Monday, July 30, 2012

Hello, Dolly is Back Where She Belongs!

The Brandywiners’ 81st production is the iconic Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart Broadway musical, Hello, Dolly! The expansive Longwood Gardens’ Open Air Theater allows this musical extravaganza to come alive!

Based on the play The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder, Hello, Dolly tells the story of the larger-than-life matchmaker and jack-of-all-trades Dolly Gallagher Levi (played by the charismatic Sue Hornung). After the passing of her husband, Dolly has become the go-to woman in New York to find love. Although it’s the 1890’s, Dolly is an independent woman who’s not afraid to go after what she wants in life, including a grouchy, half-a-millionaire, Yonkers grocery store owner and widower, Horace Vandergelder (played by Ms. Hornung’s real-life husband, Tom Hornung). The two have great chemistry and give exceptional performances.

Comic hijinks ensue as Dolly not only meddles in Horace’s life, but also his niece’s (Jenny Torgerson) life -- she’s in love with a struggling artist (Jeff Gorcyca) who Horace despises -- as well as the lives of Horace's employees’ (Alexander Bowditch and Chris Trombetter) -- two young men who disobey their employer and leave the store unattended to go to Manhattan for an adventure. While in the Big Apple the two men meet the women (Kate Connell Wright and Meghan Hindmarch) of their dreams. (Ms. Connell’s soprano voice is exquisite, especially in her act one ballad, Ribbons Down My Back.) With the help of Dolly, each characters’ life is forever changed!

Cal Brackin directs a solid show with enthusiastic choreography by Jody Anderson. Ms. Anderson’s exciting choreography is at its best during the show’s title number, when Dolly leads the chorus members through a rousing dance sequence. In addition to the leads, the other star, as in every Brandywiners’ production, is the outstanding chorus! The chorus members don’t just back up the leads, but instead they join their voices together and make them soar throughout Longwood Gardens.

While performing in 19th century costumes by Beverly A. Parnell and her committee, the chorus and the leads are a feast for the eye. Ms. Hurnung’s gowns and hats never disappoint!

Although the story is a little dated, Hello, Dolly has a memorable score. The music keeps everyone entertained during the two-hour production! 

Going to see The Brandywiners’ is a summer tradition for most people -- for some since 1932. A wonderful tradition for the young and the young at heart to enjoy together! Hello, Dolly closes August 4. To order tickets, call 302.478.3355 or visit Entrance to Longwood is included with the show ticket, so go early to explore the gardens and/or dine at the restaurant or cafĂ©. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Aubrey Plaza Returns to Wilmington to Premiere Her Latest Film

Aubrey Plaza on the red carpet. Photo: Holly Quinn
Wilmington is not exactly movie premiere central. Jeremy O'Keefe's wrestling premiered in Wilmington in 2008, and Luke Matheny's 2011 Oscar-winning short film "God of Love" was celebrated with a special local screening, but such big-screen events are few and far between. So, when Wilmington's own Aubrey Plaza (star of NBC's "Parks and Recreation") decided to bring her first leading role in a feature film to Delaware for a red carpet premiere, it was a pretty big deal.

Delaware almost didn't get the film, Safety Not Guaranteed, on the big screen. After a successful debut at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, it was slated to open in select theaters across the country this summer. Unfortunately, none of those theaters were in Plaza's home state. "That was not OK," she said from the stage of the Grand Opera House before the screening, looking stunning in a little black dress. So, with the help of what seems like half of Wilmington (including but not limited to The Wilmington Drama League, The Grand, Theatre N, Ursuline Academy, AIDS Delaware, Delaware Community Foundation, McConnell Johnson, and PSCI), the Delaware premiere of Safety Not Guaranteed became a reality. The event was to be more than a screening: All of the proceeds from the tickets, which ranged from $20 for the movie and Q&A to $125 for a VIP experience including a meet-and-greet reception and afterparty, would go to The Wilmington Drama League.

The choice of beneficiary, said Plaza, was easy. The WDL was her "home away from home" growing up, where she performed with the Chrysalis Players and honed the skills that would eventually shape her career as a professional actress. She reminisced about Delaware with humor and charm, as she was joined onstage by WDL fixture Kathy Buterbaugh. Governor Markell presented her with "naming rights" to any unnamed space in Delaware (he would have simply named a plaza after her, but, he explained, it's not that easy -- "You've all seen 'Parks and Recreation,'" he quipped.) "They'll regret this," Plaza said of her newfound power with a smile.

As for the movie itself, it's funny, moving and unpredictable, with the kind of plot that reminds you that, with an endless parade of remakes, sequels and reboots on the screen this summer, there are still original ideas out there. If you missed the screening, keep an eye out for its home video release. It will be worth the wait.

NCT Kisses Birdie Goodbye

Erica Harr and Doug Atkins
It's the summer of Bye Bye Birdie in Wilmington this year, with not one but two local productions of the nostalgic show (see Ebbie's review of the Wilmington Drama League's version here). We're not sure how that happened, but there's really no such thing as too much Birdie -- and if it affected ticket sales, you wouldn't know it by looking at the sold-out crowd at the New Candlelight Theatre.

For those still unfamiliar with the show, Bye Bye Birdie is a musical loosely based on Elvis Presley's draft into the Army in 1957, and the insanity that surrounded him at the height of his popularity. At the center of the story are Albert, the agent of the Elvis-like Conrad Birdie, and his secretary and love interest Rose. Together they hatch a plan to give Birdie a televised send-off where he kisses one of his biggest teenage fans goodbye, to the tune of what they hope will be the highest-selling record of his career. The lucky fan, 15-year-old Kim McAfee, lives in All-American Sweet Apple, Ohio, which is turned upside-down by the arrival of the superstar.

From Jeff Reim's outstanding, quick-changing set design to Timothy Lamont Cannon's meticulous 1950s costume design, everything comes together, allowing the actors to transport the audience back to 1958 without distraction. Erica Lynn Harr returns to the NCT stage after nine months performing for Disney Cruise Line, and she's as amazing as ever as the long-suffering Rose. As Albert, NCT newcomer (but not new to the stage) Doug Atkins often seems to channel Dick Van Dyke, who originated the role on Broadway and in the 1963 film. The two stars dominate and work well together, with the help of the hilarious Susan Dewey as Albert's overbearing mother, Mae. Joining them in central roles are Michelle Cabot as Kim and Steven Calakos as Conrad.

Michelle Cabot as Kim MacAfee, Steven Calakos as Conrad Birdie and Anastasia Bokas as Ursula Merkle.

Among the other characters, there is always a scene-stealer. Often, it's Kim's best friend Ursula or her steady boyfriend Hugo. Although these characters are played wonderfully by Anastasia Bokas and Caleb Whipple, the big scene-stealer in this production is Dewey Oriente, as Kim's excitable father Harry. The choreography during the Ed Sullivan Show scene couldn't have been funnier; much of the credit goes to Director and choreographer Dann Dunn, but Oriente made it perfect. Another scene-stealer is Lindsay Mauck as Gloria Rasputin, the young woman Mae tries to replace Rose with. She does a lot with the small role.

The ensemble supports the cast without flaw, though few of the background characters pop. Exceptions are Peter Briccotto, whose nerdy Harvey Johnson stands out, and the Maude's Bar trio of David McConney, Timothy Lamont Cannon, and Steve Stonis.

By the end, you may be ready to return to a world where parents can simply call their kids' cell phones rather than run around town in pajamas in the middle of the night and teenagers aren't expected to pair off for life -- but you will have had a great time in Sweet Apple while you were there.

Bye Bye Birdie runs through August 25th; tickets include a buffet dinner.

See for tickets and more information.