New musical by Gettysburg College prof to premiere on campus

The world premiere of a Gettysburg College professor's new musical about Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan will take place June 13, 14, 18, and 20.

Gettysburg College theatre arts Prof. Susan Russell wrote the book and lyrics for Helen and Teacher. The play follows Sullivan's real-life struggle to teach Keller, who was blind and deaf, culminating in Keller's acquisition of language in 1887. Original music is by Dr. Lynn Gumert.

Performances will take place June 13, 18, and 20 at 8 p.m. and June 14 at 2 p.m. in Gettysburg College's Kline Theatre, off North Washington Street at Water Street. Proceeds will benefit the American Foundation for the Blind, for which Keller began working in 1924. The suggested donation is $10. Tickets are available at 717-334-2692 or at the door.

Cast members include Kathleen Sasnett, a professor at Gettysburg College's Sunderman Conservatory of Music, as Helen's mother, and Allison Erskine, who will be a sophomore at Gettysburg College this fall. Erskine, who plays Sullivan, is majoring in theatre arts and religion. She hails from Georgetown Del. Costume design is by Zennis Goshorn, also of the College's theatre arts department.

The Gettysburg College Department of Theatre Arts and the Adams County School of Musical Theatre (ACSMT) are co-producing Helen and Teacher. ACSMT Founding Executive/Artistic Director Chad-Alan Carr and Russell are co-directing. The production is part of the Gettysburg Festival's Fringe Festival.

This year "marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Broadway premiere of William Gibson's brilliant play, The Miracle Worker," Russell said. "I believe it's acceptable and germane to respectfully revisit these two extraordinary women's lives for the new century."

Other cast members include Wayne Hill as Captain Keller, Elizabeth Wills as Aunt Ev, Gail Gesell as Julia Anagnos, Tom Rodgers as Michael Anagnos, Carr as Frank Sanborn, Ben Sasnett as James Keller, as well as students of Adams County School of Musical Theatre, including Sarah Bodvin as Child Annie (Sullivan's younger self), Gabrielle Saghy as Helen Keller, Katie Gesell as the Voice of Helen, Allison Wychryst as Martha, Camden Selby as Andrew, Hunter Selby as Simpson Keller, and Brooke Eastman, Emily Staub, Rachel Swingler, Madison Maloney, Hannah Wehler, and Alexis Staub. Also featured are Ben and Will Berger.

Musical direction is by Tim Foster.

An earlier version of Helen and Teacher was presented as a staged reading at Gettysburg College's Majestic Theater in spring 2007, with funding from Gettysburg College's Department of Theatre Arts, Faculty Development Committee, Office of the Provost, and Americans with Disabilities Act Committee. The latter provided sign-language interpreters and will do so again for the current production.

A staged reading with professional actors took place in New York City last summer with support from the Mellon Foundation.

The Hanover (Pa.) Evening Sun published an interview with Russell about the production.

Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences. With a student body of approximately 2,600, it is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. The college was founded in 1832.

Contact: Jim Hale, online content editor

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Tue, 9 Jun 2009

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