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.