Monday, February 21, 2011

Du Pont - A Family A Company

Back in ancient history, during the reign of King Thomas de Gordon of the Sovereign County of Nouveau Castle in the land of Delaware, money flowed freely about the empire. Through his ascendancy, King de Gordon brought into his inner circle a former leader of the royal armed guards of Nouveau County and a woman who was possessed of singular skills. She was a member of the bourgeoisie named Madame Sherry Freebury.
For some small minded critics (most certainly of low peasant heritage), King de Gordon and Madame Freebury were present day incarnations of King Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour.
It was an extravagant era. The King and the Madame built their own Taj Mahal (The Hockessin PAL Center). They invested a million or so francs to bring the Wild West here to our sovereign East Coast county (the OK Corral facade at Carousel Park). A like amount went to renovate a barn at Rockwood Mansion that unhappily sits unused 300 days a year.
Yet it was a magical era. The King himself decreed that hair should sprout on his own bald pate, (which had alas been barren since his twentieth year). Voila....there was hair!
The money flowed like wine at a Versailles bacchanal. To the critics who said they should quit their profligacies, the two shouted them down, “Let them eat cake!”.”Apres moi, le deluge”!
And during that dynasty, Aisle Say himself benefited. He was given a commission by The King and The Madame to write a Living History drama at Rockwood Mansion about the Shipley family, the builders of this Gothic edifice (one of only two or three of this peculiar architectural design in these United States).
That venture went so swimmingly that Aisle Say embarked in 2002 - the bicentennial year of the DuPont Co – to write a Living History drama set to original music entitled “DuPont - A Family A Company”.

My father was a lifer with DuPont, he of the '50's gray flannel suit, pressed white shirt and horn rimmed glasses. He would bring home clothes for my family to wear test. Dad was handed wing tips made of Corfam. That synthetic, created at the X station, was promoted to be the synthetic shoe that never wore out. That was very true. It never wore out because the shoes were never worn after the first week. They did not breathe and within hours the wearer experienced a foot sauna. Corfam was DuPont's Edsel.

A history buff, where else would I go to research the family and company but Hagley Museum and Library. With the mission to create an hour drama, time and space would be a challenge; 200 years must be severely compacted into a few 'watershed' scenes. Here was the task:
Historically accurate; period costumes; period music; period instrumentation; authentic dialects
To educate and entertain the audience on the evolution of DuPont from the banks of the Brandywine to present day statewide impact and global significance.
To state that the collective fundamental precepts of quality, integrity, compassion and stewardship for the employee and the public stand the test of time over two centuries.
I selected the following scenes: 1) The Banks of The Brandywine, where Eleuthere and wife Sophie view the rushing waters which will be used to power the gun powder mill turbines; 2) a camp fire scene of the Irish mill workers. These men worked 10 hour 6 day weeks. The threat to them and their families was 'A Trip Across The Creek', always a one way trip. With an explosion of the mill, the force of the energy was directed 'across' the creek. (I discovered in my research that I am here today due to an ill-fated 'trip across the creek'. In 1847 there was a disaster at the mills. Millworker O'Brien perished. The widow O'Brien married Mr. Devlin. I am their great-great grandson on my mother's side.)
The third scene takes place in 1902, when the 3 cousins, A.I, P.S and Coleman, buy the company from the du Pont elders. This purchase would change the world and for us, irrevocably make Delaware into a global presence.
There are more scenes, taking us up to 1960, but my editor tells me I am out of space.
I have a dream to bring this Living History set to music to every elementary and middle school in the state. I don't intend to give up.

If any of the readers have an idea for an article, please email me at

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

NCT "Cats" close to purrfect

Poetry-wise, I'll say Aisle Say is strictly a simple iambic pentameter type of fellow; “listening to the loons croon under the moon in June”, that type of thing. Pick up a book of poetry? There are reruns of 'Jersey Shore' to titillate my senses, thank you very much.
T.S. Eliot wrote 'Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats” in the '30's with the premise being feline psychology and feline sociology. Eliot's nom de plume was 'Old Possum'. It was Andrew Lloyd Webber's favorite book of poetry as a child. The songs in the production are Eliot's verse set to music.
I would hazard a guess that most who witness 'Cats' for the first time are like me; with nary a clue as to theme or plot. What made this the second longest running show in Broadway history was the total preposterousness of the assumption; dozens of actors on all fours posturing and preening as do our beloved pets, outrageous costumes giving similitude to the characters, the inventive makeup, the dazzling dance and finally, Lloyd Webber's melodies which cannot be shaken from your brain unless you were hit by linebacker James Harrison of the Steelers.
Why it took decades to premiere in Delaware is a question. But, in 'cat'aclysmic understatement, the wait was worth it. Considering their budget restraints, Aisle Say does not know how they did it. But they did it! This is the finest show my dear sister Liz and I have ever seen at Candlelight in 43 years (the exception, Liz reminded me, being 'Pal Joey', in which I starred in 1970). By best I mean fully integrated; all the necessary talent demands coalesced into a fulfilling and spectacular theatrical experience. (The polar opposite being the $65 million boondoogle now on Broadway entitled “Spider-Man” and suffering from a tsunami of withering reviews. Turning that production around from the national joke it has become will be truly Sisyphean.)
The kudos begin with Director/Choreographer Dann Dunn who spent a year on the Broadway tour playing the majority of the 'cat'avating characters throughout the run. He hit the ground running the first day of rehearsal like a cheetah chasing lunch. He cast a few NCT dance stalwarts and brought in a large number of dancers who are making their NCT debut. In this show one must be a real triple threat, with the emphasis on the singing and dancing.
Scenic Designer Jeff Reim's junk yard was reminiscent of similar sets I have seen in the traveling productions of 'Cats'. Lighting Designer Chris Alberts does his normal distinguished work. Costumer Timothy Lamont Cannon doubled as Old Deuteronomy and excelled in both roles.
Here is where Aisle Say admittedly will fall short. It has been a long while since I last saw a production. With an over abundance of striped faces, fuzzy fur and painted spandex on stage, some of the cats looked alike. I was so transfixed with the delightful delirium I was witnessing, I will admit to some confusion matching actor to his part. I was looking forward to connecting feline face to name after the show but for the first time there was no 'meet and greet'.
We all know Grizabella, the Glamour Cat (Erica Scanlon Harr) and her the iconic “Memories”. Hers was a stirring rendition. Mr. Mistoffelees (Ryan Blackson), Rum Tum Tugger (Cory Wade Hindroff), Jennyandydots (Lindsay Mauck), Mungojerrie (Ricky Rotandi), Rumpleteazer (Alexis DeDonato), Gus/Bustopher Jones (David T. Snyder) and Skimbleshanks (Michael Angelini) and the entire cast was so talented and so enthusiastic I am scanning my thesaurus for platitudes as we speak.
On March 4 children under 14 are priced at $15.00
Til March 20. Some shows are sold out...deservedly so. 302.475.2313

REP Ensemble's 'Glass Menagerie" is transparent

The UD REP Ensemble stages Tennessee Williams' “The Glass Menagerie” in a set resembling a shadow box. The personalities of the characters cast oppressive shadows over one another as well. The themes are heavy: failures of capitalism, failures of the family structure and broken promises by fathers and sons.
It is considered Williams' most autobiographical play. The playwright's birth name was Thomas and the scene is a dingy apartment in St. Louis, similar to his own childhood environs. The son and brother in the play Tom (Michael Gotch) is the narrator and the tale is a recollection of his memories with his Mother and his sickly and mentally ill sister Rose.
In the play the Mother's name became Amanda (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) and Rose would become Laura (Carine Montbertrand).
Amanda's husband abandoned the family long ago. Although a survivor and a pragmatist, Amanda yearns for the illusions and comforts she remembers from her days as a fĂȘted Southern belle. She yearns especially for these things for her daughter Laura, a young adult with a crippled foot and tremulous insecurity about the outside world.
Tom works in a warehouse, doing his best to support them. He chafes under the banality and boredom of everyday life and spends much of his spare time watching movies in cheap cinemas at all hours of the night. Amanda is obsessed with finding a suitor for Laura, who spends most of her time with her collection of glass animals, both cold and fragile.
Tom eventually brings a nice boy named Jim home for dinner at the insistence of his mother, who hopes Jim will be the long-awaited suitor for Laura. Laura realizes that Jim is the man she loved in high school and has thought of ever since. After a long evening in which Jim and Laura are left alone by candlelight in the living room, Jim reveals that he is already engaged to be married, and he leaves. Amanda is furious with Tom, accusing him of knowing beforehand this night would be a waste. The outburst is the turning point for Tom. After a lifetime of boredom, mediocrity and dashed dreams, he comes to a crushing decision. He walks down the fire escape from the apartment for the last time to seek his fortune on his own, never to return.
This was a different 'Menagerie' than Aisle Say has past witnessed. Normally Laura is on stage continually, seemingly 'Rain Man-esque 'possessed' by her inanimate figurines. Also, there is more laughter in this production. One can argue that compelling drama and riveting dialogue are the parents of great laughter. (Gotch confided in me afterwards that, due to the weather, this was the first performance in front of an audience. The cast had no clue about audience reaction.)
While it is Tom's memory that creates the chassis, Amanda's character provides both steering and motor for the vehicle. Pirkl gives us a flawless portrayal of a woman on the edge of desperation: eking out a bare subsistence, fixated on a suitor for Laura and fantasizing on a past life with a handsome and charming husband (whose portrait dominates the wall).
We see in Gotch's Tom the despair and frustration of a misbegotten life. We hear the resignation in his voice.
Montbertrand plays against character as Laura. (At least against characters Aisle Say has seen her play the past three years!) She does understatement exceedingly well; a slight turn of the head to signify insecurity, a glazed expression to express less than full mental acuity.
Jim (Erik Mathew) is the sole PTTP actor in the show, the others being full time REP Ensemble. He brings great energy to the role and, in his character, an Everyman type of sanity which plays against the repressions and hangups of the other three. He is a big man and exerts strong stage presence. 302.831.2204 Thru 27 February
Aisle Say's quill pen is out of ink. The review of the SPECTACULAR and dare I say, 'Cat'aclysmic production of 'Cats' at New Candlelight must wait until next week. However, you should not wait to call 475.2313 for tickets.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

World Cafe Live will "Light Up The Queen"

Rob and Chris Buccini, Mayor Baker's best friends, have stated that the rehabilitation of The Queen Theatre at 5th & Market Street is their most important project ever. For two gentlemen who have radically transformed Wilmington's cityscape, who have multiple hotel properties in VA and MA and a presence in China, that's quite a quote.
In addition to what The Queen will offer to Delawareans, it's location is strategic as well – dead center in the middle of Market, linking the hub of the city to the Riverfront.
“Lighting up The Queen” is scheduled for April I. Having The Queen a satellite of Philly's popular World Cafe Live was crucial to the venture. Here's some background.
In 1998 music lover and lawyer Hal Real approached WXPN/88.5, U of Penn Radio Station. He was a huge fan of DJ David Dye's widely acclaimed World Cafe show, an eclectic blend of new music, live performances and interviews featuring local and national acts. The show was broadcast over 200 stations nationwide.
Real wanted to “radically change the landscape for contemporary artists and audiences”. His idea was to create World Cafe Live, a for profit venue for grownups that was the physical extension of the experience World Cafe listeners had in their homes.
Six years and $15 million later, World Cafe Live's concert and dining opened near the Penn campus. The radio station moved in the same building.
World Cafe Live employs 80 people, mounts about 550 shows annually showcasing 1200 artists. Meanwhile, on the non-profit radio side, XPN has grown exponentially, employing 25 people, embracing 25,000 dues paying members and 300,000 loyal regional listeners. It gains adherents by the very physical presence of the venue.
The two partners are under the same roof sharing a common passion for music but they operate independently. XPN licenses the World Cafe Live name to Real Entertainment for an annual fee.
This unique and innovative for-profit/nonprofit partnership has been so successful it has been dubbed the model for future relationships between public broadcasters and private enterprise.
I am not sure who sought out whom for The Queen, but having World Cafe Live installed here creates instant market credibility with both XPN's member base and the international music community. Thousands of Delawareans listen to XPN daily.
With the licensing money from the Hal Real, XPN has been able to extend their brand. They can offer higher quality, bigger bands and more bands. Musicians play at World Cafe Live and are interviewed on the station. That's convenience. Additionally, XPN is adding new affiliates; Dallas, LA and Milwaukee just this year.
For the consumer, how two separate entities with two disparate missions work together is irrelevant. The fact is they do...quite successfully. The commonality of purpose is born in their passion for music. Together they have created this tres cool 'clubhouse' for the music, the arts and the general community.
The Non-COMM Convention, a major event for the music industry, will be hosted by The Queen this year. Real had attended the conference for a decade and then acquired the rights. It is now wholly owned by WXPN. The timing was perfect for this year. Wilmington will be host to many important personages in the industry and some major music names; an energizing send off for the facility.
The Buccini brothers hope that The Queen will be the rock thrown in the pond; that The Queen will become the center of Wilmington's creative universe and the ripple effect will be felt by us all.
For the acts this year visit