Out & About: Music, theater all over southern Maine

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You’ll definitely need a full tank of gasoline if you want to fully experience all that southern Maine has to offer in music and theater this weekend.

You’ll box the compass; the geographic spread ranges from South Portland east to Topsham, north to Lewiston and west to Standish.

Top choice is “Southern Comforts” in Lewiston, the Public Theatre’s final 2009-2010 production.

In Portland, the Old Port Playhouse offers “Little Shop of Horrors,” a tuneful and very funny musical.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra plays Saturday in Lewiston and Sunday in Topsham.

The Portland Chamber Music Festival is playing a spring concert in South Portland on Saturday.

And there’s a new classical group that’s in start-up mode. Maine Friends of Chamber Music debuts Sunday in Standish.

‘Southern Comforts’

In the autumn of their lives, two former losers in love get a second chance at romance – and they almost lose it.

That’s the executive summary of “Southern Comforts,” a splendid romantic comedy-drama by Kathleen Clark that closes the 2009-2010 season at the Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn.

Chris Schario directs a two-actor cast comprising two veteran professionals. Both Ed Schiff and Louisa Flaningam have long resumes that include Broadway, national tours, television and movies.

Schiff is magnificent as a retired stonemason, a widower who has built psychological walls around himself to distance himself from memories of his long and unsuccessful marriage. A bit of curmudgeon, Schiff’s character ranges from bluster to extreme vulnerability. He’s beautifully matched with Flaningam, a vivacious and outgoing widow from Tennessee with her own weaknesses.

There’s plenty of magnetic power that draws these two different characters together, but they also have some formidable obstacles to overcome. With Schiff and Flaningam giving virtuoso, memorable performances, “Southern Comforts” definitely ranks among the funniest and most moving shows I’ve seen in years – and well worth the short trek to Lewiston.

The Public Theatre, corner of Lisbon and Maple in Lewiston, presents “Southern Comforts” May 13 at 7 p.m., May 14 at 8 p.m., May 15 at 2 and 8 p.m. and May 16 at 2 p.m. Call 782-3200.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’

“Little Shop of Horrors” is one of the funniest and most delightful musical comedies ever written, a very tuneful, light-hearted, rib-tickling spoof of the teenage “creature feature” movies of the 1950s. Think “The Blob.”

With libretto by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, “Little Shop of Horrors” is a favorite among school, amateur and professional companies. Unfortunately, Old Port Playhouse’s current professional (non-Equity) production doesn’t really do justice to the show.

As noted here in another review earlier this season, inappropriate casting is director Michael Tobin’s problem. The ingenue and juvenile are very young – a concept that’s central to the show – but middle-age stage veterans play the parts in OPP’s production. Linette Miles makes a valiant effort, but she shouldn’t be cast in this part and her voice lacks the operatic quality that’s needed for her two big solo numbers. Mark Calkins struggles, too; he’s far older than the clumsy young man he’s supposed to portray.

Old Port Playhouse, 19 Temple St. in Portland, presents “Little Shop of Horrors” through May 23 with performances at 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Call 773-0333.

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

It’s season-finale time for the community-based Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, and the final concert series is slated this weekend. Pianist Anastasia Antonacos will do the solo honors in Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, the featured piece on the program.

Antonacos, a Portland resident, teaches at the University of Southern Maine School of Music and Bates College; she has performed around the world as a solo recitalist and with chamber ensembles.

Brahms Piano Concerto was written early in the composer’s life. It is truly a young man’s work – expansive, emotionally extreme and very difficult to play.

Two performances are scheduled: 7:30 p.m. May 15 at the Franco-American Heritage Center at St. Mary’s Church in Lewiston (corner of Cedar and Oxford) and 2:30 p.m. May 16 at Orion Performing Arts Center (Mt. Ararat Middle School) in Topsham. Call 846-5378.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

In the decades following World War I, it was fashionable for European classical composers to reject 19th-century Romanticism. One notable exception was Rebecca Clarke, an Englishwoman who spent much of her creative life in New York.

Clarke was not a prolific composer and she is unfamiliar even among classical cognoscenti, but she’s still got some admirers many years after her death. One of these is Jennifer Elowitch, co-founder and co-artistic director of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, an annual August event. This Saturday the festival is producing a spring fund-raising concert in South Portland.

Among three works selected is Clarke’s Piano Trio, composed in 1921 for piano, violin and cello. Although seldom heard in Maine, Elowitch says that it’s an appealing and interesting selection.

“The Rebecca Clarke piece is wonderful to listen to and really fun music to play,” says Elowitch. “It’s immediately likable, heartfelt and exceptionally expressive. Maybe it’s a bit over the top in the Romanticism department.”

Other works are by Franz Joseph Haydn and Johannes Brahms.

Catch the Portland Chamber Music Festival’s spring concert May 15 at 8 p.m. at Congregation Bet Ha’am, 81 Westbrook St. in South Portland. Call PCMF at 800-320-0257.

Maine Friends of Chamber Music

There’s a new classical music organization in southern Maine, and it’s debuting this Sunday in Standish. Maine Friends of Chamber Music is a newly created performing arts organization that can vary in size from a duo to over 30 musicians.

Dedicated to all genres of chamber music – old and new – the ensemble strives to make chamber music accessible and engaging. Artistic director George Wiese lives in Standish and makes his career traveling as an orchestra conductor and performing as a keyboardist.

The centerpiece of Sunday’s performance will be “Facade – An Entertainment,” a 1923 collaboration of composer William Walton and poet Edith Sitwell. Two actors narrate 21 of Sitwell’s poems in spoken rhythm, while an ensemble of six instrumentalists accompanies the mood of each poem.

Also on the program is Antonin Dvorak’s Serenade for Winds, a lively and tuneful composition scored for seven woodwinds, three French horns, cello and bass. Each movement utilizes elements of a different dance.

Catch Maine Friends of Chamber Music’s inaugural concert at 6 p.m. May 16 at the Schoolhouse Arts Center in Sebago Lake Village in Standish. Call Wiese at 648-7183.

Sidebar Elements

Two losers in love, portrayed by Louisa Flaningam and Ed Schiff, get a second chance at romance in “Southern Comforts,” playing through May 16 at the Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn.