‘It’s about the audience’ Easton State Theatre’s Shelley Brown previews venue’s 2019-2020 season
The 93rd season of the State Theatre Center for the Arts, Easton, as with previous seasons, is a work in progress.
“We’re confirming things right and left that we add,” says State Theatre President and CEO Shelley Brown.
Tickets for the new season at the State Theatre go on sale to the public Aug. 15. Tickets for State Theatre members went on sale Aug. 1.
“The biggest challenge is confirming things for the brochure. That’s the basis for the season, to which we continually add. There’s always more,” Brown continues.
“It’s not a fixed number. It’s always what we can present properly and what we think the audience will want to see,” she says.
The 2019-2020 season kicks off with “The Piano Guys,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13. The duo’s classically-influenced pop music performance videos have become a YouTube phenomenon.
“They’re back for the third time. They’re fantastic,” says Brown.
“They’are a group that began by doing their own videos on the internet. People know about them all over the world. They bring with them fans from all over,” Brown says.
“Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 25, is the first of eight scheduled national tours of Broadway shows at the State Theatre.
“Our emphasis this year is Broadway,” says Brown. “Thanks to this steel grid we have. This is more Broadway than we’ve ever done.”
The ability to book and present high-end national tours of Broadway shows is the result of changes made to the State Theatre a decade ago, with improvements to the loading dock, elevator and other amenities for production crews.
“We’ve really concentrated on that. We’re really honing in on what we feel is our niche,” says Brown.
It’s a natural fit, what with the annual 18th annual Freddy Award show and WFMZ-TV telecast, 7 p.m. May 21, 2020, at the State Theatre.
Broadway national tour shows include “Jersey Boys,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12, based on the pop music career of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons; ”Cirque Dreams: Holidaze,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19, a Broadway holiday show with 20 acts; “Stomp,” 7:30 p.m. Jan. 17, 2020, a percussion extravaganza; “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown,” 7 p.m. Feb. 1, 2020, noting the 70th anniverary of the Charles Schultz newspaper comic strip; “Rent,” 3, 8 p.m. Feb. 9, 2020, a 20th anniversary production of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning musical; “Bandstand,” 7 p.m. March 12, 2020, with music and dancing circa 1945; “The Color Purple, 2, 7 p.m. May 2, 2020, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning story and 2016 Tony Award-winning Best Musical Revival.
“These are the real Broadway touring shows,” says Brown.
Noting that the State Theatre provides a convenience factor for audiences in the Lehigh Valley region in terms of parking and an average 30-minute travel time to and from a performance, she emphasizes, ‘You can leave your house and be where you want to be in a half-hour. To be able to pay a dollar to park and be home in your jammies.”
The State Theatre typically draws audiences from a 50-mille radius of the theater. However, in recent years, the State casts a wider net.
“Because of the internet, it’s to infinity and beyond,” says Brown. “If they’re following an act, we have people who come to Easton to see their favorite artists.”
Brown extols the exciitement of live shows:
“With live theater, being part of an audience is a fellowship. Entertainment was meant to be entertained in a group.
“When you’re with people watching live entertainment, there is a kinship that feels so good, whether your’re laughing at the same time, crying at the same time, or that wonderful quiet.
“At intermission, people are talking to each other. And then they’re leaving at the end of the night and they’re talking about what they saw.
“That’s why we cherish our relationship with the Freddy kids. They realize what it’s like to be on stage and have an audience.”
A mix of State Theatre audience favorites in vocal groups, comedy-variety shows, dance, and tribute concerts is back for the 2019-2020 season.
Vocal groups include “The Four Italian Tenors,” 8 p.m. Oct. 11, a tribute to Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli in its inauguaral U.S. tour; “Oh What A Night Of Rock N Roll,” 7 p.m. Oct. 19, with Lou Christie (“Lightnin’ Strikes”), Brian Hyland (“Sealed With a Kiss”), The Happenings (“See You in September”), La La Brooks (Crystals’ lead singer, “Da Doo Run Run”), The Capris (“There’s A Moon Out Tonight”) and Belmont Avenue: A Tribute to Dion; “The Midtown Men,” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21, 1960s’ music sung by members of the original Broadway cast of “Jersey Boys”;
Also, “The Ten Tenors: Home for The Holidays,” 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, with singer Jackie Evancho; Straight No Chaser, 3, 7 p.m. Dec. 22, the hit male a cappella group; The Hit Men, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25, 2020, the touring and recording supergroup performs classic rock, and The Choir of Man, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13, 2020, pub tunes, folk music and Broadway songs are sung.
Comedy-variety shows include: “Josh Gates Live,” 7:30 p.m. Oct. 23, of Discovery Channel “Expeditions Unknown”; Harrison Greenbaum, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25, comedy and magic show; “Kreeps with Kids,” 8 p.m. Nov. 8, standup comedy featuring Rich Vos, Robert Kelly, Jim Florentine and Ron Bennington; Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood, 8 p.m. Nov. 16, stand-up improv; “The Elf on the Shelf,” 6 p.m. Nov. 14, a new Christmas musical, and “Comedy Pet Theater,” 7 p.m. Jan. 10, 2020, a European-style circus.
Dance performances include “Nutcracker,” 2, 6 p.m. Dec. 8, performed by Moscow Ballet; “Dancing with the Lehigh Valley Stars,” 7:30 p.m. April 2, 2020, a benefit for the Freddy Awards, and “Riverdance,” 7 p.m. June 17, 2020, the 25th anniversary tour.
Tribute concerts include: Jim Witter: “Fire & Rain,” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15, music of James Taylor and Carole King; Craig Thatcher Band: The Music of Tom Petty, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 22; Chris Collins & Boulder Canyon, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5, John Denver tribute; “Abba Mania,” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7, 2020, performing the pop group’s hits; The Fab Faux, 8 p.m. March 14, 2020, playing Beatles’ songs: “One Night of Queen,” 7:30 p.m. April 4, 2020, in its 13th U.S. tour, and The Orchestra: Starring Former Members of ELO, 7:30 p.m. April 25, 2020.
Other performers include: Boz Scaggs, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19, and “Cat Country 96 Jingle Jam,” 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20, acoustic music picked by Nashville cats, and Red Hot Chili Pipers, 7:30 p.m. March 21, 2020, bagpipe versions of pop-rock songs.
Seeing a show at the State Theatre is akin to going into a time-machine and returning to a bygone era of theater- and concert-going oppulence.
“It’s been up, down, all around, but it’s been continuous,” Brown says of the State Theatre’s storied history, which dates to 1926.
It hasn’t been easy then, nor is it easy now, for the State Theater, says Brown:
“We’re one of 25 local venues.
“You remember the days when we were one of three venues. Now those acts are being vied for by all of the local venues, or many of them, which puts us in the position of we can’t afford them anymore.
“When all these venues want them, you get in a bidding war. When you have 1,500 seats, there’s only so much you pay because you don’t want the ticket price to be so exorbitant.
“And, No. 2, we can’t compete against a 3,000- or 10,000-seat venue when it comes to the money unless they want to do an intimate concert. And sometimes artists do. Elvis Costello did a phenomenal concert with us. He sold out.
“The record industry, in essence, collapsed. The record companies would put the artists on tour to sell albums. Now the artists are out there and they need to sell tickets and merchandise. This is their revenue stream now.
“The world as a whole has changed. How could we not expect our business to change?”
The Lehigh Valley theater and concert market has changed signifcantly during Brown’s 29-year tenure leading the State Theatre:
“They’re so many venues. You could see two shows per night. We have so much cultural entertainment in the Lehigh Valley.
“When people ask me, ‘Who’s your competition?,’ I say, ‘Inertia.’
“One of the things that’s great is seeing 1,500 people together, enjoying the show together. When I see them wallking down Northampton Street afterward, I think we’ve done a little something for world peace.
“It’s fun. There’s nothing wrong with fun.
“Certainly, at the State Theatre, there’s plenty to see. Plus, we have this fabulous building. And people bring their children. And it’s wonderful to see that. A lot of kids have never been to a real theater. When they come, they’re so awed by it.
“We’re trying to keep this experience alive,” says Brown.
“The performance part is the magic. When Tony Bennett was at the State Theatre, he put the mike down and sang without it.
“Every artist who has played the theater comes out and says how great the theater is.
“At venues like ours, the fans are the superfans.
“The artists feel that love. And they play way longer. It’s about the audience,” says Brown.
State Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season: statetheatre.org. Tickets for the season: State Theatre Box Office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org; 1-800-999-STATE, 610-252-3132