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.

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