Out & About: 'Evangeline,' 'Sleeping Beauty' are top choices

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A musical comedy that was first produced in 1874 and a long-established masterpiece of ballet are the big productions in this weekend’s arts and entertainment calendar.

By far the most intriguing offering is “Evangeline,” a musical comedy that revolves around a very unhappy historical fact: the expulsion of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia in the middle of the 18th century. The show is being presented by the Longfellow Chorus, which specializes in music that has some connection to Portland’s famous 19th-century poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

“Sleeping Beauty” is one of the most popular musical and terpsichorean works ever created, with a score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and original choreography by Marius Petipa. Maine State Ballet has slated 12 performances at its studio theater in Falmouth beginning this Friday.

Southern Maine has a new choral group: Sweetness in the Gale, an all-female sub-unit of the Oratorio Chorale. Sweetness in the Gale plus two guest artists give two performances this weekend in Falmouth and Brunswick.

‘Evangeline’

Charles Kaufman is a professional bassoonist with a penchant for history and a passion for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the Portland native who was America’s most popular poet in the 19th century. A few years ago, Kaufman’s interests led him to establish the Longfellow Chorus, an ensemble that is devoted to performing any and all music that’s connected to the poet.

This weekend the Longfellow Chorus will produce a musical comedy that’s based on the story and characters from “Evangeline,” Longfellow’s epic poem about the expulsion of the French from Nova Scotia in the 18th century. In particular, Longfellow’s book-length poem focuses on the title character and her betrothed, who are separated when the French are expelled from Nova Scotia, then known as Acadia.

After leaving Acadia, both characters find refuge in America. Evangeline spends her life seeking her beloved, and tragically succeeds decades later when he dies in her arms in a Philadelphia hospital.

The musical “Evangeline” is a revival of one that was first produced 140 years ago in New York and Boston. Although it marked a milestone in the development of American theater and had thousands of performances during the last pquarter of the 19th century, Kaufman avers that this stage adaptation hasn’t been produced in more than 100 years.

The composer and original producer was Edward Rice, who collaborated with librettist John Cheever Goodwin in adapting Longfellow’s epic work to the stage. And it’s not a straight adaptation. Instead it’s a comic parody of the original tragic story, which Kaufman likens to a Monty Python treatment.

Last year, Kaufman staged a few scenes from this show in Portland. This year he’s producing the whole shebang.

It’s a formidable undertaking. Kaufman has engaged a professional cast of 23 actors. Plus he’s got a 29-member orchestra and the chorus. Plus he’s bringing in two other groups: dancers from Portland Ballet and the Woodside One Wheelers, a unicycle club from Topsham.

The Longfellow Chorus presents “Evangeline” at the John Ford Theater at Portland High School, 284 Cumberland Ave., for two performances: April 2 at 7:30 p.m. and April 3 at 3 p.m. Call 232-8920.

‘Sleeping Beauty’

“Sleeping Beauty” is a masterpiece of ballet that was first produced about the same time as “Evangeline” but has enjoyed nonstop success from the get-go. Maine State Ballet will be producing it for the next three weekends in Falmouth.

In the late 19th century in Russia, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was the leading composer and Marius Petipa was the master choreographer of the country’s most prestigious ballet company. Tchaikovsky and Petipa collaborated numerous times. Their most frequently produced works include “The Nutcracker,” “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty.” The latter opened in 1895 and has been one of the most frequently produced full-length ballets in history.

Based on a French fairy tale by Charles Perrault with numerous refinements and additions, “Sleeping Beauty” tells the story of lovely Princess Aurora, who encounters an evil sorceress whose curse is a 100-year snooze in the deep dark forest. A century later. Aurora is awakened by a handsome prince and they enjoy true love and happiness forever after.

Maine State Ballet’ first produced “Sleeping Beauty” in 1994. This current version retains much of Petipa’s choreography, supplemented by Linda MacArthur Miele, who is the company’s founder and artistic director. A total of 70 dancers perform, including 15 soloists. Three dancers will share the Aurora role, while the prince will be performed by two men.

Miele comments on the difficulty of the Aurora role: “The dancing for Aurora is non-stop and goes on for three acts. In Act One she dances three variations and the demanding ‘Rose Adagio,’ where she is partnered by four cavaliers. This is very well known in the ballet world for its difficult balances on one foot. Aurora continues to dance throughout Act Two and Act Three with several more variations and the final wedding pas de deux. The challenge is in finding a ballerina with the strength to dance this role who also has the softness of a princess and the acting ability to draw the audience into feeling what she feels, her heartbreak and final happy ending.”

Maine State Ballet, 348 Route 1 in Falmouth, presents “Sleeping Beauty” April 1-17 with Friday performances at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Call 781-3587.

Sweetness in the Gale

For more than 40 years the Oratorio Chorale has been a key part of southern Maine culture, giving two to four concerts per year. For the 2015-2016 season, there’s a new sub-unit that’s adding to richness of the Brunswick-based ensemble’s offerings.

Sweetness in the Gale is a 25-member-strong chorus of women who wish to explore and perform music that been outside the Chorale’s traditional purview. This weekend they’re planning two concerts featuring women composers as well.

The Chorale’s artistic director is Emily Isaacson, and her program is titled “To Sing Above as Angels Do.” The composers and styles Isaacson has selected are varied, ranging from Hildegard von Bingen, a mystical German nun of medieval times, to contemporary composers Meredith Monk and Libby Larsen. The latter lives part of the year in Saco.

Sweetness in the Gale will be joined by two guest artists: soprano Mary Sullivan and pianist Derek Herzer.

Two performances are planned: April 2, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 43 Foreside Road in Falmouth, and April 3 at 3 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 27 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call 577-3931.

The Longfellow Chorus will present a musical comedy based on “Evangeline,” Henry Wadsworth Longellow’s epic poem about the expulsion of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia in the 18th century.

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