Out & About: ‘Patsy Cline’ opens MSMT summer season

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With the temperature pushing 90 degrees at the Old Port Festival you know that summer is finally arriving in Maine. That calendar milestone is marked by the usual cast of straw hat theater and music festivals that make our summers so wonderful.

Maine State Music Theatre launches its 2017 season with “Always … Patsy Cline,” a powerful dramatization of the life and songs of country music’s first female superstar, Patsy Cline.

Two music festivals open this weekend. Beginning Friday, the three-day Maine Blues Festival runs in multiple venues in the lakeside town of Naples. On Saturday the nine-day Portland Bach Festival opens with “Bachtails.”

And Lyric Music Theater wraps up its 2016-2017 season this weekend with “Catch Me If You Can.”

‘Always … Patsy Cline’

Count me as a fan of Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and other female members of country music’s pantheon. But the gold standard for the distaff side sub-genre was established more than 50 years ago by country music’s first female superstar: Patsy Cline, whose all-too-brief tenure at the top of the charts ended with her death at age 30 in a 1963 airplane crash.

In 1988, Ted Swindley wrote a jukebox musical centered on Cline’s life and songs; his script was aesthetically anchored by an interesting true story about the connection between the singer and a devoted fan.

Swindley’s “Always … Patsy Cline” also set the gold standard for jukebox musicals; it currently rates among the top 10 shows in terms of performance licenses granted to theater companies.

Maine State Music Theatre opened its 2017 season last weekend with a superb production that sets the gold standard for fully professional regional theater troupes.

In the title role, Christine Mild perfectly channels Cline, especially in reproducing her rich, resonant mezzo-soprano voice, her heartfelt delivery and her distinctive phrasing and inflections. She’s backed by a six-piece band led by music director Patrick Fanning.

Mild is nicely complemented by Charis Leos, MSMT’s longtime favorite comedienne, who plays the part of the devoted fan. I also liked the scenic design, by William James Mohney, working under co-directors Curt Dale Clark and Marc Robin.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Always … Patsy Cline” through June 24 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit MSMT.org.

Maine Blues Festival

For more than a century the Route 302 causeway in Naples has been the epicenter of Maine’s beautiful Lake Region. Situated between Long Lake to the north and Brandy Pond to the south, the causeway boasts docking for boats, seaplane rides, a scenic promenade and several eateries.

Since 2006 the causeway has also been the center of our state’s blues scene, as thousand of fans flock to the town each Father’s Day weekend for the Maine Blues Festival.

This year’s festival runs Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Performances are given in a dozen venues on both sides of the causeway, which is dominated by the berthing pier for the Songo River Queen. The Queen, a vintage replica paddle-wheeler steamboat, has three blues cruises scheduled.

This year’s festival, hosted by radio deejay and blues aficionado Mark Persky, has booked 49 artists, including all of Maine’s top blues acts. Friday and Sunday events are free. Most (but not all) of the Saturday concerts require purchase of a wrist band.

For the complete lineup, map and schedules, visit MaineBluesFestival.com.

Portland Bach Festival

Maine’s newest music festival was launched last year by a man who is also the founder of one of the oldest. Lewis Kaplan, who started the Bowdoin International Music Festival and directed it for its first half-century, began a totally new music project in 2016.

The Portland Bach Festival, co-founded and co-directed by Emily Isaacson, is a celebration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, an 18th-century composer who is revered by musicians and perennially popular with classical music audiences. Last year’s PBF was a huge success, selling out every concert and inviting the directors to expand.

Kaplan and Isaacson have responded with an enlarged and enhanced 2017 program with several new facets. Public events begin this Saturday evening and continue for the following eight consecutive days, ending on June 25. Five venues will be used, four in Portland and one in Falmouth Foreside.

PBF’s artistic scope samples all of Bach’s musical genres, including the solo cello suites, his 200-plus cantatas, the Brandenburg concertos, orchestral suites and violin partitas. The lineup is not all-Bach. Works written by composers who were contemporary with Bach and/or inspired by him will also be performed. Examples include Antonio Vivaldi, Francois Couperin and Johann Paul Westhoff.

Most performances will feature the 10 instructors and numerous top students at the closely related Bach Virtuosi Institute. Kaplan himself, a longtime top pedagogue at the Juilliard School, will play violin and conduct the orchestra. Kaplan is a passionate Bach aficionado and scholar, and has given lectures on the composer all over the world.

Several innovative and very non-traditional performance formats are designed to entice new audiences, such as Saturday’s “Bachtails” and Monday’s “Bach & Beer.” There’s even a cantata sing-along.

For complete details, visit PortlandBachFestival.org.

‘Catch Me If You Can’

Lyric Music Theater is wrapping up its 2016-2017 season this weekend with the final performances of a fascinating cops-and-robbers story that’s the basis for a 2002 Hollywood hit and the improbable basis for a 2011 Broadway musical, with script by Terrence McNally and score by Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Based on the true story of con man Frank Abagnale Jr., a master swindler, impersonator and rubber check artist, “Catch Me If You Can” follows Abagnale’s crimes and also follows the FBI agents who pursued him.

Abagnale’s impersonations included airplane pilot and medical doctor, and he demonstrated much humor and panache. He was a stylish swindler, and that makes for an upbeat Broadway musical interpretation.

I liked Eric Berry-Sandelin’s youthful energy in the lead role and appreciated Zack Handlen as the stalwart leader of the FBI cohort. Other fine supporting roles in director Mary Meserve’s cast include Mark Dils, Adam Gary Normand, Jennifer Kennedy and Karen Stickney. Kudos also to the eight chorines who dazzle as stewardesses and nurses.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Catch Me If You Can” through June 18 with 7:30 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday plus 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

“Always … Patsy Cline” is a musical dramatization that celebrates the life and songs of country music star Patsy Cline. The show, featuring Christine Mild, left, in the title role and Charis Leos, playing her most devoted fan, opens the 2017 season at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.