Monday, September 30, 2013

The DSO is back…and kicking!

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra boldly began their new 2013-2014 season with a new piece and three exciting works from the standard orchestral repertoire. But nothing is standard about the analysis and pre-concert lectures by Maestro David Amado. His wit, vocabulary and inquisitive mind make his talks on music well worth a hurried supper. He did not disappoint with his thesis that Igor Stravinsky took the theme from Debussy’s Prelude to the afternoon of a faun for his Firebird Suite. The audience and I were perplexed by this comparison of a raucous ritualistic dance being the same as an impressionistic daydream, but on closer examination one can see it. Would that the Maestro had once again let the orchestra open their season with the version of the Star Spangled Banner for which the composer was arrested, but the audience happily sang along for the standard version from the Arthur Luck collection. 

The DSO’s  Music Committee was courageous in choosing a new piece to begin the concert and they made a safe choice: Robert Ward’s Festive Ode is a marvelous mix of extremely well-orchestrated American music which allowed each section of the orchestra to be highlighted and it was a fun homecoming experience. 

Misha Dichter took command of a beautiful Steinway grand which had so much horsepower that he managed to overshadow the orchestra for a while, but pulled back with his sensitive yet untrammeled version of the famous Variation 18.  The percussion section was magically energetic with the dies irae theme, hats off to the glockenspiel! 

Mr. Dichter played a clean, but quietly expressive Claire de Lune as an encore and Maestro Amado and the orchestra surprised him after that by playing Happy Birthday to honor the day.  (Mr. Dichter seemed pleased and surprised by the gesture.)

Mr. Amado had the orchestra illustrate the themes of the Prelude to the afternoon of a faun by Claude Debussy. The soft colors of the orchestra told us that none of the players had lost any luster in the rough and uncertain past year.  The dynamics were so soft, especially with Katy Ambrose’s delicate horn entrance on a whisper. What a woodwind section the DSO has as well!

After the impressionistic pastels came the thunderous Firebird Suite.  The strings outdid themselves with a super soft beginning and eerie harmonics.  The clarinets took the magic jazzy, klezmer lines and played them as if they were easy as pie.  The Infernal dance had that unleashed wildness led by  Donna Battista on piano and some great percussion on xylophone.  Jon Gaarder played a smooth and controlled lullaby solo before the thunderous finale. 

Welcome back to the Grand, Delaware Symphony Orchestra!


The 6th Annual Film Brothers Festival of Shorts

Good news for those who missed this year's Film Brothers Festival of Shorts at Theatre N (which was held in tandem with Fringe Wilmington for the past few years) -- the popular film festival has one more run at the Delaware Art Museum on October 5. In the past, The Festival of Shorts has screened films that have gone on to do big things, most notably Delaware native Luke Matheny's God of Love, which won the Academy Award for Live Action Short Film in 2011.

This year, there are eight films from all over the world, including Cracker Jack Rises by Delaware's Indie Frame Films, an entry in last year's Fringe Wilmington Film Festival (aka the "Super Noodles" festival -- the challenge being to include certain noodle-related footage in the film somehow). I would have liked to have seen a Delaware film with fewer limits, but Cracker Jack Rises is a funny and entertaining film.

The standout films for me were 30% Women in Politics in Sierra Leone, a UK film by Anna Cady and Em Cooper that blends oil painted animation with live-action footage and interviews of three women running for Parliament in post-conflict Sierra Leone. The title derives from a bill that would require the government to have a 30% quota of women representation. Even if you prefer lighter fare in film festivals, this film will engage you from beginning to end.

Another favorite does qualify as "lighter fare": a romantic, comic film called Cataplexy by Los Angeles filmmaker John Salcido. It's the story of a guy who orders a call girl, only to find that the woman they've sent is an old high school friend. Embarrassed, he explains that he has an unusual disorder, and they spend the evening catching up instead of following through on the "date." You'll probably see the punchline coming, but it's a very well done little film.

The full list of films are after the jump:

Take a Trip to Avenue Q — "Q" Stands for Quirky & Quite Funny

We were drawn to the Wilmington Drama League by the intrigue of what a pal described as “…an adult version of Sesame Street.” How could we pass that up?

Avenue Q: The Musical — book by Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx — opened off-Broadway in March 2003 and subsequently won Tony® Awards for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book.  In short, it’s the story of a dysfunctional mix of people and puppets who whine, curse, say racist things, drink, surf the ‘Net for porn, and have puppet sex.  But it’s also a tale of friendship, community, relationships and the love that holds it all together.  Welcome to Avenue Q, a place where humans and puppets live in hilarious harmony and Gary Coleman — yes, Gary Coleman — is the building Super.

As the show begins, we meet Princeton (played splendidly by Jason Tokarski, who gives the puppet a boyish, naïve charm), a recent college grad who moves to the big city. Since he’s an English major without a job, he can’t afford to live anywhere but the apartments on Avenue Q.  Here, meets his new “family” — an entertaining array of human and puppet neighbors including Brian (Shawn Kline) and Christmas Eve, his Asian-American therapist fiancée (Suzanne J. Stein); roommates Rod and Nicky (Ernie-and-Bert types played by Jim Burns and Anthony Vitalo, respectively); Trekkie Monster (Nick D’Argenio) and his friend-maybe-more Kate Monster (no relation to Trekkie; not all monsters are related…what are you, racist?). Their lives' complexities ensue, as they all try to find their ‘purposes’ in life.

Kate Monster (Regina Dzielak) is a gentle, compassionate creature that longs for career success, to fulfill her dreams and to find love. Dzielak plays her with humor and vulnerability, her voice sweet and lovely as she sings about Princeton’s “Mix Tape” and the place between friendship and love in “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.”

There were highlights aplenty for me, including Burns’ role as Rod, the impossibly-uptight-possibly-gay-Republican roomie to Vitalo’s Nicky. Burns’ performance — especially in “If You Were Gay” and “My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada” — was ROFL funny.  Also delivering side-splitting laughs is Nick D’Argenio as Trekkie Monster, with inappropriate interjections and his performance in “The Internet is for Porn.”  He’s every guy’s guy in a Cookie Monster form.  And, stealing more than one scene are Katie Brady and Chrissy Stief as the Bad Idea Bears — they’re cute, they're cuddly, they’re pure evil and they’re funny as hell.

Tommy Fisher-Klein has a solid comedic performance as “Gary Coleman,” sliding in and out of scenes with quick-witted jabs and reactions that make you laugh out loud. He gives us another highlight (and set-up to the aforementioned puppet sex) with “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love).” The entire scene had the audience hooting.

As mentioned, the cast is a mix of real-life actors and actors, dressed in black to minimize “obstruction,” maneuvering large-scale hand puppets.  At times, it was a bit challenging for me to shift between watching the puppets versus the actors themselves.  However, the performer who made it most seamless was Shelli Ezold as Lucy the Slut.  Ezold does an incredible job in her movement and manner, placing your focus on Lucy’s, um, assets while delivering a power-packed sexpot of a character with her gorgeous, sultry voice.  

Directed by Wayne Meadows, the show is accented with “Sesame-like” multimedia features, as well as fun audience interaction, and I was pleased to see that Meadows chose a live orchestra for music.  The first act moves quickly with the most raucous songs and activity; the second act is a bit slower but still enjoyable.  We sat in the front center row, but I don’t recommend it for everyone…I think the sightlines are a bit better further back in the theater. (Although you’ll miss getting picked on by the cast, which was a riot.) 

While I don’t necessarily wish I lived on Avenue Q, I absolutely loved visiting with its quirky residents, who made me glad that my life doesn’t suck as much as theirs.  Decide for yourself — the show runs through October 6!


Thursday, September 26, 2013

At Chapel Street, it's Hitchcock with a Twist

The Chapel Street Players have never backed down from putting on challenging shows, but THE 39 STEPS poses a special kind of challenge: Take a 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie and recreate it on stage using just four actors and a few props. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s got well more than four characters. And multiple settings, including the outside of a moving train, the Scottish countryside, and the London Palladium. The sometimes mad dash to deliver almost every line in the film and change the set to fit the scenes is hilarious, and you end up with something that is part tribute, part parody, and very funny throughout. 

Taking on the roles are Tom Trietly, in the only single-character role as Richard Hannay,  a hapless Englishman who finds himself a murder suspect after inviting a doomed German spy to stay at his home for the night. She’s the first of three love interests for the “dashing, wavy-haired” Hannay, all played by Anna Keane, who delivers over-melodramatic (as intended) spy, sheltered country wife, and 1930s firecracker smoothly. All of the other characters are played by Bethany Miller, billed as “Clown 1,” and Andrew Dluhy, as “Clown 2.” Despite their minor-sounding billing, these two carry the show with a rapid-fire succession of characters, including vaudeville performers, police, spies, train conductors, and townsfolk of all kinds. Often within the same scene, with more than one of their characters present. There’s plenty of gender-bending and over-the-top accents, with Miller stealing most of her scenes.

Trietly is goofily charming as Hannay, presenting the protagonist as a sympathetic, relatively normal guy thrown into a world of thrills and intrigue. 

Few shows are as fast-paced and fun as THE 39 STEPS, and CSP’s four stars deliver the entertaining show it’s meant to be. If you don’t think of Hitchcock as fun, you’re in for surprise. You may never look at his (often darkly comic) classic films the same way again.

The 39 Steps runs from September 20 - 28, 2013. To purchase tickets, go to

This review was originally published in Stage Magazine.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Copeland Quartet opens new series at Church of the Holy City

It was a delight to see the Copeland String Quartet in their eleventh year – because you can feel that they have invested enough time to coordinate in that magic extra-sensory perception chamber groups get after years of performing together. 
They courageously chose three pieces by composers not known for their chamber catalogs and the results were mixed.  For me, the Copeland’s interpretation of Hugo Wolf’s wild and raucous Italian Serenade was too tame and too cautious.  Wolf was trying to make music representing a rebellious soldier wooing a damsel aggressively and I felt this damsel would have been underwhelmed.  And yet, the exploration of the unknown was intriguing.
The second piece was a lush, romantic short piece by Giacomo Puccini, Crisantemi, which he wrote for a funeral but which today would be the sort of movie theme patrons buy and take home and play again and again.  The beautiful melodic lines were played freely and with great expression by first violinist Eliezer Gutman and the group provided the support and countermelodies as if they were thinking the same thoughts and breathing the same rhythm. 

The third and last piece on the program was a surprising string quartet which Giuseppe Verdi wrote in Naples while waiting for the soprano in Aida to recover from an illness.  No surprise that this extremely operatic composer wrote a quartet that seemed like an opera.  Tom Jackson, second violin, got to lead the outer movements as if playing the alto role.  The first violin joined the duet and then the strings began to sound like the orchestral part!  The third movement gave cellist Mark Ward a chance to show off the singing high notes of the cello as his colleagues formed a pizzicato accompaniment.

The quartet played an encore which is on their third and latest CD, the Andante Espressivo  movement from Felix Mendelssohn’s Quartet in D Major, Opus 44, Nr. 1.  The group knows this piece well and played it with confidence, yet it seemed still fresh and alive. 

We are lucky to have a quartet with such longevity as the Copeland Quartet, like a fine wine, is definitely improving with age.



Monday, September 16, 2013

Delaware Theatre Company Scores a Touchdown with "Any Given Monday"

The Delaware Theatre Company (DTC) opened its 2013/14 Season with the black comedy Any Given Monday by Bruce Graham. Mr. Graham's four character play about an easy going, loving man (Lenny played by Kenny Morris) who's life is turned upside down when his wife (Risa played by Leslie Hendrix) of 24 years decides to leave him for a smooth-talking Casanova. However, the plot thickens when Lenny’s blue-collar best friend (Mickey played by Michael Mastro) tells Lenny how he has taken revenge on the Casanova on Lenny's behalf while watching the Monday night football game. During the game and the friends’ conversation, Lenny’s daughter (Sarah played by Lucy DeVito) decides to come home from school to not console her father, but to toughen him up and not become a "softy" when his wife decides to come back. 

The play, set on the outskirts of Philadelphia, could have easily been a run-of-the-mill story about a cheating partner, but Mr. Graham has written a complex, witty piece with twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat or bending over in laughter. I must admit I don't think I have ever laughed as hard at DTC as I did while watching this production.

Bud Martin expertly directed the production and the ensemble cast. Mr. Morris masterfully transforms from the sweet, easygoing high school teacher who’s obsessed with To Kill a Mockingbird in the first act to the take-charge alpha male in the second act. Ms. Hendrix is exquisite as the manipulative, spoiled wife. Her facial expressions and body language are priceless. Mr. Mastro has the task of delivering many of the shows funniest lines and he does it with great ease. He does an incredible job of bringing his dim-witted, but loveable character to life. Ms. DeVito rounds out the cast as the charming, but wise daughter who is obsessed with discussing life/death, religion and God. She does a fine job with her many humorous, philosophical monologues.

I have been seeing plays at DTC ever since I was a teenager in the late 80s and I’ve always been impressed with the sets for each production, and the set for this play doesn’t disappoint. Scenic Designer Dirk Durossette has created a multi-purpose stage that includes the inside of the family’s home and a portion of one side of the stage to serve for the scenes that take place outside of the home. His details are impeccable. Shortly after sitting down, my friend immediately pointed out the game of Sorry that was placed on a shelf in the family’s living room. It’s those details that I find add credibility to a play and makes it fun to explore the rest of the set!

Any Given Monday runs through September 22, at The Delaware Theatre Company. Visit or call 302.594.1100. For additional information and

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Storyteller's Tale: Visit with TAHIRA

Delaware Arts Info sat down for a chat with local storyteller TAHIRA to discover more about her craft and how she shares her amazing gift with others. Check out our interview below...

TAHIRA is a storyteller, poet, vocalist and percussionist with a bachelor's degree from Temple University's School of Communication and Theatre. Whether performing her original works or her vast repertoire of stories from the African oral tradition, she brings to her audience messages of courage, hope and spiritual strength. An advocate of using the arts to bring about social change, TAHIRA says: "My mission is to shed light in dark places to reveal the brilliance of human spirit."

*How long have you been performing? How did you get your start? Where do you regularly perform?
In 1993, I was attending a Kwanzaa program at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia with my daughter who at the time was a toddler.  Charlotte Blake Alston, a renowned national storyteller, was performing.  It was a captivating performance and it reminded me of the Kwanzaa programs I organized in my high school days. After speaking with Charlotte after the performance she told me about a newly formed organization called Keepers Of The Culture (KOTC).  Soon after I joined KOTC where I was mentored and nurtured as a storyteller by Charlotte and Caroliese Frink Reed.

By 1996, I had quit my job as a trainer in the financial service industry and pursued storytelling as a full-time career.  A short time later, I became president of KOTC, an affiliate of the National Association of Black Storytellers, which catapulted me on the national storytelling platform where my study continued under the guidance of renowned storytellers such as Baba Jamal Koram, Mother Mary Carter Smith and Linda Goss.  Soon I was performing at festivals, conferences, schools, libraries, and community centers across the country.

Today, my work continues in those venues and has also spread to behavioral health institutions and detention centers as I found my niche developing programs tailored for those populations.  In 2000, I received the Fellowship Award for Outstanding Contribution in Oral Literature from the Delaware Division of the Arts, which led to me successfully obtaining spots on the artist’s rosters within art organizations across the country.

*Where do your stories come from? Where do you find inspiration for your content?
Many of the stories come from the African Diaspora with a particular focus on West African stories.  Additionally, I perform some original works.  My content is inspired by my childhood where I was instructed by my father to use my gifts to positively impact my community and encouraged by my mother to follow my dreams. Stories that resonate with me are those that empower my audience to think critically, choose wisely and believe fervently in their ability to succeed.

*What do you love most about your craft? What do you find most challenging?
After 20 years as a professional storyteller, it still blows me away how people are profoundly affected by the stories I tell.  Recently in my Women Word Wisdom workshop that I am conducting at the Walnut Street YMCA, a participant tearfully recounted to me how the story I told reaffirmed for her the need for her to spend more time on her own personal development. She confessed that she had been looking for some direction on how channel her creativity in a positive manner and my workshop gave her that direction.

The most challenging thing in my work is getting people to understand that storytelling is not frivolous entertainment for children.  Storytelling can be a catalyst for social change.  It is a powerful tool to inform, empower and heal.

*This might be a silly question, but is there a difference between poetry and spoken-word performances? If so, what is that?
Not a silly question at all!  The biggest difference: Spoken word is a performance-based art form.  Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets are some of the legends that popularized this style of performance poetry, which laid the foundation for the Hip-Hop movement.

*What is your favorite poem or writer/poet that has influenced you or that you like to draw from for inspiration or inner strength?
Let me first tell you my favorite story as I am a storyteller first and foremost.  The story of Sudiata, the real Lion King, is my favorite because it tells of a child who is prophesized to be great; but when born with a physical affliction was ridiculed and berated.  He not only overcame his physical limitations but rose to be a great ruler of the Mali Empire.  It is a story many can draw inspiration, strength and wisdom from because it speaks to being triumphant in the face of great adversity.  A message any human being can relate to!

As for poetry, I love Paul Laurence Dunbar because my father used to read his poems to me as a child.  The poem Mother to Son is my favorite.  The lesson of determination and tenacity that this poem conveys is powerful.  I tend to be drawn to messages of hope and resiliency.

*You have a current performance program entitled "Women Word Wisdom." Tell us about that program and why you created it. Is there anyone else involved in the program? Where and when can we experience this program?
An intergenerational group of females are brought together to engage in a storytelling project aimed at promoting healthy interpersonal relationships.  Storytelling is used as a catalyst for examining and discussing topics such as self-esteem, safety in relationships and developing support systems.  This free program is sponsored by the Walnut Street YMCA under the direction K. El-Shabazz and is held on Thursdays from 6:00-7:00pm until October 10.

*What is your best advice for young poets and spoken-word artists who want to develop their talents?
Be a perpetual student of your craft.  There is always more to learn.  Find a seasoned artist in your craft to mentor you and keep you grounded and focused.  The work you do is bigger than you.  It is about using your gift to be of service to your community.

*Where is the best place for Wilmingtonians to find open mic poetry or spoken word venues to discover or perform themselves?
To be honest, I do not know of any venue in Wilmington that is offering open mic on a consistent basis.

*What aspects of the Wilmington/Delaware arts scene do you love the most? Where do you feel there should be improvement?
What I love most about the Wilmington/Delaware arts scene is that it has that small town feel.  People are warm and encouraging.  What could be improved upon is increasing support.  Countless times I have been to venues which are presenting high-quality art programming to an almost empty audience.  Support the arts!


Monday, September 9, 2013

Delaware Music: Rachel Schain's LilacFace

Coffeehouse darling (and Delaware Today's 2011 Best Musician in Upstate Delaware) Rachel Schain may be on maternity hiatus from live shows until 2014, but that's no reason to miss out on her music. If you haven't yet caught Schain's live acoustic show, her debut album, LilacFace, is a great way to get turned on to her quirky brand of pop-rock-folk.

While the songs are performed live with an acoustic guitar, LilacFace, produced by Boy Wonder, features Schain with a full band (Philly's Venice Sunlight), as well as guest appearances by Patrick Allen, TubaDan, Noelle Picara, Sheila Hershey, and Donna Smith. 

Schain's appeal is in her catchy melodies and clever lyrics. With titles like "Google Thinks We're Dating" and "Unconventionally Yours (2)," these are not your average folk-pop songs. And while several of the songs are about romantic relationships, they're love songs for girls who don't spend most of their time obsessing over boys (and the people who love them). The songs range from pretty and melodic "Liam's Song" to the rock anthem "Rockstar, Bitch!" with plenty of variation in between. The highlight of the album is "Songbird," a witty takedown that sounds much sweeter than it is (and when you get the double meaning, you'll laugh out loud).

LilacFace is available digitally on Amazon and iTunes, with both digital and physical copies for sale at CDBaby.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Annual Arden Fair Kicks-Off Labor Day Weekend

By Guest Blogger, Melissa Duko
Melissa is a former reporter for Spark magazine. She is a fan of all things fashion, art, and pop culture, and isn’t ashamed to admit she watches Bravo TV religiously.

Despite a forecast calling for rain, Arden Fair attendees saw only partly cloudy skies, allowing for hours of shopping, eating and entertainment. Saturday, Aug. 31 marked the 106th anniversary of the Arden Fair. The annual event of all things art brought out a diverse crowd of all ages, including newbies like me. Although I’m a native Delawarean, I’ve never attended the Arden Fair before. (I blame Labor Day weekend trips to the beach.) So I was excited to see the wares of local artisans and partake in delicious midway treats.

When I go to an event, parking is my number one concern.  I’ve heard how popular the Arden Fair is, so I decided to beat the crowd and get there right as the fair opened. My early arrival meant I could skip the free shuttle buses, and I scored a free parking spot over in the grassy field designated for parking. After parking, I hoofed it on foot over to the fairgrounds, burning calories along the way that would go toward future smoothies and kettle corn. 
I entered the fair, and made my way down to Shady Grove for the first performance of the day: The Diamond State Concert Band (  The volunteer concert band treated festival-goers to a variety of upbeat tunes.  Unfortunately, classical music isn’t my forte so the names of the songs escaped me.  While the music rolled on (the rest of the day’s acts included the Rob Tietze Duo, Kombu Combo, Kwesi Kankam, Stereo Box, Universal Funk Order, New Sweden, The Dreamkillers), I headed back to the vendors for some retail therapy.
The Fair featured more than 50 vendors, including Sage Tree and the eclectic Second Look Mosaic Creations. If you like to give loved ones (or yourself) unique gifts, the fair offered plenty to choose from: clothing for pets, hats, infinity scarves, sand art, and beer bottle cap art, just to name a few.  

All of that walking will work up an appetite, and my Arden Fair food favorites were the Kettle Corn ($7 large bag) and fresh fruit smoothies ($3 for a small). The kettle corn was such a hit that I regret not picking up two bags. Oh well, there is always next year!

Never been to the Arden Fair either? It’s always held Labor Day weekend. Mark your calendar now for next year (Aug. 30, 2014).