Out & About: Musical theater rules

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

Aficionados of musical theater have much to cheer about as we head toward the end of July. My top two picks of the tix include a big Broadway show and a classical opera. Plus there are two showcase concerts.

Ogunquit Playhouse is currently running the New England premiere of “An American in Paris,” a stage version of the celebrated 1951 movie with a score by George and Ira Gershwin.

Opera Maine will soon mount its annual late-July mainstage production. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” will be presented for two Portland performances, July 25 and July 27.

Susie Pepper, jazz vocalist and former Miss Maine, will team up with pianist Kelly Muse for a night of songs from Hollywood movies in Harrison this Friday.

O Sole Trio comprises two men and a woman who travel the U.S. with an act that features hit songs from Broadway musicals from the 1940s through the present. O Sole Trio’s tour stops in Arundel on Saturday.

‘An American in Paris’

A new Broadway musical based on an old Hollywood film which in turn was based on still older music is one way of looking at “An American in Paris,” the current offering at Ogunquit Playhouse.

There’s another way of looking at it. Although composer George Gershwin died in 1937, “An American in Paris” is the third “new” Gershwin Broadway show since 1992.

A third way of looking at is this: “An American in Paris” is a jukebox musical that is based on the Gershwin canon – both Broadway and symphonic.

However you choose to look at it, Ogunquit’s production, the first in New England, is a radiantly beautiful show that captivates from opening curtain to denouement.

With a book by Craig Lucas and lyrics by the composer’s brother Ira, this musical is based on the much-lauded 1951 Hollywood film of the same name.

In a classic love triangle, a Parisian ballet dancer is forced to choose between two men, a financially challenged American painter and a fellow Frenchman who is very rich. Director Jeffry Denman gets great performances from his very large cast. I especially liked Julie Eicher as the strong but vulnerable ingenue and Clyde Alves as her headstrong American suitor.

David Arsenault’s set design is quite an eyeful, and he gets great use of the playhouse’s large carousel stage.

Songs include the Gershwin brothers standards such as “S’Wonderful,” “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love” and a complete performance of the 1928 orchestral masterpiece, “An American in Paris,” set as an extended ballet sequence.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “An American in Paris” through Aug. 4. Call 646-5511 or visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

‘The Marriage of Figaro’

One drizzly day in January of 1995 I got a call from Russ Burleigh, former manager of the Portland Symphony Orchestra. A bunch of us have a plan to start a fully professional opera company in Portland, he told me. Would I be interested in covering it?

My emphatic “yes” began a long connection to Opera Maine, nee Portland Opera Repertory Theatre and later known as PORTopera. I’ve seen every mainstage production since “Carmen” inaugurated the company that summer. It’s been a wonderful experience and I’ve got my tickets reserved for this summer’s 24th annual production, “The Marriage of Figaro.”

“Figaro” has been one of the top draws in the operatic world since it debuted in Vienna in 1786. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed the music to a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, which was based on a French satirical comedy by Pierre Beaumarchais.

It has a downstairs-upstairs plot with many twists and turns. The basic dynamic is that a high-and-mighty Spanish aristocrat becomes bored with his wife and turns his roving eye to the fiancee of Figaro, his servant. Figaro is cleverer than his master, learns of his intentions and parries him at every turn, ultimately concocting a plan to expose the philanderer and reconcile him to his wife.

Artistic Director Dona D. Vaughn, longtime professor of opera at several New York music schools, helms the stage action, while acclaimed operatic maestro Stephen Lord directs the music and conducts a full orchestra.

Professional opera singers with international reputations will sing the principal parts, led by baritone Robert Mellon as Figaro and soprano Maeve Hoglund as as his fiancee. The aristocrat will be sung by baritone Keith Phares while soprano Danielle Pastin plays his wife.

“The Marriage of Figaro” will be sung in its original Italian, with English translations projected on a screen above the stage.

Two performances are slated for Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. July 25 and July 27. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Susie Pepper and Kelly Muse

Beloved songs from decades of Hollywood films will be showcased this Friday when singer Susie Pepper and pianist Kelly Muse visit Deertrees Theatre and Arts Center in Harrison.

Both performers have strong local roots, and the pair represent the core of Mixology, a Maine band that mostly plays weddings and functions. Pepper was the 2008 winner of Fox23’s “Maine Idol” and copped the 2009 Miss Maine competition. I’ve seen her several times with the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “Magic of Christmas” in 2014 and 2017 as well as guest vocalist with Joe Boucher and Christopher Eastburn’s “Classic Rock” show.

Muse is the bandleader for Mixology and he teaches at 317 Main Community Music Center in Yarmouth.

Catch Susie Pepper and Kelly Muse in “Songs from the Movies” at 7:30 p.m. July 20 at Deertrees Theatre and Arts Center, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison. Call 583-6747.

O Sole Trio

Broadway hits spanning seven decades will be showcased Saturday when O Sole Trio visits Vinegar Hill Music Theatre in Arundel. The threesome comprise American soprano Erin Shields, Canadian baritone Giuseppe Spoletini and English pianist-violinist David Shenton.

They hooked up in New York in 2012 and ever since they have been touring the world with a number of different acts, each exploring a different musical theme.

Their “Bravissimo Broadway” includes selections from several of the Great White Way’s iconic hits: “West Side Story,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Cats,” “Les Miserables,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “The Sound of Music,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “Kiss Me Kate” and others.

I saw this show a couple of years ago and I was thoroughly impressed by O Sole Trio’s musicality, song selection and stage presence. I’m already reserving my tickets for Saturday.

Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Road in Arundel (just off Route 1) presents O Sole Trio at 8 p.m. July 21. Call 985-5552.

“An American in Paris” is running through Aug. 4 at the Ogunquit Playhouse.

0