Captivating theater

O’Harrow excited to premiere new ACT?show

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Bryce Cossitor as Fredrik Egerman (left), Megan Marcaurelle-Jones as Anne Egerman, Gina Volpe as Petra and Ben Cossitor as Henrik Egerman in Altoona Community Theatre’s presentation of “A Little Night Music.”

Musical theater — especially Stephen Sondheim’s musicals — captivated Jonathan O’Harrow since childhood which makes his directing of Altoona Community Theatre’s presentation of “A Little Night Music,” Nov. 15 to 18 “a labor of love.”

O’Harrow, 40, of Altoona has directed and performed in several of ACT’s musical productions, including Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” and said he prefers directing even with the additional level of responsibilities.

“When you are directing a show you love and it comes together it makes all the efforts worthwhile,” O’Harrow said. “It’s a labor of love” and this production has been a “very, very smooth ride.”

He also directed “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “The Drowsy Chaperone” and ACT’s award-winning production of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” As a performer, he starred in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “The Producers” and “Shrek: The Musical,” among others. Additionally, he is a founding member of Rail City Improv.

His love of musicals began with Disney classics like “Sleeping Beauty” and, his favorite, “Beauty and the Beast.” His first exposure to Sondheim came when he was in high school and saw PBS’s “Great Performances” show of the original Broadway production of “Into the Woods.”

“A Little Night Music” opened on Broadway in 1973 and follows the liaisons and romantic entanglements of several couples in Sweden in the early 1900s.

“Although Sondheim had become well-established on Broadway with ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Gypsy’ as a lyricist and with ‘Company’ and ‘Follies’ as a composer and lyricist, ‘A Little Night Music’ received his highest acclaim to date because of its lush score, intricate wordplay and surprising wit. It also contained the one song from his career that would cross into popular music, ‘Send in the Clowns,’ according to a news release from ACT.

Leading the cast of “A Little Night Music” is Michelle Barnes, who plays the amorous actress Desiree Armfeldt. Barnes has been involved behind-the-scenes at ACT for years, but debuted on stage in May as one of Ariel’s sisters, a Singing Contest Princess and Ensemble Member in “The Little Mermaid.”

For Barnes, 51, of Hollidaysburg this is her first lead role.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve been involved behind the scenes for years with my children and I’ve always been musically inclined … when this opportunity came up I decided to go for it,” she said. In high school and college, Barnes received private voice lessons and performed in choirs.

“Fortunately, our music director Kathy Delozier is also the voice teacher and has been tremendously helpful,” Barnes said. “I’m trying to stay true to the character and didn’t watch too many other performances. I identify with Desiree as a mother. What motivates her is her relationship with her daughter. Because she’s on the road with so much traveling so she misses her daughter and wants to be with her more. As a mother, I resonate with that.”

Barnes also has a fondness for Sondheim and, in particular, the popular “Send in the Clowns.”

“Anything that Stephen Sondheim has composed is beautiful,” Barnes said. “My dad was always a music lover and he loved the song ‘Send in the Clowns.’ And, we would discuss the song and didn’t really know what it meant. He (her father) speculated that if something went wrong in a circus they send in the clowns which is partially true. But (Sondheim) was referring — through Desiree, who is an actress in stage productions — to how if something went wrong during a performance they would send out people to tell jokes and make people laugh … and turn the performance around.”

Playing opposite Barnes is Bryce Cossitor in the role of Fredrik Egerman, a lawyer and former lover who re-ignites a relationship with Desiree. A leading man with ACT for many years, Cossitor’s credits include the title role in “Sweeney Todd,” Gaylord Ravenal in “Showboat” and Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” He’s also directed ACT’s “My Fair Lady,” “Annie,” “42nd Street,” “Evita” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.”

Complicating the romantic entanglements in “Night Music” are Megan Marcaurelle-Jones as Anne Egerman, Fredrik’s wife; Scott Getz as Count Carl-Magnus, another paramour of Desiree’s; and Katie Kensinger as the Count’s long-suffering wife Charlotte. Marcaurelle-Jones most recently frolicked 15-feet in the air across the Mishler stage as Ariel in last May’s “The Little Mermaid.” Getz is making his ACT debut but has appeared regularly with Cresson Lake Playhouse. Kensinger has had leading and featured roles in several ACT shows, most recently Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”

Benn Cossitor, who has played Friar Lawrence in “Romeo and Juliet” and The Beadle in “Sweeney Todd” for ACT, is cast as Fredrik’s son Henrik. Karen Volpe, recently featured in the Mishler’s revival of “Porches,” plays Desiree’s mother. Jessie Walters, who was the young girl Scout in ACT’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is Desiree’s precocious daughter Fredrika. Gina Volpe, remembered as Fiona from ACT’s “Shrek,” plays the Armfeldt’s saucy maid Petra and Caleb Wolf, who played the title role in ACT’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” is Frid, Madame Armfeldt’s butler.

Getz, 32, of Ebensburg auditioned for the cast because he “wanted to get involved with ACT to get some new experience and get back on a proscenium stage. I had heard of Jonathan’s talent as a director and have seen his talent as an actor on stage, so I thought this would be a great first experience with ACT if I were to be cast. I’ve seen their quality work and am lucky I am able to be a part of it with this production.”

While he wasn’t familiar with this particular Sondheim show, Getz said friends and other local actors recommended he audition because “… there were some roles that they felt I would fill well, so I just went for it. I knew that the role of Count Carl-Magnus would push me out of my comfort zone and help me grow as an actor and vocalist. His songs in particular are, in my opinion, very difficult.”

Beautiful music and humor make the show enjoyable, Barnes said.

“This is not a musical that many are familiar with — unless they are diehard Broadway fans — but I think a lot of people will enjoy it for its great humor and beautiful music,” Barnes said. “I hope people

will give it a chance and come out and see it.”

Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.