Monday, July 30, 2012

Hello, Dolly is Back Where She Belongs!

The Brandywiners’ 81st production is the iconic Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart Broadway musical, Hello, Dolly! The expansive Longwood Gardens’ Open Air Theater allows this musical extravaganza to come alive!

Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder, Hello, Dolly tells the story of the larger-than-life matchmaker and jack-of-all-trades Dolly Gallagher Levi (played by the charismatic Sue Hornung). After the passing of her husband, Dolly has become the go-to woman in New York to find love. Although it’s the 1890’s, Dolly is an independent woman who’s not afraid to go after what she wants in life, including a grouchy, half-a-millionaire, Yonkers grocery store owner and widower, Horace Vandergelder (played by Ms. Hornung’s real-life husband, Tom Hornung). The two have great chemistry and give exceptional performances.

Comic hijinks ensue as Dolly not only meddles in Horace’s life, but also his niece’s (Jenny Torgerson) life -- she’s in love with a struggling artist (Jeff Gorcyca) who Horace despises -- as well as the lives of Horace's employees’ (Alexander Bowditch and Chris Trombetter) -- two young men who disobey their employer and leave the store unattended to go to Manhattan for an adventure. While in the Big Apple the two men meet the women (Kate Connell Wright and Meghan Hindmarch) of their dreams. (Ms. Connell’s soprano voice is exquisite, especially in her act one ballad, Ribbons Down My Back.) With the help of Dolly, each characters’ life is forever changed!

Cal Brackin directs a solid show with enthusiastic choreography by Jody Anderson. Ms. Anderson’s exciting choreography is at its best during the show’s title number, when Dolly leads the chorus members through a rousing dance sequence. In addition to the leads, the other star, as in every Brandywiners’ production, is the outstanding chorus! The chorus members don’t just back up the leads, but instead they join their voices together and make them soar throughout Longwood Gardens.

While performing in 19th century costumes by Beverly A. Parnell and her committee, the chorus and the leads are a feast for the eye. Ms. Hurnung’s gowns and hats never disappoint!

Although the story is a little dated, Hello, Dolly has a memorable score. The music keeps everyone entertained during the two-hour production! 

Going to see The Brandywiners’ is a summer tradition for most people -- for some since 1932. A wonderful tradition for the young and the young at heart to enjoy together! Hello, Dolly closes August 4. To order tickets, call 302.478.3355 or visit Entrance to Longwood is included with the show ticket, so go early to explore the gardens and/or dine at the restaurant or café. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Aubrey Plaza Returns to Wilmington to Premiere Her Latest Film

Aubrey Plaza on the red carpet. Photo: Holly Quinn
Wilmington is not exactly movie premiere central. Jeremy O'Keefe's wrestling premiered in Wilmington in 2008, and Luke Matheny's 2011 Oscar-winning short film "God of Love" was celebrated with a special local screening, but such big-screen events are few and far between. So, when Wilmington's own Aubrey Plaza (star of NBC's "Parks and Recreation") decided to bring her first leading role in a feature film to Delaware for a red carpet premiere, it was a pretty big deal.

Delaware almost didn't get the film, Safety Not Guaranteed, on the big screen. After a successful debut at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, it was slated to open in select theaters across the country this summer. Unfortunately, none of those theaters were in Plaza's home state. "That was not OK," she said from the stage of the Grand Opera House before the screening, looking stunning in a little black dress. So, with the help of what seems like half of Wilmington (including but not limited to The Wilmington Drama League, The Grand, Theatre N, Ursuline Academy, AIDS Delaware, Delaware Community Foundation, McConnell Johnson, and PSCI), the Delaware premiere of Safety Not Guaranteed became a reality. The event was to be more than a screening: All of the proceeds from the tickets, which ranged from $20 for the movie and Q&A to $125 for a VIP experience including a meet-and-greet reception and afterparty, would go to The Wilmington Drama League.

The choice of beneficiary, said Plaza, was easy. The WDL was her "home away from home" growing up, where she performed with the Chrysalis Players and honed the skills that would eventually shape her career as a professional actress. She reminisced about Delaware with humor and charm, as she was joined onstage by WDL fixture Kathy Buterbaugh. Governor Markell presented her with "naming rights" to any unnamed space in Delaware (he would have simply named a plaza after her, but, he explained, it's not that easy -- "You've all seen 'Parks and Recreation,'" he quipped.) "They'll regret this," Plaza said of her newfound power with a smile.

As for the movie itself, it's funny, moving and unpredictable, with the kind of plot that reminds you that, with an endless parade of remakes, sequels and reboots on the screen this summer, there are still original ideas out there. If you missed the screening, keep an eye out for its home video release. It will be worth the wait.

NCT Kisses Birdie Goodbye

Erica Harr and Doug Atkins
It's the summer of Bye Bye Birdie in Wilmington this year, with not one but two local productions of the nostalgic show (see Ebbie's review of the Wilmington Drama League's version here). We're not sure how that happened, but there's really no such thing as too much Birdie -- and if it affected ticket sales, you wouldn't know it by looking at the sold-out crowd at the New Candlelight Theatre.

For those still unfamiliar with the show, Bye Bye Birdie is a musical loosely based on Elvis Presley's draft into the Army in 1957, and the insanity that surrounded him at the height of his popularity. At the center of the story are Albert, the agent of the Elvis-like Conrad Birdie, and his secretary and love interest Rose. Together they hatch a plan to give Birdie a televised send-off where he kisses one of his biggest teenage fans goodbye, to the tune of what they hope will be the highest-selling record of his career. The lucky fan, 15-year-old Kim McAfee, lives in All-American Sweet Apple, Ohio, which is turned upside-down by the arrival of the superstar.

From Jeff Reim's outstanding, quick-changing set design to Timothy Lamont Cannon's meticulous 1950s costume design, everything comes together, allowing the actors to transport the audience back to 1958 without distraction. Erica Lynn Harr returns to the NCT stage after nine months performing for Disney Cruise Line, and she's as amazing as ever as the long-suffering Rose. As Albert, NCT newcomer (but not new to the stage) Doug Atkins often seems to channel Dick Van Dyke, who originated the role on Broadway and in the 1963 film. The two stars dominate and work well together, with the help of the hilarious Susan Dewey as Albert's overbearing mother, Mae. Joining them in central roles are Michelle Cabot as Kim and Steven Calakos as Conrad.

Michelle Cabot as Kim MacAfee, Steven Calakos as Conrad Birdie and Anastasia Bokas as Ursula Merkle.

Among the other characters, there is always a scene-stealer. Often, it's Kim's best friend Ursula or her steady boyfriend Hugo. Although these characters are played wonderfully by Anastasia Bokas and Caleb Whipple, the big scene-stealer in this production is Dewey Oriente, as Kim's excitable father Harry. The choreography during the Ed Sullivan Show scene couldn't have been funnier; much of the credit goes to Director and choreographer Dann Dunn, but Oriente made it perfect. Another scene-stealer is Lindsay Mauck as Gloria Rasputin, the young woman Mae tries to replace Rose with. She does a lot with the small role.

The ensemble supports the cast without flaw, though few of the background characters pop. Exceptions are Peter Briccotto, whose nerdy Harvey Johnson stands out, and the Maude's Bar trio of David McConney, Timothy Lamont Cannon, and Steve Stonis.

By the end, you may be ready to return to a world where parents can simply call their kids' cell phones rather than run around town in pajamas in the middle of the night and teenagers aren't expected to pair off for life -- but you will have had a great time in Sweet Apple while you were there.

Bye Bye Birdie runs through August 25th; tickets include a buffet dinner.

See for tickets and more information.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ice Cream with the Queen

By Guest Blogger, Sydney Schumacher, PR Intern, Arts in Media
I’d never been to The Queen before, but I have to say, it’s a pretty awesome place for an Ice Cream Festival After Party. The “Upstairs” is intimate but with room to move and space between tables for everyone to see the stage. It’s a cool area that promotes artistic genre co-mingling; the funky paintings on the walls fit well with the ‘concert-space’ feel. Not to mention, they’ve got killer soft-pretzels on the menu to keep your stomach occupied.

The first band up was Travel Songs, who were particularly impressive because, as they told us before they played, they’d only practiced together once—and it was that morning. I’d describe their sound as a bit reggae/island, a bit folksy rock. Their singer is smooth, consistent, on pitch, and has a great tenor voice that glides through every one of their songs.  Props to him for being the only singer for an entire set. He explains that their music is inspired from various trips around the world, and it shows. Around the middle of their set, I really started to get into their music. Their songs had strong beats and sweet melody lines, held up by the talented musicians on keyboard, guitar, bass guitar, and drums. For one of their tunes, the singer pulled out a ukelele, which I loved. Their last song (it sounded like they called it "Mexico") was a fantastic closing number—it made me feel like I was on a beach listening to the bar band.

Next up was Me And This Army, from Baltimore—a trio with a more indie-rock style. Their songs were loud and fast, and their lead singer had a strong voice and knew how to belt it out. Their bass-guitarist was intense, with fast fingers and impressive talent, and the drummer was definitely energetic and loving life onstage. They're a talented group, for sure, and smart enough to play on their strengths. Before their last song, they unleashed some humor on us, too, saying, “Come chat with us…we can talk about politics, Miley Cyrus’ marriage, chocolate…anything! And then go download our last song!” Said last song was called “You,” and I will most definitely be searching it out! Hopefully Me and This Army will be back for more Gable Music Ventures events.

Last but not least was one of my new favorites, The Way Home, from Philadelphia. I saw them at the Chris White Gallery a few weeks back, and their set and sound haven’t changed much since then. Which was lucky for me, because I got to hear some of their best tunes again, like “Summer Feels Like Forever” and “Jessica” (both of which are off their album “On So Thin a Line”). Even after having played a show the night before, their harmonies and energy are still amazing. Quite a brilliant way to end the night—fit for the Queen!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Delaware Shakespeare Festival Celebrates its 10th Anniversary with a Splendid Production of A Midsummer Night's Dream!

Now in its 10th year, the Delaware Shakespeare Festival has brought some of William Shakespeare's most beloved plays to hundreds of picnicking audience members. Yes, the play is performed outside and audience members are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs, as well as food and drinks (including wine). The festival premiered in 2003 at Archmere Academy. In 2006, the group moved to the majestic grounds of the Rockwood Mansion, a perfect setting for this year's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Director David Stradley masterfully emphasizes the plays major theme - love and the many aspects of the mysterious feeling/emotion - especially with the brilliant sliver set featuring large X's and O's sculptures by Scenic Designer Christopher Haig. The performers cascade on and off the stage and at times disappear into the wooded area behind it or leap into the audience to make an exit.

The whimsical play is about two young human couples (Jamal Douglas & Sarah Van Auken and Sean Bradley & Jennifer Starr Foley) falling in and out of love, with a little help from the magic of a few fairies, including the fairy king Oberon (Matt Tallman) who is dueling with the fairy queen Titania (Caroline Crocker) for supremacy.

Shakespeare explores how love makes a fool out of everyone. We watch the two couples perform foolish acts of love and disdain toward their betrothed. In addition, the king's assistant Puck (Griffin Stanton-Almeisen) transforms an actor Bottom (Adam Altman) from a bumbling touring troupe into a donkey and casts a spell over the queen, causing her to fall madly in love with him. Proving that sometimes we go from acting like a fool to becoming an ass when we fall in love.
The skillful performers, the beautiful setting, the eloquent text, the flowing choreography by the First State Ballet Theatre’s Alex Bucker, and the romantic score written by David Amado (Music Director of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra) make A Midsummer Night's Dream a splendid production for all to experience. It was wonderful to see parents introducing their young children to the bard's work, as well as older couples who were more familiar with the play sharing a bottle of wine and enjoying a most gorgeous evening. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs through July 28. For information and tickets, visit or email  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer Music "Reels" at Rockford!

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

Celtic Harvest, one of the appearances at the Rockford Tower Summer Concert Series, describe themselves this way: “Most of the songs we play you’d hear if you darkened the door of an Irish pub or two.” And it’s true…I think. The band consists of Kelly Crumpley, fiddle and whistle; Jan Crumpley, flute(s) and whistle(s); Kathy Doyle, vocals and piano; Jim McGriffin, guitar and banjo; and Mike Nielsen, bass, second guitar and occasional accordion.

The third song of their set was the first one to catch my ear; it was a lament for a lover, filled with fantastic harmonies and a flute/fiddle point-counterpoint melody line that was resounding. They followed this up with a few Irish reels, which were fun, little skip-y songs filled with pep and feeling. For these, I give props to the flutist and whistler, who flawlessly executed the runs and scale increments. They did a few “songs about redemption” which were a bit more mellow (though not as slow as a lament), through which they tried to engage the audience with prompts to clap and sing along.  

For a moment of technical difficulty, they filled in what would have been silence with a traditional Irish Lament played on the whistle. This was absolutely my favorite moment of the performance, only topping the reels by a little bit. The song was poignant and beautiful; deep-reaching and just barely outside the realm of what I would term ‘haunting.’ One drawback of the family-friendly outdoor venue presented itself in this moment: It’s tough to enjoy a concert when half of the audience is not there for the music, but to chit-chat, play with their dogs and run with their children. But, that’s the nature of a concert such as this. 

The next song — one “about the transition of shoes from hand-made to machine-made” — was saucy and proved that the Irish really will make anything into a song as long as they can dance to it, or perhaps sing along! The final tune was one that almost everyone should recognize — Danny Boy, Oh Danny Boy. A fine way to end, not only because it captured the audience’s attention with the familiar, but also because Ms. Doyle did a fantastic job on the vocals.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Jazz Trip with Clifford & Dee Dee

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

The DuPont Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, held in Wilmington’s Rodney Square, is clearly a crowd favorite. When I arrived Saturday evening (the last night of the festival which ran June 18-23), the square was absolutely packed. The group on stage is Hiromi: The Trio Project with Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips, and they have all eyes on them.  Hiromi is a jazz pianist from Japan who fell in love with the genre after years of classical music training. Her fellow bandmates, Anthony Jackson and Simon Phillips, show off their talents on supporting instruments. Their music is sans vocals, but the energy and enthusiasm of Hiromi is completely infectious, and listening to her play ’70s style jazz is fun and engaging. Overhearing people around me, I found two consistent comments: “She is the cutest person!” and “Look how much fun she’s having!” Unfortunately (for me), I was late arriving and only got to enjoy a song and a half, but that was enough for me to prove their musical prowess!

Next up, and the closing act for the festival, was a group who travelled all the way from the Virgin Islands—Dee Dee Bridgewater and her band. Ms Bridgewater, the lead singer, has a fantastic, old-school, smoky jazz voice and a talent for scat, which is harder and harder to find in jazz artists. Backing her up was a pianist, an upright bass player, a drummer, and a reeds/flute player. Aside from Ms. Bridgewater, the latter was my favorite.  He had sharp, fast fingers and a wonderful, soulful sound. In my opinion, it’s hard to be a saxophone player. The sound of that instrument isn’t always pleasing, and can make or break a song. However, the player in Ms. Bridgewater’s band (whose name I didn’t catch) did a magnificent job, and I could’ve listened to a performance of him alone. They did a few Billie Holiday songs, an Ella Fitzgerald or two, and what sounded like a few originals scattered in. My favorite was when Ms. Bridgewater announced they were going “off-the-cuff, unrehearsed” with a version of Joy Song, to honor Clifford Brown, the namesake of the festival. This song is fast-paced and packed with words, and she warned the crowd, “I’m gonna try to get these lyrics…but if I can’t get ’em, I’m just gonna scat!” Her effort was impressive; she made it through the first bit splendidly but then got a bit tongue-tied, playfully exclaiming “Oh shoot!” and scatting the rest of the song—which was just as enjoyable, because she does it so well! Hopefully, Dee Dee Bridgewater and her band will be traveling back to Wilmington more often.