Crews descend on Solvang Festival Theater to prepare for PCPA summer season

Sound designer Elisabeth Weidener uses a walkie-talkie to communicate with her crew members as she listens from amid the seats at Solvang's Festival Theater during preparations for the June 2017 launch of PCPA's summer season there.

The PCPA stage will light up this summer with two musical productions at Solvang Festival Theater, representing a return to live performance since a yearlong closure due to the pandemic. 

PCPA's Artistic Director Mark Booher in a virtual press conference Thursday announced that both summer shows will play at downtown Solvang's outdoor theater beginning in July.

The first production, "Together: A Musical Journey," will kick off July 21 and run through Aug. 8. The second production, "Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill," will debut Aug. 19 and run through Sept. 5.

"A Musical Journey" — written by Erik Stein, directed by Katie Fuchs-Wackowski, with musical direction by Michael Wilkens — features seven actors and musicians who will take audience members on a musical journey in celebration of a life of shared experiences and stories of adventure.

The musical concert was created exclusively for PCPA’s audiences to rejoice as a community and to relish being together, a theater spokesman said.

Fuchs-Wackowski said she is privileged to be at the helm of the original piece.

“I am very excited to be working on this incredibly unique project," she said. "A musical journey [was] specifically created to celebrate being back together after this long, hard year apart. It is a piece created for the here and now, and highlights the creative skills of both our local designers and performers.”

The cast features resident artists Kitty Balay, Andrew Philpot, Yusef Seevers, Stein, Emily Trask, George Walker and guest artist Annali Fuchs-Wackowski.

The second production, "Lady Day," will welcome back guest artist Karole Foreman to play the legendary Billie Holiday.

The story takes place in in a seedy bar in 1959 Philadelphia.

The audience will witness one of Holiday’s final performances, featuring more than a dozen of the jazz legend's songs "interlaced with salty, often humorous reminiscences," the spokesman said.

Holiday’s character will be accompanied by Jimmy Powers, played by guest artist Stephan Terry, who also serves as musical director for the show.

Director Wren T. Brown noted that the tribute production will sample from Holiday’s legendary music, which "continues to soar and stir audiences" six decades later.

“I am excited to direct 'Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,' because it affords me the opportunity to explore and examine the life of one of the most transcendent artists of the 20th century," he said.

Brown said through her singing, Holiday used everything that happened in her life to inform her art, with many of her songs becoming standards that have "caused audiences to feel her heart and soul, in a manner unlike any other artist."

"Sixty years after her death, at a time in America when race, gender and the opioid crisis are being discussed loudly on a daily basis, Billie Holiday's life and career are a great example of what it means to not just survive but triumph in the face of lifelong abuse and struggle,” Brown said.

Lisa André covers lifestyles and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record.