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Out & About: Music, theater and musical theater

Lifestyle

Out & About: Music, theater and musical theater

The January arts-and-entertainment doldrums are over, with a plethora of top-notch happenings in music, theater and musical theater coming up over the next week.

The big musical event is the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s first 2011 concert. On Jan. 25, maestro Robert Moody will step up to the podium and conduct a concerto by Sergei Prokofiev, a symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich and a newly commissioned work by South Freeport composer Elliott Schwartz.

Good Theater is presenting “Is There Fat In That?” through Jan 23. It’s a powerful, compelling one-woman show that focuses on many issues, ranging from eating disorders to personal identity. It’s a top choice in theater.

Portland Ovations presents one of American musical theater’s most beloved shows on Jan. 22: “Fiddler on the Roof.” Set around the turn of the 20th century in czarist Russia, this show revolves around the towering figure of a humble dairyman who struggles to cope with a changing world.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The Portland Symphony Orchestra returns from its extended holiday hiatus with its first program of 2011 on Jan. 25.

The two big and famous works on the program are a piano concerto by Sergei Prokofiev and a symphony by Dmitri Shostakovich, but local interest will be centered on a newly commissioned piece by Elliott Schwartz, who taught music for many years at Bowdoin College and is generally regarded as the dean of Maine composers.

Jan. 19 marks his 75th birthday, a temporal milestone that is central to the new work, which is titled “Diamond Jubilee.” It’s basically a retrospective of Schwartz’s life and times recounted in his own distinctive musical idiom.

“The grand plan was to use the occasion of the birthday as a sort of springboard for a piece of music which is based on my memories of the past 75 years,” Schwartz said.

Although he eschews the notion of creating a biographical work, he notes that has woven references to his own musical journey from his childhood to the present day throughout the 18-minute piece.

Each of the three movements corresponds to a quarter-century time span, with references to 1936, 1961, 1986 and 2011. “Each movement alternates between newly created passages and flashbacks to my own music composed over the years, including a few works written for the Portland Symphony,” Schwartz added.

Two major works by 20th-century Russian composers fill the balance of Moody’s program. Guest artist Andrew von Oeyen will join the symphony for Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, a work that is characterized by orchestral and pianistic brilliance. Von Oeyen is a 31-year-old American pianist with a mile-long resume, who has garnered his share of praise.

“Brilliant technique can be taken for granted among today’s concert pianists, but von Oeyen’s playing goes a step further,” wrote Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rheim. “He leaves you convinced that he can do absolutely anything he likes with a keyboard.”

The evening will conclude with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, a politically charged composition that dates from the Stalin era; its crowd-pleasing lyricism masks hidden messages of protest and anger.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Is There Fat In That?’

Some people’s lives are defined by epic struggles with drugs or alcohol. For at least one woman the personal demon is Drake’s Ring Dings.

That’s the quick take on the wonderful retrospective comic drama being presented through this Sunday at Portland’s Good Theater. Ellen Domingos, a 37-year-old former model, recounts key moments of her life on the stage and the runway in a one-woman play titled “Is There Fat In That?”

Eating disorders and related personal issues – such as defining personal identity and seeking self-esteem – are central to Domingos’ play, which she co-wrote with Good Theater artistic director Brian Allen.

Magnetically attracted to the stage at an early age – she first met Allen when he was managing director at Maine State Music Theatre and she had a child’s role in “South Pacific” – Domingos sought fame and fortune in New York as both an actress and model.

Concern about her weight led to a frustrating, dangerous decade that was defined by a roller-coaster ride of crash diets and eating binges.

Domingos’ dark story is told in words and music. Most of the dozen-plus songs come from Broadway shows. These include “N.Y.C.” (from “Annie”), “I Hope I Get It” (from “A Chorus Line”) and “Food Glorious Food” (from “Oliver”). Domingos has a superb, slightly darkly tinged mezzo-soprano voice and her delivery is flawless on most of these musical numbers.

But the real attraction is Domingos’ compelling story line and her fearless sincerity, which is absolutely riveting throughout the approximately 80-minute show.

Good Theater presents “Is There Fat In That?” through Jan. 23 at with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 885-5883.

‘Fiddler on the Roof’

Among the 200 or so different musicals that I have seen over the years, “Fiddler on the Roof” stands out as one of my personal favorites, and I’ve seen it quite a few times. A national touring production of “Fiddler on the Roof” is coming to Portland this Saturday, thanks to Portland Ovations.

Loosely based on the stories of Sholom Alecheim, the 1964 Broadway smash hit was written by Joseph Stein (book), Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) and Jerry Bock (music). The original production garnered 10 Tony Awards, including all the major ones. For a time in the 1970s, “Fiddler on the Roof” held the record as the longest-running musical in Broadway history.

Set in a Ukrainian village on the eve of the Russian Revolution, the story line follows an unlikely hero: a humble Jewish dairyman whose deep faith and love of traditional ways is continually challenged by the changes in the world around him. Plus he’s got six women to contend with – his devoted wife and five daughters.

The story is both funny and mesmerizing, while the musical numbers sweep audiences into a wonderful imaginary world that is live theater at its pinnacle.

Portland Ovations presents two performances of a national touring production of “Fiddler on the Roof” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall on Jan. 22 at 2 and 7 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.