Out & About: ‘Rock of Ages’ to rock Portland

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Hold on to your seats and tighten your safety belts; it’s going to be a wild ride. “Rock of Ages,” the raucous jukebox musical that recalls the sounds of the 1980s, is going on national tour, and it stops in Portland this weekend.

Two terrific pianists will appear this Friday in different venues. Most familiar to Mainers will be Laura Kargul, the longtime professor of classical piano at the University of Southern Maine School of Music. She’ll be giving her almost-annual performance in the school’s Faculty Concert Series in Gorham.

Also on Friday, pianist and composer George Winston will be opening the final weekend of 2018 at the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre in Arundel. He’s promoting a new album that is dedicated to raising money for a cancer program that saved his life.

On Saturday, the Portland Bach Experience presents its first fall concert in Falmouth.

‘Rock of Ages’

Portland Ovations’ next show has it all: sex, drugs and oh-so-much rock and roll. That’s the buzz on “Rock of Ages,” one of the most successful jukebox musicals ever seen on Broadway.

“Rock of Ages” opened on Broadway in 2009 and ran just shy of six years, for a total of 2,328 performances. It garnered five Tony Award nominations.

A national tour is being launched for the 2018-2019 season, and its first stop is Portland this weekend, the first offering in Portland Ovations’ Broadway and Beyond series.

Chris D’Arienzo’s book revolves around a traditional dramatic model: a romantic match-up complicated by cultural clash. The setting is a Los Angeles rock club in the 1980s, and the romantic sparkle is provided by a young man from Michigan who dreams of being a rock star and a young woman from Kansas who aspires to be an actress.

Conflict and dramatic energy are provided by a variety of comic characters. Chief among them is the aging proprietor of the club and his hyperactive emcee, who also serves as a program narrator and comments on the action at times. Funniest is a drug-addled, sex-crazed, self-absorbed rock star. Plus there’s a greedy businessman, his effeminate son, a corrupt mayor and his hippie-style urban planner.

Briefly, the plot involves the businessman bribing the mayor and influencing him to condemn the club and raze it. The businessman needs the property for a tony shopping center, while the denizens of the club resist in many ways.

And the music: Thirty-one songs, most of them very memorable hits from the 1980s, are interpolated into “Rock of Ages.” These include “Oh Sherrie,” “Cum On Feel the Noize,” “Any Way You Want It,” “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “I Want to Know What Love Is,” “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “We Built This City” and of course “I Wanna Rock.”

I’ve seen excellent productions of “Rock of Ages” twice before, and it’s a real rock and roller-coaster ride. That’s also how Martha Banta, director of this current tour, sees it. “We’re going to take the audience on this ride in a very funny and exciting way,” she said.

Portland Ovations presents two performances of “Rock of Ages” at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Oct. 19-20 at 8 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Laura Kargul

“Wild at Heart” is the title of the piano recital that’s planned for this Friday in the University of Southern Maine School of Music Faculty Concert Series. The artist will be Laura Kargul, director of keyboard studies, whose specialty is passionate music of the Romantic School and its antecedents.

I’ve been attending Kargul’s concerts for close to 20 years and I’ve already reserved tickets for this one.

Three composers are on her program. The first, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, wrote a piece based on the tale of the seduction of a young peasant woman by a shepherd.

Franz Liszt is represented by two pieces. “Liszt’s compositions perfectly embody the 19th-century notion of romantic love, rooted in arching passion that can barely be contained,” according to Kargul. “Music is the ideal medium to express such extreme emotions.”

The final work will be Robert Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major, which was written to express his passionate feelings for his beloved, Clara Wieck.

Catch Laura Kargul’s “Wild at Heart” at 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at Corthell Hall on the University of Southern Maine’s Gorham campus. Call the music box office at 780-5555.

George Winston

Another pianist performing on Friday is George Winston, who will hold forth in Arundel with a program of American popular music.

Winston is a veteran of the music business. His first record came out in 1972 and his discography currently numbers 14 studio albums, seven of which have been certified as platinum or gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Winston plays a mix of original compositions and covers, with his early recordings based on his studies of the ragtime and stride piano styles. His most recent effort, released in March of last year, was “Spring Carousel,” a suite of songs that were written while he was in the City of Hope hospital in California, recovering from a bout with myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of blood cancer.

Proceeds from the sale of “Spring Carousel” will support the hospital.

Catch George Winston on piano (and probably some guitar as well) at 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) in Arundel. Call 985-5552.

Portland Bach Experience

Emily Isaacson’s Portland Bach Experience debuted last June as a week of performances and other events related to Johann Sebastian Bach, the 18th-century German who is revered by many as the greatest classical composer in history.

Bach wrote for many combinations of instruments and voices in both secular and sacred settings. Isaacson’s philosophy is to present as wide a variety as possible in contexts that are most approachable by modern audiences.

Isaacson wants PBE to be a year-round happening, and its fall debut is coming up. The one formal concert takes place on Saturday in Falmouth.

The musical forces under Isaacson’s baton will be impressive. The Portland Bach Experience Orchestra and Choir will be joined by the Anachronism Ensemble plus soprano Ava Pine, baritone Bradford Gleim (a Grammy Award winner) and harpsichordist John McKean. Many of the PBE artists are members of Boston Baroque, one of the world’s premier ensembles of period music.

The concert is slated for 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 43 Foreside Road in Falmouth. Visit PortlandBachExperience.com.

George Winston is a platinum-selling pianist who will visit the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre on Friday.

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