Sunday, December 19, 2010

Newark Christmas Cheer

If Santa is hiring any new elves, I would highly recommend Dr. Michael Larkin for the job. His effervescent enjoyment of Christmas and Christmas music is a delight to behold!

This year’s program was named Forward to the Past: A Christmas Concert based on Dr. Larkin’s study of Christmas music of Western Europe. Fifteenth Century (Guillermus Dufay), Sixteenth Century (Praetorius), including a softened and slowed En natus est Emmanuel preceded the Seventeenth Century Tomas Luis Vittoria’s O magnum mysterium motet and selections from the mass.

Then a jump to the Twentieth Century with arrangements by Dr. Larkin of many popular Christmas tunes, including selections he took from the movie White Christmas.

Mindy Bowman accompanied the choir in the modern part of the program where Mike Alexander sang O Holy Night, Jay Williams soloed in Count your blessings and Della Lied gave a beautifully clear rendition of Love, you didn’t do right by me. Her solo reminded me of the arrestingly clear voice of Joan Baez singing Little Drummer Boy on a Christmas album I have long lost.

Dr. Larkin gave great energy to directing the audience in refrains of popular carols and it seemed like an old Newark party in the beautifully decorated vault of the Newark United Methodist Church.

They will perform the same program at Saint Helena’s Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington on Sunday, December 19.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Carols in Color: A Spectacular Celebration

Photo: Gabriel Bienczycki
As the lights go down and "Carols in Color" begins, you are transported, both to the Biblical time of the Book of Matthew and from the humble school auditorium where the show is being performed. This year, Wilmington Christian School hosted the two-act retelling of the birth of Jesus in dance and song -- but don't let that fool you: this is high-caliber theater worthy of a Broadway stage.

A little background: Carols in Color is an original production of the Eleone Dance Company in Philadelphia, conceived by the company's founder, E. Leon Evans, II. It combines modern dance and a live Gospel chorus, as well as music from various artists such as Be Be and Ce Ce Winans and Kirk Franklin, to tell the Christmas story starting from the moment Mary learns she is carrying the baby Jesus. The Christiana Cultural Arts Center presents the show in Wilmington annually, and several local students participate in the show.

The first act of Carols in Color focuses on the confusion, helplessness and hardship Mary and Joseph faced as they dealt with her very unexpected pregnancy. Most of the first act is comprised of gorgeous solo dances -- Gabriel, Mary, Joseph and the Angel of God -- with their voices sung by a second performer on stage. Songs include "What Shall I Do," "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and "No Place To Go." By the end of act 1, the baby has been born, and the stage begins to fill.

The second act opens with "Go Tell It On The Mountain," as Mary holds the baby Jesus, and the joyous celebration doesn't let up, through spectacular dance sequences and choral pieces. Featured are "Hallelujah" from Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, "The First Noel," "Silent Night," with "Angels We Have Heard On High" finishing the show with the entire cast of dancers and singers on stage.

The music, costumes, choreography -- it all comes together for an unforgettable Christmas celebration.

Carols in Color was one show only in Delaware, but you can see it in Philadelphia at the John E. Allen Jr. Theater at Freedom Theater from December 12 - 21; call 1-800-838-3006 for tickets.

The Nutcracker: Family Fun in Dover

The Dance Theatre of Dover’s performance of The Nutcracker was good family entertainment. Little girls in poofy dresses and boys in suits with their parents in tow poured in through the front doors of the Schwartz Center for the Arts. This little jewel of a Victorian-style theater (built in 1904), nestled in the Capital’s historic district, is the perfect spot for ballet, theater and music: because of its size and excellent acoustics, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The story of The Nutcracker is not unlike many popular fairy tales- there is always a lesson to be learned, usually by way of a frightening or difficult rite of passage. Clara (nicely performed by Laura Ward) must give up her treasured nutcracker doll and suffer a horrible encounter with a dancing corps of rats. The moment of terror is offset by visions of dancing flowers, candies and shimmering snowflakes.

Alycia Powell as the Snow Queen brought beauty and grace to the stage. Though Catherine Brooks appeared only briefly as the dainty Ballerina Doll, a snowflake and a flower, her precision and finesse were notable. Light on his feet was Eric McCutcheon, as he danced the part of the Nutcracker Soldier, and in the Spanish dance.

This rendition of the ballet-with music by Peter Ilych Tschaikovsky, choreography by Leve Ivanov and additional choreography and staging by Teresa Emmons-seemed to get everyone into the holiday spirit.


Artist Rowena Macleod at the Art Loop

Tower Hill School treasures and supports the arts. That much is clear when you walk into the P.S. du Pont Arts Center, home to a beautiful gallery part of the 2010-2011 Wilmington Art Loop. This month, the exhibit features six artists: Caroline Beck, Yolanda Chetwynd, Debbie Hegedus, Rowena MacLeod, Teal Rickerman and Cathy Spence.

Liza Appel filled the space with her lovely viola playing, as people milled about the exhibit of photography, masks, collage, prints, fiber art and paintings. The exhibitors- all teachers and professional artists-are each accomplished and compelling.

Rowena MacLeod, new to the faculty at Tower Hill, coined the phrase “compeignage” to describe her medium, combination of collage and painting. The rich colors and detailed settings within her pieces exude warmth, unity and feminine strength. MacLeod’s folksy, earthy style hearkens back to that of Marc Chagall or perhaps Paul Guaguin. “Let’s Repaint this World” reminds me why so many of us become artists: we want to make the world around us beautiful- or merely bearable, by fixing its ugliness with a brushstroke or the pluck of an instrument. The artist stands, paintbrush in hand, creating a setting- a world. Often MacLeod’s figures have a large right hand. MacLeod told me she feels the large hand must be the dominant one- the creative one.

The exhibit is open from 8-3 weekdays, until December 17.

(pictured: "Let's Repaint This World" and MacLeod with daughter Fiona standing in front of "Time Revealed")

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Scary Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night

Evangelina. Photo: Holly Quinn
Brianna Hansen's Nightmare Before Christmas Party, held December 4 upstairs at OperaDelaware, featured my very favorite things: creepiness, Christmas, music, wine and local-artist shopping. Inspired by the Tim Burton film by the same name, it was Halloween-meets-Christmas, complete with costumes and mashup decorations (most impressive: the lovely Christmas tree topped with a glittering skull).

Singer-songwriter Evangelina started off the night's live music in the spirit of the scene, opening with her take on songs from Nightmare Before Christmas, followed by traditional (and one not-so-traditional) Christmas songs. I really enjoyed the short set and am looking forward to checking out her original music. She was followed by The Way It Is, aka Michael Sanchez, who came all the way from Chicago with his drum kit and electro backing tracks. It's unusual to see a solo artist on the drums -- and very cool. Local faves The Hold Up put on a great rock 'n roll set with original songs like "Zombies Ate My Neighbors" that kept the spirit going as the night rolled on. Newark singer-songwriter Rory Sullivan performed songs from his debut CD Here All Along (available on his website) before the night capped off with DJs and dancing.

The Hold Up
It's not too late to buy gifts from some of the local artists featured -- Kristin Margiotta, Malika Oyetimein, Leila Marvel, and Pat Higgins all sell their art, books, jewelry and more online.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Traveling at the Theater

Around the World in 80 Days is the Delaware Theatre Company's newest production. Mark Brown’s clever adaptation of Jules Vernes’s novel is witty, probing and entertaining.

Phileas Fogg, (Greg Wood) wagers he can travel around the world in 80 days. He is accompanied by Passepartout (James IJames), and in 80 days, they make their way around the world.

Director Aaron Posner’s production is terse, yet humorous. Brian Sidney Bembridge’s simple set is cleverly crafted: the circular platform unifying the swirling action on stage echoes the play’s themes of rapid world travel and self-exploration. The stacks of trunks on stage serve as elephants and trains.

There are no set changes and only five actors. Four of the actors play several parts. Dan Hodge is Detective Fix, a man who trips over his own feet, sabotaging his own investigation. Benjamin Lloyd appears as 16 different characters and many are side-splittingly funny. He runs the gamut of accents, from Chinese to Scottish and Brooklynese. As the “Newspaperman” Farah Bala gives quick updates about Fogg’s location and activities. She also plays the lovely widow Aouda, the apple of Fogg’s eye.

The play takes us on a journey of self-discovery. The friendless Fogg finds love, humanity and forgiveness during his whirlwind tour of the world.

Photo: Matt Urban

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reckless: A Demented Holiday Celebration

Victoria Rose Bonito and Eric Longo. Photo:CTC
To say that Rachel's husband Tom ruined Christmas is a bit of an understatement. It was Christmas Eve, and Rachel was bursting with holiday cheer. The next thing she knows, she out in the snow, alone and scared. Tom has told her he's hired a contract killer to take her out that very night, forcing her on a long bizarre journey away from her family and into a strange new life. If you like your comedy dark and your holiday fare unconventional, City Theater Company's "Reckless," directed by George Tietze, is right up your alley.

Jim Burns and Victoria Rose Bonito. Photo: CTC
As Rachel, Victoria Rose Bonito does a flawless job of bringing her character's troubled, over-the-top bubbliness to life. Bonito, making her City Theater Company debut, is the backbone of the show -- I don't recall a minute when she wasn't on stage -- and there was never a dull moment. The rest of the small cast is made up of CTC veterans: Jim Burns and Kerry Kristine McElrone as Lloyd and Pooty, the couple who take Rachel in (and who are not quite what they seem); Maggie Cogswell and Tom Holtsberry in several scene-stealing roles, including a shady office supervisor and a game show host; Michelle Jacob as all six of Rachel's very different therapists over the years; and Eric Longo as Tom and Tom Jr. A solid cast all around.

Jim Burns, Victoria Rose Bonito and Kerry Kristine McElrone. Photo: CTC

The opening night show was a blast, despite some technical difficulties. For the record, I thought the cast doing the music and recorded soundtrack live was terrific -- I didn't guess it was a SNAFU, if anything I thought using live acapella voices for the music was a clever touch.

"Reckless" is playing at The Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios through December 18. For tickets, click here.

Arts Auditions for the New Year

Delaware Valley Chorale
The Delaware Valley Chorale and director David Christopher are calling for singers for their mid-season auditions. Join DVC for a performance of the Brahms Requiem. Audition dates are Saturday, January 8, 1:00 to 3:00pm, Sunday, January 9, 2:00 to 4:00pm, and other times by appointment. To schedule your audition, contact Barbara Kidd at 302.234.4866 or All singers must prepare a solo or an excerpt from a choral piece that demonstrates range and voice quality, and are asked to bring two copies of the audition piece. Singers will also be asked to sight read a simple passage of music (diatonic within a modest range).


City Theater Company
Open call for the 2011 CTC Community Series, featuring the work of playwright Alex Dremann. Auditions will be held for actors ages 18+ on Monday, January 10 and Wednesday, January 12, from 7:00-9:00pm at OperaDelaware Studios, 4 S. Poplar Street in Wilmington. A prepared monologue is preferred but not required; auditions will also consist of cold reading from the scripts.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Newark Holiday Art Markets

Stained glass by Greg Baldwin

On Friday after work, I pulled in to the parking lot near Newark Natural Foods to check out the multiple Christmas art markets on either side of the cooperative.

My first stop was the Newark Arts Alliance. The decorated windows gave a great view of the beautiful and varied items on display: jewelry, weaving, art, ceramics, stained glass, silk clothing and lovely cards. Works by Julie Darrow, Carole Fox, Marian Howard, Karen Hornor, Ingrid Jackoway, Robanne Palmer, Melissa Paquette, Lisa Pilchard, Wendy Shipman, Doortje Shover and Paulette Visceglia are featured in their Holiday Art Market. The site is so small, quiet and full of light which dances through the lovely glass works and shines off the ceramic glazes and luminescent silver jewelry.

Buying a gift from a local artist helps our community thrive economically and -- if you live in the Newark area – this also means you do NOT have to brave the frenzy of I-95 to find something unusual, beautiful and unique. The Newark Arts Alliance will keep this market open until January 2. Not only that, but they are offering free gift wrapping (now that is a deal!) and will have ornament projects for your children to entertain themselves with while you are shopping.

But wait, that was only the first art show in this very spot! Just across the way, Open Studio artists were meeting and greeting visitors to their second annual Christmas art show. It is being held in THE MEADOWS, which is on the west side of Newark Natural Foods. Don’t worry; there are plenty of signs to show you the way.

Greg Baldwin has many varieties of stained glass pieces of all sizes and prices. Ray Briscoe has some humorous woodcarvings of trolls and funny farmers with heads of open pods in the brightest of pea green. Frances Hart has many of her very delicate watercolors of flowers. Susan Schulz’s jewelry is sleek and silvery, with smooth workings to set off delicately polished stones. MCEI’s weaving has intricate detail. She, too, has smaller works like elegant hot pads if your wallet is feeling too puny to buy one of her larger woven pieces. But for me, the highlight of the afternoon was talking to Paula Camenzind as she sipped spiced tea from one of her elegant blue/pink luster cups.

The Open Studio will be open again on Saturday, December 4 from 10 to 5 and Sunday, December 5, from 10 to 5.