Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Center for the Performing Arts season to feature ‘The Book of Mormon,’ ‘A Bronx Tale,’ Itzhak Perlman, Hong Kong Ballet, Wynton Marsalis and 21 other presentations

The Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State has announced its 2019–2020 season, which includes a seven-performance Centre County premiere of the multiple award-winning Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon,” by the creators of “South Park” (Matt Stone and Trey Parker).

“From return engagements and debuts by an amazing array of renowned artists and companies, I am so excited about the coming season and can’t wait to open our doors and let the performances begin,” said George Trudeau, the center’s director.

Also included in the 26-event lineup are presentations by famed violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Rohan De Silva; American singer Lizz Wright; contemporary classical ensemble Kronos Quartet with Iranian vocalist Mahsa Vahdat; Hong Kong Ballet’s “Alice (in Wonderland)”; funk-jazz legend Maceo Parker and his big band; and a rescheduled performance of last season’s postponed family production “Night Train 57,” a Sensory-Friendly Comic Folk Opera.

Tickets for the Center for the Performing Arts presentations — plus the School of Music’s “Mosaic” concert; and the Penn State College of Arts and Architecture, School of Music and Center for the Performing Arts joint production of Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen” — are on sale now at events and tickets.

Nationally touring Broadway musicals

Nine-time Tony Award-winning Best Musical “The Book of Mormon” will make its Center for the Performing Arts debut with seven performances Tuesday, Oct. 8, through Sunday, Oct. 13. The musical comedy follows a pair of mismatched Mormon newbies who are sent on a mission to a place that’s just about as far from Salt Lake City as you can get — Uganda. The production features a script, lyrics and music by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and “Avenue Q” music co-writer Robert Lopez. The New York Times called the production “the best musical of this century,” while Entertainment Weekly described it as “Grade A: the funniest musical of all time.”

“A Bronx Tale” — hailed by The New York Times as “the kind of tale that makes you laugh and cry” — will take the stage Wednesday, Oct. 30. The streetwise musical, based on an autobiographical one-man play by actor Chazz Palminteri with a score by Alan Menken, follows young Calogero as he is torn between family loyalty and the temptations of organized crime.

The Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning production of “Rent,” on the road to conclude its 20th-anniversary run, returns to Penn State with a Tuesday, Nov. 19, performance. The original dramatic rock musical — taking place over a year in the lives of seven artists struggling to follow their dreams without selling out — shares its message of projecting joy, hope and love in the face of fear.

Also back by popular demand is “Jersey Boys,” which will return on Tuesday, Jan. 28. The Tony, Grammy and Olivier Award-winning musical will make its second tour stop at Penn State since its Happy Valley premiere in 2015. The documentary-style jukebox musical tells the story of singing sensations Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and features the group’s hits, including “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man.”

“The Color Purple,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Alice Walker and award-winning film by Steven Spielberg, will return on Wednesday, April 15. The Tony Award-winning Best Revival of a Musical is set in rural Georgia in the early 20th century and addresses issues of the American social culture via main character Celie, a woman who finds the strength to triumph over adversity.

Classical and contemporary ensembles

On Wednesday, Sept. 18, the Imani Winds and Catalyst Quartet ensembles will perform together and separate in “(Im)migration: Music of Change.” Catalyst, which features top string musicians from the renowned Sphinx Competition, returns to Penn State after appearances in 2015 and ’16. Grammy Award-nominated Imani Winds is known for its adventurous repertoire and was called “strikingly virtuosic” by Boston Musical Intelligencer. The program of global works will include “Afro Blue” by Mongo Santamaria; “Cane” by Jason Moran; “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout” by Gabriela Frank; “Concerto de Camera” by Roberto Sierra; and a new nonet, by Catalyst violinist Jessie Montgomery, commissioned by the Center for the Performing Arts through its membership in the national consortium Music Accord.

The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble was created in 1967 to perform the larger works of chamber music repertoire with players who customarily work together—instead of the usual string quartet with additional guests. Drawn from the principal players of London’s world-renowned Academy of St. Martin in the Fields chamber orchestra and led by violinist Tomo Keller, the chamber ensemble performs in all shapes and sizes. For its Thursday, Oct. 17, concert, it will perform as an octet and a sextet. The program will include a new work for string quartet by British composer Sally Beamish, the ensemble’s first composer-in-residence; Sextet for Strings in G Major, Op. 36, by Johannes Brahms; and Octet for Strings in Eb Major, Op. 20, by Felix Mendelssohn.

With “An Evening with Itzhak Perlman,” the famed violinist will bring his autobiographical program to Penn State on Thursday, Nov. 14. The multimedia event, also featuring Perlman’s longtime pianist Rohan DeSilva, will include musical performance, personal anecdotes shared by the violinist and excerpts from the recently released documentary “Itzhak.”

Direct from Kiev comes the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine on Tuesday, Feb. 11. The concert will feature Artistic Director Volodymyr Sirenko and piano soloist Volodymyr Vynnytsky, with the orchestra performing works by Evhen Stankovych, Camille Saint-Saëns and Johannes Brahms. Leader of the ensemble since 1999, Sirenko has performed with many famous international orchestras and is laureate of Ukraine’s prestigious Taras Shevchenko National Prize. Vynnytsky is laureate of the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud International Piano Competition. Charleston, South Carolina’s Post and Courier described Vynnytsky’s playing as “a grand display of skill and precision that was breathtaking.”

Apollo’s Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, will make its sixth appearance at the Center for the Performing Arts with “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Rediscovered.” The Thursday, Feb. 27, concert — performed entirely from memory — will show why ensemble Conductor Jeannette Sorrell calls Antonio Vivaldi the “rock ’n’ roll composer of the 18th century,” with a program featuring awe-inspiring string solos and new arrangements of the composer’s legendary works.

Calidore String Quartet — praised for its “deep reserves of virtuosity and irrepressible dramatic instinct” by The New York Times — will perform on Tuesday, April 7. The ensemble’s visit will include a residency, and the program will feature renditions of two quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven as well as a new work by contemporary composer Anna Clyne, commissioned by the center via Music Accord.


Singer Lizz Wright, called “hypnotically alluring” by a Chicago Tribune columnist, will make her Penn State debut on Wednesday, Feb. 5. Wright, who grew up singing gospel music and playing piano at church, blends the jazz, blues and gospel genres into her catalog. The program will include songs from Wright’s 2017 album, “Grace,” which JazzTimes called an “inspired exploration of spiritualism.”


Dance Theatre of Harlem will perform Tuesday, Nov. 12. In the company’s first visit to the center since 1995, it will celebrate its founding 50 years ago by Arthur Mitchell in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The performance will include the works “Return” and “Passage,” a new ballet by Claudia Schreier that features music composed by Catalyst Quartet’s Montgomery.

Step Afrika! will perform the world premiere of “Drumfolk” on Friday, Jan. 31. Founded in 1994 as the first professional company dedicated to the percussive dance tradition of stepping, Step Afrika! holds residencies and workshops to use the African-American artform of “stepping” as an educational tool. “Drumfolk” recounts the history of the Negro Act of 1740, which forbade black slaves from reading, writing and the right to assemble. The act resulted in the creation of stepping, which combines African percussive dance styles and spirituals.

In the season-concluding event, the Hong Kong Ballet will present “Alice (in Wonderland)” on Friday, April 24. The whimsical production created by Artistic Director Septime Webre fuses dance, theater and puppetry, and features costumes by Cirque du Soleil designer Liz Vandal. The narrative follows Alice on a journey that The Washington Post calls “a giddy parade, a pop-art dream, a feat of fevered imagination.”

Jazz and big band

The Emmet Cohen Trio will open the season on Thursday, Sept. 12, with a performance accompanied by prolific tenor saxophonist Houston Person. Cohen, who with his trio performed with jazz vocalist Veronica Swift during the 2018–19 season-opening performance, has created a Masters Legacy Series of recordings featuring jazz legends. Person is a wide-ranging jazz musician, described by the late NPR blogger and jazz pianist Billy Taylor as “one of the most soulful jazz players on the scene …, a musician who pays close attention to melody and has a deep sense of the blues.”

Soul saxophonist Maceo Parker — a musical pioneer in the same breadth as funk masters James Brown, George Clinton and Prince — will celebrate all things love in a performance based on his 2018 release “It’s All About Love” on Thursday, Sept. 26. The musician’s upbeat, funky arrangements — including of hits by artists such as Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers, and Crosby, Stills & Nash — will be performed by his own Maceo Parker Big Band, which includes former members of the Ray Charles Orchestra and features Charles’ backing vocalists The Raelettes.

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis will return on Thursday, April 2, with its eighth Penn State performance titled “Masters of Form: From Mingus to Monk.” The program will feature masterfully structured jazz classics by Thelonious Monk, Jelly Roll Morton and George Russell, as well as a new work by big-band composer Andy Farber inspired by the architectural forms of Frank Lloyd Wright. The ensemble’s visit will include a multi-day residency co-hosted by the Penn State School of Music.

A number of artists will honor one of America’s most influential artistic periods with “Harlem 100: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.” The Tuesday, Oct. 22, event will be hosted by global blues and jazz musicians Michael Mwenso and the Shakes, and accompanied by guest vocalists Brianna Thomas and Vuyo Sotashe and tap dancer Michela Marino Lerman. “Harlem 100” was created in collaboration with the National Jazz Museum and pays homage to the sights and sounds of the Harlem jazz scene. The program will feature music by Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller and more.

Family programming

In “Sugar Skull! A Dia de los Muertos Musical Adventure,” set to make its Penn State debut on Sunday, Sept. 29, young Vita learns the true meaning of the celebrations behind the Day of the Dead. The Mexico Beyond Mariachi presentation features a magical skeleton that teaches Vita an appreciation of her ancestors through song and dance. The multicultural ensemble of professional actors, dancers and teachers strives to counter negative stereotypes by sharing aspects of Mexico’s rich cultural heritage.

“Showtime with Shakespeare,” a musical adapted from best-selling author Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House series book “Stage Fright on a Summer Night,” will make its Penn State debut on Sunday, Nov. 3. The hip-hop-themed production follows siblings Jack and Annie as they are transported to Elizabethan England, where they meet the legendary bard. A writer for Perform.ink said, “This adventure never derails, delivering an hour packed of harmony-filled, hip-hop-rich choreography and a simple, engaging storyline” entertaining enough for children of all ages.

The creators of Erth’s “Dinosaur Zoo Live” will return to Penn State with “Prehistoric Aquarium Adventure,” with a performance Thursday, Feb. 20. The event features a cast of large-scale underwater creatures brought to life through the magic of puppetry and high-tech theatrical design. Australian Stage called the immersive production “an introduction into paleontology and exploration of the rich history of life on planet Earth.”

“Night Train 57,” a Sensory-Friendly Comic Folk Opera, features Grammy Award-winning singer-guitarist Dan Zanes, multi-instrumentalist Claudia Eliaza and percussionist Yuriana Sobrino. The Sunday, April 5, production, postponed last season due to artist illness, engages young audiences with a folk-musical approach to friendship and community. AutismSpeaks.org calls the production “festive, interactive and ideal for people of all ages, temperaments and abilities.”

Contemporary circus

Cirque nouveau troupe Circa will perform “Humans” on Tuesday, Jan. 21. In the production created by Yaron Lifschitz, the 10-acrobat-strong Australian company will explore what it means to be human through scenes of extreme physicality amid representation of person-to-person connections, personal aspirations and the redemptive power of strength.

World sounds

Silkroad Ensemble, the nonprofit world-music collective founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 1998, will make its Penn State premiere on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Silkroad’s musicians are native to more than 20 countries, which allows the artists to mine diverse and layered musical languages to spark cross-cultural appreciation and understanding.

On Tuesday, Feb. 18, Kronos Quartet and Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat will perform “Music for Change: The Banned Countries,” a concert highlighting the artistic voices of Muslim-majority regions. The Grammy Award-winning ensemble is known for its range of collaborations and recordings featuring an array of artists and composers worldwide. Vahdat, a native of Tehran, is a prominent performer of Persian vocal music and an advocate of freedom of expression.

Classical Coffeehouse

The performances by Imani Winds and Catalyst String Quartet; Apollo’s Fire; and Calidore String Quartet with composer Anna Clyne each will include a pre-performance Classical Coffeehouse presentation. Each coffeehouse—presented by the center and the Penn State Alumni Association, in partnership with the Blue & White Society, the PSU Music Service Club and the Penn State Coffee Club—features an intimate mini performance, artist discussion, and social time between the musicians and audience members. Each coffeehouse event is in Hintz Family Alumni Center’s Robb Hall on the day before the respective ensemble’s mainstage performance.

Find details about each performance.