Out & About: 'Les Miserables' is summer blockbuster

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A powerful and epic opera that is written in the idiom of pop music is the second offering of the summer season at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. “Les Miserables” was a Broadway mega-hit in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2008, it was one of the biggest hits in MSMT’s history. Five years later it looks like another MSMT blockbuster.

The DaPonte String Quartet, temporarily reconfigured as a trio, is launching its summer concert series July 9 and 11 in the Mid-Coast towns of Harpswell and Boothbay Harbor.

Farther inland, the International Musical Arts Institute is opening its very lovely, very intimate chamber-music festival on July 11 in Fryeburg.

‘Les Miserables’

“Les Miserables” is more than a Broadway musical; it’s an epic opera that spans nearly two decades in time and the entire gamut of human emotions. With book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, music by Schonberg and lyrics by Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer, “Les Miserables” has become an enduring masterpiece of the musical stage.

Based on the classic French novel of the same name by Victor Hugo, “Les Miserables” debuted on the Paris stage in 1981 and later moved on (with English translation) to London and New York. The opera won eight Tony Awards and has been performed more than 7,100 times.

When Maine State Music Theatre produced the show in 2008, it set records for ticket sales, resulting in many sold-out shows and many disappointed ticket seekers.

The company has mounted a new production for 2013. As it was five years ago, it’s an incredibly ambitious undertaking, but succeeds by every measure.

Maine State Music Theatre brilliantly succeeds in bringing this epic work of the stage back to the state. And the sell-outs are back too.

Set in France during the 1800s, the plot follows paroled convict Jean Valjean (Gregg Goodbrod) as he redeems himself in the eyes of society. But he can never free himself from the vengeful pursuit of Inspector Javert (Curt Dale Clark), who is determined to destroy former prisoner No. 24601.

“Les Miserables” opens at a prison in 1815 and the tragedy concludes a few years after the Revolution of 1830, where college students set up barricades in the streets of Paris and unsuccessfully battled the French National Guard.

Subplots involving three young women (Heidi Kettenring, Manna Nichols and Siri Howard) and two young men (Tyler Hanes and Max Quinlan) are intertwined throughout the Valjean-Javert conflict. Plus there’s a comic couple (Gary Troy and Abby Smith) with several hilarious scenes.

Acting and direction (Marc Robin, stage and choreography, and Ed Reichert, music) are superb, with the nod for top actor going to Clark as the relentless Inspector Javert.

I especially appreciated the spectacularly large and appropriately dismal two-tiered set by Robert Klingelhoefer, which nicely frames this sprawling show.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Les Miserables” through July 13 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit www.msmt.org.

DaPonte String Quartet

The DaPonte String Quartet is Maine’s busiest classical foursome, and one of the reasons they earn that title is by playing a summer series of concerts in addition to a fall-winter-spring schedule. The summer schedule begins July 9 and 11 with a program titled “Three By Three.” That’s a reference to the fact that the ensemble is temporarily reconfigured as a trio while violist Kirsten Monke recovers from routine surgery.

Three pieces are slated. Each calls for violin, viola and cello. The quartet’s two violinists share the duties of subbing on viola.

The first two pieces are string trios by Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert; both composers were leading lights of Vienna, Austria, in the early 1800s. The third item is Erno Dohnanyi’s “Serenade for String Trio,” an exemplar of late Romantic music, full of melody and energy.

I attended an early performance of this program a couple of weeks ago and loved it.

The program will be performed twice: Tuesday, July 9, at 7:30 p.m. at Centennial Hall, Route 123 in Harpswell, and Thursday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Columba Church, 32 Emery Lane in Boothbay Harbor. Call 529-4555.

International Musical Arts Institute

One of the joys of summer in Maine is taking excursions to the state’s most scenic corners, and then topping the day with a concert. One of my favorite places to do this is western Maine, where the Saco River, Kezar Lake, Evans Notch, White Mountains and Oxford Hills all beckon. Situated in the midst of these natural attractions is historic Fryeburg, where a wonderful small music festival runs every July.

It was created by famed violin pedagogue Eric Rosenblith – for many years the head of the strings program at the New England Conservatory – and is produced by his International Musical Arts Institute. The IMAI Festival is a gathering of professional musicians from around the globe, principally pianists and string players who have studied with Rosenblith or played in his chamber ensembles. All are successful professionals, and several sit in first chairs with major orchestras or direct music programs at universities and conservatories.

But it’s not all veterans. Each year the roster of performers includes up-and-coming musicians, typically players in graduate programs who are on a path to professional careers. IMAI’s central concept is to mix and match these young musicians with longtime pros, and that dynamic accounts for much of the festival’s appeal.

Rosenblith died a couple of years ago, and the IMAI’s mantle of leadership has been assumed by his wife, Carol Rosenblith (executive director), and Timothy Deighton (artistic director), a professor of viola and chamber music at Pennsylvania State University. Deighton has played the festival for its 17 seasons.

He intends to continue the artistic course set by his predecessor. In a recent statement, Deighton emphasizes continuity of spirit. “Eric Rosenblith, the late patriarch of the IMAI family – and my mentor during my graduate studies – provided all of us with a unique opportunity to grow as musicians,” he said, “and although I fear that I am now a middle-aged musician, I continue to feel privileged to be a member of his musical family.”

The IMAI runs July 11-20. The general schedule is evening concerts at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays plus some special events. The venue is the new Bion R. Cram Library, just off Bradley Street on the Fryeburg Academy campus. Visit www.imaifestival.org.

Sidebar Elements

An epic struggle between two men provides the central story line of “Les Miserables,” the pop opera that runs through July 13 at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. Pictured here is one of several confrontations between the show’s stars, Gregg Goodbrod, left, and Curt Dale Clark.