On Stage: Unionville’s Litzenberg play key role in ‘Come From Away’

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Kristin Litzenberg

Kristin Litzenberg is an acclaimed theater actress who grew up in Kennett Square and has performed all around theworld. A few years ago, she had the opportunity to perform close to home.

“Sister Act” touched down at the DuPont Theatre (now known as The Playhouse on Rodney Square, Hotel DuPont, Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 3http://www.broadwayinwilmington.org) and Litzenberg, a 2009 graduate of Unionville High School, was a member of the cast.

This weekend, Litzenberg will return to the Playhouse (as it is now known) to perform a key role in the international hit musical “Come From Away.”

The show will open on April 19 and run through April 21 at the venerable theater in downtown Wilmington.

The words “joyous” and “uplifting” are frequently used to describe plays, songs or musical acts. In reality, the words are often misused and should be put in the “hyperbole” category.

“Come from Away,” the hit musical which is on a national tour, is a play that is joyous, uplifting and a lot more.

The musical “Come from Away” is the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the people of Gander, Newfoundland, the small Canadian town that welcomed them. Cultures clashed and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships.

“I was on tour with ‘Sister Act’ in Asia when ‘Come From Away’ came out,” said Litzenberg during a phone interview Tuesday from Ithaca, New York. “When they were closing in 2023, I knew it was going to be touring. When I heard they were doing non-union, I got ready to auditioned last arch in Arizona.”

“Come from Away” is a Canadian musical with book, music and lyrics by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. It is set in the week following the September 11 attacks and tells the true story of what transpired when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in the small town of Gander in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon.

The characters in the musical are based on (and in most cases share the names of) real Gander residents as well as some of the thousands of stranded travelers they housed and fed.

All of the cast members play several characters whose roles are interwoven through the action during the course of the play. Litzenberg plays the roles of Beulah Cooper, Diane Davis and others.

This show starts on September 11 and continues right until the planes departed Gander. When you watch this show, you see how the people of Gander were unflappable.

“I loved that it was such an ensemble piece – 12 actors on the stage at the same time,” said Litzenberg. “Individual performances stand out.

“I really didn’t know about Newfoundland before this show. Now, I’m friends on Facebook with most of the people from the show. It’s fun to see what their day-to-day lives are like. I’m going to go up there next year.

“I had the opportunity to meet Diane when we were in Halifax. She and some of the other characters from the show came and saw the show in Nova Scotia. She talked to all of us all after the show.”

Litzenberg has been involved with music and theater for a while.

“My father Scott Litzenberg was a teacher and band director at Unionville High,” said Litzenberg. “Both my parents are music teachers. I performed in musicals every year in high school and was Dolly in ‘Hello Dolly’ in my senior year.

“I was also a member of the marching band. And I played soccer for 12 years but eventually realized that I like theater more.”

After graduating from Unionville, Litzenberg attended AMDA (American Musical and Drama Academy) and had a bi-coastal undergraduate education on her way to a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in music theater.

“AMDA has schools in New York and Los Angeles,” said Litzenberg, whose credits include “Children of Eden” (Eve/Mama Noah), “The Secret Garden” (Martha) and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (Woman 2).

“I spent the first two years in New York and then took a year off to do regional theater and summer stock. I spent the last two years in Hollywood.”

Now, she is bringing the emotional story of 911 in Gander to theaters across the country.

“We’re touring to so many types of towns – especially smaller towns –and people in the audience can see themselves in it. When we finish that last note, the people are on their feet.”

Video link for “Come From Away” — https://youtu.be/m5wfPPNZsrk

The show will open on April 19 and run through April 21 at The Playhouse with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Ticket prices start at $99.

Classical music fans will be in for a special treat this weekend when the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia presents two concerts featuring Mary Elizabeth Bowden.

Mary Elizabeth Bowden

Admired for her brilliant and colorful sound, acclaimed classical trumpeter Mary Elizabeth Bowden will perform as featured soloist with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia on April 19 at 7:30 p.m. and April 21at 2:30 p.m. at the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center for Performing Arts (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, chamberorchestra.org).

As part of the orchestra’s program Shostakovich & Verklärte Nacht, conducted by Music Director Dirk Brossé, Bowden is featured in the Philadelphia premiere of Clarice Assad’s new trumpet concerto Bohemian Queen. Pianist Henry Kramer is also featured in the program, performing with Bowden on Shostakovich’s Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet, and Strings.

“It’s fun to bring a new piece to life,” said Bowden in a phone interview Wednesday evening as she was takin a walk around Center City Philadelphia. “It’s also nice because it’s not that often you have a trumpet soloist performing with a chamber orchestra.”

Bohemian Queen celebrates the surrealist art of Gertrude Abercrombie (1909-1977), an American painter based in Chicago and often called “the queen of the bohemian artists.” As Assad observes in the program notes for the piece, “Abercrombie’s paintings are characterized by their use of dreamlike symbolism and careful attention to detail. She was profoundly in the jazz scene and friends with no less than musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Sarah Vaughan and used to throw some amazing parties for them.”

In this three-movement piece, the first two movements are inspired by Abercrombie’s paintings “Girl Searching” (1945) and “The Stroll” (1943), respectively. The third movement, “Hyde Park Jam,” is an imagined depiction of Abercrombie’s memorable parties, where she sometimes sat in as a pianist herself to play alongside jazz’s greatest masters.

“The first two movements are about two of Abercrombie’s paintings,” said Bowden, who currently resides in New York. “She often paints self-portraits. Her paintings are very dark. I start off the movement playing a flugelhorn, which gives it a darker feel.

“In the second movement — ‘The Stroll’ – she is walking alongside a black cat. When I play it, I think about my cat Duke and my walking him on a leash. I love cats and I’m very inspired by her love of cats. This movement is very upbeat and lush with a lot of gorgeous melodies.”

Kramer takes his turn as soloist in Shostakovich’s Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra, a composition of mesmerizing athleticism in the composer’s unmistakable style. Closing the program is Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, considered one of the composer’s most romantic works.

“In the piano concerto, Henry Kramer is the pianist,” said Bowden, who is currently Assistant Professor of Trumpet at Shenandoah Conservatory in Virginia. “The piece has some exciting fanfare – and a very prominent solo trumpet part.”

Bowden is a Gold Medal Global Music Award Winner, Opus Klassik Nominee, and Yamaha Performing Artist. She works diligently to establish a new repertoire for the trumpet through creative, collaborative commissioning projects and award-winning albums.

Bowden’s 2023/2024 season brings an impressive lineup of solo performances, including four world premiere concertos. Highlights include her debut with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, where she performs a program including Clarice Assad’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra and Shostakovich’s Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra with pianist Henry Kramer – and the premiere of Assad’s Bohemian Queen.

Bowden has performed as a soloist across the U.S., appearing with ensembles including the Erie Philharmonic, Chautauqua Symphony, Waynesboro Symphony, Evansville Philharmonic, Peninsula Symphony (California), Chameleon Arts Ensemble (Boston), Springfield Symphony (in both Missouri and Ohio), Richmond Philharmonic Orchestra, San Jose Chamber Orchestra, and San Juan Symphony, and at Montana’s Big Sky Festival.

In 2019, she made her German debut in Eisenach at the Wartburg Castle, and her French debut at the Château de Courances, both through the World and European Brass Association. She made her Russian debut with a performance in Sochi with famed trumpeter Otto Sauter’s handpicked “10 of the Best” trumpet soloists from around the world. Other international solo engagements have brought her to China’s Hunan Symphony Orchestra, Croatian Army Wind Band at the Velika Gorica Brass Festival, Lieksa Brass Week in Finland and The Banff Center in Canada, as well as residencies in Courances, France, and both Guadalajara and Cancun, Mexico.

The highly respected trumpet player, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, has released two acclaimed solo recordings on Summit Records: her debut album, “Radiance” (featuring new American works), and her second solo album, “Rêverie,” with the Kassia Ensemble. “Rêverie” was featured as one of the Top Albums of the Year for the Global Music Awards and on Textura Magazine’s Top Ten Classical Albums of the Year.

“I have a lot of different projects,” said Bowden. “I’m also the leader of Seraph Brass, an all-woman brass quintet.”

Bowden earned her Bachelor of Music degree from The Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with David Bilger, then principal trumpeter of the Philadelphia Orchestra. She earned her Master of Music degree in 2006 from the Yale School of Music, where she studied on a full scholarship with trumpeter Allan Dean.

“I really enjoyed my time in Philadelphia when I went to Curtis,” said Bowden. “This feels like a homecoming event though I haven’t lived here for 20 years.

“We’re lucky at Curtis that we get to perform at the Academy of Music. When I was a freshman at Curtis, I performed Mahler’s Ninth at the Academy of Music.”

Video link for Mary Elizabeth Bowden – https://youtu.be/iNV2WkEsPj8.

The concerts at the Kimmel Center are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on April 19 and 2:30 p.m. on April 21.

Ticket prices range from $29-$104.

This weekend will also feature a special concert by The No Name Pops.

Special guest conductor, Carl Topilow and renowned pianist George Burton will appear at the Pops’ upcoming concert, “Timeless: A Tribute to the Legacy of Peter Nero” at the Kimmel Center on April 20 at 3 p.m. What makes their participation in this performance significant is that they both worked with Peter Nero and were inspired by his talent.

The No Name Pops, which was founded in 2023, is a new, versatile ensemble composed of the former musicians of The Philly Pops with a mission to deliver authentic, exceptional musical experiences in the Philadelphia region. Drawing from Philly’s rich symphonic pops legacy, melding tradition with an innovative approach unbound by musical genre for concert experiences that will entertain and empower the entire community.

The No Name Pops respects the rich legacy of the music of Peter Nero, Grammy Award-winning pianist and conductor who launched Pops music in Philadelphia for over three decades. Led by accomplished conductors and featuring world-class soloists, The No Name Pops continues to captivate audiences with its vibrant and diverse repertoire.

This production is the premiere appearance of famed conductor Carl Topilow in Philadelphia. Highlights of the music include such hits of Nero’s as Sunday in New York, The Summer of ’42, and pieces like “Fantasy and Improvisations,” “Scratch My Bach,” “Variations on I Got Rhythm” and many more.

Topilow, Conductor and Director of the Orchestral Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music for over 40 years, performed with Nero at the Institute’s 10th anniversary concert.

Burton, an acclaimed pianist who grew up in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, garnered the winning votes of judges in the prestigious 2002 Peter Nero Piano Competition, including from Maestro Nero himself.

Burton, an award-winning pianist, composer, and bandleader, is a transformative figure in contemporary jazz. His musical journey is rooted in Philadelphia’s rich musical heritage where he lived in Mt. Airy, attended Creative and Performing Arts High School (CAPA) and won a Peter Nero piano competition. He blends classical, avant-garde, and traditional jazz effortlessly.

His illustrious discography exemplifies a persistent pursuit to redefine jazz’s limits. His albums, “The Truth Of What I Am: The Narcissist” as well as “Reciprocity,” have garnered global acclaim, with the latter earning a NAACP Image Award nomination in 2021. Burton’s latest release, “The Yule Log,” beautifully showcases Burton’s talent for merging diverse musical elements, this time weaving a rich classical tapestry accentuated by a powerful string trio and marking yet another milestone in his boundary-pushing career.

Burton began his virtuoso journey surrounded by the rich cultural tapestry of Philadelphia. His upbringing was deeply rooted in music, his mother a dedicated Philadelphia School District violin teacher, and his father an accomplished organist. His connection to Philadelphia is profound: “Growing up in Philadelphia,” he says, “I grew up learning from and listening to the greats in music – from the Philadelphia Orchestra to the best jazz musicians.”

“The No Name Pops gave me a call,” said Burton, during a phone interview Wednesday from his home in New York. “They needed a pianist to fill Peter’s shows – which is an impossible task.

“I won his Piano Competition in 2003 before I went to New York. I knew Peter. We talked a lot, and he gave me advice.”

Regarding the upcoming concert, Burton shared, “When I got the phone call from Matt Koveal, the executive director of The No Name Pops, I was speechless. Winning the Peter Nero competition made such a positive impact on my life. It built my confidence in my ability to play piano. It is overwhelming to be filling such a ‘big pair of shoes!’ It’s coming full circle for me.”

Burton grew up with music.

“My mom was a violin teacher for the Philadelphia School District,” said Burton, who studied piano at Temple University. “My dad was a pianist – a church pianist – and he taught lessons. But I did not take lessons from my parents.

“I started out playing violin and then studied viola when I was 14. Then, I switched to piano. I was Concert Master at CAPA for a few years.

“I was listening to classical and jazz. I didn’t grow up just playing one style of music. I listened to R&B, rock, hip hop, Philly soul – and I grew up with church music.”

Nero’s music spanned genres and so will this concert.

“They said they wanted to do a tribute to Peter,” said Burton. “I wasn’t sure what they meant so they sent me stuff. They sent me some of the most difficult songs he wrote.

“I’m doing eight or nine pieces in this show. All are very large, long pieces. And I cover all the genres. I knew a lot of the songs but not the arrangements. There are a couple pieces he wrote that I really get. Peter crossed genres – from R&B to Tin Pan Alley.”

About Maestro Carl Topilow:

Founding conductor of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra, Topilow’s eclectic programs have been acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. He enjoys a dual career as both conductor and clarinetist. Topilow has performed as guest conductor with 132 different orchestras in 37 states and 12 foreign countries. In addition, he is Conductor of the Firelands Symphony Orchestra, a regional orchestra based in Sandusky, Ohio, and after 42 years as conductor of the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO), a summer festival in Breckenridge, CO, he is continuing an active role with the orchestra as Conductor Laureate.

He was named Faculty Emeritus after 37 years as Conductor and Director of the Orchestral Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM) and has served as principal pops conductor of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and Mansfield Symphony Orchestra. Topilow is the author of The Orchestral Conductor’s Career Handbook, published by Rowman and Littlefield, is now available through www.carltopilow.com and www.rowman.com.

Video link for George Burton – https://youtu.be/xJrN6rFBvvY.

The show at the Kimmel Center will start at 3 p.m.

Tickets range in price from $51-$121 and can be purchased at www.ensembleartsphilly.org.

Pittsburgh and North Jersey are known for their hard-working, blue collar, blues-based rock bands – bands such as Jersey’s Southside Johnny and Pittsburgh’s Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers.

The Iron City has another band that fits the mold – Bill Toms and Hard Rain.

Like the other two, Toms and his band play American music – John Mellencamp style music – music you’d expect to be played at a Fourth of July parade outside Wall Drug Store in South Dakota.

On April 20, Bill Toms and Hard Rain will bring their hard rocking music to Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com).

Toms was lead guitarist for Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers and has since moved on to deliver now his 10th studio album, “Keep Movin’ On,” with his band Hard Rain. They are mainly a boisterous rock n’ roll unit complete with a three-piece horn section, the Soulville Horns.

“I’ve had Hard Rain together since 1997,” said Toms. “We put out our first recording (“My Own Eyes” on Moondog Records) in 1999.

“I was still with Joe Grushecky. I left him in 2000 to focus on our own stuff. For a while, I was trying to do both at the same time. Now, I have a nine-piece band with horns.”

Staffed mainly by former members of the Houserockers with more than 20 years of shared experience.

Hard Rain features Tom Valentine (bass), Tom Breiding (guitars), Phil Brontz (tenor sax), Steve Binsberger (piano, organ), Steve Graham (trombone), Bernie Herr (drums), George Arner (trumpet) and multi-instrumentalist Rick Witkowski (drums, guitar, keyboards, bass, vocals).

“The group I’m bringing to Jamey’s has two horns — George Arner on trumpet and Phil Brontz on tenor sax – along with Steve Binsberger on keyboards, Eric Kurtzrock on drums and Tom Valentine on bass. I’ll also be doing some solo shows and also have a blues band with some older guys.”

Toms launched his musical career in 1987 as lead guitarist of Joe Grushecky and The Houserockers, During that period, he opened for and played with such legendary names as The Band, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Little Feat, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. While playing guitar, co-writing, and adding backup vocals for the Houserockers, Toms and the band recorded six studio albums and one live concert album.

“I play mostly in the Northeast,” said Toms, a Pittsburgh native who attended Chartiers Valley High School.

“I’m playing Philly this week. Then, I’ll be doing shows in Columbus, Ohio and Durham, North Carolina. I used to play Europe every year until COVID came along.

“I’ve put out 10 studio and two live albums. My most recent record was ‘Keep Movin; On’ two years ago. It had 10 songs of originals – nine by me and one by Bubs McKeg.

“I released two singles since the album including ‘Walking on Water’ last year. Two weeks ago, I released ‘I Fulfilled My Dream,’ which is sort of a cinematic type of thing looking back at my life.

“I’m hoping to have an album out by Christmas. I’m not under the gun with a big record label so I can put it out when I’m ready.”

Fans can expect to hear both songs in Bill Toms and Hard Rain’s current set.

“We’ve got a lot of songs we can draw from,” said Toms. “We like to keep it fresh. We do have some ‘must play’ songs – ‘Mona Lisa Smile,’ Darkest Side of Tow,’ and ‘Smithfield Café.’ Smithfield was a real place.”

Video link for Bill Toms and Hard Rain — https://youtu.be/g6KijjrTpxo.

The show at Jamey’s House of Music will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. It will also be available as a pay-per-view at $15.

On April 20, live entertainment will be provided by another Pittsburgh band — The Billy Price Band.

2016 Blues Music Award (BMA) Winner and frequent BMA nominee Billy Price first attracted national attention during his three-year association with guitarist Roy Buchanan.

Price’s album “This Time for Real,” with the late Chicago soul singer Otis Clay, received a 2016 Blues Music Award in the category of best soul blues album. He received BMA nominations in 2019 (“Reckoning”) and 2020 (“Dog Eat Dog”) for best soul blues album, and in 2020, 2022, 2023, and 2024 for best male soul blues artist. He has also been nominated in 2024 for a BMA for Instrumentalist – Vocals.
The Billy Price Band includes Dave Dodd (drums), Tom Valentine (bass), Lenny Smith (guitar), Jim Britton (keyboards), Eric Spaulding (sax), and Joe Herndon (trumpet). They won the Pittsburgh City Paper Reader’s Poll in 2021 and 2022 as the top blues band in the city.

Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the door. It will also be available as a pay-per-view at $15.

Jamey’s features either “Jazz at Jamey’s” or “Anything Goes” on Thursdays featuring the Dave Reiter Trio and occasional guest musicians.

“Jazz at Jamey’s” will be presented every second and fourth Thursday, and “Anything Goes” every first, third and fifth Thursday.

Every Sunday, Jamey’s presents “SUNDAY BLUES BRUNCH & JAM” featuring the Philly Blues Kings. On the second Sunday each month, the featured act is the Girke-Davis Project which features club owner Jamey Reilly, Roger Girke, Glenn Bickel, Fred Berman and Colgan-Davis.

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” which is running now through April 21 at the Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org), is definitely a mystery.

The cast for the show includes many Candlelight veterans including Anthony Connell (Phillip Baz, Bazzard), Dan Healy (James Throttle), Julia Kershetsky (Alice Nutting, Edwin Drood), Sarah Mackus (Beatrice), Constance Clay Pelesh (Princess Puffer, Angela Prysock), Samantha Ricchiuti (Florence Gill), Shaun Yates (Nick Cricker) and Victoria Healy (Ensemble).

The Candlelight Theatre provided some information with this message on its website and handout flyers –

“THE MYSTERY of EDWIN DROOD, based on Charles Dickens’ final unfinished novel, is presented by a delightfully zany, vaudeville-type company at The Music Hall Royale.

“The story features John Jasper, a Jekyll-and-Hyde choirmaster who is quite madly in love with the fair Miss Rosa Bud who is engaged to Jasper’s nephew, young Edwin Drood. Drood disappears after dinner on a stormy night and is thought to have been murdered. If so, then whodunnit?

“YOU, the audience, must decide and vote.

“Just how many possible endings can there be? The secret is in the number of combinations made possible by three separate sets of roles chosen by you, the audience. The total? 480!

“Which show will you see? You vote on the ending, so it’s entirely up to you!”

As “Drood” is metatheatrical, the characters of the play “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” are played by actors of the “Music Hall Royale,” within the production.

Metatheatre, and the closely related term metadrama, describes the aspects of a play that draw attention to its nature as drama or theatre, or to the circumstances of its performance. “Breaking the Fourth Wall” is an example of a metatheatrical device.

“It’s a murder mystery,” said Connell. “It’s a fun show with great audience participation. The audience votes on who they think murdered Edwin Drood.”

There are all sorts of clues throughout the play concerning who the murderer might be. Audience members take notes and play a role in the play’s final stages.

“Audiences like it,” said Connell. “It’s something different – something interactive. Audiences always live murder mysteries. Personally, I like when actors can go into the audience.”

The Candlelight Theatre is presenting “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” now through April 21. 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 show, are $63 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is presenting Sweet Baby James on April 19 and Not Dade Away on April 20.

This week, the Elkton Music Hall (107 North Street, Elkton, Maryland, www.elktonmusichall.com) will host Karen Jonas + Ramona & The Holy Smokes on April 19 and Steal Your Peach on April 20.

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