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Pennington Players' 'Master Class' next at Kelsey Theatre

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Don't miss an extraordinary insight into the life and loves of Maria Callas, the iconic opera singer whose turbulent private life and fiery temperament were as astonishing as her formidable talents.

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Presented by the Pennington Players, Master Class, the Tony Award-winning play by Terrence McNally, comes to Mercer County Community College’s Kelsey Theatre Fridays, Feb. 21 and 28 at 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Feb. 22 and March 1 at 8 p.m.; and Sundays, Feb. 23 and March 3 at 2 p.m. Kelsey Theatre is located on the college’s West Windsor Campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road. A reception with the cast and crew follows the opening night performance on February 21.

The Pennington Players had originally announced that the February 23rd performance would be an ASL interpreted performance for the deaf, hard of hearing, and ASL community. However, due to scheduling issues with the interpreters this production will not be interpreted. The Pennington Players regret any inconvenience.

Audience members at the Friday, February 28th performance of Master Class will have the opportunity to engage in a discussion with the cast and crew about the process of bringing the production together. This “talkback” session will last no more than 30 minutes and begin immediately following the performance.

In Master Class, we find legendary opera diva Maria Callas at one of her famous master classes where, late in her own career and life, she dares the next generation to make the same sacrifices and rise to the same heights that made her the most celebrated, reviled, and controversial singer of her time. With wicked humor, unrelenting criticism and deeply personal stories – stories that include her life with Aristotle Onassis – Callas instructs a group of young singers who are aspiring to the heights of fame and fortune. She’s glamorous, commanding, larger than life – and drop-dead funny.

Playwright McNally brings us a somewhat fictionalized version of the woman known as La Divina to meditate on the relation between art and life, and to wonder exactly when the pursuit of one's art becomes self-destructive. Intimate in style, Master Class nevertheless is a big play, filled with tantalizing, if unanswerable, questions. It remains one of the playwright's finest achievements.

Leading the cast of Master Class as Maria Callas is Laurie Hardy of Hamilton Township, who has performed in theatres across the Central New Jersey area. Most notably, Hardy has performed as Mother Superior inAgnes of God (Villagers Theatre), Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond (PinnWorth Productions, Kelsey Theatre), Monica Reed in Present Laughter (Playhouse 22), and M’Lynn in Steel Magnolias (The Pennington Players, Kelsey Theatre).

The cast also features as students in the master class soprano Jenne Carey of Princeton as Sophie DePalma, soprano Eileen Cooper of Hamilton as Sharon Graham, and tenor Timothy Walton of Plainsboro as Anthony Candolino. Carey, Cooper, and Walton are all classically trained opera singers, which brings the necessary air of authenticity to the production. The arias they sing are Bellini’s “Ah Non Credea,” Verdi’s “Vieni t’affretta,”and Puccini’s “Recondita Armonia,” respectively. Andrew Monath of New Hope, PA, is the on stage accompanist Manny Weinstock.

“Callas experienced such passionate dedication to her art on such a grand emotional scale,” says director Judi Parrish. “Master Class is so special because McNally has fused brilliantly poetic dialogue and wonderful humor with great music from classic operas. And while the play is incredibly funny, it also is deeply reflective, as Callas looks back on her life and what she had to sacrifice in order to have a great career. Her memories and the music feed on each other, and her personality informs the performance. She is a force!” Parrish said. “The play is about her frustrations as well as those moments when she surrenders to the beauty of her students’ voices, when they finally understand.”

The production is being produced by Sally Page of Princeton and directed by Judi Parrish of West Trenton. Stage Manager, Tara Gruber Etter of Hamilton will also appear on stage as the stagehand.

Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $14 for students and children. Tickets are available online or by calling the Kelsey Theatre Box Office at 609-570-3333. Kelsey Theatre is wheelchair accessible, with free parking available next to the theater.

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