Sweet Tea Shakespeare presents ‘Maid Marian’

08MarianThe arrival of spring brings a fresh array of opportunities to enjoy the warmth and beauty of the outdoors before the summer heat sets in. A taste of this worth savoring, April 25- 28 and May 2-12, is “Maid Marian,” the latest production in the Honey Series at Sweet Tea Shakespeare. The Honey Series celebrates the work of women in theater and this year, tells a classic story from a new perspective.

“Maid Marian” focuses on the title character and her family, left behind during the Crusades, as they search for resourceful solutions to difficult situations. Those familiar with the Robin Hood stories will find some of their favorite characters as well as new ones to love.

Fans of the Honey Series will recognize actress Jen Pommerenke from previous productions, including “Saint Joan” and “Jane Eyre.” Pommerenke, who plays the title role, describes Maid Marian as “a story about learning to stretch yourself and facing your fears — not just life and death fears, but fears of not being enough and the consequences of doing too much or too little.

“It also deals with knowing when your time is done and how to humbly pass on the gift of service to another. The more we rehearsed this story, the more we saw in it the message of doing what you can, where you are and with what you have.

“The women in this story saw a problem and didn’t stop when it looked like they could only do a small amount. They saw the people and the needs in their own backyard and said, ‘I can do something.’”

For audiences familiar with STS, there are several other returning actors, including Linda Flynn and Laura Voytko, seen earlier this year in “The Comedy of Errors.”

Voytko, who plays Marian’s sister, Emma, said working on “Maid Marian” has been liberating because of the ways she’s been able to push herself out of her comfort zone and share that experience with friends.

Flynn, who has always loved the Robin Hood tales, knew early in the season that she wanted to take part in telling Marian’s side of the story. Her character, Joan, is a new addition to the narrative. “The thing I love about (this character) is that we are very similar,” Flynn said. “Joan has a big family, she does everything she can to take care of them, and she doesn’t hesitate to help her friends in doing what she thinks is right.”

For other actors, this is their first STS production. Nelson Soliva, who plays Adam, Marian’s brother, is making his theatrical debut. Soliva, originally from Guam, never had the opportunity to be involved in theater as he grew up, but after seeing his first Broadway show, he put being in a play on his bucket list. “I thought it was amazing,” says Soliva. “I wanted to be a part of something like that.”

Audiences have three weekends to be a part of this world premiere production. “Maid Marian” runs April 25-28 at Fayetteville State University (tickets available through FSU) and May 2-12 at the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex. Preshow begins at 6:45 p.m. and the play starts at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit tickets or call 910-420-4383.

Photo:  Jen Pommerenke (left) as Maid Marian and Laura Voytko (right) as Emma Fitzwalter, Maid Marian’s sister.

‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe’ delivers family fun

09LionWho doesn’t enjoy a story where children are heroes, good triumphs over evil and animals talk? The Gilbert Theater delivers all that and more with its production of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” playing through April 21.

The show is based on C.S. Lewis’ classic tale from “The Chronicles of Narnia.” This story is the second in the series but the first that was published. It introduces us to the four Pevensie children: Peter (Adam White), Susan (Helen Steffan), Lucy (Mia Buracchio) and Edmund (Joshua Brunson).

When young Lucy explores an old wardrobe, she finds a magical entrance, marked by a lamp post, to the land of Narnia. In Narnia, the White Witch (Nicki Hart) rules with fear and makes it “always winter and never Christmas.” Declaring herself Queen of the Realm, the White Witch turns anyone who betrays her to stone.

The good inhabitants of Narnia, including talking beavers and a faun, unicorn and centaur, live in fear and wait for the return of the lion Aslan, the true king of Narnia, who can make things right.

When “daughters of Eve and sons of Adam” (humans) arrive in Narnia, the White Witch tries to capture the children to prevent them from fulfilling a prophecy that they will sit in the four thrones in the castle of Cair Paravel and end her reign. In the process, the White Witch tricks young Edmund into helping her.

When Aslan (Ja’Maul Johnson) arrives, he leads the children and Narnia animals in a fight against the White Queen. There are chases, sword fights and battles — all carried out on the Gilbert stage by a cast of all ages. 

Director Brian Adam Kline brings together this exciting story with an exceptional cast, demonstrating that for Fayetteville talent, there is no age limit. The collective cast is to be commended for bringing the fantasy to life.

Hart, as the White Witch, steals every scene she is in. She is wicked and marvelous at the same time. Hart brings to her portrayal a steady fierceness — whether acting opposite Johnson’s Aslan or Brunson’s Edmund. Nine-year-old Brunson gets kudos, for sure.

Also impressive are Buracchio, Steffan and White as Lucy, Susan and Peter. The trio collectively have quite a bit of stage experience, and it shows, despite their ages that barely reach double digits.

Also noteworthy is Cheleen Sugar’s performance as Fenris Ulf, a talking wolf and chief of the White Witch’s secret police. Sugar brings a slick and stylish quality to her portrayal — what I imagine it would be like if Lewis had written a rock star into Narnia.

Other highlights of the show include Quentin King and Jane Moran as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and Brandon Bryan as Mr. Tumnus, the faun.

The story hardly slows down from beginning to end. Battles are fought, sacrifices are made, and kings and queens are crowned. Forgiveness and courage are highlighted in this family-friendly show. Audiences of all ages will enjoy the production.

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” runs through April 21 at Gilbert Theater. Call 910-678- 7186 or visit for tickets and information.

Photo: Nicki Hart, as the White Witch, steals every scene she is in.

Gallery 208 presents international mail art exhibit curating voices of women around the world: “STOP IT!”

01coverUAC041719001Instead of receiving unwanted catalogs and junk mail, imagine going to the mailbox and finding an original artwork the size of a postcard, addressed to you, from someone who lives in Bulgaria. Now imagine receiving five to six postcards each day, until you have more than 80, from strangers who live in our region, nationally and internationally. That’s the process that took place for “STOP IT! An International Mail Art Exhibition,” opening Tuesday, April 23, at Gallery 208, 208 Rowan St.

The exhibit is traveling from Fayetteville State University’s Rosenthal Gallery, where 85 works were exhibited this March after a call for art went out in December 2018.

The call for art invited women from around the world to participate by creating an image on a postcard that illustrates any local, national or international issue of their concern. They were then directed to send it through the mail to its destination: Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The work was not sent to the gallery in an envelope. Instead, artwork had to go through the postal system in the postcard format and have an authentic postal stamp on its front or back upon arrival. As it went through the postal system, coming from another country or locally, every postal employee whose hand touched the card could see the work before it arrived at the gallery. In this way, all those postal employees were part of the mail art process.

Creating works of art on postcards and sending them in the mail to someone, a practice that started in the 1950s, became known as mail art and had grown into a movement by the ’60s. Although social media can appear similar in some ways to mail art, what makes mail art different is the tactile experience of opening your mailbox and the surprise of receiving something created for you. It is not considered mail art until it is delivered to the post office.

The purpose of mail art, then and now, is the creation of an inclusive scope that allows any artist to participate. Mail art artists appreciate the challenge of working on the limited postcard size along with the interconnection with other artists within a medium that promotes an egalitarian way of creating. The mail art process sidesteps entry fees, the art market and galleries.

“STOP IT!” is a different type of gallery experience. The exhibit represents the voice of a collective coming together to have their voices heard in an art form.

All the participants in the exhibit became part of a nonhierarchical, uncensored call for art and social activism by addressing any concern they have for a local, regional, national or international issue that needs to be stopped.

Visitors should plan on spending time in the gallery. The works are small, and many artists have written text on the stamp side (which is also displayed).

As the postcards arrived at the gallery, it became evident there were repeated issues of concern. At the discretion of the curator, liberty was taken to group the work into themes to create a sense of order in the gallery space. Eightyfour works are grouped by themes and also by geographic location — regional (Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina), national and international.

As a collective, the concerns of the women in “STOP IT!” fall into the following categories: stopping violence against women and children; environmental issues; the empowerment of women and individuals; cultural awareness; politics; mental and physical health; and the influence of technology on identity.

Whether it is Suzanne Coles from Michigan, who addresses homelessness through the medium of photography, or Shennaire Williams from Jamaica, who addresses human trafficking with a computer-generated image, each artist is part of the collective voices of women.

Many artists, like Radosveta Zhelyazkova from Bulgaria, focused on stopping violence against women and children. Zhelyazkova sent in two acrylic paintings, each a portrait of a woman. The figure on the card reflects on stopping violence against women. Six local artists created original works in a variety of mediums to address this same issue: Angela Stout, Ria Westphal, Tracy O’Conner, Missy Jenkins, Leslie Pearson and Jacqueline Caldwell.

Many artists in the exhibit addressed the issue of saving the environment. Alexandra Uccusic from Vienna sent an original drawing to illustrate stopping the exploitation of the seas. Katsura Okada from New York created a mixed-media collage addressing the problem of the way plastic kills sea life. Several local artists sent in beautifully crafted works about saving the environment: Susanna Davis, Rose-Ann San Martino, Nordea Hess, Manuela Smith and Martha Sisk.

Many national and regional artists addressed themes of empowerment and identity. Two high school students, Bryanna Rivera and Alyssa Mincey, addressed discrimination toward identity and how technology influences a sense of identity. Kyle Harding, a high school art teacher, also addressed the issue of technology’s influence on a student’s identity.

There are too many wonderful works within many themes and too many artists to mention them all in this short article. There will be plenty of time for visitors interested in seeing “STOP IT!” at Gallery 208, since the exhibit will remain up until mid-June 2019.

The public is invited to the opening reception of “STOP IT!” Tuesday, April 23, at Gallery 208, located at 208 Rowan St. The opening reception will be 5:30-7 p.m., and many of the local artists who participated in the exhibit will be there. The gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 910-484-6200.

Enjoy ‘A Night of Screen and Stage’ with the Cumberland Oratorio Singers

08cumberlandOratorialSingersFriday, April 26, the Cumberland Oratorio Singers close their 2018-19 concert series. At the Matthews Ministry Center in Huff Auditorium on the Methodist University campus, COS, under the direction of Jason Britt, presents “A Night of Screen and Stage.” COS wraps up its 27th performing season by highlighting musical numbers from Broadway and Hollywood productions.

“This concert marks the end of my second season (as director) and a season where the COS have done works that aren’t their usual fare,” said Britt. “We’ve included jazz, Broadway works and movie themes to try and connect with our audience, offering them options of a lighter fare.”

According to the COS website, musicals originated in France in the 1800s where they were called “Opera Comique,” distinguishing them from the traditional opera of Wagner et al. George Bizet and Jacques Offenbach were notable among those composers who contributed to the genre that would become the modern-day musical.

Wikipedia gives credit to the 19th century works of Gilbert and Sullivan in Britain and Harrigan, and Hart in America, for contributing many structural elements to the genre, as did the later works of George M. Cohan. In the 20th century, musicals moved beyond comedies and revues. Modern-day musicals such as “West Side Story,” “Les Miserables,” “Rent” and “Hamilton” call for considerable character development in addition to memorable musical scores.

Featured in Friday night’s performance will be well-known songs from “Man of La Mancha,” “Singing in the Rain,” “Chicago,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “White Christmas,” among many others. Soloists are yet to be determined and will be selected from the choir before the evening’s concert.

The 2018-19 COS concert season has been sponsored in part by The Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County; Cumberland Community Foundation; Cumulus Radio; Rebecca F. Person, attorney at law; Florence Rogers Charitable Trust; Rimtyme Custom Rims and Tires; and Lafayette Lincoln. Lafayette Ford is the presenting sponsor for “A Night of Screen and Stage.”

“Next season,” said Britt, already looking ahead to rehearsals, “we will be going on a musical excursion, making musical stops at the opera (in) London and eventually returning home to America.”

In the interest of continuing professional caliber choral music in Cumberland County into the next generation and beyond, under the COS umbrella, the Campbellton Youth Chorus is open to all Cumberland County and Sandhills region youth ages 9-14.

“The CYC provides vocal development, music literacy and unique performance opportunities,” according to the COS website, where further information about rehearsals and other opportunities can be found.

“A Night of Screen and Stage” begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $15 for adults and $5 for students with ID. Season tickets will also go on sale for the 2019-20 concert series at $45 per ticket.

Visit for more information.

FSO celebrates Beethoven, closes season with ‘Ode to Joy’

08FSOFayetteville Symphony Orchestra will perform “Ode to Joy,” the last concert of its 2018-19 season, Saturday, April 13, at Methodist University. The inspiration for the concert title is Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is embedded in the final movement of his last symphony, Symphony No. 9. This symphony, which FSO will perform in its entirety, is considered by many to be one of the greatest works in Western music. Beethoven was the first major composer to include human voice within a symphony. For that reason, this work is sometimes referred to as the “Choral Symphony.” 

Beethoven composed “Ode to Joy” in 1824. The premiere for this work took place in Vienna May 7, 1824. In an article titled “Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ Lyrics, Translation, and History” at www.thoughtco. com, Aaron M. Green, an expert on classical music and music history, said, “despite its unpracticed and under-rehearsed presentation, the audience was ecstatic. It was the first time Beethoven had appeared onstage in 12 years.” 

Green continued, “At the end of the performance (though some sources say it could have been after the second movement), it was said that Beethoven continued conducting even though the music had ended. One of the soloists stopped him and turned him around to accept his applause. 

“The audience was well aware of Beethoven’s health and hearing loss, so in addition to clapping, they threw their hats and scarves in the air so that he could see their overwhelming approval.” 

Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” lyrics are a slightly modified version of a poem by the same name written by Christoph Freidrich von Schiller in 1785. It is a poem celebrating the unity of mankind. 

According to Christine Kastner, president and CEO of FSO, “‘Ode to Joy’ is a magnificent choral work, and it’s a great way to end a season. It’s one of those very special experiences.” It was previously performed by FSO in March 2012. 

Kastner said the vocal parts will be performed by a choir that will include members from several local singing groups. Michael Martin, the choral music director at Methodist University, coordinated the participation of the choirs, including the Cumberland Oratorio Singers and choirs from Campbell University, Fayetteville State University and Fayetteville Technical Community College. 

There are vocal soloists who will perform along with the choir. Soloists include Erin Murdock, Angela Burns, Melvin Ezzell and Jeffrey Jones. 

The concert will last approximately two hours, with Symphony No. 9 lasting a little more than 45 minutes. The first half of the concert will introduce other pieces that led Beethoven to develop the Ninth Symphony. 

According to FSO Music Nerd Joshua Busman, for composers who came after Beethoven, it was not a question of whether or not they would follow in his footsteps but simply how they would do so. He went on to say that the “legacy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is so long that it extends well into the 20th century.” 

As one example, he explained that the reason CDs needed to be 120 millimeters across was to allow them to hold approximately 80 minutes of music — which satisfied a mandate to Sony engineers that new audio technology be able to contain the entirety of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on a single disc. 

FSO will perform “Ode to Joy” Saturday, April 13, at 7:30 p.m., at Methodist University’s Huff Concert Hall. A Pre-Concert Talk with Busman will begin at 6:45 p.m. To purchase tickets, which range from $10-$26, visit 

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