Out & About: Bowdoin festival, 'Guys and Dolls,' Baez provide mid-summer magic

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This weekend we flip the calendar to August, roughly marking the summer’s halfway point. And the seasonal schedule of arts and entertainment just keeps on rolling.

Bowdoin International Music Festival continues in high gear. This weekend’s most salient feature is the celebration of the 80th birthday of composer George Crumb. A world premiere of a new work by Crumb will be played on the Festival Friday concert, while more of his works will be heard over the weekend.

Ogunquit Playhouse is currently running a sensational, fully professional production of “Guys and Dolls,” the 1950 Frank Loesser classic Broadway musical.

In the summer of 1959, folk singer Joan Baez, then 18, made her national debut appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. Thirty or so albums and five decades later, she’s still going strong with frequent national and international tours. Baez’s bus stops in Portland this Friday.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

Lewis Kaplan, co-founder and artistic director of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, has many reasons to be proud of his accomplishments. One of those is championing the works of new, cutting-edge composers. Among the most frequently heard during the festival’s four-plus decades has been George Crumb, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year. For his part, Kaplan is emphasizing the longstanding relationship with numerous performances of Crumb’s works this summer; most occur this weekend.

Crumb’s music is known for its striking originality, explorations of unusual timbres and theatricality. A veteran of many summers in Brunswick, he has received numerous grants and awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1968 and a Grammy in 2001.

Tops on the list of this weekend’s performances is the Friday evening premiere of “Sun and Shadow,” published in Crumb’s “Spanish Songbook II.” The new work, a duet for voice and piano, is based on verses by Federico Garcia Lorca, a Spanish poet who wrote in the middle of the 20th century.

Bowdoin’s performance, with the composer in attendance, will feature Crumb’s daughter, soprano Ann Crumb. A retrospective of other works by Crumb will be performed during this weekend’s Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music, a BIMF sub-unit.

The world premiere of “Sun and Shadow” is one more feather in Kaplan’s hat, plus it’s emblematic of the festival’s longstanding connection to the composer.

“The 80th birthday celebration of one of the world’s greatest composers is an historic event,” Kaplan told me. “George first came to the festival in 1966 for the premiere of ‘Eleven Echoes of Autumn, 1965,’ and he has returned to the festival more than 25 times in subsequent years. For me, this is not just an ongoing relationship, but a true love affair between George and the Bowdoin Festival.”

For information about scheduling and ticketing, call 725-3895 or visit bowdoinfestival.org on the Internet.

‘Guys and Dolls’

A time-tested maxim of Broadway says that when the audience leaves the theater singing a show’s songs, it’s a success. That’s certainly the case with Ogunquit Playhouse’s fully professional (Equity contract) production of “Guys and Dolls.”

Emphasize songs in the plural. When I saw the show, some people were singing the show’s rousing title song, while others hummed “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” a sweet and understated love duet, or “Luck Be a Lady,” a dynamically propulsive number, or even “Follow the Fold,” a hymn-like paean.

Audiences have been humming these tunes for a long time. “Guys and Dolls” is an enduring and endearing masterpiece of American musical theater, and Frank Loesser’s lushly melodic music and his clever and witty lyrics are two of the reasons it remains frequently produced at all levels, from Broadway revivals to high school groups.

The script is by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based on tales and characters of Damon Runyon. And what characters! Most of the guys and dolls are creatures on the social and cultural fringe of Times Square in the middle of the 20th century: singers, dancers, gamblers, racetrack touts and associated lowlife. Plus a handful of do-gooders in the Save-A-Soul Mission who aim to cleanse New York’s infamous nexus of iniquity.

With a star-spangled cast, Ogunquit Playhouse recreates this wonderful Broadway masterpiece in all its colorful glory and explosive energy.

The plot revolves around two intertwined romantic threads. The first pits high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson (Christian Hoff) versus the straight-laced missionary Sister Sarah Brown (Glory Crampton), while the second romantic pairing matches gambler Nathan Detroit (Richard Kind) and nightclub singer Miss Adelaide (Liz Larsen).

Miss Adelaide, star of Times Square’s Hot Box Club, is one of the all-time classic characters of Broadway and gets to strut her stuff in three of the show’s most memorable songs: “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Take Back Your Mink.” Larsen is a scene-stealer in all three numbers and this versatile actress easily wins my nod for the evening’s best performance.

I didn’t warm up to Sister Sarah as much as I should have. Crampton has a fine and lyrical soprano voice that does full justice to Loesser’s score, but she doesn’t project the girlish, guileless innocence that’s required of this show’s ingenue.

Hoff and Kind made a fine comic pairing. But among the male actors, Ogunquit’s comic gems are three actors who portray a trio of petty hoodlums: Blake Hammond as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, James Patterson as Benny Southstreet and Sal Mistretta as Big Jule.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “Guys and Dolls” through Aug. 8. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org on the Internet.

Joan Baez

Most of the stars of the 1960s folk revival have died or long ago disappeared from public view. But the brightest star of them all, Joan Baez, famous for her “achingly pure soprano voice” and simplicity of presentation, is still going strong.

Fifty summers ago, while living in the Boston area, she made her national debut on the stage of the Newport (R.I.) Folk Festival and she became a staple of that landmark annual event during the early 1960s. Since her first eponymous 33-RPM records (CDs and MP3s were still decades away) Baez has released about 30 albums. Mostly she sings traditional folk material or covers songs by other writers. But she’s perhaps best known for writing and performing “Diamonds and Rust,” a 1975 best-seller that vividly, but enigmatically, recalls a long-ago romantic relationship.

Northeast Productions presents Joan Baez at Merrill Auditorium at 8 p.m. July 31 at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

pnms-outabout-072909.jpgLiz Larsen plays the star of Times Square’s Hot Box Club in “Guys and Dolls,” the 1950 Frank Loesser Broadway musical that’s currently running at Ogunquit Playhouse.