Volume XI, Issue 22 ~ May 29 - June 4, 2003

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Dock of the Bay

‘Welcome to My House,’ Invites Count Dracula
Come in and you’ll get a taste of original musical theate

Picture Brooklyn Park transformed into 1897 Transylvania, where the desperate and aging Count Dracula seeks title to a home in a new land, one full of trees and fresh blood as he prepares his sinister move to England. Set against a voluptuous musical score, Musical Artists Theatre’s latest original play, Dracula, The Musical, held an audience spellbound on Memorial Day weekend. The play runs for two more weeks.

For two reasons, Musical Artists Theatre stands apart from other community theater companies around the Bay. First, it’s dedicated to musical theater. Any number of local companies put on musicals at least from time to time; some, such as dinner theaters, deal exclusively in the musical form. But Musical Artists Theatre, whose goal is to produce fresh, original musical theater, makes innovation standard fare.

“There are theaters that specialize in doing new plays, and some theaters that do a few new plays,” says Michael Hulett, Dracula’s director and playwright.

“But think about where you see new musicals — it’s not on Broadway, that’s for sure. It’s hard to find places to stage a new musical nationally, in part because it’s so expensive to put musicals on.”

Musical Artists Theatre is that hard-to-find place.

Some of their shows, like last spring’s Rags to Riches, set against Scott Joplin’s music, have been world premieres. Others, like Dracula, have been produced once or a handful of times before. (Dracula in 1997, in Charlestown, West Virginia.) Shows are chosen in accord with the company’s vision of developing original musicals, showcasing contemporary American works and mounting innovative productions of classics.

Here actors, directors and composers get to break new ground. Which is what Hulett did with Dracula, The Musical.

“I was interested,” he says of his invitation to direct a production of Dracula in West Virginia. But the traditional production didn’t suit him. “I told them I’d do it if I could write my own.”

Arming him for that undertaking are many playwrighting credits — some that have won national prizes, others that have been optioned for Broadway and one produced off-Broadway. The invitation led him to collaborate with composer Doug Yetter to create the Dracula now being performed at Chesapeake Arts Center.

Some 50 playwrights and composers from around the country are invited to submit their original works to Musical Artists Theatre.

Musical Artists Theatre is in its second year at the Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park, and Dracula, The Musical is its fifth production. (Previous shows include A Christmas Carol, twice, Dreamland and Rags to Riches, a musical set to music by Scott Joplin.) All have been well received, with enthusiastic reviews and box-office receipts that keep the company operating in the black.

With a lush musical score, multi-faceted characters, plenty of humor, dread and suspense and strikingly fine performances by the cast, Dracula, The Musical continues that success. Particular standouts are Peggy Dorsey as Mina, Ruth Hulett as Lucy and Greg Coale as Mr. Renfield. Coale delivered a fabulously warped and anguished madman, and Hulett and Dorsey both demonstrated striking theatrical and musical technique and range playing characters who are far more complex than the average run of musical-theater heroines.

The company fills a need among theater-goers as well as theater-artists. Whether the draw is its past successful shows or Transylvania’s infamous count, a near-capacity crowd filled the 100-person studio theater on the play’s second night. (Some shows, such as the annual A Christmas Carol, play on Chesapeake Arts Center’s full-size proscenium stage, with a seating capacity of 600.) It may help that Musical Artists Theatre’s status as resident theater company at Chesapeake Arts Center helps keep ticket prices low enough — $12 to $15 for Dracula — to bring in new blood in the form of casual theater-goers.

“Welcome to my house. Enter freely and of your own will,” intones Count Dracula. If it’s that or The Matrix at a local cinema for $8, why not take a chance on a live show? The Matrix will still be available on DVD long after this innovative theatrical moment is lost in time.

Dracula, The Musical runs at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 3pm Sundays thru June 8 at the Chesapeake Arts Center, 194 Hammonds Lane, Brooklyn Park: 410/636-6597.

— April Falcon Doss

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Demolition Derby Needs Drivers
Smashing up your car is half the fun

Blame Happy Days and ABC’s Wide World of Sports for what’s about to happen at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds on Saturday. Crash, V-Room, Screech, Bam! The demolition derby replays in Chesapeake Country.

On May 31 at 7pm, some two dozen of the bravest, craziest and most passionate people will compete, head-on — literally. All will drive and smash their way to hoped-for victory. It will be easy to tell who’s won, because they’ll be the only one left moving.

Among the gladiators is James Maxey, who drove in last year’s Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds demolition derby for the first time. He finished in fourth place, which is remarkable for a first-time driver. He won his heat to advance to the final, where he ultimately lost.

“It’s the worst seat in the house, when you’re stopped,” said Maxey, after he was eliminated in last year’s race. Of course, he fared much better than his car, a late 1980s Corsica that was put down. There can be only one victor, and Maxey was not it. He returns this year to give winning one last shot.

Since the 1950s, demolition derbies have been satisfying our morbid curiosity for car crashes. In the 1970s, the sport was popularized by television. Fonzie of television’s Happy Days entered a demolition derby and received the dreaded “Mallachi Crunch,” a maneuver that sandwiches one car between two others.

Car wrecks were and still are the key. That element is what has also drawn people to NASCAR.

“NASCAR people want to see the wrecks, because drivers are on the edge. Demolition derbies cater to that,” said Maxey, a retired Baltimore police driving instructor. Car 54, the late Corsica, was painted as a police car.

You don’t have to have credentials to drive in the race. Believe it or not, anyone can enter the competition. Sponsor Nation-Wide Demolition Derby Inc. is always seeking people like Maxey, for whom seeing a crash isn’t enough. They want to feel it, cause it, survive it and, most of all, win it.

To drive in this derby, you must be 16, crazed and in possession of a car you don’t want to drive home. Before meeting its fate, the car must be stripped and customized to Nation-Wide Demolition Derby standards. Once you have such a car, the fun begins.

“It took me 15 or 20 hours of work by myself on the car to get it ready,” said Maxey, who was persuaded to enter last year’s race by a friend who also donated the car. All the preparation the on car was directed to safety.

To be safe enough to Crash, V-Room, Screech, Bam! a car must have a hardtop; all glass, special bumpers and trailer hitches must be removed; radiators must remain in their original positions or be taken out; all doors must be fastened shut; hood and trunk must be wired in six places; front doors must be painted white with numbers; gas tanks must be replaced in front of the rear axle.

Drivers must wear helmets, and no head-on collisions are allowed in these competitions.

“The derby was very well run. It was an absolute total blast,” said Maxey, who will be driving a 1985 Dodge Aries painted with a tiger stripe configuration for this year’s race.

Success in a demolition derby comes not from skill so much as luck. “It comes down to paying attention to what’s going on around you, to avoid certain things,” said Maxey, who hopes to drive the last car moving, rolling or crawling — whichever can make him the victor.

If he fails, then Catlett’s Towing is on hand to haul his car away.

Some 3,000 people thrilled and chilled at the demolition at Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds last year. More are expected this year. If you want to see firsthand what the fuss is all about, come to the fairgrounds. Look for James Maxey in Car No. 1.

— James Clemenko

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Show Off Calvert County’s Heritage
Your photo may win a prize

Quick. Get out your camera and take a good look at Calvert County. You have until midnight, June 2, 2003, to postmark your entry to the Calvert County Heritage Photography Competition.

You can shoot any subject that reflects your idea of history and heritage. The most important thing is to take the photos yourself and to take them in Calvert County. If you’ve already shot a pile of great county photos, look through them and submit your best.

“I don’t want to limit what people might see,” says Kirsti Uunila of the Calvert County Heritage Committee. Some subjects are obvious, like tobacco barns and crab pots, but I expect people will have subtler notions.”

Each contestant may submit up to five color or black-and-white photographs in five-by-seven-inch or eight-and-a-half-by-11-inch size. Photos will be judged in separate youth and adult categories by a panel of professional photographers and at least one county commissioner. Three prizes will be awarded in each of the two divisions: $75 for first place, $50 for second place, $25 for third place. If your photo is a prize-winner, you’ll hear about it by June 16.

Your photos, whether winners or not, will not be returned. They will become the property of the Calvert County Heritage Committee, to use (with attribution) for publicity, for instance on the county’s website or in local newspapers.

It’s great to see your work in public but that’s not the main reason for the contest. “The real purpose,” says Uunila, “is to get people out into the countryside of Calvert County to look at things. I think if people even read about the contest, whether they enter or not, they begin to notice things around them.

“They start to see what’s unique about Calvert County, to notice things that signal our heritage and history and to care about them. They start to care about preserving our heritage.”

For the sake of heritage and history, take a closer look.

Winning photos will be displayed at the Calvert County Fair and elsewhere. For complete rules and contest address, look under Heritage Committee at www.co.cal.md.us • 301/855-1243 x2504.

— Sonia Linebaugh

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Dreams Are Built in Churchton
Architect Uekman, homeowners McGrath and Bowmans make Home and Garden Channel

Over the river and through the woods, in Chesapeake Country, lies a small cottage almost hidden from the road and featured on the Home and Garden Channel’s Dream Builders show. So to the McGraths’ house on filming day we go.

Like so many other houses in the area, the McGraths’ home in Churchton is surrounded by dark green conifers and uneven roofs, set off with the expanse of the Bay at its backdrop.

So why should this seemingly common home be chosen as a lead house for the next Dream Builders’ episode?

Patrick and Mary Ellen McGrath become local celebrities for a home where the old and new have fused into a complete architectural dream. A one-story house slowly evolved into what is now a two-story home, including entryway, office and window-enclosed “museum room,” as Patrick McGrath calls his original living room.

Show producer John Walker, a friend of McGrath’s through Fox 5 News, WTTG, in Washington, got to know Churchton over several social visits. He also met architect Greg Uekman, who designed the McGrath remodeling and who Walker is now emphasizing in Home and Garden’s developing episode.

From the corner windows framing the living room to parallel beams covering the porch to the collection of thin sticks creating a columned bannister leading to the second floor, you can’t help but notice the influence Uekman has had over this family’s home.

To show Uekman’s influence throughout the community — the “social neighborhood” as Mary Ellen McGrath calls it — Dream Builders will show the physical process of rebuilding — or reinventing in the McGrath’s case — a worn home.

Dream Builders also uses Churchton to exemplify the difficulties of the same architect’s redesigning several houses in the same community at the same time. Here, Uekman has completed the remake of the McGrath’s home and is currently working on nearby neighbors Ann and Ed Bowmans’ home, which will also be featured on the series. Uekman also has plans to start adding on to the home of the McGrath’s daughter, Megan.

The McGraths are Uekman’s fourth or fifth commission. “He’s real easy to work with,” Mary Ellen McGrath says. “He really listens. He’s not a primadonna.”

Together, Churchton’s Broadwater Point and Uekman have created something unique, enough so for H&G to want to share with its viewers. The Churchton segment is expected to air Sat., June 14 at 1pm • www.hgtv.com

— Stephanie Chizik

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Way Downstream …

In Annapolis, there’s free money for nonprofit groups with brilliant ideas about restoring the Bay and its fish. The Chesapeake Bay Trust and FishAmerica Foundation — the conservation arm of the American Sportfishing Association — last week invited proposals that can secure grants of up to $25,000. Call the Trust at CBT 410/974-2941 …

In London, a ship that set sail for the Arctic last week had a strange crew indeed: painters, poets, composers and photographers on a mission to teach children about environmental issues such as global warming. The voyage is expected to produce some fine works of art, too …

In India, where drought often is a matter of life and death, a community in the state of Kerala has set its sights on water hogs. Local officials have begun revoking the water-use permits of Coca-Cola and PepsiCo for using too much water, charges the companies dispute, The New York Times reported …

Our Creature Feature is a good-news tale from California about the success from a program to breed the nearly extinct giant condor in captivity. And when we say giant, we’re not kidding: the wingspan on these massive birds sometimes exceeds 10 feet.

Last week, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported that the condor population in California had climbed to more than 200 after plummeting to a handful in the 1980s. Biologists reported that two had died over the winter; one was shot and another died after colliding with a power line. “It’s a lot of birds for where we started from, so we’re pretty jazzed about it,” biologist Bruce Palmer told the Associated Press.

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Last updated May 29, 2003 @ 1:43am