The month-long lead-up to Christmas in Southern Maine’s performing arts community begins this weekend, as always led by Maine State Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” which opens Friday and continues through Dec. 9 in Portland.
Continuing with Christmas, the University of Southern Maine School of Music’s annual “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season” concert takes place Nov. 27 in Portland.
The following day’s big act is “Christmas in Vienna,” to be performed in Portland by the world-renowned Vienna Boys Choir.
It’s not all Christmas. Thespian maven Brian P. Allen is currently running his one-man autobiographical show at Good Theater in Portland. It’s titled “Blueberries, Broadway & Brian 2.0,” and it’s a hoot.
It’s a timeless story, and Linda MacArthur Miele has told it many, many times. The subject here is the world’s most frequently performed ballet, “The Nutcracker,” and Miele has logged half a century with the show.
Back in the 1960s, when she was the youngest dancer accepted into George Balanchine’s famed New York City Ballet Company, Miele logged seven years and about 350 total performances of “The Nutcracker.”
Now in 2018, she has choreographed her 43rd annual production of the Christmas classic as artistic director of Falmouth-based Maine State Ballet. Those two stints add up to 50 years.
That’s a lot of experience, and it shows. Her company’s annual offering is one of our state’s top draws in terms of ticket sales and with about 150 people (dancers, actors and musicians) appearing each evening, it’s also one of the biggest in terms of numbers of performers.
I’ve seen it many times and plan to attend this year as well. It’s always a delight.
Briefly, “The Nutcracker” is a story about a 12-year-old girl who falls asleep on Christmas Eve and has an incredible dream of being transported to a Land of Sweets. As in sugarplums, cakes and candies.
The Land of Sweets is ruled by a Sugar Plum Fairy, who conjures up scene after scene of this fantastic dream. She and her boyfriend, formally known as her Cavalier, perform a major pas de deux toward the end of the second act.
This year’s production has a rotating cast of three in the coveted Sugar Plum Fairy role: Rhiannon Pelletier, Julia Lopez and Adrienne Pelletier. All have come up through the ranks with the company and its companion school.
The highly demanding Cavalier role will be performed by one man, who got his start with the company. Michael Hamilton spent his teen years at Maine State Ballet. After high school, Hamilton moved to California, where he had a successful career in television and film. Now married with five children, he has returned to Maine and this dance troupe to give his family the same opportunities he once enjoyed.
The University of Southern Maine Chamber Singers represent the most outstanding vocalists at the school, and their annual Christmas concert is scheduled for Tuesday.
Chosen through a rigorous audition, singers rehearse 150 minutes each week under the direction of music professor Nicolas Alberto Dosman. The group performs a diverse repertory centered on a cappella literature of the Renaissance through the 20th century.
The Chamber Singers produce several concerts each academic year, beginning with an annual favorite, “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season.” For 2018 the USM ensemble will join forces with a like group from Massabesic High School to perform Antonio Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” the Baroque composer’s best-known choral work. The combined ensembles will be led by Heather Guilfoyle, Massabesic’s choral director and a USM graduate student under Dosman’s supervision.
Catch “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 27 at Williston-Immanuel United Church, 156 High St. in Portland. Call 780-5555.
One of the world’s oldest musical ensembles is visiting Portland next week. The Vienna Boys Choir, which recently celebrated its 520th anniversary, has been invited by Portland Ovations to give a Christmas concert on Nov. 28 at Merrill Auditorium.
Since establishment by imperial edict of the Holy Roman Empire in 1498, the Boys Choir has been a mainstay of Austrian culture, working with the best and most famous composers in history. In the 20th century, the choir has been traveling more, giving the rest of the world a chance to share their artistry.
Today there are 100 choristers between the ages of 9 and 14, divided into four touring ensembles. Each spends about 10 weeks of the academic year on tour. Together, the choirs give around 300 concerts each year, attended by almost 500,000 people around the globe.
The “Christmas in Vienna” program ranges from ancient to contemporary. Oldest will be a work that was published in 1582, sung in traditional church Latin. Modern pieces will include “Jingle Bells” and “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Artistic directors are normally behind-the-scenes types, not normally appearing in front of the metaphorical footlights.
An exception to this general rule is a show that’s running (concurrently with “Homer Bound”) at Portland’s Good Theater. “Blueberries, Broadway & Brian 2.0” is an autobiographical show written and performed by Brian P. Allen, co-founder of the company and general theatrical maven.
Allen was born into an eastern Maine family that was into the blueberry business big time and worked his way up in the family firm before heading off to college for a double major: business and theater.
Upon graduation, he switched his life to a different track, signing on as assistant to Victoria Crandall in her Maine State Music Theatre. Nowadays he directs his own company, which is in its 17th season.
Those are the basics. What’s so special is Allen’s telling of the tale, interpolating keen observations with wit and warmth. The “2.0” in the title acknowledges that this is a second go-round. Replenished with new stories and crazy characters, this one-man show is one part play, one part stand-up comedy, and it’s all hilarious.
Good Theater presents “Blueberries, Broadway & Brian 2.0” at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland through Dec. 1 on a somewhat erratic schedule. Call 835-0895 or visit GoodTheater.com.
The Nutcracker and Clara are the beloved principal characters in the first act of “The Nutcracker,” the popular Christmas ballet. Maine State Ballet opens a three-weekend run beginning Nov. 23 in Portland. (Courtesy Maine State Ballet)