Out & About: Music and drama from diverse cultures
The weather is heating up as we hit the midpoint of spring; ditto the pace of arts and entertainment. This week's picks of the tix number five quality acts representing diverse countries and cultures.
Let's start in Berlin in 1929, the setting for "Cabaret," the celebrated 1967 Broadway musical. Lyric Music Theater in South Portland is currently running a wonderfully moving community production.
Friday there's a choice between music from Africa and Greece. Toumani Diabate and the Symmetric Orchestra hail from Mali in West Africa; PCA Great Performances will host them at Portland's Merrill Auditorium. Skordalia is a Boston-based Greek ensemble that's slated for the University of Southern Maine's Gorham campus.
John Rutter's Mass of the Children will be performed in South Portland on Saturday by the Choral Art Society, combining with two other vocal ensembles. The Portland Symphony brings in virtuoso cellist Zuill Bailey for its May 5 concert, which spotlights the Romantic era.
As readers of "Out & About" know very well, musical theater is one of my passions. "Cabaret," the 1967 Broadway hit – with book by Joe Masteroff, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb – is one of the shows that moves me the most. I've seen it many times and always approach a new production with a sense of trepidation: Will this company do justice to one of the enduring triumphs of American Musical Theater? Or will a performance fall flat and disappoint?
My girlfriend and I scored front-row seats for this weekend's opening of Lyric Music Theater's community production of "Cabaret." And she summed up both our opinions at intermission. "This is WONDERFUL!" she exclaimed.
Kudos go all around, but the outstanding star of Lyric's splendid cast is Justin Stebbins as the emcee of the Kit Kat Klub, a creepy and sinister little man of ambiguous sexuality and zero moral values who's so prominent throughout the show. Overloaded with white makeup and blue eye shadow, Stebbins' ghostly and ghastly face is constantly a focus of attention and/or a menacing backdrop. Stebbins performs this extremely challenging role with suitable gravity and great aplomb.
He's often front-and-center with big ensemble numbers, which are beautifully directed by Vince and Denise Knue and choreographed by Michael Donovan.
The supporting cast is also tops: Brian McAloon and Caryn Blanchard as the primary romantic couple, KoKo Keller and Alan McLucas as the secondary pairing and Crystal Giordano and Denis Fontaine in smaller but very important roles.
Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents "Cabaret" through May 17 with 8 p.m. performances Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 matinees on Sundays. Call 799-6509.
Toumani Diabate and the Symmetric Orchestra
Representing a fusion of Africa's traditional and modern musical heritage, 2009 Grammy Award nominee Toumani Diabate – a master of the 21-stringed west African harp called the kora – brings his 10-piece Symmetric Orchestra to Merrill Auditorium this Friday for an evening of pan-African and global music-making. The concert is hosted by PCA Great Performances as part of its season-long theme titled "Maine and its Ties to Africa."
Diabate himself hails from the sub-Saharan nation of Mali, and his orchestra includes fellow countrymen plus musicians from Senegal, Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso on a wide range of traditional and contemporary instruments. Diabate is both a traditionalist and an ardent experimenter; he and his band-mates serve up a buoyantly joyful sound that draws on traditions and modern influences.
Catch the spirit of west Africa at 8 p.m. May 1 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
Portland and Mytilene, Lesbos – a Greek island in the Aegean Sea just off the coast of Turkey – are official sister cities, and many Hellenic enthusiasts from the Port City will be heading out to Gorham on Friday to hear Skordalia, a Boston-based ensemble that draws inspiration from that culture.
The musical bill of fare will include lively dance tunes from Mytilene and Asia Minor plus a number of well-known Rembetika melodies.
Two local musicians will join Skordalia. Julie Goell plays bass with the Casco Bay Tummlers, and Dimitri Gibizis is a classically trained violinist who recently founded the Apollon Music Studio in Portland.
The concert is sponsored by the School of Music, USM Hellenic Initiatives and the Portland-based Hellenic Society of Maine. Following the concert, there will be a fun "skordalia" tasting contest. Skordalia is a famously delicious and zesty garlic/potato spread traditionally eaten with beets, or certain fried fish or with bread.
All these happenings get started at 8 p.m. May 1 at Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine's Gorham campus. Call the USM music box office at 780-5555.
Mass of the Children
John Rutter ranks at the top of today's composers, and one of his most impressive works marks the final concert of the season for the Choral Art Society. "Mass of the Children," a five-movement mass with the traditional Latin and Greek texts interwoven with English, will be presented in South Portland this Saturday.
Rutter composed the work for mixed choir, children's choir, baritone and soprano soloists and chamber orchestra. It premiered at Carnegie Hall six years ago. For this Saturday's performance, the Choral Art Society will be joined by two youthful vocal ensembles, Musica de Filia and the Southern Maine Children's Chorus.
The performance is slated for 7:30 p.m. May 2 at South Portland High School Auditorium, 637 Highland Ave. Call 828-0043.
Portland Symphony Orchestra
Johannes Brahms ranks near the top of anybody's list of classical composers, and one of his favorite large-scale works is the centerpiece of the Portland Symphony Orchestra's May 5 concert, which focuses on the Romantic period.
The concert opens with the Jubel ("Jubilee") Overture by Carl Maria von Weber, an exuberant work by one of the first significant composers of the Romantic era. Guest soloist Zuill Bailey will join maestro Robert Moody and the PSO for Sir Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto in E Minor, widely regarded as the English composer's greatest work, and certainly one of the most beloved concertos ever written.
Bailey is considered one of the pre-eminent cellists of his generation, and is a sought-after concerto soloist. He has performed with many symphony orchestras in this country and around the world.
The program concludes with Brahms' dramatic Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Brahms himself declared that No. 1 took 21 years to complete, from sketches to finishing touches.
Catch this concert at 7:30 p.m. May 5 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.