Saturday, March 24, 2012

CAPE benefits Newark

Living in Newark has considerable perks. One day I can listen to collaborative pianist Roger Vignoles on CDs owned by the Newark Free Library and the next day I can hear him live at Gore Recital Hall thanks to the sponsorship of the University Faculty Senate Committee on Cultural and Public Events (CAPE).

Roger Vignoles is one of the greatest living collaborative pianists of our time and he certainly proved it in his accompaniment of UD faculty member Robert Brandt in the Winterreise by Franz Schubert.

This rather underadvertised concert had a small audience -- the most vocal of whom seemed to be baritone Dr. Robert Brandt’s students. But those who missed this evening missed hearing a perfectionist. Mr. Vignoles’ technical skills are so solid that he is able to concentrate on the finer points of absolute dynamic control – final chords which he dared to make so soft that the notes risked not speaking – yet they did. His remarkable concentration made incredible changes of mood and tone within the rich variations of the music Schubert used for the twenty-four cloyingly romantic poems by Wilhelm Müller.

Dr. Brandt is also quite fluent in German which makes for a convincing portrayal of ideas expressed in colloquial fluency. His voice is quite rich and strong and he still seemed fresh and energetic even after singing for over an hour with no break.

When stars like Mr. Vignoles are lured to a tiny town like Newark, it means the music department at the University of Delaware has reached a level of sophistication which can only be attributed to their excellent staff and to the economic power of the University Faculty Senate Committee on Cultural and Public Events.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pop-rock Musical, Next to Normal, Soars at The Everett Theatre!

Next to Normal is one of the bravest musicals I have ever seen. The compelling show tackles mental illness, a subject that's not usually explored in musical theater.

The musical, with music by Tom Kitt and book & lyrics by Brian Yorkey, focuses on a suburban family in crisis and coping with the matriarch's battle with mental illness. Like most mothers and wives, Diana is trying her best to love and raise her children, while being a dutiful wife; unlike some mothers and wives, she's also living with bipolar disorder.

With the help of her husband (Dan) and her doctors (Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden), Diana is trying to manage her high and low periods and manic situations. However, the stress of her illness is affecting her relationships, especially with her teenage daughter (Natalie), a genius and musician. Natalie, who recently started dating her first boyfriend (Henry), is at an age when she needs her parents' guidance. Unfortunately, Diana and Dan are consumed with Diana's situation and are not able to give their daughter the attention she needs. Diana and Dan's son (Gabe) on the other hand, is elusive and "not exactly always around." The family contends with the many therapy options for Diana's illness and the stress of living with someone who is not always able to control her actions and moods.

Next to Normal is written from the point of view of Diana's, as well as the rest of the family, allowing the audience to gain a better understanding of what a person with mental illness and his/her family members experience. Director, Jeffrey Santoro handles the show with great sensitivity, but he doesn't hold back. He takes on the stressful situations in the show with great vigor and his actors follow his lead. Karen Murdock electrifies as Diana. She's stunning in a role that calls for her to delve deep inside to find the many emotions and feelings that her character experiences, regardless as to how dark they may be at times. Patrick O'Hara as Dan, Alyssa Lewis as Natalie, and Tyler DeFriece give powerful and heartbreaking performances as Diana's family. They walk a tightrope of trying to maintain stable lives while trying to care for Diana. Dale Martin, Jr. as both Dr. Fine and Dr. Madden and Alexander Vanderlek as Henry also give solid performances.

Next to Normal is a show that shouldn't be missed. Hopefully, people will not only be entertained by the musical, but also gain a better understanding of mental illness and the impact it has on the family unit.

The final performances for Next to Normal at The Everett Theatre (47 West Main Street, Middletown, DE) are March 16th and 17th, at 8:00 PM and March 18th, at 3:00 PM. A talkback with the cast and NAMI Delaware staff members will follow the March 18th performance. Visit or call 302.378.7038 for tickets.

February was Full of Album Writing in Delaware!

2012 FAWM'ers onstage at The Queen
I've said it a hundred times, but it begs repeating: There is so much talent here. And all the evidence you needed was in the house at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Sunday evening. Fourteen local singer-songwriters showcased their talents at the February Album Writing Month (FAWM) Showcase---nine as first-time participants.  Our local "FAWM'ers" hailed from throughout New Castle County and surrounding areas like Landenberg, West Chester & Philly.

Their charge?  Compose 14 songs in 28 (well 29, really) days, then show us what they've got. And, show us they did! The line-up and styles were so diverse, there really weren't any that I didn't enjoy, from a much-respected artistic POV.  Each artist presented three original songs, most accompanied by guitar or piano; several collaborated on pieces, enhancing the whole group vibe of the project.  It was thrilling to see so many artists connecting to and being inspired by one another---kinda like the final show of a "Songwriter's Camp".

But I have to give you some faves, so here goes.  First, I have to shout-out to first-time FAWM-er and Delaware Arts Info blogger, Jessica Graae.  She said she was nervous, but onstage she certainly didn't let on.  I loved her second song, Waiting Patiently, a heart-wrenching widow's tale, although I would loved to have heard the potential composition about searching for a bathroom on the Jersey Turnpike.

Although we arrived at the end of his set, I loved Michael Natrin's voice and snapped up his free CD to enjoy what I missed. (I'll have to report back on that later, sorry Michael.)  My gal pal and her daughter cracked up at Nancy Huebner and her dog Rusty's lovesick tale: The Doggie Dance, and we all belly-laughed through Todd Chappelle's musical romps: Beige, That's My Soup and More Than BaconErin Magnin, who collaborated on a few numbers throughout the night, struck me with her beautiful ode to a girl who paints her dreams on her body (Violet's Dreams); she simply drew me into Violet's world and made me wish I could do the same!

But I was mostly taken in by the voices of Evangelina Guajardo, Chelsea Sue Allen and Matthew Halley. Evangelina's voice was soulful, rich and quietly powerful. Her piece about a young hitch-hiker made my heart ache. Chelsea had the most interesting sound---a deep, smoky, haunting voice that blended well with her guitar-playing and garnered some of the biggest applause of the night. My friend and I were trying to pinpoint who she reminded us of and finally settled on Fiona Apple.  Matthew Halley (and hope he's not offended by this because I intend it as complimentary) had a wonderful, easy-going and mellow/folky sound that reminded me of the 70's songwriters I love: Glen Frey & Don Henley; Dan Fogelberg; England Dan & John Ford Coley.  I loved his collaboration Finding My Feet with Erin Magnin and Em McKeever, the event organizer. The three of them should tour together.

You can check out all the FAWM'ers on the website below.  Hopefully, you'll revisit the project next year and see what else they have in store for us.  In the meantime, seek out these artists and enjoy their talent...they're some of Delaware's hidden gems!


Monday, March 5, 2012

See The Gingerbread Lady at Chapel Street Players Before She Crumbles!

Although Neil Simon wrote The Gingerbread Lady in 1970, many of its themes - dysfunctional relationships, co-dependency, alcoholism, unemployment, and the fear of growing older - will resonate with today's audiences. All of these topics are fully explored during the dramedy now playing at Chapel Street Players.

Evy, a once celebrated cabaret singer, returns to her New York apartment after a lengthy stay at a rehab. While she is trying to put her life back together, her daughter (Polly) decides to move in with her, her two best friends (Toby, a vain upper crust woman, and Jimmy, a gay unemployed actor) share their hardships with her, and her former lover (Lou, who had left her for a younger woman) re-enters her life. This is a recipe for disaster, especially for someone as self-destructive as Evy.

Susan Boudreaux successfully tackles the difficult task of making the audience like Evy. Evy's self-centered, but she's also vulnerable and childlike. As much as you disagree with her decisions, you also root for her, hoping that by the end she will be on the path to sobriety and happiness and not crumble "like a gingerbread lady". Ms. Boudreaux's co-stars also gave fine performances, especially Ed Emmi as Jimmy and Pat Cullinane as Toby. Both actors brought much-needed comic relief to the play.

Although I enjoyed the performances, I was distracted by the costumes. The play is set in the 1970s, yet the costumes were a mix of apparel from the '80s and '90s. I expected to see leisure suits, bell-bottoms, and groovy clothing from The Brady Bunch era, but the costumes looked like they came from The Facts of Life and Ally McBeal eras.

Regardless, The Gingerbread Lady is a great piece of theater that should be seen before it closes on March 10. For tickets visit or call 302.368.2248.