Out & About: PSO Pops opens with Gershwin-Porter tribute

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Last weekend the Portland Symphony Orchestra launched its 2013-2014 classical season. This weekend the PSO starts up its Pops season with two performances of a program that pays tribute to two of Broadway’s greatest composers: George Gershwin and Cole Porter. Maestro Robert Moody has hired a pair of outstanding Broadway stars to perform the songs: soprano Jennifer Hope Wills and tenor Mike Eldred.

Blues singer Alexis P. Suter will bring her band to One Longfellow Square this Saturday. It’s a repeat visit: Suter was so impressive on her first visit that an encore is the proverbial “no-brainer.”

Maine State Ballet is debuting a new work this weekend. “The Little Mermaid” is based on the classic 1836 Hans Christian Andersen story, with original choreography by MSB artistic director Linda Miele set to music from four different classical composers.

PSO Pops

Two towering figures who provided creative horsepower behind Broadway theater in the 1920s through 1950s will be featured when the Portland Symphony Orchestra morphs into Pops mode for the first time in the 2013-2014 season with a pair of concerts this weekend.

Music director Robert Moody, who has wielded the PSO baton since 2008, has constructed a program that revolves around the music of George Gershwin and Cole Porter, two men who composed many of the top Broadway shows over a period of nearly 40 years. Not only were they successful on Broadway, but their songs live on as popular tunes, jazz standards and symphonic pops selections.

Gershwin was a dominant Broadway composer of the 1920s and 1930s, writing hit shows – usually collaborating with brother Ira as the lyricist – such as “Strike Up the Band,” “Girl Crazy,” “Oh Kay” and “Damsel in Distress.” His genius also extended to opera; “Porgy and Bess” is perhaps his most famous foray into that field. Likewise light classical; his “American in Paris” is often played on symphonic programs around the world.

The first half of this weekend’s PSO programs will focus on Gershwin. Selections will be drawn from all three of Gershwin’s fields: Broadway, opera and light classical.

The second half of the program will be devoted to music by Cole Porter, whose heyday spanned the 1930s through 1950s. Enjoying enormous success in both Broadway and Hollywood, Porter’s best-remembered shows include “Anything Goes” and “Can-Can.”

Porter – who also wrote his own lyrics – will be remembered via selections such as “Begin the Beguine,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “In the Still of the Night.”

Two Broadway singers will perform as guest soloists. Both have appeared in some of the most coveted roles in musical theater. Soprano Jennifer Hope Wills interpreted the role of lovely ingenue Christine for four years in “Phantom of the Opera,” while tenor Mike Eldred enjoyed a run as the obsessive inspector Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables.”

Wills’ bio also notes other Broadway gigs, in “Wonderful Town,” “Woman in White” and “Beauty and the Beast.” She has also performed with symphony orchestras around the country.

Another Broadway credit for Eldred is original cast member of “The Civil War.” Eldred sang with the PSO last year and has performed similar concerts with many other symphony orchestras in North America. He has recorded three solo albums featuring his personal musical theater favorites, holiday tunes and a tribute to John Denver.

There will be two performances of the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Pops program at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 6 at 2:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Alexis P. Suter Band

When the great bluesman B.B. King first heard Alexis P. Suter sing a few years ago, he was visibly impressed, and said so after her opening set. Shaking his head in wonder in his characteristic way, he remarked: “It’s a rare thing to share the stage with great talent like that young lady.”

Considering the caliber of performers who appear on the same bill as King, that’s a heady compliment.

Suter’s childhood in Brooklyn was immersed in singing gospel in churches, and over the past decade she has burst upon the national music scene like the proverbial hurricane. Certainly she’s one of the most impressive talents in modern American music.

Built like a football lineman, wearing a massive top hat and boasting a booming voice – once described as “gale-force” – in the bass-baritone range, Suter and her band began wowing audiences in the northeast six years ago as a regular performer at Levon Helms’ “Midnight Ramble” series in Woodstock, N.Y. Since then Suter and company have been wowing audiences in blues festivals and other venues around the country and have recorded two CDs for Brooklyn-based Hipbone Records: “Shuga Fix” in 2005 and “Just Another Fool” in 2008.

Their last Portland appearance was a major phenomenon, and they head back for a reprise visit this weekend. Catch the Alexis P. Suter Band at 8 p.m. Oct. 5 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in downtown Portland. Call 761-1757.

‘The Little Mermaid’

A famous fairy tale about a mermaid who loves a prince will be the October offering at Maine State Ballet. Based on the classic Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Little Mermaid” has undergone a terpsichorean transformation at the hands of MSB artistic director Linda Miele, based on the inspiration of Gail Csoboth, MST’s associate director and costume designer.

Csoboth’s vision led to spectacular costumes and backdrops, which prompted Miele to locate music and create choreography that brings those designs to life. Miele selected music from a variety of classical composers and created the dances that portray the timeless love story that was first published in 1836. Miele is a former member of the New York City Ballet, under the direction of George Balanchine. In her capacity as MSB choreographer, Miele’s work carries the official Balanchine imprimatur.

MSB comprises approximately 25 performers who train all year. Featured performers for “The Little Mermaid” include Veronica Druchniak in the title role, Glenn Davis as the Prince and Janet Davis as the Sea Witch. The latter two teach at the affiliated ballet school.

The production will be presented over two weekends at Maine State Ballet’s studio theater, 348 U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth: Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., Oct. 11 at 7 p.m., Oct. 12 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., and Oct. 13 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Call 781-3587.

Sidebar Elements

Broadway tenor Mike Eldred will be a featured singer this weekend when the Portland Symphony Orchestra opens its 2013-2014 Pops season with a program that pays tribute to George Gershwin and Cole Porter.