Thursday, January 30, 2014

Igor & Elvis...A Pair Not to be Missed!

By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, music for film, and music for educational purposes.

Tuesday evening's Delaware Symphony concert — the second in its elegant chamber music series in the Hotel DuPont's Gold Ballroom — was perhaps the quirkiest ever presented there. It featured bassoonist Jon Gaarder impersonating Elvis, in full regalia, performing composer Michael Daugherty's Dead Elvis, written in 1993 and incorporating the well-known chant for wrath of judgment day, the Dies Irae. As a former DSO bassoonist myself who performed this work in 2008, I took great pleasure in witnessing the whole wacky spectacle from the outside.

Daugherty chose the same instrumentation as Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale, a septet mixture of woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion, the work which comprised the second half of Tuesday's concert. And speaking as primarily a composer now, I can continue to wonder — how did Stravinsky do it? There is a certain thinness in the texture with so few colors from each family of instruments, but this results in a wonderful clarity, a bracing zap to the ear of each instrument's declamation.

Perhaps the most poignant and plaintive movement was the duet for Gaarder's bassoon and Jonathan Troy's clarinet — so few notes and so much expression. The chorales near the end were gorgeous, but how 'bout the romping rhythms of the marches, the ragtime, and other dances? DSO concertmaster David Southorn was brilliant in the athletically demanding violin part; in time his Tango may become even more sly. All this is in the service of a Russian folk tale, a version by Swiss author C. F. Ramuz, originally in French. Conductor David Amado explained how the standard English translation can sound stilted and even boring, and so Amado undertook his own edited revision, very successful to this listener.

I particularly enjoyed the use of lots of rhyming, and also references to our time and place- the soldier marches "between Lums Pond and Bear," and at another point is treated to chicken wings. Three readers told the story: OperaDelaware's Brendan Cooke as the soldier, joined by two Delaware Theater Company executives, Bud Martin as a wittily sarcastic Devil, and Charles Conway as the Narrator. The large audience was uninhibited in both laughter and applause.

For Dead Elvis, Gaarder chose a sparkly white jumpsuit, white shoes, a thick (not really greasy) wig, and giant shades. He sauntered on stage with characteristic Elvis gestures and wiggles, and also smoothed his locks during the music's sudden pregnant pauses. The music is a study in zany extremes, the bassoon screaming to its ultimate high E or plummeting to its grotesque low B-flat. The tiny E-flat clarinet screeches, the trombone wails its glissandi, the drummer, the DSO's veteran master Bill Kerrigan, flails his collection of bells and other high-pitched gadgets.

I highly recommend this most entertaining and musically rewarding show which will be repeated Friday night, January 31 at 7:30 PM at the Queen Theater, World Cafe Live. The next two DSO concerts at the Hotel DuPont are on February 25 and April 1.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Exploring & Exalting Spirituals in Concert at SsAM

By Guest Blogger, Chuck Holdeman
Chuck is a regional composer of lyrical, contemporary classical music, including opera, orchestral music, songs, chamber music, music for film, and music for educational purposes.

The fourth annual spirituals concert at Wilmington's  Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew was heard by a large and appreciative audience on Sunday evening, January 26. Led by the church's music director David Christopher, the varied program featured choral music, two vocal soloists, The Chamber Choir of the Wilmington Children's Chorus, as well as Christopher performing organ solos. His relaxed presentation of each piece kept the whole audience in his hand, providing fascinating background about the music's African-American roots, including the Go Down Moses organ fantasia by the late Nigerian-American composer Fela Sowande, who left no device untried, from Bach to Max Reger, from tragic to triumphant.  

Included was a nod to the choral tradition of Fisk University — Rockin' Jerusalem by John Wesley Work III. The program also included masters of the genre Harry T. Burleigh (the sung version of Go Down Moses) and William Grant Still (Here's One). While most of the selections were part of the older spiritual tradition, one selection was, in Christopher's word, "gospelized," Mark Hayes' dancing version of This Little Light of Mine. The evening's two soloists were the church choir's irrepressible Tina Betz and the young professional mezzo and UD graduate, Melody Wilson. Wilson possesses a rich colorful voice, especially in the middle register. This spring, Wilson will participate in the recording of Terence Blanchard's jazz opera Champion. Wilson will sing in the chorus, also serving as understudy to Denise Graves.  

The Wilmington Children's Chorus, under the direction of Kimberly Doucette, sang AndrĂ© Thomas' Keep Your Lamps, accompanied by the solo djembe drum of associate director Phillip Doucette. The young group of about 40 sang with wonderful precision and tone — even the young bass singers sounded convincing and full. The djembe part seemed to be intended to give life and variety to the many verses in slow tempo, but nevertheless came off as an add-on, somewhat out of the style of the song.  

The church choir was augmented by members of Christopher's Delaware Valley Chorale. It was a pleasure to see seasoned artists like Dana Robertson there to add luster to the music. Audience participation was also part of the mix, and Clayton White's arrangement of Ain-a that Good News from Horace Boyer's African-American Hymnal (LEVAS II) was a stand out. Christopher told me afterward that he was impressed and delighted by the big sound of the audience's voices!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Exploring the Excitement and Angst of Turning 13

13, The Musical by Jason Robert Brown (music and lyrics) and Dan Elish and Robert Horn (book) is the story of a 12-year-old New York City boy (Evan) who's preparing for his Bar Mitzvah while hisparents are preparing for divorce. Due to the circumstances, Evan and his mother are forced to move to an Indiana suburb. While adjusting to life in a predominately Christian 'burb, he's also trying to make new friends who will attend his Bar Mitzvah. The problem is -- will he settle for only inviting his unpopular new friends or try to impress the cool kids to attend

13, The Musical has a simple story that's been told before, but it's pure FUN with an infectious Top 40 style score. The all-teen cast provides a great opportunity for parents to introduce theater to 'tweens and young teens alike. But, don't worry parents — there are plenty of gags and jokes for both the young and the young at heart to enjoy! 

Director Nick D'Argenio has assembled an extremely talented group of teens — Amanda DeFilippis (Kendra), Branden Fletcher (Richie), Karalyn Joseph (Patrice), Katie Loftus (Cassie), Kyra McKillip (Charlotte), Wyatt McManus (Eddie), Lyndie Moe (Lucy), Nolan Moss (Simon), Gianni Palmarini (Evan), Felipe Rocha (Brett), Will Rotsch (Archie), Evelyn Schiavone (Molly), and Jacob Tracey (Malcolm) — and gives all of them the opportunity to take center stage and shine. 

Palmarini is an exceptional performer who perfectly conveys Evan's conflicted feelings of wanting to fit in with the in-crowd, but yet wanting to remain loyal to his underdog friends (Patrice and Archie). Palmarini is a true triple threat, commanding the stage but never upstaging his fellow cast members. Joseph as Evan's outcast friend Patrice captures the strengths and insecurities of the character. She's working on having a friendship with Evan, but doesn't let down her guard or sacrifice her own convictions in the process. Rotsch as the terminally ill, yet confident underdog, Archie is hysterical, especially during the number "Terminal Illness" when he comically uses his illness to convince Evan's mother to purchase tickets for an R-rated horror movie for the protagonist's popular friends. 

Although the cast has a scaled-down set for its performance, the boisterous choreography by Tommy Fisher-Klein keeps the show flowing. Mr. Fisher-Klein merges current dance steps with flips and other acrobatic moves that delight the audience. With musical direction by Anthony Vitalo, 13, The Musical's infectious score will have you smiling and wishing you were 13 again! 

13, The Musical runs through February 2, at the Wilmington Drama League. Visit or call 302.764.1172 for additional information and tickets. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Mousetrap at the Resident Ensemble Players

Monkwell Inn
Forty-nine years after I first saw this play at the Ambassadors in January 1965, it seemed just as fun. The beautiful set with the magically realistic snowfall outside the large French windows made me think of the AmbassadorsTheatre and seeing Agatha Christie four rows ahead of us and stage-whispering, ‘Mama, that’s Agatha Christie’ so loudly that the graceful lady waved her fashionably gloved hand in recognition.

Steve Tague kept everything as it had been in 1965: the luxuriously rambling manor, the period clothes and the cheerily British murderers – Christie style indeed. Elizabeth Heflin as Mollie Ralston and Mic Matarrese as Giles Ralston set the scene and helped the audience put their clocks back to the 1950s. The cold and snow were not a difficult sell after the past week’s storms. C. David Russell’s set was just right and the sound of the radio was audible, radio-like and spot-on with the absolutely essential cues and set-ups (compliments to Eileen Smitheimer and crew for the sound design and execution).

Mrs. Boyle
Jeffrey C. Hawkins animated the stage as Christopher Wren – putting a manic tension into the mix and letting us enjoy Agatha Christie’s wit and social sarcasm, but it took the entrance of the spinsterish and unpleasable Mrs. Boyle (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) and Major Metcalf (Stephen Pelinski) to get us all the way back to Christie-land. From then on, the audience was completely convinced and in the time and mood.

The names of the cast were, of course, quite familiar to those who attend plays at the REP, but I did not even recognize a whit of any previous roles by Deena Burke as she embodied the prickly Miss Casewell. Her manliness and moodiness brought back a time when we just judged people for what they presented and not what we imagined. By the time the ebullient Mr. Paravicini burst in, I was transported to the days when sitting by the snowy window with tea and a book by Agatha Christie was a winter dream come true. The play runs until February 9 with a post-show cast talk on Thursday, January 30. Sold out on February 1.

See Photos courtesy of UD REP's Facebook page.

Bootless Brings Monty Python's "Not the Messiah" Oratorio to Town for a Praise-worthy Fundraiser

Some companies put on The Messiah for Christmas. Bootless Stageworks, always marching to its own drummer, is putting on Not the Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy), an Oratorio by Eric Idle and John DuPrez, based on Monty Python's Life of Brian, in late January. We had the opportunity to sit in on an early rehearsal for the show, conducted by Bootless Music Director James W. Fuerst and featuring two dozen singers from Bootless, NewArk Chorale and other area theater companies as well as 20 orchestra musicians from Bootless, Wilmington Community Orchestra, Newark Symphony, Diamond State Concert Band, First State Symphonic, Chesapeake Brass Band and University of Delaware Orchestra. Everyone involved in this fundraising production is doing it on a volunteer basis, and the enthusiasm for the piece shows through. You may remember soloists Geoff Bruen, Kimberly Christie, Cynthia Ballentine, and Michael Popovsky from Bootless' 2012 production of Jerry Springer: The Opera (among other area Opera Productions), and Justin Walsh from the always-popular Evil Dead: The Musical. That so many talented folks have come out to donate their time is a testament to both the appeal of Not the Messiah and the small theater company that has not been without its struggles in the past couple of years.

About a year ago, it looked like Bootless, a nomadic "pop up" theater company, had found a permanent home in Newport, Delaware. The location had one major problem: it lacked a parking lot, and the company couldn't get the go-ahead to build one. Homeless again, Bootless struck a deal with OperaDelaware to utilize its Black Box theater, but scheduling conflicts with that space's longtime resident, City Theater Company, have prevented it from becoming its permanent home (though Bootless' next show, Venus in Furs, will be performed there in March).

For Not the Messiah, the company is utilizing one of Wilmington's best kept secrets: the Down's Cultural Arts Center at Ingleside Retirement Apartments, located at 1005 North Franklin Street."It's a great deal for non-profit organizations," says Bootless Executive and Artistic Director, Rosanne DellAversano. "It's free to use for non-profits. They're working to bring programs to the venue, where a percentage of tickets go to the residents." In addition to enriching the lives of the residents, the venue is open to the public.

Not the Messiah will have just two shows, on Friday January 31, and Saturday February 1. Both shows will be at 7:30 pm. Tickets for are $25 General Admission, $20 for Seniors and Military, and $18 for Students, and include complimentary refreshments at intermission. All proceeds will benefit Bootless Artworks. To purchase tickets, and for more information about Bootless, go to

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Our Bloggers' Best Of 2013

Last year was an amazing one for the Arts in Delaware. We had so many great experiences, and we’d like to share some of them with you. Below are each of our blogger’s picks for Delaware Arts Info Blog’s Best Of 2013 (in random order). We hope you’ll check out these organizations in 2014!

Blogger Charles “Ebbie" Alfree, III
My Best of 2013 were Wilmington Drama League’s Avenue Q; Delaware Theatre Company’s Love, Loss, and What I Wore; City Theater Company’s On the Air and First State Ballet Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Wilmington Drama League did an amazing job producing Avenue Q. The actors, sets, and puppets were superb — it was a perfect production! The wonderful female cast of Delaware Theater Company’s Love, Loss and What I Wore made me laugh and tear up. It’s impossible to not like this wonderful piece of theater about the trials/tribulations and the FUN/happiness of being a woman. It was so refreshing to see a new musical—On the Air—produced by City Theater Company. Joe Trainor and Kevin Regan wrote a witty musical that boasted a fantastic cast. A Midsummer Night’s Dream produced by First State Ballet Theatre was sumptuous. I was enthralled by the stunning dancers who gave enchanting performances while wearing ethereal costumes!

Blogger Margaret Darby
My Best of 2013 were the Delaware Chamber Music Festival, the second University of Delaware Master Series Kavafian Concert and City Theater Company’s production of Gypsy

Of the four incredibly excellent concerts of the Delaware Chamber Music Festival, my favorite piece was the Elegiac Trio by Sergei Rachmaninov. The beginning of the piece was a subtle cello bowing so soft, I thought Clancy Newman was simply tuning, until Music Director and violinist Barbara Govatos joined in with a second soft rumble. The University of Delaware Master Players hosted Ani and Ida Kavafian and their excellent pianist, Jonathan Feldman for a concert so good, it kept me in goosebumps for the next three days. As to Gypsy, the cast of City Theater Company gave a small-scale production that had all the pizzazz of Broadway — giving a masterful portrayal of ambition and love with the Company’s signature humor and intensity.
Blogger Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald
My Best of 2013 had to be the Delaware Art Museum’s American Moderns exhibit; City Theater Company’s Jesus Christ Superstar In Concert; Umberto Crenca’s Wilmington visit; and the WSTW Homey Awards at World Cafe Live.

The American Moderns exhibit (which closed on 1/5/14) was a rich, colorful trip through treasured American visual masters, including my all-time inspiration and favorite, Georgia O’Keeffe (seeing her originals, lent from the Brooklyn Museum, nearly took my breath away). The kickoff of City Theater Company’s 20th anniversary season with a blowout performance of Jesus Christ Superstar In Concert was awe-inspiring. Music Director (and role of Judas) Joe Trainor gave us a memorable and standing ovation-worthy celebration of one of Wilmington’s ‘little gems.’ Meeting artist/visionary Umberto Crenca — founder of AS220, an arts non-profit organization in Downtown Providence, Rhode Island — was such a treat. Crenca visited for Wilmington Renaissance Corporation’s Big Ideas Meeting, lending his insights and expertise on ways we can move Wilmo to the next level of a thriving Arts-centric city. In March, the WSTW Homey Awards at World Cafe Live was a power-packed Who’s Who of Awesome Local Music — psyched to see so many of my faves came home with honors. I’ve never felt prouder to be a Delawarean in the Arts in 2013! Now, how can we top it in 2014?!

Blogger Holly Quinn
My Best of 2013 included City Theater Company’s Jesus Christ Superstar in Concert; Delaware Theatre Company’s Love, Loss and What I Wore; OperaDelaware’s L’elisir d’Amore (The Elixir of Love); Wilmington Drama League’s Butterflies Are Free; New Candlelight Theater’s A Chorus Line; and Hot Breakfast’s new CD, 39 Summers.

What do YOU want us to cover in 2014? Email Arts in Media with your suggestions!