On Stage: ‘Stomp’ away those holiday blues

Also, First State Ballet showcases The Nutcracker

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times


Stomp returns to the Delaware Valley, from December 26-30 for an eight-show run at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia.

The musical stage show “Stomp” has been playing to packed houses for more than 20 years and its popularity is showing no signs of waning.

The energetic and highly-percussive show is coming back to Philadelphia from December 26-30 for an eight-show run at the Merriam Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org) as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway season.

“Stomp” has been visiting the area for well over a decade-and-a-half but this time arrives with some new additions. Some sections of the show have been updated and restructured. And, the program features the addition of new routines utilizing unusual props.

The structure is always there but approximately 30 per cent of each performance is improvised. The cast of the national tour has the versatility — and the experience with the structure of the show — to keep it fresh and new for every performance.

“We’ve been on a layoff since June,” said cast member Cammie Griffin, during a phone interview last week from her mother’s home in Massachusetts. “Philadelphia will be the first stop since the break. We have a couple new performers and a couple old heads. We call them the vets.”

Griffin was born and raised in Springfield, Mass. A child prodigy since age three, she studied various styles of dance for 15 years and has performed with Lisa Lisa and Grammy Award-winning Yolanda Adams. The versatile performer qualifies as one of the tour’s vets.

“This is my eighth year with the show,” said Griffin, who lives in Las Vegas. “We have a few cast members who have been in the show for 15 years. With ‘Stomp,” you never really quit. There is always something going on with ‘Stomp.’ It’s a sisterhood/brotherhood thing. Once you’re in, you’re in.”

“Stomp” is a wordless show featuring an eight-member cast with energy to burn — a cast that creates beautiful music and sly humor with found objects such as Zippo lighters, push brooms, wooden poles, hammer handles, garbage cans, inner tubes, matchboxes and even the kitchen sink. It is a journey through sound, a celebration of the everyday and a comic interplay of characters wordlessly communicating through dance and drum.

“Stomp” runs for just over an hour-and-a-half with no intermission. It features non-stop intensity, lot of movement and a whole lot of noise. To get an idea of what’s happening in the show, picture a group of athletic dancers acting like a group of young kids left unsupervised in a kitchen after drinking a 16-ounce glass of Jolt (a soda that pre-dated energy drinks and boasted “all the sugar and twice the caffeine”)

“Touring with this show is tough on the body but we’ve learned how to stay in shape,” said Griffin. “We’ve learned how to warm up and cool down. It’s in the contract. We have to go to the gym or work out in our room.

“We even have a personal trainer person who tours with the show. We also try to eat healthy — which is tough when you’re on the road. This show is definitely not normal in any sense.”

Griffin grew up in Springfield and then attended Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. Ironically, she wasn’t a dance or theater major.

“I was a chemistry major in college and was going to be a pharmacist,” said Griffin. “But, I’ve always been a dancer. I toured with Lisa Lisa when I was younger. I did ballet. As soon as I got done with college, I went right to dance.

“Years ago before I lived in Las Vegas, I was visiting my brother who lived there. I had two auditions for other shows lined up but then saw an ad for a ‘Stomp’ audition the same day. So, I went for that. I decided to step outside my comfort zone.

“I had no head shot or resume. I just wanted to get a feel for a real audition. I came back home to Massachusetts and one week later they called and asked me to be in the Las Vegas  cast of ‘Stomp.’

“Vegas was the best ‘Stomp’ show ever. It was like ‘Stomp’ on steroids. There also have been U.S. tours, European tours and sit-down shows in New York and London. I’ve performed in every single cast including Vegas.

“On the tours, my favorite cities were Rome and London.  I’ve also been to Philadelphia several times with ‘Stomp.’ I’ve always had a great time in Philly so I’m looking forward to coming back there. It’s a great way to get the tour started again.”

“Stomp” will play the Merriam Theatre on December 26 (8 p.m.), December 27 (2 and 8 p.m.), December 28 (1 and 6:30 p.m.), December 29 (2 and 8 p.m.) and December 30 (2 p.m.) Tickets range from $39.50-$75.

If you’re looking for stage show to watch prior to Christmas, then consider a visit to the Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 800-37-GRAND, www.firststateballet.com) to attend one of this weekend’s performances of  “The Nutcracker” by the First State Ballet.

first state ballet nutcracker

First State Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.

First State Ballet Theatre, Delaware’s professional ballet company, presents full length ballets and mixed-repertory programs throughout the year. Headquartered in Wilmington’s beautiful and historic Grand Opera House, First State Ballet Theatre performs under the artistic direction of Pasha Kambalov.

The ballet version of “The Nutcracker” is based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s tale “The Nutcracker and The Mouse King” and performed to the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. With its familiar music and energetic dance numbers, “The Nutcracker” is a show that appeals to audiences of all ages.

Evidence of Russia can be found all throughout the ballet’s DNA.

Tchaikovsky, the artist responsible for the grand music, was born in Votkinsk, Russia. The original version of the timeless ballet classic was first presented at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1892 and set on the choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.

Petipa is known for his long career as “premier maître de ballet’ of the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres and Ivanov was Second Balletmaster of the Imperial Ballet. Many of the current worldwide productions of “The Nutcracker” are based on the choreography of Georges Balanchine, who was born Giorgi Melitonovitch Balanchivadze in Saint Petersburg.

The Russian influence is also there in the First State Ballet’s production.

Pasha Kambalov, the company’s Artistic Director, graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia — a school whose list of graduates also includes Rudolph Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Vaslav Nijinsky and George Balanchine.

After graduating from the Vaganova Ballet Academy, Kambalov danced with Donetsk Ballet in the Ukraine and the Komi Republic State Opera and Ballet in Russia and toured extensively throughout the USSR, the United States and Europe. In the United States he danced with Russian Ballet Theater under the direction of Honored Artist of the Russian Republic Lev Assouliak.

Now established as one of Wilmington’s eagerly-anticipated holiday traditions, the First State Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” is performed in conjunction with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and Wilmington Children’s Chorus.

Performances are scheduled for December 20 at 2 and 7 p.m. and December 21 at 2 p.m. Adult tickets range from $28- $48. Tickets for students (18 and under) are half-price and there are $5 per ticket discounts for seniors.

Another top-flight production of “The Nutcracker” is the annual presentation by the Brandywine Ballet. It is a professional show that features 60 company members along with 65 students from the Dance Center, which is the Brandywine Ballet’s school.

The show will be presented four times now through December 21 at West Chester University’s Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall (700 South High Street, West Chester, 610-696-2711, www.brandywineballet.org).

The Brandywine Ballet’s performances of the ballet are scheduled for December 19 at 10 a.m., December 20 at noon and 4 p.m., December 21 at 4 p.m. Tickets are $25, $32 and $42 with the morning performances priced at $18.

Each year, the Brandywine Ballet also hosts a special event in conjunction with the ballet performances — the “Nutcracker Tea.” The special pre-performance brunchs, which will be held December 20 and 21 in the library of Asplundh Hall, feature tea sandwiches, fruit trays, cookies and favors. Tickets for the tea event are $25.

Several other stage shows with Christmas themes are playing in the area over the next few weeks.

The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.nctstage.org) is presenting the holiday classic show “A Christmas Carol” now through December 23. Tickets, which include a tasty buffet dinner, are $59 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

The Rainbow Dinner Theatre (3065 Lincoln Highway East, Paradise, 800-292-4301, www.RainbowDinnerTheatre.com) is presenting its holiday production “Burglar’s Holiday” now through December 28. Ticket prices range from $48-$54.

The American Music Theatre (2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, 800-0 648-4102, www.AMTshows.com) has its holiday show running now through December 30. The show features spectacular vocal harmonies, lively musical arrangements, impressive dancing, elaborate scenery, elegant costumes and the music of the AMT Orchestra. Tickets are $42.

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Downingtown’s Liz Longley.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will feature Liz Longley’s “Home for the Holidays” show on December 21 at 8 p.m. Longley, a Downingtown High grad, now lives in Nashville.

“It’s always enjoyable to get back to Pennsylvania,” said Longley, during a phone interview earlier this year from her home in Tennessee. “I play there several times a year. It’s good to get back to my roots.”

After graduating from Downingtown, Longley moved north and earned a degree in songwriting at Berklee College of Music in Boston. She stayed in New England for a while after finishing at Berklee and then headed south to Nashville.

In the past two years, Longley has taken home top prizes at some of the most prestigious songwriting competitions in the country, including the BMI John Lennon Songwriting Scholarship Competition, the International Acoustic Music Awards and the Rocky Mountain Folk Fest Songwriting Competition.

“I’ve been doing a lot of writing since I switched to electric guitar,” said Longley. “I’ve been writing a ton of songs for my next album. It’s not as eclectic as my previous albums. There is a little more blues influence. Also, it has more of a rock and pop feel.”

But, Longley’s shows this weekend — she’s also performing at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia on December 20 — show will have a feel all their own ….a vibe that celebrates Christmas and the traditions that surround it.

Other shows at the Ardmore Music Hall in the upcoming week will be Splintered Sunlight (one of the East Coast’s top Grateful Dead tribute bands) on December 18, Robert Randolph & The Family Band featuring Big Sam Williams with opening act Stolen Rhodes on December 19 and Consider the Source and Moon Hooch on December 20.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will present a twin bill featuring Angela Sheik and Tall Tall Trees on December 19 at 8 p.m. and a pair of shows by John Eddie and His Band on December 20 at 7 and 10 p.m.

bacon flash 3

Better Than Bacon at The Flash.

There are times when the audience at The Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is treated not only to the sounds coming from the stage but also to the smells coming from the kitchen.

The sounds are the work of the talented musicians presented by The Flash. The smells are the work of the kitchen staff as it occasionally cooks bacon in preparation of the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches and the roasted turkey sandwiches on the café menu.

On December 19, the air at The Flash will definitely be filled with bacon — the sounds of bacon rather than the smell of the tasty pork product. On that night, The Flash will be hosting another performance by Better Than Bacon.

Better Than Bacon is billed as “Suburban Philadelphia’s favorite improvisational comedy troupe.”  The company includes Vahan Berberian, Lauren Burawski, Bob Curran, Jack Dibeler, Brett Heller, Lauren Henry, Amy Hitchcock, Gerry Kniezewski, Steve Murphy, Susan Price and Dan Stabb.

Many of the members met at improv comedy classes offered by a local adult night school.  After taking the same classes together for more than three years, they decided to take a stab at being real improv comedy troupe.  In June 2010, Stabb came on board as coach and established regular rehearsals. At that point, Better Than Bacon was born.

Better Than Bacon (which for Muslims refers to just about every other food product)  makes up every single word and performs every single action completely on-the-spot — with skits motivated by audience suggestions.

The show on December 19 will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16 in advance and $20 at the door.

On December 20, The Flash will host a noontime screening of the classic holiday movie “A Christmas Carol.” Tickets are free. Seating is limited and is first come, first serve.

The evening show (8 p.m.) on December 20 features Mark Unruh. Tickets are $20 in advance and $24 day of show.

mark unruh  flash

Mark Unruh

Originally a native of Kennett Square, Unruh has been active in the local music scene for more than three decades. He has a unique connection to The Flash. The club’s namesake — the infamous “Sandy Flash” — used a hideout cave located on the edge of Willowbrook Farm where Unruh was raised.

Sandy Flash, who died in 1778, was the name by which James Fitzpatrick, a late 18th-century highwayman, was better known. After General Howe captured Philadelphia in 1777, Fitzpatrick joined the British army and frequently engaged in raids into Chester County.

After the British army evacuated Philadelphia in 1778, Fitzpatrick remained in the area and continued to engage in raids against the Continental Army and its supporters in the local area. “Sandy Flash” is a prominent character in “The Story of Kennett,” Bayard Taylor’s portrait of revolutionary Pennsylvania.

Unruh, meanwhile, is a law-abiding multi-instrumentalist whose repertoire spans many genres — bluegrass, blues, rock, classical, jazz and ragtime. After majoring in classical guitar at James Madison University and the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts (now the University of the Arts), he began performing professionally in various acoustic and electric ensembles.

The show on December 21 at The Flash will get underway at 7 p.m. It will be a triple bill featuring local acts — Jonathan Gibson, Three for Five and Entropy.

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Annie Haslam

The highlight of the upcoming schedule for the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will be Annie Haslam’s “In the Spirit of the Holidays” show on December 20 featuring Dave Tesar, David J. Keyes, Tom Brislin, Charles Descarfino and England’s vocalist extraordinaire Haslam.

Haslam, who was born in Bolton, Lancashire, first gained world-wide recognition when she was asked to become the lead singer of Renaissance, a band formed by Keith Relf after he left the Yardbirds.

While still a member of Renaissance, Haslam recorded her first solo album “Annie in Wonderland” — a highly-acclaimed disc that was a collaboration with (and produced by) Roy Wood, a founding member of both The Move and ELO.

Renaissance’s latest album is “Symphony of Light,” which was released in a slightly different form last year and titled “Grandine il Vento.”

“We initially put the album out ourselves,” said Haslam. “Then, nine months later a company in New York offered us a distribution deal. But, we had to do new artwork, change the title and add three bonus tracks.”

One of the bonus tracks is a new song written as a tribute to Michael Dunford. One of the band’s creative forces, Dunford passed away last year after suffering a major cerebral hemorrhage.

“We wrote the song ‘Renaissance Man’ as a tribute to Michael,” said Haslam. “We still can feel him around. He definitely visits. Just like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael was a Renaissance man.”

Haslam’s annual holiday show, which focuses on seasonal favorites, will open with I and Thou, a band that features Renaissance keyboardist Jason Hart. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $35 and $50.

Other shows over the next week at the Sellersville Theater are the Sweetback Sisters’ Country Christmas Singalong Spectacular along with Amy Black on December 18, Albert Cummings with the Skyla Burrell Band opening on December 19 and Phil Keaggy’s “Wintersky Tour” featuring Jeff Johnson, Brian Dunning and Wendy Goodwin on December 21 (with shows at 3 and 8 p.m.).

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will feature a quartet of teen rappers on December 19 — Da-Sean, Trent Vernon, Beezy and D. Lee. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door for the 8 p.m. show.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas: An Evening of Short Films” will be presented on December 20. It will be an evening of short films with a “horror/thriller twist” that is slated to get underway at 7 p.m.

There are five films on the program — “Another Time,” directed by Amy Frear, “The Ghosting,” directed by Chris Johnson, “The Fear Spectrum,” directed by Justin Bamforth,  “Reverb,” directed by Samantha Paradise and “The Hitchhiking,” directed by Chris Johnson. Tickets are $13 online or $15 at the door.

ted the fiddler at chaplin's

Ted The Fiddler

On December 23, Chaplin’s will host “Ted The Fiddler’s Big Time Birthday Bash” with special guests Rue and Donna Delany. Tickets are $12 online or $15 at the door.

Burlap and Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427- 4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will feature John Conahan with Ben Kessler December 19 and Tracy Grammer with Daniel White on December 20. The venue will then be closed for the holidays and will re-open on January 9 with Connor Garvey and Brett Harris.

Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. will perform on December 18 on the Downstairs Stage at the World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 302- 994-1400, www.queen.worldcafelive.com) while The Hold-Up and the Hello Strangers will play the Upstairs Stage.

The World Café Live at the Queen will also present the “December Singer Songwriter Showcase “ with C. Lynne Smith, D. Corridori, Hot Breakfast!, Kenny Ferrier, Kevin McCove and Sarah Koon on December 19 and  “Mad-Sweet Pangs Holiday Show” on December 20.

Melodies Café (2 East Ardmore Avenue, Ardmore, 610-645-5269, www.melodiescafe.com) will have a “Wigs For Kids Benefit” with Lost Northern TribeThe Obsoleets and Ridley Creek on December 18, Rosetta, Restorations and Brian Medlin on December 19 and The Wittchen Initiative and Sweetbriar Rose on December 20.

The Chameleon Club (223 North Water Street, Lancaster, 717-299-9684, http://www.chameleonclub.net) will have Bless The Fall, Chelsea Grin, Upon A Burning Body and The Family Ruin on December 18, Sister Brother, Andrew and Jessica Aiken, and Ian Thorton on December 19 and GoGo Gadjet on December 20.

Tellus 360 (24 East King Street, Lancaster, 717-393-1660, www.tellus360.com) will host Second Hand Suits on December 18, John Byrne Band on December 19, Jeff Thomas’ All-Volunteer Army on December 20, Jordan Rast on December 21, Irish Blessing on December 22 and Mark DeRose & The Dreadnought Brigade Christmas Show on December 23.

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