The Arts Scene Blossoms in April

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

Music, poetry and Dirty Dancing await you

Winter 2018 hung around way too long, making the onset of spring all the more enticing. But we can all take comfort in a thriving local arts scene that delivers an April lineup sure to get you out of those cold-weather doldrums. Check out these events.

Relive The Time of Your Life through Dirty Dancing

Full disclosure: The movie is one of my all-time faves. I was a teenager when it was first released, and the trifecta of soundtrack, choreography and bad-boy-meets-girl-sappy-love story resonated heavily. My friends and I were admonished more than once for “dirty dancing” at school functions and weddings for at least a year thereafter.

So do I want to go back and relive “the time of my life,” courtesy of The Playhouse on Rodney Square? Absolutely!

Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story On Stage makes its Delaware debut April 3-8, delivering all the hotly anticipated nostalgic goods in a live-on-stage experience: heart-pounding music, passionate romance and, of course, sensational dancing. It also features the classic and now iconic songs from the movie, including “Hungry Eyes,” “Hey Baby, Do You Love Me?” and the coupe de grace, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”

If you’ve been under a rock for the past 30 years and don’t know the story: Flash way back to Summer 1963, where 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman is on vacation in the Catskills with her family. She’s mesmerized by the racy dancing and pounding rhythms she discovers in the staff quarters, and can’t wait to be part of the scene, especially when she catches sight of Johnny Castle, the resort’s sexy wrong-side-of-the-tracks dance instructor. Baby’s life changes forever when she ends up as Johnny’s leading lady, both onstage and off. 

Aaron Patrick Craven stars as Johnny and Kaleigh Courts as Baby. An eight-piece band performs the timeless music on stage. The production’s book is written by Eleanor Bergstein (author of the original film script) and the North American tour is directed by Sarna Lapine. Dirty Dancing – The Classic Story on Stage was first performed at the Theatre Royal in Sydney, Australia, in 2004 and the first North American tour began in Chicago in 2008.

Tickets at $40 are available at ThePlayhouseDE.org or by calling The Playhouse box office at 888-0200.

Ayreheart Makes the Lute Cool Again

The Renaissance-and-modern music trio Ayreheart. Photo courtesy of Market Street Music

Market Street Music keeps its vibrant roster going into spring with the return of Renaissance-and-modern music trio Ayreheart. The ensemble—Ronn McFarlane on lute; Willard Morris on fretless bass, violin and colascione (a kind of bass lute), and Mattias Rucht on percussion—brings the lute and related period instruments into the 21st century with all the energy of a traditional rock band. The Friday, April 20, 7:30 p.m. concert at 1101 N. Market St. is the second appearance for the group in Market Street’s lineup.

“Ayreheart returns to Market Street Music because they are simply remarkable!” says Market Street Music Director David Schelat. “These musicians, who all have backgrounds in rock and jazz, create a level of energy that jumps off the stage and into the audience. It really is a bit like a rock concert, except the music is from the 14th to 17th centuries.”

So, let’s back up. What’s a lute, exactly? It’s a stringed instrument (looks similar to a guitar, although it is plucked rather than strummed) with a long neck of frets, a round body and flat front. Descended from the Arabic oud, the lute was the most popular instrument in the Western world during the Renaissance.

The ensemble was founded in 2010 by the Grammy-nominated lutenist McFarlane, who had long been writing and performing music for solo lute and found many of his ideas were more expansive than for just a solo instrument.

“It was a natural evolution to expand into an ensemble that could play all the parts,” says McFarlane. “There’s also an exchange of ideas and energy with an ensemble that becomes more that the sum of its parts.”

In addition to original music, Ayreheart performs Renaissance music, “…from the time when the lute was considered the ‘Prince of Instruments,’” as McFarlane notes. “There’s a tremendous amount of music that exists from that period…that appeals to us very much.”

The last time Ayreheart played at Market Street Music, they presented an all-Renaissance music show. This time around, McFarlane says they’ll offer up a generous helping of Celtic music as well as his original music in the mix.

“I want audiences to come away happy and uplifted by our music, but also to hear the lute as an expressive instrument for modern as well as Renaissance music,” says McFarlane. “It’s exciting to break new musical ground for the lute, combining Renaissance and modern instruments, and creating a new body of music that blends elements of folk, Celtic, bluegrass and classical,” he says.

Tickets are $20 ($10 students) online at marketstreetmusicde.org and $25 at the door the evening of the show.

Creating Provocative Pairings with a Pair of Poets

Musical quintet Mélomanie prides itself on creating what they coin “provocative pairings” in their music and partnerships. This month is no different (yet very different), as they celebrate a first-time collaboration with phenomenal spoken-word duo Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Albert Mills, known as the Twin Poets and Delaware’s current Poets Laureate.

In a program entitled United Sounds of America, two performances—Saturday, April 7, at 4 p.m. and Sunday, April 8, at 2—will be presented at The Delaware Contemporary. Completing this mash-up of artistic genres, guest artist Jonathan Whitney will join them on percussion.

The Twin Poets are thrilled at the prospect of this new artistic endeavor. “We’re honored to share the stage with Mélomanie,” Chukwuocha and Mills say. “Through music and spoken-word, we’ll depict the challenges, hopes and aspirations of our great nation. Throughout America’s proud history, the most significant moments have always been when we stood united, demonstrating our true strength. In response to the chaotic divisiveness spreading throughout our country and world, this performance will ‘build a wall’ of love and empowerment, highlighting the transformative power of the arts.”

“I deeply admire the work of the Twin Poets,” says Mélomanie Artistic Director Tracy Richardson. “Their words and performances articulate the human situations of our time and the human condition of any time, contemporary or ancient.”

Mélomanie asked the Twin Poets for the opportunity to combine their respective art forms and offer a new experience to audiences. “We’re continuing in the earliest traditions of the union of poetry and music,” says Richardson.

Richardson says audiences can expect new poetry and favorite past works from the Twin Poets as well as new and favorite music from Mélomanie. For the performance, the Twin Poets have created a poem reflective of the event title, United Sounds of America.

The ensemble and duo will perform together and separately during the program, with composer Mark Hagerty creating and arranging music to accompany the Twin Poets. Mélomanie will perform contemporary regional composer Robert Maggio’s Aegean Airs and German Baroque master Georg Philipp Telemanns’ Chaconne.

Tickets are $25, $15 for Delaware Contemporary members and students 16 and older. Those up to age 15 are admitted free. Advance purchase is recommended at melomanie.org.

A Three-Woman Art Show, Playwrights & Spoken Word

ArtzScape in LoMa continues its local buzz with a bevy of arts programming throughout the month, starting with a three-woman art show. Unison, which opens Friday, April 6, features Dr. Eboni Bell, Yvette Renee Johnson and Tish Williams in a collective exhibition that celebrates each individual artist’s style and a variety of media.

Bell’s collection of works is entitled Wear Your Crown. It was created to inspire and empower women to know their value and their worth, and she notes that each painting is named after one of the “crowns” that God has given women. In Johnson’s exhibit, From Broken to Beautiful, she has combined her love of everything natural within mixed media to highlight how things working together can create beauty and goodness. Finally, Williams’ exhibit focuses on three-dimensional pieces that transform space and challenge form. Recurring themes in her work are sometimes untraditional processes asking questions such as, “Who are we through our form and process?” and “Who are we in each environment we place ourselves?”

On Saturday, April 7, ArtzScape welcomes renowned playwright Connie Drummond, who leads a daylong playwright workshop called Write Your Story for Stage.

Sunday, April 15, brings the return of ArtzSpace’s monthly Music.Poetry.Art, an all-genre open mic night hosted by David Harris. The event is held monthly on the third Sunday and features artists from Delaware and the tri-state region.

For complete event information on ArtzScape, visit artzscape.com.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.