Out & About: Lyric Music Theater gets back to its roots

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April showers bring a spate of music and musical theater to Portland and South Portland this weekend.

Let’s start south of the harbor, where Lyric Music Theater’s “Kiss Me, Kate” is an outstanding community production of one of the finest Broadway shows ever written.

Back north of the bridge, John Prine, a fixture on America’s folk scene since the 1970s, will appear at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on Friday. Expect to hear plenty of material from the new album he’ll be releasing next month.

On Saturday, the Choral Art Society appears in Portland with a program featuring a bluegrass mass. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Portland Symphony Orchestra closes out its 2010-2011 season with Sunday and Tuesday performances of a program centered around two pairs of lovers from ancient legends. PSO principal bassoonist Janet Polk gets a solo gig.

‘Kiss Me, Kate’

Of all the musicals written during the Golden Age of Broadway, none so beautifully combines an exquisitely clever, wonderfully witty libretto with lushly melodic music than “Kiss Me, Kate,” the classic battle of the sexes that was loosely based on William Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”

The book was written by the husband-and-wife team of Sam and Bella Spewack (with much assistance from The Bard) and the score was penned by Cole Porter. “Kiss Me, Kate” was the sensation of the 1949 season and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book and Best Score.

Lyric Music Theater wraps up its 2010-2011 season with an outstanding community production. It’s also a historical throwback: 58 years ago, “Kiss Me, Kate” was the inaugural production for this wonderful company.

Director Mary Meserve helms an inspired cast that led by three truly outstanding performers. Interestingly, two of the three are in their first roles at Lyric and the third is in her second. The primary romantic pairing pits Lyric newcomers Bruce Lancaster and Amy Torrey against each other as a bickering divorced couple who comically and melodically struggle to rekindle their love. Hats off to both.

Celeste Green, playing the comic coquette, is in her second Lyric role, and she’s clearly the company’s star ingenue. A petite and curvaceous package of visual excitement and sexual energy who is blessed with a fine voice, Green transforms a second-tier character into the show’s sparkling gem.

Lyric Music Theater, 76 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Kiss Me, Kate” through May 7 with 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday performances and 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees. Call 799-1421.

John Prine

Of all the singer/songwriter troubadours who emerged in the 1970s, there’s none I like better than John Prine. That’s partly from timing and geography: I lived in Chicago when Prine and Steve Goodman were the exciting new voices in the Near North Side folk rooms and I was a huge fan of the music that came from the “Big Shoulders” tradition of Carl Sandburg and Studs Terkel.

With an amazing and empathetic attention to detail and a love of being both hilarious and deeply serious – sometimes in the same song – coupled with a deep affinity for roots music, Prine writes music that’s the envy of other singer/songwriters. Just look at the long list of fellow songwriters who have recorded his works: Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Everly Brothers, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt and Carly Simon.

Prine’s got a new CD coming out at the end of May. Titled “In Person & On Stage,” the album will offer new material as well as remakes of his own classics such as “Angel From Montgomery.”

Expect to hear much from this new album at 8 p.m. April 29 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Choral Art Society

If you think there’s nothing new and exciting about choral music, there’s a concert in Portland this Saturday that might change your mind. The Choral Art Society performs a program that begins with a modern work set to an e.e. cummings poem and ends with a bluegrass mass – complete with bluegrass band accompaniment.

The concert opens with the Maine premiere of a piece composed by Eric Whitacre, a choral setting of a cummings poem that describes a little man in a hurry. It was commissioned by a consortium of choral groups affiliated with Chorus America and is the fifth piece in a choral cycle, based on cummings’ works, collectively titled “The City and the Sea.” A selection of early American spirituals is next, followed by several nocturnes composed by Mortem Laurite and a group of traditional African-American spirituals.

The program culminates with Carol Barnett’s “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass.” This intriguing piece combines the sacred classical choral tradition with the sparkling down-home twang and raw energy of banjo, mandolin and fiddle. By integrating bluegrass and classical music, the composer invites aficionados of each tradition to explore the other.

Catch this fascinating concert at 7:30 p.m. April 30 at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford Ave. in Portland. Call 828-0043.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The rain showers of springtime bring forth a cascade of love. That might have been in the mind of Portland Symphony Orchestra maestro Robert Moody when he planned the final concert of the 2010-2011 season, where two of the three pieces on the program revolve around ancient classic love stories by legendary couples.

The opener is the prelude and “Liebestod” (“Love-death”) from Richard Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde,” which is based on an ancient romantic tale from the time of King Arthur’s England. The major work on the program is the full score for Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe,” which is based on an ancient Greek pastoral poem depicting romance between a handsome young shepherd and a beautiful sheep-herding maiden. Joining the PSO for “Daphnis et Chloe” will be two vocal groups: Brunswick-based Oratorio Chorale and Midcoast’s Vox Nova Chamber Choir. Their role is to add wordless choral lines that Ravel uses to gorgeous effect.

In between these two love stories, PSO principal bassoonist Janet Polk will be the featured soloist in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto No. 1. She performed this elegantly melodic piece some years ago, but a blizzard kept the audience at home and the hall was nearly empty. So it’s nice that Moody has scheduled a reprise – and that he scheduled it for May.

Catch one of two opportunities to hear this program at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 2:30 p.m. May 1 and 7:30 p.m. May 3. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

Janet Polk, principal bassoonist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra, will be the featured soloist in the orchestra’s final two concerts of the 2010-2011 season on May 1 and 3.