Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Need a Lift This Season? Get into Kinky Boots!

The touring cast of Kinky Boots. Photo provided.
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.

There is much uncertainty and craziness in the world today. On top of that, the pressure of holiday shopping – how do we keep our sanity? Go see KINKY BOOTS! If you need to escape into an evening of pure fun, energy and great music, this is your prescription. Kinky Boots – created by Harvey Fierstein and music icon Cyndi Lauper – is showing at The Playhouse on Rodney Square through December 18, 2016.

Kinky Boots has won every major Best Musical Award and is represented around the world with the Tony Award-winning Broadway Company now in its fourth year. Inspired by true events, Kinky Boots explores the relationship between sons seeking acceptance from their fathers. It also delivers a great lesson on accepting all people for just who they are.

Charlie Price is struggling to live up to his father’s expectations and continue the family shoe company, Price & Son. The company in Northampton, England is on the brink of collapse unless Charlie can figure a way to save the business. In an unlikely turn of events, his life’s path is crossed with the ever-glamorous and dramatic Lola. With the factory’s future hanging in limbo, Charlie and Lola take a huge gamble on fashion boots made for female impersonators. These sturdy new stilettos are a fabulous success and save the day.

The Kinky Boots touring cast features Wilmington's very own Collin Jeffery playing Young Charlie. The two main characters – Charlie played by Adam Kaplan and Lola played by J. Harrison Ghee – do a wonderful job, but Mr. Ghee is the clear star of this show and steals every scene in the most glorious way. Another true standout in the cast is Lauren, played by Tiffany Engen. Not only is her singing voice superior, she also brings a special touch of comedy to the show with every appearance. Her timing in something as simple as a hand gesture brings laughter to the audience.

This is definitely the kind of show one leaves feeling happy, lighthearted and okay with the world. The best show I have seen at The Playhouse on Rodney Square in a while. A must see!

See (The Playhouse on Rodney Square)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

"The Best of Times" Celebrated at City Theater Company

By Guest Blogger, Mike Logothetis
Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions.  He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.

La Cage aux Follles is a 1983 musical based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret. While we are firmly living in 2016, the book (Harvey Fierstein) coupled with the  lyrics and music (Jerry Herman) and the spirited direction (City Theater Company's Producing Artistic Director Michael Gray) keep this production on the edge of contemporary. Yes, it is a “period piece” of sorts, but in this case, the “period” just sets the era and location – not the themes, pace, dialog, emotion or zaniness of it all.

La Cage Aux Folles cast. Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
The show focuses on a gay couple: Georges, the manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin, his romantic partner and star attraction. The story begins in the titular nightclub with the audience as patrons. Georges (Paul McElwee) is emcee and host, creating a rapport with those of us still finding our seats and settling in for an evening of entertainment.

The chorus line known as Les Cagelles appear and introduce themselves to the audience through the first number, We Are What We Are. This rousing song and dance number features electric movement and snappy costume changes that will have you clapping along.  William Bryant, Zach DeBevac, Andrew Dean Laino, and Christian Ryan all play drag queens with gusto, charm, smiles and, dare I say, athleticism.

We retreat to an upstairs apartment to meet Albin (Patrick O’Hara), who is the star performer at La Cage aux Folles under the stage name, “Zaza.” We glimpse the central relationship between Georges and Albin through a sweet back-and-forth dialog and the introspective song, [A Little More] Mascara.

Joy, despair and confusion ensue when Georges’ son Jean-Michel (Zachary J. Chiero) delivers the news that he is engaged (to a woman!). Georges is reluctant to approve of Jean-Michel’s engagement, but Jean-Michel assures his father that he is in love with Anne Dindon (Grace Tarves) through the tender With Anne on My Arm. Unfortunately, her father is head of the “Tradition, Family and Morality Party,” whose stated goal is to close drag clubs and the like.

Anne’s parents wish to meet their future in-laws, but Jean-Michel has lied to his fiancée, describing Georges as a (straight) retired diplomat and not mentioning Albin at all. Jean-Michel convinces his father to partner in the lie and wants to include his birth mother at the gathering. Attempts to break the news to Albin covers two quieter songs (With You on My Arm and Song on the Sand), but before Georges can deliver Jean-Michel’s wishes, Albin runs off to the stage.

Zaza electrifies the stage and the audience performing La Cage aux Folles\, while Georges and Jean-Michel quickly redecorate the house in a more modest style. While Albin is changing for his next number, he notices the two and demands to know what is going on. Georges tells Albin of Jean-Michel’s plan and, in an odd twist, Albin re-joins Les Cagelles onstage, then sending them off as he sings the defiant solo I Am What I Am to end Act I.

Even though the show is a modern farce, Les Cagelles act as comic relief along with butler/maid Jacob (Adam Pierce Montgomery) and stage manager Francis (Dylan Geringer). How does comic relief work in a comedy? You have to see the show to fully understand that absurdity must be meted in portions, lest it become overbearing.  Suffice to say, super-over-the-top Jacob is a scene-stealer as both a servant and a club dancer.

The cabaret songs are all energetic numbers which exist to entertain while the emotional music is downplayed to add gravitas and investigation into the characters’ minds. The Joe Trainer-led “Birdcage Band” is excellent in both setting the mood and reacting to the emotion brought forth by the actors on stage. The musicians are part of the set when the audience is at La Cage aux Folles, but are cleverly hidden when the scene demands deeper character interaction.  Vicki Neal and Richard A. Kendrick have created a simple, yet elegant set that allows for up-close dynamic action as well as space between characters to represent both emotional and physical distance.  The stage lighting can convey a pulsing nightclub or a quiet room and works well in the space of The Black Box.

Act II finds Georges apologizing to Albin (Song on the Sand [Reprise]) and then suggesting that Albin should dress up as “Uncle Al” to be a part of the family dinner. Albin reluctantly agrees to act like a heterosexual for Jean-Michel, leading to some of the funniest physical and lyrical humor in the show. With the help of Monsieur and Madame Renaud (Greg Tigani and Mary Catherine Kelley), Georges successfully(?) teaches Albin to abandon his flamboyancy (Masculinity).  Jean-Michel doesn’t like the idea, but Georges angrily reminds him what a good “mother” Albin has been to him (Look Over There).

Just as Anne’s parents (Tigani and Kelley in different roles) arrive, the hosts receive a telegram that Jean-Michel’s mother won’t be joining them (Dishes [Cocktail Counterpoint]). Hoping to save the day, Albin appears as Jean-Michel’s mother. Nervous and unreliable Jacob has burned the dinner, so a trip to an elite local restaurant, owned by close friend Jacqueline (Kerry Kristine McElrone), is arranged without explaining the situation to her.  Jacqueline theatrically asks Albin (as Zaza) for a song, to which he hesitantly agrees (The Best of Times).  Everyone in the restaurant begins to take part in the song, causing Albin to yield to the frenzy of performance and tear off his wig at the song’s climax, revealing his true identity.

Arguments, comedy, and confusion are unleashed, while Jean-Michel begins to feel ashamed of the way he has treated Albin and asks his forgiveness (Look Over There [Reprise]), which is lovingly granted. However, the Dindons vow to cancel the wedding and prepare to depart, but their way is blocked by Jacqueline, who has arrived with the press – ready to photograph the notorious anti-homosexual activists with Zaza. Through a clever plan and impeccable timing and luck, the Dindons escape with their reputation intact and their daughter’s marriage to Jean-Michel validated. With everyone gone, Albin and Georges briefly sing of their love for each other before sharing a kiss (Finale [With You On My Arm/La Cage aux Folles/Song on the Sand/The Best Of Times]).

The show is a delight in script, music, pacing and topical humor. The physical comedy and clever wordplay will have audiences laughing heartily. Technically, this is a musical that needs to be tight – and it is. The effort put into set design, cast, direction, music, lighting and production camaraderie are evident in the final product. With over a 2-hour running time, I just wish I had brought a cushion for my seat.

The production of La Cage aux Folles runs through December 17 in The Black Box on the Wilmington waterfront (4 South Poplar Street, Wilmington, DE 19801). Tickets cost $20-28, but the cabaret-style set includes a limited number of upgraded seats – known as “Birdcage Seats.”  These seats are situated on platforms on either side of the theater, affording patrons a “bird's eye view” of all the dazzling stage action, complimentary table snacks and complimentary drink tickets per person. Advance purchase of these seats is advised.  Cost of Birdcage Seats is $40 per ticket (select “VIP” option at online purchase).


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Delaware Symphony Celebrates the Silver Screen

DSO guest soloist, Jinjoo Cho.
By Christine Facciolo
Hollywood has given us more than just great motion pictures. It’s given us a lot of remarkable music as well. Sometimes industry moguls would engage a world-renowned composer to craft an original score to accompany a film. At other times, they’d graft a well-known piece onto a particular scene.

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra gave concertgoers a sampling of both approaches on Friday, November 19, 2016 at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington. The program “Music from the Silver Screen” swelled with emotion and crackled with energy in works by Wagner, Korngold, Bernstein and Ravel.

Music and drama have shared a close relationship for ages, but it was Richard Wagner’s later musical style with its new ideas in harmony, melodic processes and operatic structure that had a major impact on modern film scores. So it was only fitting to open a program on movie music with a performance of the 
Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde which is heard as incidental music in several films, the most recent being Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011).

The Prelude and Liebestod is about as romantic as music gets. Maestro David Amado led the orchestra in a performance that was swelling and strong yet never sentimental. One did not need to know the story to experience the trajectory of emotions: the yearning, the sadness and the hope.

The slow motion of the 
Prelude and Liebestod soon gave way to the electrifying energy of Erich Korngold’s technically demanding Violin Concerto in D Major. Korngold was an Austrian-born prodigy who, like other European composers fleeing the turmoil of the interwar years, found himself in Hollywood at a time when the industry was beginning to realize just how important a score could be to the success of a film. He would go on to win two Academy Awards, earning him the title of the founder of modern film music.

The concerto, which was composed in 1945, marked Korngold’s return to serious composition, even though the work “borrows” themes from his movie music in each of its three movements. Guest soloist was Jinjoo Cho, Gold Medalist of the 2014 Ninth Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.

One might be tempted to equate Korngold’s thoroughly romantic style with schmaltz, but Cho’s no-nonsense approach to his music quickly dispelled those notions. Her searing tone, high-octane delivery and splendidly taut rhythms showed she had a feel for the style his music demands. The audience responded by offering applause between each movement, rising to its feet at the conclusion.

Like Korngold, Leonard Bernstein was a serious composer who felt every bit as comfortable with musical theatre and film as evidenced by his Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Amado and the musicians of the DSO spun over the jazzy Latin rhythms of the dance music just as they soared through the romantic lyricism of Tonight and Maria, all the while delivering the streetwise edge that gives the score its energy.

Like the Prelude and Liebestod, Maurice Ravel’s Bolero served as incidental music in several films, probably most famously in 1979’s 10. This driving, seductive piece never fails to delight audiences and tonight’s was no exception. The piece proceeded with understated elegance and flair, as several instruments took turns presenting the sinuous solo that goes through 18 repetitions. But special honors must go to Principal Percussionist William Kerrigan, whose snare drum maintained rhythm and tempo with utmost precision.

It is said that Ravel would became angry if he felt a conductor was losing control of the work. He would have been justifiably proud of this performance.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Holiday Show for the Whole Family to Enjoy!

Broadway Christmas Wonderland: The Holiday Show at The Playhouse on Rodney Square is a true holiday treat for the whole family! From dazzling sets to sparkly costumes, the Christmas musical revue enchants both the young and the young at heart!

The show is full of holiday classics from all eras, including jovial songs like Jingle Bells and Santa Clause is Coming to Town to sacred Christmas hymns like Oh Holy Night and The First Noel. 

Five amazingly talented vocalists (Daniel Dewes, Chris Giordano, Hannah Grover, Kadejah One, and Browyn Whittle) are backed by a singing and dancing chorus that bring the beloved carols to life. The talented cast high kicks us through a true winter wonderland that not only includes traditional holiday music, but also gospel and a Glenn Miller tribute, as well as an emotional rendition of God Bless The USA. This powerful number brought the audience to its feet.

A couple highlights include Jing, Jing, Jing, a highly energetic song the chorus sings sitting on the edge of the stage and performing a fast-paced patty-cake style dance and Smile With Santa, a sassy little number with the chorus performing a Fosse inspired routine.

Get into the holiday spirit by seeing Broadway Christmas Wonderland: The Holiday Show before it closes on November 27th! For more information and tickets, visit   

Thursday, November 17, 2016

"Gentlemen's Guide" Worth "Perusing" at The Playhouse

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.

If you start with Agatha Christie and Downton Abbey, add in some Monty Python and Benny Hill, then mix it all thoroughly with fun music, talented performers and one of the most versatile sets to grace a stage, you'll get A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, running now at The Playhouse on Rodney Square

The Tony Award-winning play -- based on a 1949 film, which was based on a book published in 1907 -- is a delightful comedy centered around one young man's attempt to woo the woman of his dreams while systematically knocking off one relative after another to gain a title, a mansion and the family wealth.

Photo supplied by The Playhouse on Rodney Square.
Monty Navarro is played playfully by Kevin Massey, who seems to embody a young Danny Kaye as he moves around the stage, especially in a scene involving two doors, two women and an attempt to make sure the two women do not meet.

John Rapson delights the audience playing nine (yes, nine) members of the D'Ysquith family -- young, old, men, women -- Rapson changes costumes, make up, accents and personalities in seconds and as each family member is dispatched in a different way, we find ourselves curious as to what the next family member will look and sound like.
Kristen Beth Williams and Kristen Hahn play the dueling love interests of Monty with angelic voices and remarkable comic timing.

Rapson is not the only cast member who gets to play multiple roles: An ensemble of talent play townspeople,  wedding guests, mourners, servants, law enforcement and more throughout the play.

During intermission, several audience members expressed amazement at the innovative set, which takes everyone from church steeples to frozen lakes to gardens and at least a dozen other locations with the help of a giant video screen.

In the midst of the wit and fun of the production, there seems to be some subtle commentary on class divisions and how out-of-touch the wealthy and priveleged can be, but since the play is set more than a century ago, we can rest assured that simply applies to that era, not modern times. ;)

If you're up for a fun, engaging and delightful dish of entertainment, you'll want to reserve your seat for A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder is at The Playhouse on Rodney Square until Sunday, November 20. Order your tickets HERE


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

DelShakes' Pericles on Tour --- A Perfect Choice

Jamal Douglas (Pericles/Ensemble) and 
Bi Jean Ngo (Thaisa/Ensemble) perform at the
Achievement Center of the Wilmington HOPE Commission. 
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
By Christine Facciolo

Pity the director that has to stage a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre

Dramaturgically speaking, it’s a train wreck. In fact, scholars agree that the play was largely written not by the Bard but by a collaborator — and a hack at that. The plot is a meandering one that includes an incestuous king, two tempests at sea, marauding pirates, a maiden sold into a bordello and a reunion between said maiden and the father who thought her long dead. And if that’s not enough, there’s also a reunion between that self-same father and the wife he also thought long dead. Little wonder it’s so rarely performed.

But for David Stradley, it was the perfect choice. Stradley is producing artistic director of the Delaware Shakespeare Festival, which is smack-dab in the middle of a statewide community tour that has already taken it to some pretty unconventional venues, including the Ferris School for Boys and the Sunday Breakfast Mission in Wilmington as well as the Stockley Center in Georgetown. The company is also slated to perform at the Delaware Psychiatric Center and the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institute.

It’s all about life’s journey and how we cope with everything life throws at us, Stradley told the audience prior to Sunday’s matinee performance at the Delaware History Museum in downtown Wilmington. Those who persevere will, like some of the characters in the play, reap the benefits. He noted how well that theme resonated with some of the at-risk populations the company has visited.

The plot goes like this: Pericles must flee for his life from the murderous King Antiochus. After being shipwrecked, Pericles finds his true love, the beautiful Princess Thaisa, who isn’t long for this life — or is she? The action spans fourteen years, but the ensemble, as omniscient narrator, keeps us abreast of Pericles’ hectic escapades throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.

L-R: Trevor Fayle (Lysimachus/Ensemble), 
Jamal Douglas (Pericles/Ensemble), Danielle Leneé 
(Helicanus/Ensemble, in background), 
J Hernandez (Cleon/Ensemble), 
Corinna Burns (Dionyza/Ensemble). 
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
Stradley tackles this omnishambles of a play with a cheeky production that features wit and zest. Ashley SK Davis supplies an amazing fight scene executed with precision by this acrobatic ensemble. David Meyer provides a minimalist set that supports the action but is portable and readily adaptable to the venue. Musician/composer Joe Trainer effectively set the mood, creating tension and underscoring the theme. Cast member Ruby Wolf’s violin provides a very pleasant, if unexpected, addition.

The performers are first-rate. Bi Jean Ngo shows versatility playing an oily assassin and the noble and sublime Princess Thaisa. Danielle Lenee imbues Helicanus with a quiet and stately grace. Ruby Wolf imparts a common-sense wisdom to the pluperfect Marina. Corinna Burns and J Hernandez are all grace and gratitude as Dionyza and Cleon which contrasts wonderfully with their turns as the Pandar and Bawd for which Hernandez dons an appropriately godawful red wig. Jamal Douglas as the titular hero must deliver a more restrained performance but does occasionally cash in on the silliness with revealing facial gestures.

Pericles, Prince of Tyre may not be a perfect piece of theater, but it’s good entertainment and it does deliver an important message of perseverance to anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of one of life’s curve balls. And that’s most of us.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Organist David Schelat Features Bach & Original Works on Gabriel Kney Organ

Market Street Music Artistic Director and Organist, David Schelat
By Christine Facciolo

Organ concerts aren’t usually a big attraction, but David Schelat drew a respectable crowd to his Market Street Music Festival Concert on Sunday, October 23, 2016 at First & Central Presbyterian Church on Rodney Square in Wilmington.

Schelat took the audience on a wonderful journey from Bach to Schelat in a program that demonstrated not only his musicality and virtuosity, but also the breathtaking capabilities of the church’s Gabriel Kney organ — the only one of its kind in the mid-Atlantic region.

Schlelat devoted the first half of the program to works by J.S. Bach, believed by many to have been the greatest composer in the history of Western music. Indeed, the selections here amply demonstrated that Bach was much more than a mere mathematical counterpoint machine — which is why he is accorded such importance by composers of the Romantic era and beyond.

The concert opened with a performance of Bach’s most recognizable work, the Toccata & Fugue in D Minor (565). The church nearly seemed to shrink under the mighty sounds of that infamous opening motif. Schelat turned in an energetic yet deliberative reading, revealing details of this intricate and powerful work which are usually glossed over in more frenzied renderings.

Schlelat then offered three chorale preludes from the Schubler, Leipzig and Orgelbuchlein (Little Organ Book), which represent the summit of Bach’s sacred music for solo organ.

Some of the pieces were very familiar, like the Schubler chorale prelude Wachet auf or Sleepers Awake, BWV 645. Schelat’s gentle reading of the beautiful melody of this simple Lutheran hymn revealed the quiet sanity of Bach.

Likewise, Schelat’s understated approach to the chorale prelude from the Orgelbuchlein O Mensch, bewein dein Sunde gross, BWV 622 brought out not only the pain and regret in the opening of the piece but also highlighted the curious serenity and mystery in the music.

The Leipzig selection Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend, BWV 655 offered a nice contrast to the previous two. Its infectious rhythms and lighter texture made the music a joyous, swirling experience.

Schelat bookended the section with the quietly monumental Prelude and Fugue in B Minor, BWV 544, one of Bach’s more mature essays in the genres and a fitting complement to the pyrotechnics of the opening Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.  The second half of the program featured more modern fare, opening with Hindemith’s rarely performed Sonata I. Schelat delivered Hindemith’s sparse textures with clarity and articulation. The rhythms were crisp yet never mechanical, giving the reading an invigorating sense of purpose.

By contrast, Vierne’s diaphanous Clair de Lune, Opus 53, No. 5 seemingly dissolved metrical rigidity, producing an almost ethereal quality while the organ sang the deeply affective melodic line.

Schelat concluded the program with one of his own compositions, an organ sonata in three movements: Folk Song, Sarabande and Allegro. The short melodic piece was written in 2011 for colleague Michael Brill who premiered it in France. Most interesting was the first movement — Folk Song — which featured the melody played in the petals accompanied by arpeggiated harmonies in the keyboard.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Has It Really Been 525,600 Minutes...Times 20? RENT Celebrates a Milestone at The Playhouse.

Julia Mason is the Marketing Manager for The Buccini/Pollin Group. Her additional passions include her website,, making homemade ice cream and the great outdoors.

Rent 20th Anniversary Tour by Jonathan Larson at The Playhouse on Rodney Square is the revival of Larson's 1996 Broadway landmark that encompasses social issues and unveils the dark realities individuals face through powerful music and dance. Although a serious premise, the audience will definitely experience a few chuckles throughout the thought-provoking musical.

The production opens up with Benny — Mark and Roger’s previous roommate — purchasing the building in which the two, along with a unique group of close-knit homeless people, reside. Benny secured funding for the building from his wealthy father-in-law, to fuel his desire is to build a high-tech cyber-arts studio on the property.

Benny’s first step toward his goal is ensuring everything goes smoothly, but the residents are not about to leave without a fight. Maureen, Mark's former girlfriend, is happy to be in charge of the protest. Benny offers a deal to Mark and Roger: Stop the protest and they can remain rent-free. However, things do no go as planned, and chaos erupts (which Mark videotapes). From there, everyone is locked out of the place they once called home.

I should note that this was my very first time seeing Rent, and I’m so grateful I was able to experience it at the historical Playhouse on Rodney Square. Throughout the performance, what stood out most to me (besides the powerful music) was the stage décor and the lighting; it really brought the musical to life and was much more interactive than plays I have seen in the past.

My favorite character by far was Angel, played by David Merino. His voice, energy and dance skills were incredible, and you could feel is love for the character radiating throughout his performance. A newcomer to the theatre scene, Aaron Harrington, who played Tom Collins, has a deep, beautiful voice that also stood out among the extremely talented cast.

Overall, the play was wonderful, and it engulfed the audience, getting them to interact a few times. The person that joined me (who chooses to remain anonymous) even became unusually teary-eyed!

There is only one day left of this performance, tonight (October 30). Don’t miss your chance to see it — even if you have seen Rent in the past — this cast will make it a memorable experience!


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

DSO Chamber Series Highlights Two Great Works

DSO Concertmaster, violinist David Southorn
By Christine Facciolo
The Delaware Symphony Orchestra opened its 2016-17 Chamber Series Tuesday, October 18, at the Hotel du Pont’s Gold Ballroom with stellar performances of two of the most important works of the chamber music repertoire: Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht and Vivaldi’s iconic The Four Seasons.

Schoenberg and Vivaldi might seem like an odd pairing, but both works explore an insightful journey via the pictorial marriage between poetry and music.

Inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel, Verklarte Nacht describes a conversation between a man and a woman as they walk through a dark forest under a brilliantly expressive night sky. The woman is pregnant with a child of a different man. The man she is walking with loves her and tells her he is prepared to accept her unborn child as his own.

The work unfolds in five sections which correspond to the structure of Dehmel’s poem. The various emotions of the two characters 
 love, pain, guilt, forgiveness — find their equivalents in Schoenberg’s passionate music, making the work one of the first examples of program music written for a chamber ensemble.

Originally scored for string sextet, DSO Music Director David Amado opted for the expanded version for string orchestra. The group of 22 strings produced a meaty performance that emphasized the dramatic structure of Verklarte Nacht but never at the expense of the score’s lyrical beauty. The textures were appropriately bass heavy, yet every line came through with exceptional clarity, allowing the counterpoint to drive the music and lead the ear through the dense harmonic web. The cadences, 
where suddenly a radiant major chord wells up from the dour depth, produced a profound sense of exaltation.

The second half of the program featured Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons 
 one of the most recognizable works of the classical music repertoire. Like Verklarte Nacht, The Four Seasons conveys a journey through spring, summer, autumn and winter. Each season is introduced by a poem, possibly composed by Vivaldi, that offers a description of what experiences the music is about to conjure up: The heat of summer; the peasant celebrations and imbibing of autumn; the violent storms of spring; and the cold and ice of winter.

DSO Concertmaster David Southorn was nothing less than brilliant as soloist in these four “evergreen” concertos. He delivered it all 
 a powerful sound; immaculate precision and compelling agility in the furious figurations of the fast sections; impeccable phrasing and a polished lyricism in the more tranquil sections. This was a zestful performance that continued unabated until the final note was struck.

Southorn was ably supported by the 22 string players. This was a beautifully balanced performance with a nice contrast between soloist and orchestra. The programmatic drama of the score was neither shortchange nor overdone, leaving the impression that each participant had contributed something important.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Brandywine Baroque Opens Season with Beautiful French Program

By Christine Facciolo

Brandywine Baroque opened its 2016-17 season with a wonderfully planned concert of 17th and 18th Century French music. The program — titled “Shades of Love” — was brief in description but generous in its offerings, providing the perfect showcase for the talents of its five instrumentalists, two harpsichordists and soprano Laura Heimes. The music sampled various genres of Baroque instrumental and vocal music, offering a glimpse into the world of the underplayed but brilliant music of the French court.

The concert opened with Michel Pignolet de Monteclair’s chamber cantata Pan & Sirinx composed around 1716. The cantata relates the myth of Syrinx who, pursued by Pan, was turned into reeds by water nymphs. Pan, discovering the effect of his breath across the reeds, turned them into his flute.

Like many Baroque vocal works, the cantata alternates between reflective arias and narrative recitatives. Heimes delivered the arias effortlessly and exquisitely, allowing the melody to flow its course without hindrance. Her soprano gleamed in the recitatives, coaxing just enough reverberation from The Barn at Flintwoods. Flutist Eileen Grycky conveyed the instrumental effect of Pan’s pursuit in the final three sections of the cantata, her playing augmenting the ensemble in timbre and depth.

Grycky was equally effective soloing in the Sonata Op.2, No. 5 in G Major by Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764), one of the sonatas for which the composer offered the choice of violin or flute. Her warm burnished tones shape the exquisite phrasing of the slow movements yet convey the Italian-inspired fire and energy in the fast.

Leclair’s Eighth Sonata engages the violin (Edwin Huizinga) and viola da gamba (Donna Fournier) in polite dialogue that becomes more animated with chains of trills in the Finale.

Huizinga captured the joyfulness of Sonata Op. 12, No. 6 in C Major by Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705-1770) with the pure, expressive tone of his violin, while Grycky’s flute perked up the entire ensemble, especially when she had rising figures to play.

Gambists Fournier and John Mark Rozendaal explored the changing textures and rhythms of Les batteries by Jean de Sainte-Colombe (fl. 1658-87- c.1701). The two returned after intermission with an exquisite yet deliberate rendering of the quirky but beautiful L’Arabesque by Marin Marais (1656-1728).

The second half of the program featured two main works: Pieces in F by Louis Couperin (1626-1661) and Orphee, a cantata by Louis-Nicolas Clerembault (1676-1728).

The harpsichord is a mesmerizing instrument in the hands of the right artist, and Brandywine Baroque Founding Artistic Director Karen Flint is one of those artists. It was a genuine pleasure to hear Couperin’s F Major played with dignity and clarity and expression. This was a performance to remember.

Heimes returned to conclude the concert with a performance of Orphee. This retelling of the Orpheus legend with a happy ending is replete with gorgeous melodies and embellishments which made it a superb showcase for Heimes’s wide vocal range and dramatic talent. A nice way to end an engaging concert!


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Mélomanie Opens Wilmington Series at The Delaware Contemporary

By Christine Facciolo

Mélomanie opened its 2016-17 Wilmington concert series at The Delaware Contemporary on Sunday, October 9 with a program that was both demanding and fascinatingly varied.

The program started off with a delightful rendering of Telemann’s Paris Quartet 3 in G Major. A description of the performance can be found in the titles of the movements themselves: Gracieusement, Vite, Gai. Gracious and spirited are exactly the qualities this music requires 
— and what the ensemble delivered.

Flutist Kimberly Reighley played a magical Baroque flute, rich in tone with spot-on intonation. She blended perfectly with Christof Richter’s violin, making their intertwining lines an endless source of listening pleasure. Gambist Donna Fournier supplied a judicious bass line: prominent where needed yet merging seamlessly with Tracy Richardson’s sublimely supportive harpsichord.

In a rare treat, Richardson soloed in a World Premiere of Michael Stambaugh’s Suite for Harpsichord. Stambaugh is a rising young (b.1990) Philadelphia-based composer whose unfettered imagination shows that an 18th Century instrument has just as much to say in the 21st Century.

The work — written during the summer — unfolds in four short movements (a fifth is being reworked): The Machine Comes to Life, A Mischievous Prelude, A Light Dance and Invention. Opening with a blizzard of notes and fluctuant harmonies and rhythms, the piece is a whimsical mélange of jazz, rock, heavy metal and funk which, oddly enough, did not seem so far removed from the 17th Century. One audience member thought it quasi-programmatic, as it followed the path of a machine from its “birth” to its taking on human characteristics and capabilities 
 a notion that surprised and intrigued the composer.

The playing was often difficult and taxing, but Richardson was superb and her efforts were appreciatively received by the audience.

The history of Western music is littered with tales of lost masterpieces and what-might-have-beens. Philipp Heinrich Erlebach (1657-1714) became one of those unfortunates when in 1736 when all but 70 of his 1000 compositions were destroyed in a fire at the court library at Rudolstadt.

The Sonata 5 in E Minor is just one of six sonatas to survive. As was common for the time, it was scored for violin, viola da gamba and basso continuo. But Erlebach’s sonatas differ from those of his contemporaries in that he gives the viola da gamba a genuinely independent part. In addition, Erlebach aims for a mixture of German, Italian and French styles: the dance movements being mainly Italian while German polyphony dominates the opening and closing movements.

Violinist Richter and gambist Fournier exhibited a deep appreciation for the strong character of this sonata, and their performance offered a pleasing and effective balance in their dialogues.

The concert closed with the Promenades for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. Written between 1937 and 1944, the piece reflects the composer’s reaction to the horrors of World War II. The work opens calmly enough with a Bach-like allegro and air but then morphs into a sinister scherzo and a bitter, edgy finale. Reighley is impressive, playing with the precision and pristine quality she’s noted for, yet somehow managing to deliver a strident tone the music demanded.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

"The Little Mermaid" makes for a Delightful Afternoon at the Delaware Children’s Theatre

The Little Mermaid is such a delightful show for the whole family and a great way for parents to introduce their children to theater. This exciting production will enchant both the young and the young at heart!

Lynne Lew at Scuttle and Sarah Robertson as Ariel.
Director Tom Marshall has assembled a wonderful cast and crew to bring this Disney favorite to the stage here in Wilmington. With a captivating “underwater” set designed by Cam Hay and sea-like animals and mythical sea creatures created through gorgeous make-up design by Kellye Porter-Martin, fabulous wigs and hair designed by Debbie Norkavage, and inventive costumes designed by Nancy Kennard (I especially enjoyed the “umbrella jellyfish”), the setting and characters made famous in the 1989 animated film truly come to life.

I’m sure most people are familiar with the story about a princess mermaid (Ariel) who lives with her father (King Triton) and six older sisters in the vast ocean, but is intrigued by humans and has become more interested in their lifestyle than her own. This intrigue intensifies when Ariel saves the dashing Prince Eric from drowning after being overthrown from his ship during a storm. Since King Triton doesn’t trust humans and believes they are at fault for his wife’s untimely death, Ariel is forbidden to go to the ocean’s surface with her friends and is meant to stay in her aquatic home and concentrate on her singing – a talent she shared with her deceased mother. Wanting an opportunity to be with Eric, Ariel defies her father and makes a deal with his evil sister Ursula – a sea urchin that has been banished by Triton to live far under the dark sea.

The wicked deal allows Ariel to become human for three days, but she will be mute and her voice will be kept by Ursula. In order to remain human and to regain her voice, the prince must kiss her before the three days are up, or Ursula will keep her voice and Ariel will become one of Ursula’s slaves. 

Now human, Ariel is spending time with the prince and becoming acquainted with her new lifestyle. Ariel is doing her best to get Eric to kiss her, but time is running out! You probably know how it ends, but just in case you don’t…I won’t ruin it for you. You’ll have to see the show for yourself

Sarah Robertson leads the cast as the curious and adventurous Ariel. She is charming as the innocent young mermaid and has a gorgeous voice that sweetly soars throughout the theater. Ashley Baker is frighteningly good as Ursula. She has an amazingly strong voice that evokes fear in the audience. Conner Malley as Prince Eric and Jonathan Dalecki as King Triton are captivating and have a great presence on stage. Lynne Lew (Scuttle – the sea bird), Adelaide Nourie (Flounder) and Will Rotsch (Sebastian – the crab) bring great humor and excitement as the friends who share in Ariel’s adventures.
Don’t miss this classic musical with memorable songs written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Like me, I’m sure you’ll find yourself singing along to “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” among many others! The Little Mermaid closes on October 30. 

For tickets and additional information visit 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Music School of Delaware Opens Season with a "Musical Bounty" for Fans

By Christine Facciolo

The Music School of Delaware opened its 2016-17 season Wednesday, September 28, 2016 by gifting its supporters with gorgeous renderings of two of the best loved works for string orchestra: Grieg’s Holberg Suite and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major.

Maestro Simeone Tartaglione conducted a string orchestra composed of music school faculty and three invited guests violists Sheila Browne and Marka Stepper and bassist Arthur Marks.

The program opened with Grieg’s Holberg Suite for String Orchestra. Composed to honor the memory of 18th Century Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg, Grieg cast the work in the musical language of the 18th Century. Tartaglione applied a light touch, playing up the individual character of each of the work’s dance-like movements.

Following the brisk opening Praeludium was a stately Sarabande featuring a lovely dialogue between cellists Lawrence Stomberg and Eric Coyne. The Gavotte recalled the formality of the court while the Musette contrasted with a folksong quality. The deeper strings imparted a profound solemnity to the Air, one of Grieg’s most beautiful creations.  The concluding Rigaudon paid tribute to Norwegian folk violinists as it featured some virtuosic bowing by concertmaster Stefan Xhori.

Tartaglione conducted with authority and passion as he led the orchestra through Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major, an intensely personal work that the composer intended as homage to Mozart whom he viewed as the “Christ of music.” The Serenade is in a vastly different league than the Holberg: Rich in harmonic and melodic invention, it is also more abstract in character and hence more enduring.

The Serenade is Tchaikovsky at his brilliant best and Tartaglione and the musicians did it proud with flair, charm and beauty of tone. The orchestra was nimble and agile in its execution of the second movement — the Valse — with its numerous and sudden harmonic shifts. The third movement — the Elegie with its fugal elements — was ensemble playing at its best. The Finale was played with great virtuosity, bringing the concert to a close with rousing applause.

Market Street Music's Season Opens with Pyxis Piano Quartet

Pyxis Piano Quartet (L-R): Jie Jin, cello; Luigi Mazzocchi, violin;
Hiroko Yamazaki, piano & Amy Leonard, viola.
By Christine Facciolo
Pyxis Piano Quartet opened a new season of Market Street Music Festival Concerts Saturday, October 1, 2016 with its usual combination of superb playing and interesting programming. The ensemble consisted of Luigi Mazzocchi, violin; Amy Leonard, viola; Jie Jin, cello and Hiroko Yamazaki, piano.

The bulk of the program featured two works written a century apart: Mozart’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major (K. 493) and Richard Strauss’ Piano Quartet in C Minor, Op. 13.

Luckily for us, when Mozart’s publisher canceled his commission for a series of piano quartets, the composer had already completed the second quartet and it was published by another firm in 1786. K.493 is one of Mozart’s greatest compositions and a classic of the genre with its pristine form, gracious themes and exquisite interplay between instruments.

The first movement — Allegro — begins intensely but offers gracious themes throughout. The Larghetto is a richly conceived slow movement featuring an exquisite interplay among piano and strings. The third movement Rondo — Allegretto — is full of fire and energy with a prominent piano.

Pyxis was most sympathetic to this spacious and outgoing work. Particularly attractive were the gently springy rhythms and exquisite phrasing of the strings in the first movement and Yamazaki’s beautifully shaped phrasing in the Larghetto.

Whereas Mozart wrote his quarter at the height of his musical maturity, Strauss was a mere 20 and very much in the thrall of Brahms when he composed his work. The result is an unusual fusion of musical personalities: the gravitas of Brahms and the fire and impetuousness of the young Strauss. Rich and dark, the work is full of blazing energy.

The playing has all the attributes you would expect from Pyxis: impeccable intonation and fluid tempos that allowed the music to flow in unbroken phrases. The players were individually excellent, as was Mazzocchi’s rendering of the main theme of the Andante and Yamazaki’s voicing of the chords supporting him. But they are at their best when they function as an ensemble, as in the tight Scherzo or the virtuosic interplay of the closing Vivace.

The evening opened sans piano with the playful Mozart En Route (A Little Traveling Music) by Aaron Jay Kernis, past recipient of the A.I. duPont Composer’s Award. Inspired by a letter from Mozart to his father, in which he complains of being jostled during a particularly rough carriage ride, Kerns’ short (three-minute) string trio takes listeners on a whimsical musical trip from Salzburg to Nashville and back. Thematic variation is the rule as familiar-sounding pop styles interweave with the classical tradition with several quotations from Mozart’s Divertimento for Strings, K. 563.


Monday, October 3, 2016

A Review of Rehoboth Art League's 7th Juried Exhibition

By Guest Blogger, Stan Divorski 
Stan Divorski is an artist and avid art and photography collector who lives in Lewes, Delaware. He has a PhD in Psychology from Northwestern University, a Certificate in Painting and Drawing from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington DC and has studied modern art curating at the Chelsea College of Arts in London.
Kyle Hackett "Forward Restraint"

The Rehoboth Art League’s 7th Regional Juried Biennial Exhibition is a significant step in the League’s continuing evolution to a regional art force. The work is bold, resolutely modern and abstract.

The juror, George Ciscle, focused on the unique and mastery of technique. His emphasis on craft is part of what makes the exhibit current. After decades of the art world emphasizing concept over technique, the quality of execution is increasingly valued. Kyle Hackett’s oil painting “Forward Restraint” was chosen as Best in Show partly because it stood out from the crowd of portraits and partly because of the artist’s command of his medium. In his detached view of the subject, Hackett distresses part of the sitter’s face and leaves part of the background apparently unfinished, reminding us that this is his interpretation of the subject, not a copy of reality. 

Brook Hedge’s “Still Standing,” a deeply emotional photograph of a gradually subsiding barn garnered an Award of Excellence. Achieving her effects “in camera” rather than through post-processing in Photoshop, she demonstrates mastery of her medium. Harold Ross’ “Still Life with Pencil Sharpener and Steel Ball” initially appears to be an example of the “Photorealism” paintings of the 1960s and 70s. In fact, it is a meticulously crafted digital photographic print comprising 30-plus layers of imagery. It bears greater relationship to the Dutch Masters than to photorealism.

Amani Lewis "The Conversation"
“Relevance,” the relationship of art to social issues, is increasingly part of the art world’s language. Amani Lewis’ “The Conversation” examines the current status of African Americans. The central figures in her creation appear to be involved in a calm exchange, but are superimposed over images of angry protest. Protesters can be seen through the figures themselves, illustrating how social upheaval penetrates individual existence. Digitally cut and pasted images printed on canvas worked over with paint evoke the screen printed posters of 20th Century protest movements. 

George Thompson’s painting “Sometimes ‘IT’ Percolates uphill” depicts the permanent and reflexive damage to the earth of individual acts of pollution. He has chosen a jewel-tone palette rather than the “earthier” palette expected. It is up to the audience to decide whether this choice works against the artist’s intent or leads to closer exploration. George J.E. Sakkal’s photo collage “Climate Change: Earth at the Beginning of the End” depicts the detritus of western existence in a small, densely packed image that invites the viewer to practically stick their nose into the swirling mess.

Some current perspectives in contemporary art are not evident here. On display is what
Sondra Arkin "Shadow Drawing"
some would dismissively refer to as “wall art.” Missing are “installations” which become part of or transform the gallery space. The closest examples are Sondra Arkin’s Award of Excellence winning “Shadow Drawing,” and Jihyun Vania Oh’s “Trace My Memory.” Ms. Arkin’s wall-mounted wire sculpture is a delicate spiderweb of geometric forms that creates a shadow drawing on the gallery wall. Ms. Oh’s sculpture of leather, paper and other materials -- resembling a post-apocalyptic gas mask -- snakes up a corner of the gallery, stepping from wall to wall. Her ‘s is the only piece that seeks to directly engage the audience by encouraging viewer interaction. Below the work is a small sign that invites the viewer to “Open me.” Pulling a small metal ring opens a trap door, revealing a pop-up that transformed my understanding of the work.

Missing in their entirety from the exhibition are examples of video and performance art.

It is estimated that there are more than 2.5 million professional artists in the US -- nearly 1% of the population. Taking into consideration the additional number of amateur artists, it is easy to understand the challenge for artists to have their work seen and sold. George Ciscle’s curation demonstrates the value of artists who analyze what has gone before, both in terms of technique and theory, and seek that unique variation that lifts one’s work above the fray. The exhibit is among the best that I have seen at the RAL, but still leaves room to grow.