertsen, junior from Newton, on bassoon; Bethel adjunct instructor of guitar Howard Glanton on guitar; and Nathaniel Yoder, junior from Kalona, Iowa, on percussion.

Performances of The Light in the Piazza will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 5, 6 and 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and non-Bethel students, $6 for children 8-12 and $1 for younger children and are available at Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center on campus (8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, phone 316-284-5205) or at the door.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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