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Sunday at the Arden

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Sunday in the Park with George
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Arden Theatre new production
June 2 – July 4, 2010

Arden director Terry Nolan’s got a way with Sondheim. His second time out with Sunday in the Park with George at the Arden now is a top notch. Music Director Eric Ebbenga (PRO: Ebb-an-gay) does well by the full out original orchestra and the 15-member cast of singing actors works like a true ensemble. They don’t shout or screech as happens at several houses here where the amplification is routinely over the top and (still) doesn’t disguise inferior singing.

Sunday in the Park at the Arden is not Sondheim at the top of his game no matter that it’s the one for which he got the Pulitzer. It is a sweet musical making good points and platitudes. Given all the ones we love, you come away feeling this Sondheim doesn’t have enough music.

Jeff Coon’s the perfect lead as George Seurat he really can sing and he looks the right age and painterly

As Dot, Kristine Freilich’s singing is superb, superior to her acting. She’s a pretty woman but the mousey wig and makeup scream for a makeover. This role walks in the shadow of Bernadette Peters and Dot’s supposed to be the face George paints on every woman!

As Jules, a Seurat rival, Scott Greer is capable of stealing any scene he’s in and almost does as. Greer’s a marvel of tone and gesture. Maureen Torsney -Weir does well with the role of Seurat’s mother; later the imperious critic. Michael McKinsey makes a salty boatman. It’s a pleasure watching all these characters come to life on the Grand Jatte on the Arden stage. Sound and video designer Jorge Coiseneau ‘s hard-working projectors and laptops accomplish a feast for ear and eye. Images not of Parisians’ Seine but ours – on Kelly Drive. Sunday in the Park with George runs until 4th of July.


Written by Lesley Valdes

June 7, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Sound the trumpets: Black Pearl

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Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra
Jeri Lynne Johnson, music director
with Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass
Baptist Temple, Temple University
May 29, 2010
Airs June 2

Black Pearl, Philadelphia newest chamber orchestra turned the close of its first season into a celebration at the renovated Baptist Temple Saturday night. Maestra Jeri Lynne Johnson, a conductor who has smart ideas about programming, even if they don’t all work (and better ones about community!) mixed and matched her Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra with her principal trumpeter Rodney Mack’s Philadelphia Big Brass. The first half: lyric shorts by Americans Copland, Bloch, Ellis Marsalis and George Walker, came and went, easy and well.

Good strings are expected here, Black Pearl has them. Ms. Johnson is fortunate in her soloists, Mack’s trumpet was arresting in Copland’s movie score, Quiet City, Geoffrey Deemer’s English horn intense; the piece was the highlight of the first half with George Walker’s Pulitzer- winning understated Lyric Suite running a close second.

The second half mixed pops and classics performed by Rodney Mack’s six- year- old ensemble The Philadelphia Big Brass. A Rossini overture, a howling good quintet version of “He Walks with Me,” Elgar’s Nimrod variation and the finale to Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. Rodney Mack is a fabulous entertainer with a fine sound but he spoils things leaning too hard on a phrase, stretching or overstating like the toreador solo that he played to the house. His better gift is to support superlative musicians: Tubist and arranger Matt Brown, leader and trumpeter Wayne du Maine, whose part time gigs include playing the Met Opera and leading the South Pacific on Broadway now; du Maine led the better part of the Big Brass’s second half and when he was playing his tone was Brita pure. Rex Richardson’s trumpet made a blistering impression (Look him up on YouTube;) Jose Sibaja from Miami by way of Costa Rica with the Boston Brass. Johnson led the brass in the finale from Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, which began ragged and turned tornado. It’s good to know the Black Pearl has access to these virtuosos. , marketable enterprise. Certainly it’s time has come.

But the best was the encore “Billie Jean.” Three trumpets Richardson, Sibaja and du Maine trading, no! igniting riffs on MIchael Jackson – in the beauty of Baptist Temple’s green glass windows. This was thrilling.

NB: They also have Board Chair James Undercoffler, the Drexel professor of arts admin and former president and CEO of the Philadelphia Orchestra before he threw up his hands at the deficit and other ills there. Let’s hope Undercoffler sees Black Pearl as more manageable. Word is Ms. Johnson, who trained at Wellesley, and U. of Chicago, has excellent funding, including fine family backing. The maestra once served as assistant conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.

Peter Pan Flies at The Arden

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Nifty Stocking Stuffer:

The Arden is one of the best in town. Ditto for its Children’s Theatre which rarely disappoints. And after his sterling performance in the lead role of Hector, in The History Boys( Alan Bennett’s coming of age tale of life and the importance of literature) well, I won’t miss anything Frank X does. This time around, he’s Captain Hook in another coming of age tale – J. M Barrie’s classic Peter Pan, newly updated for the stage by Douglas Irving. The Arden’s cast bodes well and so does director David O’ Connor who steered that amazing Seafarer-– remember?

Snow cancelled the weekend performance I was due at but hopes run high for the holidays.

You too?

Here’s the Holiday schedule:
Wednesday, December 23 at 4pm
Thursday, December 24 at 12pm
December 26 at 12pm, 4pm and 7pm
Sunday, December 27 at 12pm and 4pm
Tuesday, December 29 at 12pm and 4pm
Wednesday, December 30 at 12pm and 4pm
Thursday, December 31 at 12pm
Friday, January 1 at 2pm
Saturday, January 2 at 12pm and 4pm
Sunday, January 3 at 12pm and 4pm 


Kids: $16-$18

Teens: $20-$22
Adults: $30-$32

Orders 215.922.1122

40 N. 2nd Street, Olde City, Philadelphia.

Written by Lesley Valdes

December 19, 2009 at 5:08 pm

Posted in 1, Community, Musicals, Theater