Thursday, October 31, 2013

Celebrating the Spooky Holiday with Shakespeare & Poe

By Guest Blogger, Bradford Wason. Brad is the Founder and Director of 23rd & 5th Design Group and currently works with DMG Marketing in Greenville. He is also on the faculty of Delaware College of Art & Design, and is an ardent Wilmington Arts & Culture supporter.

DSF's actors add the appropriate "flair" to
the macabre tales by Shakespeare & Poe.
As fall fast approaches, the nights grow colder, and with it we enter the Halloween season. Traditionally, Halloween means ghosts and ghouls, masks and candy, or hayrides. But if you're looking to experience an intimate evening in the dark side of theatre, the Delaware Shakespeare Festival (DSF) has all the mirth and matter you'll need this season. Ghosts, spirits, witches and haunting stories are included, in this mash-up of William Shakespeare plays and poems and short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. This format uniquely blends the two together in one fascinating macabre journey, as narrated by DSF veterans Caroline Crocker (A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Two Gentleman of Verona), Adam Darrow (The Two Gentleman of Verona), James Kassees (A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Two Gentleman of Verona), and a newcomer to DSF, Clare O'Malley.  

After its debut hit in 2012, The Shakespeare/Poe - A Night of Readings from The Dark Side returns, traveling to the gothic halls of Rockwood Mansion, the galleries of the Newark Arts Alliance and the grandeur of the Read House & Gardens in Old New Castle. As DSF Producing Artistic Director David Stradley said, "Our summer Festival audiences come from all over the area; so this year, we decided to share this fun evening in venues throughout New Castle County. I think each will bring its own interesting energy to the night."

I couldn't agree with him more, having thoroughly enjoyed the 30-seat, sold-out performance Saturday night at the Read House. The evening of readings runs just over an hour, which made for a excellent late dinner and conversation to follow.

The readings are compiled and directed by Stradley, who does a masterful job weaving the works into a continuous piece. The evening ebbs and flows, from dramatic delivery by James Kassess in The Fall of the House of Usher (Poe) to the "excited sensations" narrated by Clare O'Malley in The Masque of the Red Death (Poe). Not to be outdone by the dark short stories and poems of Poe, Adam Darrow and Caroline Crocker bring to life the juxtaposition of Poe's The Masque of the Red Death in an excerpt of Macbeth (Shakespeare), Act 3, Scene 4, where the tortured Macbeth is visited by the ghost of Banquo.

I appreciated the narrative notes and short quips added by the cast to lighten the mood and provide background. Although the evening is rooted in macabre storytelling — such as an excerpt from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, or Poe's The Raven — it provides more humorous moments, such as the Hamlet/Raven Mash-up read by the Ensemble. The audience gave a good chuckle to fill out the room as the evening ended with Caroline Crocker's narration of the Caliban Monologue – Act 3, Scene 2, from The Tempest (Shakespeare).

"Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet aires that give delight and hurt not."

If you're looking to enlighten and indulge your senses, this short, intimate evening by the Delaware Shakespeare Festival is not to be missed! ONLY at

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Newark Symphony Orchestra aims high

The Newark Symphony Orchestra played the Double Concerto in E Minor, Opus 88 for clarinet, viola and orchestra with Vincent Marinelli, clarinet and Timothy Schwarz, viola as solosits at the Independence School in Newark on Sunday.  The clarinet and viola exchanged voices easily and their ranges are remarkably complimentary.  Dr. Schwarz and Mr. Marinelli each brought out their solo lines with ease and the result was a wonderfully flowing duo with vivid dynamics and a wide range of tone.  Although the orchestra was sometimes louder than I would have liked, the soloists were heard above the orchestra most of the time, including the beautiful passage in the second movement when Dr. Schwarz’s viola had the top voice of the final cadence.

Maestro Tartaglione has been pushing his orchestra to tackle more and more difficult pieces (as has Dr. Schwarz for the Wilmington Community Orchestra), but this time, the Wagner Ride of the Valkyries was just too much of a challenge for the French horn section, which has worked so hard over the past few years and has had some glorious performances.  But in Sunday’s concert, the Overture to Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber had some horn passages which suffered from tuning issues and insecure attacks, although the orchestra in general had a steady performance with a very strong cello section and a great solo clarinet part played by Michelle Webb.

The other three Wagner preludes came off well.  Laura Grass’s solo entrances on trumpet was beautifully controlled and quite effective in the Rienzi Overture – her quiet entries and well-controlled crescendos deserved applause -  and the horns sounded good as they did in Siegfried’s Rhine Journey.  The Meistersinger Overture was a triumph for trumpet, horn, trombones and tuba, although the drums and percussion resound in the hall at the Independence School, so perhaps they could have brought it down a notch.

The concert was quite moving and having the musicians strive for a higher level of playing has paid off in the vast improvements they have made under Maestro Tartaglione.  But shouldn’t the director include at least one easier piece in every concert?


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Fun and Farce with DTC's Lend Me a Tenor

Jonathan Silver and Sarah Litzsinger
 Delaware Theatre Company follows its darkly comic season opener Any Given Monday with the decidedly lighter comedy of Ken Ludwig's Lend Me a Tenor, a show business farce packed with slapstick comedy and more actors than the stage has seen since last season's South Pacific. The larger cast isn't the only thing Tenor has in common with DTC's fabulous South Pacific production -- the two productions share three major-league talented actors, with John Plumpis, Jonathan Silver and Sarah Litzsinger returning to Wilmington stage.

Under the direction of Bud Martin (who, as Executive Director of DTC and stage director of the biggest shows of the last couple of seasons, deserves more than a little credit for bringing the Theatre to its impressive new level), Lend Me a Tenor is an old-fashioned comedy of errors (and triumphs), filled with sexy humor and absurd misunderstandings. Some of the comedy is dark, including the use of a "dead" body as a prop, and some may come off as a bit dated, but the laughter is pretty much non-stop.

Howie Brown, Marcia Hepps, Eileen Cella
Tenor is the story of a young opera company assistant named Max (Silver) who has taken on the duty of handling world-renowned Italian Tenor Tito Merelli (Plumpis) as he arrives for a special performance in 1930s Cleveland. Max is in love with the General Manager's daughter, Maggie (Eileen Cella), who has a crush on Tito and craves a wild romance before she settles down. Max tries to keep the General Manager, Saunders (Tony Braithwaite) calm as they await Tito's late arrival. When he finally shows up, he's accompanied by his fiery-tempered wife, Maria (Tracie Higgins), who finds Maggie in a closet of the luxury suite and, sick of his philandering, leaves him. This sets of a wild chain reaction, as Tito becomes despondent and falls into a deep sleep from an accidental double dose of tranquilizers to calm his nerves; when he won't wake up just before showtime, Max assumes he's committed suicide. But this is the kind of comedy where no one stays dead (or without love) for long, and the second act is full of plots, coverups, and mistaken identities, as well as some over-the-top Othello costumes.

While Tenor is not a musical, it has a couple of brief operatic interludes that could easily be lip-synced by the actors. But not here. Both Plumpis and Silver have beautiful voices, making the operatic moments soar even in their brevity. And both are skilled comic actors, matched by the excitable Braithwaite as Saunders and Howie Brown, who also does some singing, as an enthusiastic bellhop.

The women offer plenty of laughs, too, with Litzinger as vampy soprano Diana, Marcia Hepps as the seductive Chairman of the Cleveland Opera Board, and Cella's Maggie alternating between sweetly flirtatious and adorably goofy. As Maria, Higgins commands attention -- from Tito and the audience.

By the end of the escapade, everyone is where they should be, and everyone is happy. But while it's a light and silly play, its themes of perception and hope leave a lasting impression.

Lend Me a Tenor runs through November 3. Visit to purchase tickets.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Art News from New Wilmington Art Association

New Wilmington Art Association (NWAA) — the collection of contemporary artists responsible for bringing edgy, exciting works to Wilmington's visual arts scene — is back and excited to begin a new season! They’re already preparing for their first show. 
NWAA also welcomes four new co-directors who will head up the organization: Anne Yoncha, William Slowik, Jessica Taylor, Brian Scatasti.

Please note the email address for NWAA has changed: to contact them & submit work for the DEBUT 2014 SHOW — FREE and OPEN TO ALL.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

J. S. Bach and His Circle - Market Street Music Festival Concert

Market Street Music Director David Schelat
My sneak preview of David Schelat’s upcoming organ recital was a trip through the world of Johann Sebastian Bach through examples of the music Bach heard as a young man, the composers he influenced and the late works of the great composer himself.

The recital opens with a Praeludium in C Major by Dieterich Buxtehude, a composer and artist whom Bach admired greatly.  This large work is as grand as any organ work of Bach, and to hear the varied registrations chosen by Mr. Schelat for the Gabriel Kney organ is a moving experience. The second composer whose music influenced Bach was Georg Böhm.  The chorale prelude shows a contrasting style of French influence. 

Mr. Schelat then played the compositions of three of Bach’s students.  Two of the three preludes Mr. Schelat chose by Johann Christian Kittel sounded as if Mozart had gone backwards in time to write a few operatic songs for organ, but what we really see is how Bach sowed the seeds of the Classical era.  The third prelude is a large and exciting prelude in D minor which calls to mind the great master’s toccata and fugue in the same key.

The second Bach student may not be as well known, but has a large catalog of compositions.  Gottfried August Homilius’ Dearly I love you, O Lord is in trio form and the registration Mr. Schelat chose maintain a brilliant contrast with the two manuals and pedal all in distinctive voices. 

The Fantasia and fugue in F Major by Johann Ludwig Krebs reveal another intersection of styles as Bach’s student tries a wildly rococo fantasia and a more baroque full fugue.

The final works — those of the great master Bach — start with one of his six trio sonatas, Sonata in C Major (BWV 529).  Wilmington is lucky to have an organist who can play such a challenging work with the rich sound of the organ at First and Central.  The other two pieces, the chorale prelude Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness and the Prelude and Fugue in C Major (BWV 547) complete the tour.  In a little more than an hour, Mr. Schelat takes the listener to hear what Bach heard as a young man, how his students interpreted his teaching and how the mature composer created some of the most complex and intriguing works for organ which are still fresh today.  The concert — Bach and His Circle — is at First and Central Presbyterian Church on Rodney Square on Saturday, October 19, at 7:30pm.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

DAM Presents American Moderns, 1910 - 1960: From O'Keefe to Rockwell

Green, Yellow and Orange, 1960, Georgia O'Keefe
Organized by the Brooklyn Museum and co-curated by Karen Sherry, Margaret Stentz, and the Delaware Art Museum's Dr. Heather Campbell Coyle, American Moderns, 1910 - 1960: From O'Keefe to Rockwell asks the question "what is American modern art?" -- then proceeds to push the definition beyond the expected. Covering the first half of the 20th Century, the exhibition focuses on the early defining moments of modern art in the United States, with work that precedes the Digital Age.

The mix of artists, from big names such a Georgia O'Keefe, Grandama Moses, and Brandywine Valley superstar N.C. Wyeth to important but less recognized artists such as Marguerite Thompson Zorach and Ernest Crichlow, encompass a broader spectrum of American Modern artists, showcased in several categories. Visitors move from Cubist Experiments, with its Pablo Picasso influence; Still Life Revisited, where new techniques were applied to an old style; Nature Essentialized, celebrating nature often with the help of modern technology such as air travel and photography; Modern Structures, capturing and reflecting images of modern urban and rural life; Engaging Characters, with a focus on "the human spectacle"; and Americana, which asks "What makes America America?" through styles such as folk art and illustration.

Manhattan Mosaic, 1947,
George Copeland Ault
Where American Moderns pushes through the barriers of modern art is with its inclusion of popular illustration artists such as Norman Rockwell and Wyeth; such respect for illustration artists is nothing new for the Delaware Art Museum, but it's a respect, especially in the Modern Art world, that is still just starting to catch on.

The inclusion of folk art, such as Morris Hirscfield's "Girl with a Dog," by contrast, brings a style of art not found in DAM's permanent collection.

The exhibition, which runs through the holidays and closes on January 5, 2014, is a must-see for American Art lovers, Modern Art lovers, and anyone interested in learning more about either.

Friday, October 11, 2013

OperaDelaware Delights with L'Elisir d'amore

Opera fans have a lot to be excited about with OperaDelaware's production of L'Elisir d'amore (The Elixir of Love), Gaetano Donizetti's comic two-act opera, with two performances at The Grand on October 11 and 13. Conducted by Maestro Jerome Shannon, with a truly stellar cast of performers, including rising star tenor William Davenport, nationally-known soprano Sharin Apostolou, and Metropolitan Opera baritone Trevor Scheunemann, L'Elisir d'amore will not disappoint those who already love the genre.

William Davenport as Nemorino. Photo: Mark Garvin 

For those who find the idea of the opera intimidating, L'Elisir d'amore is also the perfect opera for new fans, because it's just really a lot of fun, with fast pacing, a clear storyline, romance and lots of laughs. Of course, the music is stunning, with Davenport and Apostolou leading the story of a young man and woman playing the game of love.

The tale centers around Nemorino (Davenport), and Adina (Apostolou), who have known each other since childhood, though Nemorino is poor and Adina is from a higher class. Adina loved Nemorino as a little girl, but young Nemorino blew it when he found himself distracted by a baker passing with fresh pastries. That fateful doughnut would follow him to adulthood, when beautiful Adina, all grown up, shows little interest in him -- or anyone in particular, really. When she is courted by the flashy soldier Belcore (Scheunemann), Nemorino confesses his love to her, she tells him that true love doesn't exist, and he should be like her and date around. A scammy traveling salesman, Dr. Dulcamara (Stephen Eisenhard, basso buffo), sells Nemorino a phony love elixir. His behavior after drinking the elixir starts to intrigue Adina, she decides to make him jealous, leading to a comical chain of events as the couple tries desperately to get the other to fall in love with them.

Scheunemann, Apostolou, Davenport. Photo: Mark Garvin

Don't worry if you don't speak Italian -- the opera is subtitled on screens on either side of the stage.

Every aspect of the opera, from the magnificent stage sets to the lush costumes, come together to create an experience that's as magnificent visually as it is to the ear. Bring the family, bring your friends, but don't miss this one-weekend-only event.

For tickets, go to

Monday, October 7, 2013

Celebrating 20 Years of CTC with the Epic Jesus Christ Superstar

Photo: Joe Del Tufo

In its 20 years of existence, City Theater Company has established itself as a top provider of live theater in Wilmington, while staying just as edgy and cool as it was when it was a burgeoning company. It still calls Opera Delaware's tiny Black Box Theater (one of my personal favorite theater spaces) home. I remember my first visit to a CTC show at the Black Box in the '90s -- I'd recently moved back to Delaware from Philly, the show was Assassins, if I recall, and it was the show that convinced me that you really don't have to go to the big city to see the kind of intimate, offbeat theater that excited me. It was a pretty big deal.

In the past few years, it's been rare that I've missed a CTC show. Remember Reckless? Cruel, Calm and Neglected? Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Bat Boy and Xanadu? Good times.

For its 20th birthday CTC decided to go big: a birthday celebration and fundraiser concert at World Cafe Live at the Queen, featuring Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice's epic 1970 rock opera concept album Jesus Christ Superstar in its entirety. Having spent my own slightly-past 20th birthday this year with Ted Neeley (who played Jesus in the 1973 film and on stage for decades) in concert at Delaware Theater Company, I was not about to miss this.

CTC's special Superstar live concert was produced and conducted by Joe Trainor, who also -- get this -- sang the part of Judas. Simultaneously. Judas, if you don't know, is the lead, along with Jesus. As soon as I saw Righteous Jolly's name in the lineup in the promo materials, I knew he was going to be Jesus, and I knew he was going to pull it off. CTC fans will remember that Jolly played Andrew Jackson in Bloody Bloody. As Jesus, he stayed in character, bringing the presence the part demands, even as a concert.

The remaining parts, many of which have featured solos, were filled by some of the best local talent, including CTC regulars Kerry Kristine in the female lead role of Mary Magdalene, Adam Wahlberg as Pilate, T.S. Baynes as Simon, Steven Weatherman as Herod, Lew Indellini as Annas, Frank Schierloh and Troy Shaeffer as Priests, and Bill Wilmore, whose bass delivery of Caiaphas was as good as any I've ever heard. The Chorus, made up of Dylan Geringer, Petra Deluca, Emma Orr, Clayton Stacey, and Dana Michael did a standout job, too -- you can't underestimate the importance of a good chorus. Along with a tight 5-piece band, Trainor's production was everything I'd hoped it would be. The only bad thing? It was a one-night-only-event. I'd see it again, no question.

The good news is, Season 20 starts up in December, with CTC's version of Gypsy, followed by The Best of 2.0 Ten-Minute Play showcase, and Bomb-itty of Errors in the spring. For more information, go to

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Musicals Go 'Bootless' in Wilmington

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music.  An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.

Take two hip writers, four zany characters and a theatre company notorious for its quirky productions, and what do you get?  A whole lotta fun.  Bootless Stageworks opened its 2013-2014 season with a production of Rockwell and Bogart’s The Musical of Musicals: The Musical which is a parody on — what else? — the musical.  

This side-splitting satire romps through 70 years of musical theatre history taking affectionate pokes at various masters of the genre.  The basic plot: June (Elizabeth Holmes) can’t pay her rent and is threatened by her evil landlord Jitter (Michael Gamache).  She turns for advice to Abby (Roseanne DellAversano). But will the handsome leading man Willy/Billy (Mark Dixon) save the day?

The concept is summed up on the front page of the program: Five musicals, one plot.  The variations are a Rogers & Hammerstein version set in Kansas in August — complete with a dream ballet; a Sondheim version featuring the landlord as a tortured artist who slashes the throats of tenants who fail to appreciate his genius; a splashy star vehicle a la Jerry Herman; an Andrew Lloyd Weber rock-musical featuring themes “borrowed” from Puccini; and a Kander & Ebb speakeasy set in Chicago.

The jokes are clever and continuous. The Rogers & Hammerstein segment opens Act I with a strapping cowhand singing “Oh, what beautiful corn!” and declaring “I’m in love with a wonderful hoe.”  The Sondheim segment follows, taking aim at songs like Green Finch and Linnet Bird, The Ballad of Sweeney Todd, and No One is Alone, punning several song titles as well. In Dear Abby — the Jerry Herman parody — an overly optimistic protagonist descends a staircase while her co-stars offer send-ups of Hello, Dolly!, If He Walked Into My Life and It’s Today.  

Act II opens with the Andrew Lloyd Weber takeoff, Aspects of Junita, which allows the cast to caricature some of the stars of his works.  Finally there’s the Kander & Ebb parody, where the host encourages patrons to “Drink up, ‘cause life’s a cabernet.”  The actors slink and strut in Bob Fosse-style singing takeoffs like Cell Block Tango, Liza with a Z and My Coloring Book.

The staging is efficient and the performances spot on.  Holmes is a versatile singer who can seamlessly transition from Broadway belter to operatic soprano.  DellAversano’s Abby delivers just the right amount of world-weary cynicism and a lusty singing style.  Mark Dixon is as charming a leading man as any ingénue could want.  Michael Gamache’s comedic talents fit nicely into the role of the bumbling — and sometimes demented — landlord.

Rockwell and Bogart are skillful writers and if you get the jokes, the show is funny.  Problem is some of the puns are so “inside,” that they can go over the heads of even the most ardent devotee of musical theatre.  And the constant cleverness does weary after a while.  Still a great evening of family entertainment. The show runs through October 19 at The Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Changes in venue for Mélomanie

Mélomanie is opening their twentieth season with great fanfare at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts.  This local ensemble has been commissioning new works and pairing them with baroque music for two decades and they are just about to launch a pairing with a hip arts center.  After playing for many years in historic Wilmington churches with great resonance and reverberation, the group is going to play in a venue which is more like a public center – a place to meet and greet.  This will present a less formal side of the ensemble and will draw attention to the fact that this group has been a prime mover in commissioning music in this area – an itinerant Delaware center for contemporary music.

The concert on Friday was at the Gore Recital Hall at the Roselle Center for the Arts – an intermediate-sized hall with a modicum of reverberation and, unfortunately, a very powerful and resonant air conditioning system.  Some of the audience who had been used to hearing the group play in stone churches felt that something was missing, yet the clear sounds of the articulation and ornaments in Tracy Richardson’s harpsichord playing was enhanced by the reduction of echo.  Her pristine performance of the Chaconne from Henry Purcell’s opera Dioclesian and the rapid ornaments in the French Suite in B Minor, BWV 814 provided a smooth beginning to introduce the world premiere Michael Stambaugh’s The machine comes to life for solo harpsichord, which Stambaugh introduced with comments on how the harpsichord differs from the piano in both mechanism and sound quality.  He did indeed do his homework for his harpsichord piece,  showing many features, including the harshness of the buff stop on Richardson’s Kingston harpsichord.

Kim Reighley, modern flute and Doug McNames, cello played Michael Colquhoun’s Three for two as one: a suite for flute and cello.  The use of percussive sounds, multiphonics, whistle tones and the weaving of parallel movement made this work particularly striking. 

And if there were any doubts about the acoustical possibilities in Gore Hall, they were dispelled after the intermission with the incredibly wide range of dynamics Christof Richter could produce on baroque violin.  At the beginning of a phrase, the sound was so soft that Mr. Richter’s bow moved before the audience could hear the sound swell in the Sonata in B Minor, BWV 1014 for violin and harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach.  And the colors of the sound Donna Fournier produced in the Carl Friedrich Abel Prelude and Allegro from the Suite in D Minor for viola da gamba were so rich and varied that a more resounding hall may have hidden some of those subtleties. 

Jennifer Margaret Barker introduced her world premiere of Le Passage du Temps as a re-composition of the third Bach French Suite which we heard in the first half of the program.  Her inventiveness in weaving the themes of Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue into an intricately orchestrated re-voicing of the beautiful solo keyboard work was a treat and an exemplary work by one of our local composition professors.  

Let us see what the sound at the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts does to recast this concert on Sunday afternoon.