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Out & About: Midsummer heat means music, theater

Lifestyle

Out & About: Midsummer heat means music, theater

Maine is an incredible place to be in July, with an abundance of music and theater happening all over the Pine Tree State.

Let’s start with Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. First item, of course, is “Annie,” the wonderful Broadway musical that represents the quintessential American spirit of optimism.

MSMT’s musicals run six days a week. On the next “dark” day – Monday, July 11 – MSMT presents a special concert by Schooner Fare, featuring all three Romanoff brothers: Steve, Chuck and Ed.

The Portland String Quartet, which has been Maine’s top chamber music ensemble since 1969, runs its "Festival of American Music” through Saturday in New Gloucester.

The Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival is entering its 39th season and launches its 2011 five-concert program at bucolic Deertrees Theatre in Harrison on July 12.

‘Annie’

Of all the Broadway musicals written, few have enjoyed such widespread and long-lasting popularity as “Annie,” the 1977 hit penned by Thomas Meehan (book), Charles Strouse (music) and Martin Charnin (lyrics), based on the comic strip character created by Harold Gray.

The reason is simple. The title character, an 11-year-old orphan with boundless optimism in the face of adversity, represents a quintessentially American quality, and she’s supported by a fine script, gorgeous melodies and memorable lyrics.

Maine State Music Theatre is running a wonderful, fully professional (Equity contract) production of “Annie” through July 16.

The story begins in the wretched New York City orphanage at the depth of the Great Depression, and wraps up a few weeks later on Christmas Day in the Fifth Avenue mansion of billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Tops among the large cast are Lauren Weintraub as the red-headed orphan in the title role and Charis Leos as the comic Miss Hannigan, the boozy manager of the orphanage. I also liked David Girolmo, who is the best Daddy Warbucks I’ve ever seen, and Laura Seibert, playing private secretary to the kind-hearted billionaire.

Director Marc Robin and music director Ed Reichert ably oversee a large cast and nine-piece band and keep this big show moving at a breezy pace. Kudos also to set designer Charles Kading. Despite its size and complexity, Kading’s set has a fluidity that keeps pace with the rest of the production.

If you’re looking for an outstandingly refreshing midsummer pick-me-up you can’t do better than MSMT’s current production of “Annie.” I’ve seen “Annie” many times over the years and I cannot recall a better version.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Annie” through July 16 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit www.msmt.org.

Schooner Fare

Maine’s long maritime traditions are recalled in music by the state’s No. 1 folk ensemble: Schooner Fare.

Long-time Mainers can recall the 1970s when Schooner Fare – then a trio comprising brothers Steve and Chuck Romanoff, from the Portland area, plus Tom Rowe, from South Paris – honed their performing and writing skills in Port City clubs and bars. They gained local fame and significant national attention with their blend of original songs that celebrate Maine’s maritime history plus traditional Irish tunes and a little bit of Downeast humor.

With the death of Rowe a few years ago, Schooner Fare became a duo. But in summers Schooner Fare reverts to trio mode again for a few appearances with the temporary addition of brother Ed Romanoff, a Broadway actor who is a summertime regular at Maine State Music Theatre.

On July 11, while “Annie” takes a one-day break, MSMT presents the three-Romanoff-brothers version of Schooner Fare at 7:30 p.m. at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit www.msmt.org.

Portland String Quartet

Maine’s No. 1 chamber music ensemble is the Portland String Quartet, which as been playing together with original personnel – violinists Stephen Kecskemethy and Ron Lantz plus violist Julia Adams and cellist Paul Ross – since 1969 and still going strong. In 1986 they were proclaimed “Maine treasures” and awarded Honorary Doctor of Music degrees at Colby College, where they served as artists in residence for 20 years.

Although best known for a four-concert fall-winter-spring season in their namesake city, the PSQ has been venturing afield since the inception.

The PSQ’s Festival of American Music runs through Saturday evening at a quintessentially American location: Maine’s historic and famous Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester. Concerts are held in the 2-century-old Shaker meetinghouse, and the four musicians plus invited guests play an admixture of new and old.

Among the annual regulars are Brother Arnold Hadd speaking about Shaker hymns, which will be played in string quartet arrangements. Modern additions for 2011 include a steel drum band, an electric violinist and excerpts from a newly commissioned work for the PSQ by composer Gil Shohat.

Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. culminating concert is titled “Sabbathday Riffs: The Fusion of Classical, Jazz and World Music” with compositions by John Knowles Paine, Bert Ligon and Johannes Brahms.

For detailed information on other festival events, visit www.portlandstringquartet.org/mainefestival2011.htm. The concert venue is at 707 Shaker Road (Old Route 26) in New Gloucester.

Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival

No concert hall in Maine boasts the rustic period charm of bosky, bucolic Deertrees Theatre, set on a hillside in Harrison. Built 75 years ago of native hemlock trees harvested on the site of a deer run, Deertrees today is a vibrant arts center presenting a full program of music and theater each July and August.

The anchor each summer is the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, which begins its 39th season on July 12 and offers a weekly series of concerts every Tuesday through Aug. 9. For the past 26 years, Laurie Kennedy, principal violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, has served as artistic director.

Each summer she invites about two dozen fellow musicians, many of them principals in symphony orchestras from across the U.S., to join her in a five-concert series that tends to focus on the established standard repertoire.

The series launches next Tuesday with five pieces united by the flash and fire that characterize Hungarian music. Composers from Hungary include Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly and Franz Liszt. Johannes Brahms, a German, first gained fame with his “Hungarian Dances,” written when he was 17 years old.

Deertrees Theatre is located on Deertrees Road, about a mile out of Harrison Village. Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival concerts are at 7:30 on Tuesdays, July 12-Aug. 9. Call Deertrees at 583-6747 or visit www.sebagomusicfestival.org.