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2 Broadway shows, plus ballet, oratorio

Lifestyle

2 Broadway shows, plus ballet, oratorio

This week's picks of the tix include two popular Broadway shows, a famous classical ballet and a celebrated Biblical oratorio.

The biggest of the Broadway shows is the musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," one of the most successful tuners of contemporary times. The original Broadway production closed about a year ago, and the national tour will visit Portland March 27-28.

Portland Players is currently offering a very strong community production of "Brighton Beach Memoirs" by Neil Simon, who is sometimes called Broadway's most consistent hit-maker.

Portland Ballet is presenting "Giselle," an exemplar of 19th-century Romanticism, twice this weekend.

The Choral Art Society celebrates the 200th anniversary of the birth of classical composer Felix Mendelssohn with his Biblical oratorio "Elijah."

And to celebrate the beginning of spring, Out & About takes a two-week spring skiing vacation and will return the week of April 5.

‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee'

It's OK to be a geek. And geeks can be extraordinarily interesting. Those are among the take-home messages delivered by one of Broadway's most surprising hits of recent years, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," a small-cast musical that was nominated for six Tony Awards and won two.

With book by Rachel Sheinkin (who copped one of the Tonys for her efforts) and music and lyrics by William Finn, this distinctively offbeat show features six quirky adolescents in a spelling bee that's run by three eccentric adults. There are also a few minor characters, played by the show's regular cast, plus most performances include appearances by "guest spellers" – who are typically radio and television personalities. "Spelling Bee" opened on Broadway in 2005 and ran three years and more than 1,100 performances.

"‘Spelling Bee' is not extravagant in its aims, but it lives up to its goals in a way that the season's bigger, glitzier and more ambitious musicals mostly don't," wrote reviewer Charles Isherwood in The New York Times back in 2005. "Gold stars all around!"

The current national tour visits Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall for three performances this weekend under the aegis of PCA Great Performances: 8 p.m. March 27, 3 and 8 p.m. March 28. (The Saturday matinee is a special "family-friendly" version of the script.) Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Brighton Beach Memoirs'

It's OK to be an adolescent in a quirky Jewish family, and the experience can be extraordinarily interesting. That's the take-home message of "Brighton Beach Memoirs," Neil Simon's semi-autobiographical play that's running through April 5 in South Portland.

Set on the eve of World War II in Brooklyn, Simon fondly and humorously recalls his years as a member of an extended family that had to cope with a variety of social, economic and emotional pressures. The situations presented in "Brighton Beach Memoirs" vary in scope from the deteriorating European political situation to the author's own emerging personality and his role as a keen observer and future writer.

Michael Donovan ably directs a cast of seven in Portland Players' extraordinarily moving and inspiring community production, with best performances delivered by Benedetto Robinson as the protagonist and Rebecca Michals Rinaldi as his live-in aunt.

Catch "Brighton Beach Memoirs" through April 5 at Portland Players, 420 Cottage Road in South Portland, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-7337.

‘Giselle'

Portland Ballet Company's spring production is a quintessential story of unrequited love. "Giselle," which debuted in 1841, features music by Adolphe Adam and choreography by Catherine Batcheller. One of the most sought-after roles in classical dance, "Giselle" follows a young peasant girl through her first love, betrayal, heartbreak and death. The story of "Giselle" even continues into the afterlife, where she appears as a ghost.

"Giselle" follows a classical romantic triangle, with PBC principle dancer Nell Shipman in the role of the guileless country girl who is wooed by two men. Tyler Sperry assumes the role of a sincere, unsophisticated huntsman who loses the love of his life to a suave, deceiving, two-timing nobleman, portrayed by Wyatt Barr.

When Giselle discovers that her aristocratic suitor is already engaged to another woman, she loses her mind and dies of heartbreak and madness at the end of the first act. Giselle returns in supernatural form in the second act and joins the Wilis – the ghosts of jilted maidens who have died before their wedding nights. Still very much alive, the huntsman and the aristocrat visit Giselle's grave and meet very different fates.

Two performances of "Giselle" are slated: March 28 at 7:30 p.m. and March 29 at 2 p.m. at John Ford Theater at Portland High School, 284 Cumberland Ave. Call Portland Ballet at 772-9671.

‘Elijah'

All this year the classical world is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of German composer Felix Mendelssohn, and one of Maine's biggest memorial concerts is slated for Tuesday in Merrill Auditorium, when the Choral Art Society tackles "Elijah," a monumental oratorio about the life of an Old Testament prophet.

The March 31 concert features singers of the Choral Art Society joined by four soloists and a full orchestra. The choice of the prophet Elijah seems appropriate for Mendelssohn. He was the grandson of a prominent Jewish philosopher, but converted to Christianity (along with his entire family) at a young age. Elijah is one of the Old Testament's towering figures, plus he appears at a crucial and memorable moment in the New Testament.

Director Robert Russell explains the story's appeal to Mendelssohn and its ongoing attraction. "Elijah joins a handful of Old Testament characters – Moses, Joshua, David, and Isaiah among them – who are at the center of turbulent times in the life and history of Israel," notes Russell. "The shaping of Israel's character is centered in their actions, and it is these dramatic events that captured the attention of (George Frideric) Handel in his oratorios and Mendelssohn following him. Widely regarded as the 19th century's best oratorio, ‘Elijah' continues to live through the power of drama imaginatively and compellingly captured in the music of Felix Mendelssohn, whose 200th birthday we celebrate this year."

"Elijah" will be sung by the Masterworks Chorus, the largest of the Choral Art Society's three sub-ensembles. All singers are selected by audition. Four soloists will join the Masterworks Chorus: bass-baritone Philip Cutlip will sing the title role, and he'll be joined by soprano Lisa Saffer, tenor John McVeigh and mezzo-soprano Jennifer DeDominici.

Catch "Elijah" at 7:30 p.m. March 31 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

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