C'est moi, c'est moi, Aisle Say, and I exclaim The Brandywiners, sans doubt, is the patriarch of Delaware community theatre.
In 1932 Frances Tatnall, of The Tatnall School fame, convinced Chick Laird, a duPont family scion with direct lineage to founder Eleuthere Irenee, that the time was right for community theatre in Wilmington. Laird had the brainstorm to travel out Route 52 to ask his favorite uncle for a place to play. The uncle was P.S. Du Pont and the sylvan stage was Longwood Gardens. (Laird went on to co-found both The Wilmington Drama League and The Brecks Mill Cronies, but they are stories for another day at Aisle Say.)
The Longwood stage is a magical place to perform and a requirement for a young singer or dancer's resume. Great memories are birthed here. On a starlit summer night, there is no more ideal place to see live theatre. For the actors, the backstage underground dressing rooms are a vertiginous labyrinth of passages.
Aisle Say has had the opportunity to appear in a few productions over the decades. I recall, during a '91 performance of "Kismet," that a light mist began falling before a solo. The director handed me an umbrella and said “the show must go on.” I opine that politics has factored in for a reprise of "Kismet." It's tough when a war is being fought and one of the production numbers of the show is “Baghdad.”
The most scenically appropriate shows at Longwood are "Brigadoon," "Carousel" and "Camelot." The natural splendor magnify and enrich the settings of these lush productions.
Lerner and Lowe's "Camelot" opened in 1960 with an otherworldly cast of Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet.
As we know, The Brandywiners stage large musicals only...with the largest casts in the region. Many amateurs re-visit productions over the decades; some return to the same roles. So it is this year.
Ted Harting, this year's Arthur, first played the role in 1981. His Lancelot was Jim Smith, the current director, who elevated himself from knight to king in 1993.
Two newcomers round out the leads, both of whom have substantial operatic backgrounds. Erin Cates Smith (Guenevere) has a Masters in Vocal Performance and has sung leads in "The Mikado" and "Pirates of Penzance" (coincidentally the very first Brandywiners show). Aisle Say last saw Wilmington native Jeffrey Chapman (Lance) in OperaDelaware's "Marriage of Figaro" and "La Boheme" at The Grand. Specifically, the songs “C'est Moi,” “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and “If Ever Would I Leave You” fit well with operatic voices.
Both Jim Smith and Music Director Lawler Rogers had long and distinguished careers as educators in the Brandywine School District. Rogers was music director for the recent "Carousel" and "Oklahoma" and has worked with OperaDelaware and Delaware Symphony.
The ticket purchase includes entrance to the world renown Longwood Gardens, so come early.
The show runs July 23 – August 1. For tickets, call 478-3355 or visit Brandywiners.org