Out & About: ‘Nutcracker’ opens Christmas A&E season

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The day after Thanksgiving marks the traditional beginning of the Christmas season in shopping and performing arts, and there’s certainly plenty of the latter to choose from in the coming week.

The biggest Christmas show in town opens on Friday in Portland when Maine State Ballet launches a two-weekend run of “The Nutcracker,” a terpsichorean and musical spectacular.

The University of Southern Maine School of Music holds its annual musical celebration on Nov. 29. “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season” will feature the USM Chamber Singers under the direction of Nicolas Alberto Dosman.

Good Theater opens its annual holiday special Nov. 30 in Portland. The first half will be a salute to Broadway in the 1970s. After intermission, the theme switches to holiday pop tunes.

Three traditional roots acts will join forces in “Turning of the Year,” a holiday show at Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Dec. 1.

‘The Nutcracker’

Maine State Ballet celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2016, and the Falmouth-based company’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” is the anchor of its performance calendar. It’s also one of the biggest shows presented in Portland every year, drawing well in excess of 10,000 people to Merrill Auditorium. I’ve been among the happy audience numerous times and plan to attend again this year.

“The Nutcracker” has a long history, beginning in 1816 with a novella by German Romantic writer E.T.A. Hoffmann. It has been a fixture of the Christmas performance season since 1892 when the terpsichorean adaptation debuted in Russia, with music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky – one of the composer’s most celebrated scores – and original choreography by Marius Petipa. “The Nutcracker” tells the story of a young girl who falls asleep after a Christmas Eve party and has a series of marvelous dreams, all presented as exotic ballet scenes.

Hundreds of dancers, ranging from experienced professionals to 6-year-old children, will cavort on stage, directed by MSB founder and choreographer Linda MacArthur Miele. This year also marks a finale: MSB principal dancer Glenn Davis will retire from the roles of Nutcracker Prince and Cavalier after 20 years.

Forty-five professional musicians will play Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score. Also helping out will be singers from the Musica de Filia Girls Chorus.

As always, costumes – 300 of them – and scenery are designed by Gail Csoboth. Among the most spectacular items is the Christmas tree, which soars in height to about 30 feet in front of the audience.

Maine State Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall for eight performances: 2 p.m. matinees Nov. 25-27 and Dec. 3-4 plus 7 p.m. performances Nov. 26 and Dec. 2-3. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season’

Another annual event that I’ve often attended is presented on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving by the University of Southern Maine School of Music. “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season” will be performed Nov. 29 by the USM Chamber Singers under the direction of Nicolas Alberto Dosman.

Last year Dosman was on temporary appointment. This year he’s the permanent director of choral studies at the school – plus he’s the president-elect of the Maine chapter of the American Choral Directors Association. For 2016, he’s selected a program that ranges from a masterpiece of the Italian Baroque to a 20th-century master composer.

The vintage masterpiece will be “Domine Adjuvandum Festiva,” a work written by Padre Giovanni Battista Martini, an 18th-century Italian Baroque churchman. The best-known piece will be “Gloria,” a 1974 work by English composer John Rutter.

Several 21st-century selections will also be heard. One is by a Haitian-American composer and sung in Haitian Creole, while another, by Judith Clurman, celebrates Hanukkah.

The USM Chamber Singers presents “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at Williston-Immanuel United Church, 156 High St. in Portland. Call the USM music box office at 780-5555.

‘Broadway at Good Theater’

The following evening, Good Theater, the resident company at Portland’s St. Lawrence Arts Center, will open the 14th edition of its signature holiday show. Titled “Broadway at Good Theater,” every year sees a different Broadway star plus a slew of local singers in a two-pronged format.

The first half of the show is a salute to Broadway in a specific decade. The second half of the show is dedicated to pop music of the holidays.

For the 2016 Broadway segment, artistic director Brian Allen and music director Victoria Stubbs have chosen to feature the 1970s. And for this year’s Broadway star, Kenita R. Miller, of “The Color Purple” and “Xanadu” fame, will appear for the fourth time. She’ll be joined by another singer of national note plus 14 Mainers. Some of the iconic Broadway shows of the 1970s will be represented, including “Company,” “Follies,” “Godspell,” “I Love My Wife,” “A Chorus Line,” “Annie,” “Chicago,” “A Little Night Music” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Following intermission, the music will focus on holiday pop hits, including favorites written and/or performed by Jethro Tull, Partridge Family, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bobby Sherman, Luther Vandross, Bruce Springsteen and Jose Feliciano.

Six performances of “Broadway at Good Theater” are scheduled at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) in Portland: Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at 7 p.m., Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 3 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2 p.m. Call 885-5883.

‘The Turning of the Year: A Holiday Celebration’

Three roots acts are combining forces for a holiday concert Dec. 1 in Portland.

The biggest name is John Whelen, a seven-time All Ireland Accordion Champion. Another contest winner is Katie McNally, who copped the 2009 New England Scottish Fiddle Championship. And Low Lily is an acoustic folk foursome hailing from Brattleboro, Vermont, that specializes in traditional music styles ranging from bluegrass to Irish, Scottish, New England and old-time Appalachian sounds.

The show is titled “The Turning of the Year: A Holiday Celebration,” and attendees will get to hear each of the three acts performing individually as well as a few songs done ensemble. Organizer Liz Simmons, guitarist and singer with Low Lily, promises that the concert repertoire will feature trad music from “both sides of the pond” – Scotland, Ireland and North American.

Catch “The Turning of the Year: A Holiday Celebration” Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Maine State Ballet will launch its 40th anniversary edition of “The Nutcracker” on Nov. 25. Boasting a huge cast and set, this terpsichorean spectacular will run two weekends in Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.