On Stage: Chesco native has key role in ‘Anastasia’

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Madeline Raube

When the national tour of the hit musical “Anastasia” visits Wilmington this week for a four-day run at The Playhouse on Rodney Square (1007 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, www.thegrandwilmington.org/venues/the-playhouse/), an actress from Chester County will be playing one of the lead roles.

The show, which is running now through February 12, features West Chester’s Madeline Raube in the role of Countess Lily.

When “Anastasia” opened on Broadway in 2017 and had its run at the Broadhurst Theater, it received two Tony Award nominations and nine Drama Desk Award nominations.

“Anastasia” is a musical with music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and a book by Terrence McNally. Based on the 1997 film of the same name, the musical adapts the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, who could have escaped the execution of her family.

Years later, an amnesiac orphan named Anya hopes to find some trace of her family by siding with two con men who wish to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess.

In St. Petersburg, Russia in 1918, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna comforts her youngest granddaughter, five-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia, who is saddened by the fact that her grandmother is moving to Paris, France. Before leaving, the Dowager Empress gives Anastasia a music box as a parting gift.

Nine years later, Anastasia is attending a ball with her family when the Bolsheviks invade the palace. As the Romanovs attempt to escape, Anastasia tries to retrieve her music box, only to be shot at and captured, along with the rest of her family. The Dowager Empress later receives word in Paris that the entire family has been executed.

Ten years later, Gleb Vaganov, a general for the Bolsheviks who now control Russia, announces to the gloomy Russians that the now-poor Saint Petersburg has been renamed Leningrad, and he promises a bright and peaceful future. The Russians protest this change but are uplifted by a rumor that Anastasia may have survived the Bolsheviks’ attacks.

Two wanted con men, the handsome young Dmitry and an ex-member of the Imperial Court named Vlad Popov, hear the rumors and brainstorm “the biggest con in history” — they will groom a naive girl to become Anastasia to extract money from the Dowager Empress.

“We’ve been on tour for a year-and-a-half,” said Raube, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Red Bank, New Jersey.

“Then the pandemic stopped everything. There were more video auditions from January-March 2021. The final callback was in person in July in New York City.

“We had a very large turnover after the pandemic. We have a new Anastasia and a new villain. There are only five remaining original cast members. The changeover was in early June last year.”

Raube rode right through the changeover.

“They asked me if I wanted to stay and I was happy to still be a part of the show,” said Raube.

“It’s the same show. It has the same scenes and songs — just different cast members.

“The role that I have is the one I was auditioning for right from the start. Years ago, when I was watching the movie, she was the role I liked. Her name in the movie was Sophie and in the play it’s Lily. Getting it was a dream come true.

“What I love about Lily is that she is a mix of everything. She’s funny. She’s really confident onstage and she provides comic relief.

“She had big back-to-back numbers. It’s also an important role. She is the Dowager-in-Waiting.”

Raube, who got an undergraduate degree in classical voice and opera at Oberlin College in Ohio, gets to show off her vocal chops in several numbers.

“I have three big numbers,” said Raube, who also got a master’s degree in musical theater at New York University.

“The first is ‘Land of Yesterday’, which is a solo number. It’s followed by ‘The Countess and The Common Man,’ which is a duet with Vlad. That number brings down the house.

“My final number is ‘Press Conference.’ That’s where they realize Anya is real. I also do four different ensemble roles in Act One.”

This tour provides two “firsts” for Raube – first time experience with the musical version of “Anastasia” and first national tour.

“I saw the movie ‘Anastasia’, but I never saw the musical onstage until this tour,” said Raube. “I knew the music from the original Broadway soundtrack.

“This is also my first national tour. I love being able to travel. And I love the theaters and the audiences.”

The tour of “Anastasia” has longevity.

“We just had our 400th show,” said Raube.

“I’ve had to find something new to play with every performance. I get to feed off the audiences and their energy – especially in the improv parts in the middle.

“The biggest challenge for me is the physical comedy. It has to be tight with the timing. Lily is a very Betty Boop character. She’s the comedic role and it’s a very physical role.”

Video link for “Anastasia” – Anastasia21_Montage_HD.mov (dropbox.com).

The show at The Playhouse on Rodney Square is running now through February 12.

Ticket prices start at $48.

The Playhouse on Rodney Square is part of The Grand organization. Other Grand shows this weekend will be On a Winter’s Night featuring Lucy Kaplansky, John Gorka, Patty Larkin and Cliff Eberhardt on February 9 at The Baby Grand and Jim Brickman on February 10 at Copeland Hall.

The last time “Anastasia” was in the area, it was presented at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org) as part of the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Broadway Series.

The Broadway Series is in full swing right now with “Come From Away” wrapping up this Sunday at the Academy of Music and “1776” opening on February 14 at the Forrest Theater

“Come From Away,” the hit musical which is running now through February 12 at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org), is a play that is joyous, uplifting and a lot more.

The musical “Come from Away” is the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the people of Gander, Newfoundland, the small Canadian town that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships.

“Come from Away” is a Canadian musical with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It is set in the week following the September 11 attacks and tells the true story of what transpired when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon. The characters in the musical are based on (and in most cases share the names of) real Gander residents as well as some of the thousands of stranded travelers they housed and fed.

“Come From Away” is making a successful return to the Academy of Music. When the musical first went on tour. It touched down in Philly in October 2019.

The tour was stopped on March 12, 2020, because of Covid and then came back in October 2021. The music is a real marriage of history and culture in Newfoundland. This story begins on September 11 and continues right until the planes left Gander.

When you watch this show, you see how the people of Gander were unflappable. The current cast has been able to read transcripts from people in the original event, and even connect to people who were actually involved.

Video link for “Come from Away” — https://youtu.be/SXny5aW4HgA.

“Come from Away” is running now through February 12 at the Academy of Music. Ticket prices start at $25.


“1776: The Musical,” which is co-produced with the Shubert Organization, is having its Philadelphia premiere with a two-week run at the Forrest Theatre (1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia) from February 14 -26.

Following its premiere engagements, the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University and on Broadway at Roundabout Theatre Company, the tour of “1776: The Musical” will make limited engagement stops at major cities across North America, starting in Philadelphia.

A glorious multiracial cast of female, transgender, and nonbinary actors portrays the fiery founders of this country, putting history in the hands of the humans who were left out the first time around. This Tony Award-winning Best Musical is tuneful, witty, and constantly surprising, especially in this “bold and exuberant” (Variety) new production from directors Jeffrey L. Page (Philadelphia Theatre Company; Broadway’s Violet) and Diane Paulus (Waitress).

The year 1776 is a pivotal year in the history of the United States of America. So much so, that the story has been made into a book, a film (which came out in 1972) and a stage musical.

Now the classic tale has been re-imagined with different actors taking on the role of our founding fathers, new musical arrangements, new looks for the stage in terms of lighting, but the same old words and text that made the show famous in the first place.

The story spans a three-week period leading up to July 4th where members of congress debate on how to break away from the British Empire, with topics ranging from prosperity to slavery to religion. It features historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the Continental Congress’ custodian, Andrew McNair.

Video link for “1776: The Musical” — https://youtu.be/Kb1jOtaxz14.

“1776: The Musical” will run from February 14 -26 at the Forrest Theatre. Ticket prices start at $58.

Black History Month has arrived and Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is kicking off Black History Month in style with a stage performance focusing on one of America’s most important Civil Rights leaders.

Now through February 19, the Uptown! Knauer is presenting “The Mountaintop,” which looks at Martin Luther King’s activities on the evening before his assassination.

“The Mountaintop” is a drama by American playwright Katori Hall. It is a fictional depiction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on earth.

King was in Memphis to speak out on the behalf of the Memphis sanitation workers who went on strike regarding the death of two workers crushed by a malfunctioning truck. The workers dealt with continuous mistreatment and denial of their civil rights.

A week before his assassination, King led a demonstration through downtown Memphis which resulted in the death of one reporter as well as a multitude of injuries and property damages. The poor work conditions and pay the sanitation workers suffered angered the black community and encouraged them to speak out on the behalf of other issues concerning civil rights.

On April 3, the night before his assassination, King gave his speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,”, where he declared, “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”

King was nothing but supportive, even saying that he did not want to leave Memphis until his work was done. King along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference produced the idea of the Poor People’s Campaign, a campaign that demanded economic and human rights for poor Americans of diverse backgrounds.

Before he could finalize his ideas and plans however, he was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4 at 6:01 pm. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital for surgery but was pronounced dead an hour later.

“The Mountaintop” is a two-person drama about the last day of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The entire play is set in a room at the Lorraine Hotel room. King is alone – trying to write yet another powerful speech.

When he orders a cup of coffee from room service, a mysterious woman arrives, bringing much more than a late-night beverage. What follows is a reflective, often funny, often touching conversation in which Dr. King examines his achievements, his failures, and his unfinished dreams.

On February 16, there will be a free event at Uptown at 5:30 p.m. with Rev. Dr. Wayne E. Croft, Sr., Pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in West Chester. Dr. Croft will present “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” a conversation on Dr. Martin King’s sermon. The presentation will be in Uptown’s Univest Cabaret space on the second floor.

Dr. Croft is a pastor, writer and scholar, having earned an Associate degree from Pinebrook Jr. College and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Trinity College earning a Bachelor of Arts. He received the Master of Divinity degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary), Master of Theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and graduated with distinction from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey earning a Doctor of Ministry degree.

He also earned a Master of Philosophy and Doctor of Philosophy degree from Drew. He is the first person to earn both a Doctor of Ministry and Doctor of Philosophy from Drew University and received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Villanova University in May 2018.

First come, first seated. Space is limited.

Video link for “The Mountaintop” — https://youtu.be/aYawH1crGTY.

“The Mountaintop” is running now through February 19. The run time is 90 minutes with no intermission. Ticket prices start at $30.

The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is in the middle of the run of its new mainstage production – “Sister Act.”

“Sister Act” is a musical based on the hit 1992 film of the same name with music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, and additional material by Douglas Carter Beane. After having a regional premiere in 2006 in Pasadena, California, the original West End production opened on June 2, 2009, at the London Palladium, starring Patina Miller and produced by Stage Entertainment and Whoopi Goldberg. Subsequent productions have been seen on Broadway and in many countries around the world.

The show, which runs each week from Friday through Sunday, will run through February 26.

Tickets, which include dinner, dessert, beverages and free parking, are $69.

Philadelphia Theatre Company (www.philatheatreco.org) continues its season with a Philadelphia premiere of “Empathitrax,” an eerie and comical exploration of the consequences of one pharmacological breakthrough in the romantic life of one couple. The play is written by East Falls native Ana Nogueria, whose play “Which Way to the Stage” recently opened to critical acclaim Off-Broadway and has also appeared as an actress on The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries.”

“Empathitrax,” which will run from February 10-March 5 at PTC’s home at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre (480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia), marks Nogueria’s Philadelphia debut and is brought to life by a team of Philadelphia artists and creatives.

The production is directed by Nell Bang-Jensen, the Artistic Director of Theatre Horizon, who previously directed PTC’s well-received virtual production of “The Wolves.”

The show will run from February 10-March 5 at PTC’s home at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre (480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia).

“Empathitrax” is a fascinating, funny, and deeply human play that asks universal questions about romance and companionship,
The futuristic play is a searing, darkly funny sci-fi story of a young couple who turn to a breakthrough in pharmacology to save their fractured relationship.

The couple at the center of the story, known as Her and Him, are played by Claire Inie-Richards and Makoto Hirano. They are joined by Matteo Scammell as pharmaceutical sales rep Joe and Him’s bro-ish friend Matty D.

“Empathitrax” will run from February 10-March 5. Ticket prices start at $25.

Abbie Gardner has built up a strong fan base in the Delaware Valley. And, she has done it in a variety of ways – as a solo act, as one-third of Red Molly and as part of a duo project with Jesse Terry.

Garner is returning to the area this weekend – as a solo act. On February 10, she will headline a show at Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org)

Gardner, the fiery dobro player with an infectious smile toured with Americana darlings Red Molly for eleven years. The band took an indefinite hiatus in 2015, so Gardner started doing gigs with different bands, backing up her friends and stepping out into the spotlight for her own gigs.

“The first time I did a solo show – a show with just me on dobro and vocals was a few years ago at Kennett Flash,” said Gardner, during a phone interview last week from her home in Jersey City, New Jersey. Now, I’m doing a solo show again and it’s back at the Kennett Flash.

“The first time I did it, I had been doing solo stuff but only as part of the show. Then, I was doing a lot of solo stuff.  It was different because my guitar player Jeff Ruggieri moved to Nashville. It used to be two of us but now I’m onstage by myself – just me and my dobro.

“That gave me the kick that I needed. I was a little nervous but that’s part of the excitement. You have to go outside your comfort zone if you want to grow.

“The rest of my shows coming up are a mix. This one in Pennsylvania is just myself. Later this month, I’ll be in Florida doing shows with my friend, songwriter/guitarist Marc Douglas Berardo.”

Gardner has released seven albums — “Abbie Gardner” (2000), “My Craziest Dreams” (2004), “Honey on My Grave” (2006), “Hope” (2011), “Wishes on a Neon Sign” (2018), “Live at Arcata Playhouse” (2018) and “Dobro Singer” (2022).

Gardner’s latest recording, “DobroSinger,” was released May 13, 2022. It’s intimate, real and raw – her dobro and voice recorded at the same time at home, without a band or any studio tricks to hide behind. You can hear every breath, every chuckle, as if you are in the room with her.

“I recorded the album at home in Jersey City,” said Gardner. “I recorded it in my closet with Logic, two microphones and a laptop. I wanted to get live takes of singing sand playing at the same time.

“Originally, I put ‘DobroSinger’ out on Bandcamp by myself – only dobro and vocals. I wanted to establish my new self.

“Every time I sit to write a song, it’s a different way. With ‘Burn in the City,’ I came up with the riff first. Then, I brought it to Will Kimbrough and we put the words on. “Other times, the vocal melody came first – like on ‘Three Quarter Time.’

“The biggest challenge is rearranging songs so they sound full. The exciting part is that when I play this way, I find myself wandering from one song into another. There’s more room for improvisation.

“Instrumentally, I’ll be sticking mostly to dobro. I used to do guitar, but dobro now is my main instrument. I love it. It frees me up for vocals and melodic lines.

“My main dobro was made by Paul Beard. I play a Hipshot dobro which is like two instruments in one. You can pull a lever and change the tuning. I put everything through a compressor microphone. It’s a throwback sound.”

Gardner’s songwriting has brought her much acclaim including 2008 Lennon Award Winner (folk) for “The Mind of a Soldier” and 2008 American Songwriter Magazine Grand Prize Lyric Winner for “I’d Rather Be.” Her song “Honey on My Grave” was also published in Sing Out! Magazine in 2008.

Video link for Abbie Gardner – https://youtu.be/7ccuxKT5wMo.

The show at Kenneth Flash will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at Kennett Flash are The Hoppin’ John Orchestra on February 11 and The Legendary Kennett Flash Open Mic with Nicholas Lurwick on February 12.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) continues its tradition of presenting top quality blues music this weekend.

Jamey’s House of Music is a prime destination to hear folk, jazz and blues music every Thursday through Sunday.

The “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” and the “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” are regular features on Jamey’s calendar while Friday and Saturday night shows feature national and regional acts.

Jamey’s features a popular “Guest Singer Series” on Thursday featuring many of the best singers in the region performing a set from 7-8 p.m. with the backing of the Dave Reiter Trio and occasional guest musicians.

The Dave Reiter Trio lays down the backing for some out of this world jazz to happen, and you never know who might show up to join in. Reiter is a long-time jazz pro and is equally at home on the seven-string guitar, Nord keyboard or the venue’s top of the line Hammond organ setup. Bill Marconi is on drums; his name is known to jazz aficionados around the world. Holding down the bottom is first-call Philly bassist, George Livanos.

The “Guest Singers” for February and March will be Ella Gahnt on February 9, Starlene Bey on February 23, Annika Horne on March 9 and Geri Oliver on March 23.

Ella Gahnt is not only her (stage) name, but also a description of the music she plays and of her singing style.

Gahnt is a vocalist in the jazz/traditional pop style who has performed with some of the most talented musicians in the quad-state area of Philadelphia, New Jersey, Delaware and New York. She also has worked professionally as a studio vocalist/performer for many years.

“Ella Gahnt, which is my stage name, was given to me by my husband Leon Mitchell,” said Gahnt, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from her home in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia.

“It comes from the persona I want when I perform – elegant. I wat to be like the performers back in the day who dressed to the nines – Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nat King Cole. They put on a show. It’s all about entertaining.”

Mitchell is a sax player and a key figure in Philly area jazz support groups such as The Jazz Bridge Project. He is also the Musical Director of the Philadelphia Legends of Jazz Orchestra

“I sang in church choirs when I was little then glee clubs in junior high and choirs in high school,” said Gahnt, a graduate of West Philadelphia High School. “I was also in one of the last versions of the Orlons in the late 60s.”

The Orlons were an R&B group from Philadelphia. The group had nine Top 20 hits. “The Wah-Watusi,” “Don’t Hang Up,” and “South Street” each sold over one million copies and were awarded gold disc status.

“In the 1980s, I decided I wanted to be a jazz singer,” said Gahnt. “I started listening to old favorites – especially to learn the songs and find different versions of the songs I liked.

“I was a big fan of Chick Corea and Return to Forever. I learned his song ‘You’re Everything.’ A lot of people played it but no-one played it the way Chick Corea wrote it. I played it the way Chick Corea wrote it.”

“My first jazz show was at the Freedom Theater. I was the featured vocalist for the Mike Hill Trio.”

“In my live shows, I do mostly traditional jazz – including some originals. One original is the set opener ‘What You’ll Hear from Me’ and another is ‘Let It Be Yesterday.’ I also do a lot of jazz standards.

“I venture into the more challenging music. When I’m working with guys on a regular basis, they can handle music that’s more challenging.”

Gahnt has released several albums over the years including “Immaculate Union,” “Third Stage of Elegance,” and “By Request.”

“I’m working now on a new album,” said Gahnt. “It’s a new project for Aaron Graves and me. It’s pretty much all recorded.”

Video link for Ella Gahnt — https://youtu.be/1jQyZncKxZg.

Tickets for February 9 are $10 with the show starting at 7 p.m.

On February 10, Jamey’s will host onyx&honey.

onyx&honey. is the blending of both the hearts and minds, and souls and songs, of Rob Perna and Nikki DiGiorgio. They deliver a vibrant, eclectic mix of funk, rock and pop with soaring vocal melodies and harmonies.

onyx&honey., which plays a mix of originals and covers, released their first self-titled album during quarantine on Christmas Day 2020. The album was composed and produced at their home studio in West Chester.

In addition to being musicians, onyx&honey. work at forging community through art and music. They frequently produce their own brand of events, such as their annual outdoor music and arts festival in West Chester — “The Look Around Music and Arts Festival” taking place annually in West Chester, PA.

The show on Friday night will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

Jamey’s show on February 11 will be Craig and Aislinn Bickhardt’s “A Valentine Celebration!” featuring Michael G. Ronstadt and Tommy Geddes.

When Craig Bickhardt steps onto a concert stage, he comes equipped with his trusty acoustic guitar. A side musician or two will frequently join him.

From the boisterous club scene of Philadelphia to the country-rock milieu of Los Angeles to the picking parlors of Nashville, Bickhardt has immersed himself in the sights and sounds of American music. His music reflects a life lived as a rock band lead singer, a solo troubadour, a dedicated songwriter, a husband and father.

Bickhardt is a singer/songwriter of the old school with influences by 1960s folk revival artists as Tom Rush, Gordon Lightfoot and Eric Andersen. Also crucial to his art is his virtuosic guitar work, interweaving folk, blues, country and ragtime influences into a unique whole

In the show at Jamey’s, Bickhardt will be joined onight by his daughter Aislinn Bickhardtalong with good friends and frequent stage mates Michael G Ronstadt on cello and Tommy Geddes on percussion. Opening the show is Aaron Nathans and Michael G Ronstadt, who form a well know and much-loved musical duo as well.

The show on Saturday night will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door.

The Living Room & Cricket Cafe (35 Ardmore Ave, Ardmore, https://livingroomardmore.com) will present “Jazz Night with Chico Huff & Friends” on February 9, Laura Cheadle on February 10 and Brian Seymour on February 14.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) will host Deal on February 9, Dear Zoe on February 10, and Jawn of the Dead on February 11.

The Sound Bank (119 South Main Street, Phoenixville, www.soundbankphx.com) will have the Fuzz Mob on February 10.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Yam Yam on February 10, Come Togehthr on February 11 and Adam Melchor on February 14

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will present Masters Of The Telecaster Ft. G.E. Smith, Jim Weider & Scott Sharrard on February 9, On a Winter’s Night featuring Lucy Kaplansky, John Gorka, Patty Larkin and Cliff Eberhardt on February 10 and Rhonda Vincent & The Rage on February 11.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) hosts Steve Trevino on February 10 and Who’s Bad on February 11.

World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, www.worldcafelive.com) will have Jazz Jam w/ Emmanuel Ohemeng III & Perpetual Motion on February 9, Peek-a-Boo Revue on February 10, Danielle Ponder on February 11, Kimbra on February 14 and Steven Sanchez on February 15.

Phantom Power (121 West Frederick Street, Millersville, www.phantompower.net) will have Hexbelt on February 11.

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