Out & About: ‘Best of Broadway’ promises tuneful, inspiring evening

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Readers of “Out & About” have known for nearly two decades that the annual “Best of Broadway,” a benefit for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, is one of my favorite shows. And it’s certainly my top choice for this Saturday.

With its ensemble of 12 local stars of musical theater, augmented by a couple of corps of dancers and hosted by a pair of WGME news personalities, “Best of Broadway” promises to be a tuneful, entertaining and inspiring evening.

I wish that I could triplicate myself that evening: Saturday also offers two other outstanding shows:

Renaissance Voices, a Portland-based a cappella chorus, presents its spring concert at Emmanuel Baptist Church. English motets by Thomas Weelkes, an Elizabethan composer, are featured, plus the program also includes several 20th-century items.

Fiddler Martin Hayes and guitarist Dennis Cahill epitomize modern approaches to traditional Irish music. The duo appears at One Longfellow Square.

‘Best of Broadway’

There are lots of live stage shows that are produced for the purpose of raising money for a good cause. But none in Maine has achieved the success, longevity and the consistent artistic excellence of the annual “Best of Broadway,” slated for the Saturday before Mother’s Day.

Now in its 19th annual edition, the “Best of Broadway” song-and-dance show typically earns about $35,000 for a terrific cause: The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center.

I’m one of many hundreds of people who consider it an annual must-see favorite. I started going in its second year and I’ve hardly missed one since then.

Each year’s production is different, but the basic format and most of the people remain constant from season to season. Steve and Jane Filieo are the co-directors, and their tried-and-true formula hasn’t changed much over time: assemble a few dozen actors, actresses, musicians and dancers from all over southern Maine, then craft a stirring song-and-dance revue of Broadway hits in formats that range from rousing ensemble numbers to poignant solos.

All the performers are volunteers who give up many hours of their time to rehearse the show on Sunday evenings, beginning every February. The program revolves around an ensemble of six men and six women, all veteran performers in Maine musical productions.

This year’s “Best of Broadway” vocal ensemble comprises an even dozen: Neil Andersen, Kelly Caufield, Greg Charette, Scott Furrow, Larry Jones, Kammy Marcotte, Jennifer McLeod, Marilyn Minsky Melton, Bethann Renaud, Tim Salce, Laura Hurd Whited and John York. Renaud is the longest-tenured member of the performing ensemble, having hardly missed a show in nearly two decades. Charette is the newcomer.

Katey Yoder returns as the featured solo dancer, and two terpsichorean troupes help out: Maine State Ballet and Portland Ballet.

From the get-go, WGME Channel 13 television news personalities have been hosting “Best of Broadway.” This year’s emcees are Kim Block and Doug Rafferty. Another key veteran is music director Suzanne Ingrisano. Raymond Marc Dumont returns as choreographer.

The Filieos have selected material that spans nearly 75 years on the Great White Way. The earliest musical represented is “Anything Goes,” from 1934; “Pirate Queen,” from 2007, is the most recent.

Never heard of that latter show? You’re not alone. “Pirate Queen” was a flop on Broadway, but it still contains some excellent material – and the ability to highlight a good musical number from a little-known failure is one of the salient features of the “best of” format.

Other Broadway musicals represented include “Mame,” “1776,” “Chess,” “Cabaret,” “Funny Girl,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Aida,” “Les Miserables,” “Two on the Aisle,” “Pippin,” “Nunsense A-men,” “St. Louis Woman,” “Forever Plaid,” “Applause” and “Dracula: The Musical.”

“Best of Broadway” opens with a video message about the good work done at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and closes with a truly inspiring moment as a few kids from the hospital join the ensemble onstage.

There’s one 7:30 p.m. performance May 8 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Renaissance Voices

Renaissance Voices is a superb 20-plus-member a cappella vocal ensemble that is best known for performances of early European music in southern Maine, but the groups also sings more modern repertoire. This coming Saturday’s annual spring concert features both.

Music director and conductor is Harold Stover, a Juilliard-trained organist, composer and musicologist who teaches at the Portland Conservatory of Music.

For starters, Stover has selected motets by Thomas Weelkes, one of the greatest of the English madrigalists, and his program continues with works by Romantic master Robert Schumann. Although Schumann’s name is usually associated with his piano, chamber and orchestral music, he composed a significant number of works for chorus. Five of these rarely-heard pieces are slated to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Twentieth-century German composer Paul Hindemith will be represented by his “Six Chansons” from 1939. These pieces were written soon after Hindemith’s exile to the U.S., and they are based on the French poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. The program will conclude with more music from the 1930s: choral arrangements of classic standards from the stage and screen by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers.

Unique to Renaissance Voices, selections from poetry will also be interpolated throughout the concert.

The concert is slated for 8 p.m. at Immanuel Baptist Church, 156 High St. in Portland. For more information, visit renaissancevoices.org.

Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill

Irish music that deftly blends traditional forms with today’s influences is the quick summary of an interesting fiddle-guitar duo that’s coming to One Longfellow Square in Portland this Saturday. First billing goes to County Clare native Martin Hayes, a six-time winner of the All-Ireland fiddling championship. The Irish Sunday Tribune named Hayes as one of the country’s most influential artists.

For nearly three decades he’s paired up with Dennis Cahill, a Chicago-born guitarist of Irish parentage. The Hayes-Cahill duo has garnered international renown for taking traditional music to the very edge of the genre.

Seemingly effortlessly, Hayes and Cahill fit several disparate musical styles, including classical and jazz, into their act.

“In Irish music today there is much debate and division on the issues of continuity versus change and tradition versus innovation,” explains Hayes. “I think it is a mistake to divide these issues as the music is capable of containing all of these parts at once.”

Catch Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill at 8 p.m. May 8 at One Longfellow Square (intersection of Congress and State streets in Portland). Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, appearing Saturday at One Longfellow Square in Portland, specialize in new takes on traditional Irish music.