Out & About: ‘Spamalot’ has a lot of laughs

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Leave ‘em laughing. That’s the time-tested maxim of comedians, and that’s exactly what Lyric Music Theater is doing by ending its 2015-2016 season with “Spamalot,” the Monty Python musical comedy masterpiece. Lyric’s fine community production runs through May 28 in South Portland.

At the antipodal opposite of the emotional spectrum, Portland Ballet closes its season this weekend with three performances of new production of “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace,” an original work by Nell Shipman, the company’s artistic director.

Mile Twelve is a hot new bluegrass foursome hailing from Boston’s acoustic music scene. They’ll be seen this Friday at one of Portland’s tiniest performing venues.

DaPonte String Quartet is ending its fall-winter-spring season this weekend in Portland and Brunswick with two performances of a program picked by violinist Ferdinand “Dino” Liva, a founding member of the ensemble.

‘Spamalot’

One of the funniest musical comedies I’ve ever seen is closing the 2015-2016 season at Lyric Music Theater. “Spamalot” is a re-imagining of the medieval story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in the form of a totally comic contemporary spoof, interpolated with lots of great music.

The book and lyrics are by Eric Idle, with music composed by Idle and John du Prez; it was adapted from the 1975 movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

The Broadway show opened in 2004, garnering 14 Tony Award nominations and winning three, including the coveted “Best Musical.”

I laughed all evening at Lyric’s first performance last weekend. There’s such a rich assortment of comic characters, led by David Heath as pompous King Arthur, Michael Donovan as his grovelling servant, T.J. Scannell as gay Sir Lancelot, Sean Senior as the befuddled Sir Robin and Peter Lord as the preening Sir Galahad.

Among the women, tops is Amy Torrey as the Lady of the Lake, a curvaceous enchantress who strongly resembles Cher. She pops in and out of the story, generally in the company of six lovely young Laker Girls, who are mostly college theater majors.

Co-directors are John Blanchette and Christopher Hodgkin, with musical direction by Paul G. Caron, who leads the six-person pit band.

Well-deserved kudos also go to costume designer Don Smith and set designers Richard Martin and Blanchette.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Spamalot” through May 28, with 8 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Call 799-1421.

‘The Armed Man’

Three years ago, Portland Ballet debuted a stunning new work by artistic director Nell Shipman. “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” was created around an original piece of music by Karl Jenkins, composed in memory of the victims of the Kosovo Crisis. This year it’s being reprised with some significant changes.

Shipman describes her original concept: “I made a story surrounding a Soldier and his internal struggle of preparing to enter conflict, going into battle, losing his life and facing the unknown of the afterlife. The work centers around the Soldier in Body and the Soldier in Spirit, performed by two different men, with an ensemble of 12 women who personify his internal struggle. Within the group of women, three of them represent Life, Death and the Soldier’s Conscience.”

In the 2013 production, Shipman prefaced the music and dance with first-person accounts of survivors of wartime conflict. This year she’s integrating these stories more fully into the performance and she’s enlisted The Telling Room (a Portland-based ensemble of storytellers) to help deliver these messages.

“I realized that these stories had shaped this work into a message of everyone’s fight against conflict,” Shipman explains. “When we learn these struggles and hear how they shaped a person’s life, they reshape our community and our sense of responsibility in the role we play in each others lives.”

Three performances are slated for the John Ford Theater in Portland High School, 284 Cumberland Ave.: May 20 at 7 p.m. and May 21 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Call 772-9671.

Mile Twelve

One of Maine’s smallest music venues is hosting not one, but two Boston acoustic ensembles this Friday. Top billing goes to Mile Twelve, a bluegrass foursome who are among the top bands on Boston’s red-hot acoustic music scene.

Formed two years ago, Mile Twelve is a fresh, hard-driving young band that deftly walks the line between original and traditional bluegrass, quickly gaining recognition for outstanding performances at music festivals and other venues. These have included the Ossipee Valley Music Festival here in Maine.

Bluegrass superstar Tony Trischka comments, “Mile Twelve’s instrumental skills reflect natural abilities enhanced by serious study of bluegrass tradition and a fearless desire to create fresh pathways.”

Mile Twelve will be joined by an acoustic trio, Lula Wiles. Although based in The Hub, all three members grew up in Maine, attended the Maine Fiddle Camp and formally studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The venue will be Acoustic Artisans, the workshop of master luthier Jon Cooper, located in the second floor of Portland’s historic Hay Building. Cooper hosts an occasional series of concerts, mostly featuring artists who play fiddles that he’s built.

Catch Mile Twelve and Lula Wiles at Acoustic Artisans, 594 Congress St. in Portland at 8 p.m. May 20. Call Heptunes Concerts at 603-560-6694.

DaPonte String Quartet

Maine’s busiest professional classical music ensemble is wrapping up its fall-winter-spring season this weekend with an interesting program that’s titled “Dino’s Hit List.” Dino is Ferdinand “Dino” Liva, violinist and a founding member of the DaPonte String Quartet.

His musical selections fall somewhere between a collection of faves and a bucket list. The first and last pieces are by the best-known composers of the repertoire. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s String Quartet in B Flat Major will feature not himself, but DaPonte cellist Myles Jordan. Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 8 is the least often played of those dating from the composer’s rich and fruitful “middle period.”

Most intriguing is Ottorino Respighi’s String Quartet in D Major, which Liva has never played before. He considers it a real challenge, and that’s one of several reasons for tackling it now, shortly before he turns 50 and his ensemble turns 25.

The DaPonte String Quartet presents “Dino’s Hit List” May 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St. in Portland, and May 22 at 3 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, 15 Pleasant St. in Brunswick. Call 529-4555.

Ferdinand “Dino” Liva, a founding member of the DaPonte String Quartet, has picked the final program of the ensemble’s 2015-2016 season. Titled “Dino’s Hit List,” upcoming performances are slated for Portland and Brunswick.

 
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