Out & About: ‘Newsies’ closes the curtain in Brunswick

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As August’s midpoint passes, the summertime arts and entertainment schedule decelerates. Three southern Maine producers and presenters are offering their final shows of the summer.

Maine State Music Theatre is closing its 2017 season in Brunswick with “Newsies,” a rousing Disney show about economic turmoil in the newspaper business –more than 100 years ago.

Deertrees Theatre in Harrison wraps up its regular summer season on Saturday with an appearance by the Tartan Terrors, a rousing Celtic band from Canada.

The 24th season of the Portland Chamber Music Festival also wraps up this Saturday.

In Old Orchard Beach, The Temple continues a bit longer with its season. Bob Milne, who describes himself as “just a saloon piano player,” is this Sunday’s guest artist.

‘Newsies’

Dance and spectacle outweigh musical and dramatic interest in Maine State Music Theatre’s final show of 2017. “Newsies,” a Disney musical with a book by Harvey Fierstein, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, is based on the 1992 Disney movie of the same name.

“Newsies” had a Broadway run of just over 1,000 performances between 2012 and 2014, winning two Tony Awards, including Best Original Score for Menken and Feldman.

The story is very loosely based on real historical events. Set circa 1900 in New York, “Newsies” revolves around economic conflict. Newspaper publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer’s position at the top of the economic food chain is threatened by striking delivery boys, most of whom are ragamuffin teenage orphans. That’s David versus Goliath, as we are explicitly, repeatedly informed by Fierstein.

The romantic interest follows an equally overused formula. The hero, the leader of the rebellious newsies, falls in love with Pulitzer’s daughter. Then confrontation and conflict segues to a totally predictable denouement, where everybody lives happily ever after.

The main asset of “Newsies” is the incredibly energetic dancing, choreographed by director Marc Robin, who fully exploits the capabilities of a large and highly athletic cast. I was also greatly impressed by Charles Kading’s set, which captures the darker side of New York City at the turn of the 20th century.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Newsies” through Aug. 26 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit MSMT.org.

Tartan Terrors

They’re not a band; they’re an event. That’s according to the Tartan Terrors, a kilt-clad sextet from Canada.

The core ensemble comprises five men and one woman; since forming in 1996 they have toured the U.S. and Canada, bringing a mixture of traditional Celtic music infused with contemporary aesthetics and the driving energy of a rock band. Their venues range from folk festivals to college campuses and concert halls. The Tartan Terrors will wrap up the regular summer season at Deertrees Theatre this Saturday in Harrison.

Musical forces include bagpipes, guitar, pipes, drums, fiddle and bodhran (Irish frame drum). Dancers also perform at most gigs. Co-directors are dancer Ellen Wilkes Irmisch and her brother, bodhran player Ian Wilkes Irmisch.

The Tartan Terrors have recorded six CDs, delivering repertoire that ranges from “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” a traditional Celtic fiddle tune, to pieces inspired by German Baroque classical and today’s rock.

Catch the Tartan Terrors at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at Deertrees Theatre, 156 Deertrees Road in Harrison. Call 583-6747 or visit Deertrees-Theatre.org.

Portland Chamber Music Festival

The 24th edition of the Portland Chamber Music Festival wraps up with a concert this Saturday, and artistic director Jennifer Elowitch’s style is to go out with a flourish.

Elowitch will also go out with her tried-and-true formula of scheduling three works, opening and closing with well-known European composers and using the middle slot to spotlight a contemporary.

She’s opening with a set of very early 20th-century art songs by Alban Berg, featuring soprano Tony Arnold. The middle piece is “Gumboots,” written for clarinet and string quartet by David Bruce, a contemporary British composer. “Gumboots” was commissioned for a 2008 Carnegie Hall performance featuring Todd Palmer on clarinet. Palmer has been Elowitch’s go-to clarinetist since the festival’s inception, and he’ll play the work in Portland this Saturday.

The concert (and 2017 season) will conclude with Antonin Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, a lushly melodic 1875 work that remains a favorite with classical audiences. It will also involve 12 musicians – very large for a chamber ensemble.

“We think of each summer season as a celebration, and it’s fun to end the two weeks with a big piece that’s a party for the audience and for us,” Elowitch told me. “In this case, we’ve programmed the fantastic Dvorak Serenade for Strings –something we’ve never played at the festival in 24 seasons. There will be 12 of us performing the Dvorak, including four excellent local players joining us for the occasion. This includes two players from the DaPonte String Quartet, one from the Portland Piano Trio and another who recently retired from the New York Philharmonic and moved to Portland.”

This concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St., on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call 800-320-0257 or visit PCMF.org.

Bob Milne

“I’m just a saloon piano player,” insists Bob Milne, Sunday’s guest artist at The Temple at Ocean Park, the southernmost section of Old Orchard Beach.

Others are more effusive. When he recorded sessions of ragtime and boogie-woogie for the Library of Congress in 2004, he was described as “a national treasure.” The U.S. State Department has called on him to be a cultural ambassador for our country’s musical heritage.

Ragtime and boogie-woogie are Milne’s stock in trade, and he’s been touring and recording since the early 1990s. As America’s premier authority on ragtime performance, Milne conducts an annual Ragtime Retreat for musicians. He’s also a master storyteller, and performances are peppered with info about his art form and its traditions.

(Milne has also been involved in telling another great American tale, as composer and lyricist for “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” a full-length operatic adaptation of the famous Washington Irving short story of the same title.)

The Temple is one of Maine’s most interesting and historic performing spaces. A huge octagonal wooden edifice with a fully visible interior frame, The Temple has served the Ocean Park Association – an affiliate of the Chautauqua movement –every summer since 1881.

Catch Bob Milne at The Temple, 50 Temple Ave. in Old Orchard Beach, at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 20. Call 934-9068.

“Newsies,” a rousing Disney show set in New York more than 100 years ago, wraps up Maine State Music Theatre’s season in Brunswick. It runs through Aug. 26.

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