Out & About: Must-see musical at Maine State Music Theatre

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The golden age of American musical theater produced a score of masterpieces that never cease to fascinate and entertain. One of these is “Gypsy,” the biggest hit from 1959.

“Gypsy” pushes many emotional buttons on many levels, and Maine State Music Theatre is currently running a sensationally good production of this enduring tour de force.

Somewhat surprisingly, several of the themes of “Gypsy” are also central to “Shrek The Musical.” This Broadway version of the popular and critically acclaimed animated cartoon revolves around a tuneful fairy tale that features a bunch of lovable misfits.

One of Maine’s best outdoor music festivals is running through Sunday west of Portland. The Ossipee Valley Music Festival features dozens of artists on two stages. Some are national traveling acts, while others are familiar local musicians. Impresario Bill Johnson’s program is devoted to old-time music and new music in similar formats.


In the middle years of the 20th century, American musical theater reached a creative apex, roughly delineated by “Oklahoma!” in 1943 and “Hello Dolly!” in 1964. Among the crowning achievements of the genre in that fertile period was “Gypsy,” the 1959 smash hit that was very loosely based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, a celebrated striptease artist of the 1940s.

With book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, “Gypsy” tells a show-biz story of a domineering mother who pushes her two daughters on stage through the declining years of vaudeville.

Like all the best musicals, “Gypsy” unifies book, music and dance into a seamless whole that packs an emotional wallop.

“Gypsy” pushes many buttons on many different levels, plus it offers a fascinating glimpse of an interesting period of American history. In my personal ranking, “Gypsy” is near the top of a genre that I passionately love.

Maine State Music Theatre opened a superlative production of this masterpiece last week. Led by veteran MSMT actress Charis Leos as the domineering Mama Rose, “Gypsy” is dramatically powerful and musically engaging. Mama Rose is one of the biggest and most complex characters in musical theater, and Leos lets the audience savor every nuance.

She’s ably backed by Missy Dowse in the title role. Her transformation from a meek, awkward teen to an international celebrity, is part of the fascination of this tale.

I also liked David Girolmo in the difficult role of Rose’s disappointed romantic interest. Other fine performances are given by Cary Michele Miller and Tyler Hanes. Two young performers, Madeleine Blakemore and Julia Yameen, very nicely play Mama Rose’s two daughters as young girls.

Among the many triumphs of “Gypsy” is the famous number titled “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” which features three strippers who reveal their business secrets. Susan Cella, Abby C. Smith and Heidi Kettenring are exquisitely funny in this wonderful scene.

Kudos also to director Dominic Missimi and choreographer Raymond Marc Dumont.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Gypsy” at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus through Aug. 3. Call 725-8769 or visit msmt.org.

‘Shrek the Musical’

Anybody who has ever felt like a misfit, an outcast or a freak who’s entrapped in the wrong fairy tale can relate to “Shrek the Musical,” the show that’s currently running at Arundel Barn Playhouse.

“Shrek the Musical” is a stage version of the popular and critically acclaimed animated cartoon by DreamWorks, released in 2001, which in turn was based on the 1990 children’s book by William Steig. Music is by Jeanine Tesori with libretto by David Lindsay-Abaire.

Opening in 2008, “Shrek the Musical” ran for more than a year on Broadway, and has made two national tours. Arundel Barn Playhouse is currently running a fine professional production.

This is nominally a children’s show, and it drew big family audiences during its first week in Arundel. But it also works on the adult level, with Lindsay-Abaire’s very clever lyrics delivering messages such as this: “When you’re grotesque, life is Kafkaesque.”

The principal theme is learning to accept one’s shortcomings and those of others.

The title character is a green ogre who lives alone in a swamp, and the story follows his adventures as he hooks up with a buddy – a chatterbox donkey – to rescue a princess in a castle. There are about a dozen other fairy tale characters, including Pinocchio, three blind mice, a pied piper, fairy godmother, wicked witch and a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The cast numbers 13 adults – mostly young professionals in their 20s – and half a dozen younger actors from the Vinegar Hill Youth Theater, directed by Dewayne Barrett. Elliot Lane stars as the title character, ably supported by Gavin Parmley as the donkey and Beatrice Crosbie as the beautiful princess. Caleb Funk, playing a comic prince, also delivers a tiptop performance.

Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off U.S. Route 1) presents “Shrek the Musical” through Aug. 3. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.

Ossipee Valley Music Festival

When it began more than a dozen years ago, the Ossipee Valley Music Festival was one of Maine’s best bluegrass events, a four-day gathering of musicians and fans at an attractive and very rural riverside fairground.

Over the years the festival has grown in size and stature, and has evolved in two very distinct ways. First it no longer bills itself as “bluegrass.” Although a fair number of bluegrass acts still perform there, impresario Bill Johnson prefers to promote his festival in terms of broader traditions, including old-time country, Appalachian and some of the other sub-genres that preceded and/or paralleled bluegrass.

Second, the Ossipee Valley Music Festival books many female performers. That’s unusual in a genre has long been dominated by men, and where many musical ensembles include “boys” and “brothers” in their moniker.

This year’s festival starts Thursday afternoon and through Sunday afternoon. Two stages will be going simultaneously, plus there’s a dance barn, several musical competitions and workshops.

Bands from Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts include Cribstone Bridge, Jerks of Grass, Erica Brown Bluegrass Connection, Harvey Reid and Joyce Andersen, Tricky Britches and the Bagboys.

Traveling acts include the Caravan of Thieves, Carper Family, John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, Della Mae Trio, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, Starlight Honeys, Nutopians, Holmes Brothers and The Duhks.

Bring folding chairs, sunscreen and bug spray. A local church holds a chicken barbecue fundraiser on Saturday, plus there are numerous commercial food vendors. I’ve been a regular for the past decade or so, and won’t miss this year’s edition. For full schedule, visit ossipeevalley.com.

Sidebar Elements

Charis Leos stars as the domineering Mama Rose in Maine State Music Theatre’s production of “Gypsy.”