Monday, December 4, 2017

CTC's "Sunday in the Park..." Takes Audiences on a Trip through Artistic Creation

By Mike Logothetis
Brendan Sheehan as George.
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
Cast members of CTC's Sunday in the Park with George.
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography. 
Sondheim isn’t easy. Broadway legends like Stephen Sondheim become, well, legendary because they challenge actors, musicians, directors, and audiences with their works. Sunday in the Park with George reminds us that the genius of Sondheim is in the story structure, phrasing, and music. City Theater Company has tasked itself to put on this challenging Pulitzer Prize–winning musical drama and does a solid job of it.

Sunday in the Park with George is a musical about the process of artistic creation — specifically George Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The show borders on being an experimental piece, which immediately means some theatergoers may not fully appreciate it. The music is often atmospheric and not front-and-center like traditional musicals. Having said that, the orchestration by Christopher Tolomeo is exquisite. Tolomeo also steps out from behind his piano to portray Louis the baker.

Brendan Sheehan brings strength, insecurity, passion, focus and a tinge of madness to the titular artist who is toiling to excel in his craft. Sheehan’s voice is incredibly powerful plus he nails the difficult syncopated rhythms that are the trademarks of Sondheim’s music. The Dog Song was a show highlight for Sheehan as he crawled on all fours, barking and singing while addressing a stuffed toy dog George is studying for inclusion in his masterpiece.

Driving some of George’s passions is the fiery Dot, played by an excellent Jenna Kuerzi. Dot has loving affection for George as well as impatience with his personality and frailties. Kuerzi wonderfully captures Dot’s struggles with precise movements to complement her superb singing voice. The parting lovers’ duet We Do Not Belong Together was haunting, with Kuerzi and Sheehan melding their voices beautifully.

The remaining characters in Act I are all subjects George is studying while they enjoy their Sundays in the park. From young women looking for love to a disgruntled boatman to a child at play, the cast gives real depth to two-dimensional painted figures. The audience gains an appreciation for the subjects with brief snippets into their lives.

The cast includes Jim Burns, Dylan Geringer, Jeff Hunsicker, Mary Catherine Kelley, Kerry Kristine McElrone, Paul McElwee, Patrick O’Hara, Dominic Santos, Grace Tarves, and George Tietze. Tonya Baynes and young daughter Layla Baynes round out the excellent company of actors. The interplay between O’Hara and Tietze as American tourists who dislike France but love its pastries was pure comedic gold.

Co-directors Michael Gray and Tom Shade have made some interesting choices and most of them work. However, setting up the show to be something of a play looking at itself never gained traction in my eyes. Many of the props were inspired, like the cutout army officer and the aforementioned toy dog. The clever costume designs by Kerry Kristine McElrone and Lauren Peters began in monochrome. As George brings his inspiration from his head to the canvas, bright colors appear in clothing and accessories.

In Act II, blacks and grays return as the story moves a century into the future. The second act is a coda, of sorts, and even involves some playful audience interaction. It’s a nice way to look back at the painted figures, the artist, the process, art in general and interpersonal relationships.

This production probably isn’t for everyone, but it is a well-done inspection into the difficulty and nuance of artistic creation. “Art isn’t easy/Having just the vision’s no solution.”

Sunday in the Park with George
will play Thursday through Sunday (December 7-10) and the following Thursday through Saturday (December 14-16). All performances are at 8:00pm except for the 2:00pm Sunday matinee on December 10. 

 Be aware that the show runs a solid 2.5 hours which includes one 15-minute intermission. The Black Box is located at 4 South Poplar Street, Wilmington, DE 19801. Tickets are priced from $15 to $40 and can be purchased online or at the box office.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

DSO's Land & Seascapes

By Christine Facciolo
Musical impressions of land and seascapes filled Copeland Hall Friday night as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra performed the second concert in its Classics Series at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

The concert was also the occasion for the presentation of the A.I. du Pont Composer’s Award to David Ludwig in recognition for his contribution to contemporary classical music. The 43-year-old Bucks County, Pa. native who teaches at Curtis, is the scion of a distinguished musical family that includes pianists Rudolf and Peter Serkin and violinist Adolph Busch. His teachers have included composers Jennifer Higdon, Ned Rorem, John Corigliano and Richard Danielpour, among others.

The concert opened with a performance of La Mer, Debussy’s rich and masterful depiction of the ocean. The work unfolds in three movement or “sketches” — one calm, one wavy, one stormy — with a kaleidoscope of colors that challenges every corner of the orchestra.

The DSO came well-prepared for the challenge. Music Director David Amado and the musicians effectively balanced the sunnier effects with the more ominous elements in Debussy’s sprawling canvass. Special effects provided by two harps and an array of percussion complemented excellent work from the winds, brass, robust strings, cellos and fine solo work from associate concertmaster Luigi Mazzocchi.

Pictures from the Floating World pays homage to Debussy with titles taken from his water pieces — The Sunken Cathedral, In a Boat, Reflections on the Water — but the music is entirely original. Ludwig stated that it was not his intention to transcribe Debussy but rather to use his “clay.” The older composer’s influences are evident in the harmonies and splashes of orchestral color that permeate the work.

Ludwig’s writing for the bassoon is both exquisite and technically demanding. The piece was composed for principal bassoon Daniel Matsukawa of the Philadelphia Orchestra which commissioned and premiered it in 2013. Matsukawa wanted a piece that would showcase the lyrical side of the instrument that’s become the buffoon of the orchestra.

Soloist for this performance was William Short, co-principal bassoon of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Tonight was a homecoming of sorts for Short who served as DSO principal bassoon from 2012-2014. Short also studied with both Matsukawa and Ludwig while at Curtis and has previously performed the concerto as well.

Short turned in a totally virtuosic performance, exhibiting superb breath control in the long phrases and note perfect accuracy in the staccato passages. Particularly effective was the intimate interweaving with cellists Philo Lee and Naomi Gray in the chamber-like interludes that separate the work’s three main movements.

Rounding out the program was Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. One wonders how many audience members have heard this work performed live, as it has — undeservedly — fallen out of fashion on the concert circuit.

This was a marvelous performance, full of character yet never overblown or vulgar. The first movement, Sunrise opened with exquisitely played French horn, oboe, flute and English horn solos. Chimes sparkled and hammered timpani strokes gave the climax depth and power. Wonderful oboe octave leaps with woodblock accompaniment rendered a delightfully nostalgic On the Trail as did the celesta solo that preceded the lively coda. The entire performance sparkled in color, ensemble and continuity.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Family Trip Down the Playhouse's Yellow Brick Road

By Guest Bloggers Hannah, Emily and Alyssa Tagle and their future stepmom, Gabrielle Reichert. Hannah is 10 years old and likes math, Legos, Minecraft and reading; Emily is 13 and loves to draw and write; Alyssa is also 13, and she loves science and cheerleading. They and Gabrielle live with their father, Dan, in the 40 Acres neighborhood of Wilmington. 

The Tagle sisters pose in the lobby of
The Playhouse on Rodney Square before seeing
The Wizard of Oz
Hannah's Review
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy runs away because she is about to lose her dog Toto. She wanted to be far from home but instead gets caught up in a twister. She wakes up in Oz with Glinda the Good Witch. The only way Dorothy can get home is to follow the yellow brick road. 

Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion. They all help her find her way to see the Wizard of Oz. Once they meet the Wizard, he agrees to grant their wishes but first they must bring back the broomstick from the Witch of the West. Unfortunately, they are captured by the Witch's evil monkeys so the Witch can figure out how to take the ruby slippers off of Dorothy’s feet. 

Dorothy is saved by her friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion, but the Witch finds them and sets fire to the Scarecrow. Dorothy throws a bucket of water at her, not realizing that the Witch will melt. Everyone cheers! Dorothy and her friends take the broomstick back to Emerald City, and the Wizard grants all of their wishes, including sending Dorothy back home to Kansas. But unfortunately, the hot air balloon he has to take Dorothy home floats away without her. Glinda returns to tell her she can still return home by using the ruby slippers. Dorothy wakes up back in Kansas with her family and Toto. 

I think the most beautiful costume was the Good Witch – it was so sparkly! My favorite actor was Toto. And I really liked the song Off to See the Wizard. But, I didn’t like the high-pitched screaming of the Witch and the monkeys. I would recommend it to other kids my age. The singing and dancing was amazing. And the ruby slippers were bright, red and sparkly. The Wizard of Oz is my second play I’ve seen and it might be my favorite!

Emily's Review
On Tuesday, November 14, 2017 I went to The Playhouse on Rodney Square to see The Wizard of Oz. I liked the dancing because everybody was included in the choreography. I did not like how the actor, Emily Perzan, was so loud as the Wicked Witch of the West, but it was cool that she could play the role so well. 

Victor Legarreta, who played the Lion and Zeke, stole the show, as always. He did an amazing job. My least favorite part was when the boy munchkins and the jitterbugs came out. I did not like their costumes. But overall, the costumes for the rest of the performance were amazing. You forget they were actors on stage and really came together to tell the story to the audience. 

My favorite song was Over the Rainbow. Dorothy, (played by Kalie Kamann) did an outstanding job with her role in every scene. I would definitely suggest this play to others but maybe not little kids (age 7 and under). The show started at 7:30 but didn’t end until 10:30 (which was past even my bedtime on a school night). In all, it was a fantastic show!

Alyssa's Review
The play The Wizard of Oz is a wonderful play. I saw it opening night and it was fun, happy and joyful. Dorothy (Kalie Kaimann) is a wonderful singer and actress. Her dog Murphy (aka Toto) stole the show with his overload of cuteness! 

In the beginning, Dorothy and Toto are just playing and then Miss Gulch (Emily Perzan) wants to take Toto away. Dorothy tries to run away, but Professor Marvel (Kirk Lawrence) tells Dorothy that Auntie Em (Ashleigh Thompson) is sick (but she isn’t). 

Dorothy runs home just in time to get inside before the twister hits. She falls asleep and before she knows it, she’s meeting Glinda the Good Witch (Ashleigh Thompson) and the munchkins in MunchkinLand! One thing I did not like was how loud it was from the Wicked Witch, the munchkins and the monkeys. I had to cover my ears!

Gabrielle's Review
I can’t remember the last time I watched The Wizard of Oz, so I was excited to see the performance. The set design was incredible, really felt like you were part of the story. The mix of back screen, stage and front screen gave life to each act. 

The munchkin flowers were incredibly detailed and very vibrant. And I loved the winged monkeys – not so scary in this performance! Of course the Lion stole the show, but a close second was Toto...Adorable and so well-behaved! 

The only thing I didn’t like was how long the show ran. Three hours even with teenagers is tough, let alone the little ones. While the first half was strong, I felt like there was ‘filler’ in the second. The dance in Emerald City (without any of the main characters) I felt was long and unnecessary, as was the Jitterbug. But the singing, costumes and actors were fantastic. 

I would recommend this show for your families, but you might want to keep the littler ones at home. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Wild Trip to Neverland with Peter and the Starcatcher

The cast of WDL's production, Peter and the Starcatcher. 
Photo by John McCafferty, MJ Mac Productions.
By Mike Logothetis
“No man is an archipelago.” That’s one pearl of wisdom I learned at the Wilmington Drama League’s production of Peter and the Starcatcher – a wildly theatrical “origin story” of one of literature’s favorite mischievous boys, Peter Pan.

Adapted from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s best-selling 2004 novel, the 2011 play was conceived for the stage by directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers and written by Rick Elice, with music by Wayne Barker. The Tony Award-winning show upends the century-old story of how a miserable orphan came to be “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.”

WDL director Rebecca May Flowers utilizes a competent ensemble cast to fully realize the wackiness of the storyline set in the late 19th Century. Creative props and acute stage timing make sure the action never stops. Though Peter and the Starcatcher often employs 21st Century terms, it’s still set at a time when duty often clouded emotion, plus gender and class were defining/limiting characteristics.

It took about 10 minutes for the show to congeal into a coherent plot after unevenly developing the setting and characters with first- and third-person dialog coupled with breaking of the fourth wall. It’s a little much to grasp to start a play, but the WDL does well with what is provided in terms of script. Once the audience is set on who’s who and what’s what, the cast takes us on an enjoyable romp through all sorts of adventures. You won’t need to know “Norse Code” to appreciate the treasures of this production.

The fantastical story includes a spunky girl, an ocean voyage, a cargo of something called stardust, pirates, a shipwreck, mermaids, islanders, and three orphans – one of whom is without a name. While the tale is linear in its construction, the action gloriously yanks us from side to side with funny situations, physical comedy, and hilarious malapropisms.

Molly Aster (Talia Speak) is at the center of it all. Teenage Molly is dutifully bound to her father, Lord Aster (Tony DelNegro), but has a strong independent streak which leads her to discover Ted (Catherine Enslen), Prentiss (Lauren Unterberger), and an unnamed boy (Gianni Palmarini) detained in the cargo hold of a ship called the Neverland. Scheming Captain Slank, played by an excellent Ruthie Holland, has plans to sell the boys and profit from the secret cargo of stardust he’s deviously acquired.

Meanwhile, Lord Aster is aboard the Wasp protecting a trunk containing what he believes is the stardust. When pirates raid the Wasp in search of the magical cargo, both Lord Aster’s and Molly’s plans fly out the window. Molly is compelled to free the boy captives on the Neverland, protect the precious cargo, and save her imprisoned father on the Wasp. Poor nanny Mrs. Bumbrake (Kathy Harris) cannot keep up with her charge, the energetic Molly, but thankfully finds comfort in the arms of flatulent sailor Alf (Catherine Glen). Their love story is a successful comedic side plot within a comedy.

The pirate captain Black Stache (Alfred Lance) is a cyclone of chaos who is “all swash and no buckle.” Lance is outstanding and every time he prowls the stage, your eyes fixate on him. “Now you’re likely wondering, can the fellow before you be entirely evil? Can no compassion uncrease this furrowed brew?” Black Stache says. “Brow,” his pirate lieutenant Smee (Molly Pratzner) corrects. It’s clever wordplay like this that makes this show a must-see. (There’s even a wonderful poetry battle built into the show!)

A special bond grows between Molly and the unnamed boy – who later receives the moniker “Peter Pan” in an interesting and magical way. Molly, Peter and the two other orphans make their way through varied obstacles (e.g., a shipwreck) and antagonists, like the island native Mollusks who menacingly chant Italian food names.

I won’t reveal any spoilers, but I will insist that you are comfortably in your seat at the start of the second act so as not to miss the opening number involving almost everyone in the show. The ensemble cast play multiple roles and is rounded out by Hayley Hughes, Autumn Moore, and Felicia Walker.

Sean Flowers’ scenic design and clever props allow toy ships to become real ones, umbrellas to form a jungle, ropes to define portals, and a blue glove to morph into a bird. It’s all very effective.

Pianist/percussionist Tom Mucchetti provides timely accompaniment to the action on stage while sitting in the middle of all the madness.

From marauding pirates and jungle natives to unwilling comrades and unlikely heroes, Peter and the Starcatcher playfully explores the bonds of friendship, duty, and love. Don’t miss out on the adventure!

This production of Peter and the Starcatcher at Wilmington Drama League runs through November 19 at the theater on Lea Boulevard in Wilmington. Tickets cost $10-15 for both evening and matinee shows. Performances are at 8:00pm on November 10, 11, 17 and 18 and at 2:00pm on November 12 and 19.

“TTFN!” – in other words, “Ta-ta for now!”

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Mélomanie Premiere Celebrates a Milestone for Local Couple

By Christine Facciolo
Mélomanie celebrated its 25th anniversary at its season-opening concert at The Delaware Contemporary on Sunday, October 29, 2017.

And what better way to mark a Silver Anniversary than with a World Premiere of a composition commissioned to commemorate the Golden Anniversary of a couple known for their devotion to Mélomanie. But more about that later...

Flutist and Mélomanie co-artistic director Kimberly Reighley opened the program with the shimmering notes and flowing contours of Ingrid Arauco’s Silver (Variation diabellique). This was a fitting choice for this particular occasion, as the Delaware-based Arauco composed the piece to mark the 25th anniversary of another ensemble, Philadelphia’s Network for New Music.

Reighley was then joined by Mélomanie harpsichordist and co-artistic director Tracy
Richardson for a talk about the ensemble’s beginnings and accomplishments with Jennifer Margaret Barker, professor of music theory and composition at the University of Delaware.

Reighley and Richardson then came together in a lovely performance of the Sonata in G Minor attributed to J.S. Bach but now believed to be by his son C.P.E. This is a charming work that features a true interplay between flute and harpsichord. The lilting Adagio gives much melodic interest to the harpsichord while the flute plays long notes. The last movement features an extended harpsichord solo which gave listeners the opportunity to hear Richardson’s consummate technique and clear, crisp sound.

Equally charming was Abel’s Quartet in G Minor. This work 
 scored for flute, violin, viola da gamba and cello  is one of a collection of 10 quartets for this instrumentation. Published in 1794, it is the only quartet to have survived with this specific scoring.

This two-movement work typifies the sort of music one might have heard in the intimate setting of the home of a patron. The performance was very smooth. The players exhibited a fine sensitivity to each other, creating a nice set of interactions that brought out the nuances of this delicately wrought music.

The second half of the program was taken up with the World Premiere of Up to the Light by Mark Hagerty. This was Hagerty’s fourth commission for Mélomanie and one of his most interesting and inventive. The 25-minute work was commissioned by Mona Bayard for her husband Tim Bayard in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. Tim is a founding board member of Mélomanie, and both he and Mona are active supporters of and volunteers in the arts and education.

Up to the Light is a work scored for flute, violin, viola da gamba, cello, harpsichord and vibraphone. Hagerty included the vibraphone in a nod to Tim Bayard’s deep appreciation of jazz. Here it was played by guest percussionist, Chris Hanning.

Up to the Light is a musical description of a journey from a troubling experience to one of a positive feeling, all the while retaining the pain of the earlier trauma. In this work, sonorities (i.e., specific harmonies and their arrangements and tone colors), rather than traditional melodies, convey the emotion experienced during the journey.

The work presents three major statements of these sonorities, at the opening, the midpoint and the end. Sandwiched between these statements are passacaglias — sometimes strict, sometimes informal 
 based on a melody introduced by the flute.

Especially effective was the incorporation of a single orchestral bell, which added a somber or joyous tone, depending on the musical context.

Hagerty indulged Tim Bayard’s love of jazz by skillfully folding the timbre of the vibraphone into the texture and by the subtle introduction of jazz-influenced harmonies into the tonal fabric of the work.

See www.melomanie.org

Sunday, October 29, 2017

DelShakes' "As You Like It" Tours Community ...and We Like It!

Danielle Leneé as Rosalind and Bi Jean Ngo as Celia.
Photo by Allessandra Nicole.
Courtesy of Delaware Shakespeare.
By Mike Logothetis

The Globe Theatre in London became world renowned by staging William Shakespeare’s histories, tragedies and comedies upon its wooden planks. Shakespeare was a shareholder in the Globe, which meant the more people he got into the building, the more money he made. The Globe became iconic and drew patrons from far and wide to see The Bard’s latest (brilliant) play.

Delaware Shakespeare’s superb production of As You Like It does not have a permanent home like The Globe. Instead, the merry troupe of actors, musicians and staff are traversing Delaware this fall bringing The Bard to locations not typically hip to his iambic pentameter.

Delaware Shakespeare launched its Community Tour last year with Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Community Tour productions play in non-theatrical settings such as multipurpose rooms, cafeterias, gymnasiums and even prisons. The production values are scaled for those spaces, with live music, minimal sets and whatever lighting is available. The year’s production is performed with a cast of eight actors and a musician, which allows for some creative multi-role casting. (In fact, the performance of As You Like It uses an audience member reading from a script to play Hymen in Act V.)

Producing Artistic Director David Stradley told me he looks for spaces that can hold a seated audience between 40 and 120 people in a four-sided arrangement. Stradley stressed that Delaware Shakespeare searches for communities which may be underserved by the arts and whose residents might find difficulty traveling to Rockwood Park for its annual Summer Festival.

The Community Tour is not just making stops, but introducing Shakespeare and the world of live theater to many people who’ve never experienced its wonders. I was pleased to see the actors welcome everyone who entered the cafeteria at Groves Adult High School in Marshallton. Cast members introduced themselves, who they would play, what we might expect, plus exchanged simple pleasantries. In this way, the space became very accessible.

As You Like It follows its heroine Rosalind (Danielle Leneé) and her cousin Celia (Bi Jean Ngo) as they flee the court of Duke Frederick (J Hernandez), who is Celia’s uncompromising father. The pair put on disguises and escape into the nearby Forest of Arden along with court fool Touchstone (Adam Altman). 

 Meanwhile, Rosalind’s suitor Orlando (Trevor William Fayle) has also fled into the woods to escape his exploitive brother Oliver (Jeffrey Cousar). The two lovers cross paths, but Orlando cannot recognize the inspiration for his many romantic poems. A variety of memorable characters also exist in the forest, notably the melancholy traveler Jaques (Liz Filios) who capably utters one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches (“All the world’s a stage/And one man in his time plays many parts”).

As previously mentioned, there are only eight actors playing the 20-odd roles in As You Like It. It’s marvelous to see Cousar and Hernandez play hot-tempered and then mild, love-struck men in the same production. Altman shined as loyal servant Adam as well as energetic and animated Touchstone. Merri Rashoyan filled four roles (and two genders) skillfully, with her Phebe being a highlight. Only Leneé (Rosalind) and Fayle (Orlando) played one part apiece — but those are meaty parts!

As in any Shakespearean comedy, there is misdirection and love and misplaced blame and redemption — all done wonderfully in this production. A nice touch to the show were the small musical interludes by Joe Trainor (guitar/drum) and Filios (ukulele/accordion). After the show, Trainor told me that Shakespeare had sprinkled partial couplets and text into the script of As You Like It. As no record of a musical score existed, Trainor took it upon himself to compose period pieces to enhance the audience experience. Kudos!

Director Madeline Sayet keeps the pacing brisk and encourages her actors to use the full space. The cast plays to all directions, which connects the action to the audience.

Highlights of the show included the gymnastic wrestling contest between Orlando (Fayle) and Charles (Rashoyan); the ludicrously beautiful facial expressions of actress Bi Jean Ngo; the combined energy of the troupe; the cleverly made trees of Arden; and all those glorious words. If not for Shakespeare’s turns of phrases and rhythmic patterns, his 400-year-old plays would just be old dusty scripts. For instance, Rosalind’s advice on love to Phebe is simply beautiful and timeless.

If, as Rosalind says, “Love is merely a madness,” then I hope newcomers to The Bard fall madly in love with his works, starting with Delaware Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

The autumn Community Tour of As You Like It takes place in venues throughout Delaware from October 25 through November 12. Performances at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution, Howard R. Young Correctional Institution and Ferris School for Boys are not open to the public. Admission is free with RSVP at info@delshakes.org or 302.415.3373. 

There will also be three ticketed performances ($15-$100) from November 10-12 at OperaDelaware Studios.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Over the Moon About WDL's Production

By Christine Facciolo

Ever wonder what goes on in the Green Room before a theatrical performance? Moon Over Buffalo offers a peek…plus a whole lotta laughs at Wilmington Drama League.

The year is 1953. The setting is Buffalo, New York (“Scranton without the charm.”) A touring company is performing Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Noel Coward’s Private Lives at the Erlanger Theater. George and Charlotte Hay (Alan Harbaugh and Sabrina Justison) boast a long-standing marital and acting partnership, both of which have frayed at the edges. Then they learn that the great film director, Frank Capra, needs to re-cast a movie he’s making and is flying in from New York City to see them perform. This could be just what they need to recoup the stardom they’ve lost and feel they so richly deserve.

But first…

George has impregnated Eileen (Carolyn Peck), a young actress in the troupe. When Charlotte finds out, she tells him she’s fed up with his infidelity and is leaving him for their lawyer, Richard (Shawn Klein). Meanwhile, Rosalind Hay (Patricia Egner) has arrived to introduce her parents to her fiancé, Howard (Andrew Dluhy), a TV weatherman. He’s a geeky but affable TV weatherman who just happens to be a big fan of her parents. He loves Rosalind but is absolutely clueless about what’s going on, Rosalind, for her part, was in love with Paul (Luke Wallis), the Hays’ theatre manager, who still has feelings for her. Adding to the merriment is Ethel (Patricia Lake), Charlotte’s deaf-as-a-post stage mother who hates the boards George treads on and nearly brings him down with one innocent-looking coffee pot. Comic misunderstandings and mistaken identities abound.

Ken Ludwig’s 1995 madcap farce is still fresh in 2017 and just the ticket for an evening full of fun and laughter. Let’s not forget that this play was worthy enough to lure Carol Burnett back to Broadway after a 30-year absence and, if you didn’t know better, this superb production might have you believe you’re sitting in a theatre on the Great White Way. It’s that good.

Harbaugh and Justison simply melt into their roles. Harbaugh is brilliant as the very inebriated George. Peck applies just the right amount of affect to her role as the pregnant and distraught ingénue. Dhuly is convincingly clueless as the action swirls around him. Egner, Klein and Wallis know every nuance of their characters. Lake is downright hilarious as the hard-boiled stage mother/mother-in-law from hell.

Kudos to the directorial team of Gene Dzielak and Melissa Davenport (as well as mentor/director Ken Mammarella) who pulled everything together. Also deserving of a standing ovation are Helene and Tony DelNegro for their retro 1950s backstage set, Cara Tortorice for her fabulous costumes and Lee Jordan for choreographing the playful duel between the Hays.


This one is not to be missed.

Deconstructing the Piano Quintet with DSO

By Christine Facciolo
“The Piano Quintet – Deconstructed” was the theme for the season-opening concert of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s Chamber Series Tuesday, October 17, in the Gold Ballroom of the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington.

The concert featured an eclectic slate of works by Mozart, Ravel and Brahms as it showcased the talents of some of the most select members of the orchestra’s string section as well as principal pianist Lura Johnson.

It’s always a pleasure to hear musicians of this caliber perform in an intimate setting, and they did not disappoint.

The first half of the concert featured a pair of duos in keeping with the theme of the program.

The concert opened with a performance by violinist Lisa Vaupel and violist Elizabeth Jaffe of Mozart’s String Duo in G major, a work Mozart is said to have ghost-written for Michael Haydn who was having problems filling a contractual obligation to Mozart’s former employer—and arch nemesis—the Archbishop Colloredo.

Vaupel and Jaffe gave a lively reading of this much-performed work, with brisk tempos in the outer movements and much sensitivity in the slow movement.

Violinist David Southorn and cellist Philo Lee tackled one of the 20th century’s masterpieces of the duo genre: the Sonata for Violin and Cello by Maurice Ravel. This work generated lots of intermission discussion among concertgoers who expected something like the sultry and sensuous Bolero rather than this lean and linear work.

Like many of his contemporaries, Ravel searched for new modes of expression and style following the horrors or World War I. And while that drew him to certain aspects of Neoclassicism, he never totally abandoned his use of traditional forms nor did he reject the legacies of his immediate predecessors. Thus, the Sonata for Violin and Cello exhibits the “economy” of late Debussy, the rhythmic drive of Stravinsky and a more contemporary austerity.

Southorn and Lee delivered this demanding work with energy and virtuosic precision, carefully etching and capturing its herky-jerky rhythms and acerbic bi-tonal clashes.

The string players assembled onstage—accompanies by pianist Johnson—after intermission for a performance of Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor. This is a large-scale work, dark and dramatic and the ensemble conveyed that Romantic intensity in the outer movements and the relentless third-movement Scherzo, and gave a soulful reading of the Andante.

Yet as heated as the music got, it never lost its transparency. Contrapuntal lines played off against each other without conflict and the several fugato passages were particularly successful. Johnson for her part fit seamlessly into the mix, using the percussive power of her instrument to support rather than dominate. And the felicitous turns in Jaffe’s viola and Lee’s cello were never buried. Still, the ensemble produced a solid, powerful sound.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Organist David Schelat Opens Market Street Music's Festival Concerts

By Christine Facciolo

Organist/composer David Schelat explored the Baroque and beyond Saturday, October 14, kicking off a brand new season of Market Street Music at First & Central Presbyterian Church on Rodney Square in Wilmington.

Schelat’s program traced J.S. Bach’s steps back to his admirer Dietrich Buxtehude then forward to  his “rescuer” Felix Mendelssohn as well as offering a sampling of Bach himself.

The first half of the program featured three Baroque “Bs”: Bruhns, Buxtehude and Bach. Their work spanned the years 1664-1750, a time when north German mercantile trade funded both composers and construction of pipe organs on increasingly grander scales.
The music of this period was largely improvisatory and known as stylus fantasticus, characterized by short contrasting episodes and free form. Bruhns’ Praeludium in E Minor exemplifies this style and Schelat delivered it with insight and intelligence, maintaining the thematic material clearly while providing auditory interest in the repeated ornamentation with a variety of colorful registrations.

Buxtehude’s O Morning Star, how fair and bright (Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern) again showed Schelat’s expertise with the articulation of Baroque musical gestures.
Bach received his due with a rendering of the Prelude and Fugue in G Major (BWV 541) that was both meaty and full of energy. Tucked between them was the melodic simplicity of the chorale prelude Blessed Jesus, we are here (Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 730).

From Spain came Juan Cabanilles’ Corrente Italiana, a mixture of Renaissance and Baroque. Schelat added a subtle touch of percussion to good effect.

There were more surprises following intermission, including an organ sonata by C.P.E. Bach, J.S. Bach’s second surviving son. Although much better known for his harpsichord works, Bach did produce six organ sonatas on commission from Princess Anna Amalia, sister of his then employer, King Frederick the Great of Prussia. The writing is for manuals only, because the Princess was — reportedly — unable to play the pedals.

Schelat offered an effervescent rendering of the Sonata No. 5 in D Major (Wq70), indulging in much hopping between the two manuals — and adding a bit of pedal — to create a sheer delight for the ear.

Another pleasant surprise came with a performance of the Andante sostenuto from Charles-Marie Widor’s Symphonie Gothique. This sweet, meditative piece allowed Schelat to reveal a whole other side to a composer better known for the pyrotechnics of his Toccata in a work we rarely get to hear.

The program concluded with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Sonata in B-Flat Major. Mendelssohn had a great love for Bach and played a major role in his revival. While this music is Romantic in its approach, it displays a certain restraint which is very appealing. Schelat obviously loves this music and that affection came through in this assured and sensitive delivery.

Schelat reached into his own catalog for an encore with a performance of Kokopelli, a whimsical piece dedicated to the flute-playing trickster deity who represents the spirit of music and who presides over childbirth and agriculture. Schelat wrote the piece for the Fred J. Cooper Organ Book, which was commissioned by the Philadelphia chapter of The American Guild of Organists to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the organ in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Grand Celebrates One-Day Ticket Sales Record

This post content courtesy of an October 10 press release from The Grand Opera House...

Photo courtesy of The Grand Opera House.
The Grand staff and board, under the Executive and Programmatic leadership of Mark Fields and Stephen Bailey, is excited to announce that the performance arts company has set a one-day ticket sale record, selling over 6,000 tickets on Monday, October 9, 2017.

“We are bowled away by these results,” says Mark Fields, “it is another example of how The Grand’s quality programming has attracted new and returning patrons to this beautiful building.”

Currently, The Grand has over 70 shows on sale, ranging from America’s Got Talent finalist TAPE FACE (10/14), to long-time comedy icon SINBAD (12/15), music mavens STRAIGHT NO CHASER (11/29), and Broadway’s finest like THE WIZARD OF OZ (11/14-11/19) and MOTOWN (5/1-5/6).

“I highly encourage you to look at our new and improved website at TheGrandWilmington.org to see all of our offerings this season!” says Fields. “The Grand’s website, newly launched on October 1, is much faster and user-friendly than our previous.  It is mobile friendly, removing the need for our Grand Smart Phone App, and it provides search capabilities never before offered to our patrons.  Even better – it combines the two separate sites that were previously The Grand and the Playhouse – providing patrons the ability to buy tickets across our Music & Variety and Broadway series.”


Tickets can be purchased online at TheGrandWilmington.org, by phone at 302.652.5577 or by visiting The Grand’s Box Office at 818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Music School Opens Season with All-Bach "Thank You" Concert

By Christine Facciolo

If it were possible to gather together composers — both living and dead — and ask them who they thought was the greatest composer of all time, chances are one name would surface more than others: J.S. Bach. And with good reason. Bach is one of the few — maybe the only — composer to succeed in combining masterful craftsmanship with such profound expressivity.

TheMusic School of Delaware used the artistry of J.S. Bach to say thank you to its patrons for their generosity on Wednesday, October 4, as it opened another season of its Music Masters Concert Series with an all-Bach program.

Maestro Simeone Tartaglione led a 15-member chamber orchestra comprised of music school faculty and guest artists.

Tartaglione bookended the program with two works from Bach’s most imaginative and celebrated oeuvre: the Brandenburg Concertos. The concert opened with a formidable rendering of the short but robust third Brandenburg. Bach composed two substantial movements for this work, leaving the players to improvise a transitional movement, for which he provided only two chords.

Tartaglione and his players executed the Allegro movements at an authentically robust tempo. Bach’s contrapuntal mastery was vividly brought out by this ensemble that interacted with each other like the cooperative soloists Bach intended them to be.

Concerto No. 5, however, makes demands on the harpsichord soloist that far exceeds anything else in the repertoire. As Tartaglione pointed out, this work is, for all intents and purposes, the first keyboard concerto.

Bach gives the harpsichord (here in the capable hands of Tracy Richardson) a most unusual role: it starts out playing a basso continuo, proceeds to play solo melodies in dialogue with the flute (Dr. Lynne Cooksey) and violin (Christof Richter) and then gets carried away with virtuosic scales that leave the others in the dust. Richardson delivered with great panache and rhythmic sensibility, showing what top-tier musicianship can bring to a familiar work.

Christof Richter soloed in a polished performance of the Violin Concerto in E Major. The opening is Bach at his sunniest, and Richter and the group exuded pure joy as they eased into the mellow mood this music demands. The expressive Adagio was exquisite as it contrasted a dark intensity with moments of golden light. The finale was cheerful and full of energy.

Dr. Lynne Cooksey was equally impressive in the Suite No. 2 in B Minor. Cooksey played with style and agility, executing the piece’s fast passages with note-perfect ease, playing a lovely duet with the cello in the sixth-movement Polonaise, producing lovely sighing effects in the Menuett and pulling out all the stops in the appropriately fast final-movement Badinerie, earning her a round of enthusiastic applause from the very appreciative audience.    
  

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Mapcap Musical Romp Opens Brandywine Baroque's Season

By Christine Facciolo

There’s no denying Karen Flint’s contribution to the cultural life of our region.

Brandywine Baroque orchestra members rehearse "The Woodman."
Photo courtesy of Brandywine Baroque.
As founding artistic director of Brandywine Baroque, harpsichordist Flint consistently presents programs that feature works by the well-known and not-so-well-known — though no less worthy — composers of the period. Moreover, her collection of rare (and playable) harpsichords draws devotees and scholars from around the country and the world to the Centreville venue, The Barn at Flintwoods.

Flint and company opened the 2017-18 season with a performance of as rare a gem as any: The Woodman (1791) by English opera composer William Shield. This all-but-forgotten work is so obscure that Flint and fellow harpsichordist Janine Johnson had to prepare an orchestration from a piano/vocal reduction, the only existing score for the opera.

Shield is one of those composers whose legacy history seems to have erased. Born in 1748 in Swalwell, Shield arrived in London in 1772 to play the violin in the Coven Garden Orchestra. In 1791, he met Haydn who attended a performance of The Woodman. That meeting inspired him to compose more operas and stage works. Shield’s work as a composer got him noticed in royal circles and in 1817 he was appointed “Master of the King’s Musick.”

Like many of his contemporaries, Shield looked toward folk music for source material. In
fact, it was once thought that he wrote Auld Lang Syne, the melody of which appears toward the end of the overture to his Rosina opera. It is now thought that both he and Burns borrowed the melody — or at least the outline of it — from an old folk tune.

Shield’s work is considered to be the forerunner of the modern musical comedy. The Woodman contains features associated with later English comic opera, including spoken dialogue, a frothy theme and the use of popular and folk melodies. The music is pastoral, even bubbly, with flashes of coloratura.

The plot is a madcap thicket of love found, lost and recovered. Emily (Laura Heimes) has fallen in love with Wilford (Stephen Ng) but his nasty uncle does not approve and sends him off to Europe. When Wilford returns, Emily has fled to the forest where three other men fall in love with her. Mistaken identities and all sorts of mischief follow in this lively romp through the woods capped off by a female archery contest for a price heifer.

Flint assembled a stellar cast of singers and musicians for this superb rendering of this woefully overlooked gem. Heimes is vocally striking — as usual — in her portrayal of Emily. Ng brings a full-bodied tenor and lovelorn urgency to Wilford, her lost love.

Bass Daniel Schwartz excelled in his portrayal of the upright and kindly Fairlop, the woodman, while sopranos Abigail Chapman and Rebecca Mariman were convincing as his daughters, the steady Dolly and coquettish Polly, respectively.

Baritone James Wilson played the lecherous Sir Walter to the hilt accompanied by his ever-loyal sidekick Medley in the capable hands and voice of tenor Andrew Fuchs.Tenor Lawrence Jones displayed a much misplaced confidence as he assisted Wilford in his quest to find Emily.

But it was countertenor Augustine Mercante, wigged in bight orange ringlets, who elicited the most laughter in his portrayal of Miss Dinah “Di” Clackit. Mercante not only possesses a sumptuous voice but also impeccable comedic timing that never missed a beat.

Musicians from the ensemble also took part in the action with non-singing roles: flutist
Eileen Grycky, violist Amy Leonard, double bassist Heather Miller Landin served as archers (Grycky also played Bridget the maid). Violinists Martin Davids and Edward Huizinga played Filbert, the Gardener and Bob, respectively.

Imaginative costumes and props transported the audience from Centreville to an 18th Century English forest.


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Audiences Enjoy 'Up Close & Personal' Look at Mélomanie's First Performance

Harpsichordist Tracy Richardson and Violinist Christof Richter
of Mélomanie. Photo by Tim Bayard.
By Christine Facciolo
Mélomanie members Christof Richter (violin) and Tracy Richardson (harpsichord) combined their talents to showcase the versatility of the violin in a program that featured works by the well-know, the not-so-well-known and the downright quirky. The concert, called 'Up Close & Personal: The Violin,' took place on Saturday, September 30, at Old Town Hall in downtown Wilmington.

Despite the role it plays in the modern orchestra and the repertoire that’s grown up around it, the violin was considered a “low-brow” instrument, played largely from memory throughout the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. But once written music appeared, the violin became a major driver in the development of instrumental music as a whole.

Saturday’s performance opened with a performance of Johann Paul von Westhoff’s Partita 6 in D Major for solo violin. Unlike his contemporary Heinrich Biber, little attention has been paid to von Westhoff. But lesser-known hardly means insignificant. In fact, it is very likely that von Westhoff met J.S. Bach during their time in Weimar, and that these Partitas were a direct inspiration for Bach to compose his sonatas and partitas for solo violin.

Richter performed with a natural and effortless charm, concluding with an exhilarating reading of the Gigue.

Heinrich Biber — von Westhoff’s more famous contemporary — was represented with a performance of Sonata 4 in D Minor (The Presentation) from his Rosary Sonatas. This ever-intriguing work is the finest example of Biber’s exploration of scordatura, alternate tunings of the violin strings that produce otherworldly sonic textures and performance challenges. The Presentation is a chaconne and variations tuned to D minor. Tuning the top string down a step and the bottom string up one produced an alto-like quality, where one would expect soprano brilliance. Richter’s execution of these blazing virtuosic variations was breathtaking, making the listener long for a full performance of this work.

The Italian Baroque was represented by Biagio Marini’s Romanesca Variations and Giuseppe Tartini’s Sonata in G Minor (The Devil’s Trill). “Romanesca” is actually a song form popular in the period 1550-1650, characterized by a sequence of four chords which form the groundwork for improvisation (think: Greensleeves). The work consists of four variations and two dances, the gagliarda and corrente. Richter and Richardson took a spirited approach with regard to tempo and meter long before the dance variations impose triple meter toward the end.

Richter imbued Tartini’s Sonata with the appropriate pyrotechnics: delicate turns and swift runs, dark moods, commanding multiple stops and double-note trills. And while the work can be performed solo, the inclusion of the continuo added depth and harmonic texture.

Richter and Richardson made a fine duo in Mozart’s Sonata in G Major (KV 301). Richter’s intonation is always exact and his articulation in the fastest passages clear and precise. These sterling qualities were matched by Richardson’s accompaniment on harpsichord, which she notes was still in use alongside the up-and-coming fortepiano during this time.

No Mélomanie concert would be complete without some contemporary offerings. In an afternoon of surprises, there were some pretty interesting choices. Schnittke’s Suite in Old Style is a wry nod to the Baroque — actually a pre-Classical-style pastiche of movements drawn from the composer’s film scores. Unlike a true Baroque suite, though, there is little for the soloist to show-off. Richter brought a fragile delicacy to the final movement, Pantomime, the only movement performed in this program.

Richter and Richardson offered yet another interesting piece from a most marginalized 20th Century composer, Josef Matthias Hauer. Hauer’s claim to fame (or infamy) is that he developed his own 12-tone system, publishing his findings in 1919 slightly ahead of rival Schoenberg. But whereas Schoenberg manipulated tone rows, Hauer based his atonality on systematically organized chords.

Toward the end of his life, Hauer wrote a collection of short (the longest runs five minutes) pieces called Zwolftonspiel, literally 12-tone games. Richter and Richardson collaborated on the one dated 26 August, 1948. This music is a welcome respite from the angular tones of Schoenberg’s serialism, and Richter and Richardson captured its joy and playfulness in this very capable rendering.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Delaware Theatre Company's 'Wicked' Opener

Jake Blouch, Rob Riddle, Christopher Sapienza (front), and Joelle Teeter, Rajeer Alford,
Clare O’Malley, Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton, and Melissa Joy Hart (back).
Photo by Mark Miller.
By Mike Logothetis
Just after you’ve settled into your seat at the Delaware Theatre Company (DTC), you’ll find yourself staring into a dark tunnel with a train coming toward you at breakneck speed. The locomotive seemingly thunders right into the audience and kicks off the electric new musical, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Based on the classic best-selling novel by Ray Bradbury, director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell deftly steers this delightful new musical about a traveling carnival’s mysterious visit to a small Illinois town. Neil Bartram (music and lyrics) and Brian Hill (book) have composed this coming-of-age thriller that draws heavily on the supernatural.

The story revolves around young heroes Will (John Francis Babbo) and Jim (Sawyer Nunes), who are constantly bored in tiny Greentown. Compounding their perpetual search for adventure is each boy’s lack of a loving father figure – Jim’s has left and Will’s doesn’t seem to acknowledge the son living under his own roof. Veteran television and stage actor Stephen Bogardus portrays Will’s dad Charles as a quiet and unhappy man who yearns for his deceased wife Beth’s (Clare O’Malley) company, not his living son’s. 


But things are soon to change…

Foretold by a narrator (Steve Pacek), who steps in and out of the stage action, trouble is coming to Greentown in late October 1938. The strange but kind man hands the lads a lightning rod to protect them during the storm that will blow into their lives soon. (Somethin’ is comin’/The wind doesn’t lie)

What’s comin’ is a traveling show that suddenly appears in town and is led by mysterious ringmaster Mr. Dark (Rob Riddle). Mr. Dark seems to prey on human insecurities and the townsfolk flock to the carnival tents to fulfill their inner desires. Riddle is the standout performer in this show. His maleficent actions and full baritone are sinfully delightful. Like in a silent movie, you want to both boo and hiss Mr. Dark while simultaneously cheering the entertainment of his villainy.

Bartram’s music and lyrics work to advance the story and include ballads, upbeat numbers, and operatic melodies which are effective as solos, duets, and chorus numbers. While you won’t go home humming any of the tunes from the show, you will be skipping happily out of the theater from the enjoyment of the experience.

The show is dazzling because of projection designer Shawn Sagady and the technical wizards from Freckled Sky. The multimedia creatives have pulled out all the stops with immersive special effects that will wow any theater-goer. Scott Davis has designed a brilliant set that combines a Norman Rockwell-like town with a sinister carnival. Whether mesmerized in a hall of mirrors or receiving 200,000 volts of electricity or engaged in a rooftop battle with an evil balloonist(!), these technical geniuses have outdone themselves. The action, blocking, and timing have to be perfect for these visual marvels to be successful – and they are. The set, actors, music, and effects are wonderfully synchronized.

The Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show song (none of the songs are listed in the program) was a highlight of the show. The carnival is rolled out to the people of Greentown with rousing choruses, snappy movement, and breathtaking special effects.

The ensemble cast is first-rate and most of the actors have secondary roles as townsfolk like barber Mr. Crosetti (Christopher Sapienza), tobacconist Mr. Tetley (Jake Blouch), and schoolteacher Miss Foley (Marian Murphy). Meghan Murphy plays the blind soothsayer known as the “Dust Witch” to wicked perfection.

Through a series of startling discoveries and harrowing experiences, Charles eventually gains self-awareness, faith, and a backbone as the story progresses. The boys fight to save their futures, their relationships, and their lives from all kinds of nefarious attacks the “Autumn People,” led by Mr. Dark, throw at them. In the end, the town is saved as is Charles’ paternal bond with Will. But for this show, it’s the journey not the destination that is most appreciated.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is DTC’s fourth development of a new musical following Because of Winn-Dixie, Tappin’ Thru Life and Diner. This is a World Premiere event, so some tweaking may take place during this initial run or after its completion.

The performance schedule of Something Wicked This Way Comes is: Wednesdays (2:00pm), Thursdays (7:00PM), Fridays (8:00PM), Saturdays (2:00 & 8:00pm) and Sundays (2:00pm) through October 8. Tickets start at $25 with group (10+) and student discounts available. There will be pre-show Viewpoints on September 27 at 1:15pm, plus post-show talkbacks on September 28 and October 5. The running time is just over 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. 


Call 302.594.1100 or visit DelawareTheatre.org to purchase tickets or for performance information. Delaware Theatre Company is located at 200 Water Street in Wilmington.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

OPENING NIGHT: Delaware Symphony Orchestra

By Christine Facciolo

Delaware Symphony Orchestra
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography
Classical music devotees savored a Fifth of Beethoven at The Grand Friday, September 15, as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra kicked off what promises to be one of the most ambitious seasons in its 111-year history.

But before the orchestra rolled up its sleeves for the Beethoven, it offered up some lighter fare, courtesy of Prokofiev and Mozart.

Prokofiev subtitled his Symphony No. 1 (1917) the “Classical Symphony,” in homage to Haydn. Prokofiev’s ability to blend his 20th Century voice with the style of the great classicist is indeed remarkable, making this one of his most popular works.
  
The piece is usually performed by a large modern orchestra. But here, the orchestra was pared down appropriately, giving the music a lighter texture. The string work throughout was captivating. The Gavotte proceeded with its dislocated tune and plodding rhythm, while the final movement bubbled along at an exhilarating pace, producing many admiring smiles and enthusiastic applause.

Mozart’s Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra (K.299/297c) was the companion piece on the first half, an apt choice, since Haydn influenced Mozart as well as Prokofiev. Amado partnered DSO principals Kimberly Reighley (flute) and Sara Fuller (harp) who gave a poised yet exuberant reading of this finely wrought work. The orchestra carried out its supporting role with as much commitment as if it were center-stage, befitting the intimate nature of the piece, especially the flowing Andantino.

After intermission, Amado and the orchestra got down to business with a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, certainly the most well-known – possibly the most beloved – work ever created.

Familiarity can breed contempt but not in this case. As Amado pointed out, there is always something new and interesting to discover in Beethoven’s Fifth. First, were those introductory notes really the hammer blows of fate knocking at the composer’s door? Probably not. A theory developed in the 1990s holds that those famous fortissimo phrases were influenced by Luigi Cherubini’s “Hymn du Pantheon.” Cherubini was a prominent composer during the French Revolution. Beethoven was a passionate supporter of the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.
  
Amado also pointed out the symmetry within the symphony’s first eight notes as well as the thematic and harmonic relationships between its movements.
  
If you listen to the Fifth largely on recordings, it’s easy to forget host thrilling a live performance ca be. This was a beautifully focused, fully energized performance of the Fifth with all the necessary elements in place: sonorous strings, flawless brass playing, full-bodied winds and above, a sense of drama and grandeur. The insistent C on the timpani had a palpable presence here, offering am effective set-up for the glorious, fortissimo rising chords that usher in the finale. 

For full season info, see www.delawaresymphony.org

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sisters are Slayin’ It in City Theater Company's 'Lizzie'

By Mike Logothetis

As my theater companion and I rose enthusiastically for a well-deserved standing ovation to City Theater Company's cast of LIZZIE, I smiled and told him, “Sisters are slayin’ it for themselves.”  He laughed and nodded and told me to write it down. It’s a corny homage to the Eurythmics, but it fits.

Darby Elizabeth McLaughlin as Lizzie.
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
We had just thoroughly enjoyed a rock opera that tells the tale of the infamous Borden double murders in Fall River, Massachusetts – for which youngest daughter Lizzie was tried and acquitted. The legend of Lizzie Borden is a part of Americana, but I can’t say the general public knows the gory details. (I didn’t.)  This show covers most of the facts and theories surrounding the 1892 axe murders of Lizzie’s father and his second wife in their home.

But LIZZIE is less a history lesson and more a head-banging rock show that somehow includes incredibly tender moments. Lead actress Darby Elizabeth McLaughlin steals the show from three other amazing actresses by portraying Lizzie as confused, angry, demented, caring, conniving, steely and vulnerable.  

McLaughlin showcases her acting chops and wonderful vocal abilities in a space where the audience is so close it’s almost part of the staged action.  We are right there with Lizzie in her torment and famous act of conflict resolution.  McLaughlin’s portrayal of a young tortured soul is eerie and touching.  She impeccably hints at her character’s understanding of how she can escape her dreadful life through an unspeakable act.

But the three supporting actresses – Jill Knapp (Emma Borden), Kyleen Shaw ('Maggie' the maid) and Grace Tarves (Alice the neighbor) – are also outstanding.  Shaw’s Bridget/Maggie is an opportunist who knows all about the goings on in “The House of Borden.”  Meek neighbor Alice is given depth by Tarves, whose voice melds beautifully with that of McLaughlin in several duets.  Knapp’s portrayal of judgmental but caring older sister Emma is strong and her vocals soar in her solos.  Knapp’s frenzied performance of What The Fuck Now, Lizzie?! is a show highlight.

The six-piece Fall River Band was tight and got our toes tapping and heads bobbing during stand-out songs like This Is Not Love and Sweet Little Sister.  Under the direction of Joe Trainor, the talented band is nimble enough to play rock, metal and gospel – like in the song Watchmen For the Morning, where our protagonist gets fitted with a straightjacket.

The cast of CTC's Lizzie (L-R): Kyleen Shaw, Jill Knapp, Darby Elizabeth McLaughlin,
Grace Tarves.  Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
Director Michael Gray allows his actresses to roam throughout the American Horror Story-style set and deliver their lines facing any direction.  The employment of wireless microphones allows the performers to quietly deliver some dialog plus fill the room with their powerful singing voices.  Costumers Kerry Kristine McElrone and Lauren Peters have their women dressed in all white, and while some scenes relay a virginal innocence, others evoke images of witches gathered around a cauldron.  One neat visual was Lizzie walking on stools placed before her every step by the other women while contemplating how to “clean a stain.”

The climax and finale of LIZZIE are superb and mesh the closing songs into a medley of sorts.  Thirteen Days in Taunton recalls the Shel Silverstein/Johnny Cash song 25 Minutes to Go in that it is gallows humor at its finest.  All four principles are strong over the final five songs, which cover the murder trial and aftermath.  Chances are you’ll cheer the outcome and want to dance in the aisles like the audience on opening night.

LIZZIE originated in 1990 as a four-song experimental show by writer/director Tim Maner and songwriter Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer.  It took help from Alan Stevens-Hewitt (and almost 20 years!) to fully flesh out the narrative, music and staging of the rock opera.  The 2009 show was nominated for three Drama Desk awards in New York City during its initial run.  The current two-act version at City Theater Company was arranged by the authors in 2013.

The limited run of LIZZIE ends this week with 8:00pm shows on September 13, 14, 15 and 16 in The Black Box at Opera Delaware Studios (4 South Poplar Street, Wilmington, DE 19801).  Tickets are $28 (general admission), $25 (military), $20 (student), and $15 (child age 15 and under) and can be purchased online or at the box office.  There is also a $40 VIP ticket package available.  

Visit city-theater.org for more information, tickets and the remaining CTC season schedule.