Sunday, December 19, 2010

Newark Christmas Cheer

If Santa is hiring any new elves, I would highly recommend Dr. Michael Larkin for the job. His effervescent enjoyment of Christmas and Christmas music is a delight to behold!

This year’s program was named Forward to the Past: A Christmas Concert based on Dr. Larkin’s study of Christmas music of Western Europe. Fifteenth Century (Guillermus Dufay), Sixteenth Century (Praetorius), including a softened and slowed En natus est Emmanuel preceded the Seventeenth Century Tomas Luis Vittoria’s O magnum mysterium motet and selections from the mass.

Then a jump to the Twentieth Century with arrangements by Dr. Larkin of many popular Christmas tunes, including selections he took from the movie White Christmas.

Mindy Bowman accompanied the choir in the modern part of the program where Mike Alexander sang O Holy Night, Jay Williams soloed in Count your blessings and Della Lied gave a beautifully clear rendition of Love, you didn’t do right by me. Her solo reminded me of the arrestingly clear voice of Joan Baez singing Little Drummer Boy on a Christmas album I have long lost.

Dr. Larkin gave great energy to directing the audience in refrains of popular carols and it seemed like an old Newark party in the beautifully decorated vault of the Newark United Methodist Church.

They will perform the same program at Saint Helena’s Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington on Sunday, December 19.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Carols in Color: A Spectacular Celebration

Photo: Gabriel Bienczycki
As the lights go down and "Carols in Color" begins, you are transported, both to the Biblical time of the Book of Matthew and from the humble school auditorium where the show is being performed. This year, Wilmington Christian School hosted the two-act retelling of the birth of Jesus in dance and song -- but don't let that fool you: this is high-caliber theater worthy of a Broadway stage.

A little background: Carols in Color is an original production of the Eleone Dance Company in Philadelphia, conceived by the company's founder, E. Leon Evans, II. It combines modern dance and a live Gospel chorus, as well as music from various artists such as Be Be and Ce Ce Winans and Kirk Franklin, to tell the Christmas story starting from the moment Mary learns she is carrying the baby Jesus. The Christiana Cultural Arts Center presents the show in Wilmington annually, and several local students participate in the show.

The first act of Carols in Color focuses on the confusion, helplessness and hardship Mary and Joseph faced as they dealt with her very unexpected pregnancy. Most of the first act is comprised of gorgeous solo dances -- Gabriel, Mary, Joseph and the Angel of God -- with their voices sung by a second performer on stage. Songs include "What Shall I Do," "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" and "No Place To Go." By the end of act 1, the baby has been born, and the stage begins to fill.

The second act opens with "Go Tell It On The Mountain," as Mary holds the baby Jesus, and the joyous celebration doesn't let up, through spectacular dance sequences and choral pieces. Featured are "Hallelujah" from Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, "The First Noel," "Silent Night," with "Angels We Have Heard On High" finishing the show with the entire cast of dancers and singers on stage.

The music, costumes, choreography -- it all comes together for an unforgettable Christmas celebration.

Carols in Color was one show only in Delaware, but you can see it in Philadelphia at the John E. Allen Jr. Theater at Freedom Theater from December 12 - 21; call 1-800-838-3006 for tickets.

The Nutcracker: Family Fun in Dover

The Dance Theatre of Dover’s performance of The Nutcracker was good family entertainment. Little girls in poofy dresses and boys in suits with their parents in tow poured in through the front doors of the Schwartz Center for the Arts. This little jewel of a Victorian-style theater (built in 1904), nestled in the Capital’s historic district, is the perfect spot for ballet, theater and music: because of its size and excellent acoustics, there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The story of The Nutcracker is not unlike many popular fairy tales- there is always a lesson to be learned, usually by way of a frightening or difficult rite of passage. Clara (nicely performed by Laura Ward) must give up her treasured nutcracker doll and suffer a horrible encounter with a dancing corps of rats. The moment of terror is offset by visions of dancing flowers, candies and shimmering snowflakes.

Alycia Powell as the Snow Queen brought beauty and grace to the stage. Though Catherine Brooks appeared only briefly as the dainty Ballerina Doll, a snowflake and a flower, her precision and finesse were notable. Light on his feet was Eric McCutcheon, as he danced the part of the Nutcracker Soldier, and in the Spanish dance.

This rendition of the ballet-with music by Peter Ilych Tschaikovsky, choreography by Leve Ivanov and additional choreography and staging by Teresa Emmons-seemed to get everyone into the holiday spirit.