Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Theater Fun at Arden!

The Gift of the Magi and A G&S Christmas Carol opened December 17 at Arden’s historic Gild Hall. A joint effort of the ArdenSingers and Thespis Etc., the performances showcase local talent. The productions, which premiered two weeks ago in Media, Pennsylvania, are sure to bring holiday cheer.

Jerry Goldberg and Seymour Reiter’s musical version of O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi is a sweet Christmas tale of young newlyweds’ quest for the perfect gift. The show, which features some sweet melodies and touching scenes, takes us through the day before Christmas in the lives of Della and Jim.

Gayden Wren’s G&S Christmas Carol is a witty adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ chestnut, set to music from favorite Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Not only are tunes like “Three Little Ghosts for Scrooge” (“Three Little Maids from School” from The Mikado) lifted right from the beloved operettas, so are many of the references and lines. The show is very entertaining, even for those uninitiated in the world of Gilbert and Sullivan patter-song and ensembles. Shows are Friday, December 18 at 8:00 pm and Saturday, December 19 at 2:00 and 8:00 pm.

Jessica Graae

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Newark Symphony Orchestra at the Independence School

Bad weather did not keep a large crowd from coming to the Independence School to hear musical director candidate Simeone Tartaglione conduct the second Newark Symphony Orchestra concert of the season. Tartaglione told the audience, “If I get the job of directing this wonderful orchestra, I would like to know what you [the orchestra] want to play and what you [the audience] want to hear.”

His version of Smetana’s The Moldau (Vitava) from Ma Vlast (My country) was quite fast. Crystal Norman’s flute brought the symphony in with gusto, but softly enough that the string pizzicato line came out delicately. The woodwinds excelled as both flutes (adding Dorothy Boyd) and two clarinets (Anthony Wastler and Shao-Tang Sun) played together in thirds and sixths.

Jeffrey Lang, Associate Principal Horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra, was able to show his beautiful French horn tone as the acoustics of the hall were great for the Horn Concerto in B-flat major by Reinold Glière. The violas deserve special praise for their clear melodic lines (how rare that they get any) and Anna Montejo played a haunting oboe melody. The soft dynamics the orchestra was able to achieve meant that everything could be heard clearly.

The Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor was the pinnacle of the concert. Tartaglione introduced the piece as a story of Johannes Brahms’ unrequited love for Clara Schumann which made it all the more vivid for the listener. Sally Cornell’s oboe playing was clear and smooth. Having four excellent horns was also a great bonus for an amateur orchestra. Mordecai Furhman’s timpani entrances were clear and rhythmic, spot on. And to have the alto (James Olson), tenor (Frederick Unruh) and bass trombone (Phillip Hessler) parts played that well in the chorale was quite an accomplishment.

The audience demanded an encore and got one: the Brahms Danza Ungarese No. 5, conducted with giant retards and accelerandi, making it a lusty end to a great concert.



Calvary Community Series: Nourishment for Your Brain and Soul!

Once again, I am completely bowled over by the talent in our small state. Calvary Hillcrest Episcopal Church, located on Lore Avenue just off of Philadelphia Pike in North Wilmington, holds an exciting Arts series that showcases artists and scholars in a rich array of events, and brings them to the public free of charge! The Episcopal Church, known for its accepting and welcoming tradition, is also a place where intellectual growth and ideas are encouraged and nurtured. Calvary’s rector, J. R. Keith Hudson, PhD, led a fascinating acting workshop using materials from Harold Pinter’s “The Birthday Party”.

Professor Hudson, who holds degrees from Oxford University and SUNY Buffalo, explained to the group that theater was broken down into movement/stillness and light/darkness. Both church and community members, the participants thoroughly enjoyed watching their friends act out Pinter’s husband and wife scene. Hudson encouraged the actors to be meticulous in observing the scene’s notated pauses and stage direction, demonstrating how essential they are to its meaning. As we experienced the dialogue going from simple reading to staged play, its elements and motives and shifts of power were illuminated. Hudson’s directives were both gentle and expeditious, helping the both the actors and “audience” come to better understanding.

Some other programs coming up in the Calvary Series include concerts by The Delaware School of Music faculty members, an annual photography contest and exhibit, a choral festival and an exhibit by artists with special needs.


Jessica Graae

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sweeney Todd: A Bloody Good Time

City Theater Company opens its 16th season with a riveting production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. This punk-inspired version, directed Michael Gray, does justice to the show’s dark drama and masterful score. The orchestra, conducted by musical director JA Kawarsky, handles Sondheim’s contrapuntal and rhythmically challenging music with panache. Dawn Morningstar choreographs the show, getting actors up-close and personal and using every nook and cranny of OperaDelaware’s black box space. Costumes by Kerry Khristine McElrone are bold and fun.

Well cast is the show, with the actors revealing their raw, often lustful motivations. Dale Martin, Jr. sings Todd with warmth and power. Todd’s obsession with his barber’s blade, and its potential for retribution is the artery connecting each player and vignette in the tale. TS Baynes is a vocal powerhouse in her wickedly playful Mrs. Lovett. Tyler Hoffman (Pirelli) is riotously funny in the shaving competition scene, singing “You clip-a da chin. You rip-a da lip a bit.”

Aileen Goldberg is heart wrenching as the Beggar Woman, who has been reduced to insanity by life’s cruelties. Only she, Anthony and Johanna (both sung well by Brendan Sheehan and Lauren Cupples, respectively) do not succumb to the greed and bloodlust that envelops the others. Steven Weatherman plays a sorrowful Judge Turpin, who is unable to see wrong in his pedophilia. Tobias, played by Michael Jahil, is touching as he sings his song of blind devotion to Mrs. Lovett, “Not While I’m Around.” Brian Couch provides comic relief as Beadle, when he tests out Mrs. Lovett’s invisible harmonium, singing ridiculous snippets of songs. Maggie Coswell’s strong voice is excellent in the ensemble. The show runs through December 19, 2009.


Jessica Graae

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Director's Inspiration: Sweeney Todd

By Guest Blogger, Michael Gray
Michael is the Producing Artistic Director of City Theater Company, and one of the three founding members. He resides in Philadelphia. Here, Michael offers a look into the inspiration for the current CTC production, SWEENEY TODD.

Our "interpretation", and I use that word very loosely because we follow the script and score as written, was to approach this piece via what one might call a "punk aesthetic" --- meaning a design and performance built on simple constructs that could be utilized by most and hitting the audience with a very aggressive, assaultive and "in your face" performance.

The origins of punk music are rooted in the 3-chord song played by a guitar, bass and drums. Music and lyrics were simple and direct. This countered what some might consider the overblown psychadelic music of the mid to late 70s. In addition, the punk movement had its roots in poor, urban lower-class neighborhoods struggling with the economic downturn, loss of jobs and high inflation of the late 70s. The underlying anger and frustration can be clearly heard in the music.

We felt this "aesthetic"would lend itself nicely to Sweeney Todd. Hence, the simple scenic and lighting design, the use of nontraditional lighting instruments such as flashlights, and use of minimal props and furniture. The staging, though simple and uncomplicated, is very direct and aggressive as it sits on top of and above the audience, given the stage actually wraps around the audience. You can never get away from the show once you are seated.

The costumes areinspired by the punk movement as well and again, very simple and direct. Nothing is hidden and no special effects are used --- no special razor that sprays blood, no special barber chair. We do use lots of "blood"; it is literally painted on the actor as he or she is killed. I felt it provides a very graphic and ritualistic feel to the murders. Also, given the shift from the mid 1800s to late 20th Century, we attempt to explore some of the darker themes of the play more directly.

That said, it is a Sondheim show. The music is at once gorgeous and unsettling, difficult and inspired. A score typically sung by a group of 20-25 actors is sung here by only 10. Most do double or triple duty throughout. Watching 10 actors tackle what some consider the hardest score ever written for the Broadway stage and succeed is, in my opinion, worth the price of admission!

We do have a 9-piece orchestra with an arrangement by the great Broadway arranger JonathanTunick. We did not want to short change the music, given it is probably one of the greatest scores ever written for the stage. Overall, we think this is a Sweeney Todd no one has seen before and as such, we hope it is like seeing it for the first time!

Catch the Rabbit!

December 11 and 12 at the Arden Gild Hall, Bootless Artworks presents The Velveteen Rabbit, a puppet musical by Simon Chan adapted from the beloved book by Margery Williams. Directors Roseanne DellAversano and James Fuerst revised the show with the musical’s creator, Simon Chan, adding puppets to make it more accessible and fun.

The adorable hand puppets, created by DellAversano and Fuerst, are small enough to allow the audience to enjoy the actor’s voices and movements, yet they lend a fairytale feel to the show.

Sweet and playful, most of the story is set in the boy’s bedroom, where his toys come to life, arguing about which one of them is better and more loved. Big boxy toys Choo-Choo and Steamy, played by Sarah Blandy and Carlos Alicea respectively, take over the stage with their fine singing and bossy presence. Melissa Castillo (Velveteen Rabbit),is touching as she comforts the ailing Boy with her song, “All Through the Night”. Singing “The Use of Love” from atop a pile of trash, she is sure to move even the meanest fourth-grade class bully. Gary Hubbard (Harold) and Kimberly Pryor (Gwendolyn) are a riot in the jazzy song/dance number, “This Ain’t No Rabbit” as they mock and poke the forlorn stuffed animal. By the end of the show, both the boy, sung beautifully by Hunter Reed, and the Velveteen Rabbit find acceptance and love.

Bootless Artworks is committed to bringing theater to the community. Along with securing grants allowing for schools serving low-income populations to attend performances, the directors created a handbook for teachers of students up through 12th grade. This book gives tips on creating puppet-theater and provides a guide for the literary analysis.


Jessica Graae

Monday, December 7, 2009

Wilmington Art Loop - December 4

Watching an artist over time shows how versatile and flexible they are. Felise Luchansky has had such a range of media and style since I starting watching her work in 1995 that it is more than worthwhile to grab her catalog when you see her Paper Trail at the Hatch Gallery this month at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts.

I have seen her collages of Americana using Dick, Jane and Sally, her hand-made paper table settings, and so many lost buttons done in brilliant red (the piece I want to buy when my ship comes in) – not to mention her Barbie legs and measuring tapes in a constructed work with MISS AMERICA emblazoned at the top.

Luchansky shows more than style in her metamorphosis – she shows her Weltanschauung. Her works for the December show are part of a commentary on old technology which she makes in creative art. She has taken two piano rolls of old songs and created a horizontal etching (See detail above). Each perforation is represented by intricate lines. Luchansky added spheres in graphite – each shaded to a different degree and accent.

The starkness of Luchansky’s rolls is a perfect foil for Andrew Wapinski’s Nature Drawings whose boldly colored abstracts are actually his experiments with letting weather have its way with ice and watercolor left to melt on paper.

The DCCA also gathered impressive crafts for the Alternatives Holiday Craft Show for the art loop. I was struck by Peter Saenger’s porcelain. His pieces are both decorative and useful. The interlocking starkly designed salt and pepper shakers, teapots and cups are reasonably priced and fascinating.

Two exhibits near Rodney Square merit a visit - Barbara Proud’s nature photographs on display at Gallery 919 are surprising in detail and provocative in subject – reminiscent of O’Keefe but clearly a century beyond. Maria D. Cabrera’s photographs at the Wilmington Institute have one work which stopped me in my tracks: her over-exposed photograph of a vivid sunset by the sea in South America resulted in vivid magenta and blue tones mimicking watercolor.

At the end of the evening, oldies and youngies crowded into the New Wilmington Art Association’s exhibit at 4 West 5th Street after most of the other exhibits had closed for the night – proving that the NWAA is succeeding in their efforts to put the nightlife back into downtown Wilmington. I wondered why the inflatable sculpture was mute and deflated and stopped to ask Michael Kalmbach about the Beardsley-style meticulous pen and ink sketches by April D. Loveday.

The Art Loop: all local, all inspiring. We are rich, Wilmington!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

OMG…It’s Legally Blonde!

OH. MY.GOD! OHMYGOD! The national tour of Legally Blonde is at the DuPont Theatre this week through December 6, and it’s totally entertaining. Feminism and empowerment are served up with a Chanel suit and pink spiked heels in this snappy, witty musical based on the 2001 hit movie. Elle Woods, played by the adorable Becky Gulsvig, leaves California for Harvard Law School to follow her ex-boyfriend, only to discover she herself has brains and talent. Though the main message of the show may be about women using their strength, instinct and power, broader themes of self-acceptance and integrity are also powerful elements.

The cast pulls off an unbelievably high-energy performance---from the adorable Sigma Nu “Greek” chorus, who constantly appears to give Elle Woods advice and support---to the company dancers who weave hilariously in and out of the scene. At times trite and overly “pop”, the score is boosted by wonderfully witty lyrics and some expert singing, as Elle worries her ex-boyfriend’s preppy new girlfriend might practice some “debutante J-Crew kung fu” on her.

Sleek and eye-catching are the sets, which move in a flash around the actors, setting the scene for a Harvard classroom, a hair salon, Elle’s fluffy “pinkified” bedroom and an ominous, striking prison hallway. The choreography is pure delight, with cheerleaders, law students and inmates always in perfect, and often humorous, step.

Professor Callahan (Ken Land), who later proves to be a shark himself, sets the Harvard Law School scene beautifully with his “Blood in the Water”, one of the more classic-sounding Broadway numbers from the score by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin. As Paulette, Elle’s hairdresser friend, Natalie Joy Johnson is a powerhouse singer. Her earnest delivery of her sometimes silly lyrics and her story of a beloved dog left behind in a trailer park is moving and keeps the show rooted in reality.


Jessica Graae

Monday, November 23, 2009

Taggart-Grycky Duo at UD

On November 21, the Taggart-Grycky Duo of Christian Taggart, guitar and Eileen Grycky, flute, played a concert at Gore Hall on the UD campus. Eileen Grycky and Christian Taggart are gifted, gracious and have the magic coordination of a duo that comes only after the decades of practice and performance.

Taggart’s arrangement of the Valse from the Suite de trois morceaux, Opus 116 by Benjamin Godard and a selection of orchestral pieces from the ballet Gayane by Aram Khachaturian showed his ability to transform both piano and orchestra to guitar without compromise.

Since they are always looking for new repertoire, the Duo commissioned a Delaware native to write a piece for them. In his composition, Double-Speaking, Peter Flint used a medley of styles that dovetailed smoothly. The piece starts with a jazzy South American theme that Flint says was inspired by the Vallanato style of Columbia. The piece moved into a modern atonal section—the syncopation of which the duo handled clearly and securely. They worked hard, though, and I was delighted to hear Grycky’s accented flute lines and a sort of “Leadbelly-effect” on the guitar, with which Taggart played unpitched rhythms for a percussion line. The recapitulation brought the listener home again with a happy landing.

Flint’s group, The Avian Orchestra, will be playing at The Barn at Flintwoods (the home venue to Brandywine Baroque) on Saturday, December 5 at 205 Center Meeting Road in Centerville, with a program entitled ChamberRock! A Modern Mash-Up. His new music organization, Avian Music, was founded to promote joint projects between emerging and established composers.

It is a privilege to hear new works played by accomplished musicians!

See and

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Old-time religion in 'God's Trombones'

The Delaware Valley Chorale's concert Saturday night at Newark United Methodist Church was terrific -- good enough to hear again on Sunday, Nov. 22, in Wilmington.

"God's Trombones" -- a sermon in verse by poet James Weldon Johnson -- is a tribute to the fiery black preachers of the old South, arranged against traditional Negro spirituals by composer Roy Ringwald. Guest conductor Lawler Rogers and the chorus caught their visceral energy and emotional conviction.

With narrators Tina Betz as the prayer leader and Joshua Martin as the preacher, it was thrilling to hear. Betz spoke with the passion of belief, and Martin had a sonorous dignity in retelling the Creation and Last Judgment stories.

Franz Schubert's Mass in G was gorgeous, with lovely interplay in the Agnus Dei between the soloists Angelyn Robinson, soprano; David Anderson, tenor; and Jeffrey Chapman, baritone. Nancy Chronister was the conductor.

"On Green Mountains" by Steve Danyew won the chorale's 2009 composition contest. Danyew set a simple lyric praising nature to sweeping melody. The choir, led by artistic director David Christopher, rendered the mood with seamless cohesion.

Danyew, a graduate student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., will attend Sunday's concert too. The program will be at Saints Andrew and Matthew Episcopal Church, 719 N. Shipley St., Wilmington.

Tickets are $20, $16 for seniors and students, $8 for children under 12. Call (302) 325-4110. Or see

Monday, November 16, 2009

It Takes a Special Person

There are tons of gifted musicians, but few who can communicate to others how to make better music. Tim Schwartz proved that he is one of those few with the wonderful performance he conducted of the Wilmington Community Orchestra at the Music School of Delaware on November 15.

The Bacchanal from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera Samson et Dalila showed me how far the WCO string section has come in intonation - providing a smooth background for the delightful snake charmer themes played by the oboe (Gary Walter), flute (Melinda Bowman, Susan Ryan, Emily Waddell) and clarinets (Michelle Webb and Anthony Pantelopulos). Sam Fuhrman’s cymbal playing had a long dynamic build-up which gave the frenzied color to the whole ballet. The spice of Melany Hoffman’s castanets and Debra Bialecki’s timpani added an exotic flavor.

In the Symphony No. 94 by Franz Josef Haydn, the Surprise Symphony, the strings also met the challenge, forming an excellent unison chorus behind solo winds. Susan Ryan’s flute entrances were spot on and the bassoon responses by Kathy Melvin in the Menuetto: Allegro Molto were clear and delightful. Laura Reimer’s first oboe part was delicate in its simple classical line.

But the pièce de resistance for me was the Second Piano Concerto in B-flat Major by Johannes Brahms. I had been listening to a record of Emil Gilels’ performance with the Berliner Philharmonic all week and had concluded that no mortal could play the piano part. Sandra Rivers walked out on stage, sat down and calmly proved me wrong. Her ability to bend to the orchestra showed her mastery of the piece. She made sure that not only were the difficult technical fireworks going to land in the right place, but that her playing could melt into the most delicious soft tones, lifting melody over absolutely quiet arpeggiations and accompaniments and taking the sound of the open lid piano so low that Jennifer Stomberg’s beautiful cello solo could resound without being crowded.

My hat is off to both Ms. Rivers and Mr. Schwarz for using their innate musical abilities and boundless energy to make such a successful performance possible for this dedicated amateur orchestra.

See. and

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Two Chances to Hear Extraordinary Choral Music

Next weekend will be bursting with song, courtesy of two area choral groups offering two very different, yet equally enjoyable, programs.

In the first, the Delaware Valley Chorale (photo at left) performs Roy Ringwald's God's Trombone's in two venues in Newark and Wilmington. Based on the poetry of James Weldon Johnson, this powerful spiritual piece is often performed by African-American choruses. DVC condcutor David Christopher wanted to challenge the ensemble this season with more ambitious choices of repertoire. The performances will feature guest conductor C. Lawler Rogers, narrators Tina Betz and Joshua Martin, and soloists Angelyn Robinson, soprano, David Anderson, tenor and Jeffrey Chapman, baritone. Additional pieces will be Mass in G by Franz Schubert and On Green Mountains by Steve Danyew.
Saturday, November 21, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
Newark United Methodist Church, 69 E. Main Street, Newark
Sunday, November 22, 3:00 p.m.
The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew & Matthew, 719 N. Shipley Street, Wilmington
Tickets: $20; $16 seniors (60+) & students; $8 children under 12.

To order, call 302.325. 4110 or see

The next choral program is from CoroAllegro (photo at right), led by Jack Warren Burnam. The program, entitled A Musical Banquet, is a whimsical repertoire meant to entertain audiences with a celebration of pleasures of food, drink and merriment. The repertoire includes the music of Felix Mendelssohn, Bob Chilcott and others. Chilcott's piece, Fragments from his dish, displays moving and humorous lyrics in a food theme. Another piece, Play with Your Food! by composer Paul Carey, serves up a satisfying yet unusual love story that might surprise you!
Saturday, November 21, 2009, 8:00 p.m.
Immanuel Church, Highlands, 17th & Riverview, Wilmington
Tickets: $15.

To order, call 302.652.3997 or visit

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anthony Eastlering: A Cop with a Camera

Art on the Town organizer Jeni Barton told me during the re:FRESH afterparty at Kooma: “People get on the Loop bus as strangers, and step off as friends.” Once again, we were lucky to have Shawn as our bus-driver/tour guide. One friend asked him to be flexible and give us more than the allotted 15 minutes per stop. Always congenial, he agreed, and treated us like the celebrities he so often transports. It was a blast to trek around the downtown portion of the Loop with complete strangers, all of whom have an interest in art, culture and the city of Wilmington.

We met artist Amy Orr at the DCCA who “quilts” with bits of old credit cards, creating brilliant, gleaming works. We made it to the Delaware College of Art and Design for some short, animated movies. Pahl Hluchan, area coordinator of animation, pointed out one of the “controversial” movies to me. As our group watched some graphic moments, one of my new friends quipped, “We are too old for this. We don’t know what is happening.” I laughed and remembered that art not only binds us together as humanity, it also provides a bridge of understanding between young and old (most of the time).

Anthony Easterling, photographer and 14-year veteran of the Wilmington Police Department, was my loop pick artist of the month. His bold, sometimes raw photographs are displayed at Veritas Wine and Spirits through the end of November. A tall, soft-spoken man, Easterling is a Master Corporal in the Special Operations Division. Some of his photographs depict the grueling training at the Police Academy, where he is a certified instructor. When asked why the men in one photo were covered in mud, he smiled, noting they “got into a little trouble” and were doing push-ups. He also captures moments of swat teams in action, officers on the beat and other gritty scenes. Though the photos grip you with action-packed motion, the vulnerability of his subjects’ faces is moving and even heart-wrenching.

Greg Barkley at the DCCA

Tired, dragging myself upstairs at the DCCA and feeling rather hungry after a long day’s work, I spotted two red objects: one, a tempting bowl of salsa and two, a large painting of something very red and a train in the top third – a train with vivid detail mixed into the steel-grey colors of its pistons and driving axle with a little bit of rust and wear mixed in.

Feeling grateful for both the salsa and the vivid color, I wandered in to Greg’s studio and found out he is from Delaware and studied at the University. His teachers, Stephen Tanis, Julio DaCunha, and Charles Rowe – gave him soft realism, romantic and surrealistic models. He has had a studio in the DCCA for a few years now and had a book of Francis Bacon he is perusing.

He genially posed for the piece that I was so taken with of a man in a business suit with a fishbowl for a head and tipped a diptych of a dog with a violin head so I could get a picture without too much glare. The dog is so black and the bright green beneath him makes his dark coat even more striking. The violin seems to be a weapon of sorts – incongruously intriguing in the bullring setting.

Barkley has one thought about his art: ‘I wish had more time to do it. ‘He and Ken Mabrey are scheduled to have an exhibit in the downstairs gallery at the DCCA in January.

I look forward to an uncluttered display of Mabrey’s farms, birds, trees and whimsical pastels as they stand their ground against Barkley’s biting Magritte-esque visions.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Evil and Oh So Messy!

“We have a line out the door, so it’s your lucky day!” yelled Bootless Artwork’s Artistic Director Rosanne Dellaversano into the microphone. She encouraged the audience to move from general seating into the “splatter zone” for Evil Dead: The Musical. The zone’s special effects — blood gushing, floating ghost heads, entrails spilling onto the stage and audience members — were riotously funny and well worth the extra dollar for seating. Directed by James Gaspero and music directed by James Fuerst, the sold-out performance was a big hit.

The musical is based on Sam Rami 1980’s cult-classic movie. The movie—“so bad it’s good” (bad acting, bad effects, bad writing, just altogether bad)—is fodder for this hilarious spoof. Minutes into the show, the actors make a mockery of the horror movie genre. All the elements of predictability, stock characters and theme are played to the hilt. The role of the dumb blonde—a staple for the horror genre—is played expertly by Melissa Leigh Elizabeth Baker. “Shelly” provides the audience with plenty of opportunities to yell things like, “No, don’t open that door!” or “He’s right BEHIND you!” As the indestructible protagonist, Ash (played by the deadpan Dan Farrell), weathers demons, evil trees and even saws off his own evil-possessed hand while singing over the buzz of his chainsaw.

After Ash has defeated all his friends who have become demons, the newly evil-possessed Professor Ed played by Brooks Adam Banker, comes at him. With an unused weapon in hand, Ash calmly reminds the audience he has nothing to fear since the man is a “bit-part demon” and would never kill the main actor. This prompts the demonized Ed to break into song, complete with tap dancing and cane. Given the perfect time of year and our culture’s incessant love of camp and gore, Bootless has certainly hit the mark!


Friday, November 6, 2009

Mastersingers of Wilmington at First and Central Presbyterian Church

On Saturday, November 7, at 7:30, David Schelat and his Mastersingers will present In Memoriam – Songs for the Loving Departed. I snuck into a rehearsal to bring you a preview.

The reverberant room lifts the tenor voice for Selig sind die Toten (Blessed are the dead) by Heinrich Schutz and you are transported to the sounds of a European cathedral as the other voices enter and weave the harmony of the early baroque master. The John Sheppard In pace in idipsum continues the European baroque mood, but this time in the English Tudor chapel.

But don’t be lulled. Three pieces by Pavel Chesnokov, a twentieth century Russian composer, sung in Church Slavonic will bring you out of your reverie. Chesnokov, whose works David Schelat recently discovered in the Musica Russica edition, was a composer and choirmaster who struggled to pursue his profession from the Bolshevik Revolution until his cathedral was destroyed during the Stalinist era. Soloists Margaret Anne Butterfield and Charles Warrick provide a delicate cantor line for the second piece.

Organist Marvin Mills accompanies the last two pieces. He keeps a fairly simple and quiet registration for the Bach double-choir motet, Komm, Jesu, komm, letting the myriad voices of the choirs take the fore while providing a basso continuo.

But the organ is a principal voice in the Alfred Desenclos Messe de Requiem which exults in the French twentieth century lush and wild harmonies reminiscent of Ravel and Poulenc. The soloists Katherine Supina, Marjorie Eldreth, Charles Warrick and Paul Stamegna and the rest of the choral group negotiate the pitches without a hitch, showing that they indeed have earned the name Mastersingers.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pyxis Quartet at Grace United Methodist Church

The Pyxis Quartet is brand new, but you would not know it by their ensemble playing in their November 1 concert at Grace United Methodist Church.

This was the dedicatory concert for the brand new Mason and Hamlin grand piano, which the church has purchased in memory of Ruth McFarlane. The lid was fully open, but Ms. Yamazaki’s playing could get so soft it became a whisper under the strings.

First violinist Meredith Amado has a steely focus but her touch on the 1662 Nicolò Amati was so delicate that the high notes came out in silken tones – and yet had the power in crescendo to blossom forth without overwhelming the group.
Jie Jen had some lovely lines in the Brahms Quartet Opus 26 in A major that showed the strength and power with which she could play – sometimes dominating Ms. Yamazaki’s pianissimo sound and then smoothly quieting to let the piano, viola and violin back to the fore.

The entire concert was delightful, but the reverberating stone walls tended to blur the clarity of the Mozart. But that which was robbed from Mozart was paid to Brahms as the resonance of the romantic quartet brought many members of the audience to their feet at the end of the concert.

Encore, please!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

CTC Prom Night: A Splash in More Ways than One

If you think there isn’t much culture in Wilmington, you haven’t been out in our fair city on a Friday or Saturday recently. Even when the worst weather hits, artists, musicians and actors are doing their “thing” and doing it well. Such was the case when City Theater Company (CTC) held its 2nd annual fundraiser, PROM NIGHT, last Saturday at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts. Sheets of heavy rain pelted the streets and a flood advisory was in effect in New Castle County. But it didn’t wash away the enthusiasm of the die-hard CTC fans and performers in attendance.

I became acquainted with CTC last summer when I attended several Delaware Humanities Forum-sponsored book events. This local repertory company maintains a steady diet of offbeat performances---original works as well as standard plays and musicals---as the appropriately titled “Delaware’s Off-Broadway”. The actors are also trying their hand at improvisation. Sometimes known as “theater games”, improvisation is an art form in its own right. Actors Kerry Kristine McElrone, Georgie Staley, Emily Davis, Kevin Regan, George Tietze, Jim Burns and Todd Holtsberry entertained the crowd with silly scenes they created on the spot.

One of my favorites was a moment outside a high school principal’s office: For each new “student” that arrived, the ones already there were required to adopt the attitude of the newcomer. When serial-killer/cheerleader McElrone arrived, the other actors erupted into a chorus of “Oh My God’s!” and “finger”-waves. Davis’ nerdy attitude was terribly contagious after she spoke only a few words. Also amusing were Tietze, Burns and McElrone as they told a story in one-word increments in an Irish accent as “Professor Know-It-All”. Look for more off-kilter fun from CTC in their December production of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.


The Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, with its quirky installations, is the perfect setting for an event like CTC’s PROM NIGHT. In the exhibit Kinetic, Dennis Beach’s Flow is a large acrylic pipe filled with swooshing water that surrounds the room. Lily Gottlieb-McHale’s sculptures with moving pieces and wires create eerie mechanical music in the room. Center stage is Billie Grace Lynn’s Mad Cow Motorcycle made from a cow’s skeleton and bike parts. What are you waiting for? It’s FREE!!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Newark Symphony Orchestra

This year, the Newark Symphony Orchestra is test-driving some conductors to find a new Music Director.

Nicole Aldrich took the baton yesterday, conducting the Bacchanale from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera Samson et Dalila. I was delighted to see former Music Director Roman Pawlowski in the percussion section - not just because he knows how to keep the beat – but also because he can enjoy the fruits of his labors as he experiences the impressive sound of the orchestra he worked so hard to develop.

Kathleen Hastings, violin and Cheryl Everill, cello were soloists in the Double Concerto for violin and cello by Johannes Brahms. Their smooth ensemble and the chiaroscuro contrast between soloists and orchestra was a pleasure to hear.

The Symphonic Dances, Opus 45 by Sergei Rachmaninov gave both the string section and the woodwinds/brass a chance to shine. Laura Grass’ trumpet and Anna Montejo’s English horn playing were highlights, as was Serban Petrescu’s violin solo.

It is time we started paying attention to this very well-established orchestra. The next concert dates are December 13, 2009, March 7, 2010 and May 16, 2010. Each concert will have a finalist conducting with the last two featuring the Youth Concerto Competition Winners.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Evita: Saving a Town’s Victorian Jewel with Theater

I hadn’t been in Middletown’s Everett Theater since it had been remodeled last year. Several years ago, some parents at MOT Charter arranged for our Acting Club to use the theater for our home-grown musical. The students were loved to performing there, but parents knew not to sit under the balcony because of the ceiling’s instability. Three years later, a portion of the ceiling did indeed collapse in the empty theater hours after a performance. Associated Community Talents, Inc. (ACT), owners of theater since 1983, mobilized the community and town to repair and refurbish it.

ACT’s production of Evita on 10/18 was well done. A cast member had invited me to the show, and I was thrilled to discover a few of the other young people in the ensemble were former students of mine. Tracy Friswell-Jacobs’ crisp choreography was dynamic and carried out nicely by the cast members.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical has its highs and lows. Sometimes, Tim Rice’s lyrics leave the actors stranded in a sea of mediocrity: “I could find job satisfaction in Paraguay”, sings the talented Eric Bayne as Juan Peron. Other times the work is highly successful, with a musical theme signifying ambition and hunger for power weaving in and out of the drama. Evita is blatantly operatic: It opens with Eva Peron’s corpse lovingly caressed in a casket, surrounded by mourning citizens.

From there, we observe her desperate climb from actress to First Lady. Adrienne Blair, who shared the part with Friswell-Jacobs, was sympathetic and tragic in the role of Eva. Eva’s thirst for power is palpable in A New Argentina, and her suffering and sense of loss in Lament is wrenching. Producer Peter Briccotto was captivating as Che: ever present, always offering another almost point of view, which often broke the third wall.

I look forward to seeing more off ACT’s productions and am so relieved they have mobilized residents and artists to save a historical landmark in a town where so many treasures have been torn down.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jessica Graae in Concert

As I listened to Jessica Graae’s elegant and powerful voice at the Methodist Country House on October 23, I wondered how she, like many artists in Delaware, manage to go through a full seven hours in the ‘day job’, rush home to dress up and race to rehearsal.

Facing the audience in the Danby Chapel, Jessica beamed a hundred-watt smile which told the audience this was the moment of the day for which she lived – her art.

Her voice has a wide range and she soared through Handel and Mozart. She then switched to a selection of introspective poems set to music by Johannes Brahms, showing her ability to interpret in a totally different style.

A quick and vamping romp through Carousel selections had the audience humming. The man next to me, Joe Ferrare, was delighted with the versatility and the variety of selections.

Jessica then picked up her guitar and accompanied herself on some quiet Spanish love songs, leaving plaintive minor echoes in our heads as we set out in the dull, dark rain of an October night.

When not singing, giving voice lessons, or working her full-time office job, Jessica also writes for the Community News and for this blog, She is a soloist at Trinity Episcopal Church and will sing in the Schubert Mass in C, Opus 48 on Sunday, November 1 at 10:30 a.m. She will also sing Tiny Tim in A Gilbert and Sullivan Christmas Carol and Dell in Gift of the Magi at Unitarian Universalist Church in Media PA on December 4,5, 6 and at the Arden Gild Hall on December 18 and 19.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blog Love to Delaware

Just a quick note: One thing I love most about our state is that we're small but mighty. And when we "inspired folks" put our energy into our passions, great things happen.

There's much to be excited about in Arts & Entertainment here, and we're making great strides to spread the good word...along with our blogspace, we've got some very cool pals that are doing a damn good job of helping get the word out about artists, the Arts, nightlife, happenings and just all-around fun stuff that goes on throughout the state.

In the spirit of collaboration and a gesture of thanks to all who put the time in and care enough to do it, here's a list of "partner" blogs. Please support their (and our) efforts to keep you "in the know"! Rock on, fellow bloggers!

New Wilmington Art Association


Delaware Today Arts Buzz

Support the Arts and the blogs that love them!

DSO: Touching the Soul

Violinist Jennifer Koh wowed the audience at Wilmington’s Grand Opera House this past weekend with her performance of Samuel Barber’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra Opus 14. To watch her play was to watch an intimate, elegant dance; each sound flowed from her caress of the instrument and was accompanied by an expression of deep emotion in her face. The first movement of the piece was trademark Barber: heartfelt and full of yearning. The last movement, Presto in moto perpetuo, gave Koh an opportunity to show her “spark”. Her virtuosic playing was splendid and brought the audience to its feet.

David Amado, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, is a seasoned concert programmer as well as a dynamic leader. During the pre-concert lecture sponsored by the Delaware Humanities Forum, Amado discussed presenting works that may be challenging, yet still accessible for his audiences. Amazingly, the Ives’ Three Places in New England was receiving its DSO debut. This piece, written in 1935, still sounds so fresh to my ears. Ives embraced the sights and sounds around him, weaving them into three quirky, very different movements. Amado encouraged us to laugh during the second movement, which was a comical imitation of a small town marching band.

The theme of “place” was ever-present throughout the evening. Entitled “Dreams of Rivers”, the program gave odes to the Housatonic and Rhine rivers. Mark Mobley, DSO Director of Community Engagement, discussed with Amado his identification with composers and their homes. Amado noted that he placed little importance in composers’ physical roots. A powerful statement, reminding me that music transcends locale; it’s mostly about touching the heart and soul.


by Jessica Graae

Friday, October 16, 2009

Samuel Barber Centennial

Composer Samuel Barber's hometown of West Chester, Pa., intends to present a concert of his music every month through 2010. His 100th birthday is in March.

Programs will be held at Chester County Historical Society, West Chester University and the First Presbyterian Church of West Chester.

The schedule from January to May is already available at

Barber left lots to choose from -- particularly art songs and chamber music, as well as orchestral work and several operas. His famous Adagio for Strings is, as his biographer Barbara Heyman put it, the tip of the iceberg.

The Barber family home is on Church Street, though Sam spent his adult life in New York and Europe. He was the son of a local doctor, and was the second student to enroll in the Curtis Institute of Music. His baritone voice was good enough that he studied singing as well, which accounts for his prolific vocal literature.

His maternal aunt, Louise Homer, was an acclaimed operatic contralto and sang Barber's songs in recitals while he was still a teenager. He also played the organ at First Presbyterian.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Copeland String Quartet at Church of the Holy City

The Copeland Quartet gave a moving account of String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Opus 13 by Felix Mendelssohn.

In the fugal section of the second movement, the voices entered with just the right dynamic and articulation. Eliezer Gutman’s control of the high notes over the pizzicato in the Allegro di molto made the melody soar through the church. When the final fugue of the fourth movement wound down and the quartet ended, the audience was hushed for a brief moment before they burst into applause.

The Haydn String Quartet No. 62 in C Major, opus 76, No. 3, the Kaiser, the other piece on their program, proved their prowess. The Allegro, which has a sudden dive into a Scottish bagpipe drone by viola and cello, showed their ability to smoothly transition back to the original theme. The Poco Adagio, Cantabile requires each player to play the tune we now know as the German national anthem, which Haydn wrote for Kaiser Franz Josef of Austria. The cascade of themes and harmonic decoration of the variations was thrilling. And the culmination was the ensemble of the accelerando in the last movement.

The Copeland Quartet has a new web site and they have also recorded a new CD which should be out by early next year.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bringing it All and Bringing it Beautifully: Fringe Wilmington

Our first Fringe Wilmington was, in many ways, a real success: we attracted some fabulous artists and performers to the area, and we showcased some of our local stars. A four-day event, running from October 1-4, the Fringe took advantage of some of Wilmington’s most exciting and also underused spaces. The New Wilmington Art Association, which occupies abandoned or empty venues, made an appearance in a warehouse on Market Street. City Theater Company, Writing Man Productions and others found themselves in OperaDelaware’s intimate black box theater. It was thrilling to see the arts spilling out everywhere!

Among the offerings were performances by a Brazilian Capoeira troupe, a poetic monologue on the closing of Newark’s Chrysler plant, a comedian’s riotous account of self-rediscovery, presentations of two Word Premier operas, a concert of Indian classical dance and music and several original dramatic productions. Perhaps we were too ambitious on our first attempt at a Fringe? Though it was well-publicized, attendance at the festival wasn’t quite what we had hoped it would be.

Michael Dutka’s opera Black Horses and The Stronger were commissioned by OperaDelaware, and performed at Saints Andrew and Matthew Episcopal Church. A winning array of singers handled Dutka’s daunting scores with ease. In Black Horses, soprano Elizabeth Zell sang beautifully and clearly the libretto adapted from Luigi Pirandello’s short story. Tenor Jeffrey Halili sang with a warm tone and possessed a natural comic talent. Alexis Cregger, in her operatic monologue in August Strindberg’s oddball play, was a pure pleasure to watch and hear. Her glorious soprano and prodigious musical talent are sure to lead her far. Martha Koeneman played Dutka’s beautiful, yet difficult music with ease, grace and musicality.

Usiloquy Dance designs brought their colorful exotic presentation to the baby grand at the Grand Opera House, The Bharatanatyam dance is a lyrical, poetic classical Indian art form that is thousands of years old. The dances are performed to original compositions, with costumes created by troupe member and costume maker Michelle Yeager. As an extra treat, Maitrayee Patel and Surya Nakella performed several songs in the Indian classical style. Their selections included compositions in Raag Bheempalasi. The duo performed their intertwining, often imitative melodies to the backdrop of a steady synthesizer beat.

If I had to pick a favorite performance, it would be Robin Gelfenbien’s My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey. Not only was Robin hysterical with her physical comedy, her riotous imitations of her frat-boy Wienermobile partner and doting aunt, she was also touching with her poignant tale self-rediscovery. She carried this solo show beautifully with her observational talent.


Newark Arts Alliance Harvest Festival

Raindrops do not discourage Terry Foreman of the Newark Arts Alliance and the vendors who gathered on the Academy Building Lawn. Most of the exhibitors had tents, but illustrators Destinie Carbone ( and Patrick Waugh ( sat bravely in the rain, using their clear plastic to cover their wares.

I went on my bike because there is no place to park in Newark when UD is in session, and, besides, you had to get wet to see how the vendors felt. The Priapi Gardens and The Farm Stuff had arranged chrysanthemums and purple peppers and beautiful blooming cabbage plants into edible works of art.

Near them, Richard Aldorasi had set up a marbling station where he was able to guide people through a marbling of scarves. Quite a crowd enjoyed watching the process and Foreman reported on Sunday that he had a lot of scarfmakers.

With ten excellent jewelry vendors, it was quite a selection: Kate ( and Andrea ( shared a booth where I saw a pale green stone called aventurine, a variety of microcrystalline quartz. Karen Hornor (Hidden Moon at has a special flexible jewelry she makes with neoprene and aluminum. Robanne Palmer ( has many glass drop earrings which you can also see at the NAA.

I bought cards from artist Karin Lang who had made several of her watercolors into cards and had cards with translucent covers that look like stained glass.

MaryJane Tyrie (Studio 960) was less worried about the rain damaging her fused glass than the others and the picture above is a lovely fused glass dish which was collecting rainwater – making the goldfish seem to be swimming.

Good attendance and good cheer seemed to make the skies clear – rewarding support of local artists.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fast Film Finale with Fringe Festival Festival Fanfare

The crowd already gathered in Theatre N was hip, happy and sporty – is this Philadelphia? Tina Betz and Rich Neumann, coordinators of Wilmington’s First Fringe Festival, were witty, arty, and articulate as they hosted the awards ceremony and screening of the top ten Fringe Fest films on Sunday, October 4. The winners were:

Brad Padoski’s eponymic opus was a comic infomercial about his personal music systems, or PMS. His klutzy choices of music are hilarious. Finally, Brad finds a girl who has PMS, that is, a personal music system of her own.

The Dead Art, a film with mimes Scott Michaels, Nate Davis and Brahmin Jackson, veered to the bizarre when a mime murders passers by and finally hangs himself.

Ric Edevane’s film, The Rockford Case, was a take-off on Mission Impossible. His use of a heartless command control operative gave a great comic touch.

Devoted by Sharon Baker portrayed a lonely woman toasting in birthdays and other holidays at a table set for two to an excellent violin score.

My personal favorite was Playing Games, a film made by the family of photographer Amy Theorin. Two boys roughhouse in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery until one disappears. The remaining brother must challenge a devilish sprite to a chess game to get his brother back. Kudos to Theorin’s fifteen-year-old neighbor who improvised the score on piano.

The filmmakers and the organizers and volunteers of the Fringe Festival should be proud of the great work they inspired with the contest – all ten of the top films are still in my head.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Arty at the Blue Ball Barn with Melomanie

Arty went to the Blue Ball Barn for the October 3 Mélomanie Special Concert and Party, a fundraiser for their new recording of music by five regional composers: Ingrid Arauco, Chris Braddock, Mark Rimple, Mark Hagerty, and Chuck Holdeman. The Holdeman and Hagerty pieces have already been recorded at UD’s Gore Hall by Meyer Media. Composer Ingrid Arauco is eagerly anticipating the recording of her Florescence.

Tommie Almond, President of the Mélomanie Board, was the adroit mistress of ceremonies. Arty enjoyed hot hors d’oeuvres by Greenery Catering staff before sitting down to hear the full Mélomanie ensemble play a short overture and gigue by Georg Muffat, (1653-1704) followed by some Michel Corette (1707-1795) duos for viola da gamba and cello played by Donna Fournier and Doug McNames- an excellent illustration of the difference between the modern cello and its older cousin, the viola da gamba.

This first musical interlude concluded with a movement of Chris Braddock’s Close Tolerances, whose name he took from the concept of gears meshing in close tolerance just as musicians achieve a close tolerance of voices in ensemble.

Party guest Sally Milbury-Steen is also working on close tolerances of power sources in her efforts to wake Wilmington up to the need to transition away from carbon as advised by Rob Hopkins Transition Town movement.

The second musical interlude featured Fran Berge playing baroque violin in Marco Uccelini’s (1603-1680) toccata for violin and basso continuo, one of the first pieces to feature solo violin.

Chuck Holdeman described the third movement of his Sonate en Trio as “like a Hostess Twinkie with a surprise inside.”

The finale, Chaconne in E minor from Quartet 6 of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Paris Quartets, put the party in a joyful mood. Michael Foster, music librarian and radio host, suggested to composers Mark Hagerty and Chuck Holdeman to compose more pieces using the now obsolete technical innovations for violin by Marco Uccelini.

Composer Mark Rimple pulled the event’s winning raffle ticket: The prize of a party at Blue Ball Barn went to WSFS executive Drew Aaron. Aaron and his wife were at the party representing WSFS, a corporate sponsor of the Mélomanie CD project. He and his wife, Judy, will host their going-away party for his parents who are moving to Florida.

Arty had so much fun, he angled for an invite to the Aaron’s Blue Ball event, but didn’t get a nibble.