Out & About: Irish on stage, in concert

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Two of our state’s premier professional theater companies have teamed up to produce a play with music that’s currently having its Maine premiere in Portland. “The Irish … And How They Got That Way” is the result of a collaboration between Maine State Music Theatre and Portland Stage Company. It’s a thought-provoking show that’s peppered with traditional Irish music.

Want to hear more from the Emerald Isle? Solas is a top Irish-American band that’s currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. Solas will perform at Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Saturday.

Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, Maine’s newest major concert venue, has veteran pop singer Maureen McGovern in concert on Sunday evening in Arundel.

‘The Irish …’

Bowdoin College is about to reclaim the space it leases to Maine State Music Theatre each summer. It’s way too early for Portland Stage Company to open its fall-winter-spring season.

Both those statements are true. But there’s a big “but.”

New for 2016, both companies have pitched in to produce the Maine premiere of a play with music that opened last weekend and runs into mid-September.

“The Irish … And How They Got That Way” is the result of their collaboration, and it promises to help both these top-rated companies extend their artistic and marketing boundaries.

Artistically it’s a hodge-podge of various elements: lecture, sermon, diatribe, comedy, vaudeville, history, PowerPoint and music. It was written in 1997 by Frank McCourt, who is best known as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Angela’s Ashes.”

Set in an Irish barroom somewhere in the U.S. in the 1990s, the first act is mostly dark, focusing on historical economic and social tragedies of Ireland, with the potato famine of the 1840s and its dreadful consequences as the single most intense element. McCourt’s narrative is amplified by a number of historical illustrations from contemporary newspapers and magazines that are projected on a screen above the actors.

The second act is much lighter, and includes some raucous comedy. It ends with a section featuring famous Americans of Irish ancestry, topped off by a worshipful tribute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

About two dozen songs are interpolated throughout the show. These include “Danny Boy,” several tunes made popular by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Maken, a selection of numbers by Broadway composer George M. Cohan and a contemporary song by Irish rockers U2.

Four actors, three of them long associated with Maine State Music Theatre, perform the dialogues, monologues and songs. Curt Dale Clark – who is also the company’s artistic director – is the lead male, ably supported by MSMT newcomer Peter Cormican, who delivers most the heavy sermons and diatribes.

Cary Michele Miller is the archetypal Irish ingenue: petite, red-haired and with plaintive voice. The comic gem of this show is MSMT veteran Charis Leos, whose portrayal of an inebriated widow at an old-fashioned wake is one of the funniest moments in theater I’ve seen all summer.

Director Marc Robin has been with this show since its inception, and his expertise and deep understanding can be seen in many ways. Music direction is handled admirably by Ed Reichert, a longtime MSMT stalwart and teacher at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. The deliciously realistic set was designed by Anita Stewart, executive and artistic director of Portland Stage Company.

Clark told me that he hopes that this collaboration between the two companies will evolve into an annual affair. Based on the success of this first effort, he’s certainly rolling down the right track. Advance ticket sales have been so strong that the run was extended by a week, with the announcement coming even before the show opened.

Catch “The Irish … And How They Got That Way” at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., through Sept. 11. Call 774-0465 or visit MSMT.org.


Want another bite from the Irish apple? Try Solas this Saturday.

In the Gaelic language, “solas” means “light,” as in burst of sunlight. That’s how Solas, the Irish-American ensemble emerged in 1996, bursting on the trad music scene. Twenty years later, Solas is still going strong, boasting a new recording that emphasizes the group’s longevity and vitality. The national tour in support of the new album visits Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Saturday.

Solas is anchored by founding members Seamus Egan (flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, whistles, guitars, bodhran) and Winifred Horan (violins, vocals), who form the backbone of the ensemble’s unique sound. Also on tour are longtime members Eamon McElholm (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Mick McAuley (button accordion, vocals). The newest member is the dynamic Moira Smiley (vocals, banjo),

“All These Years” is the title of the newest CD, Solas’ 12th, which was released earlier this year. The five touring members want to demonstrate that Celtic music today is a truly universal musical language, like jazz, classical, rock or bluegrass. The band’s sound is explosive yet seductively personal, both timelessly melodic yet rippling with modern muscle. Through fresh and unexpected arrangements of age-old tunes, compelling and topical originals and covers, Solas aims to define the path for the Celtic music world and drive the genre forward.

Catch Solas at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. Aug. 27. Call 761-1757.

Maureen McGovern

Death, destruction and disaster lead to fame and fortune for Maureen McGovern. At least at the movies.

Consider three of her earliest hit records. “The Morning After” was from “The Poseidon Adventure,” one of Hollywood’s all-time successes in the disaster drama genre. Ditto for “We May Never Love Like This Again,” from “The Towering Inferno.” Both these songs received Oscars, and McGovern’s recording of the former shot to the top of the pop charts.

A third song from a disaster flick garnered an Oscar nomination, but no statuette. “Wherever Love Takes Me” is from “Gold,” a British film that begins with a tunnel collapse in a gold mine. Get the picture?

These songs helped launch McGovern’s career, which has continued to the present, spanning 44 years and 14 albums. In addition to singing in concert and cabarets, she’s also made numerous film appearances and done three stints on Broadway.

McGovern is one of the many top national acts that’s been booked this summer by George Dvorsky, the artistic director of Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, located in the former Arundel Barn Playhouse. Beginning this summer, the handsome 1880s-vintage barn is Maine’s newest major concert venue. Catch McGovern at 8 p.m Aug. 28. Call 985-5552.

“The Irish … and How They Got That Way” is a thought-provoking play with music that’s set in an Irish bar. It is a joint production of Maine State Music Theatre and Portland Stage Company.