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Queen of the Keyboard Live from City Stage, It’s Chiaki Ito

Plain and simple: Theatergoers in

Wilmington are spoiled. We’ve got top quality performances, beautiful choreography, and wonderful historic venues — from the antebellum Thalian Hall to City Stage, the lovely gem of the early teens tucked away on the fifth floor of the Masonic Temple Building on North Front Street. Most of all, though, local audiences are spoiled for a reason they take for granted: real musicians who play live music for musical theater productions. Often the experience is so seamless that we fail to remark upon it. But live music is incredible to behold, and, believe it or not, not the norm in community theater across the country. Here, Opera House, Thalian Association and City Stage regularly use live

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bands. City Stage music director/producer Chiaki Ito says the music creates the energy of the show.

Much like music is the through-line for a musical theater show, for Chiaki Ito, it has been the constant in her incredibly varied and changing life. If you’ve been to a City Stage musical in the past ten years, by the way, Ito is the stunning Japanese woman rockin’ the keyboards with the band. Yes, she’s the one in the pigtails and miniskirt. Born in Tokyo, Ito and her family moved to Philadelphia when she was 5 years old. “They put me in special ed because I couldn’t speak English,” Ito remembers. She turned to music. In fourth grade, Ito experienced her first breakthrough when she was asked to accompany the chorus on piano for the holiday concert. Life was starting to find a course, and then the family moved to Sampson County, North Carolina. Culture shock doesn’t begin to cover it. But again, there was a musical upside. “When we did South Pacific, I was the only one they could cast as Bloody Mary,” Ito jokes. By senior year, she engineered an escape to the North Carolina School of the Arts to study classical music. After getting her undergrad degree in communication studies from UNC-Chapel Hill, Ito lived in Tokyo for a brief stint and discovered that things weren’t quite what she expected. “Tokyo was interesting because I looked Japanese and people expected me to be Japanese . . . but I really The Art & Soul of Wilmington

Photograph by Mark steelman

By Gwenyfar Rohler

April Salt 2014  

The Art & Soul of Wilmington

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