Out & About: A feast of musical theater in Portland

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Musical theater takes a pair of tasty turns this weekend in Portland.

The biggest and flashiest event takes place Sunday, when a national touring production of “The Mikado,” a melodically delicious and visually scrumptious English operetta, plays Merrill Auditorium as part of Portland Ovations’ 2010-2011 season.

A few blocks downhill and down in the basement, find tasty dollops of musical theater at Anthony’s Italian Kitchen, where proprietor/producer/restaurateur Tony Barrasso has spiced up his dinner-theater offerings with “There Is Nothing Like A Dame.” The Old Port restaurant is offering a four-course dinner interpolated with four delectable dames.

On Saturday afternoon in Gorham, the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra gives its annual spring show, featuring internationally known mezzo-soprano Margaret Yauger.

‘There Is Nothing Like A Dame’

Of all the wonderful tunes from “South Pacific,” the famous and oft-produced 1949 classic Broadway musical that revolves around characters in the U.S. Navy during World War II, none is more memorable than “There Is Nothing Like A Dame,” a melodic comic gem about a crew of likable and lovesick sailors longing for a woman.

But what if that celebrated song were performed by a group of women? That fascinating out-of-the-box possibility is the dramatic device that powers a new dinner theater offering at Anthony’s Italian Kitchen in the heart of Portland’s Old Port.

Proprietor/restaurateur/showman Tony Barrasso, the affable patriarch of a very thespian family, has been producing dinnertime musical shows for about seven years. Recently he teamed up with Brian P. Allen, artistic director of Good Theater, to add some spice the offerings.

Allen, who has been a major figure in Maine theater for about 30 years, drew on his vast experience, called on some of his favorite local professional show people and crafted a wonderful evening of musical entertainment around their talents.

The result is “There Is Nothing Like A Dame,” a fresh and delightful evening of dinner theater centered around four women – three singers plus a pianist/music director – performing Broadway tunes that were originally written for male characters.

I’ve been admiring Allen’s talents for about 20 years and I’ve always liked his vision, his casting and his direction. Plus we’re both self-described “show tune geeks.” With “Dame,” Allen scores another success in my book.

His gender-bending gimmick is the show’s driving creative force and the attention-grabber. It opens with “Dame” performed by the trio of dames: Kelly Caufield, Deb Hall and Laura Hurd. Accompanist is Vicky Stubbs, who’s worked with Allen for years. It garners lots of laughs and is the perfect show-starter – and show-stopper.

Other comic songs in this ilk performed by the trio include “It Takes A Woman” from “Hello, Dolly!” and “Standing On The Corner (Watching All The Girls Go By”) from “The Most Happy Fella.”

But beyond the comic gems suggested by the “Dames” gimmick, I also enjoyed a number of other songs that suggested the universal qualities of human emotion and longing – whether sung by men or women. These include Caufield’s dramatic interpretation of “Corner Of The Sky” from “Pippin” and Hurd’s sad-clown rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” from “Chicago.” Hall’s moving performance of “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face” from “My Fair Lady” also belongs in this category.

“Dames” follows a three-part format interpolated among a four-course dinner of soup, antipasto, main dish and dessert. It was a thoroughly delicious and delightful evening.

“Dames” is scheduled to run at 7 p.m. April 15-16 at Anthony’s Italian Kitchen, 151 Middle St. in Portland. Call 221-2267. A June reprise of “Dames” is in the works, but dates haven’t been finalized.

‘The Mikado’

Of the dozen or so operettas written by librettist William Schwenck Gilbert and composer Arthur Seymour Sullivan during the late 19th century, none is more beloved than “The Mikado,” a wonderful satire of English society and British social norms that’s implausibly set in Japan.

The utterly fanciful story is typical of operettas of this period and written in the style of the West End music halls. It debuted in London in 1885 and has been in constant production around the world ever since. I’ve seen “The Mikado” many times and love this show.

Bursting with catchy, melodic tunes and incredibly inventive lyrics, “The Mikado” will be performed this Sunday, thanks to a national touring production that’s hosted by Portland Ovations.

The plot centers around a handsome and likable young prince in search of true love. To assure himself that he’s loved for his own merits – and not his exalted position as the royal son of Japan’s mighty Mikado – he disguises himself as an impoverished wandering minstrel.

Needless to say, the disguised prince finds his true love, but not before overcoming a series of melodic and comic obstacles that are thrown up by Poo-Bah, a money-grubbing and officious government bureaucrat and religious divine who holds multiple offices and titles. And before the happily-ever-after ending with his beloved, the prince must also navigate the romantic shoals of a truly formidable older female who also vies for his affection, an unforgettable comic character who won’t take no for an answer.

Portland Ovations presents “The Mikado” at 4 p.m. April 17 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra

The Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra is one of the largest student ensembles at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. Directed by professor Rob Lehmann – who heads the school’s strings program and also teaches conducting – and featuring a distinguished professional opera singer, the SMSO will give its annual spring concert this Saturday in Gorham.

Lehmann’s program comprises four works of varying periods, styles and challenges: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Paris” symphony, Georges Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne” Suite No. 2 and Gustav Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer.”

USM artist faculty member Margaret Yauger is the featured soloist for “Songs of a Wayfarer.” Yauger was the leading mezzo-soprano of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Dusseldorf (Germany) for 10 years where she performed in more than 18 productions. She has performed with the Opera houses of Freiburg, Hannover, Karisruhe, Krefeld, and Wiesbaden in Germany, the Teatro Regio in Torino, Italy, in Mexico with the Mexico City Opera and in Spain with the Bilbao Opera. Locally I’ve seen her several times in PORTopera’s midsummer productions.

Catch this concert at 2 p.m. April 16 at the Gorham Middle School, 106 Weeks Road in Gorham. Call the USM music box office at 780-5555.

Sidebar Elements

“Three Little Maids” is one of the scenes from “The Mikado,” a classic English operetta that’s offered this Sunday by Portland Ovations.