Sunday, February 24, 2013

A World Premiere Goes Onstage and "On The Air"

Maxine Gaiber is executive director of the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts and founding board director of the Delaware Arts Art Alliance.  She has no background in theater review but her high school art teacher wrote in her yearbook, "be gentle as a critic," and she is finally following his advice!

There is something about radio in the 1940s that continues to capture the imaginations of playwrights and movie makers.  From Woody Allen’s 1987 Radio Days to the Delaware Theatre Company’s 2009 It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, productions abound that capture the manic antics, commercial jingles, and ingenious sound effects of the heyday of radio.  Kevin Regan and Joe Trainor’s On the Air belongs to this continuum but differs as it focuses on a single week in December 1941.  It captures the sense of unease and helplessness that was in the air (and on the airwaves) as America watches events unfold in the days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The musical opens as “Sunshine Days,” a long-running radio soap opera populated with both has-been and still-aspiring talent, is preparing for a move from New York to California.  Both cast and production team are at the mercy of their sponsor as they connive to impress their bosses and continue with the production. Alternating with their machinations are increasingly ominous reports about war activities.

Introduced as a developing work and soliciting audience feedback, the production is quite polished. Genre-bending, it combines a classic love story of shy, under-declared love with rousing musical numbers and Bertold Brecht-like political overtones. The outstanding cast is strong individually as well as in ensemble, and the musical numbers were well-conceived and well-sung, although even the strongest voices were sometimes overshadowed by an overly emphatic percussionist. Jim Burns and Dylan Geringer’s duets were particularly lovely and Matt Casarino and Jill Knapp captured the 1940s radio tone and pacing extremely well. The less-than-perfect sight lines of the Delaware Opera’s black box theater were dealt with by periodically placing actors on chairs, which just made this acrophobic reviewer nervous. Hiding the cast under umbrellas to protect them from what was going on around them was clever staging, but using small, collapsible umbrellas seemed a bit too modern for 1941.

The ninety-minute production moves along at a brisk pace and, as usual, City Theater Company offers an evening of solid theater at a reasonable price.  New productions like On the Air should be encouraged and supported by our local community.  To paraphrase William Shakespeare, the “Sunshine Days” poor players strut and fret their hour upon the stage, while on the world stage major events are unfolding that will affect the lives of many millions.  The play gives us pause to consider how we are preoccupied on a daily basis by our own personal dramas while ignoring the significant issues that surround us. 

On The Air runs March 1 & 2 at The Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios.  See

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Album Review: Angela Sheik, One By One

Angela Sheik recently played to a sold-out crowd at The Grand for the release of her first full-length solo CD -- If you missed out, the good news is that the album, One by One, is now available, and it's a true gem.

Sheik, for those unfamiliar, is a multitalented singer/songwriter/musician from Philadelphia whose style is probably described as electro-acoustic-folk-pop. If that somewhat inadequate description leaves you scratching your head, imagine soaring vocals, melodic piano, some flute, theramin, autoharp and synth, and songs that are in turn inspirational, funny, romantic and heartbreaking.

The CD starts off with an epic starter, "Time to Rise," which does just that musically and vocally -- inviting you to continue on into the beautifully atmospheric world of One by One. It's one of those CDs that is challenging to listen to straight through, not because it's not a great record, or because the tracks don't flow just right, but because I kept replaying songs as I listened to them because I just didn't want to leave them yet. Standout tracks include "Rumblin'," the upbeat "Knock it Down," the haunting "Red Dress," the heartwrenching "When Will I See You Again?" and the most beautiful cover of the Elvis Presley classic "I Can't Help Falling in Love With You" I've ever heard.

With the exception of the cover, all of the songs are written by Sheik; collaborators/musicians Scot Sax and Ritchie Rubini produce. One by One is available on

Monday, February 11, 2013

Modern Illustration Comes Alive at Delaware Art Museum

Vertical Hold, 2009        
Sterling Hundley (born 1976)

If Howard Pyle could come back, a century after his passing, and experience the work of the great modern illustrators, would he recognize it as illustration? How has illustration evolved, and is his legacy reflected in modern illustration? These are some of the questions posed by State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle, guest curated for the Delaware Art Museum by David Apatoff (perhaps best known in the art world for his contemporary illustration blog, Illustration Art). It's easy to see why Apatoff was the curator for the job -- his authority on the subject seems to come from pure passion. 

The eight artists featured have careers that span from the 1950s -- just about the time that photography took over as the dominant medium of choice for magazine covers and advertisements -- through today. The work of Bernie Fuchs, Milton Glaser, Peter de Séve, Sterling Hundley, John Cuneo, Ralph Eggleston, Phil Hale, and Mort Drucker is familiar, to varying degrees, to anyone exposed to modern American culture, from highbrow art connoisseurs to preschoolers.

The journey starts with Fuchs, the earliest illustrator in the show, and the only one to have passed on, in 2009. Fuchs, who grew up in a poor coal mining town in Illinois, came to exemplify 1960s illustration. He had the ability to create illustrations with photo-realistic detail, but, just as things shook up in American society, his work evolved into a more impressionistic, experimental style, while still retaining much of the technique that Pyle would recognize. 

Suicide, 1984, for “A Twilight's Last Gleaming” by Frank Deford, in 
Sports Illustrated, November 19, 1984           
Bernard Fuchs (1932 2009)

Glaser, whose work also shaped the commercial art world in the 1960s, took a different tack; he was not a photo-realistic illustrator, so he focused on concept in his work. Shapes layer to create familiar images, some of the first of what we recognize today as graphic design. Before computers, Glaser's techniques blazed the way.

Hermann Hesse & Family, 1974, for Hermann Hesse 1975
Calendar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.)     
Milton Glaser (born 1929)

The work of de Séve will be recognized by everyone; in addition to being a prolific commercial  illustrator with a distinctive cartoony style, he designed characters for the digitally animated feature film Ice Age. Original sketches are on display, as well as a video monitor that shows how far illustration, with the help of a large team of digital technicians and creators, has truly come.

Scrat, Character study for Ice Age (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 2009)
Peter de Séve (born 1958)

Philip Larkin and Bob
Dylan go antiquing
, 2011        
John Cuneo (born 1957)

Hundley melds traditional illustration style with a "conceptual twist," with images that skew perspective and even use illusion to create two images at once, such as his William Henry Harrison, that captures the short-lived American president speaking at a lectern and lying in a coffin simultaneously.

Cuneo utilizes one of the oldest mediums, pen and ink, to create modern illustrations with fearless subject matter. His rich, lively style will be familiar to readers of The New Yorker and Esquire, among others.

Eggleston was selected as one of the most important artists working for Disney's PIXAR Studios, known for films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E. Pieces include character drawings done in pastels, offering a peek at well-loved PIXAR moments before they went high-tech.
School, Sequence Pastel for Finding Nemo (Pixar Animation Studios, 2003) 
Ralph Eggleston (born 1965)

Hale creates huge, dynamic paintings with a fearsome edge -- some bring to mind some of Pyle's darker work such as The Flying Dutchman, but the figures are not only off-center but at times painted with parts of the head and body cut off by the edge of the canvas. His work has been used as the cover artwork of novels by by Joseph Conrad and Stephen King.

Nostromo, 2007 Cover for Nostromo,
by Joseph Conrad (Penguin Classics, 2007)     

Phil Hale (born 1963)

Finally, Mort Drucker's illustration is known and loved by anyone who has ever spent their allowance money on the new MAD magazine. His distinctive caricatures and highly detailed comic panels have become respected at the level of other fine art -- and original panels for the pages of MAD are on display.

Put*on, for MAD, January 1971          
Mort Drucker (born 1929)

It's an eclectic mix, and one that will enthrall art lovers and illustration aficionados of all ages. State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle will be on view from February 9 to June 13 2013.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

THE PRODUCERS: A Bawdy Good Hit(ler)

By Guest Blogger, Amanda Curry
Amanda is the Marketing Manager of Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington. 
The Producers, Full Cast – Act I Finale
There’s no disputing it: Mel Brooks is a satirical genius, and New Candlelight’s current production of The Producers, running now through March 17, does him proud.  That is to say, deliciously offends with ribaldry, wit, and ridiculousness — the perfect combo for an evening at the theatre (Not to mention, dinner is served… By the actors, nonetheless).   

For those not familiar with the play, (“Because you’ve been living under a rock,” is really the only acceptable explanation here) The Producers, set in 1959, centers on the unlikely pair of larger-than-life, washed-up Broadway producer, Max Bialystock and his sweet, naïve, and neurotic new accountant, Leo Bloom.  Driven by his desire to become a Broadway producer and cajoled by the dominating Bialystock, Bloom and his partner develop a scheme to find and produce the worst play ever, in an effort to financially benefit from the flop. In comes a hilarious cast of characters to produce Springtime for Hitler, written by escaped Nazi Franz Liebkind, directed by flamboyantly fabulous Roger DeBris and starring Bialystock and Bloom’s new office assistant and Swedish stunner, Ulla (fifteen-syllable-last-name).  Needless to say, hilarity ensues.

While New Candlelight is not a large stage space, special recognition goes to Scenic Designer Jeff Reim for the inventive use of flats (and screens while scene changes were happening on stage). Stellar choreography by Peter John Rios added to the fun of the 23 musical numbers, many of them driven by the tight ensemble who seamlessly play an absurd amount of roles. The number “Along Came Bialy” transports audiences to ‘Little Old Lady Land’ and was delightfully staged, complete with cross-dressed old ladies doing the smartly staged ‘walker dance.’      

The true stand-outs of the evening were Anthony Connell as the neurotically endearing Leo Bloom, with a Broadway quality voice and brilliant comic timing, complemented well by the Nathan Lane-esque performance of David Wills as Max Bialystock.  The two have hilarious chemistry and are a joy to watch on stage. 

Jeffrey Lanigan as Franz Leibkind, the Nazi playwright, brought perhaps the biggest laughs of the evening with his rendition of “Der Guten Tag Hap Clop.”  Backed up by his beloved pigeons (puppets that come to life in pivotal moments, most notably to offer a winged ‘hiel’ at the end of “In Old Bavaria,”) Lanigan’s rich operatic voice and comedic chops made him an audience favorite.

Typically poised to steal the show is the character of Carmen Ghia, Roger Debris’ flamingly gay ‘Common-Law Assistant’, played by a somewhat restrained and difficult to hear Timothy Lamont Cannon.  The notable moments in which Carmen delivers an impossibly long final “Sssssssss” (playing off stereotypes, as Brooks’ does at every turn), was not as outlandish in this version.  Thankfully Roger DeBris’ design team gathered back the scenes’ momentum with their ridiculous entrances including, of course, sock-wielding Brian the choreographer, who garnered non-stop laughs. The character of Ulla (Lindsay Mauck), while played with charming enthusiasm, seemed to read as more of a caricature even in scenes that required a softness and romanticism between her character and Leo.  That said, the bawdy nature of her character brings a great deal of consistent laughs.  

Bottom line — If you’re looking for a brilliantly written satire with some amazing talent; fun, splashy costumes; and the kind of outrageous humor that only Mel Brooks can deliver, The Producers at New Candlelight is your best bet.  Be forewarned, however, that you may leave the theatre singing “Springtime for Hitler” for days.  Just be prepared to explain this to co-workers!


Ragtime Rings Through at the Wilmington Drama League

The Wilmington Drama League (WDL) presents the inspirational 90’s musical Ragtime by Terrence McNally (book), Sthephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics). Although the Americana musical is nearly three hours, director Jeff Santoro keeps the pace flowing by projecting still and moving images on a screen at the back of the stage, while populating it with some of the finest voices in the Delaware theater community.

The musical, set on the east coast during the early 1900’s, revolves around three sects of people, a white upper-middle class family, a group of African-Americans, and newly arrived immigrants from Eastern Europe.  While the family copes with having to change with the “new” American ways of the early 20th century, the African-Americans continue to face racism and prejudice, and the immigrants struggle with making a new life in a new country –- all are striving to achieve the American Dream.

The show is full of moving anthems - “Wheels of a Dream,” “Till We Reach That Day,” and “Make Them Hear You” – that inspire hope for a better future. The show also features the beautiful ballads, “Goodbye My Love” and “Your Daddy’s Son,” as well as the rousing dance numbers, “Gettin’ Ready Rag” and “What a Game.” Mr. Flaherty’s music and Ms. Ahrens’s lyrics take you on an emotional journey, at times you want to cry, while other times you want to stand up and cheer!

The show boasts many standout performances by the large cast, including Jim Smith as Father, the patriarch of the upper-middle class family, and Barbara Hartzell as Mother, the matriarch of the family. Both performers give subtle, but effective performances. Genevieve Van-Catledge as Sarah, the African-American woman who, along with her infant, finds shelter with the family, and Darryl Thompson as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., Sarah’s suitor, bring down the house with their strong, soaring voices. Patrick Ruegsegger as Tateh, a Jewish artist who immigrated to the United States with his daughter; Sharon Ruegsegger, as anarchist, Emma Goldman; and Alfred Lance as African-American Civil Rights Leader, Booker T. Washington (the show features many notables from the early 20th century) give commanding performances in their respected roles.

Ragtime closes February 10. To order tickets, call 302.764.1172 or visit