No Broadway show more perfectly epitomizes the golden age of American musical theater than Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls,” which debuted in 1950. Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick is currently running a brilliant professional production of this masterpiece.
Two music festivals get underway within the coming week. One is a movable musical feast, while the other is firmly footed in the Lake Region. “Steady On” is a traveling festival, modeled after “Lilith Fair.” A celebration of female singer-songwriters, “Steady On” will feature nationally known artists plus local musicians, and it launches in Portland on Friday.
On July 11, the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival opens its 45th season in Harrison. It’s a five-week series of chamber music concerts featuring world-class performers.
Opera Maine (formerly PortOpera) will present its Studio Artists’ production of “An American Dream,” a chamber work set during World War II, for four performances in three venues July 12-16.
Many decades ago, shortly after I got my driver’s license, I borrowed the family station wagon and took my high school sweetheart on our first date: a local community production of “Guys and Dolls.” Then as now, the show is celebrated as one of the great achievements of American musical theater, and we both loved it.
The girlfriend has disappeared into the mists of fond memory, but I still love “Guys and Dolls,” and have seen it many times since.
“Guys and Dolls” represents the epitome of the Broadway musical. It’s best known for its funny, tuneful, upbeat score by Frank Loesser. The book, by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, based on Damon Runyon’s short stories, falls squarely in the tradition of fanciful romantic comedies.
The milieu is the demi-monde of New York’s Times Square in the late 1940s. The primary romantic pairing pits a high-rolling gambler against a straight-laced ingenue, while the secondary matchup exploits the comic tensions between a couple who have been engaged for 14 years.
Maine State Music Theatre has perfectly channeled this 1950 masterpiece, capturing all its period charm with glitter and energy.
Director D.J. Salisbury has assembled a wonderful, fully professional cast, beginning with Stephen Mark Lukas as the suave, self-confident gambler. Lukas is originally from Kennebunk and he got his start in school and community theater productions in the southwest coast region.
He’s paired with Kristen Hahn, playing the hard-to-get “mission doll.” Hahn portrays the classic innocence of the ingenue and delivers her songs with a thrilling mezzo-soprano voice.
Salisbury’s comic pairing is equally interesting. James Beaman plays a petty gambling entrepreneur who’s engaged to a past-her-prime nightclub dancer, played to the hilt by the company’s go-to comedienne, Charis Leos. The minor cast and ensemble of “guys” and “dolls” perfectly complement the leads.
Music director Brian Cimmet, who grew up in Scarborough and got his start at Portland Players, leads a nine-piece pit orchestra.
Maine State Music Theatre presents “Guys and Dolls” at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick through July 15. Call 725-8769 or visit MSMT.org.
Twenty years ago this summer, singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan organized a traveling music festival that was built around herself plus sister singer-songwriters and female-led bands. With Paula Cole as co-headliner, McLachlan called it Lilith Fair, and the 1997 tour grossed an astonishing $16 million.
An essential ingredient of McLachlan’s formula was adding local musicians at each stop, giving them a high-profile showcase for their own work.
The concept is being revived this year on a much smaller scale by another pair of singer-songwriters. Sharon Goldman hails from New York; she combines heartfelt portraits and memorable lyrics with unforgettable melodies and pure, passionate vocals. Co-headliner is Connecticut singer-songwriter Lara Herscovitch, whose highly original, modern folk sometimes veers toward blues, jazz and pop.
This year’s tour is titled “Steady On: Celebrating Lilith Fair at 20,” and it revs up its engine this Friday in Portland. For this very first leg, the local artists will be Portland’s Ronda Dale, one of my personal favorites, and Lisa Redfern, who has nine CDs to her credit.
“Steady On” launches July 7 at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.
Quintessential classical music in quintessential rural Maine is the big idea at the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival. Now entering its 45th season, the festival is a five-week series of chamber music concerts held at sylvan Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, an utterly charming summer playhouse.
The programming is straight-ahead classical, focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries, with an occasional nod to 20th-century composers who honor the traditional forms and harmonies.
Artistic director is Mihae Lee, a Korean-born piano virtuoso who has been a leader of the Boston Chamber Music Society for decades. Each season Lee invites about two dozen fellow conservatory professors and professional musicians from around the country to join her. Among these is Laurie Kennedy, the popular first violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Kennedy served as the festival’s music director for about 20 years, and she remains active as a performer.
Music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his contemporaries will be the focus of the opening concert in the series July 11.
The Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival runs five Tuesdays, July 11-Aug. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison. Call 583-6747 or visit SLLMF.org.
A modern American chamber opera will be the next production of our state’s resident professional company. “An American Dream,” with libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo and music by Jack Perla, will be presented four times next week in various venues by the Studio Artists division of Opera Maine.
It is a small-scale production, featuring six singers under the direction of Richard Gammon and Timothy Steele. Formerly called Young Artists, the studio crew comprises up-and-coming professionals who will someday make an impact on the national and international opera scene. That’s been the story with several members of the company in previous years.
“An American Dream” is set in the Seattle area during World War II. The forcible relocation of the West Coast’s large Japanese-American population in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor provides the background to Murphy Moo’s story. According to Perla, the piece explores the question of what’s most valuable to most of us.
Opera Maine presents “An American Dream” four times in three venues July 12-16 in Portland, Harrison and Old Orchard Beach. Visit OperaMaine.com.
Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick is running a superb professional production of “Guys and Dolls,” a classic of American musical theater.