Out & About: Summer ends with bluegrass back in Brunswick

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Hurricane Irene has blown away into the history books, and Maine’s summer season of arts and entertainment is about to follow.

This weekend’s grand finale is topped by one of the summer’s biggest events, the Sept. 2-4 revival of the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival in Brunswick. After a 30-year run, Maine’s biggest bluegrass event called it quits in 2008. But it’s back for 2011 “by popular demand.”

OMG, you gotta see “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” This Broadway stage version of the hit movie is one of the funniest shows ever mounted at Ogunquit Playhouse. And Becky Gulsvig in the title role will like totally blow you away.

Singer Tony Bennett just celebrated his 85th birthday, and you can join the musical fun by seeing “I Left My Heart” at Arundel Barn Playhouse. This show is a fine jukebox musical that pays tribute to the life and legend of America’s quintessential crooner.

Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival

Three years ago, bluegrass fans in Maine shed many tears at the final performance of the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival, which ended its 30-year run in Brunswick. That event won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Event of the Year Award.

But the 2008 finale wasn’t really final. The festival, Maine’s biggest bluegrass event of the season, is returning this weekend.

And the lineup of stars? Just like the hiatus never happened.

Hostess/promoter Pati Crooker has booked an array of bluegrass stars who are national and international figures who promise once again to fill the attractive seaside campground with music fans.

Let’s start with Friday’s headliner: Rhonda Vincent and the Rage are the most celebrated band in bluegrass, with honors including a coveted Entertainer of the Year award from the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) and seven consecutive IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards. In addition to her vocal powers, Vincent is also proficient on the mandolin, a tricky instrument that’s seldom identified with female performers.

In 2001, Vincent signed a high-profile endorsement contract with Martha White baking products, the flour company that first sponsored bluegrass icons Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in 1953. Just like Flatt and Scruggs, Vincent rolls into every show on a blue-and-white bus dubbed the Martha White Bluegrass Express.

I’ve heard Vincent many times, and interviewed her twice. She’s the proverbial “real thing” – a devoted mother who also likes to chat and pose for photos with her fans.

An up-and-coming female bluegrass star is Sierra Hull. She was a headliner at the 2011 Ossippee Valley Music Festival, and she’s clearly headed to the top of heap.

Al Hawkes, Westbrook’s celebrated performer and record producer – you’ll recognize him by his red cowboy hat – will also be featured on Friday. Plus there will be a screening of his recent documentary DVD.

Other draws include Tony Rowan, Del McCoury, Danny Paisley & Southern Gass, Steep Canyon Rangers and Seldom Scene. These are all national acts with a big following.

Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival (a mile or so from Cook’s Corner in Brunswick,) runs from Friday afternoon till Sunday evening, Sept. 2-4. Call 725-6009 or visit thomaspointbeach.com.

‘Legally Blonde’

Blondes have more fun. Gentlemen prefer blondes. Ad infinitum.

That’s the popular conception of fair-haired beauties that’s played to the hilt in “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” This fine musical comedy runs through Sept. 17 at Ogunquit Playhouse.

(Full disclosure: I am the son of one of Deering High School’s blondest-ever graduates: Dorothy Jane Whitcomb.)

Dumb blonde jokes abound at the start, but the heroine emerges about halfway through the show. Becky Gulsvig, in the tile role, is totally captivating. She starred in the first national touring company, and won the Helen Hayes award for this feat.

The story revolves around Elle Woods (Gulsvig), a southern California college girl who gets dumped by her boyfriend. He heads to Harvard Law School, seeking someone “more serious.”

In search of love, Elle follows him to Harvard. She rises to the top of her class and helps to win the acquittal of a prominent TV exercise phenom falsely accused or murder.

Most of Ogunquit’s cast can boast Broadway credentials. They’re led by Michael Rupert, who originated the role of Professor Callahan in the 2007 production.

“Legally Blonde” has a book by Heather Hatch, based on the novel by Amanda Brown. The score, by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, is fun but uninspired.

Ogunquit Playhouse, about a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “Legally Blonde: The Musical” through Sept. 17. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.

‘I Left My Heart’

Tony Bennett is an enduring icon of American music, a crooner who enjoyed his first starburst of popularity nearly 60 years ago and who continues to please audiences and record companies.

Bennett celebrated his 85th birthday earlier this month and his next recording is slated for release in September.

Bennett’s life and career are the twin hubs of “I Left My Heart,” a jukebox musical that is the final offering of this season at Arundel Barn Playhouse. With a minimal script by David Grapes and new vocal arrangements by Todd Olson, “I Left My Heart” presents a sampling of singer’s vast repertoire: 34 songs performed by a trio of tenors.

Bennett was the king of American crooners, singers with excellent voices who wore their hearts on their sleeves and focused on romantic ballads and torch songs.

With few exceptions, Bennett performed songs that were written by Tin Pan Alley’s top composers and lyricists and first made popular by someone else. His genius was discovering the romantic keys to every song and sincerely projecting his feelings to the audience.

Arundel Barn attendees will hear most of Bennett’s top hits, including his first million-seller, “Because of You,” from 1953. The show’s title comes from the 1962 tune that became Bennett’s signature song: “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” Other selections include “The Good Life,” “Rags To Riches” and “Stranger In Paradise.”

Arundel Barn’s three-man cast comprises musical theater majors from distinctive schools. Their energy is compelling, and I liked this show very much.

Although Bennett remains popular with a new generation, nostalgia is definitely the driving force behind “I Left My Heart.” Enjoy this show for what it is: a melodic adventure into happy times and happy memories.

Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1), presents “I Left My Heart” through Sept. 3. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.

Sidebar Elements

Rhonda Vincent, multiple winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Female Entertainer of the Year award, is the Friday headliner for this weekend’s revival of the Thomas Point Beach Bluegrass Festival.