Friday, July 19, 2019

Candlelight's Classic "South Pacific" Carries Modern Message

By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Candlelight Theatre continues its 50th season with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical, South Pacific. Although written in the 1940s, some of the show’s themes still resonate with our society’s current social climate.

South Pacific runs through August 25 at Candlelight Theatre.
Photo by 
Tisa Della-Volpe.
Director and Choreographer, Renee Dobson does a superb job bringing this romantic show back to the stage. Two relationships are blossoming on a south pacific island during World War II. Nellie Forbush, a na├»ve U.S. Navy nurse from Arkansas, is falling for Emile de Becque, a debonair French plantation owner who escaped France many years ago to live on the exotic Bali Ha’I island, while Joseph Cable, a lieutenant sent to the South Pacific to perform a dangerous war mission, is falling for Liat, the daughter of a civilian Tonkinese vendor and friend of the American Seabees, “Bloody Mary." Wanting a better life for her daughter, Bloody Mary is hopeful Cable will marry Liat.

However, life is not just a bowl of jello for the for the four characters. Both, Nellie and Cable are open-minded, but still have to contend with prejudice ideology instilled in them by their families. Nellie is grappling with accepting Emile’s children from his previous marriage to a Polynesian woman, and Cable is torn about loving Liat because of her ethnicity. Both understand their thoughts are based on what they were carefully taught, not the thoughts that either particularly believe are right or true.

The heaviness of the love stories and the war occurring around them are lightened with comical moments mostly provided by Bloody Mary and the American Seabees working on the island, especially during the service men’s stirring numbers, Bloody Mary and There is Nothin’ Like a Dame. Two songs that get the toes a’ tappin!

Ms. Dobson maintains a great pace for the show. Classic musicals tend to be long and can drag if not under the strong supervision of a talented director like Ms. Dobson. The continuous movement of the show is in part due to Scenic Designer, Jeff Reim, who created stunning sets that move seamlessly on and off stage. Timothy Lamont Cannon’s costumes perfectly capture the era of the greatest generation and allow the actors to move and dance freely.

Colleen Clancy as Nellie and Peter Campbell as Emile are superb. They both greatly convey the emotional turmoil their characters are experiencing. And, both are exceptional singers. Mr. Campbell’s baritone voice is transcendent and melts the room, especially during Some Enchanted Evening, while Ms. Clancy, brings smiles on faces during her exuberant number, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair. 

The leads are supported by many fine performers, including Andy Spinosi as the heroic Cable. He finds the right tone and expression needed to convey the significant lyrics in You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught...truly showcasing his masterful vocal techniques. Angelica Feliciano radiates as Bloody Mary. Her stunning rendition of Bali Ha’i captivates and transports the audience to the enchanted island. She along with the wonderful Jared Calhoun as the loveable but always scheming Seabee, Luther Billis, provide comedic relief for this show about war and suppressed love. I would be remiss not to mention the exuberant Seabees and nurses, who are fabulous during their exciting dance numbers!

Don’t miss this classic that still has lessons for our society to learn about love and acceptance. 

For tickets, visit www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org or call 302.475.2313.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Merry Romp at Rockwood with DelShakes

By Carol Van Zoeren
Carol is a 40+ year veteran of community theater and retired from DuPont.

I delight every year in DelShakes’ summer festival in Rockwood Park. As far as I’m concerned, it ain’t summer if I haven’t seen Shakespeare at Rockwood! 

It’s been a joy to watch DelShakes evolve over these 17 years (yes, I’ve seen every show). From their start at Archmere Academy, to staging at Rockwood in front of the mansion, to creatively locating the stage at the perfect spot on Rockwood grounds. As a friend noted, “It just gets better every year!” 

Bradley Mott (Falstaff) and Amy Frear (Mistress Ford) in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Photo by Alessandra Nicole.
Throughout their history, DelShakes’ mission has been to make Shakespeare accessible to all. And they continue to innovate toward that mission, most notably with the addition of the Community Tour in the fall.

DelShakes is ideal for those with little exposure to, and maybe a little nervousness about, Shakespeare. The program always includes a detailed plot synopsis. And during the delightful pre-show picnicking, the audience can enjoy and learn from the student apprentices’ “regular” language preview of the plot. This year, the preshow highlight is a funny homage to the musical Chicago.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a particularly accessible play. Shakespeare set the play in his contemporary England, and focuses on the domestic dramas of the middle class. In her notes, Director Krista Apple describes Merry Wives as “An Elizabethan sitcom.” Apple sets her production in the suburbs of the 1950s, but this sitcom is no Father Knows Best. It’s more reminiscent of 1990s sit-coms like Home Improvement and Everybody Loves Raymond. As in many of Shakespeare’s comedies, the men are...shall we say, misguided... and the women are the real brains of the operation.

In his set design, Lance Kniskern picks up the suburban theme with the structural outlines of two houses. The partial staircase elements tipped me off that these are the quintessential home of the suburbs 
 the split-level. These structures easily represented a number of locations around the neighborhood. My only quibble is that I was a bit confused with the stage left house  the actors sometimes went through the doorway and other times narrowly skirted downstage of the doorframe, making it difficult to know if the scene was indoors or outdoors.

Merry Wives is often considered a showcase for the character of Falstaff, ably played by Bradley Mott. But what struck me in this production is what a wonderful ensemble piece it is. Through voice and physicality, each actor clearly embodies exactly who their character is, as well as the relationships between them. Brett Ashley Robinson and Amy Frear convey the genuine affection between Mistresses Page and Ford. Gregory Isaac revels in the whiplash jealousy of Master Ford. David Pica squeezes every bit of absurdity from Dr. Caius. 

I was pleased that the college apprentices are prominently featured, moreso than I recall from past shows. Each actor embraces their moment to shine, and together, the ensemble delivers non-stop hilarity.

I encourage everyone, especially Shakespeare newbies, to bring a friend, bring a picnic, and enjoy DelShakes The Merry Wives of Windsor. Maybe Shakespeare at Rockwood Park will become as much a cherished summer tradition for you as it is for me.