Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Delaware Theatre Company Takes a Look Into 'Nureyev's Eyes'

Bill Dawes as Rudolf Nureyev and William Connell as Jamie Wyeth
It's been over 10 years since I (as many others) saw Jamie Wyeth's fascinating paintings and portraits of famed ballet dancer, Rudolf Nureyev in the Capturing Nureyev exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum. Now we are treated to the tale behind the paintings, as playwright David Rush's Nureyev's Eyes tells an equally fascinating fictional story of the very real interaction between the two artists who would create the masterpieces.

After playing in other parts of the country, the Delaware Theatre Company appropriately brings Nureyev's Eyes to the Brandywine Valley through a partnership with George Street Playhouse. Of course, the play has the connection to the area, but even if it didn't, this stirring two-man drama would still captivate.

From the elaborate set of Jamie's studio to the chic 70's costumes, this production gets everything right! Oh yes...and the actors who play the artists also deliver.

Told through a flashback, the 90-minute play gives a fictitious account of Jamie and Nureyev's collaboration over the span of 16 years. We watch the pair's prickly meeting at a posh Manhattan party, where Jamie's obsession to paint the dancer begins. Looking into Nureyev's eyes, Jamie sees the soul of the icon, and must make him his new muse. However, Nureyev is reluctant to work with Jamie, it takes some convincing for Nureyev to let the painter of pigs and cows paint him. Eventually he concedes to Jamie's requests and thus begins the tumultuous relationship.

Through riddles, the two perfectionists learn more about each other's passions, fears and insecurities. Although they do become friends -- Nureyev even visits Jamie and his wife in Chadds Ford -- they maintain their high expectations for this work. Neither man wants to compromise his artistic integrity; and so, lofty demands are placed on each other, leading to their many arguments.

Both also have great reasons for working on this project. For Jamie, the paintings will show his style and differentiate him from his family's legacy; for Nureyev, the paintings deliver him immortality. Nureyev also sees this as an opportunity for him to convince Jamie to give a good word about him to the head of the New York City Ballet -- a friend of Jamie's who soon will be naming the new Ballet Master in Chief, a job which Nureyev dearly covets.

Under Michael Mastro's masterful direction, both William Connell (Jamie) and Bill Dawes (Nureyev) prove they are outstanding actors. Mr. Connell's subtle performance beautifully captures a painter who is living in the shadow of his celebrated father and grandfather, while working to make his own mark in the harsh world of contemporary art. Although subtle, Mr. Connell shows great strength when verbally sparing with Mr. Dawes, who is stunningly scary as the intense, over-the-top star. Mr. Dawes achieves the great task of creating a full character that ends up being likable. He perfectly portrays both Nureyev's explosive diva-like persona and his sensitive, vulnerable side. Although defected from Russia many years ago to become an international star, even his fame, fortune and public adoration can't replace a family he misses and eliminate his fears of being followed by the KGB.

BTW - a few interesting facts learned at opening night - Nureyev is not pronounced as most people say it (Nur-e-ev), but is actually pronounced (Nur-a-ev). And the smock Mr. Connell wears in the play was loaned to the actor by Mr. Wyeth himself.

Nureyev's Eyes runs through March 20 at the Delaware Theater Company. Visit www.delawaretheatre.org or call 302-594-1100 for additional information and tickets.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mamma Mia...That's Some Fun Set to Music!

By Guest Blogger, Ken Grant
Ken Grant has worked in Delaware media, politics and marketing for 25 years. He and his Lovely Bride enjoy Wilmington's arts and culture scene as much as they can.

Lord Byron said, “All tragedies are finished by a death, all comedies are ended by a marriage.”
The US Touring Company of Mamma Mia. Photo provided.
Of course, when your play’s first act is set on the day before the wedding and the second act is set on the wedding day itself and you add in the music of Abba, a cast of vocal and physical acrobats with hundreds of costumes and more than 30,000 rhinestones – then you get a dose of fun that infects The Playhouse on Rodney Square and spills joyously out onto Market Street. Welcome to the traveling production of Broadway's smash, Mamma Mia!

The story centers around several trios of characters – from young Sophie Sheridan (Kyra Belle Johnson) and her friends Ali and Lisa (Kat Borrelli and Christina Eskridge) planning for Sophie’s wedding, to Sophie’s mother Donna (Eris Fish) and her lifelong friends Tanya and Rosie (Laura Michelle Hughes and Sarah Smith) still struggling to figure out how to have a successful relationship. Then, there’s the three men from Donna’s past – Sam, Bill, and Harry (Chad W. Fornwalt, Ryan M. Hunt and Andrew Tebo) – who are invited to the festivities under false pretenses.

Wedding drama is always fun to watch from the outside – but in this case the drama isn’t created by a young couple unsure about their future, but rather a young bride seeking answers about her past and the generation before working through their various regrets and lingering questions.

All of the performers capture the essence and effervescence of Abba while exposing a deeper layer of emotion (hope, longing, resignation, desire).

You don’t have to be intimately familiar with the music of Abba to be caught up in the fun of this production. For those who grew up with the music, this is a great trip along memory lane; and for those who didn’t, this show could turn them into new fans of the Swedish pop phenomenon.

The staging for this production seems deceptively simple at first, but becomes incredibly versatile as two pieces transform the set from indoor, outdoor, and alleyway locations on a small Greek island.

Make no mistake  this production delivers fun and gets the audience smiling, laughing, clapping, and yes, even dancing.

If you’ve gone to see a blockbuster film in the past few years, you know that you probably shouldn’t leave until all of the credits have run, as more and more movies offer nice little "surprises" at the end. Likewise, do not assume that when the cast offers their bows at the end of this musical that the entertainment is over. Stay where you are and enjoy – you won’t be sorry!

Mamma Mia is playing at The Playhouse on Rodney Square March 4-6.

See http://duponttheatre.com/mamma-mia.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

DSO & Brasil Guitar Duo Wow Audiences with US Premiere

By Christine Facciolo
The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) both secured a place in music history and established itself as a strong contender for a 2017 Grammy nod with this weekend’s performance and recording of three double guitar concerti, including the US Premiere of El Libro de Los Signos (The Book of Signs) by Cuban composer and cultural icon, Leo Brouwer.

Lending their virtuosic playing to the project was the Brasil Guitar Duo, the stunning collaboration of the supremely musical Joao Luiz and Douglas Lora. Endowed with extraordinary professionalism and technical mastery, these two young talents — who met as teen-aged guitar students in Sao Paolo — have earned critical acclaim for the sensitivity, refinement and mutual respect they bring to every performance.

The near sell-out crowd was especially hushed during their performance. One might attribute that to the fact that they knew recording was in progress. But it’s more likely they were simply in awe of this breathtaking display of artistry.

Luiz and Lora introduced themselves to the audience with a masterful performance of the unaccompanied Sete Aneis (7 Rings) by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti (b. 1947). This one-movement composition in Rondo form is based on the “choro,” one of the first forms of Brazilian urban music, which made its way to Rio de Janeiro from Africa in the mid-19th Century. The work is a study in contrasts and the duo accommodated. A wistful opening morphed into a blazing pizzicato passage before wrapping up with a lyrical and tender finish.

Next came the much-anticipated US Premiere of El Libro de los Signos (The Book of Signs) by Brouwer (b. 1939), widely considered to be the most significant living composer of art music for the guitar. This work — scored for two guitars and string orchestra — features music from Brouwer’s Afro-Cuban roots mixed with traditional form. The work was composed in 2003 at the behest of Greek guitarist Costas Cotsiolis and John Williams, and premiered in January 2004 at the Megaron Theatre in Athens. According to the composer, its language uses sounds to explore its rest-motion ambivalence.

The first movement features a series of variations on a theme by Beethoven. The second gives the same treatment to a more lyrical theme. The third — and most virtuosic — exhibits more of the Cuban influence. Brouwer achieves a seamless web of sound by the interplay of passages that at times have the guitars sounding like the orchestra and at other times having the orchestra play in the style of a guitar.

The duo rounded out their portion of the concert with a performance of the Concerto Caboclo for two guitars and orchestra composed especially for them by fellow Brazilian Paulo Bellinati (b. 1950). The duo honored their idol — who was in attendance — with a masterful performance.

Bellinati draws on Brazil’s rich musical heritage, infusing it with contemporary harmonies and techniques. The opening movement is most unusual for a concerto. In place of a fast-paced Allegro, the soloists enter with a cadenza in which they share musical materials much like a conversation. The orchestra entered only to be interrupted by another cadenza. Even as the movement increased in intensity, the music never lost the relaxed and lyrical feel of the coutryside.

The second movement (Adagio) was inspired by the Brazilian songs known as modas de viola. In keeping with the question-and-answer structure of these songs, one could frequently hear rhythmic ostinatos used in one guitar as accompaniment for the other. More ostinatos are heard in the final movement, which featured catchy rhythms and flashy fingerwork. Maestro David Amado’s meticulous direction of the orchestra’s dynamic levels ensured that the soloists were never overpowered.

The second half of the program was devoted to a performance of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, an opium-filled tale of love, obsession, betrayal and murder. In his pre-concert remarks, commented on how Berlioz, who made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his “Treatise on Instrumentation,” took an abstract form — the symphony 
 and used it to tell a story. And while symphonies that followed a program had existed before, most notably Beethoven’s Pastoral, Berlioz took the process to its logical conclusion with every note geared to the specifics of his p lot. That accomplishment as well as his use of the “idée fixe” would go on to inspire composers like Wagner and Liszt.

This truly iconic work poses a challenge to any conductor: Do you play the music and let the story take care of itself, or do you help it along? Amado’s reading is absolutely on the right side of sentimentality. His interpretation bristled with desire and intention. The first movement was playful and flirtatious. The ball waltzed itself into sheer delirium. As the music turned dark, Amado followed suit: the rhythms were unyielding; the mocking of Berlioz’s hero filled with spite. He kept the momentum going beyond the March to the Scaffold. The Witches’ Sabbath with its growly brass and tense strings sustained the nightmare to the very end. And let’s not forget the punctuation of the requiem Dies Irae by The Bells of Remembrance, which are featured in each concert of the DSO’s Classics Series this season.

See www.delawaresymphony.org.