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Out & About: Outstanding out-of-the-box musicals

Lifestyle

Out & About: Outstanding out-of-the-box musicals

A pair of out-of-the-box musicals are the top choices this week in the performing arts.

At Portland’s Good Theater, “Striking 12” is a clever and tuneful re-imagining of a classic tale by Hans Christian Andersen. “Striking 12” is more than totally out-of-the-box; it’s strikingly good.

“Nine” is an out-of-the-box musical re-imagining of a classic Federico Fellini film, with a Tony Award-winning score by Maury Yeston. A superb community production is running at Lyric Music Theater in South Portland.

Blueswoman Rory Block will be plying her musical trade at One Longfellow Square in Portland this Friday.

And with Thanksgiving coming earlier than usual this year, so does the Christmas season of arts and entertainment. Every year one of the season’s top choices is Maine State Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” which opens a two-weekend run in Portland on Saturday.

‘Striking 12’

“Does anybody need some light tonight?” is the poignant and plaintive refrain of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic tragic character, “The Little Match Girl.” Her cry also serves as the thematic undercurrent of “Striking 12,” the wonderful Off-Broadway musical by Good Theater that’s selling out Portland’s St. Lawrence Arts Center. It’s a Maine premiere that belongs on your must-do list.

“Striking 12” is a brilliant reworking of Andersen’s 19th-century tale, cleverly updated to 21st-century America and given a tuneful and contemporary musical twist by the creative team of Brendan Milburn, Rachel Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda.

The team has worked all sorts of thespian gimmicks into “Striking 12.” Its basic conceit involves temporal legerdemain that crisscrosses centuries and continents and includes a play within a play and breaking the “fourth wall.” Gimmick-laden shows don’t usually impress me, but this one really works brilliantly.

The central character is The Man (Ryan Duncan), a 30-something bachelor business executive who has had his fill of false holiday cheer and vows to spend New Year’s Eve alone. Shortly after retiring to his apartment, he is visited by a 21st-century version of The Little Match Girl (Kelly Caufield). Soon the original character appears, wandering the streets of Copenhagen in the 1830s. The two tales intertwine through story, song and dance and the result is theatrical magic.

Six actors and five musicians – grouped in the center of the stage – combine forces for this fully professional production, helmed by Good Theater co-founder and artistic director, Brian P. Allen.

“Does anybody need some light tonight?” Good Theater’s production gives a resounding and brilliant “yes” to this question.

Good Theater presents “Striking 12” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) through Dec. 9. Call 885-5883 or visit goodtheater.com to check for ticket availability.

‘Nine’

Is “Nine” an unconventional and out-of-the-box musical? Start with the casting: one man, one boy and 21 women. Add an utterly minimal set.

It’s also unconventionally good. The original 1982 Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Musical and composer-lyricist Maury Yeston also won the Tony for Best Original Score. Lyric Music Theater is currently running an inspired community production.

The basic idea is portraying an artistic genius (the lone man) in the throes of a midlife crisis, watching as he desperately turns to the many women in his life – wife, mother, mistress, former mistress, etc. – in hope of rekindling his creativity and saving his professional career.

The script, by Arthur Kopit, was based on Italian film director Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical movie, “8 1/2.” Yeston’s score is scintillating, with lush melodies and sophisticated, funny lyrics.

Tops among the cast are David Surkin as the film director in crisis, Susan Tremblay as his long-suffering wife and Celeste Green as his curvaceous and salacious mistress. Special notice is earned by Kristin Riley in the top comic role. Ray Dumont ably directs this sprawling show and always keeps the pace moving.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Nine” through Dec. 1 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

Rory Block

There will be no Black Friday for me. I plan to spend the day on the ski slopes and the evening at One Longfellow Square, where veteran blueswoman Aurora “Rory” Block will be holding forth with her own acclaimed brand of the traditional Mississippi Delta blues.

Block has earned her place on the American music scene. Since starting as a teenager in New York’s Greenwich Village, she’s been almost constantly traveling, studying and recording. She’s released more than 20 albums in her long career. Among her honors, Block is a five-time winner at the annual Blues Music Awards.

Catch Rory Block in concert at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. Nov. 23. Call 761-1757.

‘The Nutcracker’

The biggest Christmas show in town. That’s the executive summary for Maine State Ballet’s 36th annual production of “The Nutcracker.” Featuring a huge cast, live orchestra and elegant costumes, this is a big, big colorful event.

I revisited this show in 2011 after the absence of a few years, and I was thrilled with the experience. If you haven’t seen MSB’s “Nutcracker” recently, I urge you to go.

Artistic direction for this (and the past 35) productions is MSB co-founder Linda MacArthur Miele, a former dancer with New York City Ballet under the direction of the legendary George Balanchine. Miele herself danced in “The Nutcracker” more than 400 times at Lincoln Center, and she is licensed to reproduce Balanchine’s copyrighted choreography for several key scenes.

Dancers are drawn from MSB’s teaching staff and students. They range from pre-schoolers to fully professional adult dancers. Principal dancers (and real-life husband and wife) Glenn and Janet Davis reprise their roles as the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Kate Bennett also reprises her role as Sugar Plum Fairy, splitting time with Janet Davis. Two gifted teenagers, Shannon Dunbar of Portland and Adrienne Pelletier of Raymond, alternate performances in the coveted role of Clara, while Scarborough’s Maiki Saito flies high as the Russian Cossack.

The total number is of dancers is just shy of 300, but because of rotating casts, not all appear on stage together. The live orchestra, playing Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s dazzling score, numbers almost 40.

Maine State Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall for seven performances: Nov. 24 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Nov. 25 at 2 p.m., Nov. 30 at 7 p.m., Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.