Saturday, April 27, 2013

City Theater Company’s 19th Season Rolls to a Close with the Outlandish Xanadu

Photo by Joe del Tufo
By Guest Blogger, Amanda Curry

As a child of the '80s (1984, to be exact), I was pretty ‘psych’ed ('80s slang here is vital) to learn that Xanadu at CTC involves roller skates, Greek mythology converging with pop culture, and a whole lotta camp. Camp is good, as long as you know what you’re in for.  Come to the Black Box expecting an enlightening and Earth-shattering theatrical awakening — and this is definitely not the show for you.  But, if you’re ready for the ridiculous, over-the-top, so bad-it’s-good, spandex-y roller derby that is Xanadu, you’re in for a treat. Just be sure to bring your legwarmers (I’m actually not kidding. Donning '80s gear appears to be encouraged). 

Xanadu marks City Theater Company’s last show in its 19th season and is based on the 1980 Olivia Newton-John cult classic movie of the same name.  The fluffy plot focuses on a Greek muse named Clio, played by the exuberant Jenna Kuerzi (last seen in December at CTC as Shelley in  Bat Boy: The Musical) who comes from Mt. Olympus to Venice Beach, California in 1980 on a mission to inspire the struggling — and comically suicidal — mural artist, Sonny Malone.  Sonny is played by the bright-eyed Billy Kametz, who steals the show with his charming Ralph Macchio physique, boy band-esque voice and “jorts”. (Yes, that’s jeans+shorts.)  Clio shares with her posse of Grecian muse sisters her plans to disguise herself as an Australian roller girl named Kira — complete with a horrendous accent — and appeal to the mortal Sonny in an effort to inspire his art.

Photo by Joe del Tufo
Jealous sisters Calliope and Melpomene conspire to make Clio/Kira fall in love with doe-eyed Sonny and risk eternal banishment into the underworld by Zeus.  The two plotting sisters are played by the other two stand-out performers of the evening: The hilarious Dylan Geringer as Calliope who has all the comic timing of Kirsten Wiig (and pretty bitchin’ dance moves) and Ann Pinto, who boasts a killer voice, as Melpomene.  The most hilariously ridiculous moment of the show is when Calliope backs up her sister in the song “Evil Woman”...Both 'robot’ and ‘running man’ dance moves make appearances.  Need I say more?

CTC Producing Artistic Director Michael Gray directs this nine-person roller extravaganza (every part is double-cast with the exception of the primary leads), with musical direction by Joe Trainor and choreography by Dawn Morningstar.  Spatially, the stage is set up almost in the round, with a ramp dividing two parts of the audience and a raised platform in the front. A separate playing space is utilized to the left, all with columns and black cloth that are pulled to reveal the mirrored, shimmering disco — Xanadu — that Clio/Kira inspires Sonny to open.  The end of the show culminates in Zeus lifting Clio’s banishment and, you guessed it, the two lovers reuniting.  But not before Clio/Kira makes a grand entrance on a foam Pegasus pulled by a sassy attendant and the entire cast comes out on roller skates for a final dance party extravaganza. (Complete with a minotaur with pierced nipples.  Also, not kidding.) 

Musically, the band was spot-on and the voices and harmonies were on point.  Additionally, the choreography was quite seamless; not an easy feat when the central character is on roller skates for the majority of the show.  Perhaps the most enjoyable element is that this show winks at its own ridiculousity throughout, even referencing its own double-casting and offering more tongue-in-cheek pop-culture references in one evening than one could possibly imagine.

In short, Xanadu is a whole lot of crazy and a whole lot of fun! Xanadu runs through May 11 at CTC's 'home', The Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios, 4 S. Poplar Street, on the Wilmington waterfront.  Tickets are available online at or at the box office on show nights, but cash or check only are accepted onsite.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Temperatures are Rising in the University of Delaware's REP's production of "Fever"

The University of Delaware's Resident Ensemble Players (REP) ends its 2012-13 season with the World Premiere production of Fever, written especially for the REP by Theresa Rebeck. Ms. Rebeck, one of America's most celebrated playwrights and authors, is probably best known for creating the NBC drama Smash.

Fever takes place in a Midwestern bar where the owners, Laila (Elizabeth Hefflin) and Nick (Stephen Pelinski), are faced with a tough decision about the bar's future. Business has been steadily declining, but the bar has been in Laila's family for generations and the actual bar was hand carved by her great-great-great-grandfather, and she is struggling with the idea of selling the business.

 Like most bars, this establishment has its regulars:
• Margo (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) the business woman who's good at what she does, but unhappy with 
     her company's male chauvinistic culture;
• Barry (Steve Tague) the loveable dimwitted man, the type that's always found sitting at the end of 
     the bar;
• Patrick (Mic Matarrese) the down-on-his luck guy who's trying to keep up appearances - show up   
     nightly to drink and chat.

However, our usual suspects' worlds change suddenly when a new couple, Irene (Carine Montbertrand) and Ned (Michael Gotch), dine at the bar one evening and begin arguing over the differing views of men and women, which then spills over into the regulars' conversation. The argument was pretty much standard fare: men feeling superior over women; women fighting to be taken seriously in relationships and the workplace.

The play's not groundbreaking, but it is enjoyable and humorous. It's like an extended episode of Cheers - a slim plot with a bunch of people arguing in a bar. The ensemble cast - which also includes Deena Burke as a broker looking to sell an important piece in the bar - does a fine job developing their characters. Mr. Tague was a particular stand-out. He perfectly captured the guy at the bar that everyone loves and who tries to keep the peace, but still manages to put his foot in his mouth.

The set provides the ninth character in the play. Scenic Designer, Anne Clark, along with the rest of the set crew designed a gorgeous bar. With its intricate carvings and beautiful curves, it does look as if it was carved in the 1800s. There are some FUN additions to the set that I won't give away, but before you leave the theater make sure you check out the bar's entrance/exit for a set piece that's not commonly seen in Delaware bars anymore!

Although the topics of sexism and "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" are familiar, maybe Ms. Rebek is trying to remind us that our society is still struggling with these issues and we need to continue the dialogue for improvement.

Fever at the Thompson Theatre in the Roselle Center for the Arts closes on May, 4. Visit or call 302.831.2201 for additional information and to purchase tickets.

Concerts on Kentmere: The Pyxis Piano Quartet

From left: Amy Leonard, Hiroko
Yamazaki, Meredith Amado, Jie Jin
When classical music comes to the Delaware Art Museum, it's an event not to be missed. For the most recent Concert on Kentmere, the world-class Pyxis Piano Quartet graced the museum's main entry space, under a new (to DAM) piece of artwork, Paul Bocuse's World (1977) by Red Grooms. The wit and whimsy of the giant shadowbox-style piece, set in a restaurant kitchen, both contrasted the music and conformed to it -- the concert series is, after all, "where magnificent art and music come together.

If you're not familiar with the Pyxis Piano Quartet, they are a chamber music ensemble performing traditional and contemporary sonatas, duos, trios and quartets. On this night, the four immensely talented women -- Meredith Amado on violin, Jie Jin on cello, Amy Leonard on viola, and Hiroko Yamazaki on piano, performed three pieces: A duo on viola and cello, a trio on violin, cello, and piano, and, finally, a quartet featuring all four together.

The first two pieces were relatively obscure and contemporary, and classicly avante-garde. American Walter Piston's (1894-1976) Duo (for viola and cello) is an optimistic piece laced with distinctively American half-steps. Russian Dmitri Shostakovich's (1906-1975) Piano Trio in e minor, Op. 67 is a haunting an complex tale of sorrow and hope, written in 1944, with references to Soviet oppression, the discovery of extermination camps in Poland, and the recent death of a friend. The powerful piece, in turns dark and folkishly upbeat, was a highlight of the evening.

The final piece was more well-known: Piano Quartet in g minor, K 478 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is chamber music at its finest, with an interesting backstory. The piece, written in a couple of days by Mozart for a paycheck, was a failure initially -- it was simply too complicated for the amateur musicians who played chamber music at home with friends for entertainment. Eventually, in the hands of more skilled musicians, it became one of Mozart's most beloved pieces of chamber music.

While visiting the museum for the concert, be sure to explore the open gallery. On this evening, guests could experience the wonderful State of the Art, Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle, featuring some of the most revered illustrators in contemporary art.

For information on upcoming Concerts on Kentmere, visit
For upcoming Pyxis dates, visit

Friday, April 19, 2013

An Enchanting Evening at the Ballet

First State Ballet Theatre ended its 2012 – 13 season with a delightful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The production is the company’s contribution to Delaware’s “Year of the Bard” festival (Delaware’s statewide Shakespeare festival, featuring drama, opera, ballet, choral and chamber music, film, poetry readings, humor and more).
The FSBT’s sumptuous production transported the audience to an enchanted forest where a group of fairies wreak havoc and two human couples – Helena (Andrea Olazgasti), Demetrius (Jake Nowicki), Hermia (Emily Shenaut), and Lysander (Ethan Hunter Raysor) – frolic and fall in and out of love.

The basis of the piece is that we all make asses out of ourselves when it comes to love.  This theme is especially highlighted as the King of the fairies, Oberon (Alex Buckner) quarrels with the beautiful Queen of the Fairies, Titania, (Mary Kate Reynolds) over ownership of a changeling child. Oberon casts a spell on Tatiana, making her fall in love with an ass named Bottom — actually an actor passing through the forest whose head Oberon has transformed into a donkey head. To the dismay of her fairy court, Titania cannot be swayed from loving Bottom, even though he’s an ass.   Interesting and hilarious commentary, indeed!  However, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, not one of his tragedies, so rest assured the ballet ends happily!

All of the lead performers executed the choreography by Mr. Buckner with great precision, strength and skill. I’m always amazed and excited to watch ballerinas dance on pointe and I was not disappointed by this production. While dry ice engulfed the stage, Ms. Reynolds and the female chorus appeared to float across it when they danced on pointe during a pivotal scene. From intricate positioning to complicated movements, the cast exquisitely danced the piece on a lavish set by Bob Eizember, Maeve Barsczewski, Grosh and Jose Vasquez. The amazing set brought the character of the forest alive as vines took over the vast Grand’s stage. The set was complimented by the whimsical costumes designed by Benefis, Traci Eizember, Joanne Epstein, Diane Fretwell and Page Obara. The production was a true treat for the eye!  

Although this production closed, make sure you purchase tickets for FSBT’s next season. For more information visit and to learn more about the “Year of the Bard” festival visit

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Newark Arts Alliance Welcomes New Director, Dennis Lawson

Newark Arts Alliance Executive Director Dennis Lawson
Delaware Arts Info recently sat down with "newcomer" Dennis Lawson, the new Executive Director of the Newark Arts Alliance.  And, we say "newcomer" with tongue in cheek — Dennis has been a fixture on the Delaware scene for some time, previously holding a position at the Delaware Art Museum before leaving to complete an advanced degree.  Here's a little Q&A we enjoyed with Dennis upon his return to the Delaware arts world...

Welcome back to the area! What brought you back into the Delaware Arts Scene? 
Thanks!  I left my position as Manager of Public Relations at the Delaware Art Museum in 2010 to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing—something I’ve always wanted to do to become a better writer overall.  When I finished the degree, I hoped to get back into the arts.  It’s exciting to see how art can inspire people and enrich their lives. 

What are your immediate and long-term goals for NAA?
One of my immediate goals is to improve communication so the public knows what’s going on here, from our exhibitions and events to our classes and summer camp.  I want people to know this is a place where they can be creative, and I want artists to have their work seen.  We've already started to get our Literary Arts program off the ground, with a monthly Open Mic dedicated to Poetry, Prose and Performance, and new writing classes scheduled for April and May.

Long-term, I want to see the Newark Arts Alliance and the City of Newark as a whole be as successful and vibrant as ever.  I hope to build relationships with local businesses and organizations, increase our offerings to the community, and increase the number of NAA members as well as our levels of fundraising.

What would you say is the strongest asset of NAA? What (if anything) would you change or improve?

Our strongest asset is the great people who are involved as volunteers, artists, teachers and supporters.  The NAA has been going strong for 20 years, thanks to an incredible level of local enthusiasm!

One thing I would change is the perception that some people have of the NAA as a sort of invitation-only club—nothing could be further from the truth! The NAA exists for everyone in the community to be able to appreciate local art and find a creative outlet for themselves and/or their children. 

Here's a situation for you. Arts Patron: "I've never been to the Newark Arts Alliance and don't really know much about it." What is the one thing you would say to this person to draw them in?
NAA is where you can view and purchase art by local artists, and a welcoming location where you or your children can participate in any number of creative events and classes.  Come on in!
Who is your favorite renowned visual artist — living or dead, and why? Who is/are your favorite local artist(s)?
My favorite renowned visual artist would have to be Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose Pre-Raphaelite paintings I discovered while working at the Delaware Art Museum.  His use of poetry helped invite a literary guy like me into his visual works.  And his Lady Lilith is the ultimate femme fatale!

My favorite local artist is my wife, who is quite a woodworker and painter.  But she tends to keep her creative works to herself.  I’ll get her to submit a piece to the NAA someday.

I also want to add that all of the talented local artists who submit works to our exhibitions and gallery shop, and all the great performers who get up in front of the room at our Open Mic, have my appreciation and respect!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Mélomanie: Holding Our Attention

How do keep your audience challenged and still keep them engaged? To give them both the contemporary “classical” music and early music experience? Mélomanie, the Wilmington-based ensemble, does this with its varied, unusual programs, which are always brilliantly executed.  Mélomanie’s April concert at Wilmington’s Grace Church included guest artists Elizabeth Field, baroque and modern violins, James Wilson, baritone and David Laganella, composer.

Dr. Wilson opened the program with four concert arias by Giovanni Bononcini.  As Wilson discussed, the text does not touch on a conventional subject like love, but rather, one of betrayal, deceit and politics.  The arias form a cantata, with each one ending with the words, “Tutto è interesse” (All be interest.) Wilson sang with beautiful tone and precision, his presence utterly charming.  His performance of Agostino Steffani’s Lagrime Dolorose was equally impressive, with his command of the long, florid phrases and his excellent musicianship.

Composer David Laganella’s The Last Ray (2013), for baroque flute, baroque violin, baroque cello, viola da gamba and harpsichord is a sometimes eerie, but still hopeful piece.  Laganella explained how the work is a depiction of the world’s last moment: the very last ray of sun.  He was inspired to write the piece because of the Mayan doomsday predictions and the news of the 2013 sequestration.  The piece was featured both before the intermission and at the end of the program.

Flutist Kimberly Reighley performed Claude Debussy’s tantalizing Syrinx with her usual expressive phrasing and warm, mellow tone.  Tracy Richardson, harpsichord and Donna Fournier, viola da gamba graced us with August Kühnel’s Suite in G Minor.  The suite-perhaps the most typical “early music” offering-was a delightful showcase for the two musicians.

Be sure to catch their LiveConnections concert, Mélomanie+Minas, at World Cafe Live at the Queen on May 19 at 12:00pm.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Delaware Producers Kickstart A Film's 'Awakening'

A group of Delawareans – including Christopher Bruce of Bruce Productions – is hard at work bringing their adaptation of the groundbreaking play Spring Awakening to the silver screen, and they want YOUR HELP to get the project over the finish line!

"Spring Awakening: The Movie is a true collaboration," says Bruce, who producing the film. "It embodies the spirit of Independent Film and features many local actors, crew and locations in the tri-state area." The movie is a  non-musical version based on Director Kurt Leitner's English translation of Frank Wedekind's original German play. "As the first feature-film version, our production follows closely the themes of the original, revolutionary author," says Leitner.  "[the story is]...filled with teen angst, rebellious actions and sexual questioning and follows what young teens experience when coming of age. Across the globe, this cautionary tale continues to inspire rebels and surge debate." And they're thrilled to produce it here in the Brandywine Valley. 

The producers have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the final funding they need.  For those unfamiliar, Kickstarter is a type of "crowdfunding"—a social network designed to help accomplish creative projects. A group or individual creates a project and asks supporters to help meet their predetermined funding goal, with special incentives/"backer rewards" for varying levels of support.  (Note: Kickstarter does not charge for your pledge until the fundraising campaign ends and ONLY if the requestor reaches the set goal.)

Spring Awakening's funding campaign ends on April 3, so Bruce is urging interested folks to visit their Kickstarter page, make a pledge and share it with their social media networks.  You can get a full background on the Spring Awakening story and their progress thus far at the Kickstarter page as well.

If you want to learn more about the film or the funding process, email Christopher Bruce directly.

Click here to see a video promotion of the film!