Out & About: Powerful musical debuts in Ogunquit

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This past weekend, Ogunquit Playhouse debuted a new musical. “From Here To Eternity” is a powerful drama that portrays a pathologically dysfunctional U.S. Army unit in Hawaii in the weeks preceding the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It plays through Oct. 29.

“A Night at the Opera” is the theme for this year’s piano recital by Laura Kargul, a University of Southern Maine School of Music professor. It’s slated for Friday on the Gorham campus.

In Arundel, Vinegar Hill Music Theatre closes its 2017 season on Saturday with the Platters, an iconic ensemble of the 1950s and 1960s.

J.J. Grey & Mofro is a compelling southern rock jam band that’s coming to Aura in downtown Portland on October 18.

‘From Here To Eternity’

One of the most famous novels about World War II was “From Here To Eternity” by James Jones. The story was set on a U.S. Army base in Hawaii in the weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As a 20-year-old private, Jones was present at that calamitous defeat. A year later he was wounded as the U.S. Army won its first victory, seizing the Japanese-held island of Guadalcanal.

Jones’ story was darkly unflattering to the peacetime Army, portraying a pathologically dysfunctional unit and some profoundly troubled misfit officers and enlisted men. The 1951 novel was made into a sensationally successful movie in 1953.

Jones’ original manuscript was heavily censored by his publisher, and the subsequent film was further excised.

Six years ago, Jones’ original uncut version was published. A musical based on that version has been in the works for some time, with music by Stuart Brayson, lyrics by Tim Rice and book by Donald Rice and Bill Oakes. It’s been produced twice before, and was recently heavily revised. Ogunquit Playhouse is currently presenting the premiere of the latest version, which I attended last weekend. The producers expect that it will soon be ready for its Broadway debut.

Much of the show is set in an Army barracks, with extended scenes taking place in the base prison, a gay bar and a brothel. It is a grim story. Three men are dead before the first Japanese warplanes arrive.

Director Brett Smock gets outstanding performances from his cast. Top performances are given by Derek Carley, playing the most upright man in the unit, Bradley Dean as an alcoholic womanizer whose insane desire for a promotion drives the plot, and Robyn Hurder as his long-suffering wife who seeks revenge through an affair with a non-com officer.

Other fine performances are given by Kevin Aichele as said non-com, Jenna Nicole Schoen as a prostitute and Michael Tacconi as a misfit soldier.

Ogunquit’s “From Here To Eternity” is a powerful, if disturbing, drama that deserves to be on any theater lover’s must-do list.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on U.S. Route 1, presents “From Here To Eternity” through Oct. 29. Call 646-5511 or visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

Laura Kargul

Opera is the most passionate of classical music’s several sub-genres, and musical passion is the hallmark of Laura Kargul, one of Maine’s top pianists. Combine the two and the result is this Friday’s second offering in the University of Southern Maine School of Music’s Faculty Concert Series.

Kargul is the longtime director of piano studies at the school, and her annual solo recital is the top draw on the concert series. This Friday’s program is titled “A Night at the Opera,” and several piano transcriptions comprise its core. Kargul will play two of Franz Liszt’s most beloved transcriptions, the “Liebestod” from Richard Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde,” and the “Reminiscences,” based on Vincenzo Bellini’s “Norma.”

Kargul describes this latter piece: “‘Norma’ is perhaps the most ravishingly beautiful of all of Liszt’s transcriptions. And ‘Norma’ happens to be one of the operas that inspired Chopin to develop his operatic voice on the piano.”

To illustrate this point, the concert will also include four of Frederic Chopin’s nocturnes. Friday’s performance will open with a sonata by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a piece that Kargul believes reflects the musical character of the composer’s numerous operas.

Catch Laura Kargul at 8 p.m. Oct. 13 at Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

The Platters

Perhaps the ultimate retro act of the rock ‘n’ roll era is the Platters, one of the most successful vocal groups of the 1950s and 1960s, scoring 40 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart during those decades. Comprising four men and one woman, the Platters are also historically notable as one of the era’s first black ensembles to win major crossover success.

On another historical note, the Platters’ heyday spans the period between the dominance of Tin Pan Alley and the then-up-and-coming sound of rock ‘n’ roll. Top-selling early Platters hits included “Only You (And You Alone)” and “The Great Pretender.”

The Platters still perform, albeit with none of the original members. The current Platters have won a court order that affirms their rights to the famous name and song catalogue.

Catch the current official incarnation of the Platters at 8 p.m. Oct. 14 at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) in Arundel. Call 985-5552.

JJ Grey & Mofro

He’s as southern as pecan pie. That’s perhaps because he grew up on his family’s pecan farm in Florida before gaining a measure of musical fame with Mofro, his six-man band. That’s JJ Grey, who’ll be appearing with Mofro on Oct. 18 in Portland.

JJ Grey & Mofro can be described as a southern rock jam band, best-known for live performances on the festival circuit. Frontman and founder JJ Grey (a pseudonym) has been described as a “charming, blue-collar eccentric” and a “swamp-rock shaman.” His songwriting style incorporates southern narratives plus musical influences from all over. He’s also a guitar virtuoso and harmonica wiz. JJ Grey & Mofro concerts blend rock, blues, soul, funk, gospel and even a touch of rap.

Formed in the late 1990s, the ensemble has recorded seven albums beginning in 2001. The most recent, 2015’s “Ol’ Glory,” comes closest to capturing the spirit and energy of live performances. I’ve checked out a number of JJ Grey & Mofro video performances, and I’ve already reserved my tickets for this Portland show.

Catch JJ Grey & Mofro at 8 p.m. Oct. 18 at Aura, 121 Center St. in downtown Portland. Call 772-8274.

“From Here to Eternity” is a powerful musical drama that portrays a dysfunctional U.S. Army unit in the weeks before the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. premiere of this show runs through Oct. 29 at Ogunquit Playhouse.

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