Out & About: ‘Phyzgig,' ‘Beauty and the Beast’ top choices

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As the Christmas-New Year holiday period approaches, most performing artists do what everyone else does: Head home and take a break with the family.

There’s a marked slowdown in the performing arts between Christmas and late January. So “Out & About” takes its annual four-week break, too, returning on Jan. 23. Before heading off to the ski slopes, let’s preview the exceptions to the general rule – a few top-flight acts that will appear over the next month.

Impresario Michael Levine has booked 12 acts for 13 performances in three different venues in Portland and Westbrook for Acorn Productions’ “Phyzgig” festival of physical comedy.

A traveling production of “Beauty and the Beast,” a 1994 Broadway musical that garnered nine Tony Award nominations, is one of only a handful of major national touring acts that are on the road in January. Portland Ovations has engaged the show for three performances Jan. 4-5 at Merrill Auditorium.

Eilen Jewell, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Boston who has a growing legion of devoted fans in Maine, will be visiting Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Jan. 17.


Vaudeville was once America’s most popular form of live entertainment, but the genre fizzled out between the 1930s and 1950s, falling victim to the Great Depression, World War II, changing lifestyles and the advent of the television age.

But for the past 15 years, that grand tradition has been re-kindled and kept alive in southern Maine by Acorn Productions, a Westbrook-based nonprofit theater and performing art organization.

Since 1998, Acorn has offered a variety of acts, many in the spirit of old-time vaudeville, during the traditionally slack time between Christmas and New Year. Collectively these performances are called “Phyzgig,” and the mainstay is physical comedy, such as juggling, clowning, prestidigitation and illusion. The impresario is Michael Levine, a longtime Portland-area theater activist whose new play, “The Legend of the Golem,” wraps up its run this weekend.

Continuing the grand tradition of vaudeville into 2012, Levine has assembled a lineup of performers from all over the U.S. who share a common mission: “To entertain with a unique blend of expert juggling, incredible illusion, mystifying magic, captivating storytelling and side-splitting physical comedy.”

This year’s “Phyzgig” schedule includes 12 acts for 13 performances in three different venues in Portland and Westbrook. This year’s roster of acts are: Peter Boie, Hilary Chaplain, Alex Feldman, Daniel Forlano, Krin Haglund, Dan Link, Iman Lizarau, Tom Murphy, Antonio Rocha, Phil Smith, Michael Trautman and “Ray the Big Ball Juggler.”

You’ll need to visit the website to get all the details, but here’s the general picture. Shows for families and kids take place late mornings and afternoons Dec. 27-30 at two venues: the Acorn Studio Theater in Westbrook and SPACE Gallery in Portland. The biggest shows, mostly oriented toward adults, are slated for Dec. 28-31 at Portland Stage Company. These will also be accompanied by the Matt Rock Pit Band, a three-person ensemble.

“Phyzgig” runs Dec. 27-31. Call Acorn at 854-0065 or visit acorn-productions.org.

‘Beauty and the Beast’

Don’t be fooled by appearances, because true beauty lies within the heart. And true love will find its own way.

Those are the twin messages of “Beauty and the Beast,” the treasured French fairy tale that was transformed by the Walt Disney Organization into one of the most successful Broadway musicals of modern times. First produced on Broadway in 1994, “Beauty and the Beast” ran 5,461 performances in more than 13 years.

Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” has been mounted in many countries and languages, and a national touring company is almost continuously on the move. One of those national road shows motors into Merrill Auditorium Jan. 4-5 under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

The 1994 Disney stage show has a script by Linda Woolverton, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. The Tony Awards committee was lavish in its nominations, placing the show into contention for nine honors, but somewhat stingy in its final choices, giving “Beauty and the Beast” the nod for its lavish, elegant and imaginative costumes – which are at the heart of this wonderfully colorful stage tale.

The story involves a handsome young prince who has been transformed into a hideous beast by an enchantress. There’s one possibility of escape from the prince’s predicament, but time is running short.

Elsewhere in the kingdom there’s a young girl who rejects the advances of a less-than-princely wannabe lover. She runs away into a deep, dark forest. Fate brings the girl and the beast together in a remote castle. And let’s just say that the fairytale magic spins out of that situation.

Portland Ovations presents “Beauty and the Beast” for three performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Jan. 4 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Eilen Jewell

One of the best things about living in southern Maine is the fact that top musicians from Greater Boston are frequent visitors.

That’s the story of Eilen Jewell, a roots-oriented singer-songwriter who started out strong in The Hub and has since gone national. But some of her early successes were here in Maine, and she returns a couple of times per year, mostly visiting One Longfellow Square in Portland.

I’ve attended several of her concerts, and I’m always impressed by the range of her talents, which embrace music, lyrics and performances with her three-man band.

Jewell’s most recent recording success was from 2011, and is titled “Queen of the Minor Key.” This fine CD is the product of a crafty wordsmith with a heart of burnished gold and enough stories to keep even the rowdiest crowd hanging on her every word.

Although its long shadows and dark corners make her kingdom feel intimate, her sovereign domain stretches as far as the imagination. Its denizens seek refuge in padded rooms, abandoned automobiles and strong spirits. They defend their territory by any means necessary: weird voodoo, sawed-off shotguns and broken bottles.

Jewell is also an apt student of the best of her genre. Jewell’s 2010 CD, “Butcher Hollow,” was a tribute to the songs of country legend Loretta Lynn. Most of her concerts include a couple of Loretta Lynn tunes.

Catch Eilen Jewell at 8 p.m. Jan. 17 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

A beautiful young woman and a handsome prince who has been transformed into a hideous creature are the principal characters in “Beauty and the Beast,” the 1994 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that visits Portland Jan. 4-5.