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Opening this week in theatre

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ALL THAT JAZZ: Techmoja presents “Sophisticated Ladies,” a music revue featuring tunes from jazz master Duke Ellington. Photo by Ty Parker.

Wilmingtonians are used to having many choices when it comes to weekend adventures. From dinner at a chic restaurant, followed by two tickets to the latest motion picture or a Saturday adventure one of our many city’s museums to endless options in nightlife and live music, the weekend calendar can fill up quickly.

The Port City thrives on art, food and culture, and the theatre scene is not to be overlooked. This weekend, adults and families alike will be pleased with the area’s productions. Thalian Hall will be a happening spot, for sure, with two shows commandeering the stage. One originates from a Playboy magazine article, and the other puts a modern twist on age-old fairy tales. The lesser known but still worthy locale, Hannah Block Second Street Stage, will host a Techmoja music revue to celebrate Black History Month, including soulful tracks from Duke Ellington. Here’s a sneak peek…

“The Best Little
Whorehouse in Texas”

Opera House Theatre Company
Thalian Hall, Main Stage
310 Chestnut St. • (910) 362-2285
February 16-20 and 25-27
Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
$25, GA; $23, senior/student
Parental discretion advised

Based on a true story and following the scandal behind the Texas brothel Chicken Ranch, this show is a musical with a lot of Western style. Miss Mona runs quite the dirty business in the small-town henhouse, until a TV anchor exposes its secret to the nation.

The show overflows with humor, and has a long history, including its genesis from a 1969 article in Playboy, which chronicled how Melvin Zindler brought down the Chicken Ranch. “It was considered very racy for its time,” Ray Kennedy, director, explains. “Jackie Kennedy went downtown to see it, and she was photographed leaving the theatre. That gave it the stamp of approval!”

After Jackie O’s appearance at the show, it moved to Broadway and eventually became a movie in 1982. The film starred Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton.

The play was written by Larry L. King and Peter Masterson, with music and lyrics by Carol Hall. But, let it be known that the names of the bodacious characters in this show are not those of the real people they portray. Zindler, for instance, is Melvin P. Thorpe in “The Best Little Whorehouse.” In the Opera House Theatre Company production, Melvin is played by the talented Tony Rivenbark, Thalian’s executive director.

Kennedy chose to produce this show because it was the first one he ever saw on Broadway. Though he has directed it twice in the past, that was 20 years ago. “I wanted to re-explore it,” he says. “I’m always attracted to a show that has a good story. This has a well written script and great music. A musical involving a true story is, nine times out of 10, really good!”

“Fraktured Faery Tales for
a Mid-Winter’s Eve”

Journey Productions
Thalian Hall, Studio Theatre
310 Chestnut St. • (910) 362-2285
February 17-20 and 25-27
Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri-Sat, 8 p.m.
Sat-Sun, 3 p.m. • $11

Journey Productions brings Zach Hanner to the forefront of playwriting once again as “Fraktured Faery Tales” takes over Thalian Hall’s Studio Theatre this weekend. Hanner got his inspiration from the cartoons he watched as a kid. Sandwiched between full-length shows of “Rocky and Bullwinkle” were silly shorts like “Fractured Fairy Tales” and “Aesop and Son.”

“[The shorts] were hip, smart and equally entertaining for grownups and children,” Hanner tells encore. “Now that I have a six-year-old, I’ve introduced him to those classic cartoons, and he gets a huge kick out of them. It was a natural choice for me to try my hand at taking those same stories and reworking them for the kids of today.”

The writer spun the timeless tale of “Emperor’s New Clothes” into a more modern version with “Project Runway” flair, which mocks the pompous fashion world. “Hansel and Gretel” becomes a cooking contest along the lines of “Iron Chef,” but all young ones should watch out—the recipe calls for children!

“It’s using these familiar characters in new situations that makes this show so much fun for the audience, as well as the kids and adults that are performing it,” Hanner says.

Its progression will follow that of a short story cycle, in which the binding link is the narrator. “The narrator guides the story and creates seamless transitions between [the shows],” Hanner explains. “We also have some fabulous live music that helps with the shifts—Cole Marquis on guitar, Gina Gambony on flute and Oskar Gambony on dobro.”

On top of all the good laughs to be had and music to be heard, Journey Productions is also offering a family night on the evening of Wednesday, February 23rd at 7:30 p.m. The regular rate of $11 will be dropped to $7. “We understand that not everyone can afford the theatre sometimes, but we want to have as many full houses for our kids as we can muster,” Hanner says. “This is an opportunity to get some folks out that otherwise might not attend. In reality, every night is family night but only one night comes with a discount.”

“Sophisticated Ladies”
Techmoja Dance and Theatre Company
Hannah Block Second Street Stage
(910) 341-7860
120 S. 2nd Street
February 17-20
Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.
$15 GA; $12 students/ seniors/military

In an effort to both entertain and inform, Techmoja presents a weekend full of Duke Ellington masterpieces thanks to the production of “Sophisticated Ladies.” The concept comes from choreography guru Donald McKayle, a famous modern dancer. Of course, it would not be a Techmoja production without director Kevin Lee-y Green’s personal style. “My inner artist always makes room to put my own spin on things,” Green divulges.

Set in a Harlem Cotton Club, where the people are casual but the singers are refined, this music revue is a selection of many of Ellington’s most recognized pieces. The audience can expect such numbers as “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)” and “Hit Me with a Hot Note and Watch Me Bounce.”

“Our production has a group of singers who are vocally gifted and a group of dancers whose talent and energy can make even the most uncoordinated person want to get up and move,” Green says. “People should come out to just escape the stresses and uncertainties of the world, and to award themselves an evening of fun and entertainment for the family.”

The urge to dance in (or out of) one’s Hannah Block seat is not the only perk to this show. February is Black History Month, and Green feels it is very important to recognize the monumental effect Ellington had on music in general.

“Aside from the catchy tunes and energy, this show is very educational in a sense. It is a part of our history,” the director adds. “Duke Ellington is a jazz master, and his music never gets old.”

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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