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 fiancĂ© 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.”