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Out & About: Monster and magician top holiday fare

Lifestyle

Out & About: Monster and magician top holiday fare

Holiday A&E fare takes some unusual forms this week.

Most intriguing is an original play, “The Legend of the Golem,” written by longtime Portland theater activist Michael Levine. The Golem is a benevolent monster-like creature who saved thousands of Jews in 16th-century Europe; in Levine’s tale he reawakens to save one doubting soul in the 20th. Catch it in Westbrook through Dec. 23.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s annual Magic of Christmas concerts, Dec. 14-23, feature a master magician in addition to maestro Robert Moody and his troupe of 80-odd musicians plus choruses.

Renaissance Voices is a fine choral group that performs an unusual annual program in Portland Dec. 15-16.

Christmas With Cornils is another annual holiday concert, slated for Dec. 18 in Portland. This year’s special difference is the venue. For the first time ever, the celebration takes place outside of Merrill Auditorium.

‘The Legend of the Golem’

A new holiday tradition is emerging in southern Maine. For the past two years, Michael Levine, the producing artistic director of Westbrook-based Acorn Productions, has mounted a Jewish-themed play for the December holiday season.

For his third effort in the series, Levine has written a fascinating new play that builds upon a Jewish tale that dates from the 16th century: “The Legend of the Golem.” Like many holiday classics of its genre, the appeal of Levine’s play is its imaginative clash between fantasy, faith, love and reality.

In Jewish tradition, a golem is a clay figurine that takes on life. The most famous was the Golem of Prague, who saved the city’s Jewish population during a pogrom in the 1500s.

Levine’s play takes place in impoverished Jewish household in Poland about 1920. The protagonist is a poor tailor who is struggling with a constant lack of money, increasing lack of faith plus a growing multitude of family challenges.

A mysterious stranger visits during the family Seder one night, and introduces the tailor to the Golem of Prague, who’s been sleeping for centuries in the attic of the local synagogue. In Levine’s tale, the Golem comes to life. He’s a very large but cooperative monster who helps the frightened tailor overcome many of his difficulties.

A cast of six brings this interesting piece of stagecraft to life, with Josh Brassard playing the poor tailor and David Handwerker in the title role. My pick for best actor goes to Brenda Chandler, playing the tailor’s long-suffering wife.

Acorn Productions presents “The Legend of the Golem” at its studio theater at 90 Bridge St. in Westbrook through Dec. 23 with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Call 854-0065.

Magic of Christmas

The Portland Symphony Orchestra’s annual Magic of Christmas concerts have been a Port City family tradition for decades, and I’ve been going for the past 20 years.

But “magic” has always been interpreted metaphorically. Until this year. For 2012’s Magic of Christmas concerts, scheduled Dec. 14-23, PSO maestro Robert Moody has hired a magician as the featured guest artist.

Billed as “America’s premier female illusionist,” Lynn Dillies has earned national acclaim for her “Magic At The Symphony” program, which helps inspire children to enjoy the orchestral experience through colorful illusions.

Other guests include the Windham Chamber Singers. Led by Richard Nickerson and comprising 40 students from Windham High School, this group is in its 24th year. The Windham Chamber Singers have been lauded through the years for their performances at international music festivals, for U.S. presidents, celebrities and other notables.

And don’t forget the regulars: The 130-voice Magic of Christmas Chorus has been part of the show since its inception.

Musical programming includes holiday favorites and light classical works that are appropriate to winter. A featured piece is an excerpt from Arcangelo Corelli’s “Christmas Concerto.” George Frideric Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” are among the perennial favorites. Expect some extra exuberance in the costuming department during the latter.

Eleven performances of Magic of Christmas are scheduled Dec. 14-23 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Renaissance Voices

Twenty-one voices rise in joy and exultation in an extraordinarily beautiful venue. That’s what’s in store for those who attend Renaissance Voices’ two Christmas concerts this weekend in St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland.

I’ve been attending this annual concert for the past several years, and it’s truly an extraordinary experience.

Renaissance Voices is a 21-member ensemble that was formed 19 years ago by a group of Maine singers on tour in Europe. The group performs primarily a cappella, with a repertory that ranges from the medieval period to the present.

Since 2000 the ensemble has been under the baton of Harold Stover, a Juilliard School-trained organist who’s best known in Portland as the music director at Woodfords Church.

This weekend’s program includes pieces written during the Renaissance in four cultural regions. Orlando di Lasso represents the Franco-Flemish tradition, Giovanni Palestrina was an Italian master musician, Thomas Weelkes represents the English school and Michael Praetorius, a German, is regarded by many as the epitome of Renaissance music.

The program also embraces modern aesthetics, with “Little Road to Bethlehem,” written by 20th-century British composer Michael Head.

A normal part of Renaissance Voices’ concerts is readings of poetry and prose, interpolated throughout. Some of these are slyly humorous takes on the Christmas season.

Catch this concert Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St. in Portland. Call 729-4958.

Christmas with Cornils

For decades the “Christmas with Cornils” concerts have been a showcase for the Kotzschmar Memorial Organ and organist extraordinaire Ray Cornils.

But the mighty Kotzschmar was dismantled last summer and shipped to Connecticut for a two-year, multi-million-dollar refurbishment and rebuilding. So what’s happening in the meantime?

The “Christmas with Cornils” tradition will continue this year in another visually spectacular venue with its own wonderful organ: the Cathedral of St. Luke. Programming is pretty much the same as in prior years. Cornils’ guests will include the Kotzschmar Festival Brass, the Parish Ringers (a handbell choir from Brunswick) and Renaissance Voices.

Musical works are chosen for their sonic magnificence and holiday significance, with pieces ranging in character from the Baroque to the present, including an audience sing-along.

Catch this concert at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 at St. Luke’s Cathedral, 143 State St. in Portland. Call Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ at 553-4363.