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Theater Forecast: Daily downpours in Ogunquit

Lifestyle

Theater Forecast: Daily downpours in Ogunquit

With a moniker like The Forecaster, you ought to see forecasts on this page, at least occasionally. So let's try two. Weather forecast: Expect daily downpours through Sept. 12 in Ogunquit. Business forecast: Expect sold-out houses through Sept. 12 for Ogunquit Playhouse's latest offering, a splendid – and very wet – production of "Singin' in the Rain," the stage version of the celebrated 1952 MGM musical movie.

Ogunquit's executive director Brad Kenney says that "Singin' in the Rain" is his company's biggest-ever production, and many of us at opening night were forecasting the playhouse's biggest-ever ticket sales. This production deserves it.

Astonishing guitar virtuoso – and occasional singer – Leo Kottke visits South Portland this Saturday, a production of Dave McLaughlin's HepTunes.

And with the end of the summer arts and entertainment season coming up, coupled with a rather empty September calendar, Out & About will take a five-week break, resuming Sept. 30.

‘Singin' in the Rain'

Fine acting, singing and dancing are the usual ingredients for a successful production of a popular Broadway show, but with "Singin' in the Rain," a bit more is required. This wonderfully tuneful musical comedy demands technical prowess that's simply beyond the capability of most smaller theaters. When Ogunquit Playhouse opened its version of "Singin' in the Rain" last week, it demonstrated that it ranks at the very top of the nation's regional theater companies.

The stage show is based closely on the celebrated 1952 MGM musical film that starred Gene Kelly. The screenplay/book was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green as a showcase for previously published songs that had been written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.

It is a show about Hollywood, and the driving comic force is provided by the challenges facing movie studios and actors in the early 1930s when "talkies" supplanted silent films. Some of the hottest stars of the silent film era had simply dreadful voices and got pushed aside as they were replaced by actors who could speak and sing.

Ogunquit's production features Joey Sorge as a handsome Hollywood heartthrob who's paired up with Amy Bodnar who plays an egotistical, self-absorbed silent film star whose voice resembles a hen's cackle – matched with chaotic diction and a plethora of malapropisms. Bodnar, playing the archetypal Hollywood ditzy dumb blonde, is the show's comic gem. I've admired her work at Maine State Music Theatre for years in all sorts of roles, and now she's a side-splitting scene-stealer in this Ogunquit production.

The other two top roles go to Amanda Lea LaVergne as the ingenue and Jon Peterson as the juvenile's singing-and-dancing sidekick. I also liked two other female characters played by Celia Tackaberry and Elaine Hayhurst.

But the real stars of Ogunquit's show are the production team. Two elements are required to make "Singin' in the Rain" perfectly successful. First is half a dozen segments of silent films – mostly featuring Sorge and Bodnar – that are projected on the stage at crucial moments during the show. These totally convincing black-and-white faux-vintage film sequences – complete with herky-jerky action, imitation defects and old-fashioned subtitles – were shot and crafted by Lee Cote and Blake Baldwin of Video Creations, a Kennebunk firm.

The other crucial production element is the special effect of two rainstorms that end the first and second acts. Buckets of warm water – 250 gallons total, I'm told – are sprayed down on the stage during the long scene where Sorge sings and dances through the title song, joyfully using a lamppost as prop. It's the show's climactic scene and needs to be done just right. The movie was seen by countless millions and still enjoys great popularity via video stores, Netflix, etc., and reproducing that iconic moment – the joyous and soaking wet Kelly hanging off the lamppost – is key to making the stage version work.

Kudos to production manager Ruth Conrad-Proulx – not credited on the printed program – and her team for planning, organizing and pulling off these daunting challenges so beautifully!

Kudos also to Jayme McDaniel as director and choreographer, plus music director, keyboardist and orchestra conductor Matt Smedal.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Rt. 1, presents "Singin' in the Rain" through Sept. 12. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.

Leo Kottke

A dazzling finger-picking style and an eclectic selection of materials: Those have been the defining characteristics of one of this country's most compelling acoustic guitarists since he started his career on the Minneapolis coffeehouse scene more than 40 years ago. That's a longevity that makes him one of popular music's true Energizer Bunnies.

We're talking about Leo Kottke, who visits South Portland this Saturday. Over the years, this instrumental prodigy has amazed his legion of fans with his uniquely propulsive, high-energy finger-picking and (occasionally) his deep, resonant voice. A master of both the six-string and 12-string guitar, he's noted for his ability to coax an astonishing array of conventional and unexpected sounds out of strictly acoustic instruments, from furious 12-string riffs to the lingering chords of slow ballads.

Kottke has recorded about 30 albums in his 40-year professional career. He is almost as well known for his storytelling gifts as he is for his virtuosic musicianship.

He's written many of the tunes he plays, plus he covers songs penned by others. Kottke seems comfortable with an eclectic mixture of musical genres, including folk, rock, jazz and bluegrass.

Kottke has collaborated with some of the top names of our time including Ella Fitzgerald's legendary jazz guitarist Joe Pass as well as guitar gods Chet Atkins and Doc Watson. His most recent project was two highly acclaimed albums with Phish bassist Mike Gordon. He has toured as part of the Guitar Summit show and has appeared with full symphony orchestras.

Rolling Stone magazine explains his niche: "Acoustic guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke has found a small, but devoted, fan base who has elevated him and his six- and 12-string acoustic guitar playing to cult-level."

When I saw him in Portland a few years ago, Kottke wowed a capacity crowd of perhaps 500, many of whom owned a dozen-plus of his albums. His solo concert starts at 8 p.m. Aug. 22 at the South Portland High School auditorium on Highland Ave. He's appearing thanks to Dave McLaughlin's HepTunes. Call 978-462-9630.