Out & About: Portland's Good Theater does double-take

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The long midwinter hiatus is ending for most of southern Maine’s performing arts producers as their 2017-2018 seasons resume in earnest.

Most earnest of all is Portland’s Good Theater, which is currently running two productions simultaneously: a reprise of 2016’s “Shear Madness” and the Maine premiere of “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”

At Maine State Ballet in Falmouth, the “Nutcracker” costumes and sets have been packed away, and now the company resumes its fall-winter-spring season with its annual production of “Tap, Tap, Jazz,” a potpourri showcase of modern dance.

Portland Symphony Orchestra restarts its 2017-2018 Classical Series this Tuesday with a program that features Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 with Maine native Henry Kramer as the soloist.

‘Shear Madness’

For shear fun, nothing in theater beats “Shear Madness,” a wildly funny comedy that’s been running for the past 38 years in Boston. Two winters ago, Portland’s Good Theater presented the Maine premier and it became the top-selling show in its history.

Now it’s back for another long run, and just as fun as the last time.

“Shear Madness” is a comic whodunit that has a lot of audience interaction. Here’s the general setup:

There are six characters and all the action takes place over the course of a few hours in an urban unisex hair salon. During the first act, a woman is murdered in the apartment above the salon. Two of the customers in the salon are revealed as undercover police detectives, and they investigate the crime and interrogate the four other characters.

The two hairdressers are tops. Kathleen Kimball plays the archetype of the dumb, ditzy blonde – a flirtatious, curvaceous and promiscuous man-chaser whose nonstop mispronunciations and malapropisms drive many of the laughs.

She’s paired with Joe Bearor, who brilliantly plays a flamboyant and theatrical gay hairdresser. Two other suspects, customers in the salon at the time of the murder, are played by Paul Drinan and Laura Houck. The latter is particularly good as a rich, middle-aged housewife who’s dating other men on the sly. Timothy C. Goodwin plays the lead detective, a stereotype of the dumb cop, while sidekick Conor Riordan Martin is several degrees dumber.

In the second act, the chief detective invites audience members to ask questions and propose theories. Then the audience votes. The character who scores the most votes is guilty, and the denouement plays out according to that outcome.

Performances are scheduled through March 11 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill). Call 835-0895 or visit GoodTheater.com.

‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’

Running simultaneously with “Shear Madness,” Good Theater is also producing the Maine premiere of another long-running play. “Love, Loss and What I Wore” is a fascinating and engaging piece by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron, based on a book of the same name by Hene Beckerman.

Five women, played by Amy Roche, Lynne McGhee, Jeanne Handy, Casey Turner and Hannah Daly, are seated at lecterns. They rummage through the wardrobes of their memories, relating key experiences in their lives to particular items of clothing and accessories. The general format is monologue, but with many moments of intersection and interaction.

The memories are intensely personal, and they range from warm and funny to tragic and embarrassing. Most relate to key events of life: joining the Brownies, first bra, first date, first sex, first marriage, third divorce, etc. The five characters are constructed like mosaics, with each memory representing a piece of the picture.

I liked all five of the actresses, but my favorite is McGhee. Her long monologue about her complicated relationship to her purse and its contents is both poignant and hilarious.

Performances are scheduled through March 6 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center.

‘Tap, Tap, Jazz’

The word “ballet” is in the name, but the school and company offer a full spectrum of terpsichorean art. That’s the message that Maine State Ballet founder and artistic director Linda MacArthur Miele expressed last weekend at the debut of her company’s annual “Tap, Tap, Jazz” showcase in Falmouth.

Miele pointed out that she’d spent 10 years as a professional company dancer with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet and four years as a Broadway hoofer. “I can tell you that Broadway was a lot easier, and way more fun,” she said.

Accordingly, dozens of MSB’s professionals and students got to strut their stuff in a Broadway-inspired showcase comprising 15 independent numbers, ranging from solo performances to large ensembles of a dozen or more. Most spectacular were four full scenes from Broadway hits: “Will Rogers Follies,” “Mack and Mabel,” “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “42nd Street.”

Last weekend I attended this annual event for the first time, and I was greatly impressed. “Tap, Tap, Jazz” provides really perfect light midwinter entertainment.

Maine State Ballet, 348 U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth, presents “Tap, Tap, Jazz” through Jan. 27 with performances Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Call 781-3587.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

When I first met classical pianist Henry Kramer in the 1990s, he was a teenage prodigy from Cape Elizabeth who had landed several guest appearances with Maine orchestras and chamber music ensembles. There was no doubt that he was an incredibly talented young man on the move.

Later I met him as a Juilliard School student studying for the summer at the Bowdoin International Music Festival. Today, as the holder of two Juilliard degrees and winner of several major international piano competitions, Kramer has become a top international star, appearing as guest soloist with orchestras and ensembles around the globe.

On Tuesday he returns to Maine as the featured guest artist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra when it tackles Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20. This work is one of the few concertos that Mozart wrote in a minor key, and it has been characterized as full of fire and passion.

Music director Robert Moody will be on the podium. His program includes two other works. First up will be “Eating Flowers,” written by Hannah Lash, one of America’s top composers under the age of 40.

Richard Strauss’ gargantuan single-movement tone poem, “Ein Heldenleben” (“A Hero’s Life”), concludes the evening.

Catch the Portland Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Maine actresses Amy Roche, left, Lynne McGhee, Jeanne Handy, Casey Turner and Hannah Daly comprise the cast of Good Theater’s Maine premiere of “Love, Loss and What I Wore.”

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