Showing posts with label Theatre. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Theatre. Show all posts

Saturday, February 10, 2024

REP Delivers Multilayered Story with Stark Examination of Race in Play "Pass Over"

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.

Justin William Davis (Moses) and Jeffrey Rashad (Kitch) in
The REP's 
performance of Pass Over by Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu.

Photo by Evan Krape.

The Resident Ensemble Players (REP) deliver
a stark examination of race with the play, Pass Over, by award-winning American playwright Antoinette Chinonye Nwandu. Pass Over is a loose amalgamation of the classic Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett) and the Book of Exodus told in a modern urban setting. 

The play spotlights two young black men who pass each day on a city street corner talking trash, killing time, and dreaming of the “Promised Land.” Then, a (white) stranger wanders into their space and disrupts whatever plans they may have…or wish for.

“It’s a spiritual and existential story,” says Hassan El-Amin, REP company member and director of Pass Over. “It’s a story of love, joy, hope, despair, longing, friendship, family, social conditioning. Pass Over is multilayered.”

Nwandu began writing Pass Over after the 2012 killing of 17-year-old Floridian Trayvon Martin and the outcome of the ensuing George Zimmerman murder trial. Nwandu channeled her feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration into this compelling, unfiltered play.

Word of caution: This is a mature show with adult language and scenes of violence, including gun shots. While the bawdy talk sometimes feels gratuitous, there is contextual relevance in the vernacular Moses (Justin William Davis) and Kitch (Jeffrey Rashad) use to describe their seemingly never-ending situation.

Moses and Kitch appear to exist in a state of purgatory, where their days are fruitless and tedious due to their lack of initiative and impulse. Police choppers fly over their corner of Martin Luther King and Freedom Drives while the two pals make top ten lists of what their dream lives would entail.

But an odd white man (Mic Matarrese) in a suit and boater hat interrupts their usual discussions. Mister (or “Master”) disrupts whatever semblance of constancy the two black men had in their patch of the city. Challenges of norms by Mister and verbal provocations by both sides take the action to heightened levels. Matarrese (as Mister) is excellent at pushing Moses’ buttons while Kitch somehow sees positives in what the visitor represents, even though there are cultural chasms and significant distrust between them.

Visiting actors Davis and Rashad do a beautiful job of switching from wistful to defensive to brotherly to defiant. The roles must be fully embraced to spew the sorts of emotions Moses and Kitch feel throughout the show. REP company member Matarrese plays his roles of Mister and Ossifer — a policeman — with a certain menacing poise. He must walk a thin line between the huckleberry lost stranger Mister and the no-nonsense Ossifer.

To reveal dialog and plot direction in this review would be a disservice to the writing and performance of the company. During this play, both the journey and destination are worth deep evaluation. The ending was affecting and sudden. Many remained in their seats absorbing what had just happened.

Nwandu has embraced revising Pass Over’s ending to continue to engage with the current events and audience. “Each time I go back with this play, I ask, ‘What’s happening in the world? Who’s actually going to be in those seats?’”

Acknowledging that having multiple Pass Over scripts offers multiple interpretations, Nwandu encourages theaters to use the version that fits the needs of the specific community. “I now have three versions of this play from this era of American history,” says Nwandu. “If your community needs the angry version, then do that. Present whichever version you need.”

“To be able to put this play on stage in 2024 when it was born in 2012, shows you the power of the story,” says director Hassan El-Amin. “But it also shows you how far we have to go to overcome whatever this sickness is, this disease, we have when it comes to the value of life for African Americans in the United States.”

Pass Over is an emotionally charged and powerfully impactful story that brilliantly blends modern poetry, Biblical verse, and funny modern refrains. Kudos to the creative team at the REP: El-Amin (Director); Stefanie Hansen (Scenic Designer); Jo Fulmer (Costume Designer); Eileen Smitheimer (Lighting Designer); and Ryan P. McGinty (Sound Designer).

Performances of Pass Over run from February 8 through 18 with Opening Night being February 9. Informal talkbacks with the cast take place following the evening performances on Saturday February 10 and Thursday February 15. Tickets prices are only $20 with discounts available for students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.rep.udel.edu; by contacting the REP box office at (302)831-2204; or visiting in person at 110 Orchard Road Tuesdays through Fridays from 12 to 5 PM. The show runs approximately 85 minutes.

The Thompson Theatre at the Roselle Center for the Arts is located on the University of Delaware’s Newark campus and is ADA-compliant. It is equipped with a hearing loop system, which works with hearing aid t-coils, cochlear implants, and in-house hearing devices. Wheelchair and other seating requests can be made prior to the performance by calling 302.831.2204 or emailing cfa-boxoffice@udel.edu.

“You are men and you are free to go.” – Kitch

Saturday, December 9, 2023

CTC Rocks this "Wicked Little Town" with Revival of Hedwig & the Angry Inch

By Hannah Leposa, guest blogger
Theater fan Hannah Leposa is excited to be living in Wilmington where there is a lively theatre community and high quality performances.


Hedwig and her Angry Inch band. Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
City Theater Company
's Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows Hedwig and her stage show as she tells the story of her botched sex change operation, leaving the titular Angry Inch behind. We also follow her journey from an angry woman to self acceptance and loving herself for who she is. The show is a cult classic, written by John Cameron Mitchell with music and lyrics by Stephen Trask.

Hedwig, portrayed by Diva Baby, was emotional and a little over-the-top, which is expected from the character as a drag queen headliner. Her portrayal of Hedwig's breakdown was raw and captivating and a 180 turn from the levity she brought to the opening. I did not expect to be laughing as hard as I did during this show, but Diva Baby’s delivery of the cheeky jokes in the first half of the show were impeccable. Her performance of Wig in a Box was a standout of the night as it allowed the line between actress and character to blur. The song, which started out vulnerable, ended with a silly audience sing-a-long directed by Hedwig, who had more notes for the audience than they sang.

Hedwig is joined on stage by her rock band, The Angry Inch. The musicians were part of the show, as they are in costume and on stage interacting with Hedwig and her husband/backup singer Yitzhak for the entire show. The performance was truly like a rock concert at times. CTC did provide earplugs for those whose ears are more sensitive to loud music.

Hedwig's husband Yitzhak, played by Mackenzie Brockmeyer, is the final cast member of the production. Her portrayal of the quiet Yitzhak surprised me, as I caught myself watching her on more than one occasion. She beautifully portrayed the emotions of Yitzhak and I could imagine exactly what her character was thinking without her having to say a word. Her voice shined in The Long Grift and her reveal at the end was beautifully executed.

City Theater Company is celebrating its 30th season and is reviving Hedwig for the second time, having previously staged the show in 2004 and 2005. Despite CTC having produced this show before, the interpretation of the show felt fresh. 

The wigs were beautiful — if not temperamental — but being a true performer, Diva Baby worked that into the show so beautifully that I barely realized it wasn't scripted. The costumes and makeup mirrored Hedwig's dissolution of her image of her life, starting grand, and fun and dissolving into nothing more than a holey shirt and shorts.

Set in the early 2000s, the intimate cabaret-style seating at The Delaware Contemporary made the perfect venue for this performance, making it feel more like an authentic stage show. When I first saw the set, I was apprehensive, as I usually feel screens as set pieces are not used well and they detract from what is happening on stage. That was not the case for Hedwig. The images and videos shown added so much, the show would have been great without them, but they added just enough to elevate the actors' performances. The drawings by Echo Chappelle made the already great performance of The Origin Of Love superb, and the videos used during Hedwig’s breakdown heightened the emotion and intensified Diva’s portrayal of Hedwig’s emotional state.

The remaining performances of Hedwig and The Angry Inch are December 10 at 2pm and December 13-16 at 8pm. All shows are at The Delaware Contemporary.The show runs around 90 minutes with no intermission. 

Tickets are $45 and can be purchased at tickets available now at city-theater.org.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Theater Review: Assassins | City Theater Company

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.

Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
City Theater Company (CTC) closes its season with a bang by staging the Tony Award-winning Assassins — a show described as “one of the most controversial musicals ever written.”  The script openly examines our nation’s culture of celebrity and the violent means some will use to obtain it.  The story studies America’s four successful and five would-be presidential assassins through music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by John Weidman.  The show is based on an original concept by Charles Gilbert, Jr.

CTC first presented Assassins in 1998 when current Artistic Director Kerry Kristine McElrone played Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme.  McElrone is excited to revisit the show 25 years later: “When deciding on our 29th season, I knew I wanted us to do a Sondheim piece. Assassins has always been an important show to me [and] the time felt right to restage this one for a new CTC audience.”

The dark and slyly comic show shadows a group of successful and wannabe Presidential assassins throughout U.S. history, framing their experiences in a broader exploration of American ideals.  The show opens in a carnival shooting gallery and moves through various venues including the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository.  Guns are central to the fates of the characters and the overall theme of the show.  In fact, one of the musical numbers is entitled “Gun Song.”

The score reflects the popular music of each era as the characters tell their stories through scenes and songs.  While Sondheim’s music is often quite syncopated, many of these songs were rhythmic and jaunty like “The Ballad of Booth.”  A small live orchestra situated next to the stage deftly accompanied the stage action.  Other noteworthy songs include “The Ballad of Guiteau,” “Unworthy of Your Love,” and the closing number “Everybody’s Got the Right.”  The latter is a rallying cry which can be taken a few disparate ways — forcing the audience to fully consider what they’ve just experienced on stage in front of (and next to) them.

Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
Director Joe Trainor has placed his actors where you cannot avoid them — on a stage almost touching the front row of patrons, in the middle aisle, and on strategically-placed risers.  Kudos to Rick Neidig on his set design and “patriotic” backdrop.  The pacing of the show is excellent with entrances, exits, and dialog moving effortlessly.

Trainor is thrilled to be tackling his first Sondheim show: “For a play that first premiered in 1990, Assassins is shockingly accessible in 2023.  It’s an incredibly challenging work, both in its subject matter and in its technical aspects.  The music and its pastiche style are incredible.  [It] entertains us even as it forces us to go uncomfortably deep within our own minds, and our collective histories.”

The musical opened in 1990 to many negative reviews — mostly concerning the subject matter and character focus.  Even Sondheim admitted he expected backlash due to the show’s content: “There are always people who think that certain subjects are not right for musicals...[w]e're not going to apologize for dealing with such a volatile subject.  Nowadays, virtually everything goes.”

McElrone says, “Assassins is about a disparate group of loners who…find themselves in the same room at the same time, reliving their crimes with relish almost for each other’s benefit, like a support group from hell.”

That hellish support group is played brilliantly by Chris Banker, Daryan Borys, Jim Burns, Adam Cooper, Kristin Finger, Dylan Geringer, Joshua Gold, Aidan McDonald, Paul McElwee, Emma Romeo Moyer, Kevin Regan, Kit Regan, and Brian Turner.  While all are excellent, Finger captured the manic Sara Jane Moore to chilling perfection while toting a gun and KFC bucket with equal diffidence.  McDonald was a compelling John Wilkes Booth whose belief that “the country is not what it was” line resonates in the modern politic now.

There are several powerful and unhinged diatribes in this play, but those by Kevin Regan — portraying Nixon-threatening Samuel Byck — were remarkable.  Juxtaposing a deranged wanna-be hijacker and assassin with a Bud-guzzling man in a Santa suit kept the audience rapt.  Could this unrealistic loner really pull off what he says he can?  When Booth gets into Lee Harvey Oswald’s head to convince him to squeeze his trigger and Hinkley refers to Oswald as an inspiration for his shooting of Reagan, you know you’ve entered serious satire.  It is not for the faint of heart, but it is compelling.

All the cast members bring real intensity to their roles and the subject matter.  Even the excellent Brian Turner (The Balladeer) kept his darkly comic narration focused on mental failings and perceived societal ills.  His powerful voice both set the tone and analyzed the action.

Simply put, all the parts of this show work together in beautiful harmony not often found in regional theater.  Kudos to “the underlings” who have risen to the occasion with aplomb!

Assassins will be performed April 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, and 22.  Curtain for all shows is 8:00pm except for the lone Sunday matinee at 2:00pm (April 16).  Run time is approximately 105 minutes without an intermission.  City Theater Company’s home is in the Wings Black Box at The Delaware Contemporary located at 200 South Madison, Wilmington, DE19801.  

Tickets ($30-45) can be purchased at the box office or online.  Special ticket pricing is available for military personnel and students. CTC does not currently require proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Mask-wearing is optional per guest preference. Please be respectful of fellow patrons’ choices.  Call the box office at 302.220.8285 or email citytheatercompany@gmail.com for details about the show.

CTC’s mission is to create a body of work that takes risks and breaks barriers — just as The Delaware Contemporary’s is to take risks and push boundaries.  Both institutions are invested in promoting the work of local and emerging artists, advancing opportunity and growth by and for the community, and welcoming all those looking to experience art.

City Theater Company is supported, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Divisions promotes Delaware arts events on DelawareScene.com.

Advisory: Assassins deals with mature content, including R-rated and racially charged language.  This production uses non-firing, replica, prop guns.  No live ammunition or working weapons are used in this production.  This production features gunshot sounds throughout.  All such sounds are pre-recorded. CTC can provide disposable earplugs for your comfort.

To quote John Wilkes Booth: “There is no quiet desperation here.”

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Theatre Review: The Year of Magical Thinking | City Theater Company

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 stage in 2023 with the one-woman autobiographical The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.  The play is based on her bestselling memoir of the same name and stars Mary Catherine Kelley in the titular role.  The production takes place in the cozy Wings Black Box at The Delaware Contemporary (TDC) on the Wilmington Riverfront.

Mary Catherine Kelley stars in The Year of Magical Thinking at CTC.
Photo by Jim Coarse/Moonloop Photography.
Adapted by the author for Broadway in 2007, the award-winning play is a riveting and heartfelt elegy that expands on the book, which won the National Book Award and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The work explores Didion’s grief following the deaths of her husband John Gregory Dunne and daughter Quintana Roo.

In what amounts to an extended soliloquy, Didion recounts her journey of loss, perseverance, and hope by using her signature wit to draw an intimate portrait of the resilience of the human heart.  Kelley is moving as Didion…taking the audience with her as she flutters between recounting good times and lamenting the present without her loved ones.  It’s not an easy line to walk, but Kelley deftly brings you inside Didion and her family.  The lack of stage microphones heightens the intimacy as we hear every quiver in Kelley’s voice and each bold statement of resilience.

The production is directed by CTC Artistic Director Kerry Kristine McElrone, who has opted for simplicity and straightforwardness in her guidance of the action.  Kelley isn’t asked to more than be human and share Didion’s complex thoughts on death and dying.  That’s no small task, but by getting down to basics, the message becomes more powerful.

Kudos to set designer Rick Neidig and lighting man Stuart Thomas for keeping things simple and effective, like McElrone with her direction.

The play starts with death and ends with death, but there is joy interwoven in Didion’s words.  “I love you more than one more day” is a sort of mantra recalling the special bond between lost husband and daughter.  These aren’t distant figures, but spirits you feel are in the theater with you.  Kelley was powerful when describing how she would brush “Q-Roo’s” hair and repeatedly brought up her daughter’s ever-changing locks.

Back in 2007, the New York Times called The Year of Magical Thinking “a report back from an emotional abyss, yet for all its intensity, it isn’t grim or overwrought.  It’s rigorously self-scrutinizing, dryly self-mocking, fairly stunned-somehow both unsentimental and consumed with love.”

So what exactly is “magical thinking,” according to Didion?  The play mentions anthropological ties to mysticism, but from the stage action it seems to be more of a modern optimistic reality.  The script takes on a better pace at the first inkling that Didion truly recognizes a death in her immediate family – stepping out of initial denial.  She continues to revisit better times and sometimes felt her loved ones were still with her, but as the dialog progresses, the audience realizes that Didion has come to a sort of acceptance.  It’s a powerful journey that is navigated with aplomb by CTC.

Winner of the 2005 National Book Award for Nonfiction, The Year of Magical Thinking is one of many celebrated books by Joan Didion.  She was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which awarded her its 2005 Gold Medal in nonfiction.  She also received the 1996 Edward MacDowell Medal, the 1999 Columbia Journalism Award, and the 2002 George Polk Book Award.

CTC’s mission is to create a body of work that takes risks and breaks barriers — just as TDC’s is to take risks and push boundaries.  Both institutions are invested in promoting the work of local and emerging artists, advancing opportunity and growth by and for the community, and welcoming all those looking to experience art.

City Theater Company is supported, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The Divisions promotes Delaware arts events on DelawareScene.com.

The Year of Magical Thinking will run Friday and Saturday nights through February 18.  Curtain is at 8:00pm and run time is approximately 100 minutes without an intermission.  City Theater Company’s home is at The Delaware Contemporary located at 200 South Madison, Wilmington, DE 19801.  Tickets ($30-45) can be purchased at the box office or online.  Special ticket pricing is available for military personnel and students.  

Please call the box office at (302)220-8285 or email info@city-theater.org for details.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Irving Berlin’s "White Christmas" is a Holiday Spectacular!

by Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Based on the beloved Paramount Pictures film, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas follows two friends and performers, Bob Wallace (Chris Fitting) and Phil Davis (Bryan Jeffrey), from their time serving in World War II in 1944 with General Waverly (Paul McElwee) to appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1954, and eventually ending up at a Vermont inn after meeting Betty and Judy Haynes (Rebecca Schall and Deirdre Treacy), a sister nightclub act.

Complicated romances ensue, and a slew of Vermonters and show people from New York City are introduced. A series of comical and heartwarming situations lead to the grand, happy finale that leaves the audience ready to enjoy the holiday season!

The show is full of Mr. Berlin’s most iconic songs, sumptuously performed by the stellar cast under the fine music direction of Julia Kershetsky and stirring choreography by Jody Anderson. With numbers including Happy Holidays, Sisters, Snow, and of course, the title song, it’s hard not to smile, tap your toes, and dare I say — sing along! The show includes an exciting, seven-minute tap number; I Love a Piano, choreographed by Scott Jacobs and led by Ms. Treacy that brings down the house!

Director Rebecca May Flowers' pacing is perfect for the delightful show. She’s assembled a great group of artists both on and behind the stage. The four leads are fantastic! Mr. Fitting and Mr. Jeffery are charming and they expertly play off of each other.

Bob is the more serious, business-minded of the two, while Phil is a fun-loving go-with-the-flow kind of person. Both men bring much enjoyment to their songs, especially when performing together during Happy Holiday/Let Yourself Go.

Ms. Schall and Ms. Treacy are superb. Both are fabulous as the sisters who steal the men’s hearts. Ms. Schall’s rendition of Love You Didn’t do Right by Me is heartbreakingly beautiful.

Ms. Treacy is exceptional as the feisty Judy. Her dancing is exquisite. Once she steps on top of the piano and continues tapping during the I Love a Piano number, she becomes a star!

The cast is rounded out by a great ensemble, including the wonderful Mr. McElwee as the general who now owns the inn and hysterical Trudy Graboyes as Martha Watson, the inn’s front desk clerk and one time Broadway performer.

With the work of Lighting Designer, Matthew J. Kator; Scenic Designer/Scenic Artist, Jeff Reim; and Props/Set Designer, Amanda Gillies, the stage becomes an enchanting winter wonderland with a Christmas tree and snow! Since The Candlelight Theatre is housed in the former Harvey Barn, the whole space seems to be a part of the show!

The cast is beautifully dressed by costumer Timothy Lamont Cannon. Ms. Schall’s and Ms. Treacy’s final gowns are breathtaking! Wig, Hair, and Makeup Stylist, Clayton Stacey brilliantly complements Mr. Cannon's costumes. His wigs are gorgeous! Both men perfectly capture the 1950s time period with their work.

Get into the holiday spirit by seeing White Christmas in an actual barn at The Candlelight Theatre! The show runs through December 23. Visit www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org for information and tickets.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A Taste of "Arsenic and Old Lace" at The REP

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.


Arsenic and Old Lace playing now through November 20.
Photo courtesy of The REP.
The University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players (REP) kicks off its 2022-23 season with the great American farcical black comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring.

This enduring play, originally staged on Broadway in 1941, continues to astound audiences with its ingenious and brilliant construction. The current production at the REP carries on the grand tradition of the show and entertains from opening curtain to curtain call.

“Some of you may have heard the pandemic radio version of the play and now you can see the real thing. It’s about two older women that relieve older gentleman of their loneliness by killing them with arsenic. You can think of it as a euthanasia comedy.”
— Steve Tague, the REP's new Interim Producing Artistic Director.

The show revolves around the odd members of the Brewster family in their stately Brooklyn home. Mortimer Brewster (Mic Matarrese) is living a happy life in the large old mansion. He has a good job as a drama critic at a prominent New York newspaper and he’s just become engaged to his neighbor Elaine Harper (Erin Partin). His spinster aunts Abby (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) and Martha (Elizabeth Heflin) dote on him and are adored by the community. They even look after and protect Mortimer’s quirky brother Teddy (Lee E. Ernst) who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt.

Mortimer’s world is turned upside down when he discovers that his dear aunts have been quietly poisoning lonely old men and burying them in the basement for years. Aside from this new revelation, long lost maniacal brother Jonathan (Stephen Pelinski) returns on the night that the aunts are planning to bury their newest victim. His somewhat unwilling partner Dr. Einstein (Michael Gotch) adds ghoulish layers to Jonathan’s mysterious past. Mortimer must rally to help his aunts, foil his brother’s nefarious plans, and protect his fiancé – all while trying to maintain his own sanity. Even the local cops (Rob Hancock and John Plumpis) become part of the action, both good and bad; albeit unwittingly. Put it this way, the plot is always swirling… As Abby Brewster says, “How delicious!”

The beautiful set design and construction is the first thing that catches the eye upon entering the theater. It is a wonder of planning and carpentry that includes fine wooden details, wallpaper, portraits, animal heads, and doors…so many doors. Kudos to Stefanie Hansen and her crew.

The actors all shine, but the menace is real when Pelinski’s Jonathan looms on stage. Matarrese does a great job of looking peaceful one minute and utterly distressed the next. His physical and mental exhaustion from the escapades he faces puts the audience on his side. 

The show is funny throughout, but the comedic highlights mostly happen in the second act with many quick and clever jokes. Aunts Abby and Martha (Heflin and Tague) always aim to please and drop some great deadpan one-liners while doing so. The old women just want what’s best for everyone they meet, even believing that serving their killer elderberry wine is a neighborly service. It is, but solely for our entertainment!

My suggestion is to plan an evening out in Newark to enjoy some great theater, but watch out for the apparent kindness of elderly female strangers.

Arsenic and Old Lace will run through November 20 at Thompson Theatre inside the Roselle Center for the Arts (CFA) on the campus of the University of Delaware. Evening shows start at 7:30 and curtain is at 2 for matinees. The performance runs approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, with two 10-minute intermissions. 

Tickets ($35-39) can be purchased at the theatre box office or online. Please call the box office at (302) 831-2204 or e-mail cfa-boxoffice@udel.edu for information. 

For more information, visit www.rep.udel.edu.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Glowing Goose Productions hosts a 24-hour Musical Extravaganza!

Delaware Arts Info reviewer Charles "Ebbie" Alfree III discusses No Sleep ‘Til Theatre: A 24-hour Musical Extravaganza with Lacey Eriksen, Executive Director of Glowing Goose Productions, and Sarah Nowak, Artistic Director of Glowing Goose and director of the 24-hour musical extravaganza!


For additional information or to purchase tickets for No Sleep ‘Til Theatre: A 24-hour Musical Extravaganza on June 4 and 5 at 6:00pm, at Theater N in downtown Wilmington, visit www.glowinggooseproductions.org.

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.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Another World Premiere in Delaware with the Fantastical "Other World" at DTC

By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

(L-R): Charnette Batey, Jamen Nanthakumar & Bonnie Milligan star
in
Other World. [Photo by 
Matt Urban, NüPOINT Media]
Something rare is occurring at the Delaware Theatre Company…an original musical is making its World Premiere. In an age when most musicals being produced are revivals (including the reinvented versions) or shows based on a musician’s or band’s catalogue, a popular book, or film, or on a historical figure, the Delaware Theatre Company is breaking from trends with their production of Other World.

With a book by Tony nominee Hunter Bell, and music and lyrics by Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee, Other World takes the audience on a journey beyond what most would expect from a musical. Add visionary director, Adrienne Campbell-Holt, and the cutting-edge choreographer, Karla Puno Garcia, and the show becomes a video game spectacle!

The musical begins with a group of gamers playing the widely popular Other World video game. The players are in their respective homes around the world and have never met in person but have created a friendship 
— a 'cybercommunity' devoted to the game. This bond is threatened when the company behind Other World decides to cancel the game with only a 48-hour notice. One member of the gamer's community Sri, played by Jamen Nanthakumar, has a special relationship with Other World: Besides being his favorite video game, his deceased mother also co-created it when he was a child.

Although Sri has isolated himself in his home for the past three years, working remotely and only playing Other World, the cancelation of the game has driven him to leave his home and visit the man with whom his mother co-created the game. When Sri arrives at the man’s house, he is greeted by Lorraine, played by Bonnie Milligan, the co-creator’s daughter. She explains to Sri how the two met when they were younger and that her father has passed away.

She invites Sri to explore her father’s workroom in the garage and talks of her dislike of the game. Rather, she enjoys going out with friends and watching reality shows. While in the garage, Sri stumbles upon the computer used to build Other World and it opens a portal that transports Sri and Lorraine into the actual game. Now the two must face the game’s challenges to open the portal home before Other World ends forever.

Once in the game, Sri and Lorraine meet and befriend Other World characters, including the game’s host/guide, Temula played by Charnette Batey and the cyborg, 1011, played by Seth Rettberg. Temula, 1011, and additional Other World characters assist the humans in the challenges created to open the new portal. The challenges lead to the final battle with the wicked Antagon, played by Ryan Andes. Antagon wants to open the portal for himself and take over Earth.

Mr. Nanthakumar beautifully manifests Sri’s shyness and fears of the outside world 
 a feeling that many can identify with since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. He’s able to peel the layers of his character and make him a hero that wins over the audience. Ms. Milligan charms as the sassy Lorraine. Besides having a gorgeous singing voice, her timing is perfect for the funny quips Mr. Bell has written for her character.

Ms. Batey and Mr. Andes are fierce in their respective roles. She brings down the house with the final song of Act One, "My Journey Begins." She moves effortlessly while not only singing the inspiring song, but also performing a very precise battle scene. Mr. Andes exudes fear as the maniacal villain, always standing above the action and eliminating anyone who tries to stand in his way.

Ms. Batey and Mr. Andes, along with most of the Other World characters wear magnificent, futuristic costumes conceived and designed Tilly Grimes and Wētā Workshop. Cassie J. Williams perfectly matches the costumes with her stunning wigs, hair, and makeup designs.

In addition to the costumes, Wētā Workshop, along with Achesonwalsh Studios and the Other World production team 
 Mary Hamrick, scenic design; Grant Yeager, lighting design, Hidenori Nakajo, sound design; Lucy Mackinnon, projection design; and Rebekah Tisch, art director  have designed the incredible puppets and effects that delight throughout the show. Their collective talents bring the magnificent video game and its inhabitants to life.

Ms. Campbell-Holt has done an amazing job staging Other World. The show is a technical juggernaut, but at the core is a story about people wanting connection, being a part of the world, and finding their inner strength. She does such a great job balancing the fantasy and humanity aspects of the show.

Ms. Puno Garcia’s transcendent choreography incorporates Filipino martial arts in the extraordinary fight scenes, some disco hustle to one of the video game’s dance challenges, and even modern dance when two of the video game characters slink onto the stage.

Mr. Bell’s book could have easily become a total fantasy story and relied on the technical aspects of the production, but he has created complex characters who evolve as the story progresses. Matching his book with Mr. Bowen and Ms. McNamee’s thrilling and passionate score, the three artists have written an intriguing piece about family, connection, and love with the backdrop of a video game.

Other World a great show for the whole family to enjoy. See it before it closes on March 20!

For information and tickets, visit www.delawaretheatre.org.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

David Robson's "Blues in My Soul" Makes Its World Premiere at City Theater Company

Delaware Arts Info reviewer Charles "Ebbie" Alfree III caught up with playwright David Robson to discuss his latest play (with music) about blues and jazz legend Lonnie Johnson.

Blues in My Soul opens on Friday, March 18,  at City Theater Company’s new home at The Delaware Contemporary. 

For information and tickets, visit https://city-theater.org.



Sunday, August 1, 2021

Sister Act Provides a Joyous Return to the Theater!

By Charles "Ebbie" Alfree, III

Seeing a live show again is such a joyous experience after theaters were closed for the better part of 2020 and this year. And, what better show to see than The Choir School of Delaware’s boisterous production of the Broadway musical, Sister Act!

Although based on the 1992 hit film, the musical changed the setting to Philadelphia during the late 1970s, where Deloris Van Cartier, a struggling disco singer, witnesses a murder committed by her thug boyfriend, Curtis. After reporting the incident to the police, she is sent to live at a convent for her protection. Reluctantly, she puts on the habit and the shenanigans ensue as she brings new energy to the parish’s fledgling choir.

Amioluwa Balogun-Victor shines bright as the wannabe disco diva, Deloris. She lights up the stage with her strong vocals and comedic timing. It was hard for me not to dance while she performed the electrifying opening number, Take Me to Heaven. Nashon Colon is delightful as Deloris’s old school friend, Officer Eddie, who is working on her case. He hits all the right notes and delights with his big number, I Could Be That Guy. Lex Bowers delivers a frighteningly funny performance as Curtis, and Olivia Drumbore is stunning as the stern Mother Superior who unwillingly accepts Deloris into her parish. Olivia’s beautiful voice soars throughout the sanctuary of Grace United Methodist Church.

The late 19th Century church’s beautiful stained-glass windows and exposed organ pipes provides the perfect setting for the production. Director Thomas Emerson is able to make the large space work well for this musical spectacle. Choreographer Amber Rance has the cast gettin’ down --- whether in gold lamé or in habits --- to the dance-infused score by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Conductor Arreon Harley-Emerson has assembled an outstanding band to support the stellar cast.

Unfortunately, Sister Act was a one-night-only performance. However, the Choir School has plenty of other programs planned for this year and into 2022. 

For example, the organziation is offering a musical Bootcamp, running August 23-26, 2021.
Interested youth from the Greater Wilmington area in Grades 2-12 can enroll in the FREE 4-day camp, focusing on music education and choral singing. The camp runs Monday-Friday, 9:00am-5:00pm and includes breakfast and lunch. Students can enroll by August 19 online at  https://choirschoolofdelaware.org/bootcamp/.


Visit choirschoolofdelaware.org or call 302.543.8657 for additional information.