Out & About: 'Seven Brides,' 1 Baby, and a big organ

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We’re in the waning days of summer, astronomically speaking, but there’s nothing waning about the choices in this week’s arts and entertainment offerings.

Top pick in my opinion is Ogunquit Playhouse’s lavish production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” an exuberant musical fable set in the Oregon Territory in 1850.

Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, Maine’s newest major concert venue, is entering the final weeks of its inaugural season. English singer-songwriter John Waite will appear at the Arundel venue on Saturday.

The Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ launch their 2016-2017 season Sept. 20 in Portland. The program titled “Krazy ‘Bout Kotzschmar” features Australian keyboard wiz Thomas Heywood.

‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’

It took tough men to tame the Oregon Territory. And it took tough women to tame those tough men. And love them.

That’s the take-home message of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” the big musical comedy that’s running through Oct. 1 at Ogunquit Playhouse. It’s a huge, energetic show that features a scintillating score and dazzling choreography.

Ogunquit’s current hit is a stage version of the 1954 MGM musical film of the same name, with book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay. Johnny Mercer and Gene De Paul scored the original film, and the 1978 stage adaptation has additional songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn.

The story is set in the Oregon Territory in 1850. Adam and his six brothers are rough, tough mountain men who live at the base of Mount Hood. The story follows Adam and his brothers as they court and marry seven pioneer women from a nearby frontier town.

The story is a bit on the hokey side, but the driving force behind this show is the dancing. As director B.T. McNicholl explains: “High-flying dancing is the central metaphor for the expansive feeling of the American frontier in the 1850s. It also suggests the boundless freedom of people starting a bold adventure – creating a new community in the overwhelming beauty of the Golden West.”

McNicholl’s cast is led by Nathaniel Hackmann as Adam, the first among the brothers, and Analisa Leaming as wife Millie. Hackmann’s superb tenor voice is one of the defining traits of this fine production. Leaming’s convincing portrayal of his strong-willed wife is equally compelling. The cast includes 18 dancers, who lend an incredibly boisterous energy to this show. Credit choreographer Parker Esse for this facet of the production.

Although he’s not one of the principals or a dancer, it’s worth noting that Maine native and Broadway veteran Ed Romanoff – whose two brothers comprise the Schooner Fare folk duo – has a nice character part, a white-haired curmudgeon who also plays banjo on stage.

Anna Louizos’ scenes do justice to the spirit of the show, ranging from dense evergreen forest to the brothers’ mountain cabin to the pioneer village, all with spectacular Mount Hood dominating the background.

Ogunquit Playhouse, 10 Main St. (Route 1), presents “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” through Oct. 1. Call 646-5511 or visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

John Waite

He’s not a Baby any more, but he’s still at the top of the music business.

That’s a quick summary of 64-year-old English rock singer and songwriter John Waite, who will be appearing on Saturday at the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre.

Waite’s long and successful career began in London in 1974, when he formed The Babys, a foursome that specialized in light rock. The Babys, with Waite as bassist and lead singer, had a number of hits both in their home country and the U.S.

When The Babys broke up in 1981, Waite began his long solo career, which peaked in 1984 with a song that he co-wrote. “Missing You” went to No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, and it remains a staple of classic rock radio.

Over the decades, Waite has joined a few other groups, most notably Bad English and Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band, but the thrust of his creative efforts has been solo work and one-off collaborations for the past 35 years. “Missing You” hit the country music charts in 2006 in a duet version with Alison Krauss. (Although The Babys re-formed three years ago, Waite is not in the current lineup.)

Waite has released 10 solo albums, the most recent being “Rough & Tumble” in 2011. Writing for AllMusic, critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine summarized that album as one of Waite’s best efforts, commenting that “the songs are a solid set of rockers and ballads, a sturdy set of tunes that benefit from lean, lively production.”

Waite is one of the featured acts during this inaugural season of the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, the totally refurbished 1880 farmstead that was formerly known as Arundel Barn Playhouse. Vinegar Hill is Maine’s most significant new concert venue. I’ve attended four shows so far this summer, and I thoroughly appreciate both the physical rehab of the historic structure and artistic director George Dvorsky’s programming.

Catch John Waite at 8 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) in Arundel. Call 985-5552.

Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ

Among the first of southern Maine’s performing arts organizations to launch their 2016-2017 seasons, the Friends of the Kotzschmar Organ start up on Tuesday with a guest keyboard virtuoso from Australia.

Thomas Heywood, who hails from Melbourne, is the only full-time professional organist his country has ever produced, and he travels the world giving concerts and making recordings on the greatest instruments ever made.

Heywood was a child prodigy, giving his first public performance at age five after starting musical studies a year earlier. He has since performed on thousands of occasions, including a celebrated recital in the Sydney Opera House at the age of 17. His list of tour venues reads like an encyclopedia of the world’s most famous organs, from New York City’s largest pipe organ to Windsor Castle in England.

He has recorded 20 albums. And there’s little chance that he’ll exhaust the organ repertoire: Heywood is also known for transcribing pieces written for other instruments and ensembles for his own performance.

On Sept. 20 Heywood will stop in Portland to give a concert on the Kotzschmar Memorial Organ, sporting more than 6,200 pipes driven by a 25-horsepower motor and interlaced with hundreds of miles of electrical wires and pneumatic tubes. His program is titled “Krazy ‘Bout Kotzschmar.”

Catch Thomas Heywood on the Kotzschmar at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” an exuberant stage version of MGM’s classic 1954 musical film, is running at the Ogunquit Playhouse.