Out & About: 'Midsummer Night's Dream' at Portland Ballet

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Spring has been with us for a few weeks (at least by the astronomical definition), but the weather hasn’t really felt like it. Anticipating even balmier weather ahead, Portland Ballet is producing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” William Shakespeare’s celebrated romantic comedy.

“Happy Days Are Here Again” is another joyful way of waving bye-bye to snow and ice. It’s Good Theater’s original jukebox musical based on the early years of Barbra Streisand’s long and illustrious career.

There’s a fascinating musical event coming up on Sunday. The Nile Project, presented by Portland Ovations, is a multi-cultural collaboration among artists of the 11 nations of the world’s longest river.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Among William Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, none has enjoyed such lasting popularity as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a complicated fairy tale about love and marriage set in an enchanted forest in ancient Greece.

The play features numerous characters, who range from a king and queen to common folk and woodland fairies, plus a plot that interweaves three primary romantic threads. This creative tour de force also relies on a number of classic comic devices, such as a magic love potion and a play within a play.

Shakespeare’s romantic comedy has been frequently adapted to other media, including music and dance. This weekend, Portland Ballet is producing an all-new professional terpsichorean take on the celebrated tale. It will feature choreography created by Nell Shipman, the company’s incoming artistic director.

Shipman recently emailed some of her thoughts to me:

“Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is truly a story worth hearing again and again. It is lovely and silly and there is a true sense of fun when one gets lost in the details of its love triangle and the jealous bickering of the King and Queen of the forest fairies. It is, however, a completely different set of emotions when faced with the task of telling this tale, especially without the use of words.”

Shipman explains how she deals with that non-verbal challenge:

“I have taken this beloved tale and created a ballet that has a slightly different spin on how the magic is played out and how the wrongs are righted once again before the sun rises in this particular forest on this particular night, leaving the audience knowing the way of the woodland fairies, yet the characters of the story still wondering if it truly was all just a dream.”

Billed as a family show, this production also comes with some extra-performance sidelights, including a session where youngsters can build fairy houses before the performance and an opportunity to talk with the company’s professional dancers afterward.

Portland Ballet presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, 471 Stroudwater St. (at the Westbrook Middle School) at 8 p.m. April 10 and 2 p.m. April 11. Call 772-9671.

‘Happy Days Are Here Again’

Barbra Streisand has been one of America’s most beloved singers for more than half a century. After first working in nightclubs in her native New York, she rose to stardom on Broadway in 1964 in the title role of “Funny Girl.” Streisand’s long run of musical success stretches across six decades to the present.

For the next three weeks, Good Theater is offering an original jukebox musical that’s based on Streisand’s early years. Subtitled “Streisand’s ‘60s Songbook,” this show will focus on her early nightclub work, then expand in concept and scope as Streisand branched into theater, television, movies and recordings.

The show was created by Good Theater artistic director Brian P. Allen, who also directs and narrates. The star of the show will be Lesley McKinnell, an actress who has performed lead parts in several recent Broadway shows, including “Wicked.” Music director and keyboardist will be Victoria Stubbs, who has worked with Good Theater since its inception.

Allen explains his logic in constructing the show and previews some of the key concepts.

“I’ve divided the show into four sections: ‘Nightclubs & Broadway,’ ‘Television,’ ‘Recordings’ and ‘Movies.’ I picked songs from each of these areas that held variety and interest for me, and that I thought would play well with audiences. I wanted to balance the comedy numbers with the ballads with the up-tempo songs. I tried to include the well known hits, but also some of the lesser known songs she sang as well. I’ve been working on this for more than a year and I’m really happy with how it has come together.

“I’m on stage with Lesley and Vicky as the host/narrator of the piece. I tell some funny stories about Barbra, give some history, facts and weave in a story or two about myself and about Lesley. I think it will be a very entertaining 75 minutes for audiences.”

Some of the songs Allen picked include “Happy Days Are Here Again,” “Miss Marmelstein,” “People,” “Second Hand Rose,” “Marty the Martian,” “Smiles,” “He Touched Me” and “Before the Parade Passes By.”

Good Theater presents “Happy Days Are Here Again” through April 26 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill), with performances Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. will be offered on April 17 and 25. Call 885-5883.

The Nile Project

Nearly 7,000 miles in length, the Nile is the world’s longest river, flowing through 11 nations and a bewildering variety of geography, cultures, languages and political systems. Conflict has rule much of this vast river basin since the beginnings of recorded history.

Forging a sense of unity amidst this geographic and cultural cacophony is the goal of the Nile Project, a musical collective that will be performing in Portland this Sunday.

The Nile Project was founded by Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis and Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero, who hope to raise awareness and help bridge the basin’s cultural and environmental challenges. The ensemble is a diverse orchestra of musicians and singers who combine disparate instruments, languages and traditions.

Numbering more than a dozen singers and instrumentalists from the various countries of the basin, the Nile Project’s unique sound comes from learning from one another and translating that experience into collectively composed songs.

Portland Ovations presents the Nile Project at 7 p.m. April 12 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Sidebar Elements

Fairies in an enchanged forest are among the characters in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Portland Ballet is staging a terpsichorean take on William Shakespeare’s celebrated romantic comedy this weekend.