Thursday, October 29, 2009

CTC Prom Night: A Splash in More Ways than One

If you think there isn’t much culture in Wilmington, you haven’t been out in our fair city on a Friday or Saturday recently. Even when the worst weather hits, artists, musicians and actors are doing their “thing” and doing it well. Such was the case when City Theater Company (CTC) held its 2nd annual fundraiser, PROM NIGHT, last Saturday at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts. Sheets of heavy rain pelted the streets and a flood advisory was in effect in New Castle County. But it didn’t wash away the enthusiasm of the die-hard CTC fans and performers in attendance.

I became acquainted with CTC last summer when I attended several Delaware Humanities Forum-sponsored book events. This local repertory company maintains a steady diet of offbeat performances---original works as well as standard plays and musicals---as the appropriately titled “Delaware’s Off-Broadway”. The actors are also trying their hand at improvisation. Sometimes known as “theater games”, improvisation is an art form in its own right. Actors Kerry Kristine McElrone, Georgie Staley, Emily Davis, Kevin Regan, George Tietze, Jim Burns and Todd Holtsberry entertained the crowd with silly scenes they created on the spot.

One of my favorites was a moment outside a high school principal’s office: For each new “student” that arrived, the ones already there were required to adopt the attitude of the newcomer. When serial-killer/cheerleader McElrone arrived, the other actors erupted into a chorus of “Oh My God’s!” and “finger”-waves. Davis’ nerdy attitude was terribly contagious after she spoke only a few words. Also amusing were Tietze, Burns and McElrone as they told a story in one-word increments in an Irish accent as “Professor Know-It-All”. Look for more off-kilter fun from CTC in their December production of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.


The Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts, with its quirky installations, is the perfect setting for an event like CTC’s PROM NIGHT. In the exhibit Kinetic, Dennis Beach’s Flow is a large acrylic pipe filled with swooshing water that surrounds the room. Lily Gottlieb-McHale’s sculptures with moving pieces and wires create eerie mechanical music in the room. Center stage is Billie Grace Lynn’s Mad Cow Motorcycle made from a cow’s skeleton and bike parts. What are you waiting for? It’s FREE!!


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Newark Symphony Orchestra

This year, the Newark Symphony Orchestra is test-driving some conductors to find a new Music Director.

Nicole Aldrich took the baton yesterday, conducting the Bacchanale from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera Samson et Dalila. I was delighted to see former Music Director Roman Pawlowski in the percussion section - not just because he knows how to keep the beat – but also because he can enjoy the fruits of his labors as he experiences the impressive sound of the orchestra he worked so hard to develop.

Kathleen Hastings, violin and Cheryl Everill, cello were soloists in the Double Concerto for violin and cello by Johannes Brahms. Their smooth ensemble and the chiaroscuro contrast between soloists and orchestra was a pleasure to hear.

The Symphonic Dances, Opus 45 by Sergei Rachmaninov gave both the string section and the woodwinds/brass a chance to shine. Laura Grass’ trumpet and Anna Montejo’s English horn playing were highlights, as was Serban Petrescu’s violin solo.

It is time we started paying attention to this very well-established orchestra. The next concert dates are December 13, 2009, March 7, 2010 and May 16, 2010. Each concert will have a finalist conducting with the last two featuring the Youth Concerto Competition Winners.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Evita: Saving a Town’s Victorian Jewel with Theater

I hadn’t been in Middletown’s Everett Theater since it had been remodeled last year. Several years ago, some parents at MOT Charter arranged for our Acting Club to use the theater for our home-grown musical. The students were loved to performing there, but parents knew not to sit under the balcony because of the ceiling’s instability. Three years later, a portion of the ceiling did indeed collapse in the empty theater hours after a performance. Associated Community Talents, Inc. (ACT), owners of theater since 1983, mobilized the community and town to repair and refurbish it.

ACT’s production of Evita on 10/18 was well done. A cast member had invited me to the show, and I was thrilled to discover a few of the other young people in the ensemble were former students of mine. Tracy Friswell-Jacobs’ crisp choreography was dynamic and carried out nicely by the cast members.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical has its highs and lows. Sometimes, Tim Rice’s lyrics leave the actors stranded in a sea of mediocrity: “I could find job satisfaction in Paraguay”, sings the talented Eric Bayne as Juan Peron. Other times the work is highly successful, with a musical theme signifying ambition and hunger for power weaving in and out of the drama. Evita is blatantly operatic: It opens with Eva Peron’s corpse lovingly caressed in a casket, surrounded by mourning citizens.

From there, we observe her desperate climb from actress to First Lady. Adrienne Blair, who shared the part with Friswell-Jacobs, was sympathetic and tragic in the role of Eva. Eva’s thirst for power is palpable in A New Argentina, and her suffering and sense of loss in Lament is wrenching. Producer Peter Briccotto was captivating as Che: ever present, always offering another almost point of view, which often broke the third wall.

I look forward to seeing more off ACT’s productions and am so relieved they have mobilized residents and artists to save a historical landmark in a town where so many treasures have been torn down.