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Out & About: 'Once Upon a Mattress' in South Portland

Lifestyle

Out & About: 'Once Upon a Mattress' in South Portland

A classic musical comedy from the middle of the 20th century takes center stage this week in the arts and entertainment calendar. Lyric Music Theater’s current community production of “Once Upon a Mattress” is a very funny and very tuneful fairy tale for adults. It’s based on the classic yarn of “The Princess and the Pea.”

Portland Symphony Orchestra has its annual major choral work scheduled for March 5. Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation” will be presented with the Masterworks Chorus of the Choral Art Society as featured vocal ensemble, three solo vocalists plus guest maestro Donald Neuen on the podium.

One Longfellow Square has a topnotch instrumentalist slated for Saturday: Johnny A, who ranks among America’s guitar gods.

‘Once Upon a Mattress’

What a hoot! That was my first impression of “Once Upon a Mattress,” the exceedingly funny Broadway musical comedy that’s running through this weekend at Lyric Music Theater. If the latest turns in the weather have you longing for some belly laughs, turn to this wonderful community production.

Dating from 1959, “Once Upon a Mattress” is based on the classic fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea.” With script by Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer, lyrics by Barer and music by Mary Rodgers (daughter of legendary Broadway composer Richard Rodgers) “Once Upon a Mattress” has become a staple of community and school companies.

The libretto is characterized by campy satire performed by overdrawn, overblown characters and several delightfully surprising turns of the plot. Tops in Lyric’s community production are John Robinson as Prince Dauntless, who is played as an overgrown schoolboy, and Crystal Giordano as Princess Winifred, a loudmouthed comedienne who also serves as the show’s improbably forward ingenue.

I also liked several of the supporting actors, especially Patricia Davis, as the domineering Queen Aggravain, and John Schrank as her long-suffering husband, King Sextimus the Silent. Kudos also to Vince Knue as The Minstrel and Joe Swenson as The Jester.

Director Michael Donovan maintains the fast pace this style of show requires to succeed. Lyric’s costumer, Louise Keezer, also excels in her longtime role.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Once Upon a Mattress” at 8 p.m. March 1-2. Call 799-1421.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Two decades ago, Robert Moody was an aspiring young musician who boasted formidable talents both as a cellist and vocalist. Torn between the prospects of choosing one career over the other, the high school sophomore had a revelation at the South Carolina All State Chorus Festival.

Performing a work conducted by Donald Neuen, Moody recalled that the combined forces of the instrumentalists and the chorus vastly exceeded the sum of the parts. And Moody’s eureka moment was seeing the conductor’s role in melding instrumental and choral music into an awe-inspiring combination.

It was a life-changing moment, Moody recalled recently, and his career path became clear. He would become a conductor. A few years later Neuen became his teacher and mentor when Moody studied conducting at the Eastman School.

Now Moody is returning the favor by inviting Neuen to conduct the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s annual late winter choral concert. One work will be performed: Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation,” a magnificent masterpiece that was inspired by George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.”

Like “Messiah,” Haydn worked from an English-language libretto that comprised excerpts from very well-known works. For “The Creation” he used two books of the Bible – Genesis and Psalms – plus sections of John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost.”

The oratorio leads listeners from primal darkness and chaos, through the six days of Biblical creation, to the earthly paradise of the Garden of Eden. The composer’s genius is evident at the outset.

“Haydn’s introduction to the work, for orchestra alone, is one of the most astonishing pieces of music every composed,” PSO program annotator Mark Rohr writes. “This is the ‘Representation of Chaos,’ before creation, and to say it was ahead of its time is to understate the case.”

Over the course of “The Creation,” Haydn musically develops the elements of the text in myriad and fascinating ways. For example, one passage mimics the waves on the ocean, while the section on the creation of the animals evokes a delightful musical zoo.

Taken as a whole, “The Creation” is an overwhelming work. “The spaciousness of his design, the rich colors of his orchestra palette, his harmonic genius and his devotion to the text all combine into an awe-inspiring grandeur full of glory and profound thanksgiving,” according to Rohr.

Three soloists have been engaged: soprano Lisa Saffer, tenor John McVeigh and bass Laurence Albert. Saffer and McVeigh are Maine residents, and both enjoy thriving careers on the global operatic circuit. Both have performed with the PSO and other Maine musical organizations numerous times. Albert made his professional debut with the Detroit Opera in 1977, and has since performed a repertoire of over 50 operatic roles.

Neuen currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Choral Conducting and Director of Choral Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. In addition, Neuen regularly directs the UCLA Chorale and the UCLA Chamber Singers and is the artistic director of the Angeles Chorale.

The Masterworks Chorus, directed by University of Southern Maine professor Robert Russell, is part of the larger Choral Art Society, southern Maine’s largest ensemble devoted to singing.

Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “The Creation” at 7:30 p.m. March 5 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Johnny A.

As a guitarist, how do you know when you’ve reached such a pinnacle of success that you deserve the title "guitar god?"

Let me suggest one good criteria: when a major guitar manufacturer, such as Gibson, puts your name on one of its models.

Johnny A., namesake of the Gibson Johnny A. – a hollow-bodied long-necked electric guitar – will be appearing this Saturday at One Longfellow Square.

A veteran of the Boston music scene – and one-time Portland resident – Johnny A. and his band are blues musicians who simultaneously emphasize melody and fiery instrumental wizardry in a repertoire that combines well-known covers and self-penned tunes. He boasts one of the most distinctive voices in modern American music – and he doesn’t sing a note.

Johnny A. has been nominated for the Boston Music Awards’ Blues Musician of the Year, and on Saturday he will be playing selections from his latest CD, “One November Night.”

Catch Johnny A. at 8 p.m. March 2 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.