Out & About: 'Annie,' 'Chicago' top summer-stock choices

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It’s hard to imagine two musicals with more disparate themes and aesthetic values than “Annie” and “Chicago,” this week’s top choices for summer-stock theater.

The former show is warm, fuzzy and wonderfully suited for children, while the latter is cold, cynical, angular and full of adult themes and situations.

Professional productions of both these great musicals are currently running in southern Maine. Arundel Barn Playhouse, the archetype of summer stock, is home to “Annie” through July 31, while Maine State Music Theatre has “Chicago” on the boards through Aug. 7 in Brunswick.

Eilen Jewell is a singer-songwriter from the Boston area. She’s got a gig in Freeport this Friday, and somewhat surprisingly, the draw isn’t her own music.

Tom Rush is the very exemplar of the singer-songwriter, active and influential since the 1960s. He visits Harrison on Saturday.


Buoyant optimism and warm-hearted humor are the dominant themes of “Annie,” one of America’s best-loved musicals. Based on the long-running comic strip by Harold Gray, the original Broadway show copped the top three Tony Awards in 1977 (Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score) and ran for six years and 2,377 performances.

Since then, “Annie” has been a staple of school, community and professional theater companies. Arundel Barn Playhouse’s current professional (non-Equity) production will please audiences through Saturday.

With book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, “Annie” retains only two characters from the comic strip and departs from the original story line in many ways. Meehan’s “Annie” revolves around the red-headed waif and her relationship with Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, a kind-hearted multi-billionaire capitalist hero.

Meehan invented the show’s most memorable character, Miss Hannigan, the witch-like director of New York City’s orphanage for girls. Miss Hannigan is a love-starved middle-aged harridan who constantly nips from a handy bottle.

I loved Allie Beckmann’s over-the-top interpretation of this wonderful comic character. Beckmann’s facial expressions and body language are the highlight of the show.

Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) presents “Annie” at various times and dates through July 31. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.


American justice is skewered as a three-ring circus in one of the darkest, funniest, sexiest and most successful Broadway musicals ever written. “Chicago,” with book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb, music by John Kander and lyrics by Ebb, is an exquisite song-and-dance musical that revolves around two starlets who murder husbands and boyfriends and are acquitted in their trials.

Sexy starlets in jail? Celebrity murderers acquitted? If you think this sounds oh-so today, think again. The original non-musical version of “Chicago” was written in 1926 by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a court reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Watkins’ script was based on two sensational murder trials she covered, and the principal characters represent real people.

Although the original musical version was successful, the 1996 restaging holds the record for the longest-running revival in Broadway history – and most Tony Awards for a revival. That production is still running and will hit 5,700 performances next month.

Maine State Music Theatre presents a sensational professional (Equity contract) production of “Chicago” that represents a high point of my summer. Don’t miss MSMT’s “Chicago,” which runs through Aug. 7 in Brunswick.

My favorites among the large, excellent cast are Erin Maguire as a wannabe vaudeville star who shoots her boyfriend shortly after opening curtain then walks free in the penultimate scene. Both slutty and sultry, Maguire commands this wonderful production from curtain to curtain.

This cold-blooded murderess wouldn’t walk free without a lawyer who knows how to razzle-dazzle a jury and bamboozle the adoring press corps, and Curt Dale Clark is perfect in this role. Reporters and the jurors are totally seduced.

Other fine performances are given by Nikki Snelson, Evelyn Starr, Charis Leos and John-Charles Kelly. Kudos also to director Donna Drake, choreographer Rhonda Miller, costume designer Kurt Alger and set designer Charles Kading. The highly angular choreography deliberately exemplifies Fosse’s signature style.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Chicago” at various times and dates through Aug. 7 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit msmt.org.

Eilen Jewell

An up-and-coming singer-songwriter is paying tribute to one of the masters of the art form this Friday. Idaho-born Eilen Jewell, who has been playing on the Boston-area music scene since 2003, has just released her latest CD. Surprisingly, it doesn’t represent her own writing.

Instead, Jewell has chosen to honor Loretta Lynn, the “Queen of Country Music,” who has been one of Nashville’s most successful and enduring singer-songwriters since the 1960s. “Butcher Holler,” which will be released this week on the Signature Sounds label, features Jewell and her band performing 12 classic Lynn tunes.

Lynn is best-known for writing and performing songs that are written from a strong, passionate woman’s point of view. Several exemplars are collected on this tribute album, including “Another Man Loved Me Last Night,” “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind),” “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.”

I’ve been spinning this CD for the past few days and I’m very impressed with Jewell’s effort. Plus I’m very impressed by her attitude that understanding masters of the past is the best way to improve one’s own art in the future.

Hear Eilen Jewell at 8:30 p.m. July 30 at Venue Music Bar, 5 Depot St. in Freeport. Call 865-1780.

Tom Rush

And speaking of masters of the craft of writing and performing, nobody typifies the singer-songwriter better than Tom Rush. Born in Portsmouth, N.H., Rush has been performing professionally since 1961, and became a major figure in the folk music boom later in that decade. Constantly on the road, Rush motors into Deertrees Theatre in Harrison this Saturday.

Although best-known as a singer-songwriter, Rush got his start covering traditional material from America and England. As his fame spread, he gave a boost to fellow artists by covering their first songwriting efforts. Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor are among those Rush helped on his pivotal 1968 album, “The Circle Game.” He’s released 22 albums since 1962, with the latest dating from 2009.

Expect a little bit of everything when Tom Rush plays at 8 p.m. July 31 at Deertrees Theatre, Deertrees Road in Harrison. Call 583-6747.

Sidebar Elements

A murder trial is an exercise in show business in “Chicago,” the celebrated Kander and Ebb Broadway musical that plays through Aug. 7 at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. Curt Dale Clark, as lawyer Billy Flynn, center, demonstrates the defense strategy in a capital case.