Out & About: 'Blueberries, Broadway & Brian,' Time for Three, a 'Wild Party' and more

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There’s an interesting mix of theater and music worth checking out this week in southern Maine. Perhaps the most interesting of all is a warmly humorous account of the life local theatrical director and producer Brian Allen. And it’s delivered by the man himself.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra has co-commissioned a new work especially tailored for its guest ensemble, Time For Three. Be among the first in the world to hear it on the Nov. 21 Classical Sunday concert.

The decadence of the Roaring Twenties is recalled this weekend on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus with “The Wild Party,” an Off-Broadway musical that’s being produced by the School of Music.

The Oratorio Chorale opens its 2010-2011 season — and the 25th anniversary season of music director Peter Frewen — with a pair of concerts in Bath on Saturday and Yarmouth on Sunday.

‘Blueberries, Broadway & Brian’

Brian P. Allen, co-founder and artistic director of Portland’s Good Theater, has loved the stage all his life. His first public performance was in the title role of “Sonny Bunny” in a grade school production, and after college he became the business manager of Maine State Music Theatre.

He’s had many theatrical experiences since then, including a national tour of an off-Broadway show he co-created.

His latest stage incarnation is a very funny, very engaging biographical retrospective that recounts his life and times, starting with the family blueberry business in Union up to the present. Along the way he’s met some interesting characters and had some fascinating experiences.

“Blueberries, Broadway & Brian” is divided roughly 50-50 between stand-up comedy and one-man play. It’s full of laughs and offers wonderful insights into characters such as the late Vickie Crandall, MSMT founder and longtime artistic director.

I saw it this past weekend and highly recommend the show to anyone interested in theater, especially its behind-the-scenes workings.

Good Theater presents “Blueberries, Broadway & Brian” through Nov. 21 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. in Portland (top of Munjoy Hill) with a 7 p.m. performance Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. There’s also a 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday. Call Good Theater at 885-5883.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Three major modern works are slated when the Portland Symphony Orchestra plays this Sunday, and one of them is brand new. The PSO has co-commissioned a genre-crossing composition written especially for its guest artists, a Philadelphia-based trio that goes by the name of Time For Three.

All three of the works on this program integrate myriad styles that will result in a fascinating musical exploration.

Two of the pieces are quite well known — Paul Hindemith’s playful “Symphonic Metamorphosis,” which is based on themes by the Romantic composer Carl Maria von Weber, and Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story,” an extensive orchestral compilation from the famous 1957 Broadway musical. This landmark work incorporates popular melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic styles, including swing, bop, cool jazz, Latin music, ballads and up-tempo jive.

“Travels in Time for Three” was written specifically for the talents of the trio and embraces many musical genres from jazz to country, Irish folk to funk, and gospel to classical. The trio sports an interesting combination of instruments: two violins plus double bass. They will join the PSO for the Maine premiere of “Travels in Time for Three,” composed by Chris Brubeck (son of jazz legend Dave Brubeck). Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra Nov. 21 at 2:30 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘The Wild Party’

Decadence rules in the University of Southern Maine School of Music’s production of “The Wild Party,” a musical by Andrew Lippa, which has its Maine premiere this weekend on the Gorham campus. The 2000 off-Broadway musical, adapted from a poem, offers a tale of love and redemption, set during the Roaring Twenties.

Here’s the setup: Queenie, a vaudeville dancer, and Burrs, a stage clown, are a high-living couple whose relationship is marked by reckless behavior. When the two decide to throw a party to end all parties in their Manhattan apartment, they invite a host of characters that revel in the fashions, affectations and habits of the jazz era. After Burrs and Queenie purposely set out to make the other jealous, emotions erupt and lives are changed forever.

Andrew Lippa’s book, music and lyrics were inspired by Joseph Moncure March’s 1928 book-length poem of the same name. March’s book was deemed profane at the time and it fell into obscurity for 70 years until an artist, Art Spiegelman, found an original edition and published an illustrated version in 1999.

Ed Reichert directs a cast of more than 20, plus a group of musicians. He advises that this show is unsuitable for children.

Three performances in Corthell Hall on USM’s Gorham campus are scheduled for this weekend only: Nov. 20-21 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 22 at 5 p.m. Call 780-5555.

Oratorio Chorale

The Oratorio Chorale presents the first half of its two-program season Nov. 20-21 with performances of two major sacred works: Maurice Durufle’s Requiem Mass and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata No. 80 — best known as “Ein feste Burg’ ist unser Gott.”

The concerts will mark the 25th season for music director Peter Frewen, who notes that although the two works were written about 200 years apart in two very different countries, they are linked by the fact that both composers were church organists and both men looked back several centuries for inspiration.

Frewen points out that Durufle’s Requiem was inspired by one sung by Gregorian monks in the Sixth Century.

“He took as his starting material the melodies of the various sections of the Requiem Mass,” explained Frewen. “With great technical skill and profound artistic imagination, he embedded these ancient modal melodies in a context that projects both vivid pictorial imagery and deeply humane emotive surgings.”

Likewise the Bach Cantata is based on a 16th-century hymn by Martin Luther that served as an anthem of the Reformation.

“Basing the entire cantata on Luther’s melody, Bach created a universe of sound in which all phrases, of however diverse a character, orbit about, held in their spheres by the gravity of the central idea,” Frewen said.

Catch the Oratorio Chorale Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at United Church of Christ in Bath and Nov. 21 at 3 p.m. at Sacred Heart Church in Yarmouth. Call 725-1420.

Sidebar Elements

Brian Allen, a fixture of Maine theater for three decades, spins stories about his experiences in a very funny, engaging, highly personal show at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland.