Out & About: Music, theater, ballet are top picks

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Southern Maine’s arts and entertainment calendar remains crowded with events in various genres as we pass the midpoint of summer.

Last weekend the Ogunquit Playhouse opened “Mary Poppins,” the middle offering of its five-show season. Ogunquit’s production boasts some terrific special effects in support of a wonderful, tuneful story about a magical English nanny.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is William Shakespeare’s most famous romantic comedy. Maine State Ballet will open a two-weekend run of its terpsichorean take on the Bard’s classic story of love gone awry this Friday in Falmouth.

Thinkin’ Big, an 18-piece band from Boston’s Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory will be playing on Friday in Portland.

Also in the Port City, Maine’s final classical music festival of the summer will open next week. The Portland Chamber Music Festival launches its 21st four-concert season on Aug. 14.

‘Mary Poppins’

One of the most popular characters of literature and film has enchanted millions for decades. Mary Poppins, an English nanny from the Edwardian era, has magical qualities plus a number of fairy-like friends. She pops into a troubled household in London, stirs things up and sets things straight. Then she’s gone.

That’s the quick summary of “Mary Poppins,” a Broadway-style musical that’s loosely based on the original children’s books by Pamela Travers and very closely based on the 1964 Walt Disney musical film that starred Julie Andrews in the title role. The movie’s lushly lyrical and much-beloved score, by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, was retained, and additional songs by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe were added. The stage script was written by Julian Fellowes.

Ogunquit Playhouse opened its fully professional production of “Mary Poppins” last week. It was a sensational success on opening night, and I suspect that tickets will be hard to score for the rest of the run.

The two top roles are filled by actors who have been in the Broadway and national touring companies. Gail Bennett is sensational as the magical nanny, strongly supported by Tony Mansker as her sometimes sidekick, a chimney sweep named Bert.

Also distinguishing this production are some wonderful effects, courtesy of Flying By Foy, a company that specializes in aerial theatrics.

Catch “Mary Poppins” at Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on U.S. Route 1, through Aug. 30. For complete performance info, call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Looking for more magic? Look no further than Falmouth, where Maine State Ballet is about to open a happy production that’s full of love, humor and supernatural happenings.

Here’s the situation. Love and romance have become very messy in ancient Athens and a nearby fairy kingdom. And this colossally messed-up situation, where reality joyfully confronts fantasy, won’t straighten out until a million laughs. That’s the core concept behind “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the celebrated romantic comedy penned four centuries ago by William Shakespeare.

Add the lushly melodic music of 19th-century German Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn, and the result is a perfect opportunity for ballet on a grand scale.

Maine State Ballet will present its terpsichorean take on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for two weekends at its theater in Falmouth. Shakespeare’s comedy, characterized by the wily pranks of the forest fairies and the quickly swayed hearts of humans, takes on a new dimension thanks to a cast of nearly 70 dancers who explore the many sides of love – true love, unrequited love, jealous love and love at first sight – all with Shakespeare’s gently humorous touch.

The choreography is by MSB artistic director and former New York City Ballet member Linda MacArthur Miele, while the gorgeous sets and costumes are designed by Gail Csoboth.

Maine State Ballet presents “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at 348 U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth, Aug. 8-16, with 7 p.m. performances Thursday through Saturday, plus 2 p.m. Saturday matinees. Call 781-3587.

Thinkin’ Big

Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, situated about a mile apart in Boston, are two anchors of the Hub’s huge and vibrant performing arts community. A collaboration of the two schools is coming to Portland this Friday.

Thinkin’ Big is an 18-piece big band that was established about four years ago to enhance performance opportunities for student composers and musicians from both schools. The leader is trumpeter and composer Jonah Francese, who embraces a wide range of genres. The central concept is to defy categorization and create a modern-day large ensemble that melds together individual voices to form one united harmony.

After playing mainly in greater Boston and releasing one CD, Thinkin’ Big embarked on a U.S.-Canadian tour in 2013. A second CD was released last spring, and the band is currently on a second tour.

Catch Thinkin’ Big at 8 p.m. Aug. 8 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

Back in the early 1990s, Maine boasted an abundance of classical music festivals, but none of them were in our state’s biggest city. That situation changed in 1994 when Portland native Jennifer Elowitch, a virtuoso violinist who was then living in Boston, started a new classical venture in her home town.

The Portland Chamber Music Festival began as a four-concert series that ran two weekends in the second half of August, 1994. Elowitch hired about 20 professional musicians who hailed from all over the U.S. to perform a repertoire that mixed the great and celebrated works of the classical canon with cutting-edge compositions recently penned by living composers. Pieces chosen for performance ranged from duets to small orchestral works.

Since 1994 the festival has grown tremendously in terms of audiences and repertoire. It outgrew its original venue and moved to more spacious quarters almost 10 years ago, but the core format remains exactly the same. I’ve attended this wonderful festival every year since the inception, and I’m marking my calendar now for the 21st edition.

This year’s dates are Aug. 14, 16, 21 and 23. Among the highlights are the Aug. 16 concert, which features harpist Bridget Kibbey and showcases her instrument in a variety of works both old and new.

The Aug. 21 concert will pay tribute to the late Marc Johnson, who was perhaps Maine’s most prominent classical performer. After retiring from a decades-long career as the cellist of the Vermeer String Quartet, Johnson led music programs in Rockport and was a regular performer at Elowitch’s festival.

All PCMF performances are slated for 8 p.m. at Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St., on the University of Southern Maine Portland campus. Call 800-320-0257.

Sidebar Elements

Mary Poppins is the title character in Ogunquit Playhouse’s current offering.