Summer stock theater is in full swing this week, with excellent offerings in two of the region’s classic venues.
“Shout!” is a jukebox musical that’s currently running at Arundel Barn Playhouse. On its surface, “Shout!” is simply a very clever compilation of 30 songs from the 1960s-era “British Invasion,” but it’s got a superior story line.
“Luv” is a three-actor comedy by Murray Schisgal that offers some absurdly interesting insights into romantic relationships. It’s the first show of the annual Deertrees Theatre Festival, which opened last weekend and continues into Labor Day weekend.
Jukebox musicals are typically tuneful, cute, clever and utterly forgettable. But not always. One of the most interesting and memorable jukebox musicals I’ve ever seen is “Shout!,” which is constructed around hit songs from the 1960s-era “British Invasion.”
Arundel Barn Playhouse’s current professional production of “Shout!” is a tuneful, entertaining and compelling voyage of self-discovery that strongly draws audiences into a memorable vicarious experience.
“Jukebox musical?” The term describes a stage show where the score comprises a selection of songs that have been previously released and are generally unrelated. Typically these songs have already been popular hits, and the task of the writer/producer is to cobble them together, providing context and unity.
“Shout!” succeeds brilliantly. With script by Phillip George, David Lowenstein and Peter Charles Morris, “Shout!” coherently recycles about 30 hit songs from the 1960s that were made popular by female British singers.
There’s no formally developed plot; instead a series of sketches follows a quintet of young women for about 10 years. Each is a composite or archetype with special qualities and challenges. They don’t have names, but are simply designated by the color of their mini-dresses in the first act: Orange Girl, Red Girl, Blue Girl, Green Girl and Yellow Girl.
Audiences easily relate to them as sisters, friends, lovers and wives. “Shout!” follows each of the five characters, starting as teens on a metaphorical voyage of self-discovery and progressing to women in their mid-twenties who have discovered much about themselves and their world.
The metaphorical voyage is littered with typical teen hang-ups, such as makeup and hairdos. There are also more dangerous pitfalls: alcohol, drugs and sex.
Producing artistic director Adrienne Wilson Grant and stage director Gary John LaRosa have assembled a topnotch professional (non-Equity) cast of five talented and appealing young ladies who perform at a uniformly high level.
At the risk of unfairly singling out two, let me mention Allie Beckmann as Green Girl. Beckmann’s transformation from teenage promiscuity to devoted wife and mother is the best of the five narrative threads that stitch this show together. I also liked Allison Frenzel as Orange Girl, who is forced to repeatedly reinvent herself through the years.
I’m not a big fan of jukebox musicals in general, but “Shout!” truly moves me. My friends and I lived through the rocking, perilous 1960s, and “Shout!” gives us a wonderful chance to refresh our memories and reinterpret our experiences.
Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) presents “Shout!” through Aug. 14. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.
Deertrees Theatre Festival
For the past 10 years, Deertrees Theatre, one of Maine’s premier summer venues for music, drama and comedy, has been reviving its founding concept from the 1930s: importing New York professional (Equity contract) actors and directors and producing award-winning Broadway shows in the Lake Region in late summer.
Artistic director is Tom Sullivan, of New York’s GreenLight TheatreWorks, who heads a team he brings up for the various shows. Sullivan is connected to the region via his wife, whose family has owned a summer home on Long Lake for decades.
(I, too, have a longtime personal and family interest in Deertrees. As a teenager, my father played bit parts here in the 1930s, and my parents enjoyed going to the theater on summer evenings in the 1950s.)
I chatted with Sullivan on opening night and he expressed his opinion that the festival’s first decade represented a building process, in cooperation with the management team of Lee Bearse, Deertrees’ recently retired head honcho, and former marketing director Randolph Parker, who first introduced him to the historic theater in the sylvan setting.
“We’ve been here 10 years and we’ve made a number of important relationships,” Sullivan said.
He emphasized that the festival has weathered the recession, in part by running its strongest and most popular shows for two weekends instead of one.
Sullivan described his relationship with Deertrees’ new team, Executive Director Bill Felts and Marketing Director Susan Wallace, as “seamless” and expressed his optimism for the next decade. “I’m hoping to build a long-lasting festival,” he added.
The 11th annual Deertrees Theatre Festival opened last weekend. Three plays dating from the 1950s through 1970s are slated over five weekends. Each of the three shows copped at least one Tony Award.
The festival started with “Luv,” a funny three-actor satire that ran more than 900 performances on Broadway in the early 1960s, garnering five Tony Award nominations and winning three.
“Luv” is a satirical takeoff on the Theater of the Absurd, which enjoyed a vogue in Europe and the U.S. in the two decades following World War II. “Luv” works on this premise:
Life is absurd and meaningless. Love is absurd and meaningless. Theater is absurd and meaningless. So why not end it all by jumping off a bridge? But that absurdly simple solution has complications. Lots of them. And very funny ones.
I enjoyed “Luv,” with the best performance by longtime Deertrees veteran Jeff Lamarre, whose loveless, meaningless predicament initiates the action on an imaginary New York bridge. Geordie Broadwater plays his long-lost college classmate and romantic rival, and Terri Eoff plays their mutual love interest. “Luv” continues Aug. 12-15.
Here’s the remainder of the festival schedule:
• “Sleuth,” a brilliantly clever thriller by British playwright Anthony Shaffer, runs Aug. 19-21. An English mystery writer crafts a plot with extra-special twists when he confronts his wife’s lover and persuades him to stage a crime at their country estate.
• “Two for the Seesaw,” a romantic comedy by William Gibson, runs Aug. 26-28 and Sept. 2-4. Following an argument with his wife, a New York lawyer finds himself lonely and adrift. But romance sparkles afresh when he gets a date with a warmhearted bohemian girl.
(Note that “39 Steps,” previously announced for Sept. 2-4, will not be produced due to performing rights issues.)
All performances are at 8 p.m. Find Deertrees Theatre and Cultural Center on Deertrees Road, a mile outside of Harrison village. Call 583-6747 or visit deertreestheatre.org.
Five women experience the social and cultural changes of the 1960s in “Shout!,” a jukebox musical currently running at Arundel Barn Playhouse.