Showing posts with label Joe Trainor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joe Trainor. Show all posts

Saturday, March 19, 2022

City Theater Company Celebrates a World Premiere and Honors a Legendary Bluesman

By Mike Logothetis
Theater reviewer 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.

City Theater Company (CTC) returns to the Wings Black Box during its residency at The Delaware Contemporary (TDC) with the World Premiere of Blues In My Soul: The Legend and Legacy of Lonnie Johnson, a new play by David Robson.

Playwright Robson admits that “...Blues In My Soul has been a labor of love for me – a chance to grapple with past wrongs and find a place of connection and community through music.”

Joe Beckett as Lonnie and Righteous Jolly as Chris in Blues In My Soul. 
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
Based on a true story, Blues In My Soul reimagines a fateful meeting between guitar legend Lonnie Johnson and music historian Chris Albertson. In 1959, Johnson was working a low-wage job at a Philadelphia hotel, his past long forgotten. When Johnson is identified and engaged by Albertson, the two men start to discuss issues of authenticity, injustice, and legacy as they work their way through a catalog of great blues tunes – performed here with the blessing of the Johnson estate. It’s obvious that Johnson – a musician who influenced the likes of Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, T-Bone Walker, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, B.B. King, and Eric Clapton – is wary of a potential return to the industry that exploited and segregated his work before casting him aside.

Blues In My Soul features CTC alumni Righteous Jolly (Chris) and Christopher Banker (Irving), while musician Joe Beckett (Lonnie) makes his CTC debut…and what a debut! Although not much is known about Lonnie Johnson’s personality and demeanor, Beckett gives a realistic portrayal of a man who’s weary of where his former talents led him in life.

After a chance meeting, Beckett was informed by Jolly that he was the perfect person to portray Johnson in this production. Beckett agreed to audition and ended up landing the gig.

“That’s when my nerves went through the roof because I’d never acted before. They sent the script and it’s a two-man play, so it’s just me and Righteous through the whole play,” said Beckett. “Again, I have no experience whatsoever.”

Some of those nerves matter on stage and some don’t. Beckett’s and Jolly’s characters verbally spar, but they end up making beautiful music together. And that’s what this show is about: Music. Specifically, The Blues. Playwright Robson thankfully included over a dozen abridged songs by Johnson so the audience can appreciate the talents of the legendary bluesman.

But to really experience The Blues, the performer has to dig down and bring the music up with him through his instrument and voice. In that realm, Beckett delivers wholeheartedly. With songs like “See See Rider” and the titular “Blues In My Soul,” we see both Johnson’s and Beckett’s significant talents.

Jolly is no slouch either as the idolizing Chris, a dedicated DJ driving to put The Blues he loves on the Philadelphia airwaves. Chris is a devotee of Lonnie and is overjoyed to play music for and with his hero as he argues his case to share Johnson’s musical legacy with the world. Jolly shows his chops playing “Tomorrow Night” and Beautiful But Dumb” for Beckett’s Johnson. “Two-Tone Stomp” and “Blues For Chris” are standout Beckett/Jolly duets which capture the true joy of complementary performance.

But while the music soars, the dialog lost me at points. Perhaps it was opening night jitters or the difficulty in compressing a man’s life and career into verbal vignettes between songs, but a little tightening up would improve the flow of the show.

By no means should that minor script detail stop you from making time to see this production. Director Joe Trainor puts his two principal actors front and center, but makes sure the music is the real the star. While Lonnie laments that the music industry is a contest he “can’t seem to win,” this play is definitely a winner.

As Beckett said in an interview with the Lower Bucks Times: “I hope what people get out of this show is that music is just music. Music brings people together.” Amen.

Playwright David Robson.
Photo by Sonja Robson.
Artistic Director Kerry Kristine McElrone says, “Blues In My Soul came along at exactly the right time for CTC. We have been lucky to work with David throughout our history. …The incredible true story of this encounter between Lonnie and Chris was instrumental in creating a ‘second act’ for one of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century. This is a tale about the need for connection and the impact that art – in this case, music – can have on individuals who on the surface seem to have nothing in common, yet find community in each other through a beloved art form. ...And the process of making this play ready for an appreciative audience was very in line with our commitment to new work and involving the creator in that process.”

Robson echoes that sentiment: “As an artistic partner, CTC can’t be beat. As a long-time supporter of my work, their creative team has been instrumental in helping me nudge the play forward by asking the right questions and encouraging my efforts to hone the piece. Their belief in this story honors my work and the life of the great Lonnie Johnson.”

Blues In My Soul runs for only four performances through next Saturday (March 18, 19, 25, and 26). Curtain is at 8:00pm, and the show lasts just under 90 minutes. City Theater Company’s new home at The Delaware Contemporary is located at 200 South Madison, Wilmington, DE 19801. 

Tickets ($30-40) can be purchased at the box office or online. Special ticket pricing is available for military personnel and students. Visit city-theater.org for more details and COVID-19 protocols/policies.

Come share in the magic of rediscovered music. As Lonnie Johnson would say about The Blues: “You can have ‘em, but you can’t own ‘em.”

Saturday, December 11, 2021

City Theater Company Jumps Into New Season and a New Home — All at "ONCE"!

By 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.

City Theater Company launches season with ONCE. Photo by Joe del Tufo. 
To open its 2021-2022 season, City Theater Company (CTC) begins a new residency at The Delaware Contemporary (TDC) on the Wilmington Riverfront. CTC Artistic Director Kerry Kristine McElrone is “excited to bring the communal, immediate, accessible experience of art in live action to The Delaware Contemporary’s patrons, and to introduce City Theater Company’s audiences to all that they have to offer.”

McElrone added: “Our approach to theater and improv considers the art form of live performance to be a creative collaboration between players, directors, designers, writers, and the audience.”

It should be noted that CTC has been entertaining audiences virtually during the pandemic with online content but is eager to get back to live performances (and audiences) starting with the musical Once. The 2012 Tony Award
winner for Best Musical is based on the Irish musical film and features actors playing their own instruments onstage. The musical features 12 performers/musicians and a child actor.

The space inside TDC is intimate and three rows on each side flank a central performance area with a larger stage at one end and a small musicians’ area at the other. In this way, the audience is sometimes being directed to follow back-and-forth dialog like an attendee at a tennis match. (It’s not that extreme, but noticeable during certain dialogs.) But the space also allows musicians to sit in all corners of the room,
 providing a true unamplified “surround sound.” A large bank of TV screens looms over the stage end and provides clever multimedia effects for the show.

However, the acoustics are tricky and only the full ensemble numbers properly fill the room. While pleasant, the solos and intimate duets could stand to be a bit louder to properly resonate with the audience. Some of the dialog got swallowed up by the room on Opening Night, but the performers portrayed the emotions and plot devices well enough to move the narrative forward.

If you’re not familiar with the story, an Irish busker/”Hoover repairman” meets a plucky Czech woman in Dublin and their passion for music 
 and each other  takes them to wonderfully sonic places. You don’t need to understand much of the accented dialog to enjoy the incredible music Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová composed for the original 2007 film written by John Carney — no, not our current Delaware Governor. ;)

And it’s the music that shines in this production. Righteous Jolly is listed as “Guy” in the program but is “The Man” whenever he’s featured. Jolly has the musical chops to deliver glorious melodies and guitar accompaniments plus the charisma to have the audience root for him. His wounded and vulnerable Guy has an inner drive to better himself by spending as much time as possible with new acquaintance “Girl.” Girl is portrayed in a lovingly restrained way by Julia Natoli, whose talented vocals and piano-playing act as the perfect complement to Jolly’s Guy. He’s sociable but shy, while she’s quiet but direct. Together, they are a power couple of sorts in their world. The two enjoy a whirlwind relationship that never quite gets to where both think it could. They drag their family and friends along for the ride while the audience gets to gleefully watch it all unfold.

Guy and Girl soar to new heights in duets like “When Your Mind’s Made Up” and “If You Want Me” which included an inventive dream-quality choreography. But the show highlight is the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly.” Simply put, this is one of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces of music to come out of Hollywood or Broadway (or Ireland/Czech Republic) in the past 25-40 years. Jolly and Natoli nail it. (Song co-writer Irglová once said: “This song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are.”)

But this is not a morbid or depressing show. At its heart, Once shows the joy of making music together here and now, regardless of its potentially fleeting nature. The cast includes fantastic local musicians who turn out to be pretty solid actors. Aidan McDonald (“Billy”) and Emma Romeo Moyer (“Bank Manager”) were lively whenever in the spotlight. Moyer’s off-key “Abandoned in Bandon” was a hoot! The ensemble numbers “Gold” and “Ej Pada Pada” were delightful. And not all of the Guy/Girl songs are about unrequited love as “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” happily refutes.

Director/Music Director Joe Trainor put together wonderful musical arrangements for his cast. Some of the stage blocking was clunky, but as the company better grows into its new space I think cooperated movement will improve. Credit should be given to McElrone for taking on such an ambitious project to restart CTC live productions in a new performance space after the pandemic. While there are some minor issues to iron out, Once is a worthwhile return of CTC to a Wilmington community looking for earnest live theater.

Once will run for seven performances through next Saturday (December 10-18). Curtain is at 8:00pm, save for the lone Sunday matinee (2:00pm, December 12). The show lasts just under 2.5 hours, which includes one 15-minute intermission. City Theater Company’s new home is at The Delaware Contemporary located at 200 South Madison, Wilmington, DE 19801. Tickets ($30-40) can be purchased at the CTC box office or online. Special ticket pricing is available for military personnel, and students. Please call the box office at 302.220.8285 or visit city-theater.org for details.

City Theater plans, on average, two big shows each season 
 which runs from December to late spring. These shows typically run two or three weekends. Up next spring is Blues in My Soul by Delaware playwright David Robson.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

City Theater Company Takes You in Search of "The Real" with "Passing Strange"

Passing Strange at City Theater Company runs through December 21.
Photos by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
By Holly Quinn
Holly is a longtime reviewer of Delaware theater; in addition to Delaware Arts Info, she has contributed to The News Journal and Stage Magazine. She is the lead reporter for Technical.ly Delaware.

Passing Strange, the layered rock musical by Stew, is a Christmas show. At least tangentially. I'd never looked at it that way, but as it's City Theater Company's December production, I wondered if they were simply being alternative in a season when a lot of arts lovers need a break from the Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers.

After seeing it, it occurred to me how well it fits during this turbulent holiday season. It tackles race and revolution, but it all comes down to love.

Even viewed as a (tangentially) Christmas show, Passing Strange is about as far from traditional as possible. It's the story of a young African American man trying to figure himself out in the suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1970s, and, later, in Europe in the 1980s. It has an all-Black cast that includes a small ensemble that plays multiple characters with wildly different personalities, from members of the protagonist’s childhood Baptist church to members of his teenage punk rock band to his "found families" in Amsterdam and West Berlin.

Youth often found himself 
 quite by his own choices  part of white spaces, but the ensemble doesn't shift to white actors for those roles, a detail of the show established before the show hit off-Broadway. As such, it’s a story about Black experience that never centers on whiteness, even when Youth exists as the only Black person in a space.

Dominic Santos, a respected veteran of Delaware theater at this point, plays Youth from the age of 14 to his early 20s, and does a terrific job of developing the character on stage as he tries to find his identity. Youth feels out of place in Black spaces 
— a crush tells him he needs to be “more Black” (but not so much that he can’t follow a path to suburban comfort), while his choir leader shows him the misery of not being your real self.

Eventually Youth does act “more Black” 
 for Berlin radicals who fetishize oppression and lavish him with the attention he craves.

Meredith Bell, former lead singer for Palaceburn, hits the right emotional notes as the vivacious and long-suffering Mother; Chris Banker, last seen at CTC in Pub Plays, is almost simply part of the soundtrack for much of the show. As the tension in the story builds, so does the Narrator’s place in it.

This show requires an extremely tight ensemble, and this production has it in Jared Chichester, Dana Hoffman, Kyleen Shaw and Philip Anthony Wilson. A mix of newcomers to the Wilmington stage and familiar faces (Shaw was last seen at CTC in Lizzie), the casting couldn’t be more on point. Each plays three to four distinct roles, and each shine in all of them. Part of the fun 
 and this show is definitely fun, even while dealing with some heavy emotional subject matter  is waiting to see how the ensemble actors will change from arc to arc as Youth goes on his journey.

So, how is this story about a young, sometimes misguided man navigating a world he struggles to fit into a Christmas show? I won’t give too much away, but a pivotal moment in the story that centering on family and the holidays is the catalyst to the emotional climax about love, loss and forgiveness. But don’t let that deter you if you’re avoiding traditional holiday shows. This is one not to miss.

Monday, December 10, 2018

There They Go Again...CTC Opens with Blockbuster for 25th

By Mike Logothetis

To open its 25th season, City Theater Company (CTC) presents an energetic production of Mamma Mia! in its new space 
— Studio One of The Grand Opera House. The beloved 1999 musical is a celebration of love, friendship and female empowerment with a nostalgic soundtrack featuring some of pop music’s favorite songs from the 1970s.

Mamma Mia! is based on the songs of the Swedish supergroup ABBA (1972-1982), one of the most popular international groups of all time. Going in, the music may seem dated, but Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus crafted songs that have aged very well. The excellent “Taverna Ensemble” led by Joe Trainor had my foot tapping all night.

On a small Greek island, 20-year-old Sophie (Darby McLaughlin) dreams of a perfect wedding — one which includes her father giving her away. The problem is that Sophie doesn’t know who her father is. Her hotel-owning mother Donna (Kerry Kristine McElrone), the former lead singer of the fictional ‘70s pop group Donna and the Dynamos, refuses to talk about the past, so Sophie decides to take matters into her own hands. Sneaking a peek in her mother’s old diary, she discovers three possible fathers: Bill (Dale Martin), Harry (Nick Hunchack), and Sam (Righteous Jolly). She secretly invites all three to her wedding, convinced that she’ll know her father when she sees him. But when all three turn up, it may not be as clear as she thought.

Sophie’s bridesmaids Ali (Emma Orr) and Lisa (Pam Atkinson) arrive on the island to help their friend celebrate her upcoming marriage to Sky (Trevor Fayle). The girls plan a bachelorette party while hotel employees Eddie (Jeff Hunsicker) and Pepper (Dominic Santos) are raring to join Sky on his last night as a bachelor.

Meanwhile, Donna’s former bandmates Tanya (Kat Pigliacampi) and Rosie (Dionne Williford) arrive and seem more content to rehash their days as the Dynamos. The women question why “Donna the dark horse” would allow her daughter to marry at such a young age.

Once all the principal players are on the island, full-stage musical numbers like Dancing Queen and the title track Mamma Mia almost encourage the audience to sing along. Donna and the Dynamos signature number Super Trouper was also a highlight of Act I.

The three paternity candidates each get their time with both their old flame and potential daughter. All come away thinking they will be walking Sophie down the aisle on her wedding day. Donna and Sam’s duet SOS hit all the right notes and epitomized the caring each once felt for the other.

But the main action circles around the two female leads McLaughlin (Sophie) and McElrone (Donna). Both are outstanding, but the script allows McElrone more range to emote, which she does masterfully. When Donna helps Sophie get dressed in her wedding gown, there is genuine tenderness and disbelief that her daughter is going to be a bride (Slipping Through My Fingers). Donna admits to Sophie that her own mother disowned her when she learned that she was pregnant. After absorbing this heretofore unknown family secret, Sophie asks her mother to walk her down the aisle, bypassing her fantasy of a stranger/father escorting her.

It’s a touching scene for the actresses and the audience. But the script immediately pushes Sam into the room and a bitter confrontation ensues. Donna tells Sam that he broke her heart, presumably when she found out he was engaged (The Winner Takes It All). It emerges that the two still love each other dearly, albeit against Donna's better judgment. McElrone handles the emotional rollercoaster with subtle but strong stage movements and powerful vocals.

The secondary characters have side adventures and a couple of songs, but Williford’s (Rosie) rendition of Take a Chance on Me in her bid to lure Bill into a romantic interlude was another show highlight.

The show finishes at the wedding ceremony officiated by Fr. Alexandrios (Rob Hull). Everybody is there, but many lingering questions remain unanswered. I won’t reveal the ending, but it’s a satisfying conclusion to a well-told story.

As a new Resident Company at The Grand, CTC has a lot more production space than in its old digs. This allows for the Mamma Mia! set to be expansive and lets the players move freely throughout the room. The setting is a Greek hotel and taverna, which was designed by Vicki Neale and Richard A. Kendrick. The sloped stage juts into the audience, which is seated at tables curving around the front and sides of the stage. A prop bar at one side and small tables at the other allow actors to surreptitiously slide into the action to provide backing vocals or movements to augment the main stage activities.

Director Mary Catherine Kelley has instructed her actors to use every inch of the room and play to all corners of the audience. The pacing is tight and the overall theme includes hints of the Disco Era, but has mostly contemporary elements. The dreamy direction during Under Attack was creative and temporarily switched the bride and groom roles. The jaunty choreography by Jackie Kappus and Dominic Santos blends well with Kelley’s vision and Trainor’s dynamic musical arrangements.

Alas, the new space did have its technical issues on the night I saw the show. Wireless mics unfortunately dropped the audio signal for Trevor Fayle (Sky) during his entire vocal performance of Lay All Your Love on Me. Dale Martin (Bill) and Righteous Jolly (Sam) lost their vocal parts in duets Take a Chance on Me and I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, respectfully.

But this is not a Greek tragedy. This is a show that celebrates life. As City Theater Company's Board of Directors collectively state in the program: “CTC’s productions are as much party as performance.” I suggest you join the party on Market Street…Opa!

City Theater Company offers a wide selection of soft and alcoholic drinks to enjoy during the show. With the setting of Mamma Mia! being Greece, why not serve some Greek wines and ouzo?

Mamma Mia! will conclude its two-week run on Saturday, although as of this posting, only tickets for Wednesday and Thursday remain. All performances begin at 8 o’clock. 
The show runs about 2.5 hours, which includes one 15-minute intermission (and one post-curtain disco sing-along). 
The CTC cast of Mamma Mia! Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography

City Theater Company’s new home is in Studio One at The Grand Opera House located at 818 North Market Street in Wilmington. General admission is $35 and tickets can be purchased at the box office or online. 

 Special ticket pricing is available for military personnel, students and youth (ages 15 & under). Please call the Grand Box Office at 302.652.5577 or visit www.thegrandwilmington.org for details.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Two Organizations to Call The Grand Home This Season

This post content courtesy of a press release from The Grand Opera House...

 In front of The Grand. Pictured clockwise, top left:
Melissa Bernard, actor & Fearless Improv member;
Grace Tarves, actor; Jana Savini, Fearless Improv Director;
Kerry Kristine McElrone, CTC Interim Artistic Director;
Joe Trainor, CTC Music Director. Photo by Joe del Tufo.
Mark Fields, Executive Director of The Grand, is pleased to announce the addition of two new resident companies to The Grand’s roster of artistic partners in the building. Effective immediately, City Theater Company (CTC) and The Rock Orchestra (TRO) will perform their mainstage seasons at The Grand at 818 North Market Street.

“The non-profit Grand Opera House is a shared asset that we manage on behalf of the residents and citizens that we serve,” says Fields. “Having The Grand now be the artistic home for these organizations gives us the opportunity to more fully connect to the community and share the joy of the performing arts with more members of that community.”

"The Grand Opera House has been the heart of the performing arts scene in Wilmington for as long as I can remember," says The Rock Orchestra co-founder, Matt Urban, "Having TRO present our shows in partnership with this treasured community organization is an incredible opportunity." Co-founder Joe Trainor concurs, "Not only is it an honor to perform in these spaces, but it allows us the flexibility to develop our productions into 'must-see' events and make them available to a wider audience."

"As we head into our 25th year of programming, and my first as Interim Artistic Director, I am excited for the possibilities ahead for City Theater Company as we move to a resident space within The Grand,” says Kerry Kristine McElrone, CTC’s Interim Artistic Director. “The Grand is a community built on relationships, and I'm thrilled to be renewing ours so that our patrons can continue to remain an integral part of the art we do. Our brand of up-close-and-personal theater will be well-served in Studio One, where we can create worlds that immerse our audiences in the emotion and the action right alongside our actors.”

Resident companies are local or regional performing arts groups that make The Grand their primary artistic home, sharing their art on The Grand’s stages and collaborating on marketing initiatives and other projects. City Theater Company and The Rock Orchestra join the Delaware Symphony Orchestra, First State Ballet Theatre, and Opera Delaware are all resident companies of The Grand.

“The Grand is all about partnerships,” says Fields. “We partner intensely throughout each season with numerous arts organizations, individual artists, and other types of business to advance our own mission and benefit the entire community. Our resident companies are even more in-depth partners since we share these stages and this wonderful building.”

Patrons can purchase tickets to upcoming performances of The Rock Orchestra, City Theater Company, First State Ballet Theatre and The Grand’s own music, variety, comedy and Broadway seasons:

Online at TheGrandWilmington.org 
• 302.652.5577 • 818 North Market Street, Wilmington.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

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

By Mike Logothetis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 3, 2016

"The Best of Times" Celebrated at City Theater Company

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.

La Cage aux Follles is a 1983 musical based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret. While we are firmly living in 2016, the book (Harvey Fierstein) coupled with the  lyrics and music (Jerry Herman) and the spirited direction (City Theater Company's Producing Artistic Director Michael Gray) keep this production on the edge of contemporary. Yes, it is a “period piece” of sorts, but in this case, the “period” just sets the era and location – not the themes, pace, dialog, emotion or zaniness of it all.

La Cage Aux Folles cast. Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
The show focuses on a gay couple: Georges, the manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin, his romantic partner and star attraction. The story begins in the titular nightclub with the audience as patrons. Georges (Paul McElwee) is emcee and host, creating a rapport with those of us still finding our seats and settling in for an evening of entertainment.

The chorus line known as Les Cagelles appear and introduce themselves to the audience through the first number, We Are What We Are. This rousing song and dance number features electric movement and snappy costume changes that will have you clapping along.  William Bryant, Zach DeBevac, Andrew Dean Laino, and Christian Ryan all play drag queens with gusto, charm, smiles and, dare I say, athleticism.

We retreat to an upstairs apartment to meet Albin (Patrick O’Hara), who is the star performer at La Cage aux Folles under the stage name, “Zaza.” We glimpse the central relationship between Georges and Albin through a sweet back-and-forth dialog and the introspective song, [A Little More] Mascara.

Joy, despair and confusion ensue when Georges’ son Jean-Michel (Zachary J. Chiero) delivers the news that he is engaged (to a woman!). Georges is reluctant to approve of Jean-Michel’s engagement, but Jean-Michel assures his father that he is in love with Anne Dindon (Grace Tarves) through the tender With Anne on My Arm. Unfortunately, her father is head of the “Tradition, Family and Morality Party,” whose stated goal is to close drag clubs and the like.

Anne’s parents wish to meet their future in-laws, but Jean-Michel has lied to his fiancée, describing Georges as a (straight) retired diplomat and not mentioning Albin at all. Jean-Michel convinces his father to partner in the lie and wants to include his birth mother at the gathering. Attempts to break the news to Albin covers two quieter songs (With You on My Arm and Song on the Sand), but before Georges can deliver Jean-Michel’s wishes, Albin runs off to the stage.

Zaza electrifies the stage and the audience performing La Cage aux Folles\, while Georges and Jean-Michel quickly redecorate the house in a more modest style. While Albin is changing for his next number, he notices the two and demands to know what is going on. Georges tells Albin of Jean-Michel’s plan and, in an odd twist, Albin re-joins Les Cagelles onstage, then sending them off as he sings the defiant solo I Am What I Am to end Act I.

Even though the show is a modern farce, Les Cagelles act as comic relief along with butler/maid Jacob (Adam Pierce Montgomery) and stage manager Francis (Dylan Geringer). How does comic relief work in a comedy? You have to see the show to fully understand that absurdity must be meted in portions, lest it become overbearing.  Suffice to say, super-over-the-top Jacob is a scene-stealer as both a servant and a club dancer.

The cabaret songs are all energetic numbers which exist to entertain while the emotional music is downplayed to add gravitas and investigation into the characters’ minds. The Joe Trainer-led “Birdcage Band” is excellent in both setting the mood and reacting to the emotion brought forth by the actors on stage. The musicians are part of the set when the audience is at La Cage aux Folles, but are cleverly hidden when the scene demands deeper character interaction.  Vicki Neal and Richard A. Kendrick have created a simple, yet elegant set that allows for up-close dynamic action as well as space between characters to represent both emotional and physical distance.  The stage lighting can convey a pulsing nightclub or a quiet room and works well in the space of The Black Box.

Act II finds Georges apologizing to Albin (Song on the Sand [Reprise]) and then suggesting that Albin should dress up as “Uncle Al” to be a part of the family dinner. Albin reluctantly agrees to act like a heterosexual for Jean-Michel, leading to some of the funniest physical and lyrical humor in the show. With the help of Monsieur and Madame Renaud (Greg Tigani and Mary Catherine Kelley), Georges successfully(?) teaches Albin to abandon his flamboyancy (Masculinity).  Jean-Michel doesn’t like the idea, but Georges angrily reminds him what a good “mother” Albin has been to him (Look Over There).

Just as Anne’s parents (Tigani and Kelley in different roles) arrive, the hosts receive a telegram that Jean-Michel’s mother won’t be joining them (Dishes [Cocktail Counterpoint]). Hoping to save the day, Albin appears as Jean-Michel’s mother. Nervous and unreliable Jacob has burned the dinner, so a trip to an elite local restaurant, owned by close friend Jacqueline (Kerry Kristine McElrone), is arranged without explaining the situation to her.  Jacqueline theatrically asks Albin (as Zaza) for a song, to which he hesitantly agrees (The Best of Times).  Everyone in the restaurant begins to take part in the song, causing Albin to yield to the frenzy of performance and tear off his wig at the song’s climax, revealing his true identity.

Arguments, comedy, and confusion are unleashed, while Jean-Michel begins to feel ashamed of the way he has treated Albin and asks his forgiveness (Look Over There [Reprise]), which is lovingly granted. However, the Dindons vow to cancel the wedding and prepare to depart, but their way is blocked by Jacqueline, who has arrived with the press – ready to photograph the notorious anti-homosexual activists with Zaza. Through a clever plan and impeccable timing and luck, the Dindons escape with their reputation intact and their daughter’s marriage to Jean-Michel validated. With everyone gone, Albin and Georges briefly sing of their love for each other before sharing a kiss (Finale [With You On My Arm/La Cage aux Folles/Song on the Sand/The Best Of Times]).

The show is a delight in script, music, pacing and topical humor. The physical comedy and clever wordplay will have audiences laughing heartily. Technically, this is a musical that needs to be tight – and it is. The effort put into set design, cast, direction, music, lighting and production camaraderie are evident in the final product. With over a 2-hour running time, I just wish I had brought a cushion for my seat.

The production of La Cage aux Folles runs through December 17 in The Black Box on the Wilmington waterfront (4 South Poplar Street, Wilmington, DE 19801). Tickets cost $20-28, but the cabaret-style set includes a limited number of upgraded seats – known as “Birdcage Seats.”  These seats are situated on platforms on either side of the theater, affording patrons a “bird's eye view” of all the dazzling stage action, complimentary table snacks and complimentary drink tickets per person. Advance purchase of these seats is advised.  Cost of Birdcage Seats is $40 per ticket (select “VIP” option at online purchase).

See www.city-theater.org

Friday, April 1, 2016

CTC's "HAIR" a High-Energy Show with a Still Resonant Message

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.

If you've been to a City Theater Company production lately, you know there are certain things you can expect
Photo by Joe del Tufo

  • Innovative and intimate staging
  • Great music
  • A high-energy cast that delivers the goods
This ensemble cast captures the spirit of rebellion and freedom from the 1960s and re-creates the confusion, conflict, and strange sense of hopefulness from the era.One word of warning for those unfamiliar with the musical -- there's not much of a plot to follow. A good portion of the first act serves as an introduction to our central characters, Claude (Brendan Sheehan), Berger (Jeff Hunsinger) and Woof (Adam Montgomery) -- followed by declarations by song on everything from the Vietnam War to drug use to open sexuality.

While there are a few winks and nods to current cultural conflicts, this production of Hair remains firmly planted in the Age of Aquarius.

The timeless elements remain as poignant as ever -- the conflict between a young adult and his parents, the search for an identity and a group of friends, and the difficulty of intimacy in the midst of open relationships.


Director Michael Gray and choreographers Tommy Fisher-Klein & Dawn Morningstar turned the entire room into the stage, allowing the actors to interact with the audience at a new level.

Of course, it's the 40+ songs that drive Hair, and music director Joe Trainor takes advantage of this position, exploring every facet of the musical styles featured from doo-wop to country to rock to the experimental psychedelic sounds of the 60s.

Back to the ensemble: Through most of the production, the audience sees, hears and experiences all 13 actors/singers/dancers as their lines, voices and bodies flow, merge and intertwine. The voices are both powerful and refined, expressing the boldness of youth with just the right amount of underlying uncertainty.

If you lived through the 60s and want to take a trip down memory lane, this production will have you smiling fondly at the passion of youth. If you're younger, you might be able to see how this musical paved the way for musicals like Rent and Green Day's American Idiot.


Hair is playing April 1-9 at the Black Box at 4 South Poplar Street in Wilmington. For tickets, go to city-theater.org.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Feeling the "Love" and Fun in City Theater Company's Latest Show

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.

Photos by Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography
City Theater Company has a great way of giving the audience not just a great show, but an experience that engages at a level deeper than mere entertainment.

That comes from a combination of picking truly original works and using great actors, musicians, costuming and set design to create a sense that the audience member is not just sitting and passively observing, but is actually participating in the magic.

Love’s Labour’s Lost takes the source material from Shakespeare and puts it through the creative talent of Alex Timbers (book) and Michael Friedman (score) – the same duo responsible for CTC's smash premiere of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – yielding a musical that takes the audience to unexpected places, no matter how familiar they might be with the original work from the Bard.

The play opens as a five-year college reunion is winding down and four young men decide to get serious and enter a vow to deprive themselves of certain comforts in pursuit of learning. The most important sacrifice: to not see any women for three years. Of course, the vows are challenged in the first day with the arrival of four young women who not only have business to conduct with these newly vowed guys, but also have some shared history from back in the day.

While our four young men are struggling with depriving their lives of joy, we’re introduced to Don Armado, a character who enters fully into the joy of life, regardless of risk.

Director Michael Gray and Choreographer Dawn Morningstar once again make use of the entire Black Box space, with actors occasionally crawling their way through the audience and, more often than not, performing within seven feet of any given member of the audience. Oh, and there’s a swing, a scooter, and a sliding board involved.

Our four young men, played by Jeff Hunsicker (the King), Brendan Sheehan (Berowne), George Murphy (Dumaine) and Lew Indellini (Longaville) communicate the kind of fun and tension that can only be experienced by four friends who are both committed to each other and yet know they need to start building their own lives.

The four young women, played by Grace Tarves (the Princess), Jenna Kuerzi (Rosaline), Kristin Sheehan (Maria), and Dylan Geringer (Katherine) use the wit, playfulness and strength of the script to the fullest.

Each of the eight characters give the audience glimpses into the truth and vulnerability that lies just under the surface of their confident exteriors.

Music Director Joe Trainor clearly runs a tight ship – with every note from the musicians leading the audience directly into the heart of the emotions conveyed by the actors – from longing and uncertainty to joyful exuberance.

Love’s Labour’s Lost provides the audience with truly great entertainment for an hour and 45 minutes – then provides those who are inclined with thought-provoking material for weeks to come.

Love’s Labour’s Lost is playing at The Black Box on the Wilmington waterfront (4 S. Poplar Street, Wilmington, DE 19801) through December 19. 

Find out more and get your tickets at City-Theater.org.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Celebrating 20 Years of CTC with the Epic Jesus Christ Superstar

Photo: Joe Del Tufo

In its 20 years of existence, City Theater Company has established itself as a top provider of live theater in Wilmington, while staying just as edgy and cool as it was when it was a burgeoning company. It still calls Opera Delaware's tiny Black Box Theater (one of my personal favorite theater spaces) home. I remember my first visit to a CTC show at the Black Box in the '90s -- I'd recently moved back to Delaware from Philly, the show was Assassins, if I recall, and it was the show that convinced me that you really don't have to go to the big city to see the kind of intimate, offbeat theater that excited me. It was a pretty big deal.

In the past few years, it's been rare that I've missed a CTC show. Remember Reckless? Cruel, Calm and Neglected? Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Bat Boy and Xanadu? Good times.

For its 20th birthday CTC decided to go big: a birthday celebration and fundraiser concert at World Cafe Live at the Queen, featuring Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice's epic 1970 rock opera concept album Jesus Christ Superstar in its entirety. Having spent my own slightly-past 20th birthday this year with Ted Neeley (who played Jesus in the 1973 film and on stage for decades) in concert at Delaware Theater Company, I was not about to miss this.

CTC's special Superstar live concert was produced and conducted by Joe Trainor, who also -- get this -- sang the part of Judas. Simultaneously. Judas, if you don't know, is the lead, along with Jesus. As soon as I saw Righteous Jolly's name in the lineup in the promo materials, I knew he was going to be Jesus, and I knew he was going to pull it off. CTC fans will remember that Jolly played Andrew Jackson in Bloody Bloody. As Jesus, he stayed in character, bringing the presence the part demands, even as a concert.

The remaining parts, many of which have featured solos, were filled by some of the best local talent, including CTC regulars Kerry Kristine in the female lead role of Mary Magdalene, Adam Wahlberg as Pilate, T.S. Baynes as Simon, Steven Weatherman as Herod, Lew Indellini as Annas, Frank Schierloh and Troy Shaeffer as Priests, and Bill Wilmore, whose bass delivery of Caiaphas was as good as any I've ever heard. The Chorus, made up of Dylan Geringer, Petra Deluca, Emma Orr, Clayton Stacey, and Dana Michael did a standout job, too -- you can't underestimate the importance of a good chorus. Along with a tight 5-piece band, Trainor's production was everything I'd hoped it would be. The only bad thing? It was a one-night-only-event. I'd see it again, no question.

The good news is, Season 20 starts up in December, with CTC's version of Gypsy, followed by The Best of 2.0 Ten-Minute Play showcase, and Bomb-itty of Errors in the spring. For more information, go to city-theater.org.



Saturday, December 1, 2012

Bloody Good Fun with CTC’s Bat Boy

Cast of Bat Boy taking their bows
One of the tightest productions you could see in Wilmington is playing at the Black Box of OperaDelaware Studios. Bat boy: the musical by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe is a hilarious romp of a rock musical which director Michael Gray and music director Joe Trainor managed to fit onto the tiny stagelet on the Riverfront. The stage was bare, but with a jungle gym background reminiscent of trees and forest in the rural hills of West Virginia. The play’s opening lets the bars of the jungle gym be the walls of a cave where our intrepid siblings find a boy/bat in a cave and capture him.

Of course, the rest of the musical revolves around the identification, education and sanitization of the Bat Boy, played brilliantly by Brendan Sheehan. Whether he is cramped in a cage or mauled by fans and foes, Sheehan comes through with shining colors. Every detail – from his crooning mimic of his fellow humans to his totally convincing adaptation of BBC received speech – is spot on.

The orchestra is also beautiful, although it, too, must remain caged behind a black backdrop to avoid their overpowering the singers. Yet, the cues are perfect and the singers and orchestra seemed melded together for harmony and dynamics thanks to an inventive webcam setup. Christopher Tolomeo and Robert Dilton had some brilliant keyboard licks (although we didn’t know who was on when).

The cast was superb and surreal, with several gender changes and an explosive conversion – from a Lily Tomlin-like, pursed-lipped crone turning into a jiving rocking sexed-up Pan in the name of love – a superb release of Adam Wahlberg’s real vocal power as Pan. Steve Weatherman was a powerhouse as a rural whining mother and Reverend Hightower plus several other roles into which he was able to slip in about five seconds, costume change included.

Dana Michael and Jenna Kuerzi are two tiny sprites who play spirited mother and teenaged daughter, respectively. They rock, shuck and jive with the oversized vigor of the energizer Bunny coming out of lithe and slender bodies. Those two and the rest of the cast, all of whom have incredible light and spark, managed to do all of their singing and dancing while swinging up and down their jungle gym bars as if born to it.

If you feel like you need a jolt of energy in these winter doldrum days – stop by the Black Box at OperaDelaware Studios before December 15!

See www.city-theater.org.