Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jazz Fest Recap

By Chuck Holdeman, Guest Blogger
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, music for film, and music for educational purposes. www.chuckholdeman.com

I caught two notable events on the last day of this summer's Clifford Brown Jazz Festival in Wilmington.  Having a daughter and her son in tow, we all went for a delightfully free visit to Wilmington's impressive "new" Queen Theatre for the 1:00pm show by JazzReach performing Hangin' with the Giants, aimed at children from Kindergarten to 4th Grade.  I speculated with my grandson Carl about what kind of giants we might encounter, but indeed these were Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk. (What!! no John Coltrane?? ...Well, he was mentioned.) 

These giants were portrayed by cartoon characters, appearing on a movie screen over the heads of the six musicians, their well-mimicked speaking voices timed via PowerPoint, which only crashed once (later to resume).  Duke Ellington periodically consumed various flavored ice-cream cones.  It was explained: "He was so cool he was ice-cold; he could even keep ice cream in his pockets."  The MC was the vocalist of the sextet; he had a cue-book to keep him on script, although there were amusing incidents of improvisation---he really made hay when the PowerPoint projection accidentally froze.  In almost every tune---the order was the chronology of the composer/giants---there was audience participation.  Our MC strolled through the audience with his cordless mic, giving almost everyone, parent and child alike, a chance to respond with, for example, "salt peanuts, salt peanuts." It was an excellent band with two saxes, the vocally astute MC plus piano, bass and drums.  The JazzReach website describes a Brooklyn-based ensemble with a floating personnel list.

Saturday evening, we caught the Rufus Reid set.  We enjoyed it, but I could not help wondering if much of the material was better suited to an intimate club rather than an heavily amplified, crowded outdoor setting.  (Although, it was great to see Rodney Square absolutely full of enthusiasts on a lovely evening with plenty of tempting good [and also junk] food for sale!)  Rufus is a bass player from north Jersey, an accomplished and polished veteran, and we heard plenty of bass solos, mellow stuff.  The last tune in the set was quite memorable; an intense, up-tempo tune with a very long angular head, brilliantly manipulated by his sax, trumpet and rhythm section.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chapel Street Actor wins National Competition

DEartsinfo congratulates Chapel Street Players and Patrick Cathcart.

Patrick Cathcart won the top prize for lead actor in the American Association of Community Theatre competition. Cathcart played Edward Albee's crazy character, Jerry, who both horrifies and
fascinates Peter, the quiet businessman played by Brian Turner.

The one-act was directed by Andrew Mitchell for Chapel Street Players and won the Delaware State competition and then the Eastern States Theatre Association festival before taking the show to the national level.

This was Delaware's first national theatre prize!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ragtime Rages in Wilmo

By Mara Goodman, PR Intern, Arts in Media
If you haven’t seen the Delaware All-State Theatre’s (DAST’s) production of Ragtime, you are missing a truly impressive performance happening right here in downtown Wilmington. It is the same company that produced such wonderful shows as Urinetown and West Side Story, although this time we’re not sent to a strange town where no one can pee or travel to 1950s-era Puerto Rican New York City. Ragtime instead features the story of three groups in America at the turn of the 19th Century: the WASP-y family in New Rochelle, the Jewish immigrant with hopes of “dolls, dresses and apple pie” for his daughter, and the Harlem musician’s struggle for racial equality in the face in injustice.

Covering three very different ethnic groups, the cast of Ragtime was huge. With all these students on stage, it was difficult for full-cast numbers to avoid sloppiness, but it was instead the individual numbers that let the audience quickly forget the youth of the actors. Colleen Scott’s beautiful performance of Your Daddy’s Son surely sent chills throughout the entire audience as she sat and whimpered, cast in a dark shadow. Her voice was stunning, and her acting evoked the most sincere emotion. 

Culturally, this show will find most people looking back to their roots. As a Jew in the audience, I personally loved Ben Walker’s impressive performance of Tateh—with his bushy beard and Yiddish slang—and was entertained by his use of the classic Fiddler On the Roof arm swing. The Harlem Chorus’s Ragtime beats stole the show—looking wonderful in their first number wearing orange and pink dresses—I longed to hop on stage and dance with them. And Tatiana Lofton’s rousing performance at the funeral scene was spectacular; she had a phenomenal voice not to be missed.

And while this show was centered on the talent of these students, the costumes were spot-on for every character and the pit orchestra excellent. The set was solid at times—I was particularly fond of the train station set—though I wasn’t a fan of all the background images and would have rather have used my own imagination to envision the characters in settings.  

If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, definitely check out Ragtime. This musical captures a realistic range of human experiences, quickly moving from funny, sexy scenes to heartbreaking solos and back again. And while the first act may seem to last forever, the second act comes back with a bang (literally—a gunshot) so don’t give in to sleep too fast.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Good Times at Shady Grove Music Fest

Brad Turner of 3EYES. Photo: Joe del Tufo

A bit of rain couldn't slow things down at the Shady Grove Music Fest on Saturday -- rather than head for the hills (and their dry cars), partiers barely blinked an eye. After all, bailing out would mean missing out on some of the day's most anticipated bands, New Sweden and Bullbuckers, who rounded out the festival's roster of ten main stage bands, acoustic performances on the Moonlight stage and live graffiti art by Brad Turner of 3EYES.

The early part of the day featured The Joe Trainor Trio, Sharon Sable and E. Shawn Qaissuanee, Smoke Signals and Frequency Bender. As the afternoon warmed up under cloudy skies (nice, actually -- the grove is shady, but without the full summer sun in the sky, the day was a refreshing change from the recent heat waves), local youth Local Chaos took the stage to a supportive crowd as they honed their skills with songs by Motley Crue and the White Stripes, among others.

I especially enjoyed Newark's Little Invisibles, fronted by the lovely Dina Degnars on piano and vocals. Shades of Within Temptation, but singularly original. And, with an audience-participation hula hoop interlude, a lot of fun, too.
Little Invisibles. Photo: Joe del Tufo

A little drizzle started to fall during Deadbeatz, Inc's politically charged set, and by the time Villains Like You took the stage, the rain was really coming down -- and the crowd was starting to dance. Nothing like an outdoor music festival to get your body moving it the rain, right?

And through it all, 3EYES created a piece of his distinctive, hand-and-stencil graffiti art, while DJ Zip kept the beat going between bands.

You'll have to wait until next year to hang at another Shady Grove Music Fest, but the Arden Concert Gild offers live original music throughout the year -- like them of Facebook to keep up with the schedule.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Monster Mash-Up on Chapel Street

By Mara Goodman, PR Intern, Arts in Media
Feeling silly?  In the mood to shed a layer of skin and let out your inner monster?  Then Chapel Street Players' production of House of Frankenstein by Martin Downing (directed by Scott F. Mason) would be your best bet for entertainment this weekend! Vampires, werewolves, and other freaks roam the stage of this whimsical play, as each one visits Dr. Frankenstein’s castle in an effort to "normalize" themselves.  But how does one stop sucking blood and turning into a furry, raging canine when the clock strikes midnight?  While it seems that our friendly, monster-making scientist from Mary Shelley’s dark piece could have the answer, he may have lost his flair since his last experiment.

And don’t let the title scare you—this show is humorous. Watching a group of monsters that wish to escape their freakiness and come to the freakiest place is an automatic, ironic, recipe for disaster. Catastrophe is inevitable and quite comical as Frau Lurker warns everyone who dares that “those who enter Castle Frankenstein never leave.” And the notion of danger is challenged by humor as the character deemed Phantom of the Operaor POOwarns of his powers, yet demonstrates cliché magic tricks, pulling a never-ending bandana, a rabbit, and flowers out of his shirt sleeve. 

This show does have its charm. It's the little surprises that made it lovable: the kooky music of Bewitched, Monster Mash, and The Aadams Family that rang in the background and the pop-culture references to Facebook, Brad Pitt, and Justin Bieber reminded us that even vampires love their access to the Internet.  My favorites were the vampires, who take turns flipping each other off halfway through the second act, and whose French accents make them “wampires” instead of “vampires.”

And, did I mention that the show was done completely in black and white? Perhaps the most impressive parts of this production were the set and costumes, all doused in cobwebs and candles, leaving traces of scientific failure all around the room. There wasn't one part of this performance that wasn’t done up completely.  Harry Talbots, the werewolf, was covered in leather head to toes, and Igor, a resident of Frankenstein’s castle, stood hunchback the full two hours…if that’s not commitment to a role, then what is?

So, if you’re trying to figure out what to do on Friday the 17th, or Saturday the 18th, this would definitely be a fun show to check out. Don’t expect anything sober or serious, just lighthearted fun and freakiness!