King Strut

You can take the Mummer out of Philly, but you can’t take the Philly out of the Mummer. This year, a man from Newark reigns supreme.


Published:

Hall-of-famer Jim Julia, at the Mummers Museum

in Philadelphia, has participated in the famous

parade since he was 8 years old.
Photograph by Todd Vachon

www.toddvachon.com

 

 

Jim Julia points to a costume in the main lobby of the Mummers Museum in South Philadelphia.

The costume, displayed in a darkened corner, looks like something out of a haunted cabaret. Sparkling red and neon green plumage wrap what looks to be some sort of demon witch doctor. A sequined skull belt circles the get-up, which is topped by a
giant feathered headdress—with horns. It’s gaudy as hell and twice as spooky.

“I wore that one,” Julia says. “It weighed a ton.”

The Mummers don’t put any old costume in their museum. Julia is a hall-of-famer. For the past 15 years, he has captained the Downtowners, one of the largest and most celebrated clubs in Mummerdom. He played the gigantic witch doctor in the Downtowners’ presentation of “Witches and Warlocks, A Haunted Celebration” in 2006.

Julia, a 52-year-old budget analyst for Verizon who lives in Newark, may be a Delawarean in the phone book but, at heart, he’s pure struttin’ Mummer from South Philly.

Costumes like his witch doctor—as sequined and feathered and strange as they may be—represent a 107-year tradition in Philadelphia. “America’s oldest folk parade” takes place each New Year’s Day, when 15,000 participants march up Broad Street and around City Hall, dancing, picking banjos and generally making merry.

Local clubs of varying size and notoriety compete in four divisions: comics, fancies, string bands and fancy brigades. Each club has a unique history and personality, but almost all make use of colorful, sequined, fabulous ostrich-plumed costumes. Fancy brigades, like Julia’s, take everything to the highest level through elaborately choreographed dance routines and mammoth sets. The Downtowners will spend close to $100,000 on one parade—$60,000 on costumes alone.

The rules and traditions of the Mummers go on and on. To Julia, they’re routine. He’s been part of the culture all his life. It’s in his blood.

Julia’s uncles were pioneering members during the 1950s and ’60s who launched a club called Golden Crown. So Julia, born and raised in the heart of South Philly, was destined to become a Mummer.

“Growing up, I thought this is what every kid did,” Julia says. “Christmas in South Philly, there was Christmas and then, five days later, the other bookend. My neighborhood was like this incredible party that started on Christmas Eve and ended on New Years. You just partied. People would be all in the house, and the parade was like the background music.”

By age 8, Julia was marching with the Mummers. He was part of the Italian section in the club’s European Holiday theme. As he grew older, he found he enjoyed dancing and performing. Soon he was pitching ideas for music and themes.

“These great guys who came before me said I had the right idea,” Julia says. “They started looking to me as a leader.”

Former captain Bob Galvin, in his 44th year with the Downtowners, can corroborate that. “When he comes to us in his costume and makeup, it’s shattering,” Galvin says. “We have a lot of pride for him. He’s our leader.

“New Years Day, he’s second only to the Lord.”

 

It’s a Wednesday night, and for the Downtowners Fancy Brigade, that means rehearsal at the Ed O’Malley gymnasium. The gym usually houses athletic programs for youth. Tonight it is full of 90 grown men who strut and twirl like extras from “My Fair Lady.”

Preparation for New Years is a yearlong effort. Julia jokes that planning for next year begins on January 2, but, in reality, most clubs have a solid foundation built by March. By September rehearsal is all about cleaning and perfecting the dense and complicated routines.

For 2008 the Downtowners will perform “Samurai, Culture and Legend,” so they’ve worked elements of Japanese culture, like Kabuki theater, into their drill.

“If I show you this, I have to kill you,” Julia says.

He then presents three impeccable set designs the Downtowners will incorporate into this year’s show. The first depicts a Taiko drum ceremony for samurai returning from battle. The second shows a giant arch in front of a cherry blossom bridge. The third set is a re-creation of the 17th-century Shirasagijo castle. Each set is more intricate and dazzling than the last.

“We’re still working out the rigging, but the plan is for me to come out of the center here and stay suspended in the air, like ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.’”

The rest of the Downtowners are equipped with specially made swords and staffs. It’s important to note that Julia’s men are not trained dancers. They’re men’s men. Dressed in Philadelphia Eagles shirts and Penn State hats, a few have beer bellies. Most are knocking on 200 pounds. Call men like these in any other American city “fancy” and expect a knuckle sandwich in return. But inside this gym, they sashay and pirouette like, well, like Mummers.

“I tell people this is like Mardi Gras meets Broadway,” Julia says. “These guys grew up on it. They don’t see anything wrong with it. These are cops, construction workers, but they’ll put on feathers and makeup for us. It’s such a crazy dichotomy.”

Crazy probably doesn’t begin to explain dozens of grown men dancing like a high school color guard. It’s a long-standing joke that the all-male Mummers clubs are, in fact, gay. “We joke about that all the time with each other,” Julia says. The truth is, his club and many other Mummers have the support of Philly’s gay community.

In the middle of the wackiness is Julia, whistle in mouth, running through sections time and time again, tweaking a movement here, repositioning a Mummer there.

Being captain of a Mummers club is a lot like being a big-budget movie director. Julia coordinates with designers, choreographers, costumers, prop makers, and more—such as a sculptor who will craft 6-foot tigers from foam—in order to land on his interpretation of the club’s theme.

“As captain, you’re the orchestra leader,” he says. “In the end, this is my interpretation. I only have four minutes to tell this story. Sometimes you run into problems when you try to say too much.”

The club takes on the personality of its captain. Many outsiders perceive the Downtowners as one of the more laid-back clubs, and Julia is laid-back enough. He talks fast, as do a lot of South Philly folks, but he doesn’t run practice like a dictator. During a break, he pelts one of his Mummer-mates with a foam dodgeball.

But Julia is not without ego. He likes having the brightest costume and the biggest feathers. He wants all eyes on him in front of City Hall and under the lights of the Convention Center.

“That has to be there if you want your club to look its best,” he says. “You have to want that attention, that responsibility.”

In his 15th year as captain, Julia has developed that confidence. “When something goes wrong, I believe I can fix it,” he says. “You have 100 guys looking to you for answers, and it’s hard, it’s intimidating. Verizon sent me to all kinds of leadership schools, but I tell ya, I learned more about leadership from being in this club.”

So what do Julia’s fellow Delawareans know about his club? Not a whole lot, it turns out. Julia took up residence at Woodlands of Perch Creek, a neighborhood in Newark near Peoples Plaza, in 1996 after landing work in Baltimore. Living near Newark allowed him to be smack dab between his job and his Mummers. After three years, he returned to Center City Philly to work, but remained a Delaware resident.

“People here know about the Mummers. They’re aware of it,” Julia says. “But they always have a lot of questions.”

That should come as no surprise. The Mummers are ingrained in the families and neighborhoods of South Philadelphia, but not so much elsewhere. Julia’s 20-year old son Jimmy gets the same questions at the University of Delaware, where he’s in his junior year. Jimmy has been involved with the Mummers since he was five.

“He’s a very good dancer,” Julia says, beaming with pride. “We’ve watched each other play sports all our lives, but this is the one place where we’re teammates.”

The Mummers as a whole are very family oriented. Julia’s Downtowners have 32 brother combinations, and all sorts of sons and grandsons and generations have moved through the ranks. Even those who aren’t related by blood think of one another as family. They are buddies from the old neighborhood, childhood friends and friends of friends. They’ve carved out a unique niche in their pocket of Philly.

“People think the Mummers are only for one day,” Julia says. “But it’s the camaraderie of January 2 through December 31 that keeps me going. Some of my best friends are people I would never have met without this. It’s like having your own private club. What are the Elks? They’re the Mummers without costumes.

“It’s the friendship, camaraderie and being part of something bigger than yourself,” he says. “This keeps me in the neighborhood I grew up in with all my childhood friends.”

The costumer who made Julia’s witch doctor? Julia met him in first grade. 

 

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Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
Website »

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Try practicing yoga in a beautiful garden setting, strengthening your body and spirit. Our yoga class is open to all levels. We will practice slow, easy motions to get into the rhythm of nature....

Cost: $10

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE LYNN HERRICK SHARP AWARD EXHIBITION A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop The Delaware...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE ALUMNI INVITATIONAL A Group Exhibition March 31 - April 26, 2018 OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, April 6, 2018, 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop, Artist talk at 7:30 PM The...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

TRANSIT by Maryanne Pollock January 27 - April 26, 2018Opening Reception: Friday, February 2, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop On Art:  Wednesday, February 21, 2018 | 5:25 - 6 PM Maryanne...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

Thursday, April 26, 8:00 p.m. Gore Recital Hall David Rose was born in Regina, Saskatchewan and there began his early musical education and violin study. At the suggestion of his first teacher,...

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
Website »

More information

Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

Calling all Doodles!  Pack up your owners and head for Dewey Delaware for the Annual DoodlesinDewey ~ a fun filled time on the beach at a low-key "funraiser" for Food&Friends, a DC based...

Cost: $10-25 suggested

Where:
Dewey Beach
Saulsbury St
Dewey Beach, DE  19971
View map »


Sponsor: Food&Friends
Telephone: 301.467.5523
Contact Name: Amy Scott
Website »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

More information

Our thoughts and our stage turn to music, mayhem and marriage with the multi-Tony nominated "The Wedding Singer". Shows are at 8pm on April 27 and 28, and May 4 and 5.  There are 2pm...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

More information

Night Ranger, the band that invented the power ballad of the 1980s, brings its classic sound to the SugarHouse Casino Event Center on Friday, April 27, at 9 p.m. Tickets for the band’s 35th...

Cost: $29-49

Where:
SugarHouse Casino
1001 N. Delaware Ave
Philadelphia, PA  19125
View map »

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East Coast Garden Center presents: The Spring Festival!  We love celebrating the Spring season, and we invite you to join us! The weather warms, plants break dormancy, and Sussex County becomes...

Cost: free

Where:
East Coast Garden Center
30366 Cordrey Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
View map »


Sponsor: Cordrey Companies
Telephone: (302)945-3489
Contact Name: Christine Justice
Website »

More information

Rosemary Castiglioni – Still lifes and interiors painted with a subtle palette; Jim Gears – Vibrant, impressionistic landscapes in oil applied with a palette knife; Richard Hoff – Detailed...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Girl Scout Junior Not just a pretty face! With the Winterthur Garden as a laboratory, earn the Flowers badge while discovering how flowers function and recording your experience in a garden...

Cost: $12

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington , DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information & Tours
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

Maker Fest Enjoy a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement. This event features demonstrations from area makers showcasing...

Cost: Admission is $10 for Adults, $5 for Hagley Members and Youth 6-18; under 6 free

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Water is Life Kenya is hosting its annual Water Walk fundraiser Saturday, April 28th at the Newark Reservoir. Funds raised will help complete Water is Life Kenya's clean water project in Kuku, a...

Cost: 10.00-25.00

Where:
Newark Reservoir
Old Paper Mill Road
Newark, DE  19711
View map »


Sponsor: Water is Life Kenya
Telephone: (302) 894-7335
Contact Name: Colleen Leithren
Website »

More information

Girl Scout Daisy Take a step on your Flower Garden journey during this fun-filled exploration of the Winterthur garden. $10 per girl.

Cost: $10

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 180-044-83883
Contact Name: Information & Tours
Website »

More information

Discover the thrill of printmaking inspired by nature. Using spring plants and simple materials, students will explore the possibilities of organic and geometric compositions with layered shapes...

Cost: $80 Members, $100 Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Calling all Doodles!  Pack up your owners and head for Dewey Delaware for the Annual DoodlesinDewey ~ a fun filled time on the beach at a low-key "funraiser" for Food&Friends, a DC based...

Cost: $10-25 suggested

Where:
Dewey Beach
Saulsbury St
Dewey Beach, DE  19971
View map »


Sponsor: Food&Friends
Telephone: 301.467.5523
Contact Name: Amy Scott
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 28, 2018 6:00 pm – 10:00 pm Wilmington Country Club 4825 Kennett Pike Wilmington, DE   Guests will enjoy a four course seated dinner prepared by award-winning chefs...

Cost: Call for sponsor opportunities.

Where:
Wilmington Country Club
4825 Kennett Pike
Wilmington , DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Meals On Wheels Delaware
Telephone: 302-656-6451
Contact Name: Jennifer Halliday

More information

38th Annual Rare Plant Auction® at Longwood Gardens A benefit that enriches urban neighborhoods through the power of plants. Join us at the 38th Annual Rare Plant Auction® on Saturday, April...

Cost: $125-$600

Where:
Longwood Garden
1001 Longwood Road
Kennett Square, PA  19348
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Lenny Wilson
Website »

More information

Clark Wilson from East Liverpool, Ohio, is a favorite and master with silent films.  He is the house organist at the Ohio Theater and has recently been appointed to the Music Department staff of...

Cost: $20 Adults, $10 Students, Groups Call 302-995-2603

Where:
John Dickinson High School
1801 Milltown Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
View map »


Sponsor: Dickinson Theatre Organ Society
Telephone: 302-995-2603
Contact Name: Bob Dilworth
Website »

More information

Our thoughts and our stage turn to music, mayhem and marriage with the multi-Tony nominated "The Wedding Singer". Shows are at 8pm on April 27 and 28, and May 4 and 5.  There are 2pm...

Cost: $12-$20

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
View map »


Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
Telephone: 302-764-1172
Website »

More information

Saturday, April 28, 8:00 p.m. Loudis Recital Hall Cap off the day-long Steel Band Festival (in Puglisi Orchestra Hall beginning at noon) with the featured festival concert.   There is no...

Cost: Free

Where:
Loudis Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

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