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Act 1 DeSales University Presents Theatre Tea Talk

by Roseann Damico Schatkowski Jan 26, 2018

Exploring Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods

The Division of Performing Arts continues its annual Theatre Tea Talk this year in conjunction with its April production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s fairy-tale musical Into the Woods.

Scheduled for Sunday, April 8, 2018, at 2:00 p.m. in the Commonwealth Room of the University Center on the DeSales campus, the Tea Talk is offered as an enrichment event prior to the opening of the production on Wednesday, April 25, 2018.

The cost of the Theatre Tea Talk is $10 per person which includes an array of desserts, coffee, and tea as well as the presentation.  Refreshments available beginning at 1:30.  The tea talk begins at 2:00 p.m.  To reserve tickets call the box office at (610) 282.3192 or reserve online at 

“We program the Tea Talk to illuminate the complex themes in an upcoming production,” says John Bell, head of the division of performing arts. “Our patrons enjoy the opportunity for advanced exploration and this year, we’re offering both enrichment and entertainment. 

“In the past, we have invited outside guests to offer the presentation for the Tea Talk. This year, I thought I’d take the helm and offer insight on Sondheim’s score – something that is near and dear to my heart” says Bell. "When I was in graduate school, I had the opportunity to intern on the world premiere of Into the Woods and so I know the piece very well.”

Joining Bell will be special guests Megan Durham (mezzo-soprano) and Justen Blackstone (baritone) who will sing excerpts from the musical that illuminate key points addressed in the talk. 

John Bell is a noted Sondheim scholar who performed a professional internship at the Old Globe Theatre for the world premiere of Into the Woods. He has been widely published and served as a guest editor of The Sondheim Review and Everything Sondheim.

Serving as the head of the division of performing arts at DeSales University, Bell teaches courses in musical theatre acting, musical theatre history, and music theory. Past academic appointments include the University of Central Florida, James Madison University and the University of Michigan. 

Stephen Sondheim has been lauded for his sixty-year career and is considered alongside Richard Rodgers and Leonard Bernstein as one of the few truly dramatic musical storytellers in the American theatre,  He wrote  some of the most seminal works in the American musical theatre including the lyrics for West Side Story and Gypsy and the music and lyrics for CompanyFollies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George among others.  His score for Into the Woods is considered a masterpiece for his use of leitmotif and theme and variation. 

Lyric mezzo-soprano Megan Durham serves on the voice faculties of DeSales University, Muhlenberg College, and Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa. Ms. Durham also works as a Singing Voice Specialist (SVS) in partnership with medical professionals as part of a voice care team to habilitate singers diagnosed with voice disorders.

In addition, Ms. Durham is a certified YogaVoice® practitioner, RYT-200 and incorporates yoga philosophy, asana, and meditative breathing into her pedagogy. Ms. Durham holds a Master of Music degree in voice pedagogy and performance from Westminster Choir College of Rider University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from the University of Richmond. She completed her certification in singing voice habilitation with Dr. Karen Wicklund at the Chicago Center for Professional Voice.

Baritone Justen Blackstone has been praised for his vocal brilliance, artistic sensitivity, and deep musical understanding. He holds a masters degree in Vocal Performance and Pedagogy from Westminster Choir College of Rider University. There he studied with mezzo-soprano Laura Brooks Rice and collaborative pianist Dr. J.J. Penna. He also holds a bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from Bob Jones University where he studied with Dr. Susan Kindall.

Justen is comfortable singing on stage, collaborating with another musician from behind the piano, or teaching. Justen currently teaches at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA where he teaches applied voice, plays for recitals and performance classes, and directs the Opera Workshop ensemble. He also teaches private voice for DeSales University’s distinguished theatre program.