Wednesday, February 22, 2017

20 Years of a Gravity-Defying, Gasp-Inducing Dance Phenomenon

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

There's a reason more than 25 million people have come out to see Riverdance over the past two decades. This show brings dance, music, story and song together in a way that leaves the audience with goosebumps, smiles and questions about physics.

The show, featuring a troupe of more than 40 dancers and musicians, started in the mid-90s and centers on the rich tradition of Irish dance with a mix of Russian, Spanish and American tap.

Some statistics about Riverdance since it started in Dublin in 1995:

  • 11,000 performances
  • Performed in more than 467 venues, 46 countries, 6 continents
  • Holds the Guinness World Record for “Longest Riverdance Line” with 1,693 participants
  • 2,000 Irish dancers
  • 20,000 Dance shoes
  • 15,000 costumes
  • 400,000 gallons of water consumed
  • 75,000 gallons of Gatorade consumed
  • 16,250 guitar, bass and fiddle strings replaced
  • 60 marriages between company members
  • 88 Riverdance babies born (so far)
  • 17,500 hours of rehearsal on tour
  • 6,000,000 pounds of dry ice used
  • 70,000 pounds of chocolate consumed by the cast (for energy)
The production is set up as a seamless series of scenes, each with its own mini-storyline. There's expressions of joy, community, flirtation, fun and friendly competition throughout the show. Mostly though, there's a display of dancing ability that leads the audience to gasp in amazement.

One audience member noted that the way the dancers’ legs moved reminded them of marionettes, as if the joints were connecting the thigh and shin in a way that allows the feet to fly in any direction.
The musicianship demonstrated in Riverdance deserves special recognition. The drums, Irish fiddle, saxophone, low whistle and uilleann pipes combine to create a soundscape that carries the audience from the Irish countryside to the city streets of America and back again.

This is a remarkable show that provides quality entertainment for everyone. You don’t want to miss your chance to catch this experience at The Playhouse this week.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Quasi-History, Laughs Combine in a World Premiere at CTC

Paul McElwee as President Woodrow Wilson.
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
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 White House has a total of 132 rooms with 412 doors, 147 windows, and a cadre of servants to keep things running smoothly. Only one of these rooms, two of its doors, two windows, and one servant are needed for After Birth of a Nation to lampoon what might have happened inside the executive mansion on a cold winter’s night over 100 years ago.

Local playwright David Robson has provided City Theater Company a quasi-historical farce loaded with sight gags, cross-dressing, snappy dialog and larger-than-life characters. This World Premiere production keeps the action at a fast pace and will have you laughing out loud at the zany antics. 

We are invited to The Green Room on February 18, 1915, where President Woodrow Wilson (Paul McElwee) has invited filmmaker D.W. Griffith (Jim Burns) to screen his new movie Birth of a Nation at the White House. Trusted adviser Colonel House (Dan Tucker) is trying to improve Wilson’s dovish, professorial image to the nation at a time when the Great War is raging in Europe and former President Teddy Roosevelt is the standard of manliness. Southerner Griffith and northerner House see power within their grasps and form a tentative alliance to use House’s policy ideas and Griffith’s film imagery to transform Wilson into a macho world leader – with them shaping his persona and reaping some rewards.
(L-R): Chris Banker as Clarence Fields, Jim Burns as
D.W. Griffith. Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.

Meanwhile, First Daughter Margaret Wilson (Dylan Geringer) is a 29-year-old, tee-totaling spinster with dreams of becoming a famous singer; although her morality prohibits her from name-dropping to score coveted auditions.

All the characters are historical figures whose demeanors and true callings are humorously warped to create the premise of this show. Added to the mix are a lascivious southern preacher and his wife – Rev. Richard Gamble (George Tietze) and Cora Gamble (Kerry Kristine McElrone) – plus Russian Ambassador Eugeny Demidov (Jeff Hunsicker). Constantly filling champagne glasses is fictional black servant Clarence Fields (Chris Banker), who futilely acts as the gatekeeper of the room. Clarence also has a sinister agenda which plays out comically throughout the performance. These four characters are artistic constructs to help move the plot along and add more eccentricity to the story, which they do with aplomb.

The plot amusingly weaves from policy talk to social issues to religion to the arts and involves all but one of the characters – introducing the audience to who they are and what their intentions might be. The wacky first act sets up a screwball second where Demidov is inserted into the action to arrive at a satisfying conclusion.

According to Robson, “Margaret is the eye of the storm.” Margaret keeps things relatively sensible until she adds to the madness in the climactic scenes. To wit, Geringer’s exasperation repelling multiple suitors and interjecting herself into world politics are highlights of the show.

Another high point is McElrone as the minister’s wife, who longs to find a new religion – possibly one whose name and tenets she can properly pronounce – and satisfying physical love. Cora’s attempted seduction of Margaret built slowly to a quivering, hilarious climax that had me wishing she had an opportunity to make a second pass at the First Daughter.

Michael Gray directs the action to be quick, with characters entering and departing the stage at a frenetic pace. The set design and lighting by Vicki Neal and Richard A. Kendrick allow the actors to achieve a sense of space while being physically close to each other.

Robson harshly satirizes his subjects, but all of the actors are capable and provide ample character depth along with requisite humor. After Birth of a Nation is a funny look at what might have happened in 1915, but many of the jokes and comical references are topical. Robson has crafted his historical farce for today’s audiences, who should plan to see it.

After Birth of A Nation runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:00pm through February 18. Tickets cost $15-28 and the show lasts a jaunty 90 minutes with one 10-minute intermission. 

The Black Box at Opera Delaware Studios is located at 4 South Poplar Street in Wilmington. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks plus snacks are available for purchase inside the theater.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A Fairytale Updated, but Still Captivates...with Glass Slippers

By Guest Bloggers "The Good Girls" – Brenda Joy and Brynn. Brenda is the Executive Director of Friends of Wilmington Parks and enjoys all things outdoors, too much food and Wilmington's diverse and plentiful arts offerings. Brynn is a 3rd Grader in a Spanish-English immersion program and enjoys arts, crafts and cereal.
Hayden Stanes, Tatyana Lubov and the company of 

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg

The company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. © Carol Rosegg
Sitting in velvety seats of The Playhouse on Rodney Square, young 8-year-old Brynn exclaims “5 stars!” for this wonderfully refreshing new take on the beloved classic. The plot of Rodgers + Hammerstein's CINDERELLA has been modernized, keeping us guessing with its unexpected twists, yet maintaining the endearing elements of the tale we all cherish. 

The scenery is enchanting, and the musical numbers – which are excellently executed – weave the story through fascinating choreography and captivating costuming.

Many little Cinderellas were spied throughout the audience, beaming in their fancy dresses and sparkly tiaras. None could resist the bright bouquet of ball gowns waltzing in a delightful display across the stage or the glimmering horse-drawn coach or Cinderella’s dazzling Venetian glass slippers.

We were treated to moments of pure magic as instantaneous, inexplicable rags-to-riches transformations took place before our very eyes!

With its lovable and embraceable cast of characters, this production is a pleasure for young and old.

The Magical Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella enjoyed a run at The Playhouse on Rodney Square through Sunday, February 12, 2017.


Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mélomanie Premieres Local Composer's Work, Features Violin Duos in February Performance

By Christine Facciolo

Mélomanie opened the second half of its 2016-17 season with an eclectic program that showcased the talents of two virtuoso violinists and featured the World Premiere of a commissioned work by organist/conductor David Schelat.
Violinists Daniela Pierson and Christof Richter. Photo by Tim Bayard.
The ensemble welcomed Daniela Pierson, principal violist with Philadelphia’s Tempesta di Mare and conductor of that city’s Musicopia String Orchestra. In addition, she has performed on violin or viola with many early music groups including New Society, New York Collegium and Washington Cathedral Baroque Orchestra.

Pierson teamed with Melomanie resident violinist Christof Richter to perform selections from Bela Bartok’s 44 Duos for 2 Violins, which were interspersed throughout the program. Although the composer never intended these pedagogical exercises to be played in concert, these fine artists performed with a style and accuracy that helped to reveal composer’s limitless imagination and his ability to write in the historic styles of Eastern and Central European ethnic groups.

Pierson said the duo chose to perform the selections on Baroque violins rather than modern instruments because, as she explained in an interview during the concert, that’s probably the way the composer heard the original folk melodies.

Pierson and Richter also delivered an outstanding and refined interpretation of Les Folies d’Espagne by the Italian Jean-Pierre Guignon, who brought that country’s musical style to Paris via the famed Concert Spirituel.

Pierson and Richter were joined by Tracy Richardson on harpsichord and gambist Donna Fournier in a performance of Archangelo Corelli’s Sonata de Chiese in A Major, the last of the set of twelve published as Op. 3 in 1689. Though modest, the music of this Italian composer-violinist was key to the development of the modern genres of sonata and concerto, in establishing the preeminence of the violin and in the coalescing of modern tonality and functional harmony.

Pierson and Richter engaged in a lovely duet in thirds during the second movement. Fournier provided heroic support, confidently executing demanding semiquavers. The piece concluded with three short Allegros, the last of which an attractive fugue in gigue form.

By far, the lengthiest work on the program belonged to Couperin’s well-known La Piemontoise, the fourth Ordre from Les Nations, his masterful dictum on the merger of the French and Italian styles. The concert opened with the Italianate sonata of the ordre and closed with its elaborate French dance suite. Mélomanie executed the ornamentation crisply and with ease, and did a beautiful job with Couperin’s harmonic color.

Just a Regular Child for flute and harpsichord by organist/conductor David Schelat added a charming levity to the program. Schelat introduced the work by explaining how he took inspiration from growing up as a regular kid in a regular home in a regular town in Ohio. The work consisted of three movements. “Rough and Tumble” and “Full of the Old Nick” conjure up the delightful — and sometimes misguided — energy of a very active and curious child while the loping melody of “Dreaming” catches him in his quieter moments.

Schelat wrote to flutist Kimberly Reighley’s amazing virtuosity, and she did not disappoint. Reighley executed the first and last movements with a pearly lightness and purity of tone while rendering a gauzy quality to the middle movement. Richardson supplied the contemporary harmonies which gave the work a mischievous quality.


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Powerful Show, Powerful Message from DTC

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.

White Guy on the Bus proves to be a bold step forward for Executive Director Bud Martin and the rest of Delaware Theatre Company (DTC). While DTC has tackled difficult themes over the years at its cozy theater on the Wilmington Riverfront, this play deals with several serious and challenging topics. In 2016, the Delaware Theatre Company began actively pursuing a path to make the theater a more welcoming place where all stories can be experienced. 
Robert Cuccioli and Danielle Leneé. Photo by Mobius New Media.

Simply put, this is a story that you should experience.

Philadelphia playwright Bruce Graham shines a harsh light on problems in our society –race, class, poverty, privilege, violence, crime, retribution, public education and marginalized lives – in his latest play White Guy on the Bus. Graham’s fearless and incisive play takes a no-holds barred look at hidden and no-so-hidden racism within all of us. Martin’s forthright direction paired with Paul Tate DePoo’s simple yet effective set design subtly complement the actors and story.

The play opens with a middle-aged married couple talking about their respective jobs and the people they deal with on a daily basis. Ray (Robert Cuccioli) is a well-to-do financial manager while Roz (Susan McKey) teaches English at a public school in a blighted neighborhood of Philadelphia. They appear to be a nice, cultured, white couple living on the Main Line with few major worries and an eye toward early retirement.

Their surrogate son Christopher (Jonathan Silver) and his recent bride Molly (Jessica Bedford) join them to sip wine casually on the patio until Roz talks wryly about the racial hostility in her predominantly black school. Students often call her a “white bitch” to her face, which shocks Molly. Meanwhile, Christopher is eager to expound on his doctoral thesis concerning male African-American images in television advertising. He is an outsider looking in, but truly feels he can turn his thoughts on race portrayal by the media into a meaningful doctoral project.

This opening conversation is relatively light, but the subsequent scenes grow deeper, darker, and more complex. We get background information like how Christopher became part of the older couple’s life, how Ray takes pride in his analytical skills (he’s a “numbers man”), and how Roz is helping a 10th-grader learn how to read. But each scene between the four white characters delves into racial discussions where differing opinions and theories are debated.

Sandwiched between these suburban episodes are scenes aboard a city bus where Ray befriends a young black woman named Shatique (Danielle Leneé). She is a nursing student and a single mother who is barely surviving life, but has hope for the future. Ray and Shatique strike up a rapport on their weekly bus rides together. But where exactly are they going?

It is gradually revealed that their destination is a prison where Shatique’s brother is incarcerated. So why is Ray riding the bus?

The plot twist that comes in the closing scene of the first act is alarming. Simply put, the audience is shocked into a new reality. What has transpired to this point must be reevaluated and fully processed before the story can reach a meaningful conclusion.

The drama is intensified in the second act where the story and the dialogue focus on human nature and racial prejudice:

Ray: You know what the problem is with the death penalty in this country?

Shatique: It’s disproportionately given out to black folks?

Ray: Yep. I’m serious. We target the wrong people – wrong crimes. If they had dragged Bernie Madoff into Central Park and hung him from the neck till he was dead – and broadcast it live on CNN in high def – we wouldn’t need the SEC. Nobody’d get out of line on Wall Street ‘cause they’d be scared sh*tless.

White Guy On the Bus
 aims for social realism and will take you out of your comfort zone with its topics and language, but it is not difficult to follow or watch. Graham’s pithy and direct dialog allows the excellent cast to address the issues head on. There are no metaphors or complex symbolism. What the audience sees is five actors speaking their characters’ minds with conviction and, at times, bravado. They believe what they say because they’ve lived it – or observed it from their unique perspectives. Idealism, appearance, and reality mix. Ray is perfectly gentlemanly until he suddenly isn’t. Shatique has moral sensibility until an indecent proposal is proffered.

The play grants the audience a poignant ending, but one not wholly satisfying to each character. The story begs for post-viewing discussions and the Delaware Theatre Company wisely prepared for that.

The DTC staff had undergone an intensive equality, diversity, inclusion and social justice training prior to this production. The training examined issues of privilege, allyship and diversity with the lens of better providing the staff with the necessary tools to run the Community Discussions that follow every performance. DTC encourages patrons to reflect on White Guy on the Bus after the curtain lowers. These open forums offer an opportunity for the audiences to discuss and relate their experiences to each other. Attendees can feel safe asking difficult questions about the topical references that can be made in their life or community.

There will also be a special Panel Discussion on Race, Equality and Education co-sponsored by DTC and Teach America on Saturday, February 11, at 4:30pm.

The performance schedule of White Guy on the Bus is: Wednesdays (2:00pm), Thursdays (7:00pm), Fridays (8:00pm), Saturdays (2:00 & 8:00pm) and Sundays (2:00pm) through Sunday, February 19. Tickets are $20-65 for both evening and matinee performances. White Guy on the Bus runs approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Delaware Theatre Company is located at 200 Water Street in Wilmington.