Out & About: 'West Side Story' on stage, Jerry Douglas in Westbrook
Two much-honored acts top this week’s picks of the tix, which range from musical theater to classical piano. In the first-mentioned category, a national touring company will present “West Side Story,” one of Broadway’s most honored musicals, Nov. 9-10 in Portland. First produced in 1957, “West Side Story” is one of the few shows to win a Tony, Grammy and Oscar.
Talk about Grammys? Jerry Douglas’ credits – as sideman, session player, producer and solo artist – are simply amazing. Start with 13 Grammys then add three from the Country Music Association, which has thrice honored Douglas as its Musician of the Year. Douglas and his band will be playing this Saturday in Westbrook.
A 20th-century classical masterpiece is the featured item this Friday in Gorham at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. Three outstanding pianists will perform Olivier Messiaean’s “Vingt Regards Sur L’Enfant-Jesus.”
‘West Side Story’
Reading through the credits of the original 1957 Broadway production of “West Side Story” is like reading the roster of an All Star game.
Start with the show’s basic concept and structure by playwright William Shakespeare, as re-imagined in modern New York City by choreographer Jerome Robbins. Then add a script by Arthur Laurents (who also directed), music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. All five of those guys won Tony Awards. (Of course Shakespeare’s Tony was posthumous by several centuries.)
“West Side Story” itself won three Tonys; two major Broadway revivals were staged in 1980 and 2009. It remains among the most-produced pieces of American musical theater at all levels, from professional to amateur. On Friday and Saturday, a national professional touring company will present three performances in Merrill Auditorium under the aegis of Portland Ovations.
The basic plot involves the timeless, heart-wrenching conflict between love and loyalty. In “Romeo and Juliet,” the source of the musical, the conflict is between feuding factions in a city-state of Renaissance Italy; in the case of “West Side Story,” the conflict is between rival street gangs.
“Tonight” and Somewhere” are the most recognizable songs from the soaring score, while” I Feel Pretty,” “America” and “Gee, Officer Krupke” are also major numbers that brilliantly advance the plot and define character and situation. And Robbins’ angular, sometime anguished choreography remains another driving force behind the show’s enduring popularity.
Portland Ovations presents “West Side Story” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall for three performances: Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
The melodic, metallic twang of the dobro is one of the most distinctive and defining sounds of traditional country music and several of its offshoots, including some of today’s top roots artists, such as Mumford and Sons.
The man who put that characteristic twang into thousands of songs on many hundreds of recordings for more than 40 years will be playing this Saturday at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center.
Since the late 1970s, Jerry Douglas has forged a career in the music business with a four-pronged approach. As a virtuoso dobro player, he’s Nashville’s go-to guy for recording sessions, plus he’s a frequent sideman and band mate for luminaries such as bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss and British folk-rocker Marcus Mumford. He’s also one of Music City’s most prolific record producers, with more than a thousand songs and albums to his credit.
Of all the records Douglas has been involved with in any capacity, his biggest-seller was “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the soundtrack to the 2000 film of the same name. The CD sold nearly eight million copies in the U.S.
And finally Douglas fronts his own eponymous band, which recently released “Traveler,” a CD album that was recorded in New Orleans, Nashville and London.
The selections on the CD (released in June) reflect Douglas’ incredibly diverse experience in the roots music business, and it also represents a bit of stretching beyond his familiar comfort zones. “The big idea of this record is to mix in a few more cultures into the pot I’ve been stirring for years,” he comments.
A bit of background: The dobro is a specialized acoustic guitar that is the immediate predecessor to the ubiquitous electric guitar and the pedal steel guitar, which is a staple of traditional country music. Developed in the 1930s, the dobro uses a metallic resonator cone to project a louder sound -- a function that has been largely superseded by electric guitars.
Strings are plucked or strummed with specially designed finger picks. Frequencies (notes) are defined by a steel cylinder that is moved up and down the neck in a sliding motion, rather than by pressing a string against a fret. The instrument’s haunting glissando effect, a complete continuum of frequencies available between the predefined notes, is mostly heard today on the electric pedal steel “Hawaiian” guitar.
For traditionalists, nothing beats the original dobro, which is still manufactured by a division of Gibson Guitars.
Nobody plays the dobro better than Douglas, and he’s been honored seven times by the International Bluegrass Music Association as its Best Instrumental Performer. He’s also an artist in residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
Dave McLaughlin’s Heptunes presents the Jerry Douglas Band at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, 471 Stroudwater St. (at the new middle school) at 8 p.m. Nov. 10. For advance tickets, go to heptunesconcerts.com.
USM School of Music
The magnum opus of one of the most influential French composers of the 20th century will be spotlighted on Friday at the University of Southern Maine.
Olivier Messiaen embodied a unique combination of mystic and musical revolutionary, and his masterpiece dates from 1944: an enormous piano cycle titled “Vingt Regards Sur L’Enfant-Jesus,” which is typically translated as “Twenty Contemplations of Jesus.”
With 20 movements of challenging difficulty, “Vingt Regards” is one of the most ambitious and exhausting piano works ever composed.
Generally, the work is presented on concert programs by a selection of movements. This Friday the entire work will be performed, with the heavy burden of performance shared by three outstanding pianists from southern Maine.
Anastasia Antonacos, a professor at the school, plus Bridget Convey and Chiharu Naruse will perform “Vingt Regards” in remembrance of the 20th anniversary of the composer’s death. Another form of interpretation will be added to this performance: Images will be projected to represent the story and/or meaning of each of the 20 movements.
The concert is slated for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Corthell Concert Hall on the USM Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.