Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Take Your Hair-Hopper Friends to See Hairspray!

Hairspray is based on John Waters’ fun-loving 1988 film, in which the auteur director explored early 1960’s pop culture, integration, and high hair in his hometown of Baltimore, MD. In the early 2000s, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell, and Thomas Meehan wrote the Broadway musical based on Mr. Waters’ original screenplay and it became a Broadway hit. The Delaware All-State Theatre (DAST) is now producing the musical in Newark, DE. DAST gives students throughout Delaware the chance to showcase their theatrical talents in an annual large-scale musical production. In this production, the students tell the zany and sentimental story of a fictional trailblazer, Tracy Turnblad.  
You know you’re in for a real treat when the curtain opens and our large teenage heroin Tracy (Amanda Garcia-Walker) sings “Good Morning Baltimore” and introduces us to her city and some of its most colorful residents. We soon find out that Tracy and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Emily Freebery) aren’t very concerned with school, but are more fascinated by the “Nicest Kids in Town,” the exclusive teenage Council Member dancers on The Corny Collins Show (an American Bandstand like TV show based in Baltimore). The TV show host Corny (Chad Michael Jervis), and his Council Members, led by star couple Amber VonTussle (Lydia Stinson) and Link Larkin (Nicholas Michael), entertain teenaged Baltimoreans with their exuberant dance moves.
Tracy learns of an opening on the Show when one of the Council Members has to suddenly leave.  She decides this is her moment and that she’s going to skip school to audition for the spot. Understanding what it’s like to be a “big girl” and how people can sometimes be cruel to larger people, her seamstress mother Edna (Ben Walker) tries to discourage her daughter from auditioning. However, Tracy’s novelty store owner/inventor father Wilbur (Gregory Wolf) encourages her to follow her dream, and she does. Auditioning for the show doesn’t turn out exactly as Tracy plans; the Show’s “crabby” and sinister producer Velma (Bridget Carrow), who also happens to be Amber’s mother, thwarts her chances of becoming a Council Member, due to Tracy’s size. Velma also crushes the dreams of an African-American teenage girl who also attends the audition. Excusing her based on her skin color. 
Although Tracy may not have landed a spot on the Show, she did meet her dream-boy Link and she also realized her real mission in life after seeing the treatment of the African-American young lady – desegregating Baltimore. By the way, Tracy’s favorite day of The Corny Collins Show is “negro-day.” Once a month Motormouth Maybelle (Colleen Scott), an African-American record storeowner, hosts the Show with only African-American teenagers, including her son Seaweed J. Stubbs (Andre Revels), dancing in place of the Council Members. Tracy thinks everyday should be “negro-day” and that all the kids should be able to dance together.
Undeterred, Tracy goes back to school where she is placed in special education, due to her high hair. In her new class she meets Seaweed and he introduces her to hip dance moves that she can use to get Corny’s attention at her school’s dance that he’s hosting.  Does Tracy’s plan get her the spot on the Show? Will she and Link become boyfriend and girlfriend? Will she desegregate Baltimore? I don’t want to spoil all the FUN, so you will have to go see this toe-tapping musical to get the answers.
Jeffrey Santoro directs some of the most talented teenage performers in Delaware! His cast exudes excitement as they sing and dance across the magnificent set by Scenic Designer, Stefani Hansen. The uber-talented Miss. Garcia-Walker perfectly captures Tracy’s always-optimistic personality, while Mr. Walker easily transforms into Tracy’s loving mother Edna. His great comedic timing and Lucille Ball look leaves the audience in stitches! It takes a real man to play a woman. Unfortunately I can’t mention every stellar performance in my piece, but I would be remised if I didn’t mention two actresses, Miss Carrow as the villainous Velma and Miss Scott as the idealist Motormouth. Both young ladies bring their A-game and give exceptional performances with their respected musical numbers.    
Don’t miss this family-friendly extravaganza that everyone will enjoy; my 8-year-old friend Meara was enthralled by the show! Hairspray runs through July 1st at the Thompson Theatre in the David Roselle Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Delaware. For information and tickets, visit

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Live in Wilmo: Gable Music Delivers to Chris White Gallery

By Guest Blogger, Sydney Schumacher, Public Relations Assistant, Arts in Media

[Author's Note: Elephant's Gerald did not perform this evening.] Arriving at the basement of the Chris White Gallery in Wilmington, I run into Jeremy Hebbel of Gable Music Ventures, one of the two masterminds behind the concert. He tells me to make myself comfortable and wanders off to shake hands and usher more people down to the performance space. Both Jeremy and Gable Co-Founder Gayle Dillman do a lovely job of making you feel welcome and have obviously put a lot of planning into the concert. Bravo, Gable!

I’m left to people-watch, and I take note of a group of four, friendly-looking guys who could easily be your next-door neighbors. They are The Way Home, the first band in the line up. The guys look casual, but sharp; they’re funny, a bit self-deprecating and quick-witted, mentioning that Wilmington brought them in contact with “the biggest picture of George Thorogood [they] have ever seen.”  Band members are guitarist James Hearne, keyboardist Henry Nam, drummer Nick Hughes and bass player Dan Drago.

Their first two songs are originals full of loud crescendos, instrumental interludes that showcase each members’ talents, and four-part harmonies that blow you away. They use these moments to their advantage, stopping the music to use only the power of their voices to move the tune along — a smart choice, in my opinion, since they are brilliant singers, individually and as a group. Next are songs off their album, On So Thin a Line, and they’re equally fantastic. There’s feeling behind the lyrics and the instrumental accompaniment is spot on. The guys even find time to squeeze in a mellowed-out version of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” for a minute. Their lyrics draw from anything they have an opinion on— the hate-able hot weather; the guitarist’s town that felt like its houses would slide down the hills from all the icy winters; relationships they’ve had; even life-affirming sentiments like “do or die” — all were intro stories to the tunes. As their set wound down (and Jeremy repeatedly gives them time-checks), they demonstrated their humor again by telling us this show “feel safe, where the monsters can’t get them,” and promise to return and work with Jeremy and Gayle again. Hopefully, they keep that promise!

The next band comes on in bright, traffic cone-orange shirts. They are called Crossing Oceans, which they explain is because of the lead guitarist, Walter Van Geffen, having crossed the ocean from Ireland to play with them. The drummer, John Clough, describes their sound as, “A little bit sloppy, a little bit bombastic…Delaware style.” When they perform, it’s the opposite of The Way Home — slow and soulful. The lead guitar melody and smooth beats recall a slow dance at a party, club, or long-ago school dance. John intros the next song with a big grin: “Now, let’s do one we stole from somebody…,” proving they’re funny guys, as well. They followed with an original, upbeat rock song that let the guitarists show off. Their next, “Lazy Afternoon,” featured guest singer, Sophie, as back up. Her voice cut a lovely harmony to the drummer’s, and allowed for something a different and definitely striking. They kept pace with what they labeled, “something a little jazzy.” Less vocals and a thumping tune made everyone clap along and made this song one of my favorites for the night. Sadly, they never told announced song’s name, making it impossible for me to hunt it down on the Internet and listen again.
Walter started up the next song, calling it “…something with a story to tell.” It’s definitely rock but has strong Irish roots, especially in the guitar’s melody line. They seemed to stick with the storytelling theme from there. They’re a smooth rock group, for sure. In the end, the audience called for an encore, and they gladly complied, saying, “This is our angry song.” And rightfully so. It was the loudest, fastest-paced one they’d done, changing my mind about talent that lies in the slow and powerful; loud, strong, and powerful works just as well. The lead guitarist took off running with the melody, and the bassist and drummer clearly loved being able to pick up the pace, dancing and grinning their way through the last sounds of the night.
Rock on, Wilmo!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Miss the Shady Grove Music Fest (Next Year)

The Shady Grove Music Fest in Arden has come and gone rather quietly, as it tends to do, despite being one of the top music festivals in Delaware. (Of course, with Firefly this year, it's hard to compete -- but what is Firefly doing for the local music scene?) The event is surprisingly low-key -- though it does kick up a bit as the day progresses into evening -- and, even more surprisingly, not very crowded. It seems a lot of folks are missing out. So, looking forward to next year's festival, here's why you shouldn't miss Shady Grove:
  • It's easily one of the best ways to sample the Wilmington/Newark and Tri-State music scene.  
  • When else can you see most of these bands during the day with your family? If you rarely get out to bars and clubs for shows, you'd be crazy to miss it. Even if you do see live music frequently, it's a nice change of pace to see band like The Bullets, The Keefs, and Deadbeatz, Inc. outdoors in the afternoon or early evening. And if you have kids (who get in free if they're under 12), they rarely have the chance to see some of these bands play live.
  • The variety: the 2012 Shady Grove festival featured rock, indie pop, punk, rockabilly, jazz and funk. There's even live visual art, as a festival billboard is painted on site during the event -- in recent years, it has been done by Wilmington graffiti artist 3EYES.
  • It really is shady! The canopy of trees in the grove behind Arden Gild Hall cools off a sunny June day, and even make light rain tolerable.
  • It benefits the Arden Gild Hall, ensuring that the arts in Delaware continues to flourish.
Missed 2012's Shady Grove Fest? You can still check out the bands:

Deadbeatz Inc.
Still Moon Servants
Spontaneous Underground
The Bullets
The Paper Janes
The Keefs

Be sure to get all of the news about next year's Shady Grove Festival by liking their Faebook Page:

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wilmington Drama League Brings Back Birdie!

The Wilmington Drama League’s The Chrysalis Players (the League’s youth program) has brought Birdie back! Most people know the story of Bye Bye Birdie (BBB). BBB has been a popular musical for both high schools and community theater companies to produce since the 60s. However, for the few who haven’t appeared in it or haven’t seen a stage production or a film adaptation, the BBB’s story is very basic and a little outdated. But, it’s a perfect show for young adults to explore and stage.

Set in the late 1950s, Conrad Birdie (Jeff Gorcyca) , an Elvis Presley-like signer, is being drafted to fight in the war. Birdie’s New York agent/songwriter Albert Peterson (Adam J. Wahlberg) is convinced by his secretary and sometime girlfriend, Rose Alvarez (Ashley Butler), to give up the music business, go to college and become an English teacher. Before he’s able to give up his family’s music business, Almaelou, he must make $50,000 to afford his tuition and his new life in academia. Rose comes up a genius idea; Albert will write a song for Birdie, “One Last Kiss,” to not only perform on television, but to also serenade one of his lucky female fans - 15 year-old Kim MacAfee (Erin Foltz) of Sweet Apple, Ohio - and give her his “last kiss” before the whole nation. Of course this plan will propel the song into the hit-making stratosphere; making enough money for Albert to enter the next chapter of his life – husband and English teacher. Albert, Rose, Birdie, and Mae (Laurene Eckbold), Albert’s overbearing mother who despises the thought of Albert dissolving the family business and marrying Rose, travel to Kim’s hometown where comic mayhem ensues.

BBB is as American as apple pie and baseball. The show features some of the most identifiable Broadway tunes including, “The Telephone Hour” and “A Lot of Livin’ to Do.” It’s hard not to get sucked into Charles Strouse and Lee Adams’ playful score, as well as the love story between Albert and Rose and Kim and her jealous steady, Hugo Peabody (Jameson May); even if it’s the standard fair – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl at the end.
Tina Sheing’s boisterous production boasts enthusiastic performances by its young cast. Mr. Wahlberg (one of the few adults) is a standout as Albert. His sinuous body is perfect for the slapstick-physical humor required for the part (Dick Van Dyke originated the role in the Broadway production). He’s also a fantastic singer with great charisma. I particularly loved his scenes with Eckbold. They have perfectly captured the relationship between a mother who “can’t cut the apron strings” and a son who’s not sure if he’s ready to have them “clipped!”

Tommy Fisher’s inspired choreography keeps the large cast in step with the popular dances of the period. At times I thought some of the audience members were going to jump up and dance with the actors!

Bye Bye Birdie runs through June 24th. For information and tickets, visit or call 302.764.3396.

The Rocky Horror Show ROCKS Newark!

The Chapel Street Players' (CSP) 49th FUNdraiser production is the horror-comedy midnight musical, The Rocky Horror Show. Richard O'Brien's cult classic camp fest is about two conservative lovebirds (Brad Majors and Janet Weiss) who get entangled with a group of out-of-this-world freaks, led by the self-proclaimed sweet transvestite Dr. Frank N' Furter.

After leaving their friends' wedding, Brad decides to pop the question to Janet. After she accepts his marriage proposal, the two decide to visit Dr. Scott, the man (or in this production, woman) who introduced them in his science class. On their way, a flat tire cuts their journey short, and they walk to an ominous castle for assistance. Greeted by Riff Raff, the menacing butler, the two ultra-conservative lovers are then led through the spooky castle and its array of weirdo servants/inhabitants (Riff Raff's sister Magenta, the brokenhearted Colombia, and the Usher and Usherette) and through the classic audience-participation number - "The Time Warp" - before meeting the nefarious master of the house.

Afterward, Frank N' Furter appears and asks the couple to be his guests as he reveals his latest creation - a boy toy Adonis for his carnal pleasures. Unable to escape, Brad and Janet stay - and begin to question their traditional values regarding sex and love - and even take part in some of the evening's shenanigans.

Andrew John Mitchell directs this amazing production with a tight hand, something this show needs otherwise it could become total chaos. He has assembled a fantastic cast (Michael Parillo as Frank N' Furter, Justin Walsh as Brad, Caitlin E. Adams as Janet, Thomas Russell as Riff Raff; Lucy Marie Smith as Magenta; Laura Dunbar as Colombia; Dennis Conner as the creature (Rocky); Renee G. O'Leary, the only cast member to appear in every CSP FUNdraiser production, as Dr. Scott; Brett Pearson as Colombia's love interest and Frank N' Furter's foe, Eddie; A.J. LoPorto as the Usher; and Suzanne Stein as the Usherette.  Ms. Stein also finely choreographed the production. This cast ROCKS CSP! Even if the show was bad, which it's not, the price of admission would be well worth seeing Ms. O'Leary's costume at the end of the second-act. Everyone in the Delaware theater community knows that she is a great performer, but in this production she also proves she's a real "trouper."

The cast brings the musical to life on a spectacular multipurpose set by Christina Bartley. The set evokes a grand movie palace, with a mad scientist's laboratory.
The Rocky Horror Show ends June 23. Get your tickets now, because you don't want to miss this FUN! Also, take an extra $5.00 with you, so you can buy a goody-bag with all the items you need to participate in the show; besides throwing the goody-bag's items, don't be surprised if audience members are shouting comments during the show. All you ROCKY "non-virgins" know what I'm talking about! For information and tickets, visit or call 302.368.2248.

Delaware Chamber Music Festival-Satisfying Cravings

Living in Delaware, I find myself craving classical music. The Delaware Chamber Music Festival (DCMF) has been satisfying the community's cravings for 27 years and is a staple of the local classical musical diet. Even on a beautiful Father's Day afternoon, the concert hall at The Music School of Delaware was nearly full. The quartet: Barbara Govatos, violin, Hirono Oka, violin, Burchard Tang, viola and Clancy Newman, cello.

Sylvia Glickman's Carved in Courage, arranged for string quartet by Tony Finno, is part of a trilogy Glickman dedicated to the holocaust.  Barbara Govatos, DCMF musical director, explained the significance of the work and its references to the Danish resistance movement during WWII.  The movements---Premonitions, Preparations-Frøde Jacobsen-Resistence Leader, Krystalgade Synagogue and Dr. Køster of Bispebjerg Hospital, Rescue by the Sea-Jens Møller, fisherman/rescuer and The Afterward---each conveyed an important emotional and musical message, with the Danish National Anthem triumphantly finding its way in at the very end.   Lyrical and full of passion, Glickman's work was beautifully played.  My grandfather, who had been part of the Danish resistance movement, was captured, imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis.  I know he would have been deeply moved by this tribute.

As guest artist, pianist Julie Nishimura performed in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Trio in B flat major, K. 502.  Nishimura's beautiful playing was balanced perfectly with the lovely sounds produced by violinist Barbara Govatos and cellist Clancy Newman.  Mozart always delights with his usually light, joyous themes and brief departures to more pensive territory. 

Ending the program was Claude Debussy's String Quartet in G minor.  Though Debussy was born 150 years ago, his quartet seems to structurally, harmonically and melodically belong to a later era.  The players exploited every dynamic and nuance of Debussy's often brooding music.

Be sure to catch The Delaware Chamber Music Festival's last concerts of the season on June 22, 2012 at 7:30 pm and June 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm, also at The Music School of Delaware.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The future of the Delaware Symphony

The one benefit of the Delaware Symphony’s declaration of a suspended season for 2012-2013 has been the excellent and prolific coverage of their plight in the News Journal.  Never before has the DSO had so much press!

Perhaps this will get some people talking about solutions for the 2012-2013 season.  In such a crisis situation, the best thing to start with is to count assets and liabilities.  Executive Director Lee Williamson was quite right to declare a state of emergency, but the latest suggestions of a cure might kill the patient, so could we please go back to some sensible solutions?

Listing the assets of the DSO would take much more space than this blog usually devotes to a single article, but a few essentials must be listed.  The excellent musicians who are currently in the Delaware Symphony (and many from the past who stuck it out when the DSO was but a fledgling of its current musical achievement) have migrated to Wilmington and the surrounding area because of the symphony.  Yes, they had to take other jobs to support themselves and to be able to play in a symphony.  (Note here that even to play in a regional symphony and even to qualify to play in the DSO when it was NOT as good as it is now, the musicians had to be of a very high quality.)

The musicians themselves have fanned out and many have started some ‘side jobs’ that have produced excellent public school music programs.  Just to cite a few:  Martin Beech, Associate Principal Second Violin, conducts the orchestra at the Kennett High School  and Kennett Middle School in nearby Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  .Mr. Beech started teaching 38 years ago, taking over when there were only 12 string students district-wide.  Today, the district has a full-time music teacher for the elementary schools and Mr. Beech has string lessons, full orchestra class, string ensemble and string chamber groups at both the high and middle school.  The orchestras grew from 45 students in each school to about 75 students today.   Rosaria Macera, violin, is director of the orchestra at Newark High School.  Since Newark High is a choice school, kids bus from all over the district because they want a chance to play in an orchestra. Ms. Macera’s orchestra has become an exacting, award-winning program which has attracted the attention of Maestro Simeone Tartaglione of the Newark Symphony Orchestra.  He has invited many of Ms. Macera’s students to participate in coordinated activities with his symphony.  These two examples of ‘side jobs’ of Delaware Symphony members shows how deeply the DSO musicians affect our community far beyond their roles as symphony musicians.

Maestro David Amado is also a tremendous asset of the Delaware Symphony.  He is talented, has local roots, and he has taken the DSO to greater heights than they have known in their entire 100-year history.  Credit must be given not only to Maestro Amado’s predecessors for providing him with a very good orchestra to begin with, but also to the musicians who patiently played and improved and stayed with an orchestra that, quite frankly, wasn’t all that hot forty years ago.  It took a great deal of faith for many people to persevere to create the orchestra we have today.  Maestro Amado is still here with us and is under contract, so he is a current asset.  He is also devoted to the DSO and their progress and his reputation will be strongly influenced by what happens in the coming season.   Rest assured that he will be energetically fighting for the DSO’s survival.

Maestro Amado and others have also created assets in their connections to other institutions in Delaware.  There have been many coordinated programs between the University of Delaware Music Department and the DSO – some fine performances with Dr. Paul Head’s University Chorale which brought in large audiences.  There was a coordinated New Year’s Eve Gala at the Delaware Art Museum; there have been many education programs from visits to schools, to family concerts, to hosting 90-plus girl scouts to earn their music badges. 

Last and not least are the audience members.  As Harry Themal correctly pointed out in his June 11 editorial in the News Journal, they are ‘aging and dwindling’, but they are not dead!  And I might add that the audiences who filled the Grand for the pops and youth concerts are not really all that aging and dwindling.  Must the DSO tell them to look for other entertainment in the 2012-2013 season?  In doing so, the DSO would be telling local area restaurants, hotels, cafes and parking facilities to expect hundreds fewer customers on symphony nights.

For the liabilities, we should list not just the actual money owed, but the loss of goodwill created by forcing the DSO to cancel the scheduled artists for the 2012-2013.  Wise though the decision may have seemed at the time,  the cost of cancellation in most cases is a hefty fee which would have been better spent in asking that artist to retool and use a piece from their repertoire that would have fit a smaller chamber orchestra or group.  This would have not only been a better cost outcome, but it would have sent the message that artists can count on the DSO as a potential employer, even if they could not finance the original schedule with full orchestra.

Another liability is the loss of faith and trust of the musicians.  The potential earnings lost by the sudden suspension vary from musician to musician, but the loss of trust in the DSO is the same.  This is a tremendous hurdle for David Amado. He has built up the musicians’ trust over a number of years and he and the orchestra members have developed a rapport which has resulted in some excellent performances.  The board and executive director have done him a great disservice by being too quick with the knife.

The absence of a development director is a liability.  To say you have no season and no planned concerts and still want donations is a nonstarter.  To say you want donations and have no one to coordinate them is another nonstarter.  Cutting this off is cutting off the water and roots of your tree.  If the board does not correct this, they might as well chop it down.

If the community wants to retain the magnificent quality of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and the associated effects of parallel events created by the DSO and its members, they must stop the bleeding and start tending this incredible oak which has been growing for the past one hundred years.  Insist that the symphony regroup, have smaller concerts and spend a year not suspended but reduced.  Give Maestro Amado enough budget to get as many of his musicians performing as possible.  Get a development director to send those musicians EVERYWHERE.  Have that person tap into grants from everything from special education to reading promotion to musical paper dances. Connect to untapped groups rather than sending profuse and expensive mailings to people who just attended a concert.  Send out complimentary tickets to every major company and hotel in the county to grab those potential audiences who are not already there.  Do whatever you have to do.    

But don’t stop the music.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Star Wars: A New Musical Hope for Bootless

Star Wars: A New Musical Hope, Bootless Stagework's much-anticipated summer show, was timed perfectly. Opening just a week after the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic Con, with its light sabre training classes and the famous 501st Legion of Imperial Storm Trooper costume players, area fans are still mentally in a galaxy far far away -- and Star Wars the Musical is a nice way to top it off.

Don't expect 501st-level costuming (although some of the costumes, most notably Chewbacca and a motorized R2D2, are amazing) -- that's not what this show is about. Adapted by Jeremy Gable, it's a campy parody of Episode IV (known simply as Star Wars to anyone over the age of 30) set to music. Sort of a cross between "Family Guy's" Blue Harvest and a Broadway musical. Funny one-liners are woven into faithful stage incarnations of movie scenes, with original songs by Timothy Edward Smith and Hunter Nolan. Whether you find the gags funny depends a lot on your relationship with the film -- fans will follow the humor easily, while I imagine anyone who isn't well familiar with the series is likely to be lost.

Some of the gags, especially involving John Rachlin's Darth Vader and Christopher Todd-Waters as C3PO, are very successful; others, like Han Solo (Ryan Mulholland) declaring that he has a "case of the Mondays" are a bit too corny, even for goofy comedy. The show actually works best when it's not trying to be funny -- an original "filler" scene featuring Princess Leia (Maria Leonetti) in her cell after her planet has been destroyed, the confrontation between Obi-Wan (Shaun Yates) and Darth Vader, and the Rebel Squadron's climactic mission, are definite highlights. The laughs are there, though -- my 12-year old son laughed throughout. The show features some stellar vocal talent, but at the end of the day, this is a show geared toward Star Wars fans before lovers of musical theater.

Star Wars: A New Musical Hope runs through June 17 at OperaDelaware's Black Box theater. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets.