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Out & About: Fall arts season opens with musicals, symphony

Lifestyle

Out & About: Fall arts season opens with musicals, symphony

The annual September slowdown in the performing arts is coming to an end as the fall-winter-spring seasons for several of our area’s producers begins.

Lyric Music Theater began its 2011-2012 program year only a few hours after the autumnal equinox with “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a delightfully light and frothy Broadway tuner that’s based on the movie of the same name.

Nothing says “classical music” better than Beethoven, and that’s how Portland Symphony Orchestra maestro Robert Moody will launch his 2011-2012 season. Ludwig van Beethoven’s celebrated “Emperor” concerto is the featured work, with guest pianist Awadagin Pratt doing the solo honors. You have two opportunities to catch this program: Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening.

But before getting too wrapped up in fall, let’s note that Ogunquit Playhouse, which bills itself as “America’s foremost summer theater,” has been extending its season quite a bit in recent years. The final show of 2011 opened last week and runs nearly a month into the fall. It’s a superb fully professional production one of Broadway’s biggest blockbusters, “Miss Saigon.”

‘Miss Saigon’

A tragic love story set against a sweeping backdrop of history is one of the core concepts of Italian grand opera. It’s also the central idea of “Miss Saigon,” a musical that ran 10 years on Broadway.

Created by a pair of French writers and consciously crafted on the model of Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” “Miss Saigon” is a romantic tragedy that blurs many of the boundaries between Broadway and opera.

It is also one of the most successful musicals in history. Since its 1989 London West End premiere, “Miss Saigon” has been performed in 10 different languages in 19 countries and its total box office numbers have exceeded 31 million people and $1.3 billion.

The show won 29 major theatre honors including three Tonys, four Drama Desk Awards, three Outer Critics Circle Awards and one Theatre World Award.

“Miss Saigon” is the third collaboration between two French writers, composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and librettist/lyricist Alain Boublil. Their prior effort was “Les Miserables,” another mammoth show that had an even longer run than “Miss Saigon.” American lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. was added to the creative team for “Miss Saigon.”

As its final offering of the 2011 season, Ogunquit Playhouse presents and outstanding and profoundly moving, emotionally wrenching production of this masterpiece of musical theater.

The story begins in the final chaotic days of the Vietnam War and ends several years later. The principal characters are an innocent young Vietnamese woman and her lover, an American Marine. Jennifer Paz plays the title character, an appealing woman whose dreams of a better life are dashed by the realities of the conflict. Paz does an outstanding job in taking the audience along on her tragic ride.

Also tops are Gregg Godbrod as the American Marine, and Raul Aranas as a crass, cynical Vietnamese nightclub owner whose principal yearning is to escape his native country and live his perverted version of an American Dream, which consists of money, automobiles, cigarettes, food and television.

Kudos also go to Nik Walker as a fellow Marine, Austin Ku as an evil Vietcong officer and Amanda Rose as the third point of the romantic triangle that ultimately results in the show’s tragic denouement.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “Miss Saigon” through Oct. 23. Call 646-5511.

‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

It’s difficult to imagine a starker contrast between moods and styles than a comparison between “Miss Saigon” and Lyric Music Theater’s season-opener, “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

The latter show is the epitome of light, frothy Broadway entertainment, and Lyric is running an excellent community production through Oct. 8.

The 2000 Broadway show was a stage adaptation of the very successful 1967 musical film of the same title, which starred Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Channing. The book is by Richard Henry Morris, with music by Jeanine Tesori and lyrics by Dick Scanlan.

The setting is New York City during the Roaring Twenties. The plot follows the adventures of Millie, played by Jenny Woodruff, a young lady who arrives from Kansas intent on obtaining a job as the stenographer for a rich, single, handsome businessman – and marrying him. There’s a second ingenue, played by Josephine Cooper, and two leading men, David Aaron Van Duyne and Christopher Ellis. The comic gem of the show is a scheming woman, played by Cynthia O’Neil, while Jennine Cannizzo plays a nightclub singer.

I loved this show. The music is tuneful, the lyrics are clever and bright and the book has a delightful and playful satirical bent. The show is really about the women of the 1920s, with excellent performances given by Woodruff and Cooper.

Jonathan Miele, a man associated with Maine State Ballet, is director and choreographer. The show’s several big dance numbers are definitely the best I’ve ever seen at Lyric during the 20 years that I have been covering this topflight community institution.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Thoroughly Modern Millie” through Oct. 8 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Two of the best-known pieces of the classical repertoire plus an exemplar of modern minimalism will be featured on the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s first program of the 2011-2012 season. Maestro Robert Moody will conduct, and the concerts (two dates) will also feature pianist Awadagin Pratt as soloist.

The PSO’s 83rd season will open with Michael Torke’s “Bright Blue Music.” Torke is a 50-year-old contemporary American composer who is known for twin influences: jazz and minimalism. “Bright Blue Music” promises to be both colorful and vibrant.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, known as the “Emperor,” will follow. In 1992, soloist Pratt became the first African-American pianist to win the prestigious Naumberg International Piano Competition. A music professor at the University of Cincinnati, Pratt is also known for his unconventional sartorial choices and his dreadlocks, two traits that he believes help break down barriers to classical music for younger audience members.

Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 presents the 19th-century German composer at his most passionate and joyful. The composer himself led the orchestra for its 1885 debut. It was well received and has been a staple of the classical orchestral literature ever since.

Portland Symphony Orchestra presents its season-opening program twice at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Oct. 2 at 2:30 p.m. and Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.