The Arts Spring Forth in April

Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald

Children’s literature, comedy, music and Woodstock’s 50th await you this month


T
he weather this month may be unpredictable, but the arts in Wilmington are always reliable. While you’re dreaming of flowers blooming and grass greening, check out the “April ArtStuff” below and spring into action.

DAM Explores Children’s Book Art, Celebrates Rich Career
Delaware Art Museum friends and especially families are invited into the magical world of children’s literature to experience the equally magical images of these treasured books.

Fairy Tales to Nursery Rhymes: The Droller Collection of Picture Book Art takes patrons on an imaginative, colorful journey through a collection of illustrations dating from recent publications (2015) all the way back to 1879.

The exhibit features works from beloved children’s favorites — from Brothers Grimm to Mother Goose; British artists like Kate Greenaway; modern works of Maurice Sendak; and iconic characters like Alice in Wonderland, The Pied Piper, Pinocchio, and Aladdin. This exhibit runs now through May 12 in the Anthony N. and Catherine A. Fusco Gallery.

Mary Holahan, the museum’s Curator of Illustration, put together the exhibit. It’s a bittersweet project for her; it will be her final one with the museum, as she retires after an illustrious (pun intended) 31-year career. It’s also the largest exhibit she has overseen, comprising 113 illustrations. It’s the same exhibit that was shown in its original home, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. (Many may know Carle as the author of the classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar.)

“This exhibit truly emphasizes the ‘golden age’ and the modern era of children’s book illustration,” says Holahan. “And while it’s definitely a child-focused exhibit, it provides both adults and children a memorable springboard to loving art.”

Adding some interactive play to the experience, the exhibition design includes whimsical three-wall structures resembling books that patrons “enter” to view illustrations.

“I wanted to make tangible the idea that when we read books [or look at the illustrations], we enter into another world or time and space,” says Holahan, who created the unique setup with her design colleague. “So we created two big ‘books’ in the middle of the room out of temporary walls.”

Holahan’s vision is also played out in vibrant color and two overall themes: Lands of Make Believe and Kingdom of Critters. In each “book” are four surfaces on which the works are displayed. Outside of that, visitors can connect in a storybook nook and a play area filled with children’s costumes.

Her favorite illustration in the exhibit is a watercolor from The Pied Piper by artist Errol John Le Cain. It’s one of the largest in the exhibit but, she adds, it’s one of the darkest thematically. “Not sure what that says about me,” she jokes.

Holahan began as the registrar for the museum in 1978, later becoming a curator with expertise in illustration. She selected Fairy Tales to Nursery Rhymes as her last exhibition because it was an opportunity to highlight illustrations for children’s literature, media which are not a large part of the museum’s permanent collection.

But the exhibit fits solidly into the museum’s principal goals as well. “Renowned illustrator Walter Crane (one of the earliest artists in the show), was keen to the idea of visual literacy…teaching children to read by interpreting images and words together,” says Holahan. “That’s something we like to stress here—that visual and verbal learning are linked.”

During the run, patrons are encouraged to donate new or gently used children’s books at the museum front desk to be donated to Read Aloud Delaware.

Organized by the Carle Museum in Amherst, Fairy Tales to Nursery Rhymes is made possible in Delaware by the Hallie Tybout Exhibit Fund and the Edgar A. Thronson Foundation Illustration Exhibition Fund with additional support from the Delaware Division of the Arts.

The Delaware Art Museum is closed Monday and Tuesday, but open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday and Friday through Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Museum admission is free for members, $25 for a family (up to two adults and four children); $12 for adults; $10 for seniors (60-plus); $6 for students (w/valid ID) and youth (ages 7-18). Children age 6 and under are admitted free. For details, visit delart.org.

City Theater Looks Back—and Ahead
City Theater Company (CTC) invites you to “party at the pub” like it’s 1993 (or 2003, or 2013, or 2023) as they present Pub Plays, a comedic tour-de-force of the CTC’s past, present, and future.

This spring production, running for six nights (April 26-May 4) in Studio One of The Grand, will be a time-travelling love letter to the company’s beginnings. CTC started presenting one-act plays in the second-floor bar of Wilmington’s legendary O’Friel’s Irish Pub around 1994. Those early runs built the foundation of what has become the CTC’s signature style of intimate, immersive theater.

The performances will showcase a full program of short plays in a nod to CTC’s tradition of comedic, experimental and new works. Both Delaware and national playwrights will be featured, the cast will include both veteran and new(er) CTC stage favorites, all directed by cast/Fearless Improv member and playwright George Tietze.

“[I] wanted to celebrate our 25th year, in part, by returning to where it all started: Upstairs at O’Friels,” said Tietze. “In doing so, we’ll honor some of the plays and playwrights that helped put us on the map.” Looking back at these plays, Tietze realized that much of CTC’s recent audiences haven’t been able to experience them. “…and darn it, they deserve to!”

Many works that CTC has presented over the years have gone on to be published and produced across the country, notes Tietze. “The works we’ve chosen [for Pub Plays] stand out as favorites among our artists and longtime audience members, and they celebrate the many talented playwrights we’ve been fortunate to collaborate with throughout our history.”

Tickets for Pub Plays are available now at TheGrandWilmington.org. General admission is $30; military personnel (with ID) $25; students (with ID) $20 and youth (age 15 and under) $18.

Fearless Improv also closes out its spring performance schedule at The Grand’s Sarah Bernhardt Salon on Saturday, April 13. Tickets are $15, available at TheGrandWilmington.org. For more detail on City Theater Company, visit city-theater.org.

Pub Plays is a comedic tour-de-force.

Mélomanie Jazzes Up Repertoire
“Provocative pairings” quintet Mélomanie will present a baroque/jazz mash-up concert —An Anthology of Improvisation Through Time—with composer Jonathan Whitney and The Whitney Project, his five-piece jazz ensemble (Jonathan Whitney, percussion; Greg Riley, woodwinds; Joseph Anderson, trumpet; Jeff Knoettner, keyboard, and Rob Swanson, bass). The performance, on Sunday, April 7, at 3 p.m., is part of Mélomanie’s Wilmington Concert Series in Old Town Hall on Market Street.

The collaboration not only meshes two seemingly disparate genres but also includes a world premiere piece by Whitney. Mélomanie originally collaborated with him last spring for United Sounds of America, its music-meets-poetry project with Delaware’s Twin Poets, where Whitney provided improvised percussion parts.

“Jonathan [Whitney] and I have known each other for years, and we’ve generated so many ideas for collaborative projects,” says Mélomanie Co-Artistic Director Tracy Richardson. “The idea for An Anthology of Improvisation Through Time was really formed about three years ago.”

Whitney’s new piece, Suite, is for the “big band” of 10 musicians to perform together. He wrote the music, inspired by baroque stylings but in contemporary jazz language, so some sections are improvised while others are notated.

One of his previous compositions, Bedtime, also will be performed that evening by the Whitney Project alone. In it, Whitney deconstructs a melody that he and his wife sang to their daughters since they were in utero. “The energy of that piece follows a trajectory that all parents will relate to,” he says.

But Whitney seems most excited about the “big band” piece. “The suite combining these two distinct musical voices (Mélomanie and The Whitney Project) has been exciting to write,” he says. “There are so many sonic possibilities between the two ensembles, and Old Town Hall [the Delaware Historical Society venue] almost acts like an 11th member of the ensemble!”

Tickets, available at melomanie.org., are $25 for adults; $15 for students 16 and older; youth to age 15 are admitted free.

Music School Celebrates Woodstock’s Golden Anniversary
In this 50th anniversary year of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, The Music School of Delaware invites you to dust off your kaftans and earth shoes and put flowers in your hair for an afternoon of peace and music called Woodstock at 50 on Sunday, April 7, at 3 p.m. in the school’s Wilmington Concert Hall.

Sit in and turn on (but don’t tune out) as Music School faculty and guest artists recreate sets from original Woodstock performers Arlo Guthrie, The Band, Blood Sweat & Tears, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joan Baez, Ravi Shankar, Santana, Sly & The Family Stone, The Who and more.

“We’ve got a super-talented bunch of musicians performing, and they’ll try to reconstruct Woodstock’s magic by presenting some of the most iconic music from that weekend fifty years ago,” says Music School faculty artist and event producer Chris Braddock. “We’re thrilled to have the Fuzaholics joining us again, as well as musicians Madhu Nanduri and Rathnakar Nawathe.”

In addition to music, attendees can take part in one of three workshops—a group guitar/ukulele lesson, tie-dye shirt-making or bead necklace creation. Braddock notes that he personally loves programs that incorporate activities for the audience into the fabric of the event. And of course, he adds, there will be a birthday cake.

Tickets are $10 or $5 for students and seniors, and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com.

Opera Festival Features World Premiere & Double Bill of Comedy
OperaDelaware’s 2019 Festival (April 27-May 4) sets the spotlight on comedic opera along with world premiere works in a bold exploration of law, redemption, and unlikely friendships in a divided world

First on the docket: a double bill of Scalia/Ginsburg—composer Derrick Wang’s one-act opera about the friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia—paired with Gilbert & Sullivan’s hysterical courtroom comedy, Trial by Jury.

Scalia/Ginsburg features soprano Jennifer Zetlan as Ginsburg, Brian Cheney as Scalia and Ben Wager as the Commentator. The opera is directed by Fenlon Lamb and conducted by Sara Jobin. Trial by Jury is directed by Cynthia du Pont Tobias, and features artists from the company’s new Young Artist Training Program along with the OperaDelaware Chorus and Orchestra.

The company also presents one of the era’s most successful contemporary works, Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean with a libretto by Terrence McNally. This modern tale follows a death row inmate and the nun who becomes his reluctant spiritual adviser. It stars OperaDelaware favorites Timothy Mix as Joseph De Rocher and Aleks Romano as Sister Helen Prejean.

“We are beyond excited to bring these works to Delaware,” says OperaDelaware General Director Brendan Cooke. “We’re also delighted to present the premiere of a new orchestration in the brilliant Scalia/Ginsburg complemented by Gilbert & Sullivan’s hilarious Trial by Jury.”

A recent addition to the festival lineup is the one-night-only Leading Ladies Offstage, featuring Romano and Zetlan performing select works for mezzo-soprano/soprano, string quartet and piano, accompanied by Principal Pianist & Chorus Master Aurelien Eulert. This special program is Thursday, May 2, at 7:30 p.m. at OperaDelaware Studios.

Dead Man Walking runs Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, May 4, at 2 p.m. Scalia/Ginsburg and Trial by Jury run Sunday, April 28, at 2 p.m. and Friday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m.

All performances take place at The Grand Opera House. Tickets start at $29 and are available at operaDE.org or by calling OperaDelaware’s Box Office at 442-7807.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.