Monday, October 31, 2011

This Play's a Walk in the Park

If you're feeling nostalgic for the 1960s, a time when New York City studio apartment rentals were a mere $125.00 per month, then head to the Wilmington Drama League for Neil Simon's comedy Barefoot in the Park!

My first introduction to Barefoot in the Park was in college when I watched the film starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. I fell in love with the charming film, and when the Broadway revival opened in 2006, I made my way up to the city to see it.  The comedy, set in New York City circa mid-1960s, is about newlyweds---Corie is a fun-loving young housewife and Paul is a practical lawyer. After spending a six-day honeymoon at the famed New York Plaza Hotel, they have now moved into their studio apartment, which happens to be on the sixth floor of a building without an elevator. During the course of the play, we meet Corie's proper but doting mother Ethel and the couple's eccentric neighbor Victor, who Corie befriends.

The eternal optimist, Corie decides to host a small party in hopes of setting up her widowed mother with Victor. The night culminates with the foursome dining in an exotic restaurant in Staten Island, a fight between the newlyweds, and Ethel never making it home to New Jersey. I'm not going to reveal the ending, but I'll give you a hint---it's a Neil Simon comedy.

Natalie Gaspari shines as the lovable Corie, as does Jack Jordan in the role of Victor. Both characters, along with another famous theater character-Auntie Mame-have been my heroes with their philosophies of "Live, enjoy life, and experience everything!"  Shawn Kline gives a fantastic performance as Paul, a person who finds walking "barefoot in the park" a ridiculous act.  Catherine Ireland as Ethel steals every scene she's in! I also must give a shout out to Mark Ladd, who delivered some very funny lines as the telephone repairman, who has to climb up the six flights of steps to install the couple's new line.

Overall, Barefoot in the Park is not a groundbreaking piece and it won't change your life, but it will entertain you.  It fits in perfectly with the current cultural resurgence of the 1960s---think Mad Men, Pan-Am, and The Playboy Club. They all recall a time when America was innocent and flirty; maybe a time we need to relive now more than ever?


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Perky Opening for Mėlomanie

Many changes were made for Mėlomanie this year: a new violinist, performances at new venues, new repertory and a new advertising idea!

The October 29 season opening at Grace United Methodist Church was a lively production of new and old music – with the startling newness of Georg Philipp Telemann’s Paris Quartet No. 5 in A Major, TWV 43:A3 – which the artists split to play half before and half after the intermission. Two composers sitting beside me in the audience were marveling at how much more daring and even classical George Philipp Telemann (1681-1770) can be in his gallant style than his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and I think they were quite right. The Telemann was zippy, rhythmically unusual and a great vehicle to show off the new member of the group, violinist Christof Richter, whom many in the audience have appreciated from his former appearances with Mėlomanie.

The Giuseppe Tartini Sonata in G Minor (The Devil’s Trill) was a more sedate piece which provided a bridge to Ingrid Arauco’s Silver (Variation diabellique) for solo flute which Arauco had composed for the 25th anniversary of Network for New Music. With the cold outside, snowflakes falling, the silvery tones of Kimberly Reighley’s modern flute made just the right atmosphere for a cold winter’s night. The shimmery sounds of Arauco’s flowing melodies filled the sanctuary with warm light.

Mark Rimple’s Sonata Circumdederunt me had an entirely different accent – of modernist tendencies and humor interspersed with a flash of technical virtuosity from Donna Fournier on the viola da gamba. The harpsichord accompaniment helped ground the harmonic base of the exploratory composition.

The second half of the concert started with the second half of the Telemann, which seemed almost as new as the 21st Century compositions we had just heard. Richter and Reighley led the merry chase of Telemann’s romp which was certainly a highlight. The concert ended with another 21st Century work, a tango in three movements by Christopher Calliendo.

The audience was given these musical treats plus a perk – a gift of a special blend of Pike Creek Coffee blended for Mėlomanie, named "Downtown Wilmo Blend" and branded with great photos of the group.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Art & Civil Unions: A Terrific Marriage

To celebrate the January 1 implementation of Delaware’s same sex civil union law, engaged lesbian, gay and transgender couples are invited to take part in ONE LOVE on Saturday, January 7, 2012, at 7:00pm at the Delaware Art Museum.  ONE LOVE is a series of activities that culminates in a collective same sex civil union ceremony. As part of ONE LOVE, the guests of each couple will be able to share in the joy of not just one, but multiple, unions.

Says event co-organizer Nikki Brennan of Lovely Girls Events, “Many LGBT couples and their loved ones have waited years to enjoy a ceremony in Delaware, and they shouldn’t have to wait one more day…nor settle for a courthouse ceremony. For those anxious to wed, I wanted it to be soon, and I wanted it to be fabulous!”

The Delaware Art Museum was delighted to help make this event a reality. “Our stunning galleries and spaces are perfect settings for a wedding. We’re thrilled that ONE LOVE will highlight the creative ways that the Museum can make any big day special,” Says Molly Keresztury, Manager of Marketing & Public Relations at the Museum.

To take part in the ONE LOVE Group Civil Union Ceremony, couples must: RSVP by December 1; acquire a Delaware Civil Union license between January 2 and January 6; and show proof of licensing upon arrival.  Nondenominational officiants and staging areas are provided for each ceremony, as well as music, décor, hors d’oeuvres, and cake.  Couples are encouraged to bring items such as prewritten vows, unity candles, ring pillows, cake cutters, and bouquets or boutonnieres for a personal touch.

A complimentary group toast will take place, and a cash bar will be available. Guests will enjoy passed hors d’oeuvres and a DJ.  BG Productions will photograph the event, and the Wilmington Photo Booth Co. will also be on site with a photo booth. 

In addition, Brennan and her event partners devised the ONE LOVE Couple Contest to add to the excitement of the collective ceremony.  Among the couples taking part in the group ceremony will be three couples who have entered and won the contest.  This Contest awards three prizes to contestants—one to a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a transgender couple.  Entrants should describe in 100 words or less, “what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, and what makes you unique as a couple.” Entries can be submitted to by November 3, 2011, at Noon EST.  The email should include the names of the couple, a phone number and email address. Winners will be announced on November 5.  The prize packages include a $400 engagement photo/video session; one grand prize will also provide a complimentary floral order and spa or beauty treatment on the day of the ONE LOVE event.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

DSO thanks subscribers at Dickinson

On Tuesday, October 25, the Delaware Symphony played at John Dickinson High School, giving their subscribers a thank you concert and joining forces to promote the fantastic Kimball Organ.

The concert allowed the DSO to give yet another performance (the last one was in the 1980s in Washington, DC) of the Saint Saens Symphony No. 3 in C minor, often referred to as the organ symphony. They also played Fratres by Arvo Pǟrt and a fairly unusual piece by Ottorino Respighi called Church Windows (Vetrate di chiesa) which he refashioned from an earlier piano composition he called Tre Preludi sopra melodie gregoriane. For Church windows, Respighi added a movement and scored it for full symphony, pipe organ and tam-tam.

Since it is rare to have a good venue with a full pipe organ which can accommodate a full symphony as well, this performance at Dickinson was a rare treat.


Monday, October 24, 2011

DTC Opens Season with "All My Sons"

By Blogger Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III
After surviving the brutal yet extremely funny production of August: Osage County at the Arden Theatre Company (Philadelphia) yesterday, I was ready for a wholesome classic play by Arthur Miller. My friend Katt and I took a jaunt to the Delaware Theatre Company to see the playwright's family drama set in 1947, All My Sons (the first production of DTC's 2011-2012 season). Although August: Osage County premiered in 2007, 60 years after the premiere of Miller's play, both productions dealt with the same theme—dysfunctional families. (Apparently nothing has changed over the years.)

Cast (from left) P.J. Benjamin as Joe Keller, Robert Eli as Chris Keller,
Jered McLenigan as George Deever, and
Anne-Marie Cusson as Kate Keller. Photo credit: Matt Urban.

Set in post–World War II, All My Sons is the story of successful business owner Joe Keller, who grew up poor and undereducated, and his family. Joe is the kind of guy who will do anything to keep his family happy and living in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed, regardless of the consequences. Joe's wife, Kate, still holds hope that their eldest son, missing-in-action for three years, will come home. Their younger, more realistic son, Chris, has returned home from the war and now works for his father. The play begins the morning after a harsh storm as the family is preparing for a visit from their elder son's widow. Once she arrives, the layers of family guilt and unethical practices begin to unravel, with help from the family's neighbors.

The cast, directed by David Stradley, found the soul of the play and brought their grueling characters to life. P.J. Benjamin, in particular, gave an award-worthy performance as a loving father with a secret—a complex role perfectly executed. He and his colleagues performed on a set that evoked the feeling of living in a 1940s middle-class American “anytown”. The cast was met with a standing ovation, which was also to recognize everyone involved with this timeless play. I'm sure this cast will see a standing room at the end of every performance!

Driving home, Katt and I contemplated how the theme of the play still rings true today. How many mothers today are hoping their sons and daughters in the current war will come home? How many businessmen are making unethical decisions based on money rather than the greater good?

And, how many families are unable to face their problems and live "normal" lives? Based on these plays and the stories on the nightly news…perhaps not many….oy vey!


Monday, October 10, 2011

It Must Be October! The Coffin Ball at Talleyville Frame Shoppe

Photo: Ophelia von Gray
While most of the attention on First Fridays is focused on downtown Wilmington, it's always worth the short drive up Concord Pike to the Talleyville Frame Shoppe & Gallery -- especially this time of year, when horror-themed art takes center stage. This year, artists-slash-shop owners Ric and Wendy Frane focused on a coffin theme for contributing artists and, appropriately, named the opening event The Coffin Ball.

Each artist started with the same canvas: a flat toe-pincher coffin shape. Other than the base, there were no limits: Pat Higgins used his as a panels for comic-style pieces; Paul Romano created a carved 3D piece; Kristen Margiotta painted an upside-down bat in her distinctive big-eyes style; Adam Cruz, Ric Frane and Leila Marvel explored dark femininity with paint; Baron Von Reign utilized digital photography; and Ophelia von Gray applied her soft sculpture "Guten Monster" art into dimensional, coffin-shaped wall art. Several of the artists went with a bit of a Dia de Los Muertos theme, including Poppycock Tattoo c-owner Tina Marabito's Our Lady of Guadalupe, Poppycock tattoo artist Dave Mele's skeleton fortune teller and Wendy and Ric Frane's dead bride and groom pieces. Other themes, such as Tina Imel's "Death of the USPS" and Higgins' "Greed" made social statements. As a whole, the collection represents a spectrum of Delaware artists with a dark side, all of them highly talented.

L-R: Pat Higgins, Adam Cruz, Ophelia von Gray, Kristen Margiotta, Leila Marvel, Wendy Frane, Ric Frane.

The Coffin Ball itself was more than a gallery opening, it was also a rock 'n roll masquerade party featuring DJ Shadylady and live music by -- who else? -- Coffin Fly, who rocked it as usual with their twisted brand of rockabilly.

Photo: Kristen Margiotta

The Coffin Ball artwork will be on display through October at the Talleyville Frame Shoppe and Gallery at 3626 Silverside Road (between the PNC bank and the Chuck E Cheese).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Les Six

The Delaware Symphony champagne series at the Hotel DuPont Gold Ballroom October 4 was a whirling delight of early twentieth century compositions. The program featured DSO woodwind principals and principal French horn in five solos and a grand finale sextet.

Pianist Lura Johnson, recently named principal piano to the DSO, was a powerhouse – playing every one of the quite difficult pieces and bonding extremely well with all five soloists. William Short was able to show his marvelous tone in both high and low registers in Henri Dutilleux’s Sarabande et cortege for bassoon and piano. (Having heard him play in Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra in both his final Curtis concert and the recent DSO opening, his smooth sound and control was no surprise.)

Charles Salinger’s arrangement of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei for clarinet was a more somber and subtle piece, allowing Salinger to show his amazing control and dynamic gradations in a narrow range of sound. Karen Schubert’s horn sound in Paul Dukas’ Villanelle for horn and piano had the volume needed in that room to stand against the full sound of the grand piano’s open lid and Johnson’s strong attacks.

Jeff O’Donnell’s delicate oboe sound (which had been sorely missed during his year-long hiatus from the DSO) and Kimberly Reighley’s flute were both high enough to be in an almost different sound zone from the piano and this enhanced the effect of each performance, allowing their control and technical brilliance to be clearly heard.

And the Poulenc sextet was one of those moments in musical performances where everything seemed to click among the six musicians – the rollicking music resounded in the ballroom – and here is where the strength of Johnson’s piano playing really showed. What other pianist could have prepared that many notes for a single evening’s concert and still play with energy and gusto up to the very last note?


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Newest Blogger Lives It Up at "The Life"

Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III is the newest blogger at Delaware Arts Info! We welcome him aboard and hope you enjoy his first installment!

The Wilmington Drama League opened its 2011–12 season with the Cy Coleman Broadway musical, The Life. The show chronicles the trials and tribulations of prostitutes and pimps in New York City the early 1980s—in those days before Disney and chain restaurants reformed 42nd Street and families began visiting the city again.
Watching the production, directed by the incomparable Tina M. Sheing, I realized how much prostitutes and everyday people actually have in common in the workplace.  Sure prostitutes might not have offices like a high-powered lawyer or executive, but they deal with the same pressures — contending with sexual harassment, working long hours, having coffee (or beer) breaks cut short.  In addition, there are the everyday stresses all people confront in their personal lives — balancing careers and relationships, worrying about getting older, wanting to be loved.  I’m sure all people can relate to at least one of these issues.
Although I was thinking about these similarities during the show, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the action on the stage! I was entertained by the show’s R&B and gospel–inspired musical numbers brought to “life” under the music direction of Matt Casarino.  The terrific performers, many in heels, brought dance numbers alive with some Fosse-esque choreography by Jody Anderson.
I must admit I loved listening to the lead prostitutes, best friends Queen (played by Sharon Brown Ruegsegger) and Sonja (played by Rebecca Gallatin), sing duets. By themselves their voices were strong, but combined they soared!  I also loved that Ms. Gallatin’s look was reminiscent of (get ready for a retro reference) Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill.
The Life might have ended its run (closing night was October 2), but WDL is ending their season with another show of similar working girls – The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (May 4-19, 2012)!  And, I must admit I’m looking forward to their upcoming production, Barefoot in the Park (October 28-November 12)…One of my faves!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Passing Strange at Bootless

Stew, the creator/subject of Passing Strange, and collaborator Heidi Rodewald chose just five theater groups in the US to perform the stage version of the show this year; Wilmington's Bootless Artworks was one of them. Still essentially homeless (they are taking up in The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew & Matthew in downtown Wilmington for this show), Bootless continues to show that they're a major force in Delaware theater.

My last Bootless show was The Pillowman, an incredible, and incredibly dark, comic piece put on in an empty outlet store on the Riverfront. Passing Strange is positively light in comparison, but the journey is deep and real.

Directed by Malika Oyetimein and James W. Fuerst, the musical is narrated by Stew (Jerry Rudasill), who introduces his teenage self (Cory Hindorff) and his mother (Cherie Jazman), a comfortably middle class black family in Los Angeles. She drags him to church, where he finds after-hours inspiration from the secretly free-spirited choir director (B.K. Elam) who never left home. His punk band flounders, and, terrified of never moving past his neighborhood, he leaves his mother for Europe -- and the promise of creative freedom, sex and drugs. The farther he gets from home, the farther he gets from himself, until his life is a performance of "passing," gaining acceptance from a group of German radicals by using his non-existent ghetto street cred. Humorous, yes, and also quite poignant. The Narrator was shaped by the choices made by his naive young self, but it wasn't without loss.

Hindorff is a star. And by that I don't just mean the star of this production, which he is, but a star, period. It's what I thought when I saw him in Cats at NCT in January, and my feeling has only been reinforced with Passing Strange. The ensemble includes four actors who take on triple roles as characters in LA, Amsterdam and Berlin -- Candace Thomas, Kori Beaman, Keith Wallace and B.K. Elam -- all of whom transformed dramatically and convincingly throughout.

The show features a live band, which was one of the main concepts of the original version, Travelogue. On preview night, the band sounded great, but at times drowned out the stage performers. Hopefully, the sound issues have been resolved.

Passing Strange runs through October 15. Ages 15 and up. For tickets, click here.