On Stage: ‘Mushroom’ debuts at People’s Light

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times


Live theater goes into an almost dormant state every summer and then springs back to life in the autumn, winter and spring seasons.

Well, autumn has arrived – as Mother Nature has boldly announced with the weather over the last week – and live theater productions are returning to the entertainment schedule.

Right now, there are several attractive productions on the schedule – “Mushroom” at People’s Light, “Memphis” at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre, “Tootsie” at the Playhouse at Rodney Square and “Annie” at the Miller Theater.

Chester County has had several movies about or filmed in Chester County such as “Marley & Me,” “Jackass,” “Suburban Sasquatch” and “The Mighty Macs.”

Now, there is a play that was written in Chester County, is about a segment of life in Chester County and is having its world premiere in Chester County.

That play is “Mushroom,” which is set in Kennett Square. The play is running now through October 16 at People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, www.peopleslight.org).

In Kennett Square, “The Mushroom Capital of the World,” intersecting lives of immigrant families collide when a workplace injury, an unexpected romance, and the looming presence of immigration authorities have far-reaching ramifications for the entire community. “Mushroom” is the fourth locally-inspired world premiere developed through People’s Light’s New Play Frontiers program following “Project Dawn,” “Mud Row” and “Bayard Rustin Inside Ashland.”

Pulitzer Prize-finalist Eisa Davis is the author of the new socially conscious play.

“Chester County is where it all began,” said Davis, during a phone interview last week from her home in New York.

“People’s Light invited me down along with other playwrights to show up and see what stories and narratives called to us.”

The story of life in Kennett Square in 2022 called to Davis.

“It was an immersion – an immersion into the area and its people,” said Davis. “I looked for whatever called out loudest. The mushroom industry appealed to me.”

Kennett Square is known as the Mushroom Capital of the World because mushroom farming in the region produces over

500 million pounds of mushrooms a year, totaling half of the United States mushroom crop.

“Most people don’t know that most of the mushrooms we eat come from Kennett Square. When I heard about this, I wanted to learn more about it,” said Davis.

Hispanic races make up almost 30 per cent of the borough’s population. A large percentage of workers on the mushroom farms are Mexican.

According to People’s Light, “‘Mushroom’ is a drama that focuses on the intersecting lives of immigrant families that collide when a workplace injury, an unexpected romance, and the looming presence of immigration authorities have far-reaching ramifications for the entire community.”

“I wanted to explore the invisibility of the people who work on the mushroom farms,” said Davis. “I wanted to look at their vibrance and resilience in addition to their invisibility.

“I looked at the mushroom as a metaphor – fungal roots feet below the ground. They were invisible under the earth just like the people. And I wanted to look at the necessity of these people. I learned a lot about mushrooms.

“To me, what the play is doing is to try to change that sense of invisibility. These people are working hard with dreams of taking care of their families.

“2013 was my first visit to People’s Light and Chester County. It started then and it’s been off and on for the last nine years. The first push was from 2013-2015. It started again in 2017-2018. We were going to do it in 2020 and it got pushed back because of COVID.

“Because of COVID, we had a lot of opportunities to workshop. I got to learn a lot. I got to go out and learn from the communities.”

Over the last nine years, Davis visited the Chester County Food Bank, the Cordivano Brothers Mushroom Farm, and the Coatesville VA Medical Center.

“Mushroom” is performed in both English and Spanish. The play’s dialogue is modeled on the way our communities in Chester County naturally move between languages. Every performance includes English supertitles for the parts of the play in Spanish, and Spanish supertitles for the parts of the play in English. Audience members will be able to read these supertitles from every seat in the theatre.

Davis wears many hats in addition to writing, including music – she’s a trained classical pianist — and acting. She performed in the Netflix series “House of Cards” and wrote several episodes of the Netflix series “She’s Gotta Have It.” Davis has written several plays, including “Bulrusher,” for which she was a Pulitzer finalist in 2007.

Davis is a recipient of a Creative Capital Award, a Herb Alpert Awardee in Theatre, and an Obie winner for Sustained Excellence in Performance.

She wrote and starred in the stage memoir, “Angela’s Mixtape.” A multivolume series of her plays is soon to be published by 53rd State Press. Davis has recorded two albums of her original music, “Something Else” and “Tinctures.”

Her local connection includes playing Kate Winslet’s therapist on the show, “Mare of Easttown.”

“When we were filming ‘Mare of Easttown,’ I was already quite familiar with this area while because I’ve been working on this play,” said Davis.

“Mushroom” is running now through October 16 at People’s Light. Ticket prices are $47 — $42 for youth.

“Tootsie,” the hilarious Tony Award-winning musical, is visiting The Playhouse on Rodney Square (1007 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, www.BroadwayInWilmington.org) for a limited performance engagement now through October 9.

Call it “musical comedy heaven” (Rolling Stone). Call it “the most uproarious new musical in years!” (The Hollywood Reporter). Call it “Tootsie.”

This laugh-out-loud love letter to the theater tells the story of Michael Dorsey, a talented but difficult actor who struggles to find work until one show-stopping act of desperation lands him the role of a lifetime.

Featuring a hilarious Tony®-winning book by Robert Horn and an outrageously clever score by 2018 Tony-winner David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”), this New York Times Critic’s Pick is “a joyful delight” (The Washington Post) that’s “so packed with punchlines, it should be called a jokebox musical!” (Bloomberg).

“In these turbulent times, when the world seems out of balance, we need a place to let the good times roll,” raves Rolling Stone. “‘Tootsie’ is it!”

The musical is based on the 1982 American comedy film of the same name written by Larry Gelbart, Barry Levinson, Elaine May and Murray Schisgal from the story by Gelbart and Don McGuire.

“Tootsie” made its world premiere try-out at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago in September 2018. Like the film, the musical tells the story of a talented but volatile actor whose reputation for being difficult forces him to adopt a new identity as a woman in order to land a job. The original movie revolved around a daytime soap opera, while the show involves a Broadway musical.

The creative team for “Tootsie” includes director Dave Solomon (Broadway associate director), Broadway choreography by Denis Jones, associate choreographer Chip Abbott.

The design team for “Tootsie” includes original scenic designer David Rockwell, tour scenic designer Christine Peters, costume designer William Ivey Long, associate costume designer Christopher Vergara, lighting designer Donald Holder, associate lighting designers Vivien Leone & Coby Chasman-Beck and assistant lighting designer Colleen Doherty, sound designer Brian Ronan, associate sound designer Cody Spencer, hair and wig design by Paul Huntley, assistant hair and wig designer Loryn Pretorius. make-up design by Angelina Avallone.

Music Supervision is handled by Andrea Grody and Dean Sharenow with vocal and incidental arrangements by Andrea Grody, dance arrangements by David Chase, orchestrations by Simon Hale, and music coordination by Talitha Fehr.

“Tootsie” is based on the story by Don McGuire and Larry Gelbart and the Columbia Pictures Motion Picture produced by Punch Productions and starring Dustin Hoffman.

Video link for “Tootsie” — https://youtu.be/EHCYFZNmYLQ.

“Tootsie” is running now through October 9 at the Playhouse on Rodney Square. Show times are Friday and Saturday evening at 8 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $40.

The Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) is in the middle of its fifth production run of 2022. The lively musical “Memphis” is running now through October 30.

“Memphis,” which was inspired by actual events, is about a white radio DJ who wants to change the world and a black club singer who is ready for her big break.

The play looks at their incredible journey to the ends of the airwaves and is filled with laughter, soaring emotion, and roof-raising rock-and-roll.

Winner of four 2010 Tony Awards including Best Musical and two 2015 Olivier Awards, Memphis features a Tony-winning book by Joe DiPietro and a Tony-winning original score with music by Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan.

“Memphis” takes the audience back to an era that really wasn’t that long ago — 60 years — but now seems like light years away.

It has only been a few decades since popular music depended on AM radio and not MTV or the internet. In the 1950s, disc jockeys on AM radio determined what songs would be hits (often through the help of payola…but that’s another story). And AM radio was definitely segregated.

The musical “Memphis” is set in that era. The show, which won four Tony Awards (including 2010’s Best Musical), is loosely based on the story of Dewey Phillips, a Memphis disc jockey who was one of the first white DJs to play black music on AM radio back in the mid-1950s.

In the show, Huey Calhoun is the deejay who breaks the color line by playing back songs on a white radio station. The kids love the music and the advertisers like the increased business. But there is also a major backlash from the racist element which was so prevalent in the South 50-60 years ago.

The key characters in the story are Calhoun, the white disc jockey, and his girlfriend Felicia Farrell, an African American singer.

This show is really popular for a lot of reasons. The writing is funny, the choreography is uplifting, and the music is great. People sometimes expect the music to include Elvis and other Memphis singers from that era but all of the music in the show is original. Most of all, audiences love this show because it is a great story.”

“Memphis” is also a great history lesson. It’s set in the 1950s on Beale Street in Memphis. It shows the difficulty of trying to be in an inter-racial relationship during that era — an era when African American men in the South were lynched for showing interest in white women.

It also deals with the duality of music — the whole problem of getting “race music” — that’s what they called it then — played on white radio stations and being heard in the middle of the radio dial. Being heard in the middle of the dial actually was very important in those days.

With AM radio, the high-powered (50,000 watt) clear channel stations and the major regional stations were located in the middle of AM’s spectrum, which went from 530 khz to 1640 khz (e.g. KYW at 1060 khz or WCAU at 1210 khz). At the far end of the dial were the small, low-powered stations (250-500 watt) with weak signals and very limited coverage areas. “Race music’ was pretty much restricted to these stations.

The production at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre is directed and choreographed by Devon Sinclair with Hallie Berger as co-choreographer. The vocal director is Garrick Vaughan.

“Memphis” is running now October 30 at the Candlelight Dinner Theatre.

Tickets, which include dinner and parking, are $65.50 for adults and $33 for children (ages 4-12).


If you want to catch a local performance of the national tour of “Annie”, you have to seize the day. If you wait for tomorrow, you just might be too late. The sun might come out tomorrow, but tickets may be sold out.

The show opens October 11 for a short six-day run through October 16 at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Miller Theater (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org). This production is part of the 2022-23 Broadway Series and the Kimmel’s Family Discovery Series.

According to director Jenn Thompson, who at the age of 10 stepped into the role of “Pepper” in the Original Broadway production, “This show, with its iconic title character, continues to delight generations of theatre-lovers old and new by joyfully singing directly into the face of great adversity with perseverance, guts and guile.

“For decades, ‘Annie’ has continued to shine brightly, not only as an appeal to our better angels, but also as an example of the thrill of hope, hard-won: promising a better ‘Tomorrow’ not only for Annie herself, but for all who need her message now more than ever.”

By permission of Tribune Content Agency, LLC, “Annie” is based on Harold Gray’s popular comic strip “Little Orphan Annie”, which premiered in the 1920s in the New York Daily News and became one of the most widely read strips in the 30s and 40s.

The original production of Annie had its world premiere on Aug 10, 1976, at the Goodspeed Opera House in Haddam, Connecticut, and opened on Broadway on April 21, 1977, at the Alvin Theatre (Neil Simon Theatre).  The production, featured Andrea McArdle as Annie, went on to win the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, seven Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical, the Grammy for Best Cast Show Album, and seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book (Thomas Meehan) and Best Score (Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin). It closed on Broadway after playing 2,377 performances.

“Annie” was revived on Broadway in 1997 and again in 2014. It has been made into a film three times (1982, 1999, 2014) and was most recently featured as a live television production on NBC. The show remains one of the biggest Broadway musical hits ever. It has been performed in 28 languages and has been running somewhere around the world for 45 years.

The beloved score for “Annie” includes “Maybe,” “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” “Easy Street,” “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” and the eternal anthem of optimism, “Tomorrow.”

The show has gone on numerous national tours and featured notable cast members such as child star Amanda Balon as Annie and television/movie/stage/rock band veteran Mackenzie Phillips as Lily St. Regis.

In the title role of Annie in the production coming to Philly is Ellie Pulsifer, a 12-year-old actress from South Florida who is making her tour debut. Christopher Swan will star as Oliver Warbucks. In the role of Miss Hannigan is Stefanie Londino.

Also starring in the tour are Julia Nicole Hunter as Grace, Nick Bernardi as Rooster, Krista Curry as Lily, and Mark Woodard as FDR. Addison, a stray mutt rescued by Tony Award® Honoree William Berloni (Annie, A Christmas Story, Legally Blonde) through the Humane Society in 2017, stars as Sandy.

The structure of this show is different than many other shows. The main character has the arc and everyone around Annie transforms. It was the Great Depression. Everyone was suffering and here was this little girl with an indomitable spirit. The show is funny but it’s also about truth and love.

Truth, love, hope, happiness and great tunes – what more could you ask for in a Broadway show?

Video link for “Annie” — https://youtu.be/j93KJmxtVpg.

The show at the Miller Theater will run through October 16 – Tuesday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 and 6:30 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $40.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) always presents great folk, jazz and blues music every Thursday through Sunday.

The “Thursday Night Jazz Jam” and the “Sunday Blues Brunch & Jam” are regular features on Jamey’s calendar while Friday and Saturday night shows feature national and regional acts.

The headline shows on the weekend nights always draw appreciative crowds. The show this Friday night featuring the Blues Project has an audience that is more than appreciative. It’s a sold-out show. Fortunately, some standing room tickets are still available.

Nowadays, it seems like there is at least one tribute band for every 60s and 70s band with recognition.

The Blues Project were one of the best bands from New York’s Greenwich Village in the mid-60s — a band featuring Danny Kalb, Steve Katz, Andy Kulberg, Al Kooper and Roy Blumenfeld.

The band dissolved in the late 60s with Katz and Kooper moving on to form another great band – Blood, Sweat & Tears.

More than a half-century has gone by but there have been no Blues Project tribute bands. Actually, there is no need because the Blues Project are still performing on stage.

The current line-up features two of the band’s founding members – Steve Katz on guitar and Roy Blumenfeld on drums. The new members are Scott Petito on bass, Chris Morrison on guitar and Kenny Clark on keyboards.

“It’s down to Roy and me,” said Katz, during a phone interview from his home in Connecticut. “Four of the five are still alive while Andy passed away 20 years ago. Al and Danny are unable to play because of health issues.

“We first got together in 1965. Even since the members went separate ways back in the 60s, we’ve always had reunions. We’ve had reunions since 1980.”

In the fall of 1965, The Blues Project played alongside the likes of Big Joe Williams, Son House, Bukka White, Skip James, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Otis Spann, to name a few. It was these legendary sold-out performances at the famed Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village that eventually led to the release of their phenomenal debut album, “Live at the Cafe Au Go Go.”

“We started out at the Night Owl Café and then we moved to the Café Au Go Go,” said Katz. “There were so many great shows at the Cafe Au Go Go – so many great musicians.

“We played there a lot. For a long time, we were like the house band. Café Au Go Go was the first gig that started to break us.”

The band began recording its first album live at the Cafe Au Go Go in late November 1965 and then the album was finished with another week of recordings in January 1966.

“On our first album, our lead singer Tommy Flanders left the band after a few songs,” said Katz. “After that, the vocals were done by me, Al and Danny.

“We were a fabulous live band. Our recordings never showed what we could do. They never presented the band the right way. Our label Verve/Folkways didn’t care. They were awful.”

Straight out of New York, the Blues Project soon toured all over North America. Back then, California, was the place to be, with San Francisco and Los Angeles as the two epicenters of the new age of rock and roll. The five New Yorkers played there and conquered the West.

In San Francisco, the birthplace of the hippie counterculture movement and of the psychedelic rock, they achieved the admiration of their local peers. The not-yet famous Grace Slick, for example, dreamed to be the band’s new female singer after sharing the bill with them at the Avalon Ballroom when she was still a member of the Great Society.

Ed Denson, manager of Country Joe and the Fish, who became an instant fan after seeing them at the Matrix, said, “Their stage presence and their performance have an authority which comes from the secure knowledge that they are one of the best groups going. For the three weeks that they were here they were indisputably the best band in the city.”
Kalb, Katz, Blumenfeld, Kulberg and Kooper were all skillful musicians who mastered their instruments. They were so talented and versatile that they set a high standard for other performers of their generation.

Returning to New York, the band recorded their second album “Projections” in the fall of 1966 – a diverse set of songs that spanned genres, including blues, rock, R&B, psychedelia, jazz, folk-rock. Soon after “Projections” was completed, the band began to fall apart. Kooper left the band in the spring of 1967 and the band completed a third album, “Live At Town Hall,” without him.

In 1967, at the peak of their success and after the release of their third album, “Live at Town Hall,” the band appeared at one of their last gigs — the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival. Videos from their set at Monterey showed audience members listening with reverence – mesmerized by what they were hearing from the New York quintet…. especially the Kooper-penned track, “Flute Thing.”

“Most of what we’re playing in our shows now are songs from ‘Projections’ and ‘Live at Café Au Go Go,’” said Katz. “Even though we don’t have a flute player, we still play ‘Flute Thing.’ Our organist plays the flute parts on an ocarina-type instrument.”

Katz, who in 2015 released his memoir book, “Blood, Sweat, and My Rock ‘n Roll Years: Is Steve Katz a Rock Star?,” is no stranger to Jamey’s House of Music. He has performed several solo gigs at the comfortable venue in Delaware County.

“I played Jamey’s solo before,” said Katz. “It’s a really great room with good sound. And Jamey is great to work with.”

Video link for the Blues Project — https://youtu.be/I8Zp-vmAuEg.

The shows at Jamey’s on Friday and Saturday will start at 8 p.m. Saturday’s concert will feature Durham County Poets and Sunday’s “Blues Jam” will feature Roger Girke.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is presenting The Lords of 52nd Street on October 7 and Taylor-Simon-King on October 8.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is hosting Lauren Calve on October 8 and District 97 with special guest Stratospheerius on October 12.

The Colonial Theater (227 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, thecolonialtheatre.com/events) is hosting Jeff Allen: 2.0 Tour on October 7.

The Sound Bank (119 South Main Street, Phoenixville, www.soundbankphx.com) will have The Ty Faherty Band and Dear Zoe on October 7 and Hypnotic Eye on October 8.

Phantom Power (121 West Frederick Street, Millersville, www.phantompower.net) will have Creatures of Content & David Koster Band on October 7, Kevin Gannon on October 9 and Red Not Chili Peppers and Nimrod on October 12.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.