A pair of theatrical productions take center stage on southern Maine’s performing arts calendar.
The biggest is one of the top shows in recent Broadway history. “Rock of Ages” is a jukebox musical that has an interesting story line and features rock hits from the 1980s. Expect it to rock Merrill Auditorium this Saturday.
“Noises Off” is a very funny comedy by Michael Frayn. Portland Players has a wonderful community production running through April 7 in South Portland.
Boston-based Guns Girls and Glory is the featured act this weekend at Portland’s One Longfellow Square. Expect GGG to rock this wonderful little music room March 30.
A busboy in a Hollywood club dreams of being a rock star. He falls in love with a small-town girl from Kansas who dreams of being a movie star. Over the course of two acts they struggle to fulfill their dreams and find their happily-ever-after denouement.
Plus there are myriad complications and parallel dramas. A pair of wealthy German investors want to purchase the club, demolish it and redevelop the real estate. A monstrously successful band that’s breaking up performs one last time at the club. One of the German investors falls in love with an influential local government official.
This is a synopsis of a monstrously successful Broadway musical comedy, so the general outline of the denouement is fairly easy to guess.
“Rock of Ages,” which debuted in Hollywood in 2006, had a very successful run on Broadway and London’s West End. The show is now on a long national tour, and Portland Ovations has booked the road company for one performance this Saturday in Merrill Auditorium.
“Rock of Ages” is a jukebox musical, with book by Chris D’Arienzo; the songs were originally written, performed and recorded by a variety of artists. The songs share one common theme: They are hits from the 1980s, originally performed by some of the biggest bands of the era. And some of those singers and bands sported some of the biggest hairdos of the era.
Twenty-eight tunes comprise the score. The biggest hits include “We Built This City (on Rock and Roll),” “Renegade,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” “Can’t Stop Believin’,” “Oh Sherrie” “Any Way You Want It” and “I Wanna Rock.”
The overall mantra is simple: Dream big, play loud and party on.
“Rock of Ages” was nominated for five Tony Awards, and has received other honors in the various countries in which it has been produced. It was also adapted to a movie, which was released about a year ago.
Of all the forms of live entertainment, theatrical productions are most prone to mistakes and missteps. It’s a vulnerability that very well known to theatrical people and has often been exploited by playwrights in shows that feature behind-the-scenes looks at show-biz themes.
In 1982, British playwright Michael Frayn wrote a classical behind-the-scenes farce that featured a novel approach to the fairly familiar play-within-a-play format. The London production was a hit. Ditto the Broadway production, which garnered four Tony Award nominations. It has become a staple of professional and community companies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Portland Players is currently running an outstanding community production of this classic farce. It’s worth making the short trek to South Portland to catch it.
Frayn’s innovative plot intertwines a production of a bawdy British sex farce with the idiosyncrasies and foibles of an incompetent troupe of actors. These include a curvaceous ditzy blonde leading lady who performs most of the show in her underwear, and her oversensitive professional and romantic rival, who is the company stage manager. There’s also a washed-up former star plus an alcoholic who hides bottles of booze all over the set.
These bungling actors and their supporting crew are led by an ambitious and egotistical director who’s simultaneously having affairs with the leading lady and the stage manager, and is coveted by the elderly actress whose hilarious bouts of forgetfulness open the show.
One of the biggest stars is the big two-story set, which is reversed twice during the two intermissions. Totally appropriate for a slamming-door farce, the set features eight doors. Props include numerous plates of sardines – a device that’s cleverly woven into Frayn’s plot.
The dialogue is scintillating and the story progresses amidst an abundance of missed cues and missteps. The predictable result is a nonstop pandemonium of comic confusion.
I loved Portland Players’ production, which is helmed by a very young director, Kristen Peters, a recent theatrical graduate of the University of Southern Maine. I predict great things in the future for this extremely talented young theatrical artist.
Peters has a superb cast of nine, headed by Anna Gravel-Foss as the leading lady and Janie Downey Maxwell as the forgetful old actress.
The seven others also deliver wonderful performances: Kristina Balbo, Alexandra Christie, Philip Hobby, Charlie Marenghi, Jody McColman, Jamie Schwartz and Sean Senior. Special kudos are earned by set designer Tim Baker.
Portland Players, 420 Cottage Road in South Portland, presents “Noises Off” through April 7 with 7:30 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 Sunday. Call 799-7337.
If the Grammy Awards included a category for Most Intriguing Name of Band, then I’d like to nominate Girls Guns and Glory – so redolent of the 1980s! – for the honor.
On a more prosaic level, Girls Guns and Glory is a roots-oriented foursome who are based in Boston and have won numerous musical awards in the Hub. The four guys are fronted by Ward Hayden, known for his work with Lonesome Day, while his three bandmates hail from Pennsylvania and are currently connected to two of Boston’s premier music schools: New England Conservatory and Berklee College.
Broader recognition comes from Alternative Root magazine, which named Girls Guns and Glory among its Top 50 national bands. A national GGG tour is in the offing for this summer.
GGG performs mostly originals. The sound is defined by a Hayden’s twangy electric guitar, clear voice and somewhat staccato delivery. Songs have very strong melodic hooks, focused lyrics and a driving beat.
Catch Girls Guns and Glory at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. March 30. Call 761-1757.
Musicians with enormous egos and outsized hair are featured in “Rock of Ages,” the Broadway hit musical that visits Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on March 30.