Thanksgiving week marks the cusp between the “regular”-season offerings of southern Maine’s arts and entertainment producers and presenters and the blizzard of Christmas and other “holiday”-season happenings.
On the “regular” side of the ledger, there’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” which opened last weekend in South Portland. It’s the best of Irving Berlin’s many Broadway musicals, and Lyric Music Theater has mounted an extraordinarily fine community production.
On the Christmas side of the ledger, there’s Maine State Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” in Portland, and the company promises one of its biggest-ever productions.
University of Southern Maine School of Music has another “holiday” offering, titled “Joyous Sounds For A Festive Season,” slated for Nov. 30 in Portland.
‘Annie Get Your Gun’
“There’s No Business Like Show Business” is the opening number of one of the happiest Broadway musicals ever written, Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun.” It is the masterpiece of the Russian-born composer-lyricist who enjoyed one of the longest and most successful careers in Broadway’s long and glorious history.
With book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields and produced by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, “Annie Get Your Gun” opened in 1946 and ran three years and 1,147 performances, the most of any of Berlin’s creations. (A 1999 revival, with the book revised by Peter Stone, also stayed on the boards for more than 1,000 performances.)
Last weekend, Lyric Music Theater opened an outstanding community production of the show in South Portland. Over the years I’ve seen quite a few community productions of “Annie Get Your Gun,” and Lyric’s current offering is definitely the best.
It’s a show about show business, specifically Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West, a traveling circus-like spectacle that featured cowboys, Indians and horses that played all over America and Europe during the late 1800s into the early 20th century. Top draws included Chief Sitting Bull (of Battle of Little Bighorn notoriety) and two ace sharpshooters, Annie Oakley and Frank Butler.
Oakley and Butler were strong-willed characters who were married for nearly 50 years. How did they hook up? Their monumental battle of the sexes, suitably enhanced for theatrical purposes and lushly scored for the musical stage, is the heart of “Annie Get Your Gun.”
This retrospective framing is one of Stone’s principal revisions to the book; the other is recasting Cody’s troupe of show-biz Indians as real people. In real life, Cody loved the Indians, gave employment to many of them in his Wild West Show and was a champion of their causes.
The score is considered Berlin’s best. The opener is the big ensemble number, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” a rousing tune that has become the unofficial anthem of American theater. There are two comic gems. The first is “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” which highlights Annie’s dirt-poor beginnings in rural Ohio. The second is “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” Oakley’s droll lament on her failures in the romance department.
“The Girl That I Marry,” Butler’s statement of his rather highfalutin expectations of women, and “”They Say It’s Wonderful,” a joyous Oakley-Butler duet, are a pair of lushly romantic tunes.
Lyric has a fine cast of community actors, led by Cory Bucknam in the title role. She’s got a good voice, wonderfully articulate body language and an real empathy and enthusiasm for the part. She’s paired with David Allen Van Duyne as her love interest. Van Duyne sports a fine swagger – essential for the role – and the chemistry between him and the leading lady is palpable.
There are several fine supporting roles. One of the best is Janie Downey Maxwell as the deliciously disportive woman who unsuccessfully competes for Frank’s love. I also liked the secondary romantic pairing, Rebecca Washko and Brandon Pullen, and the four principal male character roles: Vince Knue as Buffalo Bill, Adam Noormand as his general manager, Jeff Newick as arch-rival showman Pawnee Bill and Louis Perrotta as Chief Sitting Bull.
Wil Kilroy, a professor of theater at the University of Southern Maine, directs. Rebekkah Willey music directs and Vanessa Beyland choreographs this large cast.
Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Annie Get Your Gun” through Dec. 4 with 8 p.m. performances Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 799-6509.
Among ballets, by far the most popular is “The Nutcracker,” a Christmas spectacular told in glorious music and dance. It’s also big, and Maine State Ballet’s annual productions in Merrill Auditorium are the region’s largest. Artistic director/choreographer Linda MacArthur Miele likes to involve the maximum numbers that she possibly can.
Try 435. That’s the total number of dancers (270), singers (120) and musicians (45) who will take part in seven performances slated for Thanksgiving weekend and the following. (But not all at once; there are some wholesale cast rotations involved.)
Over the course of the two-weekend run, 270 dancers from Maine State Ballet and other dance schools will perform onstage. They range in age from preschool to advanced adult and live throughout southern Maine, coming from 36 different towns from Arundel, north to Norway and west to Lovell.
The singers come from two ensembles, 90 from the Musica de Filia Girlchoir, and 30 from the Westcustago Youth Chorale. The 45-member orchestra mostly comprises professional musicians, including members of the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
Seven performances are scheduled for Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Nov. 27 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Nov. 28 at 2 p.m.; Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Dec. 5 at 2 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
‘Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season’
The second big holiday offering is the University of Southern Maine School of Music’s annual “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season.” It’s put on in Portland by the USM Chamber Singers, representing the school’s top vocal artists. Chosen through a careful audition process and committed to choral excellence, these undergraduates have accepted a responsibility for musical distinction.
The ensemble, conducted by prof Robert Russell, will perform a cappella music from Renaissance to modern times. Following intermission the singers will perform a selection of seasonal favorites plus the premiere of Jesse Wakeman’s “O magnum mysterium.” Wakeman, of Belfast, is a junior in the music education curriculum at USM.
One performance is slated: Nov. 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Immanuel Baptist Church, 156 High St. in Portland. Call the USM music box office at 780-5555.
Ballerinas twirl and snowflakes swirl in Maine State Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” which runs through Dec. 5 at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.