Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chapel Street Tells a Dark Tale in "The Pillowman"

By Mike Logothetis

(L-R): John Barker, Steve Connor, Jimmy Van Buren. 
Photo by Peter Kuo.
Somewhere at the confluence of Poe, Kafka and Tarantino lies Martin McDonagh’s spellbinding play,The Pillowman. While some would label this as black comedy, I believe it is more dramatic realism. The feelings I had when processing the Chapel Street Players production on my walk home from the theater dealt more with unhealthy realistic possibilities than with sinister “what ifs.”

But my own petty internal arguments should not stop you from getting a ticket to this week’s final run of shows  because this is a play you should experience. Director J.W. Pukatsch puts his four main actors through a gauntlet of emotions because McDonagh’s script demands authenticity. While all the major players were excellent, the show is anchored by the stalwart performance of Jimmy Van Buren as the protagonist Katurian.

Writer Katurian’s 400 short stories (all but one unpublished) might be described as a how-to guide of “101 ways to skewer a 5-year-old.” The purportedly fictional stories have landed Katurian and his weak-minded brother Michal (Sean McKean) in prison, since the killings described in his simply-told fables have been replicated in the town where they live.

The policemen who interrogate Katurian – the disdainful Tupolski (Steve Connor) and his hot-headed partner Ariel (John Barker) – aren’t necessarily wrong in hating what their prisoner has written. These are sick, demented tales of torture written by a bruised man in a world the audience never sees outside of the prison walls. But do these lawmen deserve to be judge, jury and executioner on top of their detective roles?

Barker and Connor, as Ariel and Tupolski, turn the classic good cop/bad cop formula into a devilish vaudevillian routine. "Good cop" Tupolski toys with Katurian, giving him false impressions of understanding, sympathy and hope. "Bad cop" Ariel is an amalgam of the clichéd combustible, torture-happy cop with a secret past. The two have chemistry and perverse senses of humor that fit their surroundings. Neither seems to care a shred for humanity and force Katurian to continuously jump through hoops of their own manic creation.

Van Buren imbues the arrogant yet thin-skinned Katurian from his mercurial talking in the interrogation room to the more subdued time spent with his weak-minded brother in a holding cell. You want to root for Katurian, but the audience sees that he is not a wholly sympathetic character.

Katurian’s inflated sense of self-satisfaction when he tells a story – especially one of his stories – is pure arrogance. When the police criticize and threaten to destroy his writings, the passion boiling within Van Buren’s Katurian is palpable. Hard evidence, artistic merit, and Katurian’s insistence that the stories are pure fiction are all irrelevant. The police want him gone, but he will do anything save his stories (and their integrity).

The relationship between Katurian and his brother, the childlike Michal, is one where the able sibling has assumed a parental role. (What happened to the men’s mother and father is divulged within the play.)  Michal is at once innocent and unpleasant – a dichotomy captured well by actor McKean. But is Katurian the best role model for Michal? Their relationship is a unique one, to say the least, and the play exposes its lineage.

McDonagh leads the audience down a path, but not a predictable one. Its strength is in its imagery and how the principals deliver. The Pillowman is a difficult story to tell, but everything is executed admirably in this production.

The cast is rounded out by Joseph Pukatsch, Penelope Rose Teague, and Ashley Thompson in minor roles. Kudos to set designer and builder Patrick Brisiel for his inventive and effective backdrop and props.

As a playwright, McDonagh has a casual relationship with murder, mutilation and psychological aggrievement so audiences may be shaken by the events described and simulated in The Pillowman. The show contains strong language and adult situations.
The 2003 play received the 2004 Olivier Award for Best New Play, the 2004-5 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Foreign Play and two Tony Awards.


The limited run of The Pillowman ends this week, with 8:00pm shows on August 3, 4 and 5 at the Chapel Street Playhouse, 27 North Chapel Street in Newark. Parking is available on the street or in the small lot behind the building. Tickets are $18 adult; $12 senior; and $5 student and can be purchased online, via telephone 302.368.2480 or at the box office.  

City-Wide Murals Add Vibrancy to Community 'Scapes

This post comes from a press release courtesy of the Creative District Wilmington...
Photos of each city mural. Photo courtesy of Creative District Wilmington. 
Three of Creative District Wilmington's city-wide mural projects have been huge successes, spanning the communities from Westside to Riverside. CDW is grateful to the residents and supporters of these projects  with a special shout-out to artists Corei and Crae Washington of Smashed Label, James Wyatt, and Eric Okdeh for their creativity and talent — their dedication to the projects is evident in the process.

Each mural began by engaging the residents of the community to join open conversations to express their ideas for the images. The artist then developed a design and presented it to the community for feedback and approval. Once the final image was established, the artist scaled the image to the size of the wall, breaking the image into multiple panels on special cloth, known as parachute cloth, for painting.

The community was then invited to attend the paint days — everyone was welcome, no experience was necessary! For this city-wide mural project, each mural community had 3 scheduled paint days in June. A "mural squad" of 10 dedicated local artists participated in all the community paint days, even the Mayor stopped by to add to the mix!

Two  out of the three murals have been installed. The mural located at Kingswood Community Center will be installed by the end of July.

Dedication ceremonies for each mural will be announced soon!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Once More unto DelShakes, Dear Friends...for Henry V

L-R: Carlo Campbell as Exeter, Emilie Krause as Henry,
Savannah Jackson as Ely and Guillermo Alonso as Canterbury.
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
By Mike Logothetis

In his time, William Shakespeare became the toast of London theater circles by pleasing critics and the masses with popular plays which contained exceptional turns of phrases. Centuries later, his words remain steeped in the English lexicon. But did you know The Bard was also a motivational speaker? Actually, he wasn’t…but he wrote some extremely stirring speeches.

In America, we have “Give me liberty, or give me death!” (Patrick Henry) and “Let’s win one for the Gipper” (Knute Rockne). These are powerful words from our history which moved politicians and collegiate football players to greatness.

In Henry V, Shakespeare wrote not just one, but three superb speeches which continue to stir passion and urge listeners to action – sometimes beyond their apparent means and abilities.

“O ceremony, show me but thy worth!” (Act IV, Scene I)

But the power of these speeches and other lines of script mean little without context and delivery. The 15th annual Delaware Shakespeare production of Henry V provides its audience with those parameters of success (plus wine!). Director Jessica Bedford has assembled an excellent cast of nobles, soldiers, and other players to bring the 16th century show about the trials of leadership to life for a contemporary audience.

The most notable is the role of the titular king, played with fiery depth by Emilie Krause. Yes, the king is really a queen of the stage in this gender-blind production. Because the words are so strong and the direction so polished, you don’t dwell on “Harry” being played by a woman. (You shouldn’t anyway.) Krause wrestles with decisions, lashes out at traitors, fraternizes with common soldiers, and courts a French princess like any good Shakespearean hero king would. She’s the foundation on which this lovely outdoor
L-R: Adam Altman as Fluellen
and Guillermo Alonso as MacMorris.
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
production sits.

Along with Krause, Leonard Kelly stands out playing three disparate roles to perfection: Bardolph, Erpingham, and the King of France. Kelly’s ability to transition from the drunken common man in the trenches to a king trying to control his nobles, son, and armies against English invaders is impressive.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” (Act III, Scene I)

If you are unfamiliar with the play, the story focuses on events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Characters on both sides scheme for power, jostle for political and economic position, and steal for profit. The scene where Henry confronts those who conspire to murder him is a powerful one. The audience can feel the walls closing in on those who wish to depose their king.

Don’t be frightened of Shakespeare’s famous wordplay – the actors convey more than their scripted lines with their actions and reactions to events taking place on stage. The pacing is tight and the plot is clear to follow. Even if you miss some nuance due to language, you can follow the story and empathize with the heavy situations King Henry must weigh in his mind.

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” (Act IV, Scene III)

The raised circular stage has four entrance and exit passages which makes the audience feel part of the action, especially during the climactic battle. This intimacy also allows those delicate lines delivered with passion or humor or anger or pathos to draw you closer to identifying with certain characters and circumstances. It is an ideal venue and setting to enjoy Shakespeare’s work. (It's also beautiful when you settle into a chair and soak it all in.)

Only three actors play single roles and the well-drilled cast of Guillermo Alonso, Adam Altman, Nathan Bunyon, Carlo Campbell, Macy Jae Davis, Kristin Devine, Nico Galloway, Savannah Jackson, Annette Kaplafka, Marcellus McQueen, Adam Pierce Montgomery, David Pica, and Cristina Riegel are a worthy Shakespearean troupe.

Attending performances outside in the round (under the stars!) at Rockwood Mansion is a delight that longtime area theater-lovers and burgeoning fans should make plans to experience. Henry V runs from July 14-30 with gates opening early for pre-show entertainment and picnics. For the first time, bottles of wine will be available for purchase this year, courtesy of Swigg. Concessions featuring foods from Janssen’s Market will also be on sale. Patrons are encouraged to bring picnicking items plus lawn chairs and blankets to the park for the performances.

General admission is $18 with discounted tickets for seniors and active military ($16) as well as students ($14). Children age 5 and under are free and each Sunday is Family Night. Curtain is at 7:30 from Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 6 on Sundays.

The 2017 Delaware Shakespeare season will include two full productions – the current Summer Festival (Henry V) and a fall Community Tour (As You Like It) from October 25 through November 9. There will also be three ticketed performances on November 10-12 at OperaDelaware Studios.

“The game's afoot: Follow your spirit” (Act III, Scene I)

Saturday, July 1, 2017

DSO Concludes Its 2016-17 Season Celebrating Beethoven

By Christine Facciolo
A Beethoven overture followed by a Beethoven concerto followed by a Beethoven symphony. It doesn’t get much better than — that unless you factor in solid performances in a lush garden venue on a perfect early summer evening.

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Amado gave a post-season performance in the open-air theatre at Longwood Gardens that continued the orchestra’s year-long exploration of the works of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The opening offering, the Coriolan Overture, was written in 1807 intended for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s tragic play Coriolan, which was about the semi-legendary Roman figure Gaius Marcius Coriolanus. The work loosely follows the course of the play, beginning with some emphatic declamatory chords followed by an anxious scurrying motif. The first part is cast in a minor key depicting a bellicose Coriolanus and his intention to invade Rome. The move to a gentler theme in a major key suggests a softening of his attitude as he yields to his mother’s pleas not to invade the city. He has, however, brought his army to Rome’s gates and cannot turn back, so he kills himself. The performance was as fierce as the music, allowing Amado to demonstrate to perfection his control of the orchestra and its dynamics.

The highlight of the evening was Peter Serkin, one of the great pianists of our time, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It was hard not to feel starstruck by such an accomplished musician, and when he walked onstage with a relaxed smile, he seemed not only confident but relaxed and generous.

This work, which Beethoven wrote before the first piano concerto, features some of the composer’s most famous tunes. Serkin, who is obviously very familiar with this concerto, gave the first movement a delicate and elegant reading. He captured the serenity and spirituality of the second movement with a personal and beautifully touching interpretation. The third movement was all fun as it introduced the theme in an off-beat rhythm. (Later when the theme is played on the beat, it almost sounds wrong.) The tempo was well-judged and the interplay between orchestra and soloist was well-nuanced under Amado’s direction.

After the break, the evening continued with the Symphony No. 4, an Amado favorite but one that continues, unfortunately, to be underrated given its position between the “Eroica” and the ubiquitous Fifth.

The first movement opened with a tension-filled Adagio which gave way to a vigorous Allegro with striking dynamic contrasts, including some mellow sounds from the woodwind section. The Adagio was beautifully sculpted with some very effective soft-playing mid-movement. The finale scampered along with a strength and brio that characterized the entire performance.

See their new website! www.delawaresymphony.org.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Delaware Chamber Music Festival Closes 32nd Season with More Brahms & Jazz

By Christine Facciolo

The Delaware Chamber Music Festival continued its celebration of the music of Johannes Brahms June 23 through 25 with complementary works by Beethoven, Stravinsky, Mozart and Turina.

The Festival Quartet includes: Barbara Govatos, violin & DCMF Artistic Director; Hirono Oka, violin; Che-Hung Chen, viola and Clancy Newman, cello.  Guest artists this season were: Kristen Johnson, viola; Marcantonio Barone, Julie Nishimura & Natalie Zhu, pianistsDouglas Mapp, bass; Tina Betz, voice and Jonathan Whitney, arranger and director of Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency. 

Friday, June 23’s concert opened with a performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major, Op.18, no. 1. The instrumental Brahms owes much to Beethoven, who brought many innovations to his musical genres, not the least of which was the systematic use of interlocking thematic devices to achieve intra- and inter-movement unity in long compositions.

The six quartets that make up the Op. 18 set were Beethoven’s way of announcing to the world that he was to be taken seriously as a composer. It was evident that the musicians viewed the work not as the apogee of 18th Century Viennese Classicism, but rather as a transitional work that looked forward to the composer’s middle period.

That approach was made plain in the slow movement, which was presented as a deeply felt lament. Here Beethoven goes far beyond Haydn, writing in an emotional intensity — the movement is his musical depiction of the tomb scene of “Romeo and Juliet” — that must have shocked his contemporaries. The finale was energetic and incisive, elegant and charming.

Guest artists Hirono Oka (violin) and Marcantonio Barone (piano) collaborated in a tour de force rendering of Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, a 1930s work arranged from the ballet Pulcinella. Stravinsky based Pulcinella on music that had been attributed (probably erroneously) to the 18th Century Italian composer Giovanni Pergolesi. The result is not an antiquarian piece but a seamless fusion of the old and the new. Stravinsky maintained the courtly character of the Baroque melodies but spiced up the music with pungent harmonies and updated rhythms.

Oka and Barone respected the 18th Century influences in a refined performance full of spongy Baroque rhythms. But they also played with ample color and expression, making the music sound decidedly contemporary. Oka’s tone was both sweet and luminous and decisive.

The lighthearted character of the Suite Italienne gave way to the symphonic grandeur of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34. Brahms published the work when he was 32 years old, but by then it had gone through several transformations: it began as a string quintet in 1862 and was rescored as a work for two pianos until Brahms gave it its final form.

This is a work of surging passion, tempered only momentarily by the softer-edged Andante. Govatos, Oka, Chen, Newman and Barone conveyed the full-bodied Romanticism of the two outer movements and the driven Scherzo and a plaintive, soulful rendering of the slow movement. Yet as heated as the music got, the ensemble kept the texture remarkably transparent. Viola and cello lines were never buried yet the group produced a solid, powerful sound.

On Saturday, June 24, concertgoers headed to the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew in downtown Wilmington for a free concert, marking the first collaboration between the DCMF and the residents of the Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency. Six residents were given a week to compose a work that incorporated a classical string quartet 
 a first for these talented young artists.

Each composition was noteworthy but Sasquatch by vibraphonist Grady Tesch brought down the house. Tesch also excelled as a featured player in Mike Talento’s Half and Half and as lyricist and vocalist in Ike Spivak’s Plot Twist, which recounted the musical journeys of jazz luminaries.

Jazz vocalist Isabel Crespo gave a plaintive rendering of her composition Hide and Seek, while trombonist Kristin Monroe ably combined elements of jazz and classical in Coasting Equilibrium, her contribution in the tradition of Astor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango. Libby Larsen kept the musicians moving — especially pianist Julie Nishimura — with the kinetic energy of Four on the Floor.

Tina Betz, also executive director of the Light Up the Queen Foundation, applied her dramatic contralto to a powerful rendering of Strange Fruit, a song about lynching made famous by the late Billie Holiday. Douglas Mapp, associate principal bass with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, joined the string quartet to accompany. The song was arranged for this performance by Boysie Lowery director, Jonathan Whitney.

Sunday, June 25’s program opened with Mozart’s Divertimento in D major, K. 136, the first of a group of works known collectively as the “Salzburg” symphonies. The work was performed at the request of DCMF Board President Carolyn Luttrell. Govatos, Oka, Chen and Newman played with a nimbleness and precision that underscored the decorous elegance of a work that can only be described as a masterpiece on the smallest possible scale.

Pianist Natalie Zhu joined Govatos, Chen and Newman in a seductive and sensitive performance of Joaquin Turina’s Piano Quarter in A minor, Op. 67. Composed in 1931, this gently melancholic work resonates with the vivid harmonies and impetuous rhythms of Spanish folk music yet at the same time bears the imprint of impressionists’ influence in its spacious, colorful textures.

The program — and season — concluded with a performance of Brahms’ breathtaking Quintet in G major, Op. 111. Orchestra in conception, this piece creates the effect of far more than five players. This was a passionate performance. Cellist Newman was more than equal to the full opening of the first movement. The Adagio was rapt intensity; the Allegretto wistful and the finale, robust.

See www.dcmf.org

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Mini-Celebration of Brahms Opens the 32nd Delaware Chamber Music Festival

By Christine Facciolo


The Delaware Chamber Music Festival (DCMF) opened its 2017 season on Friday, June 16 with a celebration of the music of a composer many find difficult to love: Johannes Brahms.

Indeed, the “Brahms problem” never seems to go away. Over and over, we hear complaints that his music is “too romantic,” albeit not excitingly romantic like Chopin or his mentor Schumann. At the same time, he’s charged with being too intellectual and not sensuous enough.

One thing, however, is certain: Brahms’ oeuvre occupies a unique position in the history of Western music. Looking Janus-like both to the music of the past and towards the innovations of future generations, Brahms’ music has shaped our understanding of composers from the Renaissance and Baroque periods to the present-day.

Violinist and DCMF Artistic Director Barbara Govatos has curated a series that acknowledges the tensions between modernism and tradition. Each of the four concerts offers a master work by Brahms as well as works by Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky and others.

The level of playing was extremely high. The Festival Quartet — Govatos, Che-Hung Chen, viola, Hirono Oka, violin — includes musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Guest artists for the first weekend of concerts included pianists Marcantonio Barone, Julie Nishimura and Natalie Zhu.

Friday evening’s program opened with a performance of Jennifer Higdon’s Piano Trio, a nod to the Festival’s theme “Strings and Keys.” Like Scriabin, color and visual imagery figure prominently in her compositional process. This two-movement work attempts an aural depiction of the colors “Pale Yellow” and “Fiery Red.”

Govatos, pianist Natalie Zhu and cellist Clancy Newman delivered a performance that truly highlighted character of the movement titles: subtle and relaxed for the first, energetic and rhythmically decisive for the second. Perception is personal but if audience response was any indication, both musicians and composer succeeded in achieving the two vastly contrasting moods.

Violist Che-Hung Chen then joined Govatos and Newman in a performance of the Serenade in C major for String Trio by Hungarian composer Erno Dohnanyi. Dohnanyi became a devotee of Brahms while studying at the National Hungarian Academy of Music. Brahms would later promote the fledgling composer’s first published composition, the Piano Quintet in C minor.

Govatos and company offered an impressive performance of the Serenade characterized by a warm tone, a relaxed demeanor and the ability to search out the subtler aspects of the score.

Zhu rejoined the ensemble following intermission for a performance of Brahms’ Piano Quartet in G minor. The work premiered in Hamburg in 1861 with Clara Schumann at the piano. It was orchestrated in 1937 by Arnold Schoenberg who would call Brahms “the reluctant revolutionary” for the way he developed his thematic material, techniques for which Schoenberg himself would become famous.

The ensemble gave a reading that conveyed both the sweetness and simmer of the first movement; the introspective character of the second and the dreamy grandness of the third. The Hungarian, Rondo finale was pure fire, the rhythmic and metric complexities so meticulously executed that the audience rose to its feet with gasps of delight and thunderous applause.

Sunday’s program opened with the Fantasie in F minor for piano, four hands by Franz Schubert. Not a bad choice, since Schubert was one of Brahms’ favorite composers, so much so that he cast the aforementioned piano quartet in the Schubertean mold.

Schubert was after the Mozart the major composer of original four-hand piano music. The Fantasie comes from the last year of the composer’s life. It consists of four movements of unequal proportions. Guest pianists Julie Nishimura and Marcantonio Barone played as one entity, making very clear the architecture of the piece yet never obscuring the wonderful niceties like Schubert’s amazing sense of harmony and canonic writing.

Govatos and Barone did justice to the passion and pathos of Francis Poulenc’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, a work dedicated to the memory of Spanish poet, playwright and theatre director Frederico Garcia Lorca, who was murdered by Nationalist forces at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Although Poulenc railed against a “prima donna” violin above an arpeggio piano accompaniment, he followed Brahms’ example in this work by giving each instrument a challenging yet balanced part.

Govatos, Barone and cellist Clancy Newman concluded the concert with a rendering of Brahms’ Piano Trio, No. 2 in C major. The three musicians gave the work the disciplined and coordinated interaction its complex lines demand and judging by audience reaction, achieved the desired result.

The Delaware Chamber Music Festival continues Friday, June 23, 7:30pm and Sunday, June 25, 3:00pm at Wilmington Friends Lower School. A Saturday, June 24, 4:00pm FREE Jazz Concert will also be performed at the Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew, in collaboration with the Boysie Lowery Living Jazz Residency Program (Jonathan Whitney, Director. For full details, visit www.dcmf.org.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Spending a Midsummer Night in Arden

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.


This June, the Arden Shakespeare Gild continues its 100-year tradition of homegrown performance with one of the most popular and enduring of The Bard’s comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While the production was slated to play outside in “The Field,” rain unfortunately moved the show inside Gild Hall on the night of my review. While no essence or execution was compromised, I wish I could have witnessed the sprite-ly fairies dancing in actual grass among the magical woods of Arden. I couldn’t imagine a better setting for this play…honestly!

But inside the cozy confines of Gild Hall, the audience was introduced to the entire cast as the actors entered the theater singing Over The Hills, which is the marching song of the Arden Players. An accompaniment of lute/mandolin and flute offered a musical arm to the production and added depth to certain scenes.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream invites the audience into three distinct spheres: An enchanted forest, a noble court in Athens where two sets of lovers prove that “the course of true love never did run smooth,” and the workaday world of a semi-professional acting troupe. In proper Shakespearean style, these three worlds eventually collide with hilarity, wit, and romance.

The play consists of several interconnecting plotlines – linked to a celebration of the wedding of ruling nobleman Theseus (Lee Jordan) to Hippolyta (Jessica Jordan) – and run simultaneously through the outlying forest.

The play opens with Hermia (Emma Orr) being in love with Lysander (Colin Gregory Antes) and resistant to her father Egeus' (Christopher Wright) arrangement to marry her off to Demetrius (Henry Moncure IV). Enraged, Egeus invokes an ancient Athenian law before Theseus, whereby a daughter must marry the suitor chosen by her father or face death. Theseus offers her another choice: lifelong chastity outside of matrimony. Strong-willed Hermia dislikes both options.

In a parallel plot line, Oberon (Lee Jordan), king of the fairies, and Titania (Jessica Jordan), his estranged queen, have come to the forest outside Athens. The mischievous Oberon calls upon “shrewd and knavish sprite” Puck (Kirsten Valania) to help him formulate a magical essence derived from a rare flower. When the concoction is applied to the eyelids of a sleeping person, that person falls in love with the first living thing he perceives upon waking. Oberon hopes that he might make Titania fall in love with a beast of the forest and thereby shame her back under his influence. It should be noted that the in-life married couple of Lee and Jessica Jordan have wonderful on-stage presence and chemistry.

Meanwhile, Lysander convinces Hermia to elope, which she confides to friend Helena (Jessica Fields). Desperate to win the love of Demetrius, Helena tells him about the plan and he follows the lovers into the woods with plans of killing Lysander. Not wanting to miss her chance at love, Helena chases Demetrius, who rebuffs her attempts at wooing him away from Hermia.

Secretly observing Demetrius hurling cruel insults at Helena, Oberon orders Puck to spread some of the magical potion on the eyelids of the young Athenian man. Puck mistakes Lysander for Demetrius and administers the juice to the sleeping Lysander. Coming across him, Helena wakes him while attempting to determine whether he is dead or asleep. Lysander immediately falls in love with Helena. Oberon sees Demetrius still following Hermia and becomes enraged. When Demetrius goes to sleep, Oberon sends Puck to get Helena while he charms Demetrius’ eyes.

Upon waking, Demetrius sees Helena and now both young men are in avid pursuit of her. However, she is convinced that her two suitors are mocking her, as neither loved her originally. At this juncture, Jessica Fields brings Helena’s confusion and anger to the forefront in several engaging arguments and rants. She started as a subservient maiden, but roared to life as a dominant woman using choice couplets and deft body movements to pull the audience towards her sympathies – a strong performance.

Of course, Hermia is now at a loss to see why her lover has abandoned her. The four quarrel with each other until Lysander and Demetrius become so enraged that they seek a place to duel to prove whose love for Helena is greatest. Oberon orders Puck to keep Lysander and Demetrius apart and to remove the charm from Lysander so Lysander can love Hermia again, while Demetrius will continue to love Helena.

All the while, Peter Quince (Henry Moncure III) and his fellow “Mechanicals” Nick Bottom (Dave Hastings), Francis Flute (Gene Dzielak), Robin Starveling (Sean McGuire), Tom Snout (Tom Wheeler), and Snug (Allan Kleban) plan to put on a play for the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. Bottom, who is playing the main role, is over-enthusiastic and wants to dominate others by suggesting he play three key roles himself. Dave Hastings shines in his role of Bottom and steals most scenes he’s in. Quince sets rehearsal for a clearing in the forest. (Where else?!)

At rehearsal, bombastic Bottom is noticed by a hidden Puck who transforms his head into that of a donkey. Titania, having received the love-potion, is awakened by Bottom’s singing and immediately falls in love with him. She lavishes him with the attention of her and her fairies, in which he revels. After some time Oberon releases Titania, orders Puck to remove the donkey's head from Bottom, and arranges everything so Helena, Hermia, Demetrius, and Lysander will all believe they have been dreaming when they awaken in the morning.

Theseus and Hippolyta arrive and wake the sleeping lovers, who are now properly coupled. Egeus demands and arranges a group wedding in Athens, which would be a perfectly acceptable way to end A Midsummer Night’s Dream; however, Shakespeare gives his audience a good deal more in the form of a “play within the play” performed by Quince’s men.

Back in Athens, Theseus, Hippolyta and the four lovers watch the six actors perform the tragedy Pyramus and Thisbe. The performers are so terrible playing their roles that the guests laugh as if it were meant to be a comedy. The audience in Gild Hall laughed mightily throughout the show, but this micro-play had us all in stitches.

After all the other characters leave, the excellent Kirsten Valania as Puck “restores amends” and suggests that what the audience experienced might just be a dream. If it was, it was a good dream.

Director Tanya Lazar muses: “It is always the language that draws me to a play selection – and A Midsummer Night’s Dream has some of Shakespeare’s most lyrical lines. For instance, Duke Theseus speaks of the ‘lunatic, the lover and the poet’ as one being, and Lysander mourns the loss of his true love with, ‘So quick bright things come to confusion’. I was also drawn to a comparison between Midsummers, a comedy, and Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy. Indeed, the ‘play within the play’ performed by the Mechanicals is a new and often hilarious take on that revered tragedy.”

The cast also included Eric Merlino as Philostrate plus Alexandra Rubincan, Olivia Hayward, Julien Eppler, Sophia Eppler, and Amalia Slattery as assorted fairies. I would be remiss to omit the wonderfully witty and informative call to intermission – read in rhyming iambic pentameter.

This year’s production is a salute to the talented veterans who have performed in Arden for many years and a nod to the next generation of actors who continue this grand tradition.

A member organization of the Arden Club, the Arden Shakespeare Gild is dedicated to including everyone with an interest in Shakespeare, both as audience and as participant. The Gild produces one of Shakespeare’s plays each summer in the open-air Frank Stephens Memorial Theater in Arden. Each winter the members direct a Young Actors Workshop for kids from age 6 through high school. The Gild also sponsors lectures, readings, and social activities throughout the year.

Remaining performances are June 22, 23 and 24 at 7:30pm. The shows take place outside at the Frank Stephens Memorial Theater (aka The Field Theater) adjacent to the Arden Village Green. Performances move to Gild Hall in the event of rain. Call 302.475.3126, Mailbox 4 to reserve your tickets or go to www.ardenshakes.com for online ordering. Prices are $12; $5 children 12 & under.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Wilmington Artist's "Bridge to Success" Unveiled with 8th Avenue Collective Group

This post courtesy of guest blogger, Jasmine Brown, Jasmine is the owner of 8th Avenue Collective Group, a creative agency based in Wilmington. 

Haneef Salaam is a rapper from Southbridge in Wilmington. His music is uplifting and motivating, which makes anyone be able to relate to it. We suggest playing his debut album Bridge To Success first thing in the morning while getting ready for the day. It will certainly change your perspective. 

On Thursday, June 15, the room at ArtzScape was filled with Haneef’s family, friends and supporters. People from all walks of life came to check out Haneef Salaam and his inspiring music. Light refreshments were served to guests as they sat and listened to Haneef’s curated selections from his album. The night was broken up by two intermissions, raffles and interviews. Overall, it was a relaxing event with people networking, mixing and mingling over great food and even better music.

“Stop acting and reacting in chaos.”
            --- Haneef Salaam
“If you keep doing what you always did, then you’re going to keep getting what you always got.”
            --- Haneef Salaam

8th Avenue Collective Group is a creative agency that helps artists, makers and doers create and share in their communities. They provide a digital and physical platform for creatives to network and broaden their horizons in order to reach goals and maximize potential. Its next event is Paint & Chill on Friday, June 30, 2017, at 5:00pm. It will be a relaxed evening of painting. No instructor, so guests can paint what they wish as they listen to music and enjoy light refreshments. Location is Artist Ave Station, 800 N. Tatnall Street, Wilmington, DE 19801.

Wilmington's Summer in the Parks Turns 5

This post comes from a release courtesy of The City of Wilmington...


Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and The Grand Executive Director Mark Fields today announced details about the fifth season of Summer in the Parks, a series of interactive cultural experiences provided free in Wilmington’s neighborhood parks. The program, a collaboration between the City and The Grand, will feature more than 60 events in 13 parks and public spaces across the city.

Each week, Summer in the Parks will feature cultural programs on a fixed schedule in eight city parks, including Haynes, Tilton, Holloway, Woodlawn, Prices Run, Barbara Hicks, Judy Johnson, and the Helen Chambers Playground. In addition, each week will feature a more traditional concert during the early evening. While The Grand serves as producer for the innovative program, it draws on a wide variety of artistic talent from Wilmington and the region.

“The partnership between the City and The Grand has produced unique and outstanding programs which children and families have enjoyed for the past few years,” said Mayor Purzycki. “We are pleased to present another summer of fun, entertainment and interactive opportunities in our City parks.”

All of the Summer in the Parks activities are designed to be more than presentations or performances by including some component of audience participation or interactivity, such as storytelling, theater, art, music, dance, and crafts. Summer in the Parks will showcase a total of 191 individual artists this summer representing 32 cultural organizations and groups. A full schedule of daytime and evening activities can be found on The Grand’s website.

Pamelyn Manocchio, The Grand’s Director of Community Engagement, is the producing coordinator for Summer in the Parks. “These seven weeks represent some of the most creative, engaged people from the arts community. All of them are dedicated to the idea of taking art out of our theaters and studios and right into the heart of these neighborhoods. We’re not asking the people to come to the art. We’re bringing the art directly to the city residents.”

“We’re extremely proud of this program,” said Fields, “for what it does for the city’s youth and families, but also what it demonstrates about the highly collaborative arts community we have created through the years. Summer in the Parks is a testament to the dynamic contribution the arts makes to the city all year long.”

Summer in the Parks 2017 Schedule: June 26-August 10 (no programs July 4)
Weekday Mornings 9:30-10:30am 
  • MONDAY: Haynes Park (N. Franklin – W. 30th & 32nd Streets) 
  • TUESDAY: Woodlawn Park (4th & Ferris Streets) 
  • WEDNESDAY: Tilton Park (N. Franklin – W. 7th & 8th Streets) 
  • THURSDAY: Helen Chambers Playground (N. Madison & W. 6th Streets) 
Weekday Afternoons 12:00-1:00pm
  • MONDAY: Barbara Hicks Park (Bradford & B Streets) 
  • TUESDAY: Holloway Park (N. Lombard & E. 7th Streets) 
  • WEDNESDAY: Prices Run (BBW Park at N. Locust & E. 23rd Streets) 
  • THURSDAY: Judy Johnson Park (N. Dupont & W. 3rd Streets) Evening Events for Families 6:00-7:30pm
Evening Events for Families 6:00-7:30pm
  • WEDNESDAY 6/28: Union Park Gardens (S. Bancroft Parkway & S. Sycamore Street) Elbert-Palmer Drum Line & Diamond State Concert Band 
  • THURSDAY, 7/6: DCH Urban Farm (E. 12th & Brandywine Streets) Antony & Friends 
  • THURSDAY, 7/13: Haynes Park (N. Franklin – W. 30th & 32nd Streets) Christina Cultural Arts Center 
  • THURSDAY, 7/20: Tilton Park (N. Franklin – W. 7th & 8th Streets) Dance4Life 
  • THURSDAY, 7/27: Judy Johnson Park (N. Dupont & W. 3rd Streets) Pristine Raeign 
  • THURSDAY, 8/3: Kosciuszko Park (Sycamore & S. Broom Streets) Richard Raw Productions 
  • FRIDAY, 8/4: Stapler Park (W. 16th & N. Union Streets) Wilmington Ballet 
  • THURSDAY, 8/10: Elbert Park (S. Buttonwood & D Streets) Atiba Music & Carib 
Featured artists include: Almanac Dance Circus Theatre, ASCAB Capoeira Delaware, Delaware Art Museum, Delaware Contemporary, Delaware Shakespeare, First State Ballet Theatre, FLYOGI, Found Art Fun, GCJ Uniques, Griots Wa Umoja, Illstyle & Peace, Janina Williams World Music, LaFate Gallery, Maya Belardo Music, Minas, Music School of Delaware, Philly Vibes, Pieces of a Dream, TAHIRA, Walt the Street Dog, Warm Hugs Good Hearts, Wilmington Drama League, Yoco Knit Shop.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Art Museum Kicks Off Summer with Thursday Happy Hours

This post comes from a release courtesy of Delaware Art Museum...

To kick off summer, the Delaware Art Museum is hosting Happy Hours every Thursday --- June 29 through September 14 --- from 5:00-7:00pm on the Museum's back terrace in the Copeland Sculpture Garden or in the Thronson Café during inclement weather. Drinks and food specials will be provided by Toscana, the Museum's exclusive caterer. 

Special themed Happy Hours will take place on select dates throughout the summer. On June 29, July 6, and July 13, guests will enjoy local musician Seth Tillman on vocals and acoustic guitar. On July 27, the Museum will host a special Game Night featuring bean bag toss, Jenga, and other outdoor games. On August 31, visitors are invited to bring their four-legged friends for Doggy Day Happy Hour, with special dog treats included. All dogs must be leashed during the event.

Visitors are also invited to enjoy the special exhibition The Original Mad Man: Illustrations by Mac Conner (on view June 24-September 17) and retro-inspired cocktails Thursday evenings. This comprehensive and lively installation explores the work of one of America's original "Mad Men." McCauley ("Mac") Conner (born 1913) created advertising campaigns for a variety of products during the decade when the advertising industry was at its height and centered on Madison Avenue.

Mac Conner's illustrations for leading women's magazines such as Redbook and McCall's animated a wide range of popular literature, from romantic fiction and detective stories, to topics of import such as Cold War anxiety and juvenile delinquency. His work is a "time capsule" of an era when commercial artists helped to redefine American style and culture.

Always on view are the Museum's renowned collection of British Pre-Raphaelite art and the spectacular collection of American art and Illustration.

The Thronson Café is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., Thursdays, 11:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., and Sundays, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. 


Monday, June 12, 2017

Finally, Some American Idiots with Something to Say (or Sing)

By Guest Blogger, Dan Sanchez
Dan holds a BA in Theatre Production from the University of Delaware and has studied theatre around the world. Dan has worked extensively both onstage and behind the scenes across the Mid-Atlantic Region with theaters such as Three Little Bakers, The Candlelight Theatre, the Philadelphia Theatre Project, The Milburn Stone Theatre and Phoenix Festival Theater. 

“If you don’t like sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and cursing, you’re in the wrong show,” said Wilmington Drama League's Stage/Production Manager, Kathy Buterbaugh during her Saturday, June 10, curtain speech. “This is a 90-minute show without an intermission; so I hope you have three beers because once this thing starts, it just goes!”

And, boy, does it! Based on Green Day’s 2004 album American Idiot, Director Chris Turner brings the show to life on the Wilmington Drama League (WDL) stage with a cacophony of song and dance in a story of love, loss and redemption.

Originally conceived as a rock-opera by Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong, the band had always intended for this music be performed on stage a la The Who’s Tommy, and used their 2004 album release as a sort of demo. Flash forward to September 2009: The show is running at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, California. It was then transferred to the St. James Theatre on Broadway where the musical officially opened on April 20, 2010. The show closed on April 24, 2011 after 422 performances.

The musical won two 2010 Tony Awards for Best Scenic Design of a Musical and Best Lighting Design of a Musical. It was also nominated for Best Musical that same year but lost out to Memphis. In 2011, the Broadway Cast Recording of American Idiot won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.

The basic storyline of American Idiot is flimsy but familiar: Three young suburbanite kids get bored/feel trapped with their mundane lives 
– as well as mommy and daddy’s rules  and decide to break free.

Subsequently, one (Will, played by William Bryant) stays home after finding out his girlfriend, Heather, is expecting. Another (Tunny, played by Ben Long) joins the military and is shipped off to war. And, in a role originated by and named for Wilmington native Johnny Gallagher, Jr. (Original Cast of Spring Awakening. TV & Film: The Newsroom, 10 Cloverfield Lane) is Brandon Zebley as Johnny, who yearns to break free and live a less than humdrum life, ultimately turns to drugs.

Rounding out the cast of Wilmington Drama League production is an energetic bunch of local talent: Alexander Cook, Gina Dzielak, Kendra Eckbold, Marion Jackson (Heather), Daulton Mahley, Darby McLaughlin (Whatshername), Ty Pride (Extraordinary Girl), Felipe Rocha, Chrissy Stief and Shane Wilson.

Tony Delnegro’s interactive set features multiple levels, a plethora of flatscreen TVs, graffiti, and gives a sense of an urban everywhere and a dystopian nowhere, providing an ample playground for the shows many locales. Combined with smart lighting design by Aaron Cook and Brian Kavanaugh, this production also employs two projectors focused on the walls of the house to immerse the audience in a world of ever-changing imagery 
– by Banksy, a city skyline and more – to set the mood perfectly.

The choreography by WDL perennial Dominic Santos manipulates tribal-like movements and punk-rock head-banging to evoke the angst and feelings of disenfranchised young adults.

Standout performances among the talented cast come from the ladies opposite of our main character trio; Marion Jackson as the pregnant and disappointed Heather; Darby McLaughlin as the sultry vixen Whatshername; and Ty Pride as the Extraordinary Girl. Each of these young ladies have angelic voices that effortlessly soar through each song they belt.

The real highlight of this show, however, is the band who rocks out on this non-stop wave of music with the energy and vigor of an actual Green Day concert. But, of particular note, is Music Director/Band Leader, Caty Butler. This young talent takes the stage for the first time in American Idiot as the enticing smack dealer St. Jimmy, a role traditionally played by a man and one she only stepped into a week before opening. Butler outright owns this role and commands the stage with her vocal prowess. I look forward to watching her continue grow as a musician and wait with baited breath to see her onstage as an actor again.

Though I did over hear an older patron ask, “What the hell did I just watch?” after the show, I would say that’s a good indication that this ain’t your NaNa’s Broadway and highly recommend checking out the charismatic production of this high-concept rock-opera before it’s gone.

American Idiot at the Wilmington Drama League runs through June 18. Tickets are available via the Drama League website www.WilmingtonDramaLeague.org or via phone at 302.764.1172.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ladybug Festival Announces Chase As Presenting Sponsor

This post content comes from a press release from Gable Music Ventures...

The sixth annual Ladybug Festival, celebrating women in music, is getting a boost from the local business community as Chase has agreed to serve as the presenting sponsor for the event.

Festival organizers Gable Music Ventures say the support is one of the reasons an expansion is possible for this year. “This support from Chase demonstrates their commitment to the revitalization of Wilmington. With this additional support we are able to expand the event to include a second day, which enables us to hire more independent artists and bring more business into downtown Wilmington,” says Jeremy Hebbel, co-owner of Gable Music Ventures. 

Gayle Dillman, founder and owner of Gable Music Ventures, says that this support from Chase speaks to the company’s direct support of the businesses on Market Street, independent artists, and other small businesses that participate in the event. “The support that Chase is putting into this event will allow us not only to physically grow the event, but will provide much needed advertising and marketing dollars so that more residents of the city of Wilmington know the event is happening, and that it is free for all to attend." 

“With more than 3,000 employees working in Downtown Wilmington, Chase is committed to supporting the city’s efforts to bring fun-filled cultural activities downtown,” said Jenn Piepszak, CEO of Chase’s credit card business. “We’re also thrilled to be able to be involved in such a diverse event.”

In addition to the support of Chase this year, other key players in the business community fund the event which allows for Gable Music Ventures to offer up so much entertainment at no cost to attendees.  Sponsors this year include previous funders ShopRite, City of Wilmington Mayor’s Office, the 2nd & LOMA neighborhood, Downtown Visions, Trellist, AAA MidAtlantic, and InWilmington.  

New sponsors this year include Chase, Capital One, ResideBPG, Lyons Insurance, and Lyft which is the exclusive transportation sponsor offering discounted rides to festival attendees.  
“The City is pleased to support this year’s festival because it provides an important entertainment venue for Wilmington residents and visitors to our wonderful City,” said Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki. “My thanks to all of the musicians, organizers, sponsors and supporters who have helped to grow the Ladybug Festival each year.”

See theladybugfestival.com

Monday, June 5, 2017

New Project Melds Passion for Arts & Animals

Information in this post comes from a post from Delaware Humane Association...

Photo courtesy of Delaware Humane Association.
Calling all local artists! Delaware Humane Association (DHA) is looking to display pet-related art (but pet-related themes are not required) in its new storefront adoption center in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

The goal is to display and sell works onsite, with a portion of sale proceeds benefiting DHA. An exhibit opening or reception could be a part of the submitting artist's agreement.

Delaware Humane Association will display a different artist's work for varying periods of time. If you are interested or know someone who may be, please contact DHA's Adoption Center Manager Jody Rini at JRini@delawarehumane.org.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Unleash the Artist WithIN You -- A City-Wide Photo Contest

Info in this post courtesy of original release from the City of Wilmington and inWilmingtonDE.com...

inWilmington Marketing Group, in partnership with the City of Wilmington, announces the #UnleashWithIN Photo Challenge, a 12-week Instagram-based contest which runs from Monday, May 15 through Sunday, August 6 and culminates with a public art exhibition at The Delaware Contemporary on Friday, September 8.

Participants are given one prompt: “What does Wilmington unleash within you?” The contest is open to all ages and skill levels and participants are welcome to submit entries in any style of photography. Giveaways will also be awarded to randomly selected participants throughout the duration of the contest (restaurant gift certificates, concert tickets, spa services, entertainment packages, etc.).

To enter, individuals simply need to share a photo taken in Wilmington on Instagram using the #UnleashWithIN tag. The public is encouraged to follow #UnleashWithIN for updates and to vote for their favorites photos by showing them some “love”. The three most popular images each week will receive extra entries into the giveaway drawings.

Twenty-four images from the #UnleashWithIN Photo Challenge will be displayed during the exhibition, determined by Joe del Tufo of Moonloop Photography. On the evening of September 8th, an expanded panel of judges, including local artists and city officials, will review the images from finalists and help determine, along with a public vote, the ultimate winner of the Unleash WithIN Photo Challenge. The GRAND PRIZE winner receives their own future Art on the Town (Art Loop) exhibition, plus an entertainment & shopping package from restaurants, retailers and performing arts organizations throughout the City of Wilmington.

“As someone who lives, works and plays downtown, I know how truly inspiring Wilmington is to its residents, workers and visitors,” says campaign manager Brianna Hansen. “With this contest we hope to encourage the public to unleash their photographer within and help us tell our community’s beautiful story. From wonderful access to the arts and delicious culinary delights, to a thriving tech scene and encouraging entrepreneurial community—Wilmington has something for everyone.”

“We encourage everyone to participate in this contest and exhibition, because it is another way for all of us who care about our City’s future to reinforce with the world that Wilmington is a city where people enjoy life and appreciate all of the amenities that the city has to offer,” said Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki. “In Wilmington, you are in the middle of it all where people come to live, work and have fun.”

For the latest updates visit: inWilmingtonDE.com or follow @INWilmDE and #UnleashWithIN on Instagram (and Facebook).

Closing the DSO Season with Love from Russia

By Christine Facciolo

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) brought down the curtain on its 2016-17 Classics series on Friday, May 12 with a robust Russian program that included Stravinsky’s Ode, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 3 featuring soloist Sergei Babayan.

DSO Music Director David Amado assured the audience that the program was curated well in advance of the 2016 elections and was not meant to reflect events taking place on the international stage.

Delaware audiences don’t get to hear enough Russian music performed, so this was a real treat to hear it played with the kind of fervor and genuineness that were on display in The Grand Opera House.

Rachmaninoff has a reputation for writing dark, sultry and impossibly difficult piano music. The Third Concerto in particular is often considered to be the Mount Everest of Romantic pianism, an image long cemented in the public mind thanks to its appearance as a major plot device in the 1996 film “Shine,” based on the life of pianist David Helfgott.

Soloist Sergei Babayan was born in Armenia into a musical family. He trained at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory and has performed in some of the world’s most foremost venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York and Wigmore Hall in London.

Babayan offered a multidimensional reading that revealed the depth of both composer and artist. His bass notes thundered on demand and there was no shortage of dynamic punch but there were also moments of ecstatic passion and quiet repose. The DSO for its part provided either gentle support or a rousing call to arms. The communication between soloist and conductor was obvious.

The DSO also gave Amado 100% in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 which followed the intermission. The first movement received an urgent performance yet one that was imbued with an appreciation of the composer’s balletic grace. The second movement was played in the manner of a song without words, allowing Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous melodies to soar. The string exhibited a pizzicato virtuosity in the brief scherzo while the finale crackled with plenty of rhythmic acuity from the strings and the woodwinds in their exchanges leading up to the various appearances of the “big tune.”

The program opened with Stravinsky’s Ode. Commissioned to mark the passing of Natalie Koussevitzky, the work manages only a fleeting elegiac tone in the bustling opening Eulogy. That element is reserved for the concluding Epitaph. The central Eclogue offers the most interesting music. Recycled from an abandoned “Jane Eyre” film project, this section features brilliant wind writing with its lively contrapuntal hunt motif nimbly executed by the DSO horns.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Crazy for Candlelight's New Production

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.



The Candlelight Theatre’s exhilarating and tight production of Crazy for You is a joy to experience and may change some misconceptions about local dinner theaters.

After recent extensive upgrades, The Candlelight Theatre has improved its technical and culinary abilities plus its overall infrastructure. It’s an old, comfortable building with a spiffy new interior, delicious buffet, attentive staff and, oh yeah, top-notch performers. Remember, it all boils down to the product on stage and Crazy for You delivers in spades.

This 1992 musical, with book by Ken Ludwig, takes songs by George and Ira Gershwin and ties them together in a tale about a Broadway dreamer who finds romance, drama and purpose in a small Nevada town.

Director and choreographer Dann Dunn takes the timeless music of the Gershwins and makes it a hugely enjoyable and modern experience. Dunn’s staging and choreography feel exceptionally fresh. In number after number, you find yourself watching the dance steps with unusual attention because Dunn makes them so arrestingly interesting. The cast is versed in several dance styles, but tap dominates, in a good way – think of all the clip-clop and bang-bang of the Old West.

The show begins with Bobby Child (Nate Golden) – the rich son of a New York banking family who yearns to perform on Broadway – being unceremoniously rejected by impresario Bela Zangler (Max Redman).  Searching for more from life, Bobby is torn between unloving commitment to his longtime fiancee Irene (Kaylan Wetzel) and loyalty to his mother (Susan Dewey), who demands that Bobby continue doing her bidding in banking. One such mission is sending Bobby to Deadrock, Nevada to foreclose on the rundown theater there. The town has seen better days, but Bobby’s excitement at seeing the theater – and meeting last-girl-in-town, Polly (Madison Buck) – makes him sympathetic to the locals’ desire to revitalize their town.

Saloon proprietor Lank Hawkins (Anthony Connell) tries to convince Polly’s stubborn father Everett (Barry Gomolka) to sell him the theater before Bobby Child’s bank takes it. Lank also has eyes for Polly and isn’t pleased that a romantic rival has come to town in the form of a city slicker.

Bobby and Polly sow the seeds of love through two classic songs (Could You Use Me? and Shall We Dance?). The former showcases the genius of Ira Gershwin’s wordplay, while the second highlights a beautiful melody that is typical of George Gershwin.

Bobby realizes that if he forecloses on the Gaiety Theater he will lose the girl of his dreams.  He comes up with the idea of putting on a show to pay off the mortgage.  Polly agrees to this plan until she finds out what he is really doing in town and suspects deception. Heartbroken, Bobby decides to produce the show anyway, but disguised as Mr. Zangler. Deeply hurt, Polly expresses her loneliness in Someone to Watch Over Me – a lovely performance by Ms. Buck.

A few days later, The Zangler Follies Girls appear like a mirage in the desert, which excites and invigorates the men of Deadrock.  Rehearsals for the big show don't go so well, but upbeat Bobby changes all that with the song Slap That Bass – a rollicking musical number where dancers become musical instruments.

This is a good time to mention the quality of the sets, costumes and props. Envision Productions has created a wonderful, dynamic stage with open spaces for large dance numbers, but also a sense of intimacy. Amanda Gillies’ props are right in tune with what Mr. Dunn is trying to get from the show and characters. Chairs, pickaxes and even plungers are used within intricate dance routines and comedic interludes. The costumes, designed by Tara Bowers and Timm Cannon, are period correct and allow for fluid movement. It’s all seamless, which is how scenery and props should work in a big production-style musical.

I’d also like to recognize the vast and capable chorus of showgirls and cowpokes who enliven the show with pithy dance steps, robust singing, and solid acting. Michelle Affleck (Louise), Julianna Babb (Betsy), Nicole Calabrese (Patsy), Nicole Lewin Mariash (Sheila), Jenna Rogalski (Elaine), Kristen Smith (Vera), and Erin Michelle Waldie (Mitzi) are wonderfully joyous as the Zangler Follies Girls.  Down-on-their-luck cowboys Zachary DeBevec (Wyatt), Daniel Irwin (Pete), Chris Millison (Sam), Christian Ryan (Jimmy), and Devon Sinclair (Moose) bring life and personality to the otherwise dead town.

Back at the Gaiety Theater, optimism reigns with the show ready to wow any and all comers.  However, Polly has fallen in love with Bobby’s impersonation of Bela Zangler (Embraceable You) and Irene makes a surprise visit to town.

Opening night arrives with the cowboys-turned-actors and showgirls in high hopes (Tonight's the Night!). Sadly, everyone is frustrated to discover that the only people to arrive are British guidebook writers Eugene (Topher Layton) and Patricia Fodor (Lindsay Mauck).  What begins as disappointment changes into the realization that the show has reinvigorated the once-sleepy town.  The company celebrates with a lively rendition of I Got Rhythm while the real Zangler stumbles unnoticed into the town as the first act ends.

While all of the performances are solid, Nate Golden shines in the lead role. Golden is a physically deft, lively, and funny guy with singing and dancing chops to entertain audience members of all kinds. Simply put, Golden is a triple-threat of song, dance and acting.  For me, the highlight of the show came early when Bobby’s fiancee Irene and mother Lottie argue over him and his loyalties to them. In a vivid daydream, Bobby imagines himself dancing with the Follies Girls and joins them in a rousing rendition of I Can't Be Bothered Now.

Act Two kicks off in Lank’s saloon with Bobby professing his love to Polly. Unfortunately, she’s still in love with the man she thinks is Zangler. Bobby is about to convince Polly that he has been impersonating “Zangler” when the real Zangler stumbles into the saloon looking for Tess (Kimberly Maxson) – one of his dancers for whom he carries a torch.

Zangler finds Tess, but refuses her request to produce the show and save the theater. Tess storms off and the drunken Zangler bemoans his fate. Bobby, dressed like Zangler, appears and the two men act as mirror images of each other – lamenting their lost loves in the humorous What Causes That.

The next morning, Polly sees the two Zanglers and realizes what has happened. Flustered, Polly leaves for the town meeting to discuss the future of the theater. Irene comes to Bobby in one final attempt to make him go back to New York with her, but Bobby rejects her, and states his love for Polly. Immensely frustrated with Bobby, Irene seduces Lank with the seductive Naughty Baby.

Bobby is all for trying the show again while Polly and most of the townsfolk think they should abandon the venture. The Fodors enter and implore the dejected townspeople to keep a Stiff Upper Lip, but by the end of the song, only Polly, Everett, Bobby and Tess still think the show should continue.

Will the magic of the old Gaiety Theater save it from its demise? Can Deadrock recover its old majesty? Does true love triumph? You’ll have to visit Ardentown to find out! I will add that the Finale is a wholly satisfying grandiose song and dance number that had the Opening Night audience on its feet multiple times. It’s so good, you’ll “...feel something down in [your] basement.”

The action at the theater doesn’t stop at Crazy for You and other musicals. The venue also hosts monthly trivia and comedy nights. Operations Manager Dan Healy is emcee for Monday night Quizzo matches, which pit the Jeopardy!-loving set against one another in team trivia. Food trucks are on site and drinks are served. The Candlelight Comedy Club invites you to the theater for an evening of food, drinks, and laughs. Local, regional, and national comics come to entertain on a fairly regular monthly basis. The next Quizzo is on May 15 and the Comedy Club is open on May 18.

This production of Crazy for You runs through June 25. Tickets are $33/person or $60/couple. While most show are on weekends, there are some mid-week matinee performances.

There’s lots of fun activity happening in Ardentown…“Who could ask for anything more?”