Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Merry Musical Start to the Holidays from a Trio of Artists

By Christine Facciolo

The Liturgy of the Hours, the recitation of certain prayers at fixed times of the day, is one of the oldest forms of Christian spirituality. Vespers the most ancient of these “offices” set a liturgy of prayer and music against the shadow of sunset.

In the 17th Century, Christmas vespers was a festive affair, featuring popular hymns, large groups of singers and instrumentalists in the cathedral.

The groups in rehearsal before the December 20 performance at Wilmington's SsAM.
The concert recreated Christmas vespers as it might have sounded under the direction of Lutheran composer and organist Michael Praetorius in 17th Century Germany. The performance featured the 13 voices of Choral Arts Philadelphia and replicas of Renaissance instruments — including dulcians, theorbos, sackbuts, recorders, shawm and violone — provided by Piffaro and Tempesta di Mare. The concert marked the first collaboration among the three performing organizations.

Christmas in Germany: Dresden Vespers 1619 delivered musical splendor in the old and lush tradition. Featuring music by Praetorius, Heinrich Schutz and Samuel Scheidt — three prominent composers of the early 17th Century Dresden court — the program followed the traditional order of the Vespers service, taking the audience through the expectations, solemn reflections and joys of the Advent season.

The beauty of this program lay in the contrast between the simple and the complex. The simple element is the Lutheran hymn tunes that underlie all this music. Choral Arts Philadelphia sang a few hymns in the traditional Lutheran setting. Most of the program, though, featured the complex element: These tunes woven into intricate counterpoint and often decorated with breathtaking ornamentation.

Praetorius was the featured composer on the program. His music straddles an interesting period of old-fashioned Renaissance music and new-fashion Baroque. Because of his position in Ecclesiastical circles — a committed Christian who regretted not taking Holy Orders — he did not write opera or concertos. Yet, he did learn a great deal from the new Italian style and his music is replete with virtuoso singing, echo effects and the use of instruments.

The audience heard his unique settings of such familiar tunes as Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme as well as his less familiar Magnificat super Ut re mi fa sol la, based on the simple melodic motif of six ascending notes of the scale. The offerings from the other composers feature antiphonal writing. Scheidt’s version of Nun komm der Heiden Heiland and Duo Seraphim and Schutz’ setting of Psalm 128 show the influences of the Venetian polychoral tradition.

This performance revealed the splendor and ethereal beauty of the Vespers, as well as the magic and excitement of bringing a reconstructed chapter of music history to life.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Beauty of the Season Highlighted in FSBT's Nutcracker

Photo courtesy of FSBT
By Christine Facciolo

Larger-than-life scenery, sparkling costumes, dazzling dancing and a lush score by one of music’s greatest melodists.

Ballet doesn’t get much more Christmassy than The Nutcracker and First State Ballet Theatre’s annual production continues to deliver festive magic and some striking performances.

Audiences at Saturday’s matinee were entranced by the classic story of a young girl’s Christmas Eve and her awakening to the wider world and romantic love.

Marie is the most innocent of ballet heroines, a tiny guileless protagonist around whom the magic of “The Nutcracker” unfolds.

Mary Kate Reynolds was superb as the Adult Marie, her pliant body and elegant feet a gorgeous instrument for Tchaikovsky’s sweeping score. She was never less than enchanted by the tricks and transformations that surrounded her. Her subtle changes in facial expressions and impeccable timing conveyed a sense of childlike wonder.

But The Nutcracker is a company ballet, and every member of the cast was at the top of their games. Reynolds was partnered with Jake Nowicki’s gallant Prince. John Brewer gave the character of Drosselmeyer a mix of severity and playfulness. The mechanical dolls (Angele Zielen, Rie Aoki and Leonid Goykham) delighted all. Goykham and Justin Estelle, portraying the Mouse King and the Nutcracker respectively, were impressive with their amazing jumping abilities and thrilling sword fight.

The audience was then magically transported to the Land of the Sweets. John Brewer and Aubrey Clemens made a fiery, flashy twosome in the Spanish. Richy Romero and Molly Rooney were convincing in the Chinese. Lauren Frere’s natural flexibility was put to dazzling use in the partnering of Lauren Anthony, Jessica Eizember, Kenzie Lemoine and Jamie Meyer in the Arabian. Andrew Matte and Ethan Hunter Raysor thrilled the audience in the Russian.

The Waltz of the Flowers is a perennial high point in The Nutcracker and Rie Aoki was a lyrical and finely detailed Flower Princess. The party cast members in the opening act managed to captivate with colorful expressions and animated scenarios. Jacqueline Taylor made for a wonderfully composed Young Marie while Kathy Lin as Fritz enjoyed making as much mischief as possible.

The Nutcracker has always been an uneven work. The first act is all story, while the second act is all dancing. Marie is still pretty much relegated to the sidelines with little to do but look entranced and occasionally join in the dancing. It’s a difficult role to animate but Reynolds does her best, giving us every imaginable shade of awe and delight.

This production coupled with Tchaikovsky’s evocative score capably delivered the age-old magic that is The Nutcracker.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Congratulate & Welcome Delaware's New Poets Laureate: The Twin Poets!

Photo courtesy of
This post compiled with info from and WHYY's
Delaware Arts Info is happy to celebrate spoken-word artists Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha --- known regionally as The Twin Poets --- as the First State's new Poets Laureate. As Delaware's 17th ambassadors of poetry, they are also the first to share the honorary title.

The 45-year-old identical twin brothers have been writing since they were children. Their prose have been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and NPR’s Poetic License, and the pair has won numerous awards and toured nationally and internationally as part of their craft.

The duo were sworn in to their new appointments by Governor Jack Markell in a December 16 ceremony at the Delaware Art Museum. "You have got something to say that I think people need to hear," Markell said during the event. "People from all walks of life, who may not have ever come together otherwise, are going to hear this message." 

The two performed separate poems following the oath of office, with Mills reciting a new work entitled, The Beauty of the Journey. Mills and Chukwuocha hope not only to introduce children statewide to the art of prose but also to share their artistry through outreach to military bases, jails and prisons in Delaware. 

The Poet Laureate program is overseen by the Delaware Division of the Arts, which coordinates performances and associated programming for the the artists throughout the state.

Both men are social workers, and Chukwuocha is a Wilmington city councilman. Their father was community leader William “Hicks” Anderson, for whom the center on Madison Street is named.

See the Twin Poets perform on HBO's Def Comedy Jam.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Brandywine Baroque "Glitt'rs" in Latest Performance of Vivaldi & More

By Christine Facciolo

The program may have been titled “Winter’s Glitt’ring Sun” but it didn’t feel anything like winter on Sunday when Brandywine Baroque presented its second concert of the 2015-16 season.

The well-attended concert featured works by Italians Vivaldi, Tessarini, Leo and Facoli and a secular cantata by Englishman Thomas Arne.

The program was heavy on Vivaldi 
— no surprise there. Vivaldi’s fecundity never ceases to amaze. His reputation rests largely on a legacy of nearly 500 instrumental concerti. Yet this incredibly prolific composer was almost unheard of until the 1950s.

The concert opened with a performance of the Concerto for Strings in d minor, RV 128. This work was contained in one of 14 volumes discovered in 1926 sparking interest in the composer’s works.

All three movements are in the same key — unusual but not unprecedented for Vivaldi. It also adheres to the three movement fast-slow-fast order that he standardized. Double bassist Heather Miller Lardin reveled in the particularly active bass line of the Largo, while the entire ensemble engaged in a fugal finale bristling with energy and excitement.

Flutist Eileen Grycky soloed in two of Vivaldi’s flute concerti: the D major and the recently discovered d minor “il Gran Mogol” which received its Delaware premiere. Grycky’s delightful and highly musical formation of the flute solo lines on her mellow, woody instrument were a delight to the ears as was the full-blooded energetic orchestral accompaniment.

The strings had their say in a warm and sprightly reading of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Major for Two Violins and Two Cellos, RV 575 — with Martin Davids and Kathleen Leidig, violins and John Mark Rozendaal and Donna Fournier, cellos.

Davids joined fellow violinists Leidig and Edmond Chan in a confident, well-balanced and precise rendering of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Three Violins in F Major, RV 551, creating ear-catching textures spiced by Vivaldian virtuosic runs and arpeggios.

The program also featured the works of other lesser-known Italian composers. Davids introduced the Concerto for Violin in A minor by his favorite composer, Carlo Tessarini, by saying he was luckier than Vivaldi because he didn’t wash out of the priesthood and wind up with an orphanage.

Jokes aside, this tricky and challenging music demands a performer with virtuoso credentials and Davids certainly has them, especially in the Allegros of this work.

Harpsichordist Joyce Chen’s elegant technique brought out the dimple counterpoint and right-hand embellishments in Marco Facoli’s Padoana prima dita Marucina & Salterello.

Leonardo Leo’s concerti give little opportunity for virtuosic display; instead, the cello weaves its way in and out of the texture in a relaxed way. This performance by John Mark Rozendaal of the Concerto No. 3 in F minor is appropriately low-key, with the tricky problem of giving the instrument its proper prominence solved with admirable clarity.

Soprano Laura Heimes performed the only non-Italian work on the program: Thomas Arne’s Cantata V: “The Morning” from Six Cantatas. It is always a pleasure to hear Heimes’ bright warm voice in concert. But this work displayed her virtuosity, as these areas demand astonishing breath control, mastery of coloratura and apt decoration. The interaction between voice and instruments proved engaging and inventive.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Delaware Theater Company’s "Diner" Serves Delectable Entertainment

Ari Brand, Matthew James Thomas, Derek Klena, Ethan Slater,
and Noah Weisberg. Photo by Matt Urban, Mobius New Media.
This past weekend, Delaware Theater Company (DTC) opened yet another New York City-bound production, Diner, the musical. Based on Barry Levinson’s iconic 80’s film, the musical (for which he also wrote the book), has music and lyrics by multi-Grammy Award-winner, Sheryl Crow and is directed by three-time Tony Award-winner, Kathleen Marshall.

Set in Baltimore during 1959, Diner follows the lives of six 20-something men – Ari Brand (Eddie), Aaron C. Finley (Billy), Derek Klena (Boogie), Ethan Slater (Modell), Matthew James Thomas (Fenwick) and Noah Weisberg (Shrevie). The longtime friends contemplate love, marriage, sex, success, family life, the future, and other issues, while hanging at their favorite diner.

Eddie is experiencing cold feet with his upcoming nuptials to Elyse (Tess Soltau) on New Year’s Eve. The lovelorn Billy is trying to win the heart of career-minded Barbara (Brynn O’Malley). Boogie, the consummate ladies man, is increasing his debt by making ill-advised bets with back-alley bookies. Modell goes along with his friends’ antics, but is the first to flee when things go awry. Fenwick, a trust-fund baby, is a free spirit rebelling against his family, but running out of money. Shrevie, a music lover, is finding his marriage to Beth (Erika Henningsen) isn’t all bliss.

While the men meet at the diner, the ladies also meet to discuss their sides of the situations. Elyse is preparing for her wedding as well as for a football test her fiancĂ© is administering to prove her love to him. If she passes the test, they will walk down the aisle by the end of the week; if not, wedding bells won't ring for this couple. Barbara is a headstrong businesswoman trying to make it in the male-dominant broadcasting field. Climbing the corporate ladder interests her more than settling down to raise a family with Billy. Finally, the housewife Beth is trying to keep her marriage from falling apart, while still having her own identity. Essentially, these ladies are pioneering what will become the feminist movement in the next decade.  

Sure, the story of the musical isn’t groundbreaking material, but the show is about entertaining the audience, and Ms. Marshall has assembled a group of actors who are ready to entertain! 

The charismatic ensemble cast is superb as they perform on DTC’s most ambitious set in its 37-year history. The production’s multifaceted set by Derek McLane moves and transforms to become the diner, a salon, a movie theater and the outside of a church, where one of the most compelling of Ms. Crow’s numbers is performed. Mr. Thomas’s erratic performance of I Got No Home is shocking, but heartfelt as he sings about his rebellious lifestyle and the treatment he receives from his family.

Ms. Crow has written a score full of exuberant, foot tapping 50’s style music (What Would You Bet? and Gotta Lotta Woman) sprinkled with sumptuous ballads (Tear Down This Home and I Can Have It All). Best known as a leading rock-n-roll artist, Ms. Crow proves she can seamlessly transfer her musical talents to the stage!      

Diner offers up a slice of life from a bygone era that is always fun to visit. A time when an app on a smartphone can’t be used to figure out the actor in a Hitchcock film, but instead friends have a lively discussion to unveil the correct thespian.  

Diner fans can enjoy an extended run through January 3, at Delaware Theater Company. Visit or call 302.594.1100 for additional information and tickets.     

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Delaware's first Makerspace to Open in Wilmington's Creative District

This content originated from the Wilmington Creative District's blog...

Wilmington’s Creative District has taken another big step forward as it welcomes a new creative partnership.  The District's next move will see NextFab Studio make its second home in Wilmington, from its origins in Philadelphia. 

NextFab Studio, LLC (“NextFab”) will expand operations south of Philadelphia and open a makerspace in downtown Wilmington with assistance from a $350,000 Delaware Strategic Fund grant recently approved by the Council on Development Finance.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell said: “The company’s creative approach to making much-needed technological resources and education available, as well as its commitment to reinvigorating American manufacturing, makes NextFab a perfect addition to Wilmington’s downtown Creative District.”

Founded in 2009 by Dr. Evan Malone, NextFab’s mission is to foster personal fulfillment, innovation, and economic development through providing broad-based awareness of, access to, competence with, and commerce enabled by Next-generation digital design and Fabrication technologies and services. Like a gym for exercising your creativity, there are no prerequisites to joining NextFab as a member, and NextFab’s member community includes more than 650 individuals from every conceivable background. NextFab members have direct access to state-of-the-art equipment, software, training, consultants — everything they need to master new tools and techniques, and turn an idea into a product and product into a business. NextFab’s instructors and consultants span an enormous range of disciplines and experience, including engineering, arts, business, and science. NextFab currently operates two facilities in Philadelphia, and plans to open its latest 3,500 square-foot facility in Wilmington’s Creative District in the first half of 2016.

The Wilmington Creative District is a part of a national wave of creative placemaking initiatives that seek to transform urban areas. The project encompasses the area in downtown Wilmington bounded by Fourth, Ninth, Market and Washington Streets and, with the active engagement of a variety of partners from the private and public sectors, will continue the momentum of LOMA and Market Street. The Creative District will be focused on creative production and consumption, a place where creative entrepreneurs — artists, musicians, designers, tech innovators, makers and manufacturers — and neighborhood residents thrive and where locally designed goods and original works are made and consumed.

This revitalization will engage the community — current and future residents, as well as civic and business leaders — in a range of initiatives and programs that include:

  • affordable housing
  • greening and streetscape projects
  • real estate development
  • programming and community engagement
  • public art and public performance projects
  • centers for creative entrepreneurship

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Feeling the "Love" and Fun in City Theater Company's Latest Show

By Guest Blogger, Ken Grant
Ken Grant has worked in Delaware media, politics and marketing for 25 years. He and his Lovely Bride enjoy Wilmington's arts and culture scene as much as they can.

Photos by Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography
City Theater Company has a great way of giving the audience not just a great show, but an experience that engages at a level deeper than mere entertainment.

That comes from a combination of picking truly original works and using great actors, musicians, costuming and set design to create a sense that the audience member is not just sitting and passively observing, but is actually participating in the magic.

Love’s Labour’s Lost takes the source material from Shakespeare and puts it through the creative talent of Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman (score) – the same duo responsible for CTC's smash premiere of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – yielding a musical that takes the audience to unexpected places, no matter how familiar they might be with the original work from the Bard.

The play opens as a five-year college reunion is winding down and four young men decide to get serious and enter a vow to deprive themselves of certain comforts in pursuit of learning. The most important sacrifice: to not see any women for three years. Of course, the vows are challenged in the first day with the arrival of four young women who not only have business to conduct with these newly vowed guys, but also have some shared history from back in the day.

While our four young men are struggling with depriving their lives of joy, we’re introduced to Don Armado, a character who enters fully into the joy of life, regardless of risk.

Director Michael Gray and Choreographer Dawn Morningstar once again make use of the entire Black Box space, with actors occasionally crawling their way through the audience and, more often than not, performing within seven feet of any given member of the audience. Oh, and there’s a swing, a scooter, and a sliding board involved.

Our four young men, played by Jeff Hunsicker (the King), Brendan Sheehan (Berowne), George Murphy (Dumaine) and Lew Indellini (Longaville) communicate the kind of fun and tension that can only be experienced by four friends who are both committed to each other and yet know they need to start building their own lives.

The four young women, played by Grace Tarves (the Princess), Jenna Kuerzi (Rosaline), Kristin Sheehan (Maria), and Dylan Geringer (Katherine) use the wit, playfulness and strength of the script to the fullest.

Each of the eight characters give the audience glimpses into the truth and vulnerability that lies just under the surface of their confident exteriors.

Music Director Joe Trainor clearly runs a tight ship – with every note from the musicians leading the audience directly into the heart of the emotions conveyed by the actors – from longing and uncertainty to joyful exuberance.

Love’s Labour’s Lost provides the audience with truly great entertainment for an hour and 45 minutes – then provides those who are inclined with thought-provoking material for weeks to come.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is playing at The Black Box on the Wilmington waterfront (4 S. Poplar Street, Wilmington, DE 19801) through December 19. 

Find out more and get your tickets at

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Album Review: Jessica Graae, "Sea Dream"

This Saturday, December 5, at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia: Jessica Graae’s “Sea Dream” Album Release

During her time on the Delaware Arts scene, Philadelphia singer-songwriter Jessica Graae performed, taught, and released her first album, 2013’s Gypsy Blood. Her newly-released second album, Sea Dream, opens as you might expect: with a dreamy, atmospheric song of the sea, Sea’s Siren (featuring Kiley Ryan and Chico Huff).

Graae’s lilting, wide-ranging voice is at once folksy and classical, accompanied by acoustic guitar, strings, percussion (sometimes) and the occasional keyboard.

It may sound minimalist, but there is plenty going on musically; the third track, It’s You Again (featuring Chico Huff, Jim Salamone, and Randy Bowland) works Graae’s acoustic style into a catchy indie pop tune, the kind that would be at home on college radio. Another up-tempo track, Hyphenate (featuring Philip D’agostino and Jim Salamone) has a country vibe, with its singalong-style “scoop you up like sweet ice cream” chorus.

There is a thread of calmly infectious catchiness throughout even the slower-tempo songs — songs like Bring the Rain (featuring Jim Salamone, Chico Huff, Bob Huff and Randy Bowland) will stay in your head long after the song ends.

Back to front, the album flows, moving between acoustic styles without losing its distinct ambiance. At first, Sea Dream feels like an album filled with sadness, but as you stay with it, it feels like resilience.

Sea Dream is available for purchase on bandcamp and Amazon, and can be streamed on Spotify.

Jessica has two more shows in December after the Album Release: Opening for Norman Taylor and his Blue Soul Band at the Bus Stop Music Cafe, Pitman, NJ, on December 19, and at Andrea Clearfield's Salon in Philadelphia on December 20.


The Playhouse's "Annie" Strikes a Positive Note & Brings a Smile

Photo © Joan Marcus
By Guest Blogger Scott Frelick
Scott is a native of Wilmington and has been involved with Wilmington Drama League, The Brandywiners and OperaDelaware. Currently, he is a member of of City Theater Company's Board of Directors. He is also an interior designer, visual artist and Realtor.
What a joy to experience the production of the Tony Award–winning show Annie, currently at The Playhouse on Rodney Square. This production is an extra-special treat because it is directed by the original lyricist and director, Martin Charnin. This a familiar story of the orphan girl, Annie, based on the Harold Gray comic strip, who finds her home with Billionaire Oliver Warbucks. I've seen many companies do this show in the past, but this one is definitely worth seeing and stays very pure to the original intent of the show.

The professional performances by Issle Swickle as Annie, Gilamesh Taggett as Oliver Warbucks and Lynn Andrews as Miss Hannigan were complemented by a great cast of children, adults and a dog. The sets by Tony Award–winning designer Beowulf Boritt really allow you to feel as though you are ‘right there’ in old New York with the characters.

Of course, the rescue dog that played Sandy really warmed the hearts of the audience — but it was the evil Miss Hannigan who really stole the show. Andrews’ portrayal of Miss Hannigan was such a stand-out that it was hard not to love the character and want to see more — even though Miss Hannigan is not a very nice person.

In this time with so much unpleasant news in the world, it’s nice to be entertained and left with a positive outlook. With songs like the eternally optimistic “Tomorrow” and “You’re Never Really Dressed Without a Smile,” how could one not leave humming a tune with a grin on their face?

For a family-friendly uplifting evening, this is a must a see! The show runs through December 6.

See (The Playhouse on Rodney Square)