The Playhouse is Back

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

…and you can become a partner in its success

The Playhouse has an exciting Broadway season coming up, complete with four full-week productions and two special weekend engagements. After three years under The Grand’s management, the entire Playhouse staff is thrilled about the direction “Broadway in Wilmington” is headed and about the transformation that has already occurred.

To usher in the new season, The Playhouse has introduced a patron loyalty program, called Playhouse Partners. This initiative is designed to reward subscribers for sharing information about performances, capitalize on word-of-mouth advertising and increase audiences and overall downtown visitors throughout the year.

Playhouse Partners gives existing subscribers a rebate when they bring a new subscriber to the Playhouse.  For every new referral subscription generated, the existing subscriber receives a $20 rebate—and the new patron will save the same $20.

“We created the Playhouse Partners program as a reward for those subscribers who actively assist us in building that audience,” says Playhouse Executive Director Mark Fields. “They benefit in two ways: a secure future for Broadway shows at The Playhouse and a little cash back in their pockets. It’s a win-win.”

Dorothy (Cassie Okenka) and Toto (Snickers) from the 2008 tour. Photo courtesy of The Playhouse on Rodney Square

Dorothy (Cassie Okenka) and Toto (Snickers) from the 2008 tour. Photo courtesy of The Playhouse on Rodney Square

Initial response to the program has been positive. “We wanted to find a way to mobilize current subscribers to help us rebuild a regional audience for high-quality musical theater,” Fields says. “After all, they understand the value first-hand, and a stronger base of support for us means a steady supply of shows for everyone to enjoy.”

And more changes are coming. With the sale of the Hotel du Pont, both staffs are seeing positive changes in the partnership and communication between the hotel and theater. The construction underway has created its unique set of challenges, but both organizations are excited to see this relationship create cross-pollination opportunities between theater patrons and hotel guests.

“As we continue to make the attending experience inside the theater as great as it should be, we are pleased that the Buccini/Pollin Group is working to make the building itself more inviting, more varied, and more enjoyable than it has been in recent years,” Fields says. “The coming years will see upgrades to the Hotel, a new food hall, reinvigorated retail, and eventually residents in the building.” 

Fields recognizes that it will take a while to bring about these improvements, and there will be some temporary inconvenience. But, he says, when it’s all done, the building will be transformed into a real showplace, where everyone will want to go and of which everyone can be proud.

Go Over the Rainbow

The Playhouse season begins with what is possibly the greatest family musical of all time, The Wizard of Oz, touching down with eight performances, Nov. 14-19. This magical production—a celebration of the 1939 MGM movie classic—includes breathtaking special effects that will sweep audiences away from the moment the tornado twists into Wilmington. Tickets are on sale now at ThePlayhouseDE.org or at 888-0200. They start at $40.

Leading the cast as Dorothy is Kalie Kaimann, who previously played the role for the Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati. Chris Duir will play the role of Scarecrow/Hunk; Christopher Russell portrays Tinman/Hickory; and Victor Legarreta portrays the Lion/Zeke.

The other leading roles include: Emily Perzan (Miss Gulch/Wicked Witch of the West); Kirk Lawrence (Professor Marvel/The Wizard of Oz); Ashleigh Thompson (Aunt Em/Glinda); and Michael Weaver (Uncle Henry/Gatekeeper).

Most important, everyone wants to know who will play Toto. That would be Murphy, a white Brussels Griffon/Cairn terrier mix with scruffy fur and an adorable underbite.  Murphy was rescued from the Chandler, Ariz., ASPCA by Lizzie Webb, music director for The Wizard of Oz tour. This will be his second time playing Toto. He even has his own hashtag: #montanamurphy.

Director Dean Sobon previously created the national tours of Fiddler on the Roof and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Amy McCleary, director/choreographer of the national tour of Memphis: The Musical, will create the magical choreography. 

As expected, the production will feature all the classic songs by Harold Arlen: “Over the Rainbow,” “Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead” and “If I Only Had A Brain.”

This opening production promises to captivate the entire family as you travel down the yellow brick road for an unforgettable day at the theater. For more information visit wizardofoztour.com or theplayhousede.org

Literary Café Features Author Jeff Hobbs

Christina Cultural Arts Center leads off its 71st year by unveiling the The Literary Café, a free community program and a partnership with New Castle County Libraries/NCC Community Services.

“For young people to gain a passion for reading, it’s critical for them to observe adults reading and engaging,” notes CCAC Executive Director H. Raye Jones Avery. “Our Literary Café takes the private experience of a great read to the next level by connecting authors and community, and enabling literature lovers to form relationships through robust discussions.”

The first edition of the Café welcomes New York Times best-selling author and Kennett Square native Jeff Hobbs, who will discuss his book, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. Hobbs graduated from Tower Hill School, followed by Yale in 2002. His work is a haunting nonfiction story with a title that is tragically revealing. Hobbs and Peace were roommates at Yale, and the book is filled with questions about Peace’s life and whether anything could have saved him.

“Our first pick for the Café season is masterfully written by a regionally born author,” Avery notes. “Jeff Hobbs’ work serves as a catalyst for readers to consider how they might redirect loved ones from ‘no return’ toward self-fulfillment.”

The public is invited to join the conversation on two dates—Friday, Oct. 20, 6:30 p.m., at the Route 9 Library & Innovation Center in New Castle, or Saturday, Oct. 21, 3 p.m., at CCAC in Wilmington. Both will be facilitated by Hugh Atkins, former English Department Chair at Tower Hill School, who taught Hobbs. The events are free, but advance registration is encouraged at ccacde.org.

CCAC enjoys a longtime partnership with Atkins and the Wilmington Public Library, which makes this new collaborative venture with the Rt. 9 Library special. In the future, Avery notes, there will be more programs from CCAC in which literature and youth literacy take center stage.

DTC’s 39th Season Delivers a 1-2 Punch

Delaware Theater Company brings a true-life narrative of sports history and racial unrest to the stage in its debut of the one-man powerhouse, Dare to Be Black: The Jack Johnson Story.

Against the backdrop of an intolerant turn-of-the-century America, Jack Johnson – the first acknowledged black heavyweight boxer (1908-1915) – tells his story, through solo performer and play author Tommie J. Moore.

“Jack Johnson was an African American before his time,” says Moore. “He did things in the late 1800s and early 1900s that some would call suicide.”

A controversial figure in the boxing ring and in his personal life, Johnson made headlines for his interracial relationships during the Jim Crowe era. After wresting the heavyweight title from Tommy Burns in 1908, he married Etta Duryea, a white woman, in 1910. Johnson then became the target of white supremacists, who sought a white boxer—”The Great White Hope”—to defeat him. Ultimately, Johnson was arrested twice for illegal transport of white women across state lines. He was convicted, and spent a year in prison. More than a century later, there is a movement to have Johnson posthumously pardoned.

Moore wrote the story as a monologue in one week. He says he felt a need to tell the story. “I know he’s passed away, but this is more about the need for an apology,” Moore says, adding that a pardon would bring focus to the forgotten boxer and the racism that stigmatized the memory of his career.

This hard-hitting journey runs Oct. 25 through Nov. 12. Tickets can be purchased online at DelawareTheatre.org or call 594-1100.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.