Out & About: It’s raining in Brunswick, snowing in Ogunquit

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Never mind the dry summer and the widely scattered showers. It’s raining buckets every day in Brunswick, where Maine State Music Theatre wraps up its 2018 season with “Singin’ in the Rain.”

And it’s snowing a few miles down the coast, where Ogunquit Playhouse continues its 2018 season with “Grumpy Old Men,” a warm-hearted musical that’s set in wintertime Minnesota.

The summer-long Ocean Park Music Festival wraps up this Sunday evening with the Downeasters Chorus of Yarmouth.

‘Singin’ in the Rain’

If there’s a water shortage in Brunswick over the next couple of weeks, blame it on Maine State Music Theatre, which is creating daily – and sometimes twice-daily – on-stage deluges in its current production: an adaptation of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

This current offering represents a double triumph of stagecraft and plumbing in a superb production of the 1985 stage version of the celebrated 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical movie of the same name.

The book (film and stage) is by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; with score by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.

“Singin’ in the Rain” is a show about show business. Here the setting is Hollywood in the late 1920s, when “talkies” supplanted silent films. Matinee idol Don Lockwood easily makes the switch, but leading lady Lina Lamont cannot; she’s the archetypal dumb, ditzy blonde who speaks in a squeaky voice with a mouthful of mispronunciations and malapropisms. According to Hollywood gossip, Don and Lina are an item. In reality he can’t stand her, and she can’t understand why.

Enter ingenue Kathy Selden, a beautiful young Hollywood hopeful who lands a minor role and immediately proceeds to upset several studio stars and bigwigs.

Like all romantic comedies, this one sorts out. Don marries Kathy, Lina gets her comeuppance and their new talkie – with Kathy dubbing Lina’s voice – is a hit.

Maine State Music Theatre has assembled a splendid cast, directed by Marc Robin. Nicolas Dromard is the Hollywood hero who “gets the girl” and also gets to sing the iconic title scene, which wraps up the first act in a torrent of real water the likes of which Pickard Theater has never seen.

Kim Sava is utterly delicious in the stock comic role of Lina, while Kate Fahrner nicely portrays her counterpart, ingenue Kathy.

Other great supporting roles are played by Charis Leos in two comic parts: a breathless Hollywood reporter and a frustrated speech coach. Brian Shepard plays Don’s former vaudeville partner and best friend, while David Girolmo takes the heavy role of studio chief.

Company technical director Charles Kading oversaw the set design and plumbing installation, while television station WGME filmed the elaborate silent film scenes. Kudos to both.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Singin’ in the Rain” through Aug. 25 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit MSMT.org.

‘Grumpy Old Men’

Musical comedy continues to reign in Maine, where the venerable Ogunquit Playhouse is offering an extremely funny, warm-hearted romance set in snowy Minnesota. The show is the U.S. premiere of “Grumpy Old Men,” the musical stage version of the 1993 Hollywood hit of the same name.

Debuting “Grumpy Old Men” represents quite a coup for Brad Kenney, executive artistic director of the 86-year-old company, which prides itself on developing new shows for the American musical stage as well as producing the established classics plus more recent Broadway titles.

“Grumpy Old Men” was a 1993 movie with screenplay by Mark Steven Johnson. Ogunquit’s version is a pre-Broadway tryout of an advanced stage version, with a book by Dan Remmes, music by Neil Berg and lyrics by Nick Meglin.

The setting is the snow-belt town of Wabasha, Minnesota, where ice fishing is the major activity and the general store-apothecary-bait shop is the hub of social life. The two central characters are seventy-somethings who live in adjacent houses and spend much of their time in adjacent ice fishing shacks.

Fifty years ago they quarreled over a sweetheart; nowadays they simply quarrel, hurling insults and deprecations at each other. One has a middle-aged bachelor son; the other a middle-aged divorced daughter.

The tranquility of Wabasha is broken by the unexpected arrival of a stranger, a curvaceous widow who causes an emotional heat wave, which re-ignites long-dormant passions and re-intensifies the title characters’ long-running feud.

Other key characters include a 90-year-old geezer, the apothecary-bait shop owner, his hypochondriac cousin and an IRS agent who seeks money – and love.

This is an improbable, offbeat romantic comedy, and the denouement had no fewer than four happy romantic pairings. I loved it.

Kenney and director Matt Lenz assembled a superb cast, led by Mark Jacoby and Ed Dixon in the title roles. Both showed an exceptional spectrum of acting talent, ranging from cold, blustery exterior personas to their inner emotions. Leslie Stevens flaunted her talents in the choice role of the sought-after, fought-over woman, while Laura Woyasz and Kevin Massey nicely comprised the middle-aged romantic pairing.

Great character roles were wonderfully filled by Doug Eskew as the shopkeeper, Sally Struthers as his wheezy cousin, Brenda Braxton as the money-hungry, love-starved IRS agent and Hal Linden as the wise old geezer who demonstrates that he’s still got a good bit of gas left in the tank.

I also loved the richly detailed set, by Michael Carnahan. The creators of “Grumpy Old Men” hope to move their show to Broadway in the not-too-distant future. This production certainly demonstrates that it’s ready.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “Grumpy Old Men” through Sept. 1. Call 646-5511 or visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org for details.

Downeasters Chorus

Aug. 19 marks the finale of the annual summer-long Ocean Park Music Festival, which is held most Sunday evenings at The Temple, a huge and handsome wooden structure that was built in the 1880s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The final offering will be the Downeasters Chorus, a Yarmouth-based, 75-man ensemble that’s affiliated with the Barbershop Harmony Society.

“Our singing is four-part close harmony with rich emotional melodies designed to captivate our audiences,” explains director Jay Wiley. “We sing gorgeous ballads, toe-tapping swing songs and vivacious up-tunes where our performers move on the risers with a stage presence unique to choral performing.”

I attended this concert last year, and plan to go this Sunday.

Catch the Downeasters Chorus at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at The Temple, 14 Temple Ave. in Ocean Park. Call 934-9068.

“Singin’ in the Rain,” a Broadway musical based on a Hollywood movie that recounts the demise of the silent film era, runs through Aug. 25 at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.

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