Out & About: Quirky characters, lots of laughs

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Two interesting pieces of stagecraft promise some quirky characters and lots of laughs.

Numbers-wise, the biggest of the two will be the national tour of “Elf: The Broadway Musical,” which swings by Merrill Auditorium for three performances this weekend under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

Quintessential quirky, Maine style: That’s a good description of Homer, an idiosyncratic lobsterman who is the title character of a new and wildly funny romantic comedy by Maine playwright Karmo Sanders. The world premiere of “Homer Bound” plays through Dec. 2 at Portland’s Good Theater.

Boston jazzman, saxophonist and music professor Charlie Kohlhase visits the Portland Conservatory of Music on Friday, heading up his latest project, Explorer’s Club. It’s a continuation of the conservatory’s Dimensions in Jazz concert series.

‘Elf: The Broadway Musical’

Elf or human? That’s the question faced by Buddy, the central character of one of Broadway’s rare Christmas offerings.

“Elf: The Broadway Musical” opened in New York for a November-December run in 2010, reprised in 2012 and has been on national tour almost every November and December since then. The current tour motors into Portland this weekend for three performances.

Based on the 2003 film, “Elf” revolves around Buddy, a young orphan boy who manages to crawl into Santa’s bag of gifts and is mistakenly transported to the North Pole – and Santa’s famous elf-powered toy workshop. The book is by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan and the score was written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin.

When it’s apparent that this newest addition to the workshop is not really an elf, Santa urges Buddy to return to New York in search of his human parents. When he finds them, he finds that they’re non-believers in Santa. Overcoming that challenge draws this happy little story to its denouement.

Portland Ovations presents “Elf: The Broadway Musical” for three performances at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 17 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘Homer Bound’

Funniest woman in Maine? There are a couple of contenders for that honor, but with her latest creative effort currently running in Portland, I’ll cast my vote for Karmo Sanders.

Most of us know Sanders best as “The Marden’s Lady,” after years of promoting the iconic Maine store chain through her television commercials, playing the part of Birdie Googins, a quirky sage and shopper.

She’s also developed Birdie into a long-running one-woman comedy show that’s been touring Maine from stem to stern for years. Born in Norway (the town north of Denmark and adjacent to South Paris), Sanders currently lives in Scarborough.

Sanders recently completed a play, “Homer Bound,” which opened last weekend at Portland’s Good Theater. See it and I think that you, too, will give her your vote for Maine’s funniest woman.

“Homer Bound” is set on a small Maine island, where lobstering is the main industry and everybody’s business is knowing everybody else’s business. The plot revolves around two central characters: Lila (Casey Turner), who is nine months pregnant, and Charlie (Thomas Ian Campbell), her frenetic betrothed who disappears on the morning of the wedding.

Parallel action follows another romantic pairing: Lena (Kathleen Kimball), Lila’s sister, who has a longstanding crush on Homer (Steve Underwood), the most iconic Maine character in the play. There are two supporting characters: Mary (Grace Bauer), the mother of the bride, and Ronnie (Jared Mongeau), brother of Charlie.

There are two big questions that drive the action. Will the wedding take place before the arrival of the baby? Will Lena land her beloved? It’s a romantic comedy, and everything sorts out rather nicely. And Homer discovers himself at the happy confluence of both narratives.

I loved Sanders’ characters and her wacky plot. Director Sally Wood gets top-notch performances from all six actors. I was particularly partial to two performances. Underwood, who has a long-running comedy act of his own (“Maine Hysterical Society”), perfectly nails the title character, managing to be both loquacious and laconic at the same time. Kimball is one of Good Theater’s go-to actresses for good reason. She manages to be both over-the-top comic and quietly vulnerable all at once. Plus the routine where she puts on a panty while wearing a tight-fitting dress is a howl.

Kudos are also earned by Underwood, doubling as set designer. Both first act and second act sets are elaborate and exquisitely detailed, and the intermission changeover is a show in its own right.

Good Theater presents “Homer Bound” through Dec. 2 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St. (top of Munjoy Hill) with 7 p.m. performances Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays plus Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively. Call 835-0895.

Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club

About 10 years ago, when Jean Murachanian first arrived in Maine – as an art history professor – she confided to me that what she really wanted to do in life was to own a small jazz club.

Three years ago, when she became executive director of the Portland Conservatory of Music, she had her wish fulfilled by inheriting the longstanding Dimensions in Jazz concert series, which was curated by Paul Lichter, one of the most prominent jazz mavens in Maine. It’s an eclectic series, specializing in cutting-edge contemporary jazz, and nearly all the concerts are slated for the conservatory’s Woodford Street location.

For decades Lichter has hosted the top players and ensembles in the U.S. and Maine to play in Portland, and this Friday he’s booked one of the best in New England, Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club.

Soon to turn 62, Kohlhase is a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who has been based in Boston for close to four decades. Writing for Jazz Times, critic John Murph commented, “As a mainstay in Boston’s jazz scene, saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase has helped cultivate the city as one of America’s most fertile hotbeds for creative music.”

He’s active as both a teacher, bandleader and sideman. His current main teaching gig is directing the Modern American Music Repertory Ensemble at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge.

As a bandleader Kohlhase has recently been heading up two ensembles. On Friday he’ll be coming to Portland with his Explorer’s Club, an octet with two saxophones, trumpet, trombone, tuba, guitar, bass and drums.

Catch Charlie Kohlhase’s Explorer’s Club at 8 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Portland Conservatory of Music, 202 Woodford St. Call Paul Lichter at 828-1310.

“Elf: The Broadway Musical” is a hit show from 2010 that’s on national tour for the 2018 Christmas season. The buses and trucks stop at Merrill Auditorium for three Portland performances this weekend, hosted by Portland Ovations.

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