Theater dominates the top of the arts and entertainment offerings as the mid-point of March passes and the calendar inexorably marches toward spring. Two professional theatrical productions are highly recommended.
First is “Bedroom Farce,” a comic masterpiece by Alan Ayckbourn, a British comic playwright who has penned more than 70 laughers for the stage. Good Theater’s current production, which opened last weekend in Portland, is good for loads of laughs.
“Avenue Q” is a three-time Tony Award-winning musical that features a number of adult themes – plus a number of foam rubber puppet characters. Portland Ovations is hosting a national touring production on March 24.
“A Chorus Line” is one of Broadway’s most highly decorated musicals. Portland Players mounted a community production of this 10-time Tony Award-winner last weekend in South Portland. It’s not as successful as I’d wished, but it’s still worth seeing.
On the musical front, Portland Symphony Orchestra has an interesting concert slated for Sunday. It’s titled “Three B’s” – but they aren’t the same three B’s that are traditionally associated with classical ensembles.
In this country, Alan Ayckbourn is often referred to as “the British Neil Simon,” an exceptionally clever playwright whose work is characterized by deft plots and incisive comic wit. But across the Atlantic, Neil Simon might be referred to as the American Alan Ayckbourn.
With more than 70 plays to his credit, Ayckbourn is Britain’s most successful modern comic playwright. Good Theater is currently producing one of Ayckbourn’s best.
“Bedroom Farce” revolves around four couples and three bedrooms. It’s not exactly a traditional slamming-door affair, but it’s wildly funny and the playwright’s insights into relationships are more sophisticated than might be expected in a more traditional farce.
Tops among the cast are the oldest of the four couples. The interplay between Ernest and Delia (Bob McCormack and Cathy Counts) is simply delicious. McCormack’s portrayal of a phlegmatic middle-aged, upper middle-class patrician draws the loudest laughs, and Counts provides the perfect comic foil.
Other kudos have been earned by director Brian P. Allen, for keeping the action moving at a hectic pace, and Janet Montgomery, for managing to fit three bedrooms on a such a small stage.
Good Theater presents “Bedroom Farce” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland (top of Munjoy Hill) through April 3 with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Call 885-5883.
Eleven puppets, three actors, three Tony Awards and 2,534 performances: Those are some of the key numbers concerning “Avenue Q,” a very unconventional Broadway musical that charmed audiences between 2003 and 2009.
Port City audiences will be equally charmed when Portland Ovations hosts a national touring company on March 24.
The story line concerns real life in New York City, as told by a cast of people and puppets through a savvy, sassy, irreverent book by Jeff Whitty, with score by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Their awards include the Tonys for Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.
“Avenue Q” recounts the experiences of Princeton, a bright-eyed college grad who moves to New York City with big dreams and a tiny bank account. The only apartment Princeton can afford is way out on Avenue Q, where everyone’s looking for the same things he is: a decent job, a stable relationship and a “purpose.”
Life is tough, he discovers. But eventually, Princeton embraces the ups and downs of city life and realizes that the real world isn’t so bad after all.
The principal, and utterly unique, dramatic device is the ongoing comparison of the real world with the child’s world as depicted on “Sesame Street” television series – hence the puppets. Plus the puppeteers and their machinations are fully visible onstage, another unique aspect of the show.
‘A Chorus Line’
“A Chorus Line” was the most honored and the most successful Broadway show of the 1970s, copping 10 Tony Awards plus the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and holding the record for the longest-running musical for a number of years.
Since closing on Broadway in 1990, it’s been revived once and has enjoyed outstanding success with regional professional companies. “A Chorus Line” is a show about professional dancers, and because of that casting requirement it’s always been a problem for community companies.
Most of these problems are present in Portland Players’ current community production. Although director Ray Dumont is a professional dancer/choreographer, most of his cast of 24 can’t manage the dance steps required to do this show justice. Most also lack the voices necessary to project the Tony Award-winning score, by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban.
The best performance was given by Matthew Begin. He’s an aspiring ballet dancer – by far the best in the cast – and his heart-wrenching monologue is the high point of the show. I also loved Kristina Boissonneault’s sassy, loud-mouthed performance.
Portland Players, 420 Cottage Road in South Portland, presents “A Chorus Line” through March 27 with 8 p.m. performances Fridays and Saturdays plus 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 799-7337.
Portland Symphony Orchestra
Classical music lovers like myself are intimately familiar with the concept of the “Three B’s” of the traditional symphonic repertoire: Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johannes Brahms.
This Sunday the Portland Symphony Orchestra presents a program titled “Three B’s,” but maestro Robert Moody is throwing in a few surprises. Forget about Bach and Beethoven. Moody’s program includes music by Brahms, a major composer of the late 19th century, then progresses to 20th-century British composer Benjamin Britten plus the Beatles, in a “serious classical arrangement” by Peter Schickele, a contemporary American.
Brahms is represented by his “Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn,” one of the most accessible – meaning huge popular appeal – large pieces in the symphonic repertoire. Britten is represented by a pair of works: “Nocturne” and the “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”
Schickele has assembled seven of his favorite Beatles songs and rearranged them in “every conceivable way.” He says that audiences shouldn’t expect a standard Pops-style medley. Schickele, a longtime professor of music and P.D.Q. Bach scholar, is a serious composer.
The featured guest artist on the program will be tenor John McVeigh, a Portland resident with worldwide credentials with opera companies and orchestras.
Catch “Three B’s” at 2:30 p.m. March 20 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
“Bedroom Farce,” an exceptionally funny comedy by Alan Ayckbourn, is the current offering at Good Theater in Portland.