Monday, June 18, 2018

Ladybug Festival Expands Its Wings for 7th Year in Wilmo

Delaware-based R&B singer Nadjah Nicole performs at Ladybug in 2017.
Photo courtesy of Gable Music Ventures.
 
This post content comes from a press release from Gable Music Ventures...
The annual Ladybug Festival, presented by Chase, has announced dates for its 7th consecutive year. Noted as the largest of its kind in the U.S., the two-day block party-style music festival will take place July 20-21, 2018 and feature over 75 acts, including emerging and established women artists.

“A number of studies show that female-fronted acts account for a little more than ten percent of festival lineups across the country. We are proud to present a lineup that celebrates and welcomes dynamic women-identified musicians,” said Gayle Dillman, founder of Gable Music Ventures and co-creator of The Ladybug Festival. “As a woman-owned business, our vision is to not only play a prominent role in the development of independent artists, but also to continue our work as a disrupter of the status quo and create a more inclusive culture.”

The Ladybug Festival was co-created by Gayle Dillman and Jeremy Hebbel of Gable Music Ventures as a response to the lack of representation for women-identified artists on festival stages in the region and across the country. Since its inception seven years ago, Ladybug has staged over 300 solo artists and bands for the annual celebration of women in music. The stage has previously seen notable acts such as Caroline Rose, Larkin Poe and Grammy-nominated Mary Lambert.

An addition this year, the event will be utilizing the historic Queen Theater, a Live Nation venue in the heart of downtown Wilmington. “As a woman working within a heavily male-dominated music industry, I really gravitated toward the concept of Ladybug and the goals that Gable Music Ventures set out to accomplish many years ago,” said Christianna Labuz of Live Nation. “I love that their mission rings true not only on stage but at front of house as well; Gayle and Jeremy hire the best female sound engineers and production staff to make sure the musicians sound their very best. Ladybug is always one of my favorite summertime events in Wilmington, and I couldn’t be more excited for The Queen to be involved this year and for many years to come.”

The first Ladybug Festival was attended by an audience of approximately 300. Since that time, the festival has witnessed tremendous growth, greeting approximately 10,000 attendees last year in downtown Wilmington. The 2018 Ladybug Festival will mark Chase’s second year as the presenting sponsor. The bank’s downtown Wilmington campus, where over 3,000 employees work, is just steps from the site of the event.

“We see this event as a great opportunity to bring vitality to the downtown Wilmington community which we’re part of and support a local business that celebrates women and their artistry,” said Kathy Witsil, managing director at Chase. “We’re truly proud to be a part of this festival and watch it grow.”

Additional information about the festival can be found online at theladybugfestival.com. Founded in 2011, The Ladybug Festival is the largest female fronted music festival on the country that takes place annually in Wilmington, Delaware. Each year, thousands come from all gender and cultures, cutting across age and socioeconomic boundaries, to join in this celebration of women and their contribution to music.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Revel in the Open Air with Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"

By Mike Logothetis

The Arden Shakespeare Gild is continuing its over-100-year tradition of homegrown performances with the classic comedy Twelfth Night. One of the most popular and enduring of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night invites the audience to the Mediterranean resort of Illyria where mischief runs rampant. Set in “fairly modern times,” the usual elements of a Shakespearean comedy appear: twins, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, love, revenge and plenty of clever wordplay.

But what sets this production apart from the talent and the play itself is the natural setting. This is Shakespeare being performed in the actual Forest of Arden. What can top that?! (Padded seats on the wooden benches might improve matters. Hint: Bring a cushion. And maybe some bug spray.) The audience is introduced to the entire cast as the actors enter from “The Field” singing Over The Hills – the marching song of the Arden Players. (The music doesn’t end at the procession.) 


The cast of Twelfth Night. Photos courtesy of Arden Shakespeare Gild. 
This year’s production features the stellar duo of Kerry Kristine McElrone (Olivia) and Michelle Jacob Stradley (Viola), who are reprising their roles from a 2006 City Theater Company production of Twelfth Night. Director Mary Catherine Kelley observed that “these two actresses did their homework years ago; both are dedicated to the text and to clarity and to the pure fun of the comedy. It’s truly a pleasure to watch them.”

The story begins as Viola arrives on the shores of Illyria following a shipwreck. She is distraught as she fears her twin brother Sebastian (Colin Antes) has drowned. With the aid of the ship’s Captain (Tom Wheeler), she disguises herself as a young man under the name Cesario, and enters the service of Duke Orsino (Jason Fawcett).

Orsino is enchanted with the fair Olivia, who is mourning the recent deaths of her father and brother. Olivia refuses to entertain romantic suitors, be in the company of men, or accept marriage proposals from anyone until seven years have passed. Orsino decides to employ Cesario as an intermediary to profess his love for Olivia. However, Olivia falls in love with the messenger Cesario, setting herself at odds with her promise to remain temporarily celibate. In the meantime, Viola has fallen in love with Orsino, creating a misguided love triangle.

Stradley says, “This time around, I’m enjoying exploring how Viola navigates the relationships that arise from her new life in Illyria – from her love interest [Duke] Orsino to the lovely but confused Olivia.”


Olivia (Kerry Kristine McElrone)
Orsino and Cesario
(Jason Fawcett & Michelle
Jacob Stradley.)
When McElrone and Stradley are on stage together as Olivia and Cesario, the dynamics crackle. Shakespeare’s words flow freely and the actresses’ nimble physical movements help relay both the romantic and duty-bound natures of their differing efforts. You can almost see McElrone’s heart flutter as she absorbs the mere presence of the stately Cesario.

McElrone comments that she is “playing [Olivia] with the idea that Cesario makes her lose control; before, the control was there leaving little time for real emotion.”

In a subplot, Olivia’s unruly uncle Toby Belch (Dan Tucker) and silly Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Henry Moncure III) drink and carouse late into the night at Olivia’s residence. In a great bit of comedic irony, the drunken revelers wake the house singing Hold Thy Peace. Olivia’s pompous steward Malvolio (Rob Hull) chastises them, which initiates a plot for revenge against him. Toby, Andrew, and house servants Maria (Elizabeth Varley) and Fabian (Petra DeLuca) team up against Malvolio with the help of the fool Feste (Liam Freeh).

Moncure and Tucker play off each other brilliantly as a pair of old drunks trying to keep the good times rolling. The pair provide most of the physical comedy in the show, but others certainly hold their weight – just watch the boxing match between Cesario and Aguecheek.

The conspirators convince Malvolio that Olivia is secretly in love with him by planting a romantic letter written by Maria in Olivia’s handwriting. Malvolio starts acting out the laughable contents of the letter to impress Olivia, who is shocked by the disturbing changes in him. Olivia leaves the apparently mad Malvolio in the care of her staff – the conspirators – who imprison him.

Meanwhile, Viola’s twin brother Sebastian has been rescued by Antonio (Will Bryant), a sea captain who previously fought against Duke Orsino. Taking Sebastian for Cesario, Olivia asks him to marry her, and they are secretly wed in a church. Later, Cesario and Sebastian’s joint appearance in the presence of both Olivia and Orsino evokes confusion because of their physical similarity. At this point, Viola sheds the guise of Cesario, reveals her identity, and is reunited with her twin brother.

The play ends in a declaration of marriage between Orsino and Viola plus it is learned that Sir Toby has married Maria. Malvolio swears revenge on his tormentors and stalks off, but Duke Orsino sends Fabian to placate him. All’s well that ends well, right?

It should be noted that certain scenes include original music and period songs, often sung by Freeh. The night closes with a celebratory song and dance by the entire company. Sam Arthur, Megan Murphy King, Sarah McIlvaine, and Lisette Walker provide the live soundtrack for the performance.

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 16, 21, 22, and 23 at 8:00pm, plus a matinee on Sunday, June 17, at 2:00pm. 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 $10 for members, $12 for general admission, and $5 for children 12 and under. The Sunday matinee costs $7 across the board.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Copeland String Quartet Closes Their Season with Brahms

Copeland String Quartet with guest clarinetist Charles Salinger. 
Photo courtesy of Copeland String Quartet.
By Christine Facciolo
Chamber music aficionados packed the pews at the Church of the Holy City on Sunday afternoon for the season-closing concert of the Copeland String Quartet. It was certainly an event worth venturing out for on a rainy spring afternoon, and the musicians appeared quite delighted at the capacity audience.

The main offering on the program was Brahms’ autumnal masterpiece, the Clarinet Quintet, featuring the talents of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s principal clarinetist Charles Salinger.

The work was premiered by none other than the Joachim Quartet led by violinist Joseph Joachim with clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld whose playing impressed Brahms so much he came out of compositional retirement to write this enduring masterpiece for him.

This is a difficult work to pull off. Brahms was a master of counterpoint, skilled in the subtleties of rhythm and melody. There’s a lot going in a Brahms composition and unless the players have a broad sense of the work, the result can be turgid and endlessly dull.

Happily, that did not happen here. Copeland turned in an achingly beautiful performance with a lush string sound overlaid by Salinger’s lithe and liquid clarinet. The poignancy of alternating major and minor tonalities was interspersed with decisive declamatory passages. Salinger’s rhapsodic playing over wavering strings in the second movement entered into a shadowy dialogue with Eliezer Gutman’s first violin, colluding in final rising arpeggios. Salinger’s virtuosic command of his instrument revealed itself in the mercurial leaps of the third movement. Gutman navigated his colleagues through some intricate tempi in the fourth movement which also afforded a solo opportunity to cellist Jie Jin.

Music of a very different sort opened the program: Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73 in F major. The Third was the only work composed by Shostakovich in 1946, an indication of the trouble that lay ahead. The Zhdanov Decree was two years away but already the attacks had begun against artists and writers.

The writing in this quartet makes incredible demands on the players. Much of it is set in the instruments’ higher registers and there are instances of soloistic virtuosity that seem at odds with the ensemble playing expected in a quartet. Furthermore, the harmonic language is gritty. Each movement is in a home key but the continuously chromatic writing obscures the tonality.

Copeland offered a most impressive rendering of this emotional work. The players applied a light touch to the almost Haydnesque first movement, took a cautiously restrained approach to the ominous second and unleashed the demonic power of the Scherzo. The last two movements took the audience to an even darker place before settling into an uneasy peace with the three closing F major chords.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

DSO's Final Performance of Season Spotlights Mahler

By Christine Facciolo
For a work that for many years was regarded as the “ugly duckling” of Gustav Mahler’s nine completed symphonies, the Seventh is turning up with greater regularity just about everywhere in the classical world.

On Friday, May 18, night it was David Amado’s turn to lead the Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) in its first-ever performance of this most enigmatic and fascinating work.

Amado prepped the audience in a pre-performance that pointed out the orchestral and rhythmic subtleties as well as the advanced harmonic language that presaged the Second Viennese School, making an indelible impression on a young Arnold Schoenberg.

The Mahler Seventh has always been considered a problem piece. Entire musicological conferences have been devoted to its analysis but agreement remains elusive.

Amado’s reading of the mercurial first movement, with its hauntingly beautiful tenor horn solos, offered a bit of everything: power, brilliance, mystery, even dreaminess. He was mindful of details — every instrumental solo stood out in relief — but he never lost track of the overall trajectory and architecture. Indeed, the performance was such that Mahler’s careening shifts in tonality and mood made perfect and logical sense, serving as a foundation for the “night” movements that followed.

Amado and the DSO were most impressive where Mahler is most impressive, that is, in the symphony’s three central movements. The second movement is a kind of nocturnal march, introduced by a call and response motif in the horns. Colorful elements such as cowbells and warbling woodwind bird calls instilled a pastoral atmosphere throughout. But not quite as the march theme remained eerily unsettled, vacillating between a major and minor key.

The second Nachtmusic was more successful at evoking an Alpine, folksy charm with a subtle but effective mandolin and guitar accompaniment.

The third movement Scherzo was downright strange with its mix of waltz tunes and Landler. There seemed to be an oddity at every turn. One of the most striking gestures was a pizzicato in the cellos and basses, which were instructed by Mahler to pluck the string so hard that it rebounds against the fingerboard.

The performance concluded triumphant rendition of the complex Rondo finale. What in lesser hands would come across like a bizarre mash-up of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and Lehar’s The Merry Widow, here exuded the feel of exuberant rejoicing. A guest appearance by The Bells of Remembrance aided in the joyful culmination of a tentative journey from dusk to dawn.

See www.delawaresymphony.org.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Summer Jazz from Market Street Music & Creative District Wilmington

Market Street Music and Creative District Wilmington collaborate this summer to bring you live music in a tranquil cityscape setting...welcome to Jazz Nights at the Rock Lot!

Leading up to the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, the two organizations team up to bring well-known jazz musicians to this green space in the heart of the district for three Wednesday evenings in May and June.

"Market Street Music's partnership with the Creative District has been a dream collaboration," says David Schelat, Music Director and organist for Market Street Music. 

"Both organizations are deeply committed to the city of Wilmington and to expanding its arts presence and vitality. The Rock Lot space is ripe for this kind of programming, and I hope our regular [Market Street Music] audiences will take a chance on something new in a space they may not even know exists." 

Schelat also hopes the programming will alert new audience members to the annual programs Market Street Music has historically presented. 

Featured in the series will be the music and stylings of Alfie Moss and Dexter Koonce Project (May 30), the Sharon Sable Quartet (June 6) and The Terra Soul Project (June 13).  

"We booked three jazz ensembles with whom Market Street Music has worked in the past, and who always deliver a dynamite concert experience," says Schelat. "All of these artists are the best at their craft, and we're excited to welcome them to The Rock Lot!"

The Rock Lot is located at 305 W. 8th Street (on 8th between Tatnall & West Streets) in downtown Wilmington. All of The Rock Lot events are free and open to the public, so bring a basket of snacks, a chair or blanket and settle in for a night of jazz under the stars and in the heart of Wilmington!
  • Wednesday, May 30, 5:30-7pm | Alfie Moss/Dexter Koonce Project
  • Wednesday, June 6, 5:30-7pm | Sharon Sable Quartet
  • Wednesday, June 13, 5:30-7pm | The Terra Soul Project

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

NEA Announces Grants to Support Delaware Arts

This post content comes from a press release from the Delaware Division of the Arts...

As the only funder in the country to support arts activities in all 50 states and five U.S. jurisdictions, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced that three Delaware organizations, including the Division of the Arts, will receive $729,100 in federal grants.

“The variety and quality of these projects speaks to the wealth of creativity and diversity in our country,” said NEA Chairman Jane Chu. “From Atlanta, Georgia to Sparks, Nevada, NEA funding reaches thousands of communities, assisting local organizations and providing access to the arts to all.”

The Delaware Division of the Arts will receive a Partnership (State & Regional) grant in the amount of $689,100 to support activities associated with carrying out its NEA-approved State strategic plan.

“Representing 17% of the Division’s budget, NEA funding is critical in supporting arts programming that directly reaches more than 30 communities throughout Delaware, serving more than 1 million youth and adults annually,” says Paul Weagraff, director of the Delaware Division of the Arts. “This investment in Delaware’s creative sector contributes positively to vibrant communities, comprehensive educational opportunities, and robust economic activity.”

The Delaware Art Museum will receive an Art Works - Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works grant in the amount of $25,000 to support its Bridging Perspectives series of multidisciplinary performances addressing the history of the Civil Rights Movement and contemporary issues related to social justice and equity.

“The NEA and Art Works grants support the arts and its ability to change lives and impact communities,” says Delaware Art Museum Executive Director and CEO, Sam Sweet. “Bridging Perspectives is a new initiative at the Museum reflecting our vision to engage our community, promote conversation, and foster understanding. We are so pleased that this initiative has earned support that will enable the Museum to better serve our community.”

The Grand Opera House will receive an Art Works - Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works grant in the amount of $15,000 to support its sensory-friendly family performances series which welcomes children of all ages with autism or other sensory, social or learning disabilities to experience live entertainment. These performances have been made possible by Next Generation North of the Delaware Community Foundation, DFRC and in partnership with Autism Delaware and Easterseals.

“The Grand is proud to continue our new sensory friendly programming thanks to this generous gift from the NEA. Our mission urges us to be accessible to all residents of the Brandywine Valley, and this gift, our second NEA grant in two years, allows us to further develop this valuable and much-needed program, says Mark Fields, executive director of the Grand Opera House.

The full NEA grant descriptions:

State and Regional Partnership AgreementsThrough partnership agreements, the NEA translates national leadership into local and regional benefit. States and U.S. jurisdictions have their own arts agency that together receive 40 percent of the NEA’s grantmaking funds each year to support their programs and leverage state funding. In addition to these 55 agencies, six regional arts organizations are funded to manage programs across state, national, and international borders and across all arts disciplines.

Art Works II

Art Works is the NEA’s largest category and focuses on funding the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with art, lifelong learning in the arts, and strengthening of communities through the arts.

About the National Endowment for the ArtsEstablished by Congress in 1965, the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. For more information, visit www.arts.gov.

About the Delaware Division of the ArtsThe Delaware Division of the Arts is an agency of the State of Delaware. Together with its advisory body, the Delaware State Arts Council, the Division administers grants and programs that support arts programming, educate the public, increase awareness of the arts, and integrate the arts into all facets of Delaware life. Funding for Division programs is provided by annual appropriations from the Delaware General Assembly and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. For more information about the Delaware Division of the Arts, visit arts.delaware.gov or call 302-577-8278.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Boeing Boeing Lands at Candlelight


By Carol Van Zoeren

A classic farce, Boeing Boeing premiered in Paris in 1960, with the English adaptation first staged in London in 1962. It has the distinction of being the most produced French play, although I had never read nor seen it. And what fun it is not to know what’s coming next!

The plot centers on Bernard (Ian Agnew), an American living in Paris and masterfully juggling relationships with three flight attendants by meticulously adhering to the flight schedules of the three airlines for whom the women work. Masterfully, that is, until faster planes upend the schedule. His old friend Robert (Eric Rupp) has arrived from Wisconsin and, along with Bernard’s dour housekeeper Bertha (Victoria Healy), bear the brunt of trying to keep a lid on the hilarity which ensues.

Bernard starts out cocky and becomes increasingly unhinged, and Agnew navigates this trajectory quite well. In less skilled hands, the character might reach the peak of unhingedness too early and have nowhere to go, but Agnew metes it out with admirable restraint. Robert’s trajectory is almost a mirror image, starting out unsure and gaining confidence, and with a constant cycle of craziness/relief/repeat. Rupp succeeds and does some of the best wordless acting I’ve seen with his expressive face. Healy, a Candlelight favorite, draws laughs from her first entrance. She has some of the biggest laugh lines of the show with perfect deadpan delivery.

Each of the flight attendants is clearly delineated through costumes, accents and mannerisms, and all three are delightfully over the top in stereotypical characterizations. The American, Gloria (Marybeth Williamson), is a free spirit with some randy behavior that must have been rather shocking in the 60s. The Italian, Gabriella (Heather Ferrell), is hot tempered and moody, and I especially liked Ferrell’s oh-so-Italian mannerisms. And the German, Gretchen (Sophie Jones), flips between coquettish to domineering and back in nanoseconds.

But beyond individual performances, what really makes farce work is how well the ensemble works together. And this is particularly impressive in this production. The pacing, the split second timing between who’s going into and coming out of which door (and there are seven of them in this one). And especially, this ensemble risks life and limb for the many highlights of physical comedy. Kudos to director Bob Kelly, to have his cast this polished on opening night!

The set has an appropriately muted palette of grey, black and white. This allows colorful elements of set dressing to really stand out and add to the fun. Most especially, a very important portrait — I won’t say more, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

In sum, I thoroughly enjoyed Boeing Boeing. If you want a great night out with a lot of laughs, I highly recommend it!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Schnittke (and Haydn and Beethoven) Happened with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra

By Christine FaccoloSchnittke happened…as did Haydn and Beethoven at the Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) final Chamber Series Concert of the 2017-18 season.

It’s doubtful if many (or any) in attendance had even heard of, much less witnessed, a performance of Alfred Schnittke’s witty Moz-Art a la Haydn. Written in 1977, the work appeared at a time when composers were moving away from the perceived elitism and dissonant sounds of modern atonality toward an expression that favored a synthesis of more familiar styles. The goal was to restore music to its former position as the language of emotions as they hoped to bridge the gap between themselves and the listening public.

Moz-Art a la Haydn is a prime example of Schnittke’s uncanny ability to fragment and reassemble diverse elements in novel and unexpected ways. Schnittke based the work, scored for two violin soloists (David Southorn and Peter Bahng) and a small ensemble, on Mozart’s unfinished pantomime music K 446. Also mentioned are the composer’s Symphony No. 40 and Haydn’s Farewell Symphony.

The work opens with the performers, seated in total darkness, improvising on the Mozart pantomime material. A diminished chord prepares for the introduction of neoclassical material. Familiar sounds and colors come and go, forcing the listener to try and make sense of it all. The 12-minute adventure ends as one violinist de-tunes her violin, the lights go out and the musicians shuffle off the stage one-by-one “a la Haydn,” leaving the conductor to beat time to absent music to an absent orchestra.

Speaking of Haydn, DSO principal cellist Philo Lee delivered a superb account of that composer’s C Major Cello Concerto 
 a piece that remained undiscovered for some 200 years until 1961. Virtuosity was in the forefront here, especially in the rapid passages of the finale, all dispatched with great precision and pinpoint intonation. Lee’s playing was further enhanced by a most sensitive use of dynamics and a rich, singing tone.

The upbeat program closed with a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, which DSO Music Director David Amado noted was his favorite. Unfortunately, it is one of the least performed of the symphonies, having largely been overshadowed by his other monumental works, including its neighbors the Eroica and the famous Fifth.

The introductory Adagio was full of mystery, and the color of the string sound was rich. The Allegro vivace was full of fervor, and the accents dramatic and well-balanced. The slow movement, one of Beethoven’s most sublime, was clear and flowing, enhanced by heartfelt contributions from principal clarinetist Charles Salinger. After a very robust scherzo, the galvanizing finale was impressive, bringing the audience to its feet with enthusiastic and appreciative applause.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Reliving the Magic of Motown...in Wilmington

"The Supremes" in MOTOWN: The Musical.
Photo courtesy of The Playhouse on Rodney Square.
By Carol Van Zoeren
With powerful voices and a rockin’ five-piece pit band, the current show at The Playhouse on Rodney Square is a raucous good time. The show follows the history of the Motown record label from its early precursors in the '50s, growth into a major force in the recording industry and evolution in the face of competition and a changing pop landscape.

Motown’s founder and driving force, Berry Gordy, had a gift for identifying and bringing together musical talent, and carefully managed his artists' public images, making Motown a major national and international success. Eventually, many of Motown’s stars chafed under Gordy’s tight control (or were lured away by bigger paychecks) and the label lost its prominence. But the immense catalogue of nearly 15,000 songs lives on.

I was curious whether MOTOWN: The Musical would follow the jukebox musical format, where well-known songs are woven into the plot narrative. Or, would the songs simply be performed stand alone, as they were in Motown’s heyday. Turns out, it’s a bit of both. The show includes 55 Motown hits. 

To squeeze it all in, many are excerpts  snippets long enough to be recognized but not a full song. Often, these are combined into expertly crafted medleys and mash-ups. A highlight is the Jackson 5’s medley, which keeps the audience in anticipation of what’s next.

The show also include three songs written specifically to serve the narrative. Most notable, Kenneth Mosely as Berry Gordy gives a tour de force performance of Can I Close the Door. In this, Gordy struggles to reconcile his disappointment that his stars have deserted him with the knowledge that they still share a great deal of love.

There are a lot of fun and funny moments. Diana Ross (American Idol alum Trenyce) gets the audience singing along with Reach Out and Touch. The developing romance between Ross and Gordy is touchingly sweet. The friendly rivalry between the Temptations and the Four Tops in the opening scene is great fun. And as the young Michael Jackson, the talented Chase Phillips is a delight.

Because Motown had such a deep bench of artists, each ensemble member gets a chance to shine. These include Devin Holloway as Jackie Wilson, Quiana Holmes as Mary Wilson, Erick Patrick as Rick James, and Cartreze Tucker as Stevie Wonder. I must also commend Rob McCaffrey on his hysterical, over-the-top Ed Sullivan.

If I had one quibble, it’d be that reproductions of some of the iconic performances could have been tighter in both vocals and movement. Not that these were not well executed, but it’s hard not to compare to what we’re familiar with from television or YouTube. I also thought juxtaposing the difficulties at Motown with the wrenching societal upheavals of 1968 was a bit heavy-handed.

The costumes by Emilio Sosa 
— both glamorous stage costumes and everyday wear effectively evoked the time. And there were a lot of them...the dressers backstage must have been very busy! The action moved seamlessly thanks to moving panels and excellent projection design by Daniel Brodie.

In all, I thoroughly enjoyed MOTOWN: The Musical and highly recommend it. Not just for those of us of a “certain age” who grew up with this music, but also to introduce this great era in music to the younger set.

See The Playhouse on Rodney Square.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

At the '80s Altar with "The Wedding Singer"

By Mike Logothetis


Theater is designed to entertain…And Wilmington Drama League’s production of The Wedding Singer does just that. You’ll definitely leave your seat satisfied and with a smile on your face.

The Wedding Singer is a 2006 musical based on the 1998 Adam Sandler film with book by Tim Herlihy and music by Matthew Sklar. The plot is fairly simple and straightforward, but the actors make this production charming and fun. Tight direction by Lauren Hope Gates keeps the action and humor flowing.

Set in 1985, the story is focused on titular wedding singer Robbie Hart (Anthony Vitalo), who provides the soundtrack to receptions in the small town of Ridgefield, New Jersey.  Robbie and his band open the show with the rollicking It’s Your Wedding Day, where his charisma shines.  Robbie proudly tells the crowd of his upcoming nuptials to Linda (Laura Velarides) the next day.  New waitress Julia Sullivan (Emily Elborn) is charmed by Robbie’s kindness, but is pining for her own eventual wedding to Wall Street banker Glen Guglia (Nick Castillo).

Robbie ends up being left at the altar with only a note from Linda claiming that she wants to be the wife of a rock star and not just a wedding singer.  Meanwhile, an anxious Julia goes out to dinner with Glen, hoping that he will ask for her hand in marriage, which he does (“Pop!”).

Robbie falls into a deep depression, but is emotionally supported by his bandmates Sammy (Joseph Cartagena) and George (Patrick Yarrington).  Even Robbie’s roommate grandmother (Suzette Burgess) steps in to help right the sinking ship.  But it’s not enough, as an angry Robbie takes out his situation on an unsuspecting wedding party (Casualty of Love).

With a new aversion to weddings, the band shifts its focus to bar mitzvahs (Today You Are a Man).  After one bar mitzvah, Julia convinces Robbie to help her plan her wedding because her fiancé Glen is busy with his job.  Robbie is a natural helping Julia customize her wedding day – and a true connection between the two is formed.

Julia’s cousin and best friend Holly (Meg Cranney) convinces Julia that she needs to practice her wedding kiss.  Robbie and Julia awkwardly and lovingly kiss, only to be interrupted by the reality that Julia is marrying Glen.  After seeing the passion in Robbie’s kiss, Holly decides that she should go out with him.  The four of them go on a double date in New York City where Robbie learns that Glen is a serial cheater.  During the date, Robbie also realizes that he is in love with Julia, but can offer her very little in comparison to Glen’s material success.

As expected, we never see much chemistry between the kindhearted Julia and bombastic Glen.  Unfortunately, the script doesn’t allow us to see much attraction development between Julia and Robbie until the aforementioned kiss and in Act 2 when the lovers sing the duet If I Told You. Oddly, the star couple sing most of their traditional duets (physically) apart until the beautiful Grow Old With You late in the show.  But the audience does root for Robbie and Julia to be together in the end.

All the songs when Robbie is “in character” as a wedding singer are top notch.  Vitalo has a powerful voice plus his natural charm makes you understand how his character is so beloved as a small-time entertainer.  Elborn provides girl-next-door sweetness as Julia and adapts her lovely voice to both quiet or dynamic moments.

Cartagena’s Sammy is a funny portrayal of a 1980s wanna-be lothario.  The men’s song Single was a show highlight.  Yarrington is always comedic relief as George.  His Hebrew “prayer” is a riot!  Velarides plays Linda in an over-the-top way which works every time she’s on stage.  Her performance of Let Me Come Home is a rowdy delight.

All these celebrations and outings require guests and the marvelous ensemble cast more than just fill the seats.  Choreographer Dominic Santos saturates the stage with dancers who energize the story and the action.  Kudos to the ensemble performers for their enthusiasm and the times they take on bit roles.

Back to the action… Robbie tries to change himself for Julia by asking Glen for a job at his firm.  Sammy tries to woo Holly (Right in Front of Your Eyes), who is starting to see past his flaws (and mullet).  Linda is starting to have second thoughts about ending her relationship with Robbie.  Most importantly, Julia realizes she’s in love with Robbie.  But she and Glen have hopped a plane to Las Vegas to elope.

Can Robbie get to Sin City and profess his love before Julia gets married?  I think you know the answer, but the conclusion is absolutely worth seeing.  It’s as good as “a Sgt. Slaughter body slam” and includes all sorts of 80’s celebrity cameos.

This production of The Wedding Singer at Wilmington Drama League runs through May 6 at its Lea Boulevard location in Wilmington.  Tickets cost $12-20 for both evening and matinee shows.  Friday and Saturday performances are at 8 p.m. and the Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m.

It’s a show you can “enjoy down to your pancreas.”

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Chemist Recalls Her Admiration of "The Memory of Water"

Vi played by Susie Moak. Photo by Peter Kuo.
By Carol Van Zoeren
The Memory of Water, now showing at Chapel Street Players in Newark through April 28, 2018, was written by Shelagh Stephenson and is directed by Kathleen Kimber.

Three sisters come together before their mother's funeral, each haunted by her own demons. The three each have different memories of shared childhood events, causing constant, and often very funny, bickering about whose memories are true. As the three women get together after years of separation, their hidden lies and self-betrayals begin to surface.

As is often the case, the eldest sister, Theresa, is the "responsible one." Lori Ann Johnson clearly conveys Theresa’s resentment 
— that her family has always forced her to subsume her own needs to cover up family dysfunction. In one uncomfortable (though perhaps overlong) scene, Johnson expertly shows us Theresa’s inner battle whether to reveal a family secret that she has kept for decades and at great emotional cost.

Middle sister Mary (Susan Boudreaux) is superficially the "successful one." In her professional life, yes. In her personal life, not so much. Mary works hard to distance herself from her mother. Perhaps this is why mother Vi (Susie Moak) only interacts with Mary in dreamlike sequences. Boudreaux navigates the emotional roller coaster well. The opening scene of Act II between Moak and Boudreaux is especially moving. 

Youngest daughter Catherine (Cyndie Romer) is the "free spirit." But her pot smoking and binge shopping are clearly cries for the attention she never got as a child. And attention she still doesn’t get from a committed, loving partner. Romer skillfully shows us the vulnerability hiding behind the bravura.

All of this sounds like a real downer, right? But no! There are wonderful bon mots, put-downs and zingers, delivered with deadpan, spot-on comic timing. And, a hysterical scene when the somewhat stoned sisters play dress up with Mom’s outlandish wardrobe. It is simply wonderful to see an ensemble (which includes Dave Hastings and Frank Newton) gel. It’s clear that they enjoy being on stage together, and that is all to the credit of director Kathleen Kimber.

I really enjoyed this production, but I've gotta say, I’m not sure the British accents were necessary and sometimes got in the way of enunciation, especially of rightfully tossed off bon mots which the audience sometimes couldn’t hear clearly. Yes, the playwright is British and the script included a number of British terms and slang. Just saying I might have made a different choice for an American audience.

Reflecting on the play itself, I was impressed with the frequent touchpoints on memory, which rose organically from the dialog. For example, that Vi suffered from Alzheimer's. And that Mary is treating a patient with amnesia. And especially the concept that human memory isn’t just some repository of information, but is used to ensure survival. Indeed, the differences in how the sisters remember their childhood demonstrates that each remembers it in the way she must, for her own well-being.

And, OK, full disclosure. I’m a chemist and my favorite molecule is water. It touches me to the core that the title of this play is not so much about how we remember water, but rather how water remembers us. That which birthed us, remembers us. Playwright Shelagh Stephenson was known to draw inspiration from science. 

And to that I can only say (Britishly) — Huzzah!

Monday, April 16, 2018

'Provocative Pairings' with a Pair of Poets

By Christine Facciolo
Artistic endeavors which cross boundaries can be highly exciting affairs. This is especially true when composers and poets collaborate, because their art forms naturally flow well together and magic happens.

Mélomanie and The Twin Poets created that sort of magic at the ensemble’s final concert of its 25th season Sunday, April 8, 2018 at The Delaware Contemporary. The audience contained lots of new faces as well as regulars, who said this was the best Mélomanie concert they’d ever attended.

Mélomanie and the Twin Poets collaborate on United Sounds of America.
Photo by Tim Bayard.
The Twin Poets are Al Mills and Nnamdi Chukwuocha. Governor Jack Markell bestowed the shared title of Poets Laureate on them in December 2015, praising them for their artistic excellence and extensive experience in outreach to underserved communities as well as their love of poetry and the spoken word would benefit all Delawareans.

The brothers told the audience how they developed a love for writing: when they were growing up, their mother made them work out their disputes by writing to each other.

As adults, their poetry is deeply rooted in their social work. The sons of William “Hicks” Anderson, an activist in the local Civil Rights Movement, an advocate for children and namesake of the community center in West Center City, the twins have carried on their father’s legacy of speaking for the most vulnerable. Selections on this program spoke of street life and the challenges of poverty, absentee parents as well as those who would sooner buy drugs than provide for their children.

Particularly powerful was Mills’ account of a veteran suffering from PTSD while grappling with the guilt of his wartime deeds, actions his commanders termed “patriotic” at the time.

The tone as reflected in the music by Mark Hagerty and Jonathan Whitney addressed the cultural, political and social dissonances in American society. Telemann’s Chaconne in E minor added a wistful afterthought.

There were messages of hope as well. Some poems spoke of the power of education, personal responsibility, self-determination and working toward a dream.

The twins also presented poems that offered lighthearted takes on parenting, kids hating homework and an adolescent’s ill-fated attempts at romance.

The program also featured selections from Aegean Airs composed for Melomanie in 2013 by Robert Maggio, chair of the Department of Music Theory, History and Composition at West Chester University. Like 
Mélomanie’s 'provocative pairings of early and modern music,' Maggio’s work draws on compositions from Ancient Greece as well as the pop-folk music the composer heard while on vacation one summer in Greece.

The program concluded with the world premiere of the twins’ just beautiful United Sounds of America with music by Mark Hagerty adapted from Robert Glasper’s Gone which itself is after Miles Davis.

See www.melomanie.org and arts.delaware.gov/poet-laureate/

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Experience "What's Going On" Through Dance & Music

What's Going On created and performed by Dance Place.
Photo by Jonathan Hsu.
Christina Cultural Arts Center welcomes Dance Place of Washington, DC to celebrate Marvin Gaye's landmark music brought to life through exuberant dance. The one-night-only performance will be held at The Tatnall School's Laird Performing Arts Center in Wilmington, Delaware on Saturday, April 21, at 4:00pm.

Dance Place Artistic Director Vincent E. Thomas looks through the lens of Marvin Gaye's transcendent music and finds a reflection of today’s world. Gaye's insights into life, love and social justice are given fresh perspectives through Modern, Jazz and West African dance choreography by Thomas, Ralph Glenmore and Sylvia Soumah. 

The program is a full-length dance piece set to the groundbreaking music of Marvin Gaye, including classic hits like Heard it Through the Grapevine, Let’s Get It On, Mona Lisa, Inner City Blues, Got to Give It Up and many more. 

What's Going On seeks to evoke thoughtfulness and sparks conversations in each community it touches.

Vincent E. Thomas (Artistic Director) is a dancer, choreographer and teacher. His choreographic work has been presented nationally and internationally. He is Artistic Director of VTDance and Professor of Dance at Towson University. Ralph Glenmore (Choreographer) is a former principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. His illustrious Broadway career includes A Chorus Line, Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ and Bubblin’ Brown Sugar. Sylvia Soumah (Choreographer) is Founder/Artistic Director of Coyaba Dance Theater, performing traditional and contemporary West African dance and music. The What’s Going On company is made up of eight new and established dancers, many familiar to the DC dance scene.

Tickets are $22 or $16 for students, all available now at ccacde.org

This project is made possible, in part, with support from Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation Delaware Special Presenter Initiative Grant.  

See ccacde.org and danceplace.org

Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Dirty Dancing" Down Memory Lane at The Playhouse


By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage opened Tuesday, April 3 at The Playhouse on Rodney Square to a very excited audience! Based on their reaction, I assume most (if not all) had seen the movie and knew the story of Frances "Baby" Houseman’s romance with bad-boy dancer Johnny Castle, during her well-to-do family's vacation at a resort in upstate New York. 

"Baby" & "Johnny" have the time of their lives in
Dirty Dancing  – The Classic Story on Stage.
Photo courtesy of
The Playhouse on Rodney Square.
Assuming they knew the movie, that also meant they knew the soundtrack. I think anyone who was 4 or older in 1987 probably knows at least one or two of the songs by heart! (I recall those songs playing constantly on the radio 'back in the day.') 

Dirty Dancing, the film, was a phenomenon. Let’s face it: Most people going to see the stage version are looking to recapture the memories of a blockbuster movie of the 1980s. From what I overheard of people exiting the theater at the close of the show, it did the job! I heard many recounting the first time they saw the movie, comparing the stage actors to the original characters in the film.

Yes, this Dirty Dancing stays true to the film. You’ll recognize the dance moves, the music (with a few period songs added), the characters and every famous scene from the movie (you can probably guess them all). Minor changes have been made to this production — including a subplot about the Freedom Riders — but for the most part it, the original tale stays intact.

Although some may long for the film actors, I think most will be pleased with many of the actors in this production, especially Aaron Patrick Craven as Johnny Castle and Anais Blake as Penny Johnson. Both are incredibly strong dancers, and it was hard to keep my eyes off them as they recreated those iconic dance moves on The Playhouse stage. 

Christopher Robert Smith as Dr. Jake Houseman (Baby’s father) brought a youthful feel to his character that was refreshing and that made him a little more relatable. Erica Philpot, who sings many of the famous anthems from the film, has a beautiful voice and brought new depth and feeling to the memorable songs.

I admit, like most others in the theater that night, I became a little nostalgic watching the show. It took me back to being 13 years old and seeing the movie for the first time with my family. It was nice to "relive" my youth and the fun of the 80s…even though the show is set in the 60’s!

Come relive the time of your life while Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage is at The Playhouse on Rodney Square through April 8. For tickets, visit www.thegrandwilmington.org or call 302.888.0200.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Wilmington 1968: New Website Empowers Community Reflection

This post content comes from a press release from the Delaware Art Museum...

Twenty area organizations collaborated to launch the Wilmington 1968 website, a tool for community reflection. Via www.wilmington1968.org, Delawareans can access community resources that teach about the local Civil Rights Movement through words and pictures, and address present-day racial and social justice issues. Additionally, the community can share memories of their own to contribute to cross-generational conversations about this historic event. These oral histories will be archived for future generations. The Wilmington 1968 website will also serve as a hub for information about related exhibitions, performances, events, and forums. It will be available to the community through January 2019.

Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Wilmington high school students converged on Rodney Square. Subsequent to these protests, looting and fires prompted a request for the National Guard to restore peace. Although other American cities experienced the same level of uprising after April 4, 1968, Wilmington, Delaware experienced the longest peace-time occupation in modern times. Wilmington remained under martial law for nine and a half months. This extensive patrol of Wilmington by the National Guard drastically changed the city from the inside out. Residents went about their days and nights watched, restricted, angry, and fearful. Numerous businesses along Market Street closed.

If it is true that we are destined to repeat the lessons we haven't learned, today's youth are adamant that we will not get left back. Youth-led movements such as #NeverAgain-nationwide protests stemming from the latest school shootings-are taking center stage in our social consciousness and awaking a new generation of activists. 


In 2017, Simone Austin (2017 Alfred Appel, Jr. Curatorial Fellow with the Delaware Art Museum; current graduate student, University of Delaware, History Department), was instrumental in bringing this shared history to the forefront as the primary contemporary researcher on these events for the Delaware Art Museum's summer exhibition series. 

The community-wide reflection beginning this spring will bring "both answers and questions," says Austin. "People of my generation and those who are not from Wilmington will start to understand what happened, why Wilmington looks the way it does today, and why people have certain perceptions of the City of Wilmington and of Delaware. I also think in terms of questions because the work that I've done is not the end. There are so many stories that just aren't found in traditional sources and I'm hoping that more people will come forward and share their experiences."

The Wilmington 1968 partners see the upcoming events, performances, and forums as ways to constructively process the physical and emotional toll on our city stemming the uprising and its aftermath. Our community needs to know that we, representatives of the arts & culture community, are not oblivious and unaffected by this quest for healing, and support all Wilmingtonians as they contribute to these necessary cross-generational conversations about race and reconciliation.
Drawing inspiration from the protest art of the 1960s, Squatch Creative — the design firm that created the Wilmington 1968 website — blends technology and art to empower activism. Marcus Price, the site designer, shared, "While creating the aesthetic for the Wilmington 1968 remembrance, I wanted to do justice to the people who lived through this experience. It's different than creating a website for a product or a brand. It was an entire movement and people. I wanted to be sure that I honored that and the spirit involved." 

Partner Organizations in Wilmington 1968 project:

Monday, April 2, 2018

Creating 'Provocative Pairings' with a Pair of Poets

This post is from an excerpt of Out & About magazine's April 2018 issue...

Musical quintet Mélomanie prides itself on creating what they coin “provocative pairings” in their music and partnerships. This month is no different (yet very different), as they celebrate a first-time collaboration with phenomenal spoken-word duo Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills, known as the Twin Poets and Delaware’s current Poets Laureate.

Mélomanie. Photo by Tim Bayard.
In a program entitled United Sounds of America, two performances — Saturday, April 7, at 4:00pm and Sunday, April 8, at 2:00pm — will be presented at The Delaware Contemporary, completing this mash-up of artistic genres. Guest artist Jonathan Whitney will join them on percussion.

The Twin Poets are thrilled at the prospect of this new artistic endeavor. “We’re honored to share the stage with Mélomanie,” Chukwuocha and Mills say. “Through music and spoken-word, we’ll depict the challenges, hopes and aspirations of our great nation. Throughout America’s proud history, the most significant moments have always been when we stood united, demonstrating our true strength. In response to the chaotic divisiveness spreading throughout our country and world, this performance will ‘build a wall’ of love and empowerment, highlighting the transformative power of the arts.”

“I deeply admire the work of the Twin Poets,” says Mélomanie Artistic Director Tracy Richardson. “Their words and performances articulate the human situations of our time and the human condition of any time, contemporary or ancient.”

The Twin Poets. Photo by Joe del Tufo.
Mélomanie asked the Twin Poets for the opportunity to combine their respective art forms and offer a new experience to audiences. “We’re continuing in the earliest traditions of the union of poetry and music,” says Richardson.

Richardson says audiences can expect new poetry and favorite past works from the Twin Poets as well as new and favorite music from Mélomanie. For the performance, the Twin Poets have created a poem reflective of the event title, United Sounds of America.

The ensemble and duo will perform together and separately during the program, with composer Mark Hagerty creating and arranging music to accompany the Twin Poets. Mélomanie will perform contemporary regional composer Robert Maggio’s Aegean Airs and German Baroque master Georg Philipp Telemanns’ Chaconne

Tickets are $25, $15 for Delaware Contemporary members and students 16 and older. Those up to age 15 are admitted free. Advance purchase is recommended at melomanie.org.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Ayreheart Makes the Lute ‘Cool’ Again in Wilmo

Ayreheart is Ronn McFarlane, lute; Willard Morris, fretless bass, violin & colascione; 

Mattias Rucht, percussion. Photo courtesy of Ayreheart.
This post is from an excerpt of Out & About magazine's April 2018 issue...

Market StreetMusic keeps its vibrant music roster going into spring with the return of Renaissance-and-modern music trio Ayreheart. The ensemble — Ronn McFarlane, lute; Willard Morris, fretless bass, violin and colascione (a kind of bass lute); and Mattias Rucht, percussion — brings the lute and related period instruments into the 21 Century with all the energy of a traditional rock band. The Friday, April 20, 7:30pm concert is the second appearance for the group in Market Street Music’s lineup.

“Ayreheart returns to Market Street Music because they are simply remarkable!” says Market Street Music Director David Schelat. “These musicians, who all have backgrounds in rock and jazz, create a level of energy that jumps off the stage and into the audience. It really is a bit like a rock concert, except the music is from the 14th to 17th Centuries.”

So, let’s back up. What’s a lute, exactly? It’s a stringed instrument (similar to a guitar, although it is plucked rather than strummed) with a long neck of frets, a round body and flat front. Descended from the Arabic oud, the lute was the most popular instrument in the Western world during the Renaissance.

The Ayreheart ensemble was founded in 2010 by Grammy-nominated lutenist McFarlane, who had long been writing and performing music for solo lute and found many of his ideas were more expansive than for just a solo instrument.

“It was a natural evolution to expand into an ensemble that could play all the parts,” says McFarlane. “There’s also an exchange of ideas and energy with an ensemble that becomes more that the sum of its parts.” 

In addition to original music, Ayreheart performs Renaissance music, “…from the time when the lute was considered the ‘Prince of Instruments,’” as McFarlane notes. “There’s a tremendous amount of music that exists from that period…that appeals to us very much.”
The last time Ayreheart played at Market Street Music, they presented an all-Renaissance music show. This time around, McFarlane says they’ll offer up a generous helping of Celtic music as well as his original music in the mix.

“I want audiences to come away happy and uplifted by our music, but also to hear the lute as an expressive instrument for modern as well as Renaissance music,” says McFarlane. “It’s exciting to break new musical ground for the lute, combining Renaissance and modern instruments, and creating a new body of music that blends elements of folk, Celtic, bluegrass and classical,” he says.

Tickets are $20 ($10 students) online at marketstreetmusicde.org and $25 at the door the evening of the show. 

See www.marketstreetmusicde.org