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Out & About: ‘Young Frankenstein’ is monstrously funny musical

Lifestyle

Out & About: ‘Young Frankenstein’ is monstrously funny musical

Theatrical offerings lead the arts and entertainment calendar this week.

Tops is Lyric Music Theater’s current community production of Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein,” a monstrously funny re-imagining of the famous Mary Shelley horror story and its subsequent Hollywood film versions.

The Maine Playwrights Festival presents an opportunity for up-and-coming dramatists to present their work to live audiences. Now in its 13th year, the MPF is larger than ever, with 19 local authors represented. The festival’s public events, which run through May 4, also involve dozens of actors, directors and crew.

Portland String Quartet plans its final offering of the 2013-2014 subscription season this Sunday. Holocaust Remembrance is the theme, and the PSQ’s program includes a work that was written in a German Nazi concentration camp.

‘Young Frankenstein’

Mel Brooks is one of the most incredibly talented creative forces in the world, one of only a handful of men who can boast a Grammy, an Emmy, an Oscar and a Tony. In the world of Broadway, he’s one of a handful of men who has won a Tony for book, music and lyrics. Brooks’ “The Producers” is Broadway’s all-time top show in terms of Tony Awards: no fewer than a dozen.

“Young Frankenstein” was the follow-up to “The Producers,” using virtually the identical creative team, which was of course centered around Brooks himself as the sole or co-writer of book, music and lyrics.

“Young Frankenstein,” based on Brooks’ 1974 film of the same name, wasn’t as successful on Broadway, but it is nevertheless a wonderfully funny and tuneful musical comedy. Lyric Music Theater is currently running an exceptionally fine community production in South Portland.

In terms of plot, “Young Frankenstein” is a reworking of the familiar story, updated to 1931 and revolving around the grandson of the original (fictional) Dr. Frankenstein. The grandson is a New York brain surgeon who reluctantly inherits the Transylvanian castle and continues his grandfather’s work.

Lyric’s production boast some fine actors, beginning with Jason Phillips in the title role and John Ambrose has his assistant, the hunchback Igor. I also liked Adam Gary Normand as the (unnamed) monster and Amy Torrey as a self-centered New York socialite-celebrity.

My personal picks for best in show are Jennine Cannizzo as Frau Blucher, who is hilarious as the lady of the castle, and Janelle LoSciuto, voluptuously playing the doctor’s blonde bombshell laboratory assistant.

This is a big production, with numerous sets that are frequently changed. Don Smith designed the sets and also directs the show, ably assisted by music director Sylvia Infantine, who leads a seven-member pit orchestra.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer Road in South Portland, presents “Young Frankenstein” through May 3 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

Maine Playwrights Festival

Nineteen playwrights, 45 actors and 10 directors: Those are some of the relevant numbers for the 13th annual Maine Playwrights Festival, which runs through May 4 in Portland. A creation of Westbrook-based Acorn Productions, the MPF is our state’s largest opportunity for aspiring dramatists to present recent and in-progress work to the public.

In the past, numerous graduates of the festival have gone on to write and produce their plays in state, regional and national forums.

There are a variety of formats for the festival’s 11 presentations. Two compilations of short plays – dubbed the “Alpha Show” and the “Omega Show” – are performed on alternating nights. Each includes about a dozen plays.

There is one reading of a full-length work: “What If ...” by Linda Britt, which involves four actors directed by Nate Speckman. Here is the playwright’s synopsis: “An after-dinner game turns dangerous as alcohol flows freely and the participants reveal closely-held secrets, leading to betrayal and an unexpected resolution.” (Anyone for a rethinking of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”)

The “24-Hour Theatre Project” creates six new plays from scratch, rehearses each and performs each within a strict one-day timeframe.

All events are slated for the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland.

Portland String Quartet

Sixty-nine years ago this spring, World War II ended in Europe as the Allied armed forces overran Nazi Germany, advancing from the east, west and south. In the process of defeating the Nazis, numerous concentration camps were liberated, revealing the incredible horrors of the Holocaust.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is the theme of the Portland String Quartet’s final concert of its 2013-2014 subscription season. The centerpiece is “Music from Terezin,” a compilation of works written by inmates of one of those concentration camps.

The Terezin concentration camp was located in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and was initially set up as a model community of Jewish intellectuals – a place that could withstand the scrutiny of the outside world. Nevertheless, an estimated 33,000 people died at the camp, and many times that number were transferred from Terezin for execution elsewhere.

As explained by Will Hertz, the PSQ’s longtime program annotator, the Holocaust Remembrance Day concert includes music by four Terezin composers, collected by Joza Karas, a Polish-born American composer who is devoted to uncovering the music of composers in Nazi concentration camps. The music was included in a volume titled “The Terezin Collection: Music for String Quartet,” published in 1991 and recorded by the Audubon String Quartet.

None of the four are well-known composers. Three died in Terezin, while the fourth was among the 17,000 survivors when the Russian army liberated the camp on May 9, 1945.

“Music from Terezin” will be sandwiched between two works by well-known composers. The concert will open with a pair of short pieces by Felix Mendelssohn, which Hertz notes were probably intended for inclusion in a larger work that never materialized.

The concert will conclude with Ernest Bloch’s String Quartet No. 1. Bloch was one of the 20th century’s foremost composers of chamber music. Born a Jew in Switzerland, he emigrated to this country in 1916 and taught music for many years in U.S. colleges and conservatories. The PSQ has recorded the entire Bloch series of string quartets.

Hertz notes that Bloch’s String Quartet No. 1 dates from a period when Bloch especially emphasized and celebrated his Jewish heritage.

Catch the Portland String Quartet at 2 p.m. April 27 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call the LARK Society at 761-1522.