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Nearly every summer theater schedule sports at least one “jukebox musical,” a stage show that is built around hit tunes that were originally created for diverse audiences at different times by disparate writers.
“Summer of Love” is Ogunquit Playhouse’s offering in this department. It’s an East Coast premiere and it runs through July 16.
Freeport Factory Stage is a new venue on Maine’s theatrical scene. The company is running “Ida’s Havin’ A Yard Sale,” starring Downeast humorist Susan Poulin, through July 2.
Several musical offerings over the Fourth of July weekend stand out, and selecting one over another is difficult. The most intriguing concert of the weekend features “Outrageous Banjo” virtuoso Peter Mezoian and Friends playing at the Saco River Grange Hall.
And the biggest concert of the summer happens on Independence Day: a free, alfresco performance of Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “Patriotic Pops.”
The summer of 1967 was a watershed year in American social history, a season of cultural sea change marked by large-scale hippie happenings in San Francisco and elsewhere. A dominant theme was psychedelia, and a cornucopia of mind-altering drugs prominently characterized the hippie subculture.
Musically speaking that summer was dominated by West Coast pop bands and songwriters such as the Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company.
The hippies themselves proclaimed it as the “Summer of Love,” and that’s the title of a new jukebox musical that recalls two dozen songs of the era. Penned by Roger Bean – a West Coast theater director and scriptwriter who specializes in jukebox musicals – “Summer of Love” runs through July 16 at Ogunquit Playhouse. And thanks to Brad Kenney, Ogunquit’s executive artistic director, Maine gets the honor of the East Coast premiere.
The jukebox show has become a staple of Broadway and summer theater, but most have fluffy, inconsequential plots and cardboard characters that do little more than provide an aesthetic and artistic unity to an otherwise unrelated collection of popular songs.
Bean’s “Summer of Love” introduces social and political dynamics into the stock formula. He also eschews the show-within-a-show format that is one of the common features of the jukebox musical, writing a script that attempts to fully integrate the traditional three elements of musical theater: book, lyrics and music.
“Make Your Own Kind of Music” is the title of one of the songs in this show, and it’s the principal theme of Bean’s book. Other tunes of the era include “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” “Different Drum,” “White Rabbit,” “War,” “One Tin Soldier” and “Piece of My Heart.”
The first act tends to be fairly light, but the second passes through a crisis of drug abuse – several of the artists associated with these songs died of overdoses – before emerging with a positive resolution that stresses the hippie ideals of love and peace.
Bean also directs a cast of 12. Plus he’s surrounded himself with the team that has worked to create several of his earlier shows, including “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” These include music director Michael Borth, set designer Michael Carnahan and costume designer Bobby Pearce.
Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “Summer of Love” through July 16. Call 646-5511 or visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.
Maine humor is a well-established regional sub-genre of comedy, most famously identified with the late Marshall Dodge. One of the top current practitioners is Susan Poulin, an Eliot woman who is far better known as her alter ego: Ida Leclair, a woman who runs with moose.
Ida and hubby Charlie live in a double-wide mobile home in the mythical town of Mahoosuc Mills, which seems fairly close to Bangor.
She’s got several one-woman shows built around Ida Leclair and her doings, and Freeport Factory Stage is running one of them through this Saturday. “Ida’s Havin’ A Yard Sale” is a marvelous showcase for Poulin’s gentle sense of Downeast humor, poking good-natured fun at Maine characters and social situations over the course of an enjoyable evening.
Ida sells lots of her kitschy cultch, greets a number of friends and ruminates about human relationships and the science of successful yard sales. There’s a thin plot that revolves around separating Charlie from his favorite armchair and the show ends with a reaffirmation of their love.
Freeport Factory Stage, on Depot Street just downhill from the Freeport Station retail complex, presents “Ida’s Havin’ A Yard Sale” through July 2 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday; call 865-5505.
Peter Mezoian is a banjo virtuoso who grew up in South Portland and now travels the world with his music, often cruising the Seven Seas aboard globe-girdling mega-ships. This Saturday he’ll be securely on terra firma as he launches the 2011 summer season at the Saco River Grange Hall, Pat Packard’s marvelously melodic performing arts center at about a dozen miles west of Portland. This is a repeat of 2010’s hugely successful program.
Mezoian’s specialty is stretching the boundaries of banjo music by venturing into a variety of different genres. Joining Mezoian on Saturday will be a five-piece band – trumpet, saxophone, drums, keyboard and bass – fronted by Mark Tipton. Expect a high-energy program that sparkles with musical fireworks, mostly revolving around old-time Americana, ragtime, 1920s-era jazz, the Beatles and Broadway show tunes.
Catch Peter Mezoian & Friends at 7:30 p.m. July 2 at the Saco River Grange Hall, 29 Salmon Falls Road in Bar Mills in Buxton. Call 929-6472.
It’s appropriate that a major concert celebrating our country’s freedom should be free – and punctuated by a spectacular fireworks display.
That’s the story of “Patriotic Pops,” which will be presented Monday evening on Portland’s Eastern Prom thanks to the sponsorship of a group of businesses that banded together last year to revive the annual musical spectacular.
PSO Maestro Robert Moody’s program is filled with rousing marches, a tribute to the Armed Forces and plenty of patriotic favorite tunes. These include of course, “The Star-Spangeld Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” “God Bless America” and a couple of marches by the quintessential American bandleader, John Philip Sousa.
By tradition, the finale is Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” with the fireworks kicking in toward the end of the piece. Celebrants are urged to arrive early and pack a picnic.
For details, visit www.july4thportland.org.