Monday, June 21, 2010

Urine the Theatre

At times, it was easy to forget Urinetown was cast only with student actors. The singing, acting and dancing was so spot-on, and so professional in most cases. The only indication of the cast’s youth was the occasional actor looking startling with white hair, or those who hadn’t quite grown into their adult voices and bodies. The audience and the actors seemed to love this production by the Delaware All-State Theatre at the DuPont Theatre.

Producer/Director Jeffrey Santoro choreographed many snappy numbers, making excellent use of the space on the simple set. “Mr. Cladwell” is a song reminiscent of “I think I’m gonna like it here” from Annie. Hope Cladwell (sung beautifully by Natasha Michael), Cladwell B. Cladwell’s daughter, meets her new co-workers-her father’s lackeys-and they give her the seal of approval in a rousing, fun chorus. Later in the musical, Annie is fair game again, when several characters remind us “The sun will come out tomorrow”. The musical’s creators, Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, are shameless musical quote from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita.

Not only do we get an “in-your-face” sometimes groan-worthy mocking and quoting of Broadway musicals, we get a constant breakdown of the fourth wall. Lockstock, who was expertly played by Jordan Weagraff, is the most successful at handling these sarcastic, knowing quips about the show and its merits that he tosses out to the audience. After a while, the show’s self-commentary becomes tiresome and glib.

Jake Glassman was charming and sincere as Bobby Strong. He manages to step out of the stock character cartoony role, and make the flash back scene, “Tell Her I Love Her” extremely funny as he appears a ghost in the mist. Another stand out was the pregnant Little Becky Two-Shoes, played by Lydia Stinson. One of the strongest actors in the show, she was lively, animated and always involved in the action on stage. Mike Hinkle was energetic and convincing as the slimy Cladwell. As Penelope Pennywise, Maren Lavelle had good command of the stage and a natural sense of comic timing.

Though Urinetown was intended to be an edgy, political satire, I found myself wondering exactly what the commentary was. I understood that big business and corruption are bad, and make people do bad things. The show’s theme simplified: everyone should have access to a toilet when nature calls. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I also found myself thinking there are other musicals that carry a stronger message and are more deserving of the spotlight.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Irreverence in a classical setting

Making beautiful music requires two contradictory talents: the ability to play by the rules and the ability to break them. Only through years of practice can a classical musician acquire the technical skills that allows him or her to read the lines and also between them.

Friday’s Delaware Chamber Music Festival concert opened with a refreshing view of how to create a line of best fit between the tightly woven classical writing of composers Felix Mendelssohn and Maurice Ravel to see the jazz, folk and rock influences that permeate good music. After all, what is good music but a display of willful disregard for the rules while communicating within the limits of the composers design?

Barbara Govatos invited three fellow musicians who can deviate and conform: Julie Nishimura, John B. Hedges, and Douglas Mapp. Julie Nishimura, a tiny powerhouse in classical music, had no problem letting her quirky side rule while playing the piano for Four on the floor for violin, cello, bass and piano by Libby Larsen. She leaned left and right, feet swinging on the pedals and she put her whole body into the “slam-‘em-home” walking bass which provided the platform for the other musicians: Barbara on violin, Douglas Mapp on bass and Clancy Newman on the cello.

Clancy Newman played his own composition called Song without words for solo cello in which he played wild rock themes, jazz and blues while using his refined cello technique to touch the gentlest harmonics and also to jab the bow so hard it made an almost drum-like clicking.

A respite was given with David Bromberg’s acoustic guitar accompaniments of Barbara Govatos’ surprisingly good Irish fiddle performances of two ballads: Ashokan Farewell and Amazing Grace. Every now and then she betrayed her training by pulling off a perfect classical trill just after a country shindig slide up to a melody note.

Although I loved John B Hedges piano improvisation when he played his own version of “22-20”, playing soft enough to let us hear David Bromberg’s vocals and guitar, I did not enjoy the Devilwhere for violin, electric guitar and contrabass which he wrote to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Delaware Chamber Music Festival. It was so complex that it took Jim Tisdall to handle the electrified acoustic guitar part. Doug Mapp put his all into the wild bass string-snapping, but the overall effect was more bumpy than fun.

The crew of Nishimura, Govatos, and Newman finished the evening with the fastest rendition of Felix Mendelssohn’s Trio in c minor, opus 66 I have ever heard. Their point seemed to be that even within the strictures of the romantic era style, there is verve and jazz. The message worked much more successfully in the second movement of the Sonata for piano and violin by Maurice Ravel. For this piece, Nishimura was able to zing the syncopated notes just on the edge of the margins left by Ravel and Govatos had no problem moving with that. I feel sure Ravel would have given this piece a standing ovation – two irreverent American musicians using their skilled sophistication to bring a message of wonder about how all styles of music have coinciding arcs.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Urinetown: Talented Young Actors at the DuPont Theatre

For the third year in a row, Delaware All-State Theatre is producing, in partnership with the DuPont Theatre, a full-scale musical theater show starring some of the area’s most talented and ambitions children. Urinetown, with a cast of 46, opens today, June 18, with performances Saturday and Sunday.

Talking with director/producer Jeffrey Santoro, I learned about the rigorous audition process for the young actors. Hundreds of kids showed up for the audition, with first round held behind closed doors, but the callbacks were held in the open theater. Santoro wanted to create an audition atmosphere similar to what is found in the professional theater: the actors could see their competition, and bring their auditions to the highest level possible. Some of the kids from past productions-Les Misérables and West Side Story- have gone on to professional theater. He estimated that eighty percent of the actors go on to participate in theater at the collegiate level.

The program is completely free, unlike some other children’s musical and theatrical programs in the area. The actors participate in workshops with well-known theatre professionals and have the unique experience of rehearsing and performing on stage with a professional orchestra at the state-of-the-art DuPont Theater.

Let’s support our young actors and future stars by checking out this great show!
For tickets, visit or call (302) 656-4401.