Out & About: Portland Ovations rocks out with ‘Mamma Mia!’

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Mid-May marks the end of the 2014-2015 season for Portland Ovations, and the 84-year-old arts presenter will rock out in style with two performances of its finale: the national touring production of “Mamma Mia!” on May 13-14.

Based on the music and stylings of ABBA and woven around a wonderful romantic story, “Mama Mia!” is by far the most successful jukebox musical in Broadway history.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn bows out of its fall-winter-spring season with a classic Neil Simon comedy. “The Sunshine Boys” is a valentine to the good old days of vaudeville, viewed from a distinctly different perspective.

On a much more somber note, the Choral Art Society is presenting an evening of original works inspired by the experiences of people dealing with Alzheimer’s disease on May 9 in South Portland.

‘Mamma Mia!’

Back in the early 1970s, shortly after the Beatles broke up, another pop mega group emerged from Europe. ABBA, a foursome from Sweden, achieved a long string of multi-platinum hits that stretched between 1972 and 1982. Nearly all were penned by the band’s own songwriters, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus.

According to recording industry statistics, ABBA ranks second (behind the Beatles) in terms of all-time music sales by a group. In 2010 the band was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

When the craze for jukebox musicals emerged, an ABBA-based show was naturally expected. What was totally unexpected was the artistic strength of the musical and its enduring popularity: “Mamma Mia!” opened in London in 1999 and on Broadway in 2001. It is still one of the top tickets on the Great White Way.

The Broadway production also spawned a 2008 movie version and several national and international tours. One of those will be wrapping up Portland Ovations’ 2014-2015 season next week.

Much of the reason for the success of “Mamma Mia!” lies in its clever book; Catherine Johnson’s script is a beautiful romantic comedy. Generally speaking, jukebox musicals suffer from insipid plots. Not so with “Mama Mia!”; this show has truly interesting characters and a compelling story line.

The song list incorporates most of ABBA’s chart-toppers, including “Mamma Mia,” “Waterloo,” “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “S.O.S.,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Honey, Honey” and “Money, Money, Money.”

Portland Ovations presents two performances of “Mamma Mia!” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: May 13-14 at 7:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘The Sunshine Boys’

Neil Simon is the most successful playwright in Broadway history, penning a long string of hit comedies that began in 1961 and today number more than 30.

Twelfth in that line was “The Sunshine Boys,” a 1972 show that revolves around a pair of former vaudeville actors and their struggle to deal with their aging bodies and failing minds.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn wraps up its 2014-2015 season this weekend with a superb, fully professional production of this comic masterpiece.

Here’s a quick summary: About the time vaudeville was falling out of favor, these two actors – a duo who were often billed as The Sunshine Boys – had a bitter personal falling out. Many years later, when a television special on the history of comedy is proposed, the producers try to bring these two aging vaudevillians back together to perform their most famous act one last time. Sparks fly, often in very unexpected directions, leading to an unexpected resolution at the denouement.

Simon’s knack for creating interesting characters and compelling dialogue overflows in “The Sunshine Boys.” Director Janet Mitchko Schario has assembled a wonderful cast. Bill Van Horn is tops, as the irascible and volatile “funny man,” while Michael G. Dell’Orto effectively complements him as the duo’s “straight man.” Mike Anthony is convincing as a theatrical agent who tries to mediate.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn, 31 Maple St. in Lewiston, presents “The Sunshine Boys” at 7:30 p.m. May 7-8, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. May 9 and 2 p.m. May 10. Call 782-3200.

‘Time Remembered – Time Forgotten’

The Choral Art Society has chosen a very unusual theme for its spring concert: the tragedy of Alzheimer’s disease and the toll it takes on the many people that it directly and indirectly afflicts.

The core of the May 9 event is a performance of “Alzheimer’s Stories,” a recent vocal work that was written by Robert S. Cohen on commission from a choral group in Pennsylvania.

More than just a concert, the event brings together music, information, and resources for families, friends and caregivers touched by Alzheimer’s disease.

Kathleen Grammer, a singer and executive director of the Choral Art Society, explained: “We are partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association in an effort to promote awareness about this ever-increasing disease and to caregivers of family members and friends and patients as a time to come together through the art of music to be share experiences, reflect, be soothed and inspired by the music to be presented in this concert.”

The evening begins with a 6:45 p.m. informational forum featuring Cohen, CAS music director Robert Russell, Alzheimer’s Association of Maine program director William Kirkpatrick, music therapist Kate Beever and poet/actress/activist Judy Prescott. The latter is author of “Searching for Cecy: Reflections on Alzheimer’s.”

The 8 p.m. concert includes songs of celebration and remembrance performed by the Choral Art Camerata (a CAS sub-unit), poetry readings by Prescott and “Alzheimer’s Stories” performed by the Choral Art Masterworks Chorus.

Cohen has commented on his piece: “As a composer who has straddled the worlds of both musical theatre and concert music, I feel that the primary role of music is to move people. I believe that music should tell a story whether that story is expressed in a literal or abstract form; to take his audience on an emotional and intellectual journey.”

Saturday’s performance will be a New England premier.

“‘Alzheimer’s Stories’ gives us a striking musical journey through the facets of a disease that is coming ever more to the forefront of national consciousness,” noted Russell. “The CAS Masterworks Chorus has responded in a compelling way to a score that is not easy to deliver, either technically or emotionally. We have savored the rehearsal process and anticipate sharing our experience with the audience.”

The Choral Art Society’s “Time Remembered – Time Forgotten” takes place May 9 at the South Portland High School auditorium, 637 Highland Ave., with informational activities beginning at 6:45 p.m. and the formal concert at 8 p.m. Call the CAS at 828-0043.

Sidebar Elements

The music and stylings of ABBA form the basis for “Mamma Mia!,” the most successful jukebox musical ever on Broadway. Portland Ovations is hosting the national touring production on May 13-14.