Out & About: A week to enjoy theater, appreciate dance
Straw-hat theater and a modern dance showcase are the top picks of the tix this week. Tops is "The Drowsy Chaperone" at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. It's a new title for MSMT – its third new title this season.
"Altar Boyz" is another interesting new title. In fact it's a Maine premiere – something that happens quite often at Arundel Barn Playhouse.
Deertrees Theatre and Cultural Center just opened its 10th annual theater festival, and we'll take a look at the next four weekends at that Harrison landmark.
Portland Ballet's annual signature showcase for new, local choreography is slated for this weekend. Expect about 20 new works Aug. 14-15.
‘The Drowsy Chaperone'
Maine State Music Theatre's final offering of the season is far too complicated to describe in detail, but it's very easy to quickly characterize: "The Drowsy Chaperone" is a hoot!
Using an imaginative show-within-a-show format, "The Drowsy Chaperone" recalls days of yore on Broadway, viewed through the eyes and ears of a romantic recluse who never leaves his apartment. He envisions a performance of a musical from the 1920s that revolves around "Feldzieg," the great Broadway impresario, and a number of the people in his cast. When the star announces plans to marry and leave the show, a pair of gangsters are called in to persuade her to call off the wedding and many, many more comic complications follow.
"The Drowsy Chaperone" opened in Broadway in 2006 and garnered 13 Tony Award nominations and won five, including Best Book (by Bob Martin and Don McKellar) and Best Score (by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison).
I'm a huge fan of classic Broadway shows, and MSMT's fully professional (Equity contract) production of "The Drowsy Chaperone" amply sated my seemingly boundless appetite for fanciful characters, tuneful songs and energetic dancing – all artistically revolving around an old-fashioned preposterous plot.
Maine State Music Theatre presents "The Drowsy Chaperone" at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call the box office at 725-8769 or visit msmt.org on the Internet.
Religion is a touchy subject to tackle in a stage musical, but it's occasionally done very successfully.
"Altar Boyz," an Off-Broadway musical that's been playing in New York since 2005, is one of those happy successes. Kevin Davenport wrote the book, based on a concept by Marc Kessler, and both men engaged the songwriting team of Gary Adler and Michael P. Walker to craft the music and lyrics. The result copped the Outer Critics Circle Award for "Best Off Broadway Musical."
As it does so often, Arundel Barn Playhouse is producing the Maine premiere of "Altar Boyz." Producing artistic director Adrienne Wilson Grant is justly proud of her record in that respect. "It's very important that we present to our subscribers something new and different," she said.
"Altar Boyz" is a light-hearted spoof of boy bands, Christian music and popular culture. Using a show-within-a-show format, the dramatic conceit is simple: A five-member boy band from Ohio called Altar Boyz is wrapping up a national tour in Arundel. Using overtly theatrical techniques the show presents the five characters, displays their strengths and reveals their weaknesses in a span of 90 minutes and 12 songs, performed without intermission.
During this 90-minute "concert in Arundel," the book follows a superficial dramatic arc that revolves around a core of fundamental virtues shared by Christians and non-Christians alike.
Altar Boyz runs through Aug. 15 at Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Rd. (just off Route 1). Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com on the Internet.
Deertrees Theatre Festival
When Deertrees Theatre opened in 1936, programming revolved around transporting Broadway actors and New York productions to the sylvan surroundings of Maine's Lake Region. For the past 10 years, that general plan has been revived with an annual August theater festival, revolving around a partnership with a professional New York production team.
I was at Deertrees last weekend for the season opener and had a chance to chat with some of the principals. As always, I was impressed with the quality of the group and the work they do. Here's a brief rundown of the remaining four weeks of the 2009 season:
• "Cobb," a drama by Lee Blessing, Aug. 12-15. Three periods in the life of Ty Cobb, one of baseball's early 20th-century Hall of Famers, are portrayed and contrasted with the career of Oscar Charleston, a top player from the Negro Leagues who was often compared with the Detroit Tigers' superstar.
• "New York Water," a comedy by Sam Roderick, Aug. 19-22. How's this to start a conversation on a first date? "I've lived a very ordinary life. I came from a typical middle class family, my mother an alcoholic, my father a homosexual. I spent three years in an institution, had a bout with drugs, and accidentally killed my grandfather when I was 9." Seeking relief from the New York lifestyle, a couple try escaping the city, first for Iowa, then Los Angeles. But they discover that their myriad social and romantic challenges follow closely behind.
• "Out of Sterno," a comedy by Deborah Zoe Laufer, Aug. 27-29 and Sept. 3-5. Wide-eyed innocence and perfect pedicures collide in this zany new comedy about life and self-image. Dotty's life with her husband is absolutely perfect, a fairy tale that's really happening. When a phone call from a mysterious woman threatens to tear her world apart, Dotty is swept up in a hilarious whirl of characters and she questions what it means to love and to be a "real" woman.
Most theater festival performances are at 8 p.m. Deertrees Theatre is a mile out of Harrison Village on Deertrees Road. Call 583-6747 or visit deertreestheatre.org on the Internet.
"Portland Dances!" is an annual August showcase for local choreographers to strut their stuff on stage. Produced by Portland Ballet, this year's edition offers works by about 20 Maine choreographers. Fourteen of them are returning from prior years, while the others are new to the event this summer.
"'Portland Dances!' has become one of the top events in Maine for area choreographers and dancers to display their talent to the community," Portland Ballet artistic director Eugenia O'Brien said. "Each year, the show provides an exciting blend of humor and light-heartedness mixed with intensity and thought-provoking movement that encourages audience members to expand their understanding, and appreciation, of dance."
The event runs two evenings at John Ford Auditorium at Portland High School, Aug. 14-15 at 7:30 p.m. Call Portland Ballet at 772-9671.