Out & About: ‘Legally Blonde,’ Orli Shaham open seasons

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The sun has just entered its six-month passage below the celestial equator, marking the astronomical start of fall. Concurrently, several of the region’s major arts producers have entered their fall-winter-spring seasons.

In South Portland, Lyric Music Theater is off to a sensational start with “Legally Blonde,” one of the biggest and finest productions this topnotch community company has ever offered.

Portland Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of maestro Robert Moody, opens its 2013-2014 season with two performances of a program featuring Orli Shaham as guest soloist in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4.

Bluegrass is never in or out of season at One Longfellow Square; it’s a recurring feature of this delightful Portland music room. OLS has lined up an all-star roster of local bluegrass artists for a benefit concert this Friday.

‘Legally Blonde’

OMG it’s cute. Like totally entertaining.

Those are among the expected – and well-deserved – responses to “Legally Blonde,” the Broadway musical version of the 2001 Hollywood film of the same name, based on the novel by Amanda Brown. “Legally Blonde” was a big hit on the silver screen and now the stage musical is becoming equally popular.

The musical has a book by Heather Hach and score by Nell Benjamin and Lawrence O’Keefe. It opened on Broadway in 2007 and garnered seven Tony nominations. It’s had several national tours and has become a favorite of regional companies, both professional and community. Lyric Music Theater is currently running a superb community production of this show through Oct. 5 in South Portland.

I’ve seen “Legally Blonde” three times before, and I’m very impressed with how the show affects me on several levels. For starters, there’s the fish-out-of-water comic story of an air-headed Southern California valley girl who ventures east to the hallowed halls of Harvard Law School. After the laughter from the obvious jokes has subsided, there’s a second story of a “dumb blonde” who spectacularly succeeds in a brainy game that was never intended for her.

And on the third level there’s the story of a young woman who discovers that she possesses an inner loveliness that’s fully equal to her super-abundant superficial beauty.

Two young women of Lyric are proudly strutting their stuff in this show. Most obviously there’s Rachel Liftman in the title role. A welcome newcomer to Lyric, Liftman exudes beauty, brains and heart – and projects these qualities to the far corners of the auditorium.

Lyric boasts another young woman whose talents shine in this production. Director Celeste Green – who is excellent playing ingenue roles herself – takes the helm for “Legally Blonde” as director and choreographer. It’s a formidable undertaking, with the large cast and many changes of scene and costume. The choreography alone would be a daunting job, and Green manages both with aplomb. (Plus she was elected president of the board of trustees at Lyric’s June annual meeting.)

She gets lots of help from the cast, of course. Top supporting actor is Amy Torrey playing a lovelorn hairdresser, Brandon Pullen as her beau and Sean St. Louis-Farrelly as a sleazy law professor. Other notables include Abigail Ackley and Kelsie Camire, leading a “Greek chorus” of sorority sisters, Tommy Waltz, Bryan Robicheau, Heather Libby and Holly Hinchliffe.

Lyric Music Theater, 76 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Legally Blonde” through Oct. 5 with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

An internationally acclaimed exponent of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven will be the guest artist as the Portland Symphony Orchestra launches its 2013-2014 season this Sunday and Tuesday. For his season-opener, maestro Robert Moody has engaged Orli Shaham, an Israeli-born New York virtuoso to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, the featured work.

Mark Rohr, the PSO’s program annotator, comments that No. 4 represents archetypal Beethoven – inventive, playful and full of unexpected twists and turns. Known for its unique structure, the concerto is full of surprises for listeners.

When composed in 1805, the classical concerto – still a relatively new format – had taken concrete shape in the minds of audiences. So Beethoven deliberately broke many of those rules and conventions, and in the process he redefined the concerto form.

Soloist Shaham is a Juilliard-trained pianist who travels around the world performing solo and with chamber and orchestral ensembles. She has also won the Gilmore Young Artist Award and the Avery Fisher Career Grant, two prestigious prizes given to further the development of outstanding talent. In addition to her musical education, Shaham holds a degree in history from Columbia University.

Shaham is also known as a Beethoven interpreter. The 37-year-old virtuoso directs a program devoted to Beethoven’s chamber works, and last year she achieved a “grand slam” by performing all five of his piano concertos.

Moody’s program will open with a 1912 fanfare-overture to a seldom-performed ballet by Paul Dukas. The concluding piece is Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, one of the major orchestral works of the 20th century. Rohr notes that No. 5 is very lyrical, somewhat atypical of the composer’s prior symphonies.

Portland Symphony Orchestra will perform the first program of its 2013-2014 classical series twice at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 2:30 p.m. Sept. 29 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 1. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Bluegrass at One Longfellow Square

Whether it’s sweltering hot or freezing cold outside, bluegrass is always in season at One Longfellow Square, the western anchor of Portland’s Arts District and a stalwart outpost of Americana music in its multiple genres and sub-genres. OLS is Portland’s best small music room, with intimate seating for a hundred-plus.

A couple of years ago, OLS reorganized itself as a nonprofit arts center and presenter. This Friday, a number of Maine’s best bluegrass artists will donate their services at a concert to benefit the venue.

Two well-established Maine-based bands are the bookends. The Jerks of Grass, known for traditional tight harmonies and some non-traditional song selections, will open. The closers will be Erica Brown and Bluegrass Connection, an ensemble built around Maine’s prize-winning fiddle virtuoso.

Second up will be mandolin wiz Joe Walsh, performing with Lincoln Stevens and Steve Roy. Walsh is one this country’s top mandolinists, and tours nationally with the Gibson Brothers and other bands. Fiddler Lauren Rioux is a Maine teacher, producer and performer, who’ll be appearing on Friday with Sten Isak.

Catch the Bluegrass Bash at 8 p.m. Sept. 27 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

Rachel Liftman leads a bevy of cheerleaders in the Lyric Music Theater production of “Legally Blonde.” The musical based on the movie and novel of the same name runs through Oct. 5 in South Portland.