Out & About: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ marks summer finale

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The sun slipped below the celestial equator more than two weeks ago, but the summer season lingers at Ogunquit Playhouse, where the grand finale of 2016 opened this past weekend.

In 2015, “Million Dollar Quartet” broke box office records. Now it’s back for a 2016 reprise at the venue that bills itself as “America’s Foremost Summer Theatre.”

ChoralArt, the new name for the venerable Choral Art Society, opens its fall-winter-spring season this Sunday with a Portland concert featuring two major modern works: Donald McCullough’s “Holocaust Cantata” and James Whitbourn’s “Luminosity.”

Portland Ovations presents the first of its 2016-2017 dance series on Oct. 20, as Ballet X rolls into Merrill Auditorium.

Connor Garvey is a Portland singer-songwriter who’s giving a concert this Saturday.

‘Million Dollar Quartet’

When Ogunquit Playhouse closed its 2015 season, the final show had sold more tickets than any other in the company’s first 83 years. Most performances of “Million Dollar Quartet” sold out and there were many disappointed people who couldn’t get in.

Executive Artistic Director Brad Kenney is reprising “Million Dollar Quartet” to close out 2016, and the box office excitement obviously remains: The performance I attended on Sunday was sold out.

“Million Dollar Quartet” is a jukebox musical set in the seminal years of rock-n-roll, and it brings together four of the emerging genre’s earliest stars: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. All four started with Sun Records, a tiny company in Memphis, Tennessee, that was run by Sam Phillips.

On Dec. 4, 1956, all four musicians plus Phillips were present in the studio, and an all-day jam session followed. Most of it was recorded and a famous photo appeared in a local paper under the title “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Ten years ago, playwright Colin Escott and music historian Floyd Mutrux scripted a jukebox musical that was based on that session. Escott and Mutrux added personal details about the four and some of their friends, plus some real-life drama that was based on jealousies and contract disagreements. And boasting 23 hit songs, “Million Dollar Quartet” emerged.

This year’s reprise of “Million Dollar Quartet” is (again) a sensationally good theatrical experience that pushes all the hot buttons: great music, fascinating characters and engaging drama. All four principal actors are spot-on, both in looks, voice and mannerisms: Scott Moreau as Cash, Nat Zegree as Lewis, James Barry as Perkins and Beau Cassidy as Presley. Moreau and Zegree had the same roles last year.

With his frenetic energy, acrobatics, piano skills and madcap humor, Zegree is again the show-stopper.

Ogunquit Playouse, 10 Main St. (Route 1) presents “Million Dollar Quartet” through Nov. 6. Call 646-5511 or visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org.


The 44-year-old Choral Art Society has a new name and new executive director, but its longtime mission remains unchanged: advance the art of choral singing through performance, collaboration and outreach.

The new name, debuted last spring, is ChoralArt, and Brooke Hubner has taken the organizational reins as of this fall. The artistic director remains a familiar face; Robert Russell first stepped on the podium in 1979. He boasts a doctorate in choral conducting and for many years he was a professor at the University of Southern Maine School of Music.

For the opening concert of the 2016-2017 season, Russell has picked a program with two major works united by a common theme. The title is “Light Shines Eternal,” and the motif of light versus darkness suffuses both pieces, plus they are both built upon a common structure.

The opening work was composed by Donald McCullough, and it’s titled “Holocaust Cantata: Songs from the Camps.” It utilizes music, poetry and prose written by inmates of Nazi concentration camps and unifies these diverse elements and points of view into an aesthetic whole.

James Whitbourn’s “Luminosity” is a work that employs a number of texts from a variety of writers and viewpoints from different historical periods. The title indicates an over-arching theme and suggests an uplifting approach.

ChoralArt presents “Light Shines Eternal” at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Cathedral of St. Luke, 143 State St. in Portland. Call 828-0043.

Ballet X

One of America’s newest and fastest-rising contemporary dance companies is visiting Portland next week. Ballet X, formed 11 years ago in Philadelphia, aims to fuse the rigorous and graceful precision of traditional ballet with 21st-century athleticism, aesthetic values and emotions.

The company works with today’s top choreographers, and is proud of the fact that its dancers have premiered 59 new works in its short life span.

Much of the spirit of this dynamic terpsichorean troupe is captured in a recent review by Alastair Macaulay, chief dance critic of The New York Times.

“Ballet tends to be the most orthodox of art forms, and often the most reactionary,” Macaulay wrote this past August. “How heartening to renew acquaintance with the uninhibited and adult eccentricity that Ballet X, a company devoted to new choreography, seems to encourage.

“This Philadelphia company … has vividly appealing, highly individual dancers. It’s easy to miss how meticulous they are in style — but impossible not to recognize their richness and immediacy.

“This is a company whose skills continually deepen and mature.”

Portland Ovations presents Ballet X at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 20. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Connor Garvey

Entertainer, storyteller and poet are three of the traits that define Connnor Garvey, a singer-songwriter who calls Portland home and pursues his musical calling on the road.

This Saturday Garvey’s travels take him to One Longfellow Square, the top listening room in his hometown.

Garvey’s combination of songwriting and performance strength has earned him numerous accolades, including being named winner of the Kerrville New Folk Competition, Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, SolarFest and Wildflower Art and Music Festival. He’s also topped Maine Songwriters Association competitions, and Sirius XM’s The Coffeehouse has recognized him as a top new voice.

Joining Garvey will be fellow singer-songwriter Raina Rose. She’s also from Portland – the one in Oregon. Rose comes from a musical family, and as a young adult she gained life experience as an environmental teacher. That experience inspired her to follow her muse and forge a career in music. She has toured relentlessly and has opened for many acts.

Catch Connor Garvey and Raina Rose at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland, at 8 p.m. Oct. 15. Call 761-1757.

Ballet X, a company that combines traditional values with contemporary aesthetics, is the first offering on Portland Ovations’ 2016-2017 dance series. Ballet X performs Oct. 20 at Merrill Auditorium.