Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Delaware Theatre Company's 'Wicked' Opener

Jake Blouch, Rob Riddle, Christopher Sapienza (front), and Joelle Teeter, Rajeer Alford,
Clare O’Malley, Kevin Toniazzo-Naughton, and Melissa Joy Hart (back).
Photo by Mark Miller.
By Mike Logothetis
Just after you’ve settled into your seat at the Delaware Theatre Company (DTC), you’ll find yourself staring into a dark tunnel with a train coming toward you at breakneck speed. The locomotive seemingly thunders right into the audience and kicks off the electric new musical, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Based on the classic best-selling novel by Ray Bradbury, director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell deftly steers this delightful new musical about a traveling carnival’s mysterious visit to a small Illinois town. Neil Bartram (music and lyrics) and Brian Hill (book) have composed this coming-of-age thriller that draws heavily on the supernatural.

The story revolves around young heroes Will (John Francis Babbo) and Jim (Sawyer Nunes), who are constantly bored in tiny Greentown. Compounding their perpetual search for adventure is each boy’s lack of a loving father figure – Jim’s has left and Will’s doesn’t seem to acknowledge the son living under his own roof. Veteran television and stage actor Stephen Bogardus portrays Will’s dad Charles as a quiet and unhappy man who yearns for his deceased wife Beth’s (Clare O’Malley) company, not his living son’s. 

But things are soon to change…

Foretold by a narrator (Steve Pacek), who steps in and out of the stage action, trouble is coming to Greentown in late October 1938. The strange but kind man hands the lads a lightning rod to protect them during the storm that will blow into their lives soon. (Somethin’ is comin’/The wind doesn’t lie)

What’s comin’ is a traveling show that suddenly appears in town and is led by mysterious ringmaster Mr. Dark (Rob Riddle). Mr. Dark seems to prey on human insecurities and the townsfolk flock to the carnival tents to fulfill their inner desires. Riddle is the standout performer in this show. His maleficent actions and full baritone are sinfully delightful. Like in a silent movie, you want to both boo and hiss Mr. Dark while simultaneously cheering the entertainment of his villainy.

Bartram’s music and lyrics work to advance the story and include ballads, upbeat numbers, and operatic melodies which are effective as solos, duets, and chorus numbers. While you won’t go home humming any of the tunes from the show, you will be skipping happily out of the theater from the enjoyment of the experience.

The show is dazzling because of projection designer Shawn Sagady and the technical wizards from Freckled Sky. The multimedia creatives have pulled out all the stops with immersive special effects that will wow any theater-goer. Scott Davis has designed a brilliant set that combines a Norman Rockwell-like town with a sinister carnival. Whether mesmerized in a hall of mirrors or receiving 200,000 volts of electricity or engaged in a rooftop battle with an evil balloonist(!), these technical geniuses have outdone themselves. The action, blocking, and timing have to be perfect for these visual marvels to be successful – and they are. The set, actors, music, and effects are wonderfully synchronized.

The Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show song (none of the songs are listed in the program) was a highlight of the show. The carnival is rolled out to the people of Greentown with rousing choruses, snappy movement, and breathtaking special effects.

The ensemble cast is first-rate and most of the actors have secondary roles as townsfolk like barber Mr. Crosetti (Christopher Sapienza), tobacconist Mr. Tetley (Jake Blouch), and schoolteacher Miss Foley (Marian Murphy). Meghan Murphy plays the blind soothsayer known as the “Dust Witch” to wicked perfection.

Through a series of startling discoveries and harrowing experiences, Charles eventually gains self-awareness, faith, and a backbone as the story progresses. The boys fight to save their futures, their relationships, and their lives from all kinds of nefarious attacks the “Autumn People,” led by Mr. Dark, throw at them. In the end, the town is saved as is Charles’ paternal bond with Will. But for this show, it’s the journey not the destination that is most appreciated.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is DTC’s fourth development of a new musical following Because of Winn-Dixie, Tappin’ Thru Life and Diner. This is a World Premiere event, so some tweaking may take place during this initial run or after its completion.

The performance schedule of Something Wicked This Way Comes is: Wednesdays (2:00pm), Thursdays (7:00PM), Fridays (8:00PM), Saturdays (2:00 & 8:00pm) and Sundays (2:00pm) through October 8. Tickets start at $25 with group (10+) and student discounts available. There will be pre-show Viewpoints on September 27 at 1:15pm, plus post-show talkbacks on September 28 and October 5. The running time is just over 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. 

Call 302.594.1100 or visit DelawareTheatre.org to purchase tickets or for performance information. Delaware Theatre Company is located at 200 Water Street in Wilmington.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

OPENING NIGHT: Delaware Symphony Orchestra

By Christine Facciolo

Delaware Symphony Orchestra
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography
Classical music devotees savored a Fifth of Beethoven at The Grand Friday, September 15, as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra kicked off what promises to be one of the most ambitious seasons in its 111-year history.

But before the orchestra rolled up its sleeves for the Beethoven, it offered up some lighter fare, courtesy of Prokofiev and Mozart.

Prokofiev subtitled his Symphony No. 1 (1917) the “Classical Symphony,” in homage to Haydn. Prokofiev’s ability to blend his 20th Century voice with the style of the great classicist is indeed remarkable, making this one of his most popular works.
The piece is usually performed by a large modern orchestra. But here, the orchestra was pared down appropriately, giving the music a lighter texture. The string work throughout was captivating. The Gavotte proceeded with its dislocated tune and plodding rhythm, while the final movement bubbled along at an exhilarating pace, producing many admiring smiles and enthusiastic applause.

Mozart’s Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra (K.299/297c) was the companion piece on the first half, an apt choice, since Haydn influenced Mozart as well as Prokofiev. Amado partnered DSO principals Kimberly Reighley (flute) and Sara Fuller (harp) who gave a poised yet exuberant reading of this finely wrought work. The orchestra carried out its supporting role with as much commitment as if it were center-stage, befitting the intimate nature of the piece, especially the flowing Andantino.

After intermission, Amado and the orchestra got down to business with a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth, certainly the most well-known – possibly the most beloved – work ever created.

Familiarity can breed contempt but not in this case. As Amado pointed out, there is always something new and interesting to discover in Beethoven’s Fifth. First, were those introductory notes really the hammer blows of fate knocking at the composer’s door? Probably not. A theory developed in the 1990s holds that those famous fortissimo phrases were influenced by Luigi Cherubini’s “Hymn du Pantheon.” Cherubini was a prominent composer during the French Revolution. Beethoven was a passionate supporter of the revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Amado also pointed out the symmetry within the symphony’s first eight notes as well as the thematic and harmonic relationships between its movements.
If you listen to the Fifth largely on recordings, it’s easy to forget host thrilling a live performance ca be. This was a beautifully focused, fully energized performance of the Fifth with all the necessary elements in place: sonorous strings, flawless brass playing, full-bodied winds and above, a sense of drama and grandeur. The insistent C on the timpani had a palpable presence here, offering am effective set-up for the glorious, fortissimo rising chords that usher in the finale. 

For full season info, see www.delawaresymphony.org

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sisters are Slayin’ It in City Theater Company's 'Lizzie'

By Mike Logothetis

As my theater companion and I rose enthusiastically for a well-deserved standing ovation to City Theater Company's cast of LIZZIE, I smiled and told him, “Sisters are slayin’ it for themselves.”  He laughed and nodded and told me to write it down. It’s a corny homage to the Eurythmics, but it fits.

Darby Elizabeth McLaughlin as Lizzie.
Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
We had just thoroughly enjoyed a rock opera that tells the tale of the infamous Borden double murders in Fall River, Massachusetts – for which youngest daughter Lizzie was tried and acquitted. The legend of Lizzie Borden is a part of Americana, but I can’t say the general public knows the gory details. (I didn’t.)  This show covers most of the facts and theories surrounding the 1892 axe murders of Lizzie’s father and his second wife in their home.

But LIZZIE is less a history lesson and more a head-banging rock show that somehow includes incredibly tender moments. Lead actress Darby Elizabeth McLaughlin steals the show from three other amazing actresses by portraying Lizzie as confused, angry, demented, caring, conniving, steely and vulnerable.  

McLaughlin showcases her acting chops and wonderful vocal abilities in a space where the audience is so close it’s almost part of the staged action.  We are right there with Lizzie in her torment and famous act of conflict resolution.  McLaughlin’s portrayal of a young tortured soul is eerie and touching.  She impeccably hints at her character’s understanding of how she can escape her dreadful life through an unspeakable act.

But the three supporting actresses – Jill Knapp (Emma Borden), Kyleen Shaw ('Maggie' the maid) and Grace Tarves (Alice the neighbor) – are also outstanding.  Shaw’s Bridget/Maggie is an opportunist who knows all about the goings on in “The House of Borden.”  Meek neighbor Alice is given depth by Tarves, whose voice melds beautifully with that of McLaughlin in several duets.  Knapp’s portrayal of judgmental but caring older sister Emma is strong and her vocals soar in her solos.  Knapp’s frenzied performance of What The Fuck Now, Lizzie?! is a show highlight.

The six-piece Fall River Band was tight and got our toes tapping and heads bobbing during stand-out songs like This Is Not Love and Sweet Little Sister.  Under the direction of Joe Trainor, the talented band is nimble enough to play rock, metal and gospel – like in the song Watchmen For the Morning, where our protagonist gets fitted with a straightjacket.

The cast of CTC's Lizzie (L-R): Kyleen Shaw, Jill Knapp, Darby Elizabeth McLaughlin,
Grace Tarves.  Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography.
Director Michael Gray allows his actresses to roam throughout the American Horror Story-style set and deliver their lines facing any direction.  The employment of wireless microphones allows the performers to quietly deliver some dialog plus fill the room with their powerful singing voices.  Costumers Kerry Kristine McElrone and Lauren Peters have their women dressed in all white, and while some scenes relay a virginal innocence, others evoke images of witches gathered around a cauldron.  One neat visual was Lizzie walking on stools placed before her every step by the other women while contemplating how to “clean a stain.”

The climax and finale of LIZZIE are superb and mesh the closing songs into a medley of sorts.  Thirteen Days in Taunton recalls the Shel Silverstein/Johnny Cash song 25 Minutes to Go in that it is gallows humor at its finest.  All four principles are strong over the final five songs, which cover the murder trial and aftermath.  Chances are you’ll cheer the outcome and want to dance in the aisles like the audience on opening night.

LIZZIE originated in 1990 as a four-song experimental show by writer/director Tim Maner and songwriter Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer.  It took help from Alan Stevens-Hewitt (and almost 20 years!) to fully flesh out the narrative, music and staging of the rock opera.  The 2009 show was nominated for three Drama Desk awards in New York City during its initial run.  The current two-act version at City Theater Company was arranged by the authors in 2013.

The limited run of LIZZIE ends this week with 8:00pm shows on September 13, 14, 15 and 16 in The Black Box at Opera Delaware Studios (4 South Poplar Street, Wilmington, DE 19801).  Tickets are $28 (general admission), $25 (military), $20 (student), and $15 (child age 15 and under) and can be purchased online or at the box office.  There is also a $40 VIP ticket package available.  

Visit city-theater.org for more information, tickets and the remaining CTC season schedule.