Saturday, April 30, 2011

OperaDelaware’s Widow will make YOU merry

Maestro Steven Mosteller has the ability to conduct with authority yet still allow his soloists to milk the lovely Franz Lehar melodies for all they are worth. Eliezer Gutman’s fluid and gypsy-like lilting phrases were perfect for the schmaltzy songs of Lehar’s Merry Widow.

Laura Pedersen (as the Merry Widow) is svelte and lithe and wore delicious dresses designed by Lorraine Anderson, each one with a short train, which Pedersen gracefully lifted to the crook of her elbow to be whirled around the floor by Daniel Neer (Count Danilo). Their flawless dancing and strong singing give them that electricity that makes the audience believe in their love “spark”.

The operetta which premiered in Vienna in 1905 is a fluffy and hilarious story based on a comedy by Henri Meilhac. The story pits the Paris embassy staff of an impoverished country against French roués who would love to marry the country’s most wealthy widow. Paris and France are outrageously mocked to great comic effect -- it seemed Maurice Chevalier would come on stage any moment to defend his honor or at least to greet Dodo, Clo-Clo, Lolo, Frou Frou, Margot or Jou Jou.

The set, designed by Cynthia Du Pont Tobias, is a fantasy of Viennese Secession but drawn in more of an Art Nouveau style – with a brick-walled garden turned miraculously into a Parisian café and stage for the can-can girls by Robert Parker and his stagewrights.

The opera has creative choreography by Barbara Winchester who mixes the artists of the First State Ballet Theatre into the ballroom dancing of the rest of the cast with great success.

You can’t help but be uplifted by this production, beautifully coordinated by OperaDelaware Executive Director Leland Kimball! Performances May 1, 6 and 7, 2011.


Monday, April 25, 2011

State Poet Laureate at Newark Free Library

She breezes in, greets everyone by a nod, apologizes for being late and engages us right away by explaining that she has just been working on a new poem and would like to read it to us.

JoAnn Balingit exudes warmth as she reads her latest poem about Herring Point –one of many poems inspired by her walks around Delaware. ‘I rename it for my life because we all fall down’ is a line that keeps ringing through my head.

She reads eleven of her poems and she notices her works are lighting sparks in her listeners. She calmly lets them interrupt with questions. She is focused on her listeners.

One of her poems was written for Delaware’s 50th Governor’s Prayer Breakfast in April 2010. The Gulf oil spill had just occurred and Ms. Balingit scrapped her other drafts to write Prayer for the Gulf, a very moving verse tribute.

Her poem Circus, which recounts a dream about her late mother, reassures anyone who has to admit that the late loved one is no longer present.

After her reading, she invites people to read their own poems. Many have fairly polished works and afterwards we all chat like old friends.

When she was first appointed as Delaware’s 16th poet laureate in May 2008 she said, “I want to convince as many people as possible to give poetry a chance – to see if they’re willing to be wooed or not.” Many are willing.

Keep checking your library schedule as Ms. Balingit will start regular poetry readings in the New Castle County Public Libraries.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof heats up Chapel Street

Pulling off a Tennessee Williams play about southern social mores in the 1950s wasn’t easy in the 1950s, but doing it in 2011, on the 56th anniversary of the play’s first production, is quite a feat.

Jamie Cunningham is most ambitious in trying to portray a culture not his own with its intricate balance of family power, sexuality and avarice in the mid-twentieth century South. His directing skills are evident in his advice to Francesca Vavala who played the toughest role of Margaret. She keeps up her southern accent and quiet tones in character – through the lion’s share of the first act while her husband, Brick – played with practiced aloofness by Jim Burns - sips his liquor and tried to numb himself to her banter and pleas.

Big Daddy (Raymond Harrington) and Big Mamma (Judith A. David – whom you would recognize in her street clothes as the perennial Chapel Street volunteer) are brash and bigger than life as patriarch and matriarch ruling over the huge plantation and their children.

And a delightful discovery for me was the perfect southern gentleman that Andrew Mitchell conjured up as Gooper, the older son of the family. He was cool, calm and conniving -- quietly leading his wife and brood of no-neck monsters --ably played by five children -- of whom Steve Ashby (Buster) did a great job with what Tennessee Williams had written as Dixie’s lines in the play.

By the way, Mitchell’s direction of Zoo Story is the winner of the ESTA competition and will be going to national competition.

Shows April 22 – May 7, 2011.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Oh No They Didn't! The Full Monty at NCT

Photo: Marilyn Scanlon
The minute the lights go down for the New Candlelight Theater's production of The Full Monty, you're transported from the big barn in Ardentown to a nightckub in Buffalo -- and it's Ladies' Night. Rarely does the line between watching a play and actually experiencing what's happening in the play disappear so quickly and completely.

Most of The Full Monty, directed by NCT's Producing Artistic Director, Chris Alberts, doesn't take place on the nightclub stage, but those scenes are no less engaging. Based on the popular 1997 British film of the same name, the musical follows a group of out-of-work steel workers desperate to make ends meet, who turn to stripping -- one night only -- in the hopes of making $50,000. The stakes are high: Jerry (Paul Goodman) is behind in child support payments, and could lose joint custody of his son (Timmy Bradford); Dave (David T. Snyder) feels so inadequate that his marriage to Georgie (Erienne Poole) is crumbling; Harold (Patrick O'Hara) has been pretending go to work as a foreman every day for months while his wife (Erica Scanlon Harr) enjoys a carefree middle class lifestyle; and Malcolm (Peter Briccotto) had given up on life altogether. They join together and recruit Ethan (Chris Brown) and Horse (Andre Dion Wills), who each add certain physical attributes, as well as some great chemistry, to the act, which comes to be called "Hot Metal."

Photo: Marilyn Scanlon
Despite some dark themes, The Full Monty is a full-on comedy. And very good comedy, at that. Composer/Lyricist David Yazbeck doesn't hold back. Sometimes it's racy  (it's a show about male stripping, after all), and sometimes it's dark, as with the number "Big Ass Rock," where Jerry and Dave assure the suicidal Malcolm that they're true friends who would kill him in any number of ways if he asked -- a service that was no longer needed once Malcolm realized he had true friends. There is sweet romance; I won't give all of the romance away for those who haven't seen the movie, but it's all done exceptionally well. The show has its share of poignant moments between laughs.

The cast fit their roles to a T, without exception. Scene stealers included Erica Scanlon Harr (is there ever a show she doesn't steal?) with "You Gotta Love That Man," Andre Dion Wills with "Big Black Man," Peter Briccotto in "Big Ass Rock," and Susan Dewey as Hot Metal's practice pianist and showbiz vet, Jeanette.

Ultimately, we are returned to the nightclub, and Hot Metal's big night. It's a wild show you won't soon forget.

The Full Monty runs through May 22, with special Ladies' Discount Nights on April 15 and 29. This is an adult show -- no one under 17 is permitted. For tickets, click here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

April's Colorful Art Loop

This month, The Delaware Center for Horticulture features Taken by Trees, an exhibit of watercolors by Barbara Seymour. Stunningly vivid, the works range from portraits of trees in her neighborhood to the elegant Swarthmore College (Seymour’s alma mater) campus. She creates surprisingly bold colors, depth and textures with watercolors and ink. A centerpiece of the exhibit, Angel Oak (pictured) embraces its audience with its majestic poetry. Seymour’s love of nature sings out from the paintings. See

At DCAD the Annual Continuing Education exhibit is in full swing. Both students and teachers are showcased. Donna Cusano, Beginning Pastels instructor, shows three lovely works. My favorite is Humbled Means, a bird’s eye view of houses nestled in the countryside. Cusano almost makes brush strokes with the pastels, evoking hypnotic landscapes. Also notable are the photographs of Nick Pulos, a student from the Macro Photography class. His close-up shot of his son’s eyelashes is dramatic and riveting. See and

At the New Wilmington Art Association I had the pleasure of talking to Dan Haddigan. His untitled work is a structure designed to resemble concrete and emit smoke. He explained he is fascinated with futility: the concrete is supposed to be impenetrable, yet the smoke manages to waft through. Underneath, he has installed a smoke machine. Haddigan’s piece is interesting and well-executed. Like my other favorite artists participating in the Wilmington Art Loop, he invites his viewers to wonder and perhaps ponder, too. See

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mastersingers of Wilmington Present Ein Deutsches Requiem

On Saturday, April 2, at 7:30, David Schelat and his Mastersingers present Johannes Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, in a program which includes other German anthems by Eighteenth and Nineteenth century composers for a lush, romantic evening.

The first part of the concert has some short a capella pieces which show off the great control and uniform harmony David Schelat has achieved with his 34-member chorale.

The Frohlocket, ihr Volker auf Erden by Felix Mendelssohn has such a perfect compositional structure that the voices resound and return in the marvelous stone environment of the First and Central Presbyterian Church sanctuary. The Mastersingers’ spirited rendition makes this piece exciting and moving.

The lyrics of Talismane, Opus 141, Number 4 – a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe are inescapably gripping. “The East is God’s, the West is God’s. Northern and southern lands rest in the peace of his hands.” The chorus sings these words with such conviction that it grabs the listener by the ears.

The pièce de résistance is the wonderful requiem, accompanied on the piano by Lotus Cheng and Hiroko Yamazaki in the four-hand arrangement by Brahms. Both the small chorus and the pianists have no trouble creating a build-up of glorious sound that fills the sanctuary. Soloists Eileen Clark, soprano and Edward Albert, baritone have wonderfully strong voices that ring out above the chorus with ease.

If you have never heard the Brahms Requiem, this intimate space and small ensemble provides great opportunity to feel as if you are right in the middle of the music.