Out & About: Fall arts, entertainment in full swing

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Frost is in Maine’s forecast and the fall-winter-spring seasons for our state’s many performing arts organizations are now in full swing. Top choices for early October are several diverse offerings.

But first let’s finish summer. Ogunquit Playhouse, which now runs an extended season, is currently offering a wonderfully engaging production of “All Shook Up,” a jukebox musical.

In South Portland, Lyric Music Theater is selling so many tickets to its superb production of “The Producers” that the run has been extended into this coming weekend.

Good Theater is getting a bit edgy as its eighth season opens. “The Little Dog Laughed” is definitely interesting and engaging, but some theatergoers may opt to pass on it.

Portland String Quartet opens its 41st season this Sunday. Two days later, the Portland Symphony Orchestra opens its 85th.

‘All Shook Up’

All good things must come to an end, as the old saying goes, but summer theater is enjoying an autumnal extension nowadays at Ogunquit Playhouse, where the five-show season of fully professional (Equity contract) musical theater now runs from late May into mid-October.

This summer’s tuneful season wraps up in stimulating fashion: “All Shook Up,” Ogunquit’s final offering of 2009, is a rousing and animating “jukebox musical” that is based on the catalog of songs made popular by Elvis Presley, the rock ‘n’ roll superstar of the mid-20th century.

A “jukebox musical” is a show with a score comprising disparate songs that were previously written for other purposes. Frequently these are multi-million sellers.

I loved this show. Ogunquit Playhouse’s “All Shook Up” is an engaging and exhilarating piece of musical theater that’s also immensely entertaining. The entertainment aspect mostly stems from the 25 songs in the show, which include many of Elvis’ greatest hits, such as “Jailhouse Rock,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Burning Love,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog” and the title song. Joe DiPietro, a very talented playwright, has crafted an excellent and thought-provoking script that ties these disparate songs into a coherent whole.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “All Shook Up” through Oct. 11. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org on the Internet.

‘The Producers’

When “The Producers” opened on Broadway in 2001, it set the 21st century’s gold standard for musical comedy. After six years on Broadway and following long national tours, the performing rights to Mel Brooks’ sensation were recently released to community theaters.

Lyric Music Theater opened its 57th season with the 12-time Tony Award-winner. Under the direction of Michael Donovan, the venerable South Portland company has set the gold standard for community theater, a rollicking, tuneful evening of tuneful entertainment that produces convulsive laughter from curtain-up to denouement.

It’s a big, big show with a large cast, enormous costuming challenges and many fast set changes. I was amazed at how well a non-professional company could pull all of this off. In fact, if I didn’t know the company, I’d rank this as a professional production.

In terms of the actors, the lead trio of swaggering Fran Page, neurotic Brian McAloon and curvaceous Cory Bucknam were so much fun to watch. They were ably supported by Mark Barrasso, Vince Knue and Gerry Barnicle in important secondary roles. Louise Keezer performed costuming miracles on Lyric’s minuscule budget.

The regular run is over, but two added performances have been scheduled: 8 p.m. Oct. 2 and 3 at Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland. Call 799-1421.

‘The Little Dog Laughed’

Two often-intertwined themes have traditionally supplied dramatic horsepower for both classical and modern drama: Contrasts between illusion and reality and conflicts of personal identity.

Both of these muscular themes are conspicuously present and effectively used in “The Little Dog Laughed,” a comic drama by Douglas Carter Beane that was produced on Broadway three years ago and garnered two Tony nominations, including Best Play.

Good Theater, a professional (non-Equity) company in Portland, opens up its 2009-2010 season with an excellent production of this darkish comedy.

Much of the story revolves around gay themes and issues of sexual identity, and the show includes one brief scene with two naked men kissing and embracing. In addition to the nudity, obscenities abound in the script. (In deference to theatergoers who might not wish to see this show, artistic director Brian P. Allen, an openly gay man himself, has created special ticketing options for season subscribers.)

Good Theater presents “The Little Dog Laughed” through Oct. 11 at St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill). Call 885-5883.

Portland String Quartet

When the Portland String Quartet takes the stage this Sunday, it will mark a Maine milestone – and also set a world record for longevity: The PSQ’s 41st season with its original personnel will eclipse the previous mark of 40 years for a world-class quartet that was previously set by an English foursome, the Amadeus Quartet, between 1948 and 1987.

Since 1969, the PSQ – violinists Stephen Kecskemethy and Ron Lantz plus violist Julia Adams and cellist Paul Ross – has been playing the standard quartet repertoire all over Maine and has also been promoting this state’s music and musicians.

It’s a streak that continues this year. On Sunday they’ll be joined by Matt Szemela on six-string electric violin in a fusion-inspired version of “Autumn” from Antonio Vivaldi’s Baroque masterpiece, “The Four Seasons.” Szemela, originally from New Gloucester, is one of Lantz’s former students who now enjoys a distinguished professional career.

Catch the Portland String Quartet at 2 p.m. Oct. 4 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Call 761-1522.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The Portland Symphony Orchestra opens its 85th season on Oct. 6, the second full year under the baton of maestro Robert Moody. The featured theme for the season-opener is “heroes” and the opening work features Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, famously subtitled “Heroic.”

The second work on the program is the Maine premiere of “Ellis Island: The Dream of America,” a multi-media work by contemporary composer Peter Boyer.

Seven actors from Portland Stage Company will read narratives from immigrants a century ago. Boyer fashioned short monologues from their actual words and wove them into an orchestral tapestry which frames and comments on their stories. Simultaneously, historical images from Ellis Island will be projected above the orchestra.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 6 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

pnms-outabout-093009.jpgA hard-bitten Hollywood agent (Denise Poirier) tries to straighten out her client (Paul Drinan) in “The Little Dog Laughed,” a comic drama currently running at Good Theater.