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Let's Put on a Show? And She Does!

October 12, 2006 By:
Sally Friedman, JE Feature
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Karen Gross
When she was a senior at Wesleyan College in Connecticut, Karen Gross chose an unusual senior project. Instead of examining some arcane subject, she decided to write, produce and star in a play, complete with 11 characters. It was based on interviews that she'd done on the experiences of young women as travelers.

"That project keyed into my interests in journalism, theater and travel," said Gross of the theater piece she called "Conquistadoras."

Gross graduated with a degree in American studies, a Phi Beta Kappa key at Wesleyan, and critical and popular acclaim for her artistry at an age when some college students are struggling just to graduate.

"The play was an amazing experience. Through it, I could explore the push-pull of women navigating their freedom, but also experiencing the fears that women traveling often feel. It was a wonderful, exciting learning experience for me."

Gross, a thoughtful, articulate, 26-year-old Doylestown native and an inveterate traveler herself, wandered early into the realm of music through composing and performance. She can barely remember when she wasn't interested in music and theater, and she certainly plunged into it at Central Bucks East High School, where her classmate was the now famous "American Idol" runner-up Justin Guarini.

Guarini and Gross were, in fact, noted in the yearbook as "Most Likely to Win a Grammy."

Do nice Jewish girls go into show business? They sure do!

During several stints in journalism, working for local newspapers -- and covering everything from politics to sports -- this determined young woman also managed to immerse herself in the Philadelphia arts scene.

She's also appeared as a special guest with the likes of Lisa Loeb and John Eddie, and even performed at Lincoln Center.

And there was the thrilling debut of her CD, "Navigating," in 2002, with Gross singing original songs in the rock, pop and folk genres against a lush musical background.

"It's been a wonderful whirl -- so much going on in the local art scene, and there's such an amazing feeling of community among local performing artists," said Gross, who is now handling media relations for the Arden Theatre Company. "It's been just wonderful to be back home."

And it's getting even more wonderful as Gross brings her original cabaret show, "Sex & the Single Singer," back to the Tin Angel on Oct. 14 after its original showing in July.

The show, created by Gross and, she admits, at least semi-autobiographical, also played to sold-out houses at the Cabaret at Odette's in New Hope this spring.

A vehicle for affectionate humor, and for an exploration of living single and looking for love, the piece evolved when Gross decided that she needed words and scenes, together with the songwriting.

"After a painful breakup back in 2004, I started keeping a journal about what my life was like. I was living in Chestnut Hill, really on my own for the first time, and I was at the stage when some of my friends were just starting to get married," recalled Gross.

The running motif of the show, which is laced with humor but has its poignant moments, too, is ending the single life by finding a guy -- ideally, the right guy.

"It's a yearning that's so familiar to single people, this search for 'The One.' "

Gross will be accompanied on piano by Philadelphia pianist John Conahan, himself a singer/ songwriter.

As the show's creator, Gross provides all the commentary, all the singing and plays all the characters, including Jessi Cohen, a married and pregnant friend working on fix-ups. She also plays her own Jewish grandmother.

"I've layered a lot of fiction on the grandmother character -- my own grandmother is not nearly as determined to be my matchmaker. And yes, JDate is, of course, in the script."

While there is one original song by Gross in the show, the rest of the music is drawn from classics.

It's a tad naughty, with a tilt toward "Sex & the City"-type co temporary humor, but not naughty enough to embarrass even her Jewish grandmother, who loves the show.

"Laughter is what makes the difference. In my life and in my art, the ability to bring laughter to others is the greatest reward.

"And if there's a little thinking along the way, well, that won't hurt either!"


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