Philadelphia Premiere of A WONDERFUL NOISE promises to serenade with a smile

Michael Hollinger’s screwball comedy explores friendship, equality, and challenges of growing up.

VILLANOVA, PA – Villanova Theatre proudly presents the Philadelphia premiere and second-ever production of A Wonderful Noise, a barbershop-style musical written by Villanova’s own Michael Hollinger and his collaborator Vance Lehmkuhl, on stage February 9-21, 2016.

As World War II rages in Europe, a different battle looms at home, as barbershop quartets from around the country converge to harmonize their way to victory at the national championships in St. Louis. But one group’s handlebar mustaches conceal an explosive secret: they’re actually four young women from Philadelphia, determined to break the Barbershop Society’s gender barrier and prove that girls can do it just as well as (if not better than!) the boys. This heartfelt musical comedy celebrates the bonds of friendship and music-making, as well as the courage required to live and love in a precarious world. With its screwball storyline, witty lyrics, and tuneful Swing Era score, A Wonderful Noise evokes the pleasures of a 1940s musical with a 21st-century spin.

Playwright Michael Hollinger (Opus, Red Herring, Incorruptible) brings you his latest musical comedy co-written with Vance Lehmkuhl. The collaborators’ spirited 1940s-style score promises a toe tappin’ good time for all involved. To date, Hollinger has premiered eight new plays in Philadelphia, including three Barrymore Award winners for Outstanding New Play: Opus (one of American Theatre’s Top 10 most produced plays in 2009), Ghost-Writer and Red Herring at the Arden Theatre Company.  His awards include a Steinberg New Play Citation from the American Theatre Critics Association, a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, a Mid-Atlantic Emmy, an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, and the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theatre Artist. 

Hollinger’s decades-long collaboration with Lehmkuhl began at Oberlin College, where, in the early 1980s, they performed sketch comedy, developed a weekly radio show, played original songs in a rock band, and eventually mounted their first full-length musical.  Their friendship brought them both to Philadelphia after graduation, where they continued to collaborate on musicals and other projects, before embarking on A Wonderful Noise, a work which has occupied them, off and on, since before the turn of the 21st century.  “Writing musicals is a game of endurance,” says Hollinger.  “They’re marathons more often than sprints.  So it’s helpful when your partner happens to be someone you’d choose to spend time with anyway.” The Hollinger-Lehmkuhl collaboration is rare in musical theatre, in that both authors have contributed lyrics and music to this show, and share story credit  (though Hollinger wrote the book).

Amidst the hilarity of mistaken identities and witty wordplay throughout the script, the characters in A Wonderful Noise explore deeper questions of identity and purpose. Set in 1941, the musical celebrates the bonds of male and female friendship, and explores women’s hunger for respect and equality, the pressures and pleasures of making art, and the sudden shift in perspective when an international crisis crashes, abruptly, into young lives. The women in the piece break traditional gender barriers while the men grapple with finding a new direction in a rapidly-changing world. The sentiment and sounds of a bygone era will linger like a good melody, while themes of friendship, equality, and camaraderie will strike a chord with modern audiences.

Director Harriet Power returns strong and energized for her homecoming and directorial debut after being struck by a motorcycle on Christmas day in 2014, an accident that resulted in an eighth-month recovery period. What makes this production even more special is her continued collaboration with playwright and Villanova colleague, Michael Hollinger. In 2013, Power directed Hollinger’s Red Herring at Villanova, which garnered the acclaim of critics and audiences alike. In 2006, she directed a two-week workshop of A Wonderful Noise at New Dramatists in New York City, a developmental opportunity made possible after the musical won that year’s Frederick Loewe Award for Musical Theatre.

Power has worked with playwrights throughout her career, as a resident director of Bay Area Playwrights Festival, West Coast Playwrights, the Iowa Playwrights Festival, Playpenn and New Dramatists, as well as during her tenure as Artistic Director of Venture Theatre, Act II Playhouse, and at the International Women Playwrights Festival in Galway, Ireland. Villanova Theatre audience members familiar with Power’s successful productions of classical and contemporary dramas might be surprised to learn of her love for musicals. Power’s theatre career began at age 7, when she saw productions of Oklahoma, Carousel, and Guys and Dolls and thought to herself, “If I can be part of creating this magic when I grow up, I’ll be the happiest person in the world!” With a soprano-to-tenor range, she performed in many musicals, including The Fantasticks and The Sound of Music.

Power collaborates with an impressive team of award-winning artists and designers to evoke the snazzy and patriotic Swing Era. In 2015, Hollinger, Lehmkuhl and Power added musical director and arranger Peter A. Hilliard to the creative team to create full orchestrations for the show, which, in its first production, had piano accompaniment only.  Pig Iron company member and University of the Arts Professor of Devised Theatre Sarah Sanford, who choreographed last season’s Big Love, provides swing-era choreography. Rosemarie McKelvey’s costumes capture the whimsy of the 1940s with style, color, and panache. James Pyne’s scenic design recalls the nostalgia of a bygone era in American history. Lighting designer Jerold Forsyth illuminates the past, and sound designer John Stovicek underscores the catchy jingles with an all-American sound.

Power directs a group of swell performers ready to serenade audiences back to the 1940s: second-year acting scholar Kyle Fennie and first-year acting scholars Dan Cullen and Chris Monaco, second-year graduate student Megan Rose; and first-year graduate students Laura Barron, Galen Blanzaco, Rachel Delvecchio, Megan Rose, with Villanova undergraduates Matthew Moorhead and Jaclyn Siegel; and Michael Kiliany, a recent graduate of Temple’s undergraduate program who is making his Villanova Theatre debut.

Speaker’s Night immediately following the February 18 performance will feature A Wonderful Noise co-creators Michael Hollinger and Vance Lehmkuhl (see full biographical information below).

A Wonderful Noise runs at Villanova Theatre from February 9th - 21st, 2016.  Villanova Theatre is located on the Villanova University campus in Vasey Hall (at Lancaster & Ithan Aves.). Performances will be held Tuesdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets run $21-$25, with discounts available for seniors, students, M.A. in Theatre alumni, and groups. Tickets may be purchased at the Villanova Theatre Box Office (M-S, 12 -5 p.m.) in person, by phone: (610) 519-7474, or online at www.villanovatheatre.org.

ABOUT THE DIRECTOR

Harriet Power is a Professor of Theatre and the Graduate Theatre Thesis Director, mentors graduate directors, and was an Adjunct Professor of Law (2011-2013) and Graduate Theatre Advisor (2006-2008). The head of graduate dramaturgy from 1994-2006, she now teaches graduate Directing, Styles, and undergraduate Creativity. She has directed 25 productions for Villanova Theatre, ranging from Shakespeare (Measure for Measure) to farce (Scapin; Le Dindon) to Chekhov (Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters, Cherry Orchard) to epic (The Illusion, Angels in America). She developed and taught graduate Solo Performance from 1996-2005, and in May, 2008 co-curated a festival of solo performance at Villanova. An active professional director and dramaturg, she has twice earned Barrymore nominations for “Outstanding Production of a Play,” most recently for In a Dark Dark House, which she directed in spring 2014 for Simpatico Theatre. This production was also nominated for Outstanding Actor, Outstanding Supporting Actress, and the Virginia Brown Martin Philadelphia Award. Area productions she’s directed since 2006 have garnered twenty-five Barrymore nominations (including three for Outstanding Direction of a Play) and five Barrymore awards (including Outstanding Direction of a Play and Outstanding Ensemble Performance, both for Angels in America: Perestroika at Villanova).Other awards include “Best Production” & “Best Theatre Experience” for Three Sisters, directed for Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre;  Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Best Director” (1993-94 season) for Mad Forest; “Best of Rome” in Trova Roma for her direction of Dinner with Friends (Teatro L’Arciliuto, Rome, Italy); and the “Best Director” award for The Burger Girl Jingle (Iowa Playwrights Festival, 1988). As Associate Artistic Director of Act II Playhouse (2008-12), where she extended a range of professional theatre opportunities to Villanova graduate theatre alumni, she directed The Mystery of Irma VepSylviaAny Given MondayThe Tempest (which she adapted for seven actors), the first American production of Sebastian Barry’s The Pride of Parnell StreetBoeing-Boeing, et al. As Artistic Director of Venture Theatre, Philadelphia’s professional culturally diverse theatre (1995-98), she directed A Moon for the MisbegottenFires in the MirrorMad Forest; and produced two world premieres by African American playwrights, one which continued Off-Broadway. She has worked extensively with new plays and playwrights at RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London), New Dramatists (New York), Philadelphia’s PlayPenn, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, West Coast Playwrights, Iowa Playwrights Festival, and the International Women Playwrights Festival. Other recent projects: dramaturging It’s My Party by Jen Childs (1812 Productions, Brown Martin Award finalist), publication of “Over There,” an analysis of London’s new-play ecology (American Theatre magazine, Oct. 2012), directing Why I’m Scared of Dance by Jen Childs (1812 Productions, Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, Act II Playhouse), dramaturging Nick Wardigo’s new play Hum (PlayPenn, remounted in Washington DC), directing readings of Sam Henderson’s The Brownings and Seth Rozin’s Human Rites for InterAct Theatre. Upcoming: director/dramaturg for Jen Child’s newest one-woman show I Will Not Go Gently at 1812 Productions. 

ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT

Michael Hollinger’s plays include Under the Skin, Ghost-Writer, Opus, Tooth and Claw, Red Herring, Incorruptible, Tiny Island, and An Empty Plate in the Café Du Grand Boeuf, all of which premiered at Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company and have together enjoyed numerous productions around the country, in New York City and abroad.  Work premiered elsewhere includes: Hope and Gravity at Pittsburgh’s City Theatre; a new translation of Cyrano (co-adapted with Aaron Posner) at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C.; and A Wonderful Noise (co-authored with Vance Lehmkuhl) at Colorado’s Creede Repertory Theatre.  Michael recently workshopped another new musical, TouchTones (co-authored with composer Robert Maggio), at the Arden.  Awards include a Steinberg New Play Citation from the American Theatre Critics Association, a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, a Mid-Atlantic Emmy, an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award, four Barrymore Awards (including the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theatre Artist), nominations for Lucille Lortel and John Gassner awards, and fellowships from the Independence Foundation, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.  Michael is an Associate Professor at Villanova University, where he received his MA in Theatre, and a proud alumnus of New Dramatists.  He shares a life with actor/educator Megan Bellwoar, and their children Benjamin and Willa.

Vance Lehmkuhl is a writer, musician and cartoonist, with a wide variety of musical works including 250 pop songs, dozens of classical compositions, one multimedia revue and several musical comedies, including one with Gayden Wren, (Ernest, produced off-Broadway in 2000), and several with Michael Hollinger. His cartoons have been featured in many periodicals as well as books from McGraw-Hill and Henry Holt, and most recently in the New York Times bestseller "How Not to Die" by Dr. Michael Greger. His vegetarian cartoon collection 'The Joy of Soy' was published by Laugh Lines Pres in 1997. Vance also served as political cartoonist ("How-To Harry") for Philadelphia City Paper from 1991 to 2003, and in 2006 was the first winner of Huffington Post's contest to create 'viral' Web content. His newspaper column "V for Veg," covering the growing trend of plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia, has run in the Philadelphia Daily News since 2011. Vance's musical high-water mark is a novelty patter song that's been played on Dr. Demento's radio show multiple times, but this fantastic production of A Wonderful Noise could possibly top that.

ABOUT VILLANOVA THEATRE

Villanova Theatre is a community of artist-scholars committed to transforming hearts and minds through the visionary production of classical, modern, and contemporary dramatic literature. Our work is fueled by the imaginative striving common to Villanova’s accomplished faculty, versatile staff, and energetic graduate students. Together, we are devoted to creating a vibrant theatre enriched by and overflowing with the ideas explored in our classrooms. In all of our endeavors, we aim to share the dynamic experience of collaborative learning with our audiences in order to engage the intellect and stir the soul.  As a facet of Villanova University, Villanova Theatre serves the campus community as well as thousands of theatre-goers from the Main Line and the Greater Philadelphia area.