On Stage: “Lettie’ derailed by COVID finds new life at People’s Light

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Abigail Adams

The play “Lettie” had its premiere in Chicago in 2017. The show received rave reviews and appeared destined to have a long and successful run on Broadway. Then, COVID-19 changed all that – a pandemic that closed everything down.

When the original production ran at the Victory Playhouse in Chicago, Broadway World described the show as “profoundly heartbreaking and brilliantly conceived.”

Variety magazine offered this description – “‘Lettie,’ a family drama about a woman emerging from prison and addiction with a desire to reclaim the teenage kids who have barely seen her in seven years, is that rare play that manages to be both pessimistic and hopeful, with a central character simultaneously deeply sympathetic and infuriating.”

Now, “Lettie” is coming back to life and is being staged in various cities around the United States.

Now through July 13, Malvern-based theatre People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, www.peopleslight.org) is presenting the regional premiere of “Lettie,” which was written by Boo Killebrew.

The play opens with Lettie, a woman in her mid-30s, being released from prison after serving a seven-year sentence. Now trying to put her life back together, Lettie is living at Spring House, a halfway house for ex-cons, and she’s enrolled in a training program to become a welder.

Lettie has two teenage children who have been in the care of her sister Carla and Carla’s husband, Frank. Lettie hasn’t seen her kids for years and is eager to reconnect with them, but Carla and Frank are wary.

The couple are uptight Christians. They had to clean up Lettie’s mess when she was addicted to drugs, and they do not trust Lettie’s competence as a mother.

Lettie’s daughter Layla is an effervescent 14-year-old who is a top academic student – and a drama queen. Her son River, who is 17, is a moody record collector and aspiring producer. Layla wants to re-engage with her mom while River wants nothing to do with Lettie.

Lettie makes a friend at her work – Minny, also an ex-con who is struggling to get her life back together.

“There is not an unhappy ending – and not a happy ending,” said director Abigail Adams during a phone interview last week from her home in Swarthmore. “It gives the audience a lot to think about.

“Zak (Berkman) gave it to me, and I read it. This is only the second production I read in years. I sent it back to Zack to read and then we agreed to do the show.”

Zak Berkman is the Producing Artistic Director at People’s Light. Adams is Senior Director of Special Projects and Executive Artistic Director Emerita at People’s Light.

Adams has been associated with People’s Light for over 40 years, serving as artistic leader for over two decades and chief executive for the past 10 years. Adams has directed more than sixty plays at People’s Light, including “The Children” and “Our Town.”

She established the New Voices Ensemble at People’s Light in 1990, which received the White House Coming up Taller Award in 2000. Adams served for 10 years on the faculty of Swarthmore College and has also taught at New York University, Bryn Mawr College, Carnegie Mellon University, and The Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. She holds an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Ursinus College.

“Two things I liked were the ambiguity and the lack of stereotypes in all the characters,” said Adams. “There is a lot of room the playwright has given to individual actors.”

The play was written by Boo Killebrew, a notable playwright, actress, and TV writer for the hit Emmy Award-nominated Netflix series, “Longmire.” Her work as playwright has been presented at theatres around the United States, including The Roundabout Theatre in New York City, Boston Playwright’s Theatre, and Portland Center Stage.

“There are six actors, and they are all well-developed,” said Adams. “These characters defy the stereotype. Lettie is a character who gets in her own way all the time. She’s a very difficult person.”

The story is set in 2017. It started in late winter and ends eight months later around Thanksgiving.

“This is just a good story,” said Adams, who grew up in Media and graduated from Penncrest High. “It’s engrossing.

“One of the themes is – how do you recover lost time…especially with kids and the time you didn’t have with them. The play explores that. You don’t recover – but you can start again. Lettie is the story line. She’s in every scene.”

This production also features strong acting by Danielle Skraastad (Lettie), Kevin Bergen (Frank), Melanye Finister (Minny), Teri Lamm (Carla), Bryanna Martinez-Jimenez (Layla) and Jacob Orr (River).

“This play really does have great writing,” said Adams. “All of the characters are developed so well.”

“Lettie” is running now through July 13 at People’s Light’s Steinbright Stage, an intimate, flexible 140-seat theatre. Ticket prices start at $47.

This is your final weekend to catch a live performance of another top-flight non-musical stage show.

Every season, the Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) presents mostly musicals with just one non-musical in the season’s schedule. That show this season is “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,” which is a murder mystery. The action takes place on an estate in Chappaqua, New York in December 1940.

An eccentric heiress has invited a group of theater people to her home on the pretense of holding a backer’s audition for a new musical. The creative team for this new project was also involved in a recent Broadway flop that closed abruptly when three of its showgirls were mysteriously murdered.

As the mayhem at the mansion unfolds, murders begin to pile up and everyone’s a suspect. The zany show features a lot of slapstick comedy along with blizzard conditions, secret passageways and musical snippets.

The play was first performed at the Circle Repertory Company in New York and later moved to Broadway in April 1987 at The Longacre Theatre. Both productions were directed by the playwright and shared the same cast. The play is said to have been based on several 1940s mystery movies, including The Cat and the Canary, one of Bob Hope’s first films.

Bernice Roth is a perpetually thirsty lyricist and alcoholic. She is Roger’s partner. Bernice is very odd and emotional, frequently losing her composure and screaming. When Marjorie fails to respond to the second act opening number of “White House Merry-Go-Round,” Bernice is hugely offended, despite the fact that Marjorie was dead at the time. She spends the entire second act attempting to “fix” the play, even when she is held hostage.

The production at Candlelight features a standout cast of Susan Giddings, Chelsea Paradiso, Susan Wefel, Henry Glejzer, Walter Todd, Chris Fitting, Sarah Mackus, Robert Gene Pellechio, Samantha Ricciuti and Shaun Yates.

“The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” is running now through June 25. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings (doors 6 p.m./show, 8 p.m.) and Sunday afternoons (doors, 1 p.m./show, 3 p.m.). Tickets, which include dinner and a show, are $71.50 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

This weekend, Kennett Square will be home to two concerts featuring current artists performing music from the past – one is a symphony performing classic masterpieces and the other is a rock tribute act for one of the genre’s all-time greats.

Kennett Symphony

On July 25, the Kennett Symphony will perform the season finale of its Masterworks Series at Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square).

“Masterworks 3: Under the Stars” is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. at Longwood’s Open Air Theatre under the direction of conductor Michael Hall.

The Symphony’s website offered this invitation — Get ready to take in the sights of Longwood Gardens and the sounds of the Kennett Symphony. Waltzes and Galops abound as we present a collection of beloved light classical pieces including the sunny and delightful “Capriccio Italien,” the mercurial “Flight of the Bumblebee,” the heartfelt “Vocalise” as well as music from John William’s score to “Schindler’s List.”

The program includes Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien,” Aram Khachaturian’s “Masquerade Waltz,” Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” and “Russian Easter Overture,” John Williams” selections from “Schindler’s List,” Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” and Dmitry Kabalevsky’s “Dance of the Comedians.”

Tchaikovsky’s “Capriccio Italien” is a fantasy for orchestra that was inspired by a trip Tchaikovsky took to Rome with his brother Modest as respite from the composer’s disastrous marriage with Antonina Miliukova. It premiered in 1880 in Moscow.

Khachaturian’s “Masquerade” was written in 1941 by Khachaturian as incidental music for a production of the play of the same name by Russian poet and playwright Mikhail Lermontov. “Masquerade” premiered in 1941 in Moscow.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” is an orchestral interlude written for his opera, “The Tale of Tsar Saltan,” which was composed in 1899–1900. Its composition is intended to musically evoke the seemingly chaotic and rapidly changing flying pattern of a bumblebee.

“Russian Easter Festival Overture: Overture on Liturgical Themes, Op. 36,” also known as the “Great Russian Easter Overture,” is a concert overture written by the Russian composer between August 1887 and April 1888. It was dedicated to the memories of Modest Mussorgsky and Alexander Borodin, two members of the group of composers known in English as “The Five”. The work received its premiere at a Russian symphony concert in St. Petersburg in 1888.

John Williams is the only non-Russian composer on this program. “Schindler’s List” is a 1993 American epic historical drama film directed and produced by Steven Spielberg. Williams, a frequent collaborator with Spielberg, composed the score for this movie, which is often listed among the greatest films ever made.

Rachmaninoff composed and published “Vocalise” in 1915 as the last of his “14 Romances.” Written for high voice with piano accompaniment, it contains no words, but is sung using only one vowel of the singer’s choosing.

Kabalevsky’s “Dance of the Comedians, Op. 26,” is an orchestral suite of 10 numbers by Dmitry Kabalevsky. It is one of his best-known and best-loved works.

The concert at Longwood Gardens will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $50 for adults and $10 for students (age 18 and under). The ticket includes access to visit Longwood Gardens during the day on the day of the concert.

People visiting Kennett Square this Saturday might do a double-take and swivel their heads thinking that they saw Paul McCartney just walk past them.

They won’t be hallucinating but they also will not be seeing one of the two remaining Beatles in person.

What they might be catching a glimpse of is Jed Duvall, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Sir Paul.

Jed Duvall isn’t just a Macca look alike in appearance, mannerism, and musical talent, he is the founder/leader of The McCartney Experience, a band that is performing on June 24 as part of the Kennett Flash’ 2023 Rooftop Series.

The McCartney Experience is the ultimate tribute to Paul McCartney. Along with his band of seasoned musicians, Duvall brings authenticity to a whole new level playing music from the early years of Beatlemania and throughout the career of the Fab Four.

Duvall, a natural right hander, taught himself to play left-handed, just like Sir Paul McCartney. The band tirelessly rehearsed to get each song right and it is this combination of dedication and hard work that make The McCartney Experience one of the most popular tributes to Paul McCartney.

“My career is a combination of music and theater,” said Duvall, during a recent phone interview from his home in Hernwood, Maryland.

Growing up in a small farming community in Southern Maryland, Duvall had music all around him — the country music station in his father’s pickup, the Broadway show tunes his mother would play on the family record player, and the hymns sung in church as a member of the choir. His parents lived in England before Jed was born, so a deep appreciation of all things British was instilled in the family from an early age.

“Like everybody else, I was enthralled with the Beatles,” said Duvall. “I was also in love with theater. I was in school plays when I was nine or 10 years old. Later, I did do a few small theatre bits here and there. I played an English Bobby in a local show.”

According to Duvall, “Any time there was a part in a school play, I’d jump at it. Slipping into a character was very comfortable for me. I thought that when I graduated high school, I’d go out to Hollywood and be a movie star.”

The direction of his career was changed by another impersonator.

“When I was 15, a local Elvis impersonator came to our school,” said Duvall. “My mind just clicked. There was acting and there was singing. That really got me moving in that direction.

“I was never really an Elvis fan. But I became an Elvis fan after a while. I still liked the Beatles and Rolling Stones a lot more.”

Duvall started developing his own act, and after graduation, joined the Army.

“When I was in the Army, there was a talent show,” said Duvall. “I did my Elvis act and won the show. After that, we were doing shows at various Army bases.”

After his discharge, Duvall applied and was accepted to the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He lived in New York for several years working as an actor, musician, and record store employee.

“I went to school in New York and concentrated on being a legitimate actor,” said Duvall. “I worked in a record store in the East Village, sang with straight-up bands and did acting.

“After a few years, I got tired of New York. I went back to Maryland, got married, had kids and settled down.

“Then, after 15 years, I missed performing. In 2009, my wife and I saw McCartney’s show in Landover, Maryland. I had enough people telling me I looked like Paul McCartney even though I couldn’t see it.”

After seeing that concert, Duvall began creating a McCartney tribute.

According to Duvall, “I’d seen plenty of Beatle tribute bands, but I never saw an act committed completely to just Paul McCartney”

Always a stickler for authenticity, Duvall began taking bass lessons. Prior to that, he had studied violin when he was a kid, started piano lessons at 12 and began learning guitar when he was 15.

“I bought a Höfner bass like the one McCartney played – but I didn’t know how to play it,” said Duvall, who, unlike Sir Paul, is right-handed. “I took bass lessons for three years and learned how to play it left-handed.”

Duvall’s current project features music from the early years of Beatlemania and throughout the career of the Fab Four. But unlike many Beatle tributes, The McCartney Experience expertly performs hits from McCartney’s days with Wings, as well as the solo numbers that Sir Paul made famous.

The audience will hear a wide variety of hits from the Beatles such as, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “And I Love Her,” Wings songs such as “Silly Love Songs,” “Listen To What The Man Said,” and solo hits like “Dance Tonight.”

According to Duvall, “I try to give the audience the chance to experience Paul on a personal level and give them the feeling that they’re actually watching him perform. This is no ‘Salute to Paul McCartney,’ with a lot of glitz but not a lot of substance. Nor is it a Beatles tribute band. This is a chance to really experience Paul McCartney.”

Video link for The McCartney Experience — https://youtu.be/JdBabF0zqM4.

The show at Kennett Flash Rooftop will start at 7 p.m. The Rooftop Series shows are presented outside, on the top floor of the Kennett Square Parking Garage located at 100-198 East Linden Street in Kennett Square.

Tickets are $30.

Other upcoming shows at Kennett Flash are The Collingwood with Gina Graves on June 23 and Jazz Jam featuring Dave Mattock on June 25.

There are many really good blues artists (guitarist/singer/songwriter) who have burst onto the scene in recent years, including Toronzo Cannon, Selwyn Birchwood, Samantha Fish, Gabe Stillman, Greg Sover and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.

Fortunately for area blues fans, they all visit the area several times a year for local headlining shows.

This weekend, it’s Ingram’s turn. “Kingfish” will be the main attraction at this week’s edition of the 37th Annual Upper Merion Concerts Under the Stars series (Upper Merion Township Building Park, West Valley Forge Road, King of Prussia, concertsunderthestarskop.com) on June 27.

Many blues guitarists have been playing for decades. Ingram’s guitar playing gives listeners the impression that he too has been at it for decades. In reality, he is barely two decades old. He was born in Mississippi in January 1999 and has been exposed to the blues since he was a toddler.

Ingram is still touring in support of his latest Alligator Records album, “662.” The tour — “Christone “Kingfish” Ingram Presents 662: Juke Joint Live” — will take the 24-year-old guitarist, vocalist and songwriter across the U.S. and Europe. The tour began in July 2021 and is still going strong.

In addition to the Grammy nomination (his second in two years), “662” was named the #1 Best Blues Album of 2021 by UK tastemaker magazine, MOJO. Rolling Stone declared, “Kingfish is one of the most exciting young guitarists in years, with a sound that encompasses B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.”
Upon its July 2021 release, “662” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart, and it’s remained on the chart ever since. “662” was recorded in Nashville and co-written and produced by Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge. It features 13 songs (and one previously released bonus track) displaying many sides of Ingram’s personality, as well as his one-of-a-kind guitar and vocal skills. Ingram’s debut, “Kingfish,” was named the #1 Best Blues Album of 2019.

Ingram’s latest single is the groundbreaking song, Another Life Goes By (Mississippi Mix), the newly remixed track featuring indie rapper Big K.R.I.T. The song blends the urgency of hip hop with the timelessness of the blues.
Ingram creates contemporary blues that speaks to his generation and beyond, delivering the full healing power of the music. No Depression calls Ingram, “a young bluesman with an ancient soul and a large presence in the here-and-now.” Living Blues says, “By any measure, Kingfish is one of the brightest new stars of his generation.”

“I’ve been out here on the road for a while,” said Ingram, during a phone interview “Everything is going great. I’ve been selling out shows everywhere.”

“662,” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues chart, is the next chapter in the still-unfolding story of the Clarksdale, Mississippi native. Ingram describes “662” (the number is northern Mississippi’s telephone area code) as “a presentation of my life in and away from the Delta.” The album overflows with hard-hitting original songs, jaw-dropping guitar work and deep, soul-possessed vocals. Ingram recently won the 2021 Living Blues Award for Most Outstanding Musician (Guitar).

He also won two 2021 Blues Music Awards (for Guitarist of The Year and Contemporary Blues Male Artist of The Year) in addition to the five he won last year. In February 2021, Ingram guest hosted Spotify’s popular “In The Name Of The Blues” playlist, which featured him talking about and sharing some of his favorite songs.

“662” was co-written and produced by Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge. It features 13 songs displaying many sides of Ingram’s dynamic personality, as well as his one-of-a-kind guitar and vocal skills.

“I actually recorded ‘662’ during the pandemic,” said Ingram. “We spent a full week at Ocean Way Studio in Nashville, which was the same studio I used for my first album. We had writing sessions on Zoom from May through September and then went in the studio two weeks later.

“It went pretty smooth. I learned a lot from making my first record. It helped having Tom produce both of my albums. He knows how to pull things out of me.

“The new album shows my growth. It was two years since my first record, and I had a lot of things happen in my life. My mom passed away. Then there was COVID.

“I wanted to make a personal record. I wanted to show a different side. People know me for edgy and hardness, but I also have a soul and R&B vibe.

“We had 20 songs going into the studio and recorded them all. We used 13 and we’ll use the other songs later.”

Ingram is slowly working on his next album.

“I’m still writing,” said Ingram. “Every now and then I’ll get a lyric. The new album will have some new songs and some older ones. It’s like a big melting pot.

“I haven’t gotten into the studio yet. I work on ideas in my home studio. I have my own setup to put ideas down and then make them ready for the studio. When they’re ready, I’ll take them to Tom Hambridge.”

Ingram grew up with the blues.

“I come from Clarksdale, Mississippi – the Mecca of blues,” said Ingram.

“I remember seeing the PBS documentary on Muddy Waters when I was pretty young. And I lived next door to a blues band. I was exposed to the blues a lot as a young child.

“I actually started as a bass player. My first paid gig playing bass was with the All Night Long Blues Band. I was 11 at the time.”

It didn’t take long for Ingram to switch from bass to lead guitar.

“I was playing bass, but I always wanted to play guitar,” said Ingram. “But, when I was young, my fingers were too big for guitar.

“When I was 14-15, I played guitar for a local band. I just wanted to do something different. I wanted to put my own thing together. I wanted to play guitar. Playing guitar was original.

“I started with a cheap Sears & Roebuck guitar. An Epiphone 335 was my first real guitar.  I got it for Christmas when I was in middle school.”

Ingram explained the origin of his nickname.

“My mentor from the Delta Museum gave kids nicknames,” said Ingram. “He called me Kingfish. He said Kingfish who was a character on the ‘Amos ‘n’Andy Show.’

“My biggest influences were Albert King, Little Milton, B.B. King, Son House, Freddie King and Skip James. I was also influenced by Ernie Isley, Jimi Hendrix, Prince and George Benson.

“Even though I was influenced by Jimi and Prince, I never had an actual intent to merge rock and blues. I just want to experiment and see what I come up with. I just like to create stuff.”

Ingram is known for making his guitar sing.

“Making the guitar sing – that’s when playing with substance comes into play,” said Ingram. “I love playing originals. I’m still writing when I’m on the road.

“On tour, it’s a three-piece – bass, drums and me. Both of the other guys in the band are from Mississippi. Bassist Paul Rogers is from Tupelo and drummer Chris Black is from Shelby.”

Video link for Christone “Kingfish” Ingram — https://youtu.be/kDuIELUSzxU.

The show, which has King Solomon Hicks as the opening act, will start at 7 p.m.

Ticket prices range from $30-$69 with children 12 and younger admitted free with paid adult.

King Of Prussia’s live outdoor music series Concerts Under the Stars returned to Upper Merion Township Building Park for its 37th season back in May. The summer-long concerts will include live music for all ages, a beer garden featuring local craft brews and cocktails and local food truck options. Events will take place from 7-10 p.m. on select weeknights and 6-9 p.m. on select Sundays.

Concerts Under the Stars will be co-presented by Upper Merion Township and Rising Sun Presents – the event producers at venues including Ardmore Music Hall, Underground Arts, MilkBoy Philly and 118 North.

In addition to Concerts Under the Stars, RSP is presenting the Sing Us Home festival in Manayunk (co-produced by Roxborough native and nationally recognized musician Dave Hause), as well as the Bryn Mawr Twilight Concerts series, the Wayne Music Festival and Ardmore Rock N’ Ride this summer.

Other shows in the 2023 Concerts Under the Stars series are Madison Cunningham with Shannen Moser on June 24, Craig Bickhardt Friends & Family on July 1, Unforgettable Fire (U2 tribute) on July 7, Keller Williams and KellerGrass ft. The HillBenders on July 16, Lisa Loeb on July 22, Tommy Conwell & The House Rockers with Soraia on July 28, Don McCloskey and Hoots & Hellmouth on August 5, Donna the Buffalo on August 12, Start Making Sense (Talking Heads tribute), Al Stewart & The Empty Pockets on August 26, Splintered Sunlight (Grateful Dead Tribute) on September 2, and Easy Star All‐Stars on September 16.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is continuing to bring high caliber tribute bands to Chester County.

On June 24, the theater in downtown West Chester will present Green River: Creedence Clearwater Revival Tribute. The band is considered to be one of the top tribute acts for the music of both Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Fogerty.

Video link for Green River – https://youtu.be/-OUKtNV8cpo.

The show at the Uptown will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40.

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