Category Archives: Local News

All-star cast assembled for ‘Sweeney Todd’

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

The Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center, in conjunction with the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, will host a production of the musical “Sweeney Todd.”

Scheduled to take place Feb. 15 at the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center on the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown campus, the performance is to benefit Arts Coalition of the Alleghenies.

Arts Coalition of the Alleghenies is a “collective group of artists and arts organizations among Cambria, Somerset and Bedford counties, all looking to jointly promote and protect the arts community,” according to the organization’s official website, www.artscoa.org.

This performance of “Sweeney Todd” stars both Broadway and local performers. The cast includes Scott Logsdon as Sweeney, Liz McCartney as Mrs. Lovett, Mary Setrakian as Beggar Woman, Michael Marra as Judge Turpin, Buck Dietz as Pirelli, Mickey Orange as Anthony, Noelle Patrick as Johanna, Isaac McNulty as Tobias, Jeffrey Webb as The Beadle, Mary B. Mauzy as Lucy and Nathan Magee as Fogg.

Logsdon was an original cast member in the national company of the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, “Les Miserables,” a show he also appeared in on Broadway and internationally. Other stage credits include “The Fantasticks,” “South Pacific” and “Chess in Concert.” Logsdon has performed for former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore, and has been invited to the White House twice as a guest of the Clintons.

McCartney created the role of Sue Tilly in the Boy George Broadway musical “Taboo,” which was produced by Rosie O’Donnell. Most recently, she has been touring with the Papermill Theater Co.’s production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid.” McCartney has also starred in “Into The Woods,” “Wicked” and “The Phantom of the Opera.” This year she’s celebrating 20 years on Broadway.

Setrakian made her Broadway debut in “Hello, Dolly!” alongside Carol Channing. She toured the United States and Europe, performing in shows such as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables” and “Evita.” Working as a voice teacher, Setrakian prepared Nicole Kidman for her Golden Globe Award-­winning and Oscar-­nominated performance in Baz Luhrman’s “Moulin Rouge.” She has also worked with Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mandy Moore, Bobby Cannavale and Mary J. Blige.

Fellow Broadway star Marra appeared in “Les Miserables” and “Jekyll and Hyde,” among others. His off-­Broadway credits include “Shakespeare Off-­Key,” “Choices: The Musical” and “The Redemption of Jamie Harris.” Since moving back to Pennsylvania from New York, Marra has starred in Pittsburgh CLO’s production of “The Producers” and has also appeared on the Mountain Playhouse stage in “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Annie Get Your Gun.”

Orange has previously starred in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Children of Eden” and “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.” He is currently a junior at St. Vincent College and holds a major in biology and a minor in Spanish.

Patrick is a member of St. Vincent College’s student-­run theater group, The Company, where she has been cast in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “Nine to Five.” She is a graduate of Cambria Heights High School, where she played the roles of Johanna in “Sweeney Todd,” Crystal in “Little Shop of Horrors” and Mary Lennox in “The Secret Garden.” Patrick is a sophomore biology major at St. Vincent College.

Vocalist and musician McNulty has been to PMEA Region III Chorus (2014) and to PMEA All­-State Orchestra as a cellist (2014). He also played bass in the Altoona Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Maestra Teresa Cheung. His acting credits include “Les Miserables,” “Bonechiller” and “Camp Rock: The Musical.” Dietz’s stage credits include “Children of Eden,” “Promises, Promises” and “The Secret Garden.” He also appeared in the national tour of “The Sound of Music” with Marie Osmond. He most recently played “Roger Sherman in 1776” at The Cape Playhouse opposite Christiane Noll and George Lee Andrews. His TV credits include “Guiding Light,” “All My Children,” “Surprise by Design” and “Sex and the City.”

Webb serves as associate professor of music and director of choral activities at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Allegheny College and a Master of Music degree in choral conducting from Binghamton University. Since joining the Pitt­-Johnstown faculty in 2001, Webb has taught courses in music theory, western art music, critical listening, jazz and popular music. He also conducts the Pitt­-Johnstown Concert Choir and Chamber Choir. His theater credits as an actor and musical director include “Aint’ Misbehavin’,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Jesus Christ Superstar,” among others.

The ensemble and chorus features Jean Arcurio, Tony Anthony, Scott “Biff” Baron, Kevin Bean, Mallory Bean, Ariana Bittner, Maggie Borodach, Jayme Brooks, Alexis Buncich, Nathan Cook, Johnna Cwik, Josh Devett, Kelly Devett, Laura Eidem, Tessa Evans, Emily Felton, Sam Fuge, Cassandra Gallina, Amber M. Gobbel, Matt Harris, Cheyenne Helsel, Carrie Law, Mari Grace Lingenfelter, Tony Malvoisin, Mary B. Mauzy, Chris McAllister, Jacob Meager, Michael Nicholson, Jennifer M. Oaks, Jonathan Pauley, Morgan Rickley, Joshua Rinaman, Hunter Tresnicky, Ian Wieczorek, Kelly Jo Wise, Gregory Zaborowski and Rachel Zaborowski. Zach Leventry, Emily Peters and Paul Tretter are also part of the cast, and Matt Thomas is to serve as musical director.

Logsdon, who is not only acting in the production but also serving as its director, said that he is excited to bring this performance to Johnstown.

“This is one of those really rare shows where everything feels great,” Logsdon said. “I’m trying to not get ahead of myself and get depressed that it’s almost over.
Everybody (in the cast) is excited. I get messages and emails from them frequently, saying they can’t wait.”

Choosing to perform “Sweeney Todd” was a no-­brainer for everyone involved behind the scenes, he added.

“I think it’s the most perfectly written musical of all time,” he said. “There are certainly other shows that are very good, but taking it apart and studying it, there’s not a weak link in the material. Plus, this show allows us to use a large talent pool.

“I think the Johnstown audience will be astonished at the level of talent we have in this show. It was funny because we originally planned for the cast to be much smaller, but we got to auditions and amazing person after amazing person kept coming in. The numbers just kept bumping up. For the local audience to see five Broadway veterans and many local performers, it’s a big bang for their buck.”

The performance is to begin at 2 p.m. All seats are reserved. The production is rated PG­-13.

Logsdon said he’s not sure if an annual production to benefit Arts Coalition of the Alleghenies will continue to take place in the years to come, but he’s certainly open to the opportunity.

“Since this is going so well, it would be great if there would be other shows to pop up down the road,” Logsdon said. “Raising money for the arts is a great way to remind people how important art really is.”

The Wall: Events in your area for the week of Jan. 28

Who: Bottle Works Arts on Third
What: Ashtanga yoga with Amy Weinzierl
When: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 8 a.m.
Where: Third Avenue in Johnstown’s Cambria City
Additional details: Ashtanga yoga is an ancient tradition with inspiration from modern gymnastics, combining breath, movement and focus. While there are many videos available, the practice is best learned from a teacher to fully realize your potential. 

Who: Bottle Works Arts on Third
What: Integral tai chi with Elizabeth Good
When: Monday mornings at 10 a.m. on Feb. 2, 9, 16, 23, and March 2 and March 9. Also Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. on Feb. 5, 12, 26, and March 5, 12 and 26.
Where: Third Avenue in Johnstown’s Cambria City
Additional details: Those who want to learn tai chi may pay for the entire program or for individual drop-in sessions.

What: Movie Night featuring “Despicable Me 2” at Roxbury St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
Where: 160 Derby St., Johnstown 
When: Jan. 30 at 7 p.m.
Additional details: Free admission. Public welcome.

Who: Bottle Works Arts on Third
What: Kid’s Yoga with Kristen Panek
When: Wednesdays at 5:45 p.m.
Where: Third Avenue in Johnstown’s Cambria City
Additional details: These classes occur in the Art Works building while adult yoga with Adriann White takes place next door in the Bottle Works building. There is a fee to attend.

Who: Bottle Works Arts on Third
What: Cooking class
When: Feb. 7 from 10 a.m. to noon
Where: Third Avenue in Johnstown’s Cambria City
Additional details: Participants will make spanikopita with chicken, spinach, filo and feta. 

Who: Bottle Works Arts on Third
What: Don Aliquo concert
When: Feb. 7 beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Third Avenue in Johnstown’s Cambria City
Additional details: Aliquo will play with friends Ken Karsh and Victor Garzotto. 

Who: Bottle Works Arts on Third
What: World Drumming Workshop with Jim Donovan
When: Feb. 7
Where: Third Avenue in Johnstown’s Cambria City
Additional details: Multi­platinum recording artist from the band Rusted Root will present a drumming workshop that explores world rhythms and songs. Drums are provided. Beginners are warmly welcomed. Ages 15 and up. Register online in advance by visiting: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/johnstown­pa­world-drumming­workshop­with­jim­donovan­tickets­15081427957.

Improvements coming to Bottle Works Arts on Third

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Thanks to generous local and state funding, Bottle Works Arts on Third in Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood will be receiving a few notable upgrades in 2015.

Since their inception, Bottle Works and Art Works operated as two separate facilities: two different budgets, two different board of directors and two different executive directors.

Nearly a year ago, the decision was made to merge both buildings and name the organization Bottle Works Arts on Third. The Community Foundation of the Alleghenies supported the merger by providing partial funding for one full-­time executive director. The non­profit also provided $40,000 specifically to make capital improvements for long­-term sustainability and increased revenue.

“As the new executive director, (the foundation’s) support is huge,” said Angela Rizzo. “It really allowed me to come in and take a hard look at what was working and what wasn’t working, but also identify our biggest growth opportunities and how to capitalize on those areas.”

After she was appointed executive director of Bottle Works Arts on Third, Rizzo spent a few months in the passenger’s seat in order to observe how things worked before stepping behind the wheel. One problem that Rizzo noticed was the lack of space, which was a good thing in that it indicated that artists were using the resources made available to them.

“It is a great problem to have,” she said. “All our studios are currently full at the Art Works building.”

To make room for additional artists who may be interested in renting studios through Bottle Works, the organization will be updating and cleaning some of the studio spaces on the second floor of the Bottle Works building. Funds from the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies will also allow Bottle Works to build two more studios inside the Art Works building.

Since Bottle Works Arts on Third offers an array of classes for children and adults — including cooking classes — additional funding from the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies will be used to make improvements to the kitchen. This, Rizzo said, will lead to more cooking classes and special event use.

Improvements to the Gallery Shoppe inside the Art Works building are also scheduled to take place this year. The Gallery Shoppe features work such as jewelry, pottery and photographs from more than 40 local and regional artists.

“A healthy arts community is an asset that people look for when deciding where to live and work,” said Mike Kane, Community Foundation of the Alleghenies president and executive director. “The Community Foundation appreciated the thoughtful plan for growth that the boards of directors of Bottle Works and Art Works developed. We look at this as not just strengthening one organization, but really as community development.”

Rizzo agreed, noting that all of these changes will give Bottle Works Arts on Third a facelift that will generate not only more revenue, but also more interest in the organization and the community in which it is headquartered.

“We are getting more and more interest in studios, special event rentals and programming in general,” she said. “These updates will allow us to continue to grow and become more efficient. I am extremely grateful for their support.”

Additionally, the Department of Environmental Protection provided Bottle Works Arts on Third $212,500 to develop a green roof atop the Art Works building. Bidding and the design process are underway, and construction is expected to begin this spring.

“The green roof will add so much to our building (by providing) another venue for classes, receptions and concerts,” Rizzo said. “Once the design process begins, we will have a better idea of where we stand in terms of budget and if additional funds are needed.”

In 2014, the organization acquired two vacant lots across the street along Third Avenue. The goal is to make the lots multi­-functional: They are to not only serve as additional parking spaces, but as a place for outdoor performances and educational programs.

A $100,000 grant from Commonwealth Financing Authority’s Greenways, Trails, and Recreation Program will help this project begin within the next few months.

“The vacant parking lot is a big asset to Cambria City as a whole,” Rizzo said. “It gets a lot of use, and not just from Bottle Works. It would just make such a difference to come around the turn on Power Street and see a dramatic green space.”

Common Grounds Outreach takes root in Davidsville

By BETH ANN MILLER
bethm@ourtownjohnstown.com

DAVIDSVILLE — Last year, Jeremy and Loni Stankan were praying and searching for an opportunity to become involved in the Christian missions field. They didn’t realize it would happen within their own community by selling coffee, cappuccino and the occasional panini.

Common Grounds Outreach, a faith-based youth and community outreach group, opened its coffee shop Jan. 12 in the former Golden Oven Coffee Shop building along Main Street in Davidsville. Group members have applied for nonprofit status. Its board of 10 people from the Conemaugh Township community — which includes the Stankans — oversees the operation. 

The shop sells coffee, specialty hot and cold drinks, and baked goods six days a week, and panini sandwiches on Fridays. But its bigger mission is to build relationships, bringing together people from the community of all ages for friendship and community service, based on Christian principles of loving and serving thy neighbor. 

The idea of a coffee shop as the hub of an outreach center caters to the “coffee culture” that Jeremy Stankan says exists today among young people and adults.

“These kids are growing up around coffees and specialty drinks like smoothies and milkshakes. Common Grounds is like Starbucks, but we want someone to come in here and see there’s something different (about it),” he said.

According to Loni Stankan, it is setting an atmosphere for making an impact in our community. 

“We do have such a great community,” she said.

The Stankans, who live in Jerome, said the project turned from an idea into reality so quickly that they believe it was divinely inspired.

Jeremy Stankan, an electrician, received a seasonal layoff from his job in August, and soon after started helping his sister-in-law Dusty Wirick, manager at the Golden Oven Coffee Shop. In the middle of September, two ministers from Campus Crusade for Christ at IUP came in the shop for coffee one day. In the midst of a conversation with the men, Stankan shared his and his wife’s vision of a coffee shop and mission outreach project for the community. The two ministers suggested the name Common Grounds, and at that moment, Stankan said, he knew the project became real.

Two ministers from the Conemaugh Township area also came in for coffee that same week, and Stankan shared the outreach project idea with them. From that week on, Common Grounds took off. Within two months they had assembled a board of directors and reached an agreement with the owner of the coffee shop to take over the business.

“People came in that week that I never saw in here before. Everything came together so fast that you know it’s a God thing. It’s exciting to see what’s going to happen,” Wirick said.

In three weeks, volunteers repainted and did remodeling work to the building’s first floor to make the space conducive to an outreach center. All the activity and the indoor lights at night had people in the township interested in what was happening, Loni Stankan said. 

She teaches 11th- and 12th-grade English and creative writing at Conemaugh Township Area High School, and has served as a youth group leader for several churches.

“More people every day started coming in and asking what was going on,” Loni Stankan said. “We can’t tell you how many people have come up to us and said they’ve thought for years there was a need for an outreach program in this community.”

In addition to operating the coffee shop, Common Grounds Outreach has already sponsored events to bring the community together for fun and fellowship. Last fall, they had a Fall Harvest Fest with different activities for elementary and high school students. On Friday evenings during basketball season, they are offering “After the Buzzer,” a community activity at the high school gym where kids and adults can play basketball or cornhole toss, sing with a karaoke machine and participate in other activities. They are forming a team for the “Chillin for Charity” in February at the Quemahoning Reservoir, and this summer they plan to sponsor an outdoor movie night and other events.

Community service is also a main theme of the outreach project. A separate room in the coffee shop allows youth to hang out, do homework and gather for small group activities. It can also be rented out to the community for small group gatherings or parties. 

The brightly-painted room features a large green tree mural painted across one wall. The “Giving Tree,” as it is called, was designed with the needs of the community in mind; if someone in the community needs help, whether with clothing or another material items, or needs some assistance with yard work or another project, the need will be written on a “leaf” and placed on the tree for someone in the community to respond to that need.

“We want to make a connection with the community, and find out what’s going on in the community,” Loni Stankan said.

Common Grounds employs one person in the coffee shop so far, and may add volunteer or part-time help as needed. The coffee shop is operating on its winter schedule right now; it is open from 7 to11 a.m. Monday-Wednesday, from 7 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and from 5-10 p.m. on Saturdays. In addition to the specialty drinks and baked goods, Common Grounds also sells pressed panini sandwiches on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Stankans said Common Grounds Outreach had a great first day of business, with 10 students visiting before school and a number of the “regulars” who normally came to the former coffee shop stopping by for their favorite beverage. 

Receipts from coffee shop sales will be put back into the business, and any profit will be used for the outreach ministry, Jeremy Stankan said.

“We put the ministry over the business. If we put the business in the ministry, God will bless it. The better the shop does and the more money we raise, the more we can do in the community,” he said.

“So much can happen in this space; big things can happen. We have lots of ideas. We don’t know what the place will become, but every step we take God shows us a little more (of it), and that’s great.”