Out and About: ‘Nunsense’ wraps up MSMT season in Portland

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The summer season is rapidly drawing to a close, as the roadside goldenrods and Queen Anne’s lace attest. Maine State Music Theatre wraps up its 2018 season with a wonderfully funny production of Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense,” a whimsical and tuneful musical comedy that’s set in a New Jersey convent.

Operatic music with Broadway showmanship is the name of the game in Arundel this Saturday, when Vinegar Hill Music Theatre presents Bravo Amici, an internationally touring vocal ensemble.

Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ wrap up their annual August concert series with the second appearance of James Kennerley, Portland’s new municipal organist.

‘Nunsense’

Fond memories of a Midwestern Catholic school provided the inspiration for one of the most successful musical comedies ever written. Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense” debuted in a New York cabaret in 1985 and went on to become the second-longest running off-Broadway musical in history, exceeded only by “The Fantasticks.”

Goggin wrote the book, music and lyrics, and directed the debut production.

The success of “Nunsense” was so great that Goggin wrote no fewer than six sequels, and “Nunsense” has been translated into more than two dozen languages. Total productions to date: about 10,000.

For its final act of 2018, Maine State Music Theatre is running “Nunsense” through Sept. 9 in a co-production with Portland Stage Company.

The setting is the Mount St. Helen’s School for Girls in New Jersey, where five members of the Little Sisters of Hoboken are putting on a benefit show. The purpose is to raise money to bury four deceased sisters, who perished as the result of botulism from the convent’s vichyssoise.

Each of the five nuns has a distinct and lovable personality, and Goggin’s script follows a show-within-a-show format. Two recurring themes serve as the plot. First, there’s ongoing rivalry between Mother Superior (Mary Stout) and the Mistress of Novices (Tamara Anderson). Second is the search for the true identity of Sister Mary Amnesia (Jeanne Tinker), who lost her memory years earlier when a crucifix fell on her head.

Sister Mary Leo (Krista Kurtzberg) dreams of being a ballerina nun and wearing a tutu, while Sister Robert Anne (Kimberly Chesser) also has dreams of show-biz stardom.

Goggin’s tunes are delightful, and the choreography, by director Teri Gibson, is energetic and imaginative.

After the opening night performance, I chatted with Maine State Music Theatre artistic director Curt Dale Clark, who told me that “Nunsense” represents the third effort in a new venture for his 60-year-old company. Because of the calendar constraints in the company’s primary venue, Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus, Clark envisions a secondary shoulder season with smaller productions in more intimate spaces. For the past two seasons this has been a co-production with Portland Stage, and Clark said that so far it’s been wildly successful.

“We’re thrilled with what we’re seeing here,” he said.

Maine State Music Theatre and Portland Stage Company present “Nunsense” through Sept. 9 at 25A Forest Ave. in Portland. Call 774-0465.

Bravo Amici

Three handsome tenors, two stunning sopranos and 4 million albums sold. Those are some of the numbers that define the international popular operatic act that’s pulling into Vinegar Hill Music Theatre in Arundel this Saturday.

The act is Bravo Amici, a vocal quintet plus backup musicians who bill themselves as the “world’s first opera band.” They also like the adjective “crossover,” and use it to underscore their pop chops. Tenor Geoff Sewell, the founder, is a New Zealand native who studied voice at the Boston Conservatory.

Bravo Amici’s shtick is performing music from the world’s great operas, but delivered with contemporary show-biz brio and Broadway panache. Bravo Amici has traveled the world, performing in venues as diverse as soccer stadiums and the Royal Albert Hall in London – with the British royal family in attendance.

Typical performances include excerpts from “Carmen,” La Traviata” and “Turandot.” Plus they embrace popular musical theater, with selections from Broadway shows such as “Man of La Mancha” and straight pop tunes such as “Unchained Melody” – sung in Italian.

Catch Bravo Amici at 8 p.m. Aug. 25 at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Rd. (just off Route 1) in Arundel. Call 985-5552.

Port City Organ Expo

He wowed us in April, and I expect that he’ll repeat in August. That’s my prediction for James Kennerley’s concluding performance in the Aug. 28 finale of the Port City Organ Expo.

Kennerley, who was appointed Portland’s official municipal organist – one of only two such positions in the U.S. – gave a stunning performance at his public debut on the mighty Kotzschmar Memorial Organ, a 7,101-pipe behemoth that was installed in Portland City Hall in 1912.

The humongous instrument was named for Hermann Kotzschmar, a German-born musician who was a central figure in Portland’s cultural life of the late 19th century. It was donated by Cyrus H.K. Curtis, a Portland-born publishing magnate, who named it in honor of his childhood music teacher.

Kennerley, a British-born keyboard artist from New York, was named to replace Ray Cornils, who held the post for three decades before retiring late last year.

Among Kennerley’s many sterling qualities is the gift of composition and a flair for showmanship. Both of these were evident in April, when he gave his debut performance. I expect that both will be seen in maximum force on Tuesday, when he wraps up the four-concert Port City Organ Expo, an annual August production of the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ, the nonprofit support group that raises funds to maintain the massive musical machine and underwrites public performances.

Kennerley will be supported by a consort of brass musicians, mostly members of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, known as the Kotzschmar Festival Brass.

“An American in Paris” is the title of the program, and it features French compositions and one major piece about France in the 1920s. Nearly all of these have been arranged for the Kotzschmar by Kennerley. Selections include excerpts from Claude Debussy’s piano works, such as his “Suite Bergamasque” and “Children’s Corner.”

Kennerley will conclude his performance with “An American in Paris,” originally conceived as an orchestral tour de force by George Gershwin. It famously imitates the hustle and bustle of street sounds of Paris, and I expect that Kennerley will pull all the stops on the Kotzschmar’s “toy box” division to pull that off.

Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ present “An American in Paris” at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 28 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Nuns are the stars of one of the funniest musical comedies ever written, Dan Goggin’s “Nunsense.” It’s the final production of 2018 for Maine State Music Theatre.

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