Marking the beginning of summer, two venerable venues for performing arts opened for the season last weekend.
Senior in terms of artistic performances is Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, built in 1936 as a charming, bosky opera house. Deertrees’ 2017 season offers 36 performances of music and drama through Sept. 2.
Senior in terms of construction is Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, which repurposes a barn in Arundel that dates from 1887. It’s actually the building’s second rehab for the performing arts; Vinegar Hill replaces the Arundel Barn Playhouse, which operated for 18 seasons. For 2017 Vinegar Hill offers 33 performances of music and comedy through Oct. 14.
Years before I was born, my dad acted bit parts in plays presented at Deertrees Theatre in Harrison. Many decades later, Deertrees plays a key part in my own life; I attend about 10-12 shows each summer. For me, Deertrees is synonymous with summer in Maine.
And Deertrees Theatre is strictly a summertime operation, without insulation or heat. The building itself, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in 1936 as a venue for New York opera stars and theater companies to perform during their annual summer breaks. Constructed of rose hemlock trees cut on the site, Deertrees exudes a period charm that inspired its marketing slogan: “Maine’s Most Enchanting Playhouse.” No quarrel here.
Deertrees’ bosky charm is underscored during evening performances when a gentle chorus of tree frogs, bullfrogs and the occasional whip-poor-will add rural aural ambience.
Since 1936 Deertrees has experienced numerous ups and downs. When I chatted with artistic and executive director Andrew Harris last weekend, he noted that over its eight decades of existence, Deertrees had been closed about the same number or seasons it had been open: about 40 years off and 40 years on.
Harris is the current head honcho, and he’s definitely leading a major uptick. When he took over six years ago, Deertrees’ bank account was empty and deferred maintenance threatened yet another closure. Since taking the helm, Harris has righted the financial ship, made many essential repairs, re-established its resident theater company and expanded its musical programming.
Harris noted that year’s season, Deertrees’ longest, runs through Sept. 2, when a major fundraising concert for veterans is planned.
A total of 36 performances are slated this summer. The biggest item on Deertrees’ annual calendar is the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, a five-week series of classical concerts performed by nationally renowned artists under the direction of Mihae Lee, a Korean-born piano virtuoso and longtime stalwart of the Boston Chamber Music Society. It runs Tuesdays, July 11-Aug. 8. I’m a regular attendee and I’ll preview this series in some detail next week.
This coming weekend, the highlight will be Saturday’s performance of Los Galactacos, a four-man string band from Maine that plays music from across America and across the oceans. Two other Maine ensembles that I’m planning to see are the Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio, on July 27, and the Ronda Dale Band, on Aug. 11. “Classic Rock,” slated for July 22, is an orchestral-style pops concert directed by the Portland Symphony’s Joe Boucher. He’s the guy who created “Piano Men,” which in 2016 proved to be Deertrees’ all-time best-selling concert.
Another certain sell-out date will be July 8, when Beatles For Sale appears for the sixth consecutive year. Based in central Massachusetts, Beatles For Sale performs throughout the Northeast with a repertoire that includes 150 of the Fab Four’s songs from all periods, with a special nod to the No. 1 hits.
The Deertrees New Repertory Company was created by Harris, who has been active for many years in Portland’s theatrical community. This year’s productions are two plays on multiple performance dates: Arlene Hutton’s “Last Train To Nibroc” and Kenny Finkle’s “Indoor/Outdoor.”
Portland’s Good Theater makes an off-season run-out appearance on July 28, with “Happy Days Are Here Again,” inspired by Barbra Streisand’s nightclub performances in the 1960s.
Deertrees Theatre is at 156 Deertrees Road, about a mile outside Harrison Village. Most evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. For the complete schedule and ticketing info, call 583-6747 or visit Deertrees-Theatre.org.
For 18 summers from 1998-2015, I was a regular at Arundel Barn Playhouse, where I attended (and reviewed on this page) perhaps 75 musicals. Then in 2015 impresario Adrienne Grant retired and sold the buildings — the 1887 Smith Sisters farmstead — to a new operator who made extensive changes.
Last summer the venerable property reopened with a major physical rehab, a new name and a new concept.
Under the ownership of businessman Tim Harrington, proprietor of eight resorts in the Kennebunk area, the barn operated as Vinegar Hill Music Theatre. Programming emphasized concerts by popular musicians from Maine and national tours, especially vintage and tribute acts. I quickly became a regular last season, when actor George Dvorsky inaugurated the new project as Vinegar Hill’s first managing director.
Along with the Ogunquit Playhouse (an unrelated enterprise), Vinegar Hill is one of the two go-to places for music and performing arts between Portland and Portsmouth.
After Dvorsky resumed his acting career last winter, Sarah Dearing, a longtime Portland arts promoter, took the reins. This year she’s scheduled a total of 33 dates extending to Oct. 14.
This coming weekend’s top act will be Friday’s performance by the Pine Tree State’s top rock band, the Rustic Overtones. Since 1994 Rustic Overtones has entertained audiences in Maine and far beyond. A seven-piece ensemble – the basic rock quintet plus saxophone and trombone – Rustic Overtones’ sound also ventures toward jazz and funk.
Other highlights include The The Band Band on July 8; this tribute act channels the legendary rockabilly fivesome, active from the 1960s through 1990s. Broadway star Linda Eder returns for two nights this summer, July 14-15. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan is another artist who returns for two nights this summer, Aug. 5-6.
Well-Strung is a classical string quartet with a huge twist: The four musicians also sing. And they put a very special spin on works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven on Aug. 11. Plus Madonna, Pink Floyd and U2.
The season concludes on Oct. 14 with The Platters, the current authorized version of the vintage African-American fivesome that epitomized the doo-wop era, with 40 charting singles released between 1955 and 1967.
Vinegar Hill Music Theatre is at 53 Old Post Road in Arundel, just off Route 1. Most performances are at 8 p.m. For full schedule and ticketing info, call 985-5552 or visit VinegarHillMusicTheatre.com.
Beatles For Sale, a tribute act that recreates songs of the 1960s-era Fab Four, is one of 36 acts playing Deertrees Theatre in Harrison this summer.