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.