Out & About: 'Into the Woods' is topnotch community theater

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It’s not hard to pick this week’s top item on the arts and entertainment calendar. Lyric Music Theater, a community company that has been producing musicals in southern Maine since 1952, has mounted an outstanding production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” which runs through March 1 in South Portland.

One Longfellow Square has a pair of traveling roots acts that visit Portland this weekend. First up is Caravan of Thieves, which holds forth on Friday. Caravan’s new single release, “Dead Wrong,” was written while on retreat on Maine’s Kezar Lake.

On Saturday, banjo virtuoso Noam Pikelny appears with a “bluegrass super group.” The featured music is entirely instrumental.

On Feb. 27 Portland Ovations presents “The Intergalactic Nemesis,” described a mash-up of a vintage radio play, live action graphic novel and sci-fi movie.

‘Into the Woods’

A very clever mash-up of fairy tales forms the foundation for one of the most intriguing Broadway musicals ever written.

“Into the Woods,” with book by James Lapine and score by Stephen Sondheim, debuted on Broadway in 1987 and has been produced for several national and international tours. The original Broadway run copped the Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score.

“Into the Woods” is one of the most frequently produced shows with school and community theater groups. Lyric Music Theater opened a superb community production this past weekend.

Characters are drawn from a number of familiar Grimm Brothers tales: “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Rapunzel,” “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Cinderella.” Thematic unity comes from an original story by Lapine, involving a baker and his wife who cannot have children because of the curse of a wicked witch. When the pair venture into a dark, mysterious forest in a quest to lift the spell, they encounter the other characters and become involved in their stories.

I loved this show. It’s definitely among the best I’ve seen over the 20-plus years I’ve been a Lyric regular.

My favorite actors are Rebecca Rinaldi as the wicked witch, Kelsie Camire as Cinderella and Abigail Ackley as Little Red Riding Hood. Plus there are plenty of other noteworthy performances: David Aaron van Duyne as Cinderella’s prince and the wolf that ate grandmother, Tommy Waltz as the baker, Kim Drisko as his wife, Mark E. Dils as the Narrator and Kacy Christine Woodworth and Brie Roche as Cinderella’s vainglorious stepsisters.

This vast and complicated production is ably held together by director/choreographer Raymond Marc Dumont.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Into the Woods” through March 1 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

Caravan of Thieves

“Hard to describe” is an apt phrase when dealing with Caravan of Thieves, a band that’s visiting Portland’s One Longfellow Square this Friday.

Banging on trunks, garbage cans and even a kitchen sink, Caravan of Thieves likes to push creative and performance envelopes. Exotic costuming and on-stage shenanigans are twin shticks of the Connecticut-based string band (loosely defined) that deftly crosses normal boundaries between genres and always adds elements of the unexpected to their high-energy live performances.

When I attended a Caravan of Thieves performance a couple of years ago, I was profoundly impressed by the band’s dynamism, theatricality and sheer entertainment value.

Caravan of Thieves is centered around a husband-wife duo of singer-songwriters. Fuzz and Carrie Sangiovanni say they draw inspiration for their songs by walking through a graveyard that’s close to their home in Bridgeport. One song that’s performed at most shows is “Raise the Dead,” which invokes the specters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joan of Arc and Emily Dickinson.

Last summer the Sangiovannis vacationed on Kezar Lake in Maine’s western mountains and were inspired to write “Dead Wrong,” a song which is being released as a single – their first after producing three albums.

Catch Caravan of Thieves at 8 p.m. Feb. 21 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Noam Pikelny and Friends

Noam Pikelny is a consummate bluegrass banjo player, winner of the first annual (2010) Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo. While his current band, Punch Brothers, is on midwinter hiatus, Pikelny has assembled a “super group” of four similarly ultra-talented instrumentalists and is touring the U.S. as a bluegrass quintet. Billed as Noam Pikelny and Friends, the tour motors into Portland’s One Longfellow Square this Saturday.

Unusual for a bluegrass band, this fivesome performs almost exclusively instrumentals. Many of the tunes were written by bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and sport intriguing titles such as “Wheel Hoss” and “Manchicken.” The arrangements Pikelny uses allow each friend – guitarist Bryan Sutton, bassist Barry Bales, fiddler Luke Bulla and mandolinist Jesse Cobb – to show off their individual virtuosity.

Catch Noam Pikelny and Friends at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

‘The Intergalactic Nemesis’

An alien race of fearsome sludge monsters will infest Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on Feb. 27. They’re from the planet Zygon, located in a far-away galaxy, and they’re determined to wipe out the human race, starting in Romania.

And only an intrepid reporter and her assistant can save humanity from utter destruction by the hideous Zygoneans.

That’s the quick summary of “The Intergalactic Nemesis,” a traveling multimedia show that originated in a coffeehouse in Austin, Texas, and is now captivating audiences all around the country.

The setting is the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in 1933, where a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, her intrepid assistant and a mysterious librarian face the most dangerous threat Earth has ever known: sludge monsters from the distant planet Zygon, acidic to the touch and intent on exterminating humans.

The origin of “The Intergalactic Nemesis” is a series of comic book action adventures, and the traveling show is billed as a “live action graphic novel.” The live show emulates radio plays from the 1930s, with three actors in front of oversized old-time microphones who play dozens of characters, while panels from the original comic book artwork are projected on a screen. The musical score is played on a synthesizer and a sound effects artist adds his own magic to the production.

Portland Ovations presents “The Intergalactic Nemesis” at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

Cinderella, her stepmother, and two stepsisters are among many storybook characters who inhabit “Into the Woods,” a Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, running through March 1 at Lyric Music Theater in South Portland.