Out & About: Exotic flights of theatrical imagination

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Flights of the imagination are a staple of theatrical art, and three current southern Maine shows are exemplars of the exotic in very different ways.

The biggest is the national touring production of “Cinderella” in a musical adaptation. Three performances are slated for this weekend, part of Portland Ovations’ season.

Portland Players are running a splendid community production of “Our Town,” which runs through Feb. 11 in South Portland.

Portland’s Snowlion Repertory Company is currently offering the New England premiere of “The Conquest of the South Pole,” a comic drama in which four unemployed Mainers voyage to the South Pole – in their imaginations. This compelling show runs through this weekend.

Oratorio Chorale presents two major works this weekend. Gabriel Faure’s Requiem will be paired with the Maine premiere of Robert Kyr’s “The Cloud of Unknowing” in a program slated for Portland and Brunswick.

‘Cinderella’

With a wave of her magic wand, a fairy godmother transforms a pumpkin into a magnificent carriage, and a group of mice become a splendid team of horses. That’s one exotic scene from “Cinderella,” the familiar fairy tale that has been told in many different forms over the centuries.

On March 31, 1957, a television audience of 107 million saw “Cinderella” in a new musical version with libretto by Oscar Hammerstein II and music by Richard Rodgers.

Fast forward more than half a century, and a Broadway stage version was created, with an updated book by Douglas Carter Beane. It garnered nine 2013 Tony Award nominations, winning one, and has been on national tour for most years since. This weekend the tour motors into the Port City under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

This lush production features a large orchestra plus all the jaw-dropping transformations and beloved moments – the pumpkin, the glass slipper, the masked ball – plus some surprising new twists for 21st-century audiences.

Portland Ovations presents Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” for three performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 3 at 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Our Town’

A recently deceased young woman, mother of two, leaves her grave to relive her 12th birthday: It’s one of the most iconic, best-remembered scenes in the history of American theater. And it’s happening for the next two weekends as Portland Players presents a fine community production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” winner of the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

“Our Town” is a modest play about the eternal truths of life, told in simple scenes from everyday life. Using no scenery and minimal props, Wilder’s tale is set in the years 1901-1913 in the mythical town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, and its message has resonated with audiences for the past 80 years.

The story focuses on a couple, beginning in grade school and continuing through high school, marriage and young adulthood. Breaking the proverbial “fourth wall” of the theater, one central character is the Stage Manager, who serves as narrator, commentator and plays several bit parts.

Director Charlie Marenghi has assembled an excellent cast of 19, led by Tara Golson, playing the central character of Emily Webb, who has died and been buried in the town’s hilltop cemetery. I also liked Michael Donovan as the Stage Manager and Jeff Campbell as Emily’s father-in-law.

Portland Players, 420 Cottage Road in South Portland, presents “Our Town” through Feb. 11 with 7:30 p.m. performances Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 799-7337.

‘The Conquest of the South Pole’

Four down-and-out former mill workers learn to reinvent themselves and reevaluate their bleak lives by taking a journey to the South Pole – entirely within their imaginations. That’s the central conceit of “The Conquest of the South Pole,” an exceedingly austere 1986 comic drama by German playwright Manfred Karge.

The New England premiere of “The Conquest of the South Pole” is the current offering of Snowlion Repertory Company, a small professional troupe that is dedicated to showing socially relevant work.

With permission of the author, Snowlion has adapted this play to a more relatable venue: Rumford, Maine, where the long-term decline of the paper industry is painfully evident. The action takes place in the attic of one of the friends, where the men pretend to jump over glacial crevasses, shiver in tents and cook penguin stew. A crisis of confidence leads to a surprising denouement.

Director Al D’Andrea gets a superb performance from his cast of eight, led by Ian Carlson as the audacious leader of the group who proposes that his three friends recreate the historic 1911 voyage and trek to the South Pole by Norwegian explorer-adventurer Roald Amundsen.

Snowlion Repertory Company presents “The Conquest of the South Pole” through Feb. 4 at Portland Ballet Studio Theater, 517 Forest Ave. in Portland with 7:30 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Call 518-9305.

Oratorio Chorale

Two major works will be presented, including a Maine premiere, as the Midcoast-based Oratorio Chorale continues its 2017-2018 season on Saturday and Sunday in Portland and Brunswick.

Top-billed is Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, which dates from the late 19th century. This setting of a shortened Latin Mass for the Dead is the best-known of the composer’s large-scale works. In Faure’s words: “Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a vision of eternal rest.” The Requiem was performed at Faure’s own funeral in Paris in 1924.

The most interesting and most difficult piece, according to music director Emily Isaacson, is “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a choral setting of texts by the 16th-century mystic St. Teresa of Avila, with additional excerpts from the Psalms and a medieval guide to contemplation. The songs explore the relationship between human and divine love. The music is scored for soprano and baritone soloists, mixed chorus, and strings.

It was penned by Robert Kyr, a composer, writer, filmmaker and professor of music at the University of Oregon. Kyr has created 12 orchestral symphonies, three chamber symphonies, three violin concertos and a wide range of works for vocal ensembles.

The Chorale will be joined by the DaPonte String Quartet and two vocal soloists, including Grammy Award-winning soprano Esteli Gomez.

Three performances are scheduled: Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland, and Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 27 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call Brown Paper Tickets at 800-838-3006.

“Cinderella,” a musical adaptation of the familiar fairy tale, will be presented this Friday and Saturday under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

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