Musical theater has been a fixture of the New York scene since the middle of the 1800s, but the past century has represented a golden age. That’s the central concept of Neil Berg’s historical revue,“101 Years of Broadway.” It’s a touring show, and it motors into Merrill Auditorium on Friday thanks to Portland Ovations.
Opera is another, much older form of musical theater. Excerpts and highlights from a number of shows will be presented on Friday when the University of Southern Maine’s Spotlight Series features a husband-wife duo of opera singers in a revue titled “Cornucopia of Songs and Arias” on the Gorham campus.
Jorma Kaukonen was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, the seminal San Francisco psychedelic rock ensemble of the 1960s. The Airplane’s been grounded for decades, but Kaukonen still flies around the world singing and playing guitar. He flies into Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Saturday.
Neil Berg is a pianist, composer, lyricist, accompanist, music director and producer who has been active on the New York theatrical scene for three-plus decades. For the past few years he’s been combining these many talents in a revue that’s titled “100 Years of Broadway.” It’s been traveling around the country and it’s been so extraordinarily successful – including a 2010 stop in Portland – that Berg has produced a sequel: “101 Years of Broadway.”
That show visits the Port City on Friday, under the auspices of Portland Ovations.
The formula is simple. A team of five singers – each having starred in at least one Broadway show – performs a retrospective revue of great songs and scenes from the past century, which represents a sort of golden age of American musical theater. Berg himself will play piano, plus there’s a small orchestra to back up the singers.
The show also represents a microcosm of American culture. “The American musical is like the Frankenstein monster of musical art form,” Berg said. “Pieces have been liberally borrowed from opera, vaudeville, operetta, jazz, blues, pop music, rock ‘n’ roll, etc. This variety matches the ‘melting pot’ of immigrant cultures which makes up America. All these styles are represented are inherent to the ‘Broadway’ sound.’”
American musical theater has evolved through a number of different eras, and “101 Years of Broadway” begins during the heyday of George M. Cohan, who was the leading impresario of the early 1900s. It continues through the dazzling era dominated by Florenz Ziegfeld’s annual “Follies” revues, and continues into the era dominated by the integrated book shows pioneered by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It concludes with the present day, including a number of mega-hits that originated in Europe.
Voice students at the University of Southern Maine School of Music have long benefited from the expertise of two senior teachers who have vast experience on the global opera scene. Remarkably, the pair are also celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary this fall.
Students and the public are invited to hear them this Friday as Malcolm Smith and Margaret Yauger present highlights from their operatic careers in “A Cornucopia of Songs and Arias,” part of the school of music’s Spotlight Series, which features faculty artists.
Smith and Yauger don’t intend to merely showcase their own considerable talents, but to turn the evening into a learning experience.
Yauger and Smith selected the collection of masterworks to demonstrate the variety and flexibility American singers need. “We’re trying to bring a little bit of our experience – everywhere we’ve sung and what we’ve done,” Smith said. “We didn’t want to specialize in something but to show the young artists that are going to be singers and teachers that they have to have this flexibility.”
The two also want to emphasize to their students that having performed a piece successfully doesn’t mean you’re done learning about it. Yauger is returning to the Gustav Mahler work that she sang in her own senior recital. “I later sang it with symphony orchestras, and now with this recital, which underscores the principal of varying and reworking a piece that I never finish,” Yauger said.
And Smith is singing the duet from “La Gioconda” that he performed in his Metropolitan Opera premiere. “After I premiered ‘La Gioconda’ at the Met, Margaret and I both sang the opera in Fort Worth, Texas. You never finish something; you always go back and rework the songs,” Smith said.
One of America’s leading basses, Smith has appeared with the world’s major operatic and symphonic organizations. He has performed with such renowned companies as the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg Opera, Munich Opera, Vienna State Opera and the Paris Opera Bastille. He has been heard in concert repertoire with such leading orchestras as the Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, the Baltimore, Montreal and National symphonies.
Yauger was the leading mezzo-soprano of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein (Duesseldorf-Duisburg, Germany) for more than 10 years where she performed in over 21 productions. In her operatic career she has performed more than 50 roles.
Both have sung with the Portland Symphony Orchestra and performed roles with PORTopera.
Catch the Cornucopia at 8 p.m. Nov. 4 at Corthell Hall on the Gorham campus of the University of Southern Maine. Call the music box office at 780-5555.
Guitarist-singer-songwriter Jorma Kaukonen is still enjoying a career that began more than half a century ago when he started playing clubs and music rooms in San Francisco during the early 1960s. (Among his early efforts was accompanying the young Janis Joplin in her pre-Big Brother days.)
Kaukonen skyrocketed to fame as a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, the seminal San Francisco psychedelic rock band. Around 1970 he also co-founded another group that still plays together, at least occasionally: Hot Tuna.
As a guitarist, Kaukonen pioneered the finger style that helped define Jefferson Airplane’s distinctive sound, and he’s been rated by Rolling Stone as the 54th greatest rock guitarist of all time and the 14 greatest acoustic guitarist. Plus he’s a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Catch Jorma Kaukonen at 8 p.m. Nov. 5 at One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State streets) in Portland. Call 761-1757.
A cast of five will sing favorite show tunes from the past century in Neil Berg’s “101 Years of Broadway,” which plays Merrill Auditorium in Portland on Friday night under the auspices of Portland Ovations.