Broadway performer Liz McConahay Wanfried is back home directing an all new “Pennies From Heaven” show featuring the music of Stephen Sondheim.
Wanfried, a La Crosse native, is directing and performing in her fourth “Pennies From Heaven” show to benefit Paula’s Purse,” a fund created by Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation, the Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders and the Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care to help all types of cancer patients who are struggling to pay for basic necessities.
This year’s show will have two performances, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 10-11, in the Marie W. Heider Center for the Arts in West Salem.
“I do this fundraiser because I have been lucky enough to have a job where I can entertain people and serve our community and an organization I believe in,” Wanfried said.
“People really enjoy being part of this show,” she said. “It’s a joyful experience as we raise money to help cancer patients in need.”
The Sondheim revue brings together five theater professionals including Wanfried, Twin Cities actress Teri Parker Brown, Viterbo University alumnus and Milwaukee actor James Nathan, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse theater department chairman Joe Anderson and the show’s co-founder, soprano Beth Lakmann.
The show features music from “Company,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods,” “A Little Night Music,” “Gypsy,” “Anyone Can Whistle” and “West Side Story.”
“I have yet to meet an actor or singer who doesn’t jump at the chance to sing Sondheim,” Wanfried said.
Each “Pennies From Heaven” show has a unique theme, Wanfried said. She said she chose Sondheim this time because his music is the “holy grail” for performers.
She said she has all professional performers this time around because she had limited rehearsal time to stage Sondheim’s “funny, complex and strenuous” repertoire.
“We’re doing the most difficult material, and this is the most ambitious thing we’ve done, but I believe it is going to be a great show,” she said.
Wanfried, a La Crosse Logan High School graduate, starred on Broadway in “The Full Monty,” “Titanic” and “Cabaret.”
Brown has acted with Wanfried in Twin Cities shows over the years. She has had starring roles for more than 20 years, including Chanhassen productions of “Beauty and The Beast” (Belle), “Brigadoon” (Meg), children’s theater company’s “Annie” (Grace Farrell) and “Beehive” at Hey City Stage.
Nathan, who appeared in the 2010 “Pennies From Heaven” show, is appearing in “Avenue Q” at Milwaukee’s Skylight Music Theatre.
Lakmann and Wanfried, longtime friends, started the “Pennies From Heaven” show in 2008. Returning for this year’s show is technical director John Ratzlaff from the Twin Cities.
Nancy Allen is the musical director, playing piano and leading a band that includes Josh Shively on drums, Laun Braithwaite on guitar, Hanna Bertram on cello, Alana Seddon on clarinet and Andrew Steeno on bass.
Debbie Kroner, Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation special events and fundraising manager, said the 2010 show raised $25,000 to buy a bag of healthy food, heat a home or pay for transportation to and from treatment for many cancer patients.
The fund is named for Paula Tower, a mammography technologist who worked in the Center for Breast Care for more than 16 years and died of breast cancer.
“A lot of people know Paula’s Purse, so this show is for a great cause and has a great following,” Kroner said. “People just love this show.”