Friday, August 21, 2009

Thoroughly Modern Millie dated

There must have been a fire sale recently at Music Theater International, licensor of American musicals, with serious price slashing for “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

Why else would so many theatres across the nation be staging a musical with a plot so byzantine and songs so absurdly below George Gershwin's brilliance -- a show that would normally be dropped like third period algebra?

But even The New Candlelight Theatre is running it. Aisle Say is not criticizing Candlelight by any means. With dinner theatre profit margins what they are, management must do whatever it needs to survive.

New Candlelight Dinner Theatre presents Thoroughly Modern Millie

Through Oct. 10

Aug. 23 Special: Buy one matinee buffet/show combo, get one half off

For times & tickets: 302.475.2313

In this case, they have done it with surprising originality and fresh humor.

"Millie," set in 1922, tells the story of a young woman who has just come to New York City in search of a new life, just as women were entering the workforce and the rules of love and social behavior were changing forever.

In this rendition, the always-energetic Candlelight cast has provided Aisle Say with a first in our career as an audience member: an amusing duet done completely in Chinese (well, pidgin Chinese) by Brian Peeke and Reza Mirsajadi.


The show features a hilarious Gilbert and Sullivan patter song takeoff, “The Speed Test” sung by Millie (Erica Scanlon Harr), Graydon (Patrick O'Hara) and the ensemble.

Director Micki Sharpe's portrayal of an Oriental landlord brought visions of Charlie Chan movies before PC. Her accent was inconsistent and she actually pronounced several “r's.”

Harr and Dorothy Brown (Megan Pisors) far and away hold the honors vocally in their ingénue parts, while Jillian Pirtle as Muzzy Van Hossmere – a character that appears from left field further substantiating the lunacy of the story – is part Bessie Smith, part Josephine Baker as a nightclub chanteuse.

Harr, (Laurey in NCT's “Oklahoma”) has a beautiful musical theatre voice, while Pisors is more operatically trained. The two make for an interesting combination. For those familiar with Mama Rose's show-stopping number from “Gypsy” entitled “Rose's Turn,” Harr had a similar tour de force with “Jimmy” to end Act I.

Behind the scenes

Pirtle's costumes were period-specific and gorgeous.

Choreographer Valerie Smith Byron's inventive choreography made the most of 11 talented tappers, and dancers doing different moves in the same music.

Artistic Director Chris Alberts continues to impress with both his stylistic set design and enchanting ability to make effects that one would not think possible through lighting.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An S.O.S for Delaware's cultural flagship

What if you woke up and The Grand was shuttered? What would be the repercussions for our arts scene and Wilmington's revitalization?

A meteor is hurdling toward Earth, stamped with the address 818 N. Market Street and there is no superhero in sight.

Grand Executive Director Steve Bailey said he agonized over the decision to send thousands of appeal letters out to previous supporters detailing how bad things are at the First State's cultural flagship, which houses OperaDelaware, First State Ballet and Delaware Symphony. It was a courageous move, and there was passion in his voice during our recent conversation when he said the solicitations were "a referendum on whether The Grand survives."

The "yes" vote will be counted in dollars.

Bailey faced a formidable task when he came onboard our flagship: The Grand and a myriad of statewide non-profits had just bid a tearful goodbye to munificent benefactor Charlie Cawley and his considerable bankroll. Then there was the tanking economy, perennial perceptions of danger in downtown Wilmington after dark, and cleaning up residual messes and sour feelings left by previous Grand administrator Ken Wesler, a pompous court lackey to the imperial Cawley.

Yet even in those choppy waters, Bailey set a course for success, according to Director of Production Rick Neidig.

“We are expanding our mission. Our ticket sales have increased. We have instituted Summer Children's Theatre, children's' workshops, Summer Steel (learning to play the steel drums), and Stages of Discovery School Matinées throughout the year," Bailey told me.

Bailey's job description has changed from overseeing operations as executive director to become the all-consuming job of fund raiser No. 1. For any executive who has been through this cycle, we understand how enervating this is.

If The Grand shutters, fellow citizens, we are burnt toast. Wilmington Renaissance Corporation can rent a 1-800-Pack Rat for their move and the Buccini brothers bright idea of "lighting up" The Queen will dim.

It's bad enough when a restaurant or retailer closes, but that's Triple A baseball: The Grand is Major League. If we do not support The Grand -- Delaware's Eiffel Tower, our Tower of London, our Statue of Liberty -- we can kiss goodbye those grand pronouncements by city and state officials about our being a “world class destination,” because folks, we will have no class.

To find out how to support The Grand, call 302-658-7897 or visit