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

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

UD's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui"

A cunning and ingenious conceit. From the fecund mind of German playwright Bertolt Brecht sprang an allegory of Hitler's rise to power. The setting was not Germany, but Chicago in the wild wild west of Prohibition and The Great Depression. The protagonist was not Der Fuhrer but a takeoff of Scarface Al Capone, Public Enemy #1, the charismatic colossus of crime. The farce is entitled “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.”
For two years Aisle Say has bellowed to all within earshot of this remarkable gem in our midst is this REP Company. The acting, the direction, the sets, the costumes, the pathos, the sturm und the drang of their productions distances them from other groups in the state as does the night the day.
This play is not done often. It must be coddled in the hands of experts.
You should see this production. You will never forget it; a concoction of perfect play and perfect acting ensemble.
Capone and Hitler had many similarities. Aside from the obvious ruthlessness, paranoia and megalomania, they dominated other men by appealing to their inner man.
“Arturo” is a laugh riot. There are surprise moments catching you unawares and you will bend over in laughter. Most recently a production was staged with Al Pacino in the title role. However, a woman, Carine Montbertrand, plays Arturo here. I commented to her that her facial mannerisms reminded me of Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice in the movie “Dick Tracy”.
This is an important play. There are few areas of modern theatrical culture that have not felt the impact or influence of Brecht's ideas and practices.
All the characters and groups in the play had direct counterparts in real life; all of Hitler's henchmen. In fact, he wrote it in 1941for the American stage, knowing it would never be staged in Germany during his lifetime. If it had, his lifetime would have been abbreviated.
The play is similar to the classic Charlie Chaplin film, “The Great Dictator”. Brecht was a Chaplin hero. Unfortunately so was Hitler.
The play also uses frequent references to Shakespeare and other writers to further its didactic messages. To highlight his evil and villainous rise to power Ui is compared to Shakespeare's “Richard III” and “MacBeth” in both the introductory prologue and in Scene 14 when he experiences similar visitations from the ghosts of his victims as Richard and Macbeth do; while Hitler's own learned prowess at public speaking is referenced by Ui receiving lessons from an actor which include him reciting Mark Anthony's famous speech from “Julius Caesar”.
Over two years the REP has never delivered a mulligan. Aisle Say has seen them all save for “Death of A Salesman”. (I was depressed during that run and needed no further provocation to mine my neurosis.) Support live theatre in the state. This specific theatrical resource is a tribute to what live theatre can achieve.
Til May 16 302.831.2204

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

DE Children's Museum opens on Wilmington Riverfront

The Delaware Children's Museum opened last weekend at the site of the previous Big Kahuna, across from Frawley Stadium. However, this new tourist destination will serve up more grand slams to the mired Riverfront than their athletic-themed neighbor.
The DCM covers all the bases regarding a desperately needed new market along the Christiana – that being children. Prior to last Saturday the Riverfront was a glut of restaurants, a retail vision that failed miserably due to poor access planning, condos that had to be auctioned off and a state of the art conference center lacking a necessary ingredient; a contiguous hotel.
The A list of politicians spoke at the opening: Senator Carper, Congressman Castle and Chris Coons. Carper, who was given deserved credit for flattening speed bumps during the fifteen year process stated, “Along with a lot of children in the First State, I have been waiting for this day for a long time. I am thrilled to be here to celebrate the long-anticipated opening of Delaware’s first and only museum for children. This museum—with its focus on energy, science, technology and our environment—literally will change the lives of tens of thousands of young people in the years ahead. Their eyes will be opened to possible careers in fields where our nation’s needs are great. They will go on to become scientists, engineers, biologists, researchers, inventors and much more. The Delaware Children’s Museum will be more than just a fun place to visit. It will be much more than just a children’s museum. It will also serve as a bridge to the future; a brighter future for young boys and girls today and for generations to come.”
Five possible locations were considered for the venue. Then one fortuitous day two years ago The Big Kahuna surprisingly shuttered its doors. Voila! A huge footprint of concrete became available. Timing is everything they say. The landmark volcano became extinct and was replaced by exhibits such as:
ECOnnect - hands on activities for kids to get in touch with their environment.
Bank On It - another hands on exhibit dealing with money management.
Studio D - where kids can exhibit their artistic creativity
Stratosphere – an enclosed 30 foot diameter climber
Training Wheels – exploring trains, cars and things that go
The Power of Me – The power of the human body
The economic impact is considerable. The Association of Children’s Museums indicates that 35% of children’s museums are flagships in downtown revitalization projects. (Aisle Say this is sounding good!) It will employ 28 full time people.
Economic studies project that the DCM will bring in 135,000 visitors to the Riverfront annually – 362 days a year. It is estimated that for every $13.00 spent within the museum, guests spend another $12.00 on restaurants, shops, gas stations and other services that accommodate these families.
General admission is $12.00 per person (children under 12 months are free). A full general admission membership is available. Open 9am to 4:30pm

RENT at Media Theatre

Patrick Ludt, who plays Roger in The Media Theatre's “Rent,” opening May 5, suggests that this iconic rock musical is his era's “Hair.”

That comparison brought back vivid images in this columnist's cerebellum. As a struggling actor in NYC in 1971, I responded to an open audition for “Hair.” Thinking myself brilliant to avoid the certain rush, I arrived at the venue two hours early. By that time, the line was already twice around the block...and NYC blocks are huge! The guy in front of me let out exactly one syllable of the song “Oklahoma” (the “O”) and was cut off with an abrupt, “We'll call you”!

There is more to this forlorn tale for Aisle Say readers, but one that I will leave for a later time.

The East Village in the early 1990's; a district and a nation devastated by crime, drugs and worse, the AIDS epidemic. This was the scourge of the century; fear, dread and discrimination were knee jerk responses to the questions surrounding the disease and the fact that it was mostly attached to the homosexual community.

For years, composer Jonathan Larson worked on a pop opera based on Puccini's “La Boheme.” The plot chronicles a group of friends over a year in their struggles against poverty, drug abuse, AIDS and the inability to make 'rent.' (Larson also explained rent was defined as being 'torn' as in 'emotionally wracked.')

The production has only recently become available for rental and Media is the first professional group to license it in this region.

The career of Idina Menzel was made in “Rent.” She met her husband, Taye Diggs, in the show and both did the movie. Menzel, as we know, originated the Wicked Witch in “Wicked” and that scary guacamole painted face.

“Ren,” like “Hair," marks a cultural watershed and will be with us forever. Perhaps the most popular song is “Seasons of Life.” The entire cast harmonizes to sing "Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes" (the number of minutes in a common - non-leap - calendar year).

The main question asked is, "How do you measure a year?" Various answers are suggested, from points of the day ("Daylights," "Sunsets," "Midnights") to units of measure ("inches," "miles"), to everyday events ("cups of coffee") to more symbolic concepts ("laughter," "strife"). In the chorus, the song reaches the conclusion that love is the only proper measure of a year in a human life.

The back story of “Rent” makes it all the more powerful. Composer Jonathan Larson worked for years on this update of Puccini. The night before opening he died of an aneurysm. That's as substantial a piece of Broadway legend as it gets.

The Media Theatre is a wonderfully refurbished former vaudeville house in picturesque Media, only 20 minutes from New Castle County. There are close by restaurants. Son Grant and I enjoyed a recent “Wizard of Oz,” with a cast replete with many professional credits.

May 5 to June 6. 104 E. State St. (follow the Media Exit off of the Blue Route. 610.891.0100.