Thursday, December 16, 2010

Moon & Stars Align with REP's "Midsummer"

Dear Tom Carper, Chris Coons (the luckiest politician in DE), John Carney, Jack Markell, Beau Biden (the UNluckiest politician in DE), UD Pres Patrick Harker and Vance Funk, Mayor of Funkytown,

(In one of the hundreds of jobs Aisle Say has had over his career, one was a news picker for a politician. Whenever the boss's name appears in print, the 'picker' must diligently cut and paste and place said article for further review.)
So, now that I have the attention of these esteemed gentlemen, let me humbly suggest one institution in the state which truly makes us 'World Class' – the UD REP Ensemble.
Aisle Say has had the privilege of seeing all but 3 of their productions in the 3 years of their existence. Relative to what trod the boards pre- REP, their body of work is inspiring.
Producing Artistic Director Sandy Robbins told me The Roselle Center for the Arts sits a few miles outside of the perimeter of the prestigious Philadelphia-based Barrymore Awards. Pat Harker, hey bro, you taught at Penn. Make a phone call, dude. That glass case in the theatre lobby soon would be brimming.
I travel to Philly frequently. While The Walnut stages musicals and The REP stages classics, every minute detail of the latter's work is superior. REP shows would be winners on Broadway.
As a writer, I absolutely wretch at the phrase “can't put it into words,” or when an athlete says, “it hasn't sunk in yet.” Yet, one could attend ' A Midsummer Night's Dream' multiple times and still not absorb all the nuances of this spellbinding and bewitching entertainment.
There were as many stars in this show as those in the midsummer night.
Scenic design is by Takeshi Kata, who takes her cue from the omnipresence of the moon in Shakespeare's most popular tale. Kata's moon not only emits light but serves as a lair for the delightful and intimidating Hippolyta/Titania (Jasmine Bracey), who like many of the leads, play two roles.
Puck (Ben Charles) worked assiduously at turning events preposterously. He is not only a skilled actor but an astonishing (and brave) athlete, gracefully flown over the Kata's moon by Foy, the same firm that harnessed Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby.
Theseus/Oberon (Mic Matarrese) was regal in both roles. Grandiloquent of voice and grand of poise, posture and presence.
The four lovers Hermia (Sara Griffin), Helena (Caroline Crocker), Demetrius (Mathew Simpson), Lysander (Cameron Knight) were gleeful and sensuous and, by the by, great comic artists.
And now to the Mechanicals, in what was the most outrageous Pyramis & Thisbe scene Aisle Say has ever witnessed. Poor Quince (Steve Tague) in that ridiculous wig trying to keep control of the out of control Bottom (Stephen Pelinski). The laughs kept cascading as sure as the rhythm of incoming waves. Pelinski has affected this 'who me?” look plastered on his malleable mug and the audience gladly submits their collective will to Bottom's mayhem.
The phantasmagoric fairy costumes created by Martha Hally have never seen an equal on a Delaware stage. I would request the name of the hallucinogen she took so that I could be half as creative.
The fairy platoon was so very concise in their movements, owing to the playful choreography of Joann Browning.
This show will be imprinted in the mind of the audience for a lifetime.
Through December 12. 302.831.2204

Delaware's only professional ballet company keeps throwing their creative net around the state. Longtime (and passionate) President of the Board Robert Grenfell and Artistic Director Pasha Kambalov hauled in a leviathan for this year's performances; The Delaware Symphony.
Heretofore, Tchaikovsky's music was pre-recored. Having our live symphony in attendance will energize not only the dancers but also the audience.
David Amado has shown a propensity in the last two years to broaden DSO's reach. He is making his troupe more accessible and the rewards are plentiful. Aisle Say attended a recent concert by Natalie Merchant. I felt the symphony was many times more exciting than this one note artist.
Just this past weekend DSO backed up Gary Brooker of Procul Harem, in concert for the Grand Gala; a spectacularly great party.
And, the orchestra was recently nominated for their first Grammy, a Latin dominated CD entitled Interchange. On a podcast by the DE Division of Arts, Exec Director Lucinda Williams pointed out that their label is from the most prestigious producing company of their genre.
Says Amado,”Collaborating with FSBT is thrilling for us. Normally we partner with other musicians. This new 'conversation', i.e. between the dancers and the orchestra is totally different. Both sides are energized and we become a living breathing organism. I think the audience senses this as well.”
Adding to the coup of partnering with DSO, First State Ballet is adding to this embarrassment of riches by inviting the Wilmington's Childrens Chorus to sit on either balcony sides and sing at appropriate times during the ballet. As Grenfell quips,”the music will be surround sound stereo!”
At The Grand Opera House Dec 17 @ 7pm; Dec 18 @ 2pm and 7pm; Dec 19 @ 2p Tix: 302.652.5577

Merry Xmas to Christine O'Donnell, DelDot and Pervert Priests

Aisle Say's Annual Christmas Paean to Delaware, Small Wonder
“O Christine O, O Christine O”
( to the tune of “O Christmas Tree”)
O Christine O, O Christine O!
Our state you so embarrass
O Christine O! O Christine O!
Republicans you so harass
Your only job is candidate
Your resume is pure bull...&*%
O Christine O, O Christine O!
Have you a gray cell working?

O Christine O, O Christine O!
No pleasure thou can'st give me;
You say that mice have human brains
“Pleasure oneself?” “One must abstain!”
O Christine O, O Christine O!
No pleasure thou can'st give me.

O Christine O, O Christine O!
I wouldn't walk in your shoes
O Christine O, O Christine O!
You made the R's sing the blues
In early years you tried witchcraft
No wonder they all think you're daft
O Christine O, O Christine O
I wouldn't walk in your shoes

O Christine O, O Christine O!
You were a TV talking head
O Christine O, O Christine O
I watched debates with fear and dread
You say your funds were misconstrued
Your former staff got really screwed.
O Christine O, O Christine O
You were a TV talking head

O Christine O, O Christine O
You cursed the State for bailin'
Don't want no mini Palin!
Seasoned pros with Mr. Coons
You had the nerve to call them goons
O Christine O, O Christine O
You cursed the State for bailin'

O Christine O, O Christine O
You say a Witch is not your case
O Christine O, O Christine O
Please leave our state without a trace
Your money came from out of state
Your ethics you do abdicate
O Christine O, O Christine O
Please leave our state without a trace

“Deck the State with DelDot Land Deals”
(to the tune of “Deck The Halls with Boughs of Holly”)
Deck the state with DelDot land deals
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
Tax money gone and NO appeals
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
Ruthann jets with Greg Tigani
Fa la la, la la la, la la la. 
A sweetheart deal in secrecy
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
Years away this Sussex bypass
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
DelDot deals a legal morass
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
See the barren acreage before us
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
Pay their's so egregious!
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
The rich grow rich in merry measure, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
“Screw those hicks, increase our treasure!”
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
A full accounting, Secretary Wicks
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
Disclose in full and no more tricks
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 

“O Come All Ye Acolytes”
(to the tune of “O Come All Ye Faithful”)
O Come All Ye Acolytes
Trusting and religious
O come ye, O come ye to Wilmington.
Come and believe him,
The priest that gives you succor;
O come, let us denounce him,
O come, let us detest him,
O come, let us despise him,
The pervert priest.

O Sing, unwarned parents,
Sing in exultation,
Sing that your son was deemed a ''chosen” one.
Car rides and many ... overnight vacations;
O come, let us recant him,
O come, let us renounce him,
O come, let us revile him,
The pervert priest.

And now, 40 years later
A chance to gain some closure
Who to pay the price for this sad shattered life?
The parish?, the diocese?... roads lead to Vatican City!
O come, let us distrust him,
O come, let us mistrust him,
O come, let us adore him?
The pervert priest

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yikes, it's Wanda Sykes at The Media Theatre

A guest artist with a national profile brings great celebrity to a regional theatre. I am a great fan of Wanda Sykes on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm', the chief reason being that she cuts the irascible Larry David no slack.
Those on Media Theatre's email list were reminded almost daily of Sykes' star power.
While admittedly I witnessed the first preview before an audience, Sykes as the dastardly drunk Miss Hannigan came across as comfortable on stage as Tiger Woods in his first news conference after his marital sturm und drang.
She loosened up a bit during 'Easy Street', sung and danced with the entertaining and energetic – while nefarious - twosome of Rooster (Reggie Whitehead) and Lily St. Regis (Janet Rowley). What is normally an over the top show stopper devolved into a boilerplate production number, eliciting but courtesy chuckles from the audience of family and friends.
Aisle Say's overall impression was that Sykes was under rehearsed.
I will leave this flailing in the hair vest with one final comment; she should talk-sing her one solo 'Little Girls'. This is an effective device for non-singers made famous by Rex Harrison in “My Fair Lady”. (Sykes is on hiatus during the run of the show and the role will be taken by popular and experienced Philly actor Mary Martello.)
Annie (Tori Heinlein) fared well with the iconic 'Tomorrow' and even better with 'Maybe'. (At ten years already an Equity card carrier!) Her constant attention to her red wig was distracting and the strong chemistry that should be evident between she and Warbucks (Paul Jackel) registered a 'luke' on Aisle Say's 'warm' index.
Overall, the production lacked pace and energy. Rhythm was off by a half step. The scenes with the orphans and any time Rooster (Whitehead) was on stage created much anticipated and appreciated energy. Whitehead's credits include the character of Sportin Life in Gershwin's 'Porgy and Bess', America's first opera. He brought that same Sammy Davis, Jr.-type dynamics to this role.
The singing star was Grace (Eliza Matthews) performing back to back shows at Media. She was last seen as Emma in their sizzling 'Jekyll & Hyde' . At that show Aisle Say gushed over her light lyric soprano / soubrette like an expectant school boy at the sophomore prom. Matthews has no solo in this production but is is evident her control is as tight as the spiral from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson.
One of the most creative aspects of the show was delivered by scenic designer Robert Klimowski. He used very descriptive Depression era images on a rear projected screen; an inexpensive yet effective vehicle to create mood. As a result, we were embraced with the atmosphere of that difficult time in American history.
Through January 16. 610.891.0100

For those of you who remember my Delaware's Best of Broadway, we are returning to Bella Vita at Cavaliers Country Club on February 17 at 1:30pm and February 18 at 8pm. My professional singers will be performing a cabaret/concert of Broadway's show stoppers, including tunes from Les Mis, Phantom, Carousel, Showboat, etc. Buffet and two hours of entertainment. Carl Immediato of the iconic 3 Little Bakers Dinner Theatre is Marketing Director at the venue. Group rates. 731.5600.

Monday, November 29, 2010

John & Lena O'Toole receive Lifetime Standing O's

While attending Wilmington Drama League's “Chicago” two weeks ago, John and Lena O'Toole, co-founders of Arden's Candlelight Dinner Theatre walked in. Son Grant and I walked over to say hello.

“Oh, you're reviewing tonight, Greer?” asked Lena.

John smiled and lamented...“too bad I never had a chance to play Billy Flynn (Richard Gere in the movie). I would have been perfect.

“Oh, John”, replied Lena, “you won't be getting reviewed again.”

That comment was my cue for this ode to the O'Toole's. Neither John nor Lena had ever been reviewed for the profound impact their life's work had on community theatre in Delaware and, equally important, the lives of the hundreds of actors they touched.

John O'Toole and Julian Borris had attended high school together in Wilmington. In early 1969 they came up with the idea to renovate the Robin Hood Dell and transform it into the state's first dinner theatre. They did not share the secret with wives Lena and Annabelle until the day they opened the creaky doors of that Arden landmark.

“The place was a complete disaster,” recalls Lena. “Dust and cob webs everywhere, peeling paint, ivy growing through the walls, muck on the floors and 200 seats in complete disrepair that were bolted to the floor. It had been a barn before Robin Hood Dell and aside from the absence of farm animals, looked that way that day.”

Julian was to be artistic director; Lena was given bookkeeping; John was to be production manager, press aid and a very literal chief cook and bottle washer. Annabelle Borris was assigned to be Annabelle.

The bank account opened with $7.20. The partners came up with the idea of selling $50 shares. That accumulated roughly $10,000; not a lot to begin a business. John was in real estate and Julian was in radio sales. Each family had 4 kids. There was no way they could quit their full-time jobs.

But eventually word got out in the community about this new dinner theatre. Lena recalls that people came by to say they loved the idea and wanted to volunteer.

“Cathy, our daughter brought several girls from Ursuline Academy to help paint,” she said.

John gives credit to Julian for the idea of the first show, “Forum."

“I had never heard of the show," he said. "It was the first time it would be performed in the state.”

Opening was to be September of 1969. Due to an ever increasing number of problems, however, the date was pushed back to Thanksgiving.

“A very, very cold Thanksgiving,” chimes in John. “We had no heat backstage. If you know 'Forum,' the girls (courtesans) run around with hardly anything on. They would dash offstage and crowd in front of a commercial construction heater we borrowed, reduce their goose bumps for a split second and prance back on stage.”

The ticket price for dinner and theatre that night was $7.50. (Liquor was BYO and was to remain that way until 1981.) 'Forum' was a boffo success. Many cast members became stalwarts for years at Candlelight. One in particular, Don Parkhill, played Senex, the discombobulated father searching for his son and instructed by Pseudolis (Borris) to walk seven times around Rome. Parkhill's hilarity became a mainstay for the next decade. I personally saw the show about eight times and still chuckle to this day.

Through Facebook I reached out to many actors over the 31 years of John and Lena's grand experiment. Overwhelmingly, the comment was “family." Julian was a mite intimidating. The O'Tooles created a loving, nurturing environment where everyone was respected. For many, it was their initial foray into the magical world of live theatre.

From Claudia Carlson (Aisle Say states one of the most beautiful voices ever to grace the stage): My husband Joe and I were just talking wistfully about our Saturday nights at Candlelight. John would set out bread and cold cuts and potato salad for the cast. He always spoiled Joe with extra pickles and Joe's favorite cheese. Such a simple pleasure but it brought such joy to us all. Those touches made us feel a part of the family. That doesn't happen anywhere else.

On the acting front, John and Lena were always my biggest fans and gave me the courage to take risks. I knew I was doing a good job if I got a glimpse of Lena at the office door. She would always stop what she was doing to catch her favorite parts of the show. She told me she never missed me singing "Rose's Turn." "Gypsy" was my final show with John and Lena. They will always have a special spot in this Mama's heart.

From Tom Marshall, presently directing all Concord High shows: I'll never forget working with Julian on "Mame." He never knew his lines and would make them up on stage. You never knew what was going to come out and he got mad at you if you looked like a deer in headlights. After a tirade from Julian, John and Lena were always there to boost you up. It became a second home to me and it was because of the two of them.

From Sue Hornung, lead in several shows through the decades: John and Lena created a theatre family at Candlelight...a family that provided training for future professionals such as Sue Stroman (whose had a so-so career on Broadway...Ha!). Some of the best Delaware actors were part of Candlelight – Jean Bovard, Luanne Sereduke, Terry Johnson, to name a few.

My best friend Ted Meyermann was playing the Paul Lynde (father) role in "Bye Bye Birdie" in 1998. The kid playing the son, Randolph, dropped out two weeks before opening. Ted made a bee line to my house to ask if then 10-year-old Grant could do the role. It was a no-brainer for me, but convincing his mother was another issue. Ted launched into a passionate argument. After ten minutes Grant's Mom relented.

“Okay, okay, Ted. Please stop crying!”

As they did Saturday evenings after every show for 31 years, John and Lena laid out sandwiches and cokes for the cast. The first couple of Saturdays I would come right after the show to schmooze with everyone. This infuriated Grant.

“These are my friends. This is my cast. You are not allowed to come pick me up until midnight!" he implored. "And another thing. Don't come in. Stay in the car!”

I was stunned by the emotion of this normally sweet and mild mannered kid. Then, aha!. Grant, like all the kids who ever performed at Candlelight, felt territorial of these new friends and this new found world of off-center "theatre people."

Oddball remembrances from Aisle Say:


John's handwritten programs in the '70s. (Many times he would misspell an actor's name from one show to the next. If you were Polish, good luck on getting your name correct!)

The bathrooms through the '70s! Oh, boy!

Waiting tables for tips

John and Julian's "Abbott and Costello" act during intermission

The rubber chicken that had to make an appearance in every show

In each role John played, there was a touch of his favorite character Luther Billis from "South Pacific." (I say that with great affection.) As Billis, though, no one ever wore his coconut breastplates with greater pride.

Well, Lena, so you were wrong. John was in fact reviewed once again...along with what is probably your first review. Aisle Say humbly speaks for all Candlelight alum over 31 years: The O'Tooles deserve a lifetime standing ovation.

The collective love for your "theatre family" is the grand legacy you leave. As La Merman (the woman who could hold a note longer than the Chase Manhattan bank) sang: “Who could ask for anything more!”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Aisle Say - Dec 2009. I enjoyed writing this

“WHYY, How dare you leave our city”, (to the tune of O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree)

How dare you leave our city
Without an ounce of pity
You say you're not aband'ing us
And who are we to make a fuss!
How dare you leave our city

We put big money in you
Citizens are left to stew
You say your plans are misconstrued
But bottom line, we all got screwed
We put big money in you

Each month we get a call for cash
But now it all seems balderdash
Your anchor was a talking head
I tuned at 5 with fear and dread
Each month we get a call for cash

Next stop may be the FCC
Ted Kaufman's vote may be the key
You state your costs will not allow
But your GM makes 500 thou.
Next stop may be the FCC

The Dredging of the Delaware River
( to the tune of Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly”)

Deck the shores with tons of sewage
Folly, folly, folly la la la la.
Underneath Memorial
Folly, folly, folly, la la la la
Trust Army Corps of Engineers?
Folly, folly, folly, la la la la
All we get are haughty sneers!
Folly, folly, folly, la la la la
See the wildlife dead before us,
Folly, folly, folly, la la la la.
Just say no and join the chorus,
Folly, folly, folly, la la la la.
Call Markell to voice displeasure,
Folly, folly, folly, la la la.
No corp'rate greed, no corp'rate treasure,
Folly, folly, folly, la la la la.

Ode to Mike Castle, “Biden's Son is Coming to Town” (to the tune of Santa Claus is Coming to Town”)

You better watch out
Don't sit, don't sigh
Better not flout
Joe's telling you why
Biden's son is coming to town
Beau's making a list
And checking it twice;
Goin' to DC to get some advice
Biden's son is coming to town
Beau sees you when you're polling
Beau knows that you're ahead
First state's... been historic'ly blue
Castle wants to make it red!
O! You better watch out!
You better look spry
Won't be a blow out...
Could make you mince pie
Biden's son is coming to town!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Characters are Footloosical in "Suessical, the Musical"

Quotes Dr. Suess, “So the writer who breeds more than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.”
Therefore, says I, ...“the words I pen in my column Aisle Say... will be nifty and utmost thrifty. In fact, I'll cut by fifty-fifty!”
In this first ever production of “Suessical, the Musical” at New Candlelight, the actors, with an age range beginning at 6 and going skyward, are given the opportunity to which all thespians aspire; i.e. playing over-the-top, fantastical cartoon characters.
In the music and frivolity is both simple charm and moral lessons, perfect for your children and grandchildren. This is both an ideal bonding experience for the kids and you and also a memorable holiday treat. And, for only $5.00, you can treat your child to a very cool Dr. Suess hat!
At our preview night dining with my dear (and most assuredly non-grinch) sister Liz, perhaps 25% of the house were kids, squealing at the antics of the characters, the dazzling colors and originality of Timothy Lamont Cannon's costumes and the star light special effects of Director and Lighting Designer Chris Alberts.
Gentle readers, this is not some kiddified production. The excellent music is by Ahrens and Flaherty, the duo who gave you the Broadway blockbuster “Ragtime.” Standing out is a lilting and inspirational ballad 'Solia Sollew' that is hypnotically harmonized by the ensemble. You have never heard it for it cannot be extrapolated from the show. It has character references and too integrated in the rather non-nonsensical plot. (This IS Dr. Suess, remember. And the show was co-conceived by Monty Python Eric Idle...enough said!)
The Master of Ceremonies/Ringmaster is The Cat in the Hat (Paul Goodman). A new father himself, this role has given the veteran actor even more a sensitivity of the joy and innocence of childhood and he plays the part with a sparkle in his eye, urging the young JoJo (Zachary Pennington) “On the Thinks You Can Think.” Pennington is an eighth grader at Springer. Many of the kids attend Cab Calloway School for the Arts.
Horton (David Snyder) is making his NCT debut as an elephant. He has a sweet and endearing voice, this loyal character to his friends, “...I meant what I say and I say what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred per cent.”
Gertrude McFuzz (Erica Scanlon Harr) is a delight to watch in her ever expanding and contracting bird costume (yet another bravo to Costumer Cannon). We have heard her clear soprano as Dorothy in “Oz” and Laurey in “Oklahoma”. Harr exemplifies, along with Mrs. Mayor (Lindsay Mauck), Sour Kangaroo (Erienne Poole) and Mayzie (Kaylan Wetzel), the talented core of performers that Chris Alberts has assembled over the past two years or so. Aisle Say is waiting for “Dreamgirls” for Poole and “Guys and Dolls' for Wetzel, two shows perfect for their rich voices.
For the half dozen or so kid performers, they will remember this adventure with Dr. Suess the remainder of their lives. Zoe McLane (age 6?), playing 'ill Roo (think Mini Me), to Sour Kangaroo. Zoe started at NCT Summer Camp and now has progressed to a main stage production. In her credits she writes, “I want to thank my Mom and Dad for listening to me rehearse and rehearse over and over and over again.! OKAY! FINE, and to Zach, my brother – there I said his name!
Due to money, NCT is no longer has an Equity relationship. However, under Alberts' tutelage, they have regressed nary a scintilla in production quality. It has been and remains the best value in live entertainment – dinner AND theatre for the price of a theatre ticket.
Will Candlelight succeed? Yes indeed. Yes indeed. 98 and three quarters per cent guaranteed!
Through December 22. 302.475.2313

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Razzle Dazzle with Wilm Drama League's CHICAGO

“Chicago” is the grandest community theatre production Aisle Say has witnessed in the past five years. Jody Anderson is unequivocally the most talented choreographer in the state. Anderson has taken a coterie of dedicated amateur hoofers and molded them into a razzling dazzling unit that pays homage to the singular talent of Broadway legend Bob Fosse; he of the thrusting pelvis, rounded shoulders and signature bowler hat.
Director Matt Casarino's exemplary cast includes wonderful singers, beginning with the leads Velma (Barbara Wright) and Roxie (Ashley Harris), extending to Mama Morton (Rebecca Gallatin) and then to the chorus. Christopher Tolomeo leads a great band excelling at the period music of the roaring '20's; all perched atop the set – always on stage but never intrusive to the progress of the plot.
Most of us have seen the movie. Aisle Say believes the stage show to be more endearing and certainly funnier. Son Grant accompanied me on opening night. He commented that he had to keep focused for so many exciting twists and turns were happening with such fluidity. That is a credit to both the director and the choreographer. He also commented on the quality that WDL produces, hearkening back to last season's “Rent”.
I loved the entire cast but Harris was most wonderfully perfect as Roxie, the doe-eyed murderess. How in the world could this harmless looking naif be so cold-blooded? “Chicago” is predominantly a woman-driven show with Velma and Roxie. Billy Flynn (Jeff Santoro) played the ultimate legal sleezeball hotdog with relish. He was having too much fun in the role. (Minor costume point. Would have loved to see him in a double breasted stripe suit with those '20's era black & white shoes).
Billy was appropriately condescending to Amos (Edward Elder), Roxie's long suffering husband. He continually referred to him as “Andy”, a running joke that was undoubtedly lost on those in the audience younger than 50. Amos, the poor schlub, had his moment, though. His “Mr. Cellophane” was a show stopper. The fellow can hold a note!
Fred Casely (Chris Turner) was very funny in the role of the deceased. He is the only one in the cast who did not seek out Anderson's help with choreography.
If you are seeing only one musical this year...this is the one!
Through November 13. 302.764.1172

RAIN: A Tribute to The Beatles
Aisle Say fervently believes The Beatles had more to do with the dissembling of the Berlin Wall than Ronald Reagan. The stone monolith demarcating Berlin was not high enough to block radio waves emanating from The West. Communist kids were just like the rest of us kids back then; “All You Need Is Love” was a global rallying cry.
Many of the tunes from the mightiest canon in popular music history will be performed four times at The DuPont Theatre on November 12-14.
One might entitle the show a Baby Boomer's delight. My compadres in Boomerism can count their watershed events on one hand. One of mine is Ed Sullivan and The Beatles on 9 February 1964. One can only guess the numbers of Americans tuning in that night. Oh, and those teenyboppers in the audience crying, you remember, the ones with the horned rimmed glasses.
RAIN: A Tribute to The Beatles, was born as a bar band in Southern California in the '70's Founder Mark Lewis had struck a nerve; surrounded himself with electrifying musicians and still here after 40 years. Lewis comments that they will be on Broadway after the first of the year.
The group has 200 tunes in their repertoire, spanning from Uncle Ed to Abbey Road, through psychedelia, to the rooftop: 'Hard Days Night', 'Revolver','Sgt Pepper', 'Magical Mystery Tour', 'The White Album'. My oh my, the passages of time, the memories.
“Rain” is a multi-media, multi-dimensional experience...a fusion of historical footage and hilarious television commercials from the 1960s lights up video screens and live cameras zoom in for close-ups.
The tunes are sung live and note for note. There is nothing pre-recorded.
The chefs at the Hotel du Pont are having some fun with the show as well. They are offering a Beatles themed dinner buffet during the run of the show. The buffet is $30.00. Some of the possibilities include:

“Strawberry Fields Forever” Cheese Cake
“Ain’t She Sweet” Crème Caramel

For tix; 302.656.4401, For dining: 302-594-3154 or 800-338-3404.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"Sylvia" a HOWL at DE Theatre Co

Man's love of his four footed pooch knows no boundaries, at least in the mind of renown playwright A. R. Gurney. Greg (Kurt Zischke) and wife Kate (Hollis McCarthy) are empty nesters. Greg is suffering through an insufferable mid-life crisis. He encounters a stray dog Sylvia (Maggie Lakis) in the park and the bond the two acquire is a Gordian knot that the pragmatic Kate cannot sever.
It's a comedy that explains in human terms just what and how your dog would be responding to you if the mutt could do more than whimper and bark and lick and growl. In the first act, when Greg brings Sylvia to the NYC apartment, he asks her, “Did you just pee on the rug?” Sylvia says, “Greg, I won't dignify that with an answer!”
Greg is totally mesmerized by this cuddly lap dog and sighs, “Oh, Sylvia, I would just love to know about your former owner.” Replies a droll Sylvia, “Oh, come on, all present owners want to know that!”
Exclaimed an animated Delaware Theatre patron at intermission, “Yes, that's exactly what (insert name of his dog) would say to me. I know it!. My dog is just like Sylvia!”
Director David Stradley keeps action and movement at a pretty pace. Employing a unit set, he and Lighting Designer Shelley Hicklin devise a creative way to change scenes through the apartment windows.
Lakis plays a cuddly and charismatic canine. We have no reason to believe she is anything but a dog. Her physical action; cavorting around the apartment, lifting her leg between the legs of an embarrassed guest, scratching, etc, was just enough to give us the impression of doggie behavior.
At times we thought Zischke's Greg so shallow and excruciatingly self centered. Choosing a dog over his wife? At other times we heard him as as The Everyman of mid life depression. Zischke reached down in his soul and got through to us.
Aisle Say hoped that McCarthy's Kate would simply go off the deep end and grab and shake her husband. Gurney did not write it that way. Through her eyes we saw her rage and her pain and perhaps that was sufficient.
The comic award goes to multi-talented and cross-dressed David Jadico. Aisle Say has previously enjoyed his mayhem in Philadelphia theatre. Playing three roles, his scene as Phyllis boosted the energy of Act I. One could not take their eyes off his over the top drag queen mannerisms.
The actors are better than the script. The play was disjunctive, the playwright stuffing incongruous bits of dialogue that did not progress the action. Why the Cole Porter tune sung as a threesome? Why the Shakespearean tidbits from Kate said directly to the audience? (The only time in the production where the fourth veil was pierced). And even Stevie Wonder could see the final resolution coming a mile away...and it was too doggoned schmaltzy.
“Sylvia” was a promising beginning to DTC's 32nd season. The production was done several years ago. It's finally time to consider euthanasia. Next up is “Around the World in 80 Days”.
Through November 7. 302.594.1100.

NOISES OFF at Cab Calloway
Coming on the heels of one of Cab Calloway's teachers being named DE Teacher of the Year, Cab's theatre-minded students are staging what is arguably the funniest farce ever written, “Noises Off”. An ambitious director and his troupe of exceedingly mediocre players are rehearsing a titanic flop entitled “Nothing's On”. The actors forget lines, hysterically forget their characters and prat fall all over the place. There are too many slamming doors to count. In fact, when Aisle Say visited a rehearsal this week, 9 doors were counted in this gargantuan set designed and built by undeniably the most energetic and overworked tech department of any high school in the state.
Running Thursday, Friday and Saturday November 4-6 @ 7pm. Tickets at $10.00.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

OperaDelaware's "La Traviata" and Phila's 1812 Productions.

From the characters and plot of Puccini's 1896 'La Boheme' came Jonathan Larson's revolutionary rock opera 'Rent'. Julia Roberts' landmark film, 'Pretty Woman', is based loosely on Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata”, to be performed Nov. 7 at 2 pm and Nov. 12 & 13 at 7:30 pm at The Grand.
Making her OperaDelaware debut as Violetta, the prostitute with a heart of gold, is soprano Colleen Daly of Columbia, Md., a graduate of Philadelphia’s prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts. Daly had performed at OperaDelaware’s Studio Series on the Riverfront and Executive Director Lee Kimball enthused, “We heard her voice firsthand in our Studio Series and immediately hired for the main stage opera.”
The opera is a poignant love story drawn from an autobiographical novel by Alexander Dumas about a young man from the country (Alfredo) who falls passionately in love with (this is opera, and passion is historically the main motivator of action) a glamorous Parisian courtesan (Violetta). Against her better instincts, she succumbs to his advances and leaves the glittering Parisian demi-monde to live with him in a secluded country villa.  Their idyllic life is threatened when Alfredo’s father arrives to demand that Violetta leave his son to protect the family honor. Violetta agrees and returns to Paris, where her life falls apart when she contracts tuberculosis. Alfredo returns to care for her, but their reunion is brief and the opera ends tragically. (It didn't end this way with Richard Gere).
Verdi wrote “La Traviata” ( “The Fallen Woman”) at the height of his powers in 1853, and some consider it his most beautiful opera.  Numerous divas have considered it a signature role, most notably Maria Callas. 
Joining Ms. Daly in the production will be tenor Alok Kumar (Alfredo) of Somerville, Mass., who has sung with Santa Fe Opera, Austin Lyric Opera and the Spoleto Festival in Italy.
Kimball, a veritable umo universale of opera – and one of the state's great advocates for the performing arts - normally stage directs. With this production he will be designing the set.
A free lecture will be presented one hour before each performance.  
'La Traviata' will be presented in Italian with instant projected translations in English, call 800-37-GRAND, or go to  Student rush tickets at $10 are available one half hour before each performance.

1812 Productions – Philadelphia – Plays and Players Theatre 1714 Delancey St
'Why I'm Scared of Dance' – one woman show written and acted and 'danced' by Jen Childs
“Those who can't do”, cries Jen Childs, “mock!” As a child Jen played the flute, but she always dreamed of 'the dance'. Her female cousins were very good dancers, both being long, limber and lithe. Jen was tres short and a bit wide around the buttocks.
Poor Jen's physical characteristics mitigated against a career on pointe. She found her calling in comedy. In this 70 minute tour de force, she mocks not only her stuck up, snotty cousins but herself as well. While 'the dance' is the driver in this original production, the title is a metaphor for anyone who has aspired to greatness in a field where greatness was never to be.
Childs studied with several Philadelphia dancers and choreographers who work in a potpourri of styles. She took to the studio to study basic ballet, hip hop, Broadway jazz, modern and finally improvisational dance. “Each”, she states, “have a special place in my story and a different type of fear connected with them.”
She gamely attempts all of them, but Aisle Say suggests most emphatically she hang up her ballet shoes for good after the run of the show. Of course it was all in fun, 1812 Productions being a strictly comedy house, but Childs displayed most precision with hip hop. At the end of the day, it's not the fear that's extraordinary, it's what you do about it.
Through October 31. 215.592.9560

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Importance of Earnest" at UD REP

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is Oscar Wilde's most popular oeuvre and one of the most brilliant comedies in the English language. Wilde enjoyed satirizing late Victorian (1894) morals, manners and society; accomplished most notably in the glittering (and withering) aphorisms of Lady Bracknell. ( "Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die." )
He also relished the conceit of switched identities. The play's two protagonists, Jack Worthing (Cameron Knight) and Algernon (Andrew Goldwasser) engage in "bunburying" (the maintenance of alternate personas in the town and country) which allows them to escape Victorian social mores.
This being the fourth year of the existing MFA class, Artistic Director Sandy Robbins has integrated the students with the professionals of the REP Ensemble. Of all the productions witnessed by Aisle Say over the past 2 ½ years, “Earnest” was not particularly well cast and did not play to the strengths of the collective ensemble.
Goldwasser lacked the air of upper crust, the insouciant demeanor of the landed gentry and one born with a platinum spoon affixed firmly in mouth. Knight, on the other hand, projects an irrepressible glee in the service of his character. "Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?" Knight's movements and diction is superb, the latter aided in part by Director Steve Tague, himself a member of the REP and company diction and vocal coach.
Sandy Robbins eschews type casting his troupe. That is why last season's Maggie (The Cat on the Hot Tin Roof) is Lady Bracknell (Elizabeth Heflin). Wilde, through Bracknell, serves up some of the most clever opprobriums in English literature. Heflin did not maximize the opportunity.
Gwendolyn Fairfax (Caroline Crocker) and Cecily Cardew (Meaghan Sullivan), women who wish very much to be wedded to a man – any man – with the respectable name of Ernest.
For both women, appearances and style are important. Gwendolen must have the perfect proposal performed in the correct manner and must marry a man named Ernest simply because of the name's connotations. She believes in appearances, upper-class snobbery, correct behavior, and the ability to discuss, ad nauseam, the trivial. As such, Crocker can deliver a laugh line.
Cecily projects a woman a bit more sheltered than Gwendolyn and her character comes across as a naif. Both women are excellent and their interpretations make it clear they possess the common sense their suitors lack.
Two of the stars of the production are costumes and sets. Costume designer C. David Russell's achievements are simply spectacular. He puts Lady Bracknell in sumptuous overstuffed gowns suitable to her overstuffed personality. Aisle Say was reminded of The Queen of Hearts from “Alice In Wonderland”. Russell's choice of colors, his avid research to the Victorian period, his selection of gowns and suits is wondrous.
Paul Wonsek, Scenic and Lighting Designer deserves huzzahs commensurate with Russell. One could almost smell the lilacs in the lush country garden design.
Throughout REP's two years of existence, there has always been microscopic attention to detail with both sets and costumes. Sandy Robbins knows these intangibles are 'actors' as well.
Aisle Say suggests fiercely a season subscription to REP is a great value! It's unquestionably the best theatre in the state and the University should lobby to become part of the Philadelphia based Barrymore Awards.
Through November 6. 831.2204

Addenda: This the 5th month of no performing arts reviewer from the state's only daily newspaper. How can we be defined as a “World Class Destination” with no full – or even part time - theatre critic?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

As a child, Aisle Say admits to an addiction to Classics Illustrated comics. Composer Frank Wildhorn must have a similar predilection. He has written music for pop musicals entitled “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, “Cyrano de Bergerac” and most notably (and successfully) “Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical”.
Adapted from a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, the musical speaks to the duality in us all; the fine line between good and evil.
Fair haired Dr. Jekyll seeks to discover in his laboratory the nature of the demons that possess man's soul and engender mental illness. The action is of the European Grand Guignol. While there is no blood on stage, Hyde's Mephostophelian side provides abundant mayhem. This show actually makes one think about one's moral center. Jekyll is warned by his friends about his experiments. He responds, “If all I thought about was the consequences, I would never accomplish anything.”
The three leads were outstanding; most assuredly Broadway quality talent. They are privileged to sing 4 certified show-stoppers: “This Is The Moment”, “Someone Like You”, “Once Upon A Dream” and “A New Life”.
In her opening duet with Jekyll (Patrick Ludt), Emma's (Elisa Matthews) soprano embraces the men in the audience as all men dream. I sat in my seat and sighed, 'bring it on, honey' and immediately coursed my program to see when she would be singing again (to me and me only of course). Hers is not only a crystal clear instument but sensuous and evocative.
Lucy (Trisha Jeffrey) debuted the role of the English prostitute at Media 8 years ago and went on to Broadway's “Rent”, among others. Reprising this character now only added to the maturity and naturalness with which she portrays a girl whose alternatives in life are slim. Jeffrey has the pipes to vibrate the theatre's chandelier, but the gift that makes her a great actress is the ability to sing the lyrics so the audience can understand them. She has astute breath control, adding emphasis to a word for dramatic effect.
Both Patrick Ludt's body and voice take a beating in this extremely challenging portrayal. Initially I thought his opening number should be more intense, but his almost sweet lyricism set the stage for the other malevolent side to come. In one of the final scenes, Ludt stands in front of a mirror and with each sentence changes from one character to the next. This is no small feat, for the voices of the two are markedly different; baritone tenor vs. guttural bass.
The ensemble cast was energetic and spirited. The costuming was uneven; mostly period appropriate but other times the garb seemed out of the '50's (the 1950's). Utterson's hat looked like something my father wore at DuPont Company. Choreography was under the direction of Alisa Stamps. The gesticulating fists of “Murder, Murder” seemed to me more reminiscent of the orphans of 'Hard Knock Life' from “Annie” than a clarion call of murder on the back streets of London.
The six member band under Music Director Tom Fosnocht provides more than enough sound to the spacious venue.
The town of Media has a wonderful turn of the century feel, replete with a trolley down Main Street. Many of the restaurants provide discounts for theatre goers.
Til October 31. 610.891.0100

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where oh where is a News Journal theatre critic?

The other guy in town
Theatre season opened last week in New Castle County with “The Children's Hour” at Wilmington Drama League and “Little Shop of Horrors” at New Candlelight Dinner Theatre. Where was the News Journal?
Matt Casarino of WDL commented that a critic was unavailable but they were thankful for a run up to the production that appeared the week before.
Aisle Say had reported several weeks ago that NJ scribe Tom Butler's last byline was in May.
Historically, from the halcyon days of The Morning Journal and The Evening Journal (yes, I grew up on the banks of the Brandywine with Wilmington's two dailies delivered to our door), reviews would be out the day after opening.
Printed words were offered up by Dr. Jekyll, Phil Crosland, (Pollyanna in a grey flannel suit) or Mr. Hyde on steroids, Otto Dekom. While Crosland's extracts were nowhere near as erudite as those of his colleague, actors breathed a sigh when they saw him rather than 'the malevolent one' in Row C on the aisle. (True story: I played the lead in “Kismet' for The Brandywiners in 1978 at Longwood. Dekom characterized my stage movements thusly: “Firestone bounces around the stage like a Jack-in-The-Box”. (Not a ringing endorsement for a romantic lead!)
Which leads me back to present day and the apparent absence of any critic at the only daily statewide newspaper.
Possibly a decade ago the NJ quit employing full time reviewers. Arts writing is a bit different than other sections in a big time newspaper – or at least one that purports itself to be big time. Editors seek out poor souls who have no life and who are blessed with a modicum of gravitas in both theatre and the written word. The editor then offers him the opportunity to see all the shows he wants for free and revel with his name in the paper!
(Aisle Say's pay is such that he must hitchhike to theatres and is then asked to help recycle programs after each performance.) But... one digresses.
I understand the economics of the times. Seriously folks, it's pretty pathetic when the NJ lets down both the performers and, in fact, its customers by not seeking out a qualified arts critic. How does this square with Delaware being a 'world class destination'?
When the company does finally get one, Aisle Say hopes he/she will have institutional knowledge of the arts in Delaware and not merely be a place holder.

OperaDelaware gets intimate
OperaDelaware has added a Studio Series to its Fall schedule. The cabaret-style evening of opera entertainment will be presented in the intimate surroundings of Opera Studios overlooking the Christina River Leads from future and past productions of OperaDelaware will sing a combination of opera’s greatest hits along with a few interesting selections from operas never performed in their entirety in Wilmington. Guests can sit at V.I.P. tables or in general admission and enjoy a glass of wine or beer while listening to their favorite arias.
“Last year’s Studio Series was a tremendous hit,” says executive director Lee Kimball.  “Folks can get their feet wet with opera without having to commit to an entire evening of one opera. We expect they’ll come back for more.”
Jeffrey Miller, OperaDelaware’s associate music director, will accompany the singers and provide interesting commentary.
Soloists will include soprano Youna Yang, who sang the title role of Madama Butterfly and Mimi in La Bohème; soprano Lynne Claire Morse, recently in OD's The Barber of Seville. In all, over fifteen professional singers will be entertaining over the weekend.
Fri., Sept. 23 and Sat., Sept. 24 at 7:30 pm, and on Sun., Sept. 25 at 2 pm, at 4 South Poplar Street, Wilmington. For tickets, call 1-800-37-GRAND
Finally, Director Kimball proudly reports that OD was in the black for this fiscal year. “We cut everything but the quality of our performances!” La Traviata is next on November 7

Wilmington Drama League
The influence of the DuPont family and company in the arts is so pervasive. The birth of what was to be their arts legacy was birthed in 1902, when the 3 cousins bought the gunpowder company from the elders.
Chick Laird, one of P.S. Du Pont's nephews, asked to use the stage at Longwood for productions. That has become a much beloved annual trek up Rt. 52.
Additionally, in 1933 Laird gathered together a group of community theatre advocates and created what was to be Wilmington Drama League. They have been in that same building on Lea Boulevard since 1941. I played a Japanese peasant boy in “Teahouse of the August Moon” in 1957. My father was my peasant father and my mother (in very serious miscasting) was a geisha girl.
The fanatics (there is no other word) that volunteer at WDL are singular folk and are to be commended for the outrageous hours they work at their craft.
“The Children's Hour” opened last weekend and will run until October 2. Next up is “Chicago” on October 29.

"Little Shop" at New Candlelight Dinner Theatre

From 1989 to '95 Alan Menkin was the wunderkind of the Disney Renaissance, composing music for 'Beauty and The Beast', 'Aladdin', 'Pocahontas' and 'The Little Mermaid'.
Seven years before his impressive run with animated characters, Menkin wrote “Little Shop”. The music is a blend of rock 'n roll, do wop and early Motown. When it closed it was then the longest running off-Broadway show ever.
The farcical story involves a flower shop employee who finds a plant whose sustenance is blood; from a tiny drop to the eventual go for broke engorging of live people. And, along the way, rockin' music and, sigh, a love story.
The mark of a true professional is the sublimation of their personal talent to the honesty of the character. That integrity – allied with consistency – is exemplified by Audrey (Kaylan Wetzel). She has been in several recent NCT shows and Aisle Say has heard the power and grandiloquence of her natural voice. The character Audrey is from somewhere near the depths of downtown Brooklyn and is encumbered by a very, very annoying nasality. Wetzel realizes this role.
Artistic Director Chris Alberts was additionally blessed by the perfect casting of Peter Briccotto as Seymour, the quintessential nebbish. Briccoti is an amusing dead center concoction east of Woody Allen and west of Rick Moranis. He plays his character such that the audience is preparing a giggle even before he opens his mouth. I would suggest Seymour be mindful of the spotlights in which the director has him placed. He missed a few on the night that my dear sister Liz and I were in attendance.
There is no denying the Motown trio of Crystal (Erienne Poole), Ronnette (Erica Scanlon Harr) and Chiffon (Lindsay Mauck) have both the pipes and the presence. Their costuming was drab. One would think if they had been dressed similarly throughout, possibly in outrageous costumes, it would have added more theatricality. The three work well together and they set the stage with the opening “Skid Row (Downtown)”.
Actor Michael Delaney, who is a dead ringer for House Manager Paul Goodman, played so many roles that one ran out of digits counting them. Yet, with each, (most emphatically the sadistic motor cycle riding, misogynistic dentist Orin), he brought life and credibility to them all. (Dentists take a major blow to the incisors in this show. Think “Marathon Man”.) Aisle Say emphatically agrees with Seymour's admonition to the audence,...“there's always time for dental hygiene.”
Director Alberts convinced Patrick Ahearn, owner of Hob Hollow Studios, to design, create and perform the role of Audrey II, the man-eating plant. His precious work was last seen at NCT as 'The Wizard' in Oz. Ahearn's gift is a great asset to the production. I would ask that he hold off for five minutes after the final curtain to have his technicians 'dismember' Audrey II. As long as one can sustain the illusion of the production, you should go for it.
Chris Alberts pays homage to Music Director Jim Weber, who is relocating to Florida. For 30 years Weber and his partner Gary Prianti were producers for Three Little Bakers Dinner Theatre. During the salad decades of the '70's and '80's, Bakers was a theatrical money mill, churning out classic Broadway shows to bus groups pouring in from seven states.
But Bakers was a 900 seat elephant needing to be fed 8 shows weekly. Tastes changed. Entertainment avenues increased. The economy happened.
Both gentlemen are professionals and they are friends of mine. Godspeed.
Gentle readers, from seven dinner theatres in the '70's in our state – now to NCT, the last man standing.
Til October 30. 302.475.2313

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Walnut Theatre, America's oldest, celebrating its 202nd season, opens with a musical “Whodunit”, Kander & Ebb's 'Curtains'. Set in 1959, it is a musical comedy send-up of backstage murder mystery plots. The story follows the fallout when the supremely untalented star of 'Robbin' Hood of the Old West' is murdered during the opening night curtain call. It is up to a police detective who moonlights as a community musical theatre fan to save the show, solve the case and fall in love, within being killed himself.
It's musical ancestry is flawless. Kander & Ebb wrote 'Chicago', 'Cabaret', 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' and many more. Their iconic stature is also linked to Liza Minnelli, whose luminous career began in 1965 with the first collaboration between the lyricist and composer in “Flora The Red Menace'. As we know, that proceeded quite well.
'Curtains' had a brief career on Broadway until its curtain was lowered.
The Walnut's 'execution' of the production is flawless. The sets, costumes, direction and choreography are superb and abundant with Broadway glitz. The actors have Equity credentials and have glorious voices.
The leading female character Carmen Bernstein (Denise Whelan) has Broadway pipes second only to Ethel Merman, with comic timing to match. Her marriage to philandering husband Sidney (Fran Prisco) is the subject of the evening's funniest double entendres. When Sidney is found hanging by a noose backstage, Carmen spouts, “Well, that's the first time he was ever accused of being hung!” A moment before Jessica Cranshaw's (Anne Connors) demise which begins the intrigue, she says to her leading man, “There was this crazy guy in the front row waving his arms at me.”. He responds, “Jessica, that was the conductor!”
The problem with the show itself is that it is uneven and not well integrated. There are numbers that don't work or move the plot forward. The production number to end Act I “Thataway” comes to mind. It's as if the musical and writing crew interpolated tunes from their extensive trunk of previous tunes and inserted it in.
A 'send-up' implies back stage theatre jokes or homage to past musicals. There are some corny jokes and even a fantasy dance sequence that Aisle Say considered to be inspired by the Ascot scene in 'My Fair Lady' or the dream sequence in 'Oklahoma'. They worked in those productions. Not so much here.
That is not to say the cast was not supremely talented. Lyricist for 'Robbin Hood' Aaron Fox (Jeffrey Coon) displays a beatific lyric tenor in the tune “I Miss The Music”. Detective Frank Cioffi (David Hess) sings a stylized classic Herald Square/Great White Way tune with “Coffee Shop Nights”. There is even a discussion that hearkens back to the old question, which comes first, music or lyrics. (Aisle Say says music!)
The show has its many moments, though. For a theatre junkie like myself, there is even a nod to addicts like us...“show people are dreamers”. Director/Choreographer Richard Stafford has that precious belief in his veins and fulfilled his mission.
The Walnut audience is always packed. Their marketing in this economy is superlative. They are Broadway in Philadelphia sans Broadway prices.
Til October 25. 215.574.3550

Friday, August 27, 2010

Upcoming Theatre Season in DE

Aisle Say recently commented on the upcoming seasons of The REP Ensemble of the UD and The Media Theatre. Local houses have some entertaining surprises.

Wilmington Drama League opens September 17 with a classic penned by Lillian Hellman's “The Children's Hour”. The drama is set at an all girls boarding school. An angry student runs away and to prevent being returned fabricates a lie about the two headmistresses and a lesbian affair; destroying the women's careers, their relationship and their lives.
Following in October is one of the great dance musicals of all time, “Chicago”. Original Broadway Director/Choreographer Bob Fosse created – next to Russian ballet legend Petipa - the most celebrated and imitated dance movements of all time. New Candlelight Theatre co-founder Jody Anderson, an extremely talented choreo, is on board. One can expect multitudinous thrusting of pelvises.

New Candlelight commences the fall with “Little Shop of Horrors”, certainly one of the quirkiest plots of any successful Broadway show in history. It's a rock musical, but the rock is from the '60's with Motown and doo wop. A nebbish florist shop employee, Seymour, raises a man eating plant. Aisle Say suggested to the stage Director that his first wife could play the plant. Little Shop opens September 11. The show has some great tunes. 'Suddenly Seymour' is a classic.
Dr. Suess's immortal characters are front and center beginning November 6 with “Suessical The Musical”. The plot follows the adventures of Horton the elephant. Playing until December 22, this would be great family holiday entertainment.

Delaware Theatre Company starts a bit late this season with the opening of “Sylvia” on October 20. Last season DTC staged at least one show if not two with actors playing multiple parts. (saves money!) This plan is revisited with their second production, “Around The World In Eighty Days”, wherein 5 actors portray 39 characters. The pressure is on to have a boffo season.

In this relatively small environment, Aisle Say consistently preaches performing arts collaboration. The 2010 Annual Grand Gala on Saturday, December 4, 2010 will feature a sizzling performance by legendary progressive rock band Procol Harum and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.
From the first time I heard the ethereal “Whiter Shade of Pale” in 1967, I considered it simply otherworldly. It transcended the hard rock of that era brought to us by Led Zepplin, The Who or The Stones. It provoked me, as a 20 year old, to find out just what a 'vestal virgin' was....and equally challenging, in this year of sexual find one.
The tune has been judged the most played recording in UK history.
On November 18, 1971, Procol Harum created a seminal moment in pop-rock history by performing with The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Da Camera Singers at Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Widely credited as the first band to bridge the gap between modern pop-rock and the classical music world, the recording of that concert went on to sell millions of albums and opened the door for the marriage of pop music to symphony programs all over the world.
Steve Bailey, Executive Director of The Grand says “both The Grand and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) have been seeking to present a joint event of this magnitude for the past few years. When you have the region’s best and biggest house band, you naturally want to show them off, and there could be no better vehicle than the re-creation of the music from that legendary concert by Procol Harum and The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.”
The after party at The Gold Ball Room will return local favorite Club Phred, an 8 member '60's-'70's cover band whose great show last year made the feature act, The Brian Setzer Band, appear robotic in comparison. Setzer dialed that one in. Club Phred takes no prisoners.
Call Ivy Lane for tickets, 658.7897 or

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Philadelphia LiveArts-Fringe

Gentle readers, Aisle Say issues a warning to all those faint of heart, who feast on lobster dinners and, most expressly, who are life members of PETA. Quickly and resolutely I say, please turn the page from this otherwise trenchant. Provocative and informative column.
The LiveArts-Fringe Festival inhabits Philadelphia and its environs from September 3 – 18. Audience members should be prepared for some of the East Coast's edgiest and creative dance, theatre and multi-media presentations.
I asked co-founder and Artistic Director Nick Stuccio to recollect one of the more outrageous pieces of art from the past 15 years. It seems one Roderico Garcia, a Spaniard, created an interesting take on the world's food chain. In front of a nightly audience, he would bring out a humongous lobster. Garcia would then go into a long dissertation about the crustacean in an attempt to humanize he/she/it to the audience. He even went so far as to put the microphone up to his/her/its armored heart to hear the beat. With that he would pirouette and an assistant would appear from back stage wheeling in a boiling tank of water. Garcia would plunk said crustacean into the steaming bubbles. He would simmer him/her for a time, yank him out and then cut him up. A few minutes Garcia would sit down for din din in front of the stunned audience.
That is what you call Performance Art with an exclamation! (The organizing body was in fact sued by PETA but they held their ground).
LiveArts-Fringe is two different festivals running concurrently over sixteen days. Livearts is a collection of the world’s best contemporary performing artists that are curated and selected by Stuccio. He literally travels the world throughout the year to see groups up close. The mission of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival is to commission,
develop, and present a wide range of the latest cutting-edge, high-quality performance. Many countries, most notably The Netherlands, the UK and Spain, support their artists with plane fare.
The Philly Fringe - 180 degrees away - is an unfiltered festival where new and established artists present their work free of a selection process. For some, participating in the Festival is a once-a-year or once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a show; for the many professional companies participating, it can be an opportunity to work through new concepts and ideas and join the fray.
The statistics for this year are impressive. In the LiveArts category there are thirty-nine different artists comprising thirteen in dance, nine in theatre and seventeen in Multi-media. There are fourteen World Premieres and six US Premieres. In Philly Fringe there are a minimum of 199 performances scheduled.
Organizers expect 40,000 guests. LiveArts averages a $25.00 ticket; Fringe $10.00. Splitting the difference, that's $680,000 over two weeks in Philadelphia, not including restaurants, overnight stays and side trips.
Three artists from Delaware are part of the Fringe. Andree Jones of Wilmington wrote Verbalized Ink, a poetic journey of five people who reveal their truth about sadness, joy, pain, fear, and struggle as they experience life.
Two plays by British playwright Sarah Kane will be playing in rotating repertory by Newark's Parallax Players. Kane's works, “Phaedra's Love” and “Psychosis” explore the theater of extremes.
Newark playwright Joseph P. Blake has written “A Separate Sun”, a story of a woman's struggle to overcome abuse, drugs, and depression through music and song. It stars Barrymore Award winner Joilet Harris. Music is by Emmy Award winner Bill Jolly.
To understate, this entire festival is out of the box thinking. Bring your lobster bibs for this very fulfilling banquet. 215.413.1318

WHYY, DE Division of Arts grants, DE Theatre Co

Aisle Say has the August Dog Day blues...the doublewide blues. No theatre to report on the one hand and on the other some wins and losses for Delawareans. But, as Lady Macbeth urged, I will 'screw my courage to the sticking place' and have at it.
At least three dozen Delawareans woke up and took notice several months ago when their televised nightly sleeping pill, Channel 12's “Delaware Tonight” ceased operation. Scintillating reportage it was not. But it was OUR bland reporting! Yes, they were the quintessential talking heads. But they were OUR talking heads. But, in June of 2009, after obtaining millions in grants from the state for the refurbishing of their Wilmington studio and construction of their Dover studio, HYY slinked off in the night as stealthily as Mr. Irsay's Baltimore Colts to Indiana many moons ago.
After protestations from Senator Kaufman and Mayor Baker, Delaware's “coverage” was replaced by an alleged news magazine “First” for an hour each Friday night. “WHYY is not adequately serving the community needs of its city of license, which is Wilmington”, bellowed Mr. Mayor.
Your intrepid Aisle Say investigative reporter tuned in last Friday to determine how “First” was serving tax payers. (Even with this indecent behavior they still received $100,000.00 from the Joint Finance Committee this fiscal year). Last Friday's “news” story featured Balinese dancing. “The sport carries you where you want”, chanted the Balinese dance guru. The aged man covered the dance floor slowly, very slowly. “We would dance if nobody showed up to see us”, he exclaimed. Yup, that says it all.
The second segment was even more compelling: 15 minutes on dehydrating vegetables. “But wait,” exclaimed the dehydrator, “we also do macaroons. Wednesday is macaroon day!”
The FCC denied Wilmington's challenge to WHYY for license renewal. They win. We lose.
Eighty-six organizations throughout the state received 104 grants from $1000.00 to $110,000.00 totaling $1.4 million. (Last year it was $1.47 million to 84 groups). The funding comes from both the Delaware General Assembly and the National Endowment For The Arts.
Last year Aisle Say took to task some of the perceived imbalance of the grants. It appears more reasonable in FY 2011. The way I define this imbalance is 1) number of people employed in the organization 2) number of guests they serve and 3) the positive economic ripple effect it has on the community ( eg. overnight stays, busy restaurants and visits to other venues).
New Candlelight Theatre justifiably was awarded $25K. Their quality and their integrity is high and they are the ONLY surviving dinner theatre in the state...and they are the best theatrical value. On the down side their profit margin has all the profile of a flounder snoozing on the bottom of the bay.
The Grand received $101K; DE Art Museum, $110K; Opera Delaware, $62K; DE Symphony, $101K; - that's all good. The DE Center for the Contemporary Arts – arguably a pioneer on the Riverfront – attracts nowhere near the traffic of The Grand or even New Candlelight, and they received $93K! DE Theatre Company received $101K. (more on that below)
In relation to guests served and economic ripple, it is, however, very difficult to swallow the $43K given to the Yorklyn Center for The Creative Arts. At least that is down from an outrageous $68K in last year's grants!
For the second year running, the Aisle Say Golden Fleece Award goes to DE Dance Company on Elkton Rd. These pre-teens are impossibly cute in their tutus I'll say, but $32K (down from $40K) for a group that is only witnessed by their doting parents and grandparents? We've got to get their lobbyist and send him to DC. That dude has the suave to bring millions in earmarks to Delaware!
Still no news about their schedule. Aisle Say was told by their Marketing Manager that the revised schedule was to be out in 1 week. That was 6 weeks ago. Email and a call to Mary Ann Ehlshager, the Managing Director, was not returned.
Aisle Say commented a few months back that Tim Geithner, US Secretary of the Treasury reminded him of Robert Stack when he played Eliot Ness on “The Untouchables”. Well, dear reader, we have another one. I was watching the evening news with my dear sister Liz. Thad Allen, the Coast Guard Commandant in charge of the oil spill was before the podium. Tell me he is not Oliver Hardy reincarnated!

UD REP, Media Theatre, News Journal critic

There is no more visible proof of UD President Harker's “Path to Prominence” than by the REP Ensemble trodding the boards at The Roselle Center for the Arts. Having witnessed every production but one in the past two years, it is difficult to believe that every show is not completely sold. The acting is magnificent, the attention to detail in each technical area – costuming, lighting, set, sound is microscopic.
The season begins in late September with Pinter's “The Homecoming”, a sexually provocative and quite distorted view of family life. Yes, it's a comedy of the laugh out loud variety.
Next up is “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Aisle Say has seen this many times, but did not realize an underlying theme until recently. We know that Oscar Wilde was a flamboyant homosexual in a very repressed England. The character of Bunbury serves as Wilde's taunt at society's hypocrisy. This is certainly one of the cleverest plays ever scribed.
Following this is “Our Town”. (Big saving on the set budget with this show).
“Noel Coward” can be said in the same sentence as “Oscar Wilde” in regards to wordsmithing. Coward was a virtual umo universale of entertainment: actor, director, playwright and composer. “Private Lives” is witty and urbane. A divorced couple meets by chance in a resort hotel. They are both on honeymoons with their second spouses. Dying embers of sparks are re-ignited.
Shakespeare's greatest comedy “A Midsummer Night's Dream” opens in December. Knowing the REP actors as I do, I have put together the cast in my mind. However, Artistic Director Sandy Robbins will most probably surprise me.
Speaking of Robbins, I asked him why the REP was not part of the prestigious Barrymore Awards centered in Philadelphia. The Roselle Center lies 2 miles outside of the perimeter of the organization's footprint. Tickets on sale 23 August. 831.2204

Media Theatre
The Media Theatre landed a boffo comedienne for their fall production of “Annie”. Wanda Sykes, who ranks as one of Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Funniest People in America, will portray Miss Hannigan from November 23 through December 12. After a brief hiatus, she will return to the musical January 12-16.
Aisle Say was first introduced to her in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. She was relentless in never giving Larry David a break.
Sykes is nominated for two 2010 Emmy Awards, both for her HBO comedy special “I’ma Be Me”. She portrayed the role of Barb in the hit CBS series “The New Adventures of Old Christine” for five seasons, receiving an Emmy nomination for that as well. She has won four Emmy Awards, in 1999 for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Special for “The Chris Rock Show” and three more (in 2002, 2004, and 2005) for her work on “Inside the NFL”.
She recently wrapped the first season of her late night talk show, “The Wanda Sykes Show”, on FOX. At the annual White House Correspondents Dinner in 2009, Wanda Sykes delivered major laughs while roasting President Barack Obama.
“Annie” should be a hoot. Tickets are on sale now. 610.891.0100

City Theatre
Kudos to City Theatre for the decision to stage the musical “9”. It will be most fun for the male lead; one guy surrounded by 9 gorgeous women! Opening in May.

News Journal Reviewer
Veteran critic Tom Butler has not had a byline in the Journal since May. He is not an employee but an independent contractor. Arts organizations need the exposure that reviewers create. Perhaps Butler is taking a break. If not, though, it is incumbent upon the Journal to hire a good writer with a diverse arts background. A call to the Features editor was not returned.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Toil, Trouble & Hurlyburly for Macbeth at Rockwood

Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare's great tragedies. There's murder, battles, psychosis and supernatural portents. Characters are malicious, avaricious and (in the case of the title character envisioning a dead Banquo), fictitious.
Founder of DE Shakespeare Festival and this production's director, Molly Cahill McGovern chose the straightforward path, trusting both the text and her actors to engage the audience in the allure of these wondrous words, the images they create in your mind and the drama of the conflict. This approach is successful.
Aisle Say had forgotten much of the luxuriant phrases from “Macbeth” which are part of our language today: “double, double, toil and trouble”, “nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it”,“screw your courage to the sticking place”,”what's done cannot be undone”, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace, etc”.
It's an honor for an actor to be cast in a Shakespearean play. He learns far more from the experience than does the audience. It's not merely in the speaking of the words. That is not enough. Great Shakespearean actors are enraptured by the rhyme, the meter, the poetry and the basic human condition applying to all us that the words convey.
This was the issue Aisle Say had with the title character played by David Blatt. He never dropped a line. Yet rather than caressing the words he declaimed them. His portrayal of the character's devolution into madness was too abrupt; a progression into insanity would have been more believable.
Lady Macbeth (Allyson Sands Good) used the different octaves of her speaking voice to portray her wicked machinations. She projected a queenly, patrician demeanor. She was particularly effective in the scene where she attempts to wash Duncan's blood from her hands, “out damn spot”.
Banquo (Adam Altman) and Macduff (Erik Mathew) are fine actors. One could see in both the 'thinking' going on before they spoke. This aspect made the prose more believable. Mathew's reaction and soliloquy on the murder of his wife and children at the hands of the now psychopathic Macbeth was both sincere and dynamic.
It is picturesque to sit on a blanket or lawn chair at Rockwood. The backdrop of the Mansion is powerful. Some guests bring picnic baskets. At sunset, the lighting (the castle was lit in blood red) provides drama and focus and makes the audience feel part of the action.
This production is short by Shakespearean standards. Length sometimes creates problems with those not completely enamored of the words of The Bard. However, Aisle Say suggests the entire audience was engaged through the proceedings.
Delaware Shakespeare Festival has come a very long way in their span. They use actor apprentices who will remember their lines for the rest of their lives. They've been averaging 300 people on weekends; a very good sign that Will is alive and will continue to prosper in Delaware.
Tickets are quite reasonable and this is a wonderful way to introduce your children or grandchildren to Shakespeare.
Till July 31. Online only.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Candlelight enchants with OZ

When Dorothy Gale entered Oz, Judy Garland entered immortality. The movie has been seen by almost every child who has seen a movie. Judy will live forever in our hearts. ‘Rainbow’ is the most popular song ever; a mystical, lyrical and melodic story of a child’s spiritual passage from adolescence to adulthood.
“The Wizard of Oz” speaks to our feelings, not our intellect. It comforts and inspires. Children identify with Dorothy with their fears; adults identify with their dreams. She teaches all of us that we can confront our threats – real or imagined - and determine our own future.
And there were several moments during New Candlelight's staging of “Wizard” that rouse the very emotions that spring forth when we watch the iconic movie.
The first came with Dorothy's (Erica Scanlon Harr) “Rainbow”. She wisely did not attempt to mimic “Judy” (who can?) but sang with the sweet and delicate innocence of her character.
The second moment came with the entrance of the Munchkins. There was a collective and involuntary “Ahhhhh” pulsing through the audience owing not only to their overwhelming cuteness but also to the masterful costume design of Timothy Lamont Cannon. Some of the Munchkins were adult (petite ones at that) and some were kids. The wigs on the latter were hysterical.
A third moment was the appearance of Toto. Sadly, this very small actor was not credited in the program (How could they do that in his first stage show?) Aisle Say believes him to be a real dog and a Yorkie at that.
The server at the table I shared with my dear sister Liz and new found friends from Elkton was dance Captain Alexis DeDonato; an extremely versatile actor who has appeared in the last several shows. Another facet of her talent was revealed as The Mayor of Munchkinland. She obviously worked hard on the characterization and her voice sounded as if it was generated through a synthesizer.
One of the challenges that director Sonny Leo and Three Bakers music director veteran Jim Weber faced was the strong association we all have with the Lion, Woodsman and Scarecrow. They are tough acts to follow down the Yellow Brick Road. Was there a more limber dancer than Ray Bolger? We laughed til we cried at his pratfalls. Well, Sonny may have found him in Scarecrow (David McConney). The actor has a very strong voice and was ever consistent in that gangly manner of walking and dancing.
The spinster we love to hate Miss Gulch/WW of West (Marie Howey) spate out her diatribes to the foursome along their golden path as if she were burning at the stake (which is kind of how she ended up). Her body movements accentuated the crankiness of her personality. Being mean is a blast. I can imagine five year old Munchkin Thomas Stinson steers a wide path around her backstage.
A fourth moment was the image of the wizard himself. I credit the leadership of NCT with the tough financial decision to commission Hob Hollow Studios to create this fanciful and wondrous puppet head with a mouth that moved. Huzzahs!
Sonny also choreographed. The main number was the “Jitterbug”. While the costumes were bee-utiful, Aisle Say has also questioned the relevance of the number to the progress of the plot.
Great theatrical value – dinner and theatre for $55.00 per!
Til August 29. Groups welcomed 302.475.2313
The company also offers periodic Comedy Nights. See the web site.
Aisle Say has not seen the critic for the other statewide newspaper at various events lately and his byline is not appearing. The performing arts need exposure to survive.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Brandywiners stage GUYS & DOLLS

Damon Runyon is my favorite writer of short stories. He received neither peer nor critical acclaim due him in his own time or postmortem. My theory is that it is because of the subjects of his tales: gangsters, hustlers and women of so so repute who went by the colorful monikers of “Nathan Detroit”, “Big Jule” or “Dave The Dude”, Runyon was shunned by polite society. Gambling was a common theme. It was easier for the hoi polloi to herald accounts of patricians fictionalized in “The Great Gatsby” and similar ephemera.
Curling up with a Runyon anthology will make you laugh out loud. During his lifetime he was one of the most read authors and columnists in America. He developed his own vernacular. He always wrote in the present tense. He never used contractions. The slang he created has become part of our language: doll = woman; pineapple = hand grenade; roscoe = gun, noggin = head. Who can't like an author who writes about a doll, “the men around (the doll) are bachelors...or at least wishin' they were bachelors,” or describing a serial gold band chaser, “she was married twice by preachers, twice by justices of the peace and once by a captain of the sea.”
His short story “Little Miss Marker” was turned into a movie and was the break through for Shirley Temple. His “Idylls of Sarah Brown” became one of the greatest and most beloved musicals, “Guys & Dolls”; the lively screen version hampered only by the most egregious miscasting of talent in motion picture musical history with the non-singing Marlon Brando as the singing leading man, Sky.
For the first time in their eight decade history, The Brandywiners mount “Guys & Dolls”. Director Henry Porreca has gathered around him three experienced community theatre veterans for the leads, Jeff Santoro as Sky Masterson, Debbi Hollingsworth Arnold as Sarah.Brown and Joe Francisco as Nathan Detroit. Newcomer Nance Weber rounds out the leads playing the Detroit's long suffering girlfriend doll, the lamentable Adelaide.
Aisle Say had the opportunity to visit a rehearsal this week. Boxed in by the large cast required to fill the voluminous Longwood Gardens stage, this rehearsal coursed like most others in community theatre: music directors stopping the chorus in mid note to harangue them for not cutting off their consonants; stage directors pleading for the bit players to stay in character, and the overall unevenness of skill level particular to amateur actors.
Having been in a few Brandywiner productions, performing at Longwood is a very special experience. The dressing rooms are subterranean, beneath the high steps and expansive grass area used for impressive grand entrances. For the audience - on a serene and star studded summer night - it's a magical musical moment in time. Tickets come with free entrance to the gardens, so an entire afternoon or evening may be spent there.
Proceeds from ticket sales fund a variety of arts and cultural institutions in Delaware. Aisle Say's vote for next year's show is KISMET; a perfect environment for its lush music.
6 performances July 29-August 7 302.478.3355

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The crowds like "As You Like It"

“As You Like It” is Arden's Shakespearean signature. Penned by The Bard in 1600, the pastoral comedy follows its heroine Rosalind as she flees persecution in her uncle's court, accompanied by her cousin Celia and Touchstone the court jester, to find safety and eventually love in the leafy green forest of ...drum roll if you please....Arden!
A mere three hundred years later, The Village of Arden was founded by Frank Stephens and architect Will Price, with financial help from Joseph Fels, the soap manufacturer. Legend has it that Stephens and Price began annual Shakespeare plays on The Green to educate the residents in diction.
In this open air production – a perfect setting for the celebration of love – and before an opening night packed house, diction awards would go to Celia (Kerry Kristine McElrone). Of all the players, Aisle Say has seen her on other local stages, both dramatic and comedic and has always been struck by the depth of her characterizations. .
McElrone's stage presence and experience were of inestimable service to Rosalind (Melissa Kearney), our comely and passionate hero/heroine. Hero/heroine you say? It's one issue taking on your first leading role in Shakespearean prose. Kearney, though, had to don the demeanors of both sexes. When Rosalind escapes the death threat of her evil uncle Duke Frederick (James Kassees), she assumes the male persona of Ganymede. Kearney has a formidable role and is very impressive in her first lead in the area. She is undeniably the most beauteous cross dresser in Arden's theatrical history.
This comedy abounds in both love and high spirits. Orlando (James Kiesel) loves Rosalind. Kiesel assumes his athletically challenging role with jest. Rosalind, in love with Orlando, meets him as Ganymede and pretends to counsel him to cure him of being in love. Ganymede says "he" will take Rosalind's place and "he" and Orlando can act out their relationship. Hijinks ensue.
Kiesel is aggressive in his dialog with men but balances that with sentimentalized affectations in referring to his love for Rosalind.
One of the most famous monologues in mankind, “All the world's a stage, and all men and women are merely actors”, etc, contains arresting imagery and figures of speech to develop the central metaphor: a person's lifespan being a play in seven acts. This is spoken by Jacques (Carl Heyde). One would have wished more passion and theatricality in this so very poetic dissertation.
Shakespeare employed 'fools' to be that which they were not: purveyors of pith and profundity. Touchstone (Dan Tucker) delivered this wit deliciously and the audience was forever longing for his next intrusion of practical wisdom.
The production is long. In Shakespearean terms, all the troubadouring could have been lessened by half...if not two thirds. Director Mary Catherine Kelley has helmed the shows for many years and should be mindful of the audience on unforgiving wooden benches. That said, guitarist Rob Tietze is a genuine asset to the proceedings. He is joined (in costume) by Emily Loney (oboe and piccolo) and Melanie Riblett (flute). The trio imbues a Renaissance revelry on a beautiful summer night.
Until June 26. 320.475.3126 In case of rain, go to the Gild Hall across Harvey Rd.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

URINETOWN with DE All State Theatre

Live theatre is all about risk. It's in the moment. If a line is missed or a flub occurs in motion picture filming, no big deal; a re-do. In live theatre, however, actors lay it all out there. That's what makes it so exhilarating...and important.
Producer / director Jeff Santoro of the Delaware All State Theatre has led such a life over decades of performing. Three years ago he left the comfortable and nurturing nest of Delaware Children's Theatre and its iconic director Marie Swajeski to strike out on his own and create his own signature.
Jeff and co-producer Deb Johnson 'parented' the organization to give elementary, middle, and high school theatre "geeks" the unique opportunity work on a large-scale musical production in partnership with the world famous DuPont Theatre. Full-time students (up to age 19) from across Delaware and the immediate surrounding area are eligible to participate either as a performer or behind the scenes in a technical capacity.
The first show, “Les Mis” was a slam dunk and huge hit; every child with a voice and Broadway aspirations yearned to be in that cast. The audience could not believe that caliber of performance came from school aged kids. Last year's “West Side Story”, an American classic, drew critical raves. One performer closed that show and his next gig was in the chorus of the Broadway revival of “Bye Bye Birdie”.
So, gentle readers, Aisle Say urges you to support this year's production of the multiple Tony award winner with the unsettling, wince-inducing title, “Urinetown”.
Dismiss the title from your mind. It is irrelevant to the hysterical comedy and melodic tunes that will unfold in front of you.
And now we return to risk management. Santoro knew what he was getting into with the choice of the show. Why, you ask? Why not the safe “Sound of Music” or “Annie'?
Santoro knows that live theatre is about challenge. There is oppressive financial risk as well. In magnum opus understatement, the director says “It's very different from our previous productions” he says. “No serious music or themes. It's a comedy. Something we haven't tried ever, which is definitely a challenge for the student performers. Doing comedy well is an art form, and I am excited to say that the kids and teens are doing a brilliant job and will deliver lots of laughs!”
“Urinetown” was conceived by writer Greg Kotis, when as a poor student traveling in Europe, he encountered a pay-per-use toilet; funny in itself. It's a satirical musical comedy, taking on the legal system, capitalism, social responsibility, politics and bureaucracy...all issues Americans rail about today.
Aisle Say attended a rehearsal last week. I have a bit of knowledge and experience in this arena and can state he has the most accomplished band of talented kids I've ever witnessed.
They come from all over. The numbers from Cab Calloway lead the list but Brandywine High, Mt. Pleasant, McKean, Sallies, Padua, Tatnall, Sanford and a half dozen other schools are represented.
Kudos to DuPont Co for partnering in Jeff Santoro's vision.
Only 4 performances. June 18-26. For tickets 302.656.4401

DE Theatre Co needs to Entertain

It has been eternally hurtful to me that I have never been referred to by either friends or critics as a second coming of Rex Harrison. He of the supremely patrician and proper clipped British high baritone.
Sir Noel Coward stated that Harrison was the 'best light comedy actor in the world, except for me.” Come on.... I did Brecks Mill, at Wilmington Drama League, at Candlelight Theatre. Alright, it's not London's East End, but I was aspiring.
My other cross to bear while I was performing was the review after opening weekend. For those baby boomers who remember, actors in the '70's and '80's had to suffer the vitriol of Otto Dekom, the Journal theatre/food/fine art columnist who loved women and took Mephistophelian delight in the literary evisceration of leading men. When I sang my melodic heart out, Dekom would call it recitative, that talk-singie thing that Harrison always did.
Okay, now back to the reason Sir Rex is part of this story. I insist I have many qualities reminiscent of this Academy Award and Tony Award winner. Consider the song from “My Fair Lady” entitled 'I'm An Ordinary Man'. (Many individuals, especially women, have called me ordinary. This again has proved hurtful to me, but I digress.)
With theatre though, I admit to being ordinary. When I attend theatre, I like to laugh. I like to be surprised. I like to be entertained.
Delaware Theater Company parted ways with their Artistic Director Anne Marie Cammarato after six years because not enough people were being entertained.

“I'm An Ordinary Theatre Go-er” (with apologies to Sir Rex)

Well after all, Ms. Cammarato, I'm an ordinary man,
Who desires nothing more than an ordinary laugh,
to burst out loud in great surprise, and be not considered as strangely daft...
An average man am I, of no eccentric whim,
Who works hard by day, seemingly on the brink,
When I go out, please DON'T make me think
Well... just an ordinary man...

Aisle Say, in different incarnations, has followed Delaware Theatre Company since its opening night over 3 decades ago at a converted firehouse on French Street in Wilmington. With all due respect to the talent and the passion over these many years, I always thought the programming was over the top on social consciousness. I felt that if I did not acquiesce to the theatrical pounding and preaching served up with the vast majority of their productions that maybe I was not a good person. Not knowing where to turn, I stayed did many in the past years.
It's June. The theatre season opens in September. Cammarato chose all the shows for the next season and was to direct three of them. Aisle Say hopes her choices are reconsidered. We need DTC. It was the Lewis & Clark of the Riverfront. It has been an integral part of our cultural environment. It has changed peoples lives for the better. It has also put patrons, too many patrons, to sleep. Please, please.... ENTERTAIN US.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

RENT is showcased at Media Theatre

Regional theatres, both community and professional, were as anxious as expectant fathers in a delivery room, or perhaps more to the point, all Flyers fans, when rights became available for “Rent.”

The show is a seminal event for musical theatre ages, on the Great White Way's Mt. Olympus alongside “Showboat” - whom some believe to be the greatest American musical; “Oklahoma”, the first production to have songs move plot along; “Gypsy,” to my mind the most fully integrated musical; “West Side Story,” brilliant choreographer by Jerome Robbins and music by Leonard Bernstein and a neophyte named Stephen Sondheim; “Sound of Music," the most popular movie musical by far and spoofed in hysterical 'sing a longs'; “Hair," one other topical event ripped from the life and times of American culture; “Les Mis,” the all time ALL time most popular show. (No need discussing this. We've all seen it)

But, dear and committed Aisle Say readers, you should see “Rent” as well, and you should see it at The Media Theatre. The theatre cognoscenti knows “Rent.” They've seen it several times. But it's really a populist show and should be devoured by the masses that watch “Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady.” This production will move you; by song, by passion, by evoking the oppressive malaise we ALL endured during the AIDS scare of the '90's.

There are some special shows that bond the ensemble into one joyous and selfless entity. There is no doubt this cast loves one another and will remember this experience the rest of their lives. We saw it in their faces.

This was a challenging assignment for artistic director of the theater and director Jesse Cline. Broadway shows of the '50's are so much easier to direct. The protagonist sings the tune either solo on stage or with very little background distraction. The show demands (and Cline complied) with a very naturalistic approach. Normally actors 'cheat' toward the audience to declaim their lines and sing their tunes. The ensemble spoke directly to one another, no 'cheating' allowed. Much movement, much energy, much dynamism.

Aisle Say feels remiss without acclaiming the entire cast; they were all that talented, dedicated and in love with what they were creating on stage. The vast majority of them are N.Y. actors who journeyed to Media. Okay, perhaps they had nothing going on at the moment, but young talented types are dedicated to be in “Rent,” that's what the concept, the power and the music means to them.

The two main lovers, Roger (Patrick Ludt) and Mimi (Eileen Shibley) were superb. Shibley especially had that Greenwich Village edge to her that rocked the audience. That's good, this being a rock opera.

Maureen (Chloe Patellis) was the best “Maureen” I have seen – and how many liver pills has Carter? Her “Over The Moon” was worth the price of admission. Maybe Aisle Say is too shallow, for I have never understood how the song itself fit into the show,'s a show stopper.

Media Theatre is only twenty minutes away on the Blue Route. The main street is fun and full of ethnic dining. Would this were the way in Wilmington.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Candlelight Dinner Theatre - All Shook Up

New Candlelight Theatre has gone political; a first for live theatre in Delaware. The current production, “All Shook Up," a rollicking rock n' roll romp rooted in the music of Elvis, would hardly be conjured as a platform for R and D discourse.

How does Aisle Say come to this conclusion? Why else would director Chris Alberts parade Mayor Matilda Hyde (Gerri Weagraff) as a small town Sarah Palin? Weagraff's very humorous impersonation certainly gives Tina Fey a run for her money...and even the former Governor/present FaceBook gadfly herself, you betcha! Weagraff talks down to her stage husband Sheriff Earl (Joe Kinsolving) just as you would suspect Palin barks at her own hubby.

Weagraff is even costumed in a red (state) suit, Palin's color of choice. (This is her 41st show at Candlelight. )

Paul Weagraff joins his wife on stage as a father who could have used some quality time watching Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Weagraff's character dances as one might imagine Dustin Hoffman's character doing so in “Rainman.”

Let us dispense with analysis of the plot, it being as diaphanous as the wings of a butterfly; as substantial as cotton candy.

But the full crowd on opening night (including two bus tours) was not there for sturm und drang. They were there for the music and the show is a compilation of Elvis' greatest hits. Shoehorned into the plot are “Jailhouse Rock,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Can't Help Falling in Love” and “Burning Love,” among others.

Readers may recall that NCT dissolved its relationship with Actors Equity; an albatross in these financial times. The transition to this first show after the break is seamless on all levels of stage craft. It's very evident the entire ensemble loves to perform.

While the dancers were enthusiastic in every number, choreographer Dann Dunn's body of work in this production was neither as tight nor as creative as with his past work at NCT.

Chad (Rick Fountas) wisely did not attempt a caricature of The King. Fountas has a well-situated rock voice, great leading man stage presence and has sung in similar rock shows such as “JC Superstar,” “Joseph...Dreamcoat” and “Pippin.”

Two vocal standouts are both newcomers to NCT. Sylvia (Erienne Poole) has a soaring soprano. Her credits include Effie in “Dreamgirls.” Effie sings “And I Tell You I'm Not Going”, one of the all time Broadway show stoppers. The NCT audience witnessed some of that power in “There's Always Me.”

Natalie Hailer/Ed (Sara Schmuckler) plays a cross dresser. Why? (See above for my analysis of this profound and pithy plot.) More importantly, the actor can sing. She does estimable work with Elvis' canon. Her voice has a vibrant edge to it. “Fools Fall in Love” was her finest.

Lorraine (Alexis DeDonato) began with NCT as a dancer. Over the past few shows Aisle Say has seen her evolve into a fine singer and comedienne.

Jim Weber, former music director of Three Little Bakers', is MD for the show.

Group rates available.

Until June 19. 475.2313