The last weekend in July is approaching, and since 1999 that’s meant one of our state’s top musical events is happening west of Portland: the Ossipee Valley Music Festival.
Originally organized as an all-bluegrass affair, the festival’s over-arching concept has evolved to the point where “bluegrass” is no longer part of the moniker. But OVMF, which runs through Sunday in Hiram, honors the traditions of old-time American music.
There’s plenty more happening in southern Maine. In Brunswick, Maine State Music Theatre just opened “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” another colorful and tuneful slice of old-time America. Arundel Barn Playhouse is running “My Fair Lady,” an enduring classic of the American musical stage.
Sometime around the turn of the 21st century, I started motoring west on the last weekend of July to attend the Ossipee Valley Bluegrass Festival, an alfresco gathering of pick-and-twang aficionados started a few years earlier by Bill Johnson, a construction contractor from Hiram. Its very rural venue was the site of a local agricultural fair, situated on the north bank of the Ossipee River.
Over the years the venue has remained the same – the Ossipee Valley Fairground in Hiram – but the festival has grown in terms of number of artists, scope of activities and fan attendance. Plus I’ve noted that the festival has outgrown its original concept and name, gradually expanding to embrace other genres of traditional American music. About five years ago Johnson dropped “bluegrass” from its formal moniker to reflect its broader mission of showcasing traditional American music and related genres.
I plan to be there again this weekend. This year’s festival runs July 24-27; most of the activities that are geared toward the general public are scheduled Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.
So far, Johnson has announced 22 acts (most performing twice) with a few more last-minute additions likely. The Massachusetts-based New England Bluegrass Band is perhaps the most traditional group in this year’s lineup, while Tricky Britches is a Portland band that bills itself as “progressive bluegrass.” Lauren Rioux and Lincoln Meyers are a Maine duo that’s centered around the former’s fiddling prowess.
In past years I’ve tremendously enjoyed The Bagboys, an ensemble from greater Boston that nowadays includes two bag ladies. Expect some sheer fun from Ryan Shupe and his Rubber Band. The Rhythm Future Gypsy Jazz Quartet ventures farther afield artistically than most, and singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan is a standout in her own low-key genre.
In addition to the main outdoor concert stage, there’s a second stage plus a dance barn that host workshops and several music competitions during the weekend. A church supper, multiple food vendors and other activities contribute to the ambience.
As with any alfresco festival, bring lawn chairs, sunscreen and bug spray. For driving directions and a complete schedule of concerts, please visit ossipeevalley.com.
It took tough men to tame the Wild West. And it took tough women to tame those tough men.
That’s the dramatic conceit that underlies “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” a melodic and energetic show that’s currently running at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.
Based on the tuneful 1954 Hollywood film of the same name, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” has a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Gene de Paul, with several new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn added for the stage version. It had its first Broadway run 1982, but MSMT’s production is most closely based on the much more successful 2007 revival, which is distinguished by the very energetic choreography of Patti Colombo, who also helmed a recent British tour and is the stage director for this summer’s production in Brunswick.
Set in the rugged and untamed Oregon Territory about 1850, the story follows a household of seven brothers with very uncouth manners, and their very unconventional manner of courting their romantic interests. It’s perhaps the most implausible plot I’ve seen in decades of the musical stage, but it’s a pleasant evening of high-spirited and tuneful fun led by Jarid Faubel, as the eldest brother, and Heidi Kettenring as his strong and resilient wife.
Music director Ed Reichert ably leads a pit orchestra of 10, which is quite large by MSMT standards. Kudos are earned by Charles Kading for one of MSMT’s best-ever sets, which must convey the vast wilderness and frontier feeling of the Oregon Territory, quickly alternate between towering trees, town street scenes and several indoor venues.
Maine State Music Theatre presents “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” through Aug. 2 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit msmt.org.
Of the hundreds of musicals that I’ve seen over the years, none ranks higher than “My Fair Lady,” the 1956 Broadway masterpiece with libretto by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, based on a British play by George Bernard Shaw.
The central concept is imaginative. Henry Higgins, a renowned British professor of phonetics, boasts that he can transform a wretched Cockney flower seller, Eliza Doolittle, into a genteel lady, by dressing her up and teaching her to speak perfect English. He succeeds.
But Eliza’s transformation comes with romantic entanglements that Higgins did not anticipate. Plus there are ongoing comic complications involving Eliza’s ne’er-do-well father, Alfred P. Doolittle.
For its third offering of 2014, Arundel Barn Playhouse has mounted a fine professional production of this Broadway classic. The company hires its casts from the ranks of young, up-and-coming professionals – primarily students and recent graduates of musical theater programs in colleges and conservatories.
Higgins, the dominating character, is played by Michael Sheehan, an actor who projects strength and confidence beyond his years.
His opposite male number is Eliza’s father, one of the great comic characters of the stage – a beer-swilling London garbage collector who willingly sells his daughter to the professor to finance his nightly visits to the pub. Nic Casuala handles this outsized comic role with panache.
In the title role, I liked Chrissy Albanese, who brings to Arundel a lovely stage presence, whether dressed in the wretched rags of a flower girl or the glittering gown of a duchess. Albanese shows enormous spunk. She needs to match Higgins’ overweening strength with a persuasive feminine power of her own – and Albanese succeeds.
Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) presents “My Fair Lady” through Aug. 2. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.
New England Bluegrass Band is one of two dozen acts featured this weekend at the Ossipee Valley Music Festival, which runs through Sunday.