Thursday, December 22, 2011

Delaware Valley Chorale at the Newark United Methodist Church

Jeffrey Manns has taken on the daunting role of assistant conductor of the Delaware Valley Chorale while David Christopher is on leave and he is putting all of his energy into the task. The concert began with a haunting organ solo of O come, o come Emmanuel. The fifteen male choristers were in position as the ladies marched forward from the back of the church to join them. The antiphonal echoes in Terry Schlenker’s arrangement sometimes made it appear that various sections were starting a beat late. Schlenker’s arrangement of Let all moral [SIC] flesh keep silence had some very interesting effects with parallel fifths which evoked an intriguing oriental flavor. The organ bass line helped guide the male singers in their fugue but the high pitches from the sopranos were a bit shaky. Of the father’s love begotten went more smoothly as the choir settled in, but the final phrase by Gus Mercante came out far too loudly.

In the bleak midwinter featured Fa Lane Fields’ pure yet fully rounded soprano voice which carries well and yet retains the delicacy of a child’s voice. Lloyd Shorter’s English horn and Kimberly Doucette’s strong soprano voice had no trouble standing out above the chorus, organ and piano in Maurice Besly’s The shepherds had an angel. Witnessing the magic of laser-like musical focus by Ms. Doucette and Mr. Shorter reminded me of what making music should be.

The Giovanni Gabrielli Hodie was ruined by the singers’ efforts to sing more loudly than they could comfortably manage. Kurt Collins’ brilliant organ accompaniment had sparkling glissandi and the brass chorale (George Rabbai and Jonathan Barnes, trumpet, Timothy Soberick, tenor trombone and Barry McCommon, bass trombone) had great verve, bounce and clarity. Organ and brass were allowed to show their lively musicality as soloists in the Gabrielli Canzona per sonare No. 4.

For me the highlight of the concert was the Daniel Pinkham Christmas Cantata. It was clear that Mr. Manns had focused all of his rehearsals on this difficult piece. The pitches were accurate, the diction was outstandingly clear and the dynamic he demanded of the chorus was soft enough to allow the muted brass chorale at the end of the O magnum mysterium to be heard as a whispering shimmer.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Dose of Family Holiday Fun at Reedy Point

By Blogger Charles "Ebbie" Alfree III
The Reedy Point Players' production of holiday-themed one-acts, The Toys Gift & Stocking Stuffers, at the Delaware City Community Center is a perfect show for small children and their families. This unique production, directed by eight directors (seven of which are first-time directors and five of them under the age of 18), could even give Scrooge a little Christmas spirit.

Many favorite toys from our youth come to life during the magical production. Guess who's cheating on Ken with G.I. Joe and guess who is despised by the longing-to-liberated baby dolls? That's right...Barbie! I always thought she was to good to be true! Stuffed animals that come to life to make Christmas presents are also a lovely part of this program.

And what's a Christmas show without a few overworked elves and two underappreciated, surfer-dude reindeer? They all make appearances in the production, along with Uncle Sam, Cupid, the Easter Bunny, Ezekiel the Pilgrim & Hagatha the Witch. In one of the acts, the group of holiday icons come together to discuss their frustration with the most famous holiday icon, Santa. By the way, the "big guy" also makes an appearance, to the amazement of all the children in the audience. Between each act The Hahn Family is on-hand to perform Christmas carols and keep everyone in the holiday mood.

This production can warm hearts for kids of all ages. The show closes Sunday, December 18, For tickets ($10 for adults and $8 for students, seniors and active military), visit or call 302.650.4054.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Have a Warm and Fuzzy Cartoon Christmas

Rob Swanson, Jackie Browne and Jeff Knoettner
'Tis the season for Christmas shows, all striving to capture that magic feeling that comes once a year. Few shows pull it off with as little packaging as The Cartoon Christmas Trio. For their 30 minute set, part of the Market Street Music Noontime Concert Series at First & Central Presbyterian Church, it was just three guys and their instruments -- no costumes, no glitz, no decorations. None of that is needed -- within the first strains of Vince Guaraldi's  "Skating," it's Christmas.

If you haven't heard Guaraldi's famous Christmas pieces, commissioned for the classic 1965 "A Charlie Brown Christmas" TV special, live and in person, it's worth experiencing. The Trio plays the songs just as they were written, giving audiences a dose of nostalgia and a certain appreciation for the music that may have gotten lost when watching the special as a child. When the Trio play it, it's anything buck background music: It's everything.

In addition to the Guaraldi songs, The Cartoon Christmas Trio does other songs from classic Christmas TV specials. At First & Central, they did a song from "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" with a jazz edge. The full concert includes songs from "Frosty The Snowman," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and others.

If you missed The Cartoon Christmas Trio at First and Central or their first Iron Hill Brewery shows, there's still a chance to catch them before this holiday season is a memory: They'll be playing the Iron Hill in Newark on Monday, December 19, and The Iron Hill in Wilmington on Wednesday, December 21. For a complete calendar of their remaining shows in the area, click here.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Magical "Night Music" Fills the Air this Holiday Season!

To produce a musical in a tiny black box buried in downtown Wilmington is quite a feat – and to find so many excellent voices and musicians to execute it is a second feat. With no orchestra pit, no wings and very few props, City Theatre Company has a terrific hit with their show A little night music – Stephen Sondheim’s musical based on Ingmar Bergman’s farce movie, Smiles of a Summer Evening.
There must have been a reason to have the singers gather in front of the orchestra at the start of the show, but I couldn’t fathom it. With their backs to the audience, they got our attention and their abrupt turn to face us was like a curtain rising.
Michele Ferdinand dotted every I, t and quarter note in her musical direction and in spite of an occasional lack of clarity from the choral quintet, the attacks and endings of words and pieces was flawless. Michael Gray, who starred as the older husband and lover, codirected with Tom Shade. Gray’s singing, acting and comic sense was the backbone of the production. His young wife Anne, played by Dylan Geringer, was delightful. Her ability to reach the murderously high notes Sondheim wrote made her songs seem easy.
And where did all this talent come from? Casey Elizabeth Gill seemed to have walked off a Broadway stage. Her miming, playfulness and incredible voice were just plain knockout. When she sings her cynical yet vivacious Miller’s Son she runs the gamut of emotion and sound that emulates life’s ups and downs.
Karen Murdoch is, as the song says, perfect as the warm but conniving mistress who, in spite of it all, has warmth which will melt you after you are softened by the haunting clarinet introduction to Send in the clowns. Murdoch has that knack for a quiet coda that takes your breath away.
Dorien Belle’s bumbling Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm creates such a perfect foil for lawyer Fredrik. Their duet, It would have been wonderful had that magic timing that every musician hopes for – the courage to wait until that final microsecond with calm assurance.
Victoria Healy is a mistress of comedy – she, too, knows exactly how to time her punches.
The set was minimal, but with inventive staging, terrific choreography – fantastic opening scene of all the characters awakening, the transitions from house to theatre to backstage to country mansion worked with ease.
Production runs December 2 through December 17, with one Sunday matinee on Sunday, December 11, at 2:00pm. Closing Night is Saturday, December 17 with Closing Night Party at Extreme Pizza.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wilmo Rock Circus -- The Biggest Show in the Small Wonder

Deadbeatz, Inc. Photo: Brian Truono
Pop-ups -- one night events in a space that wasn't a venue before and won't be one after -- are all the rage, or so I'm told, and Wilmington is in on it. The concept isn't new to Delaware, not that that's a bad thing. Before there was a Queen or a Mojo 13, when venues allowing original live music were few, there wasn't much choice but to "pop-up" shows in barns or basements around here. And while, of course, it's awesome to have so many actual permanent venues that support original local music in Delaware, there's nothing like taking over a warehouse for one night.

The format for Gable Music Venture's Wilmo Rock Circus, held in an empty storefront in the Shipyard Shops, was literally taken from the big top. Instead of three rings, there were two stages, complete with ringmasters to introduce the acts. The purpose of this circus-like setup, aside from a carnival-like feel, was circus-like pacing: The performances alternated from stage to stage, leaving no breaks between bands, allowing ten 30-minute sets in five hours. A fast pace, yes. And that was part of the excitement.

The other part of the excitement was the mix of bands. This wasn't a funk show or a punk show, prog, alt. pop or rockabilly -- it was all of the above. So if the band on stage wasn't your thing, you could go grab a drink, maybe use the powder room generously offered by Timothy's or wander the room and socialize, and a new, likely completely different, band would be along in a few minutes. I have my taste preferences, but I didn't hear any band that didn't do what they do well. These bands -- The Bullets, The Hold-Up, The Keefs, Pete Lownote and the Truckstop Regulars, Modern Exile, Deadbeatz, Inc., Little Invisibles, Still Moon Servants, The Joe Trainor Trio, and Universal Funk Order (thank you WRC Facebook Invite for all the links) -- are some of Delaware's best, and the opportunity to see them all in one night was one not to be missed. If you did miss it, don't worry. Gable Music Ventures plans more pop-ups in the future, but where the next big show will take place is anyone's guess.

"Like" Gable Music Ventures on Facebook for upcoming shows, including regular performances in LOMA hotspots such as Extreme Pizza, Zaikka, and the Film Brothers Co-op.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Excellent "Noises" from University of Delaware’s REP!

By Delaware Arts Info blogger Charles "Ebbie" Alfree III
Photo from Resident Ensemble Players
How the hell do they do it??? I’m referring to the cast of Noises Off presented by the University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players. Guest Artistic Director, Gregory Boyd, directs the hardest working cast currently in Delaware! It takes a great director to guide a cast through the intricate blocking of this hysterical play, and Mr. Boyd accomplished his task.
Michael Frayn’s slapstick comedy tells the story of a third-rate acting troupe as they attempt to produce a British sex farce, Nothing On, while beginning and ending affairs, drinking, and competing for the director’s attention. What ensues is hilarity beyond belief.
It’s a thin story, but it’s the characters, witty lines and most of all, the comic timing that make this three-act play a must see! The timing is everything in the production; one mistake can throw off the entire play and cause a catastrophe. However, this cast of true professionals—Deena Burke, Michael Gotch, Elizabeth Heflin, Mic Matarrese, Carine Montbertrand, Stephen Pelinski, Kathleen Pirkl Tague, Steve Tague and John Tyson—never drops the ball. Watching Noises Off is like watching a master class in comedy-theater.  The cast seamlessly plays two characters in this play within a play, as well as uses multiple props and continuously enters and exits through numerous doors that make up the multipurpose set.
One side of Neil Patel’s set is an English country home – the setting for Nothing On -and the other side is the backstage of the fictitious play, allowing the audience to see the front and backstage antics all at once.  The set is as impeccable as the actors. It gives the audience a view that most don’t see or experience, seeing a play from backstage.
Anyone who loves theater should not miss Noises Off, even if slapstick is “not your cup of tea.” Any true theater lover will appreciate the work that goes into this play. 

Now, I’m ready for a plate of sardines; go see the play and you’ll understand why.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Coastal Concerts brings quality music to Lewes

Coastal concerts, a determined group of volunteers in Lewes, has fulfilled their mission of bringing quality music to Southern Delaware. November 19’s concert with the Lincoln Trio was of a quality you would expect in a large city, yet without the hassle and expense.

The Lincoln Trio, formed in 2003, is an ensemble-in-residence at the Music Institute of Chicago. Desirėe Ruhstradt, violin, a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music – David Conifer, cello, a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London, and Marta Aznavoorian, piano, who studied at both Indiana University and the New England Conservatory not only have the chops to play anything you place in front of them, but they click together– listening and anticipating each other and sensing intuitively where their partners are taking the music and who will lead which phrase.

The Beethoven Piano Trio in D Major, opus 70, number 1 was executed smoothly and quietly – a pristine beginning. By the second movement, you could hear a pin drop in the hall and the Presto passages flowed like oil. The Jennifer Higdon Piano Trio (2003) starts with chords that Aznavoorian voiced masterfully, letting each tone ring for just the right amount of time. Silver Dagger (2009) written for the trio by their friend Stacy Garrop was much more of a twenty-first century adventure – the daring bonging of the piano strings with the pedal down and the strident bowings by Ruhstradt and Cunliffe created both the flavor of the country tune and the exploratory tonalities of new music.

They crowned the concert with Bedrich Smetana’s Trio in G Minor, Opus 15 – a fiery technical challenge which they played without restraint, bringing out the true melodic ringing of Smetana’s harmony and putting so much into the piece that the audience roared in response – demanding an encore with their standing ovation. The trio played Café Music by Paul Schoenfield with a bit too much speed, but the audience lapped up the jazzy delight.

The concert hall is perhaps a bit unconventional – a large church assembly room with a platform for the artists on which a lovely Steinway sits on a raised box flanked by two standing lamps. The sound was live enough so that the piano had more than its share of the combined dynamic, yet Aznavoorian played so well who could complain?

The next Coastal Concert will present Clancy Newman, cello and Noreen Cassidy-Polera, piano on January 28 at 2 p.m. in the Bethel United Methodist Hall. Why not make it a beach weekend and enjoy walking to a world class concert after lunch?



Monday, November 14, 2011

Not Your Typical Christmas Show at NCT

With Thanksgiving still nearly two weeks away, it was no surprise that the crowd at New Candlelight Theater in Arden on Saturday was a bit smaller than usual. Don't expect such intimacy once the holiday season is in full swing. "A Very Candlelight Christmas" has been much-anticipated by fans of the dinner theater, not least of all because this seasonal production is an original, written and directed by NCT's Producing Artistic Director Chris Alberts and longtime friend Sonny Leo. For a theater that's done such familiar shows as "Cats" and "Annie" this season, the feeling of not having any idea what to expect is a definite change of pace.

 The show starts out like a typical Christmas variety show, complete with overly-enthusiastic hosts Katherine and Alan, comically played by Lindsay Mauck (who is underused in this production) and Tim Moudy. It's not long before the exuberant show derails, as the show-within-a-show's director, Devlin Powers (Patrick Hunt O'Hara), blows up at Katherine and sends everyone home, including his long-suffering brother Marcus (Paul Goodman). Not only does Devlin have no Christmas spirit, he's also sick to death of musical theater -- and thus begins his "Christmas Carol"-esque journey, complete with ghosts, time travel and  Bob Fosse.

A non-traditional set of Three Kings.
The NCT knows it draws lovers of musical theater, and almost all of the show's comedy references Broadway musicals. In that way, this is not a one-size-fits-all Christmas musical. It's for theater people, including die-hard fans. The Three Kings (also the ghosts of Christmas Past) are Don Quixote (Paul Goodman), the King of Siam (Andre Dion Wills) and "Fiddler on the Roof's" Teyve (Dave Snyder). Audrey III from "Little Shop of Horrors" even makes an appearance. It's more focused than it sounds, but some scenes work better than others. Tommy (Dan Sanchez) and Alan's rendition of "Baby It's Cold Outside" would have felt edgier if TV's "Glee" hadn't done a male duet version of it last Christmas, but Candlelight's version does have its own unexpected twist. And while some numbers, such as the Chanukah medley, seem to come out of nowhere, all of the musical numbers are well done. Standouts include "Shall We Dance" with young Zach Pennington and Jamieson O'Brien; "There's a Christmas Song for Every Situation" with Kaylan Wetzel Acon; and a very moving "Auld Lang Syne."

The often self-deprecating show pokes fun of beloved Broadway shows, but, of course, it's all in good fun. Just as it ultimately celebrates "that barn in Delaware," it also loves musical theater in a way only those who have made it their lives can.

"A Very Candlelight Christmas" runs through December 23; The 2012 Season starts up on January 27 with "Miss Saigon."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chapel Street Players present Beauty Queen of Leenane

Beauty Queen of Leenane is a neat and tight play by Martin McDonaugh, a child of Irish parents born in London where his family had emigrated just as the families of his Leenane must do in the 1989 setting. The characters he presents are also quite finely drawn.

Maureen, played with great energy by Kerry Kristine McElrone, is forty and feels as if life has passed her by. She is the youngest of three and the only maiden sister who, of course, got stuck with the harridan mother, Mag. Mary Catherine Kelley’s Mag was comic and tragic, following the intricate web that so many of us have in our relationships. She is sometimes funny and attractive and sometimes so aggravating that I was tempted to say, “Stop it” from the audience. The two actresses adroitly tossed off their alternating sweet and sours until it was hard to tell who was good, honest and true and who was a conniver.

Enter neighbor Ray Dooley, the kind of guy who is always friendly but ever-so-slightly annoying, who comes over and you immediately wish him gone. Patrick Cataract gives him a certain innocence and gentle appeal and you wonder why he seemed to be a fly on the wall to our lonely but attractive Maureen.

Maureen sets her sites on Ray’s older brother Pato, a warm and congenial guy played by David C. Hastings. Pato was not sure if Maureen’s pursuit of him was because she loves him or because she wanted to aggravate her mother. His letter to Maureen is a wonderful palette of his emotions and doubts and he delivered it in a monologue that deserved a standing ovation. (Unfortunately, our audience was terribly quiet on Friday, but it didn’t hurt the play’s quality).

The drama unfolds with revelations from everyone – with each of the characters unfolding those details they had so carefully kept under their hats during the first half of the play. Credit to McDonaugh for such a great script and for the actors and director Sean Kelly for making sure they didn’t reveal too much too soon. The next performances are November 12, 17, 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Street Players on Chapel Street in Newark.


Friday, November 11, 2011

A Fresh Look at Howard Pyle at DAM

The Buccaneer Was a
Picturesque Fellow, 1905
Though it may be hard to believe for those of us who've grown up visiting the Delaware Art Museum, Howard Pyle isn't a Rembrandt-level superstar outside of the Delaware Valley. Pyle may no longer be a household name to the rest of the world, but his impact on modern culture extends far beyond the walls of 2301 Kentmere Parkway.

Take pirates, for example -- few images are as iconic in this century as the Pirates of the Carribean-style swashbucklers. The image we have of the pirates of legend doesn't come from actual-time paintings or photographs; real pirates simply weren't captured that way. It was Pyle who created the image (which directly influenced the style of Disney's Captain Jack Sparrow), using research from old books mixed with his own vision based on the text he was illustrating.

This method of taking existing material and turning it into something decidedly his own is at the heart of Howard Pyle: American Masters Rediscovered, the new special exhibition celebrating both the upcoming 100th Anniversary of the Delaware Art Museum and the centenary of Pyle's death.

Away they rode with clashing hoofs
and ringing armor, 1888
If you've spent a lot of time at the Art Museum, you're probably intimately familiar with the paintings in the Pyle collection (I have a "Flying Dutchman" magnet on my refrigerator -- doesn't everyone?). If you think you've seen it all, you may be right -- but you haven't seen it like this. Rediscovered shows Pyle's work in a new way, interspersed with pieces by his contemporaries such as Thomas Eakins, Jean-Leon Gérôme and Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier, from whom he took inspiration to create his varying illustrative styles that captured the Middle Ages, Fairy Tales and Fantasy, and historical America. The guest pieces are displayed on gold panels to to set them apart from Pyle's work. Don't skip the descriptions next each painting, especially if you think you know everything about the work -- you don't.

 Howard Pyle: American Masters Rediscovered runs from November 12 to March 4, 2012. Also be sure to tour the newly-redesigned illustration galleries -- with much of the Pyle collection relocated for the retrospective, rarely-seen pieces from the museum's collection are on display.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pick of the November Art Loop

By Owen Napier, Jr.
Owen Napier, Jr.  is not your ordinary photographer and printmaker.  A bookbinder by trade, Napier practices the Japanese art of three dimensional decoupage called papier tole. This gives his photographs a startling layered and textured effect.  Napier was gracious to all the visitors who came to the Christina Cultural Art Center for the November Art Loop,  going out of his way to greet them and explain how he puts the intricate layers together to make his work.  One photograph was on display as a one dimensional work just above its companion papier tole image- showing the viewer the startling difference in texture and realism. (MD)

By Brian Marshall
Robots have invaded Poppycock Tattoo at 8th and Orange... again! Found object artist Brian Marshall's whimsy-cool Adopt-a-Robots surrounded the floor, from tiny shampoo bottle 'bots to large metal cowboys and knights, and everything in between. If you haven't come across Adopt-a-Robots before, they must be seen to be believed. Ordinary household (and sometimes industrial) objects are bound together to create artificial humanoids with amazing personality. In addition to the sculptures, the gallery featured a selection of robot-themed paintings, drawings and photomanipulations by Tina Marabito, Pat Higgins, Baron Von Reign, Dave Mele, Eric Hendrickson and 3EYES, plus tunes spun by DJ Zip. (HQ)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

OperaDelaware opens with Magic Flute

Although they had produced Mozart’s Magic Flute in the recent past, OperaDelaware put a new spin on this latest production. They started in an 18th Century art museum and had Prince Tamino wake up in the 1950s. This made way for some silliness which was fun and still in keeping with the comic intent of the master who created it.

Alok Kumar played Tamino with the same strength and vigor he had given to Alfredo Germont in last year’s La Traviata. His very strong voice and thorough preparation for the role made his character believable in spite of the extremes to which the opera goes to promote the principles of the Masons.

The three ladies of the Queen of the Night (Veronica Chapman-Smith, Melody Wilson and Charlotte Paulsen) stole the show for me with their close harmony, perfectly paced singing and gestures. Their comic romps were hilarious and kept everyone laughing.

The ladies were perfect foils for Papageno, brilliantly played by Sean Anderson. Anderson is not only an excellent singer, but also a great comic. He actually played harmonica rather than letting the orchestra dub his miming, and this bolstered the effect of his comic role. His voice blended seamlessly in his duet with Pamina (Susan Nelson) and his comic verve provided a vector for her to show her comic side, too.

Susan Nelson has a beautiful and well-trained voice and was able to convey a wide gamut of emotion in her singing and her acting. She has control, expression and strength enough to come through strong and clear in her duets with Tamino, the musical culmination of the show.

A fun and polished performance supported by an excellent orchestra was made all the more immediate to me by Stefan Kozinksi and Nicolas Muni’s skillfully wrought English translation of Emanuel Schikander’s original German. The next performances are Friday, November 4 and Saturday, November 5 at 7:30 at the Grand Opera House.