We’re heading into the last week of spring, but the performing arts calendar has already flipped to summer.
The third of 2018’s summertime classical music events, the Bach Virtuoso Festival, starts this Sunday, and it runs through the following Sunday in Portland.
Maine State Music Theatre opened its 60th season of summertime Broadway shows last weekend in Brunswick. The season-opener is a sensational production of “Million Dollar Quartet.”
We’ve already passed the scheduled finale of Portland Ovations’ 2017-2018 season, but there’s one major loose end to wrap up: The makeup dates for the snowed-out national touring production of “Dirty Dancing” will be June 18-19.
The Bach beat goes on.
For the second consecutive week, southern Maine audiences will be treated to a series of concerts centered on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the 18th-century German who is regarded by many professional classical performers and scholars as the greatest composer in history.
This Sunday the Bach Virtuosi Festival makes its debut performance, and four more follow, with the final coda on June 24.
(In last week’s “Out & About” I previewed the Portland Bach Experience, which wraps up this weekend.)
The Bach Virtuosi Festival is directed by Lewis Kaplan, the longtime Juilliard School violin professor who co-founded the Bowdoin International Music Festival and directed it for half a century. Although the BVF is officially listed as “inaugural,” it is mostly a continuation of his Portland Bach Festival of 2016 and 2017.
Kaplan also programmed music by his 18th-century contemporaries, a style historically labeled “Baroque.” I attended a number of his 2016 and 2017 Bach festival concerts, which were generally sold-out affairs, and I’m reserving my tickets for this new venture.
I’ve known Kaplan for nearly 20 years and greatly appreciate and admire what he’s accomplished for Maine’s musical scene.
For the BVF, Kaplan emphasizes continuity.
“When I started the Bach festival three years ago, I had a vision of bringing the greatest Baroque musicians in the world to Portland to perform in intimate spaces where all that matters is the music,” Kaplan explained. “The programs covered many of Bach’s greatest works of all types and demonstrated his importance in the history of music.
“When the first iteration of the Bach festival folded, I was deeply touched that 95 percent of the musicians chose to join the Bach Virtuosi Festival. The deep bonds that developed amongst the players has grown even stronger and it is based on a shared respect for each other’s talent and accomplishments, and a mutual respect for the music and our art. That is why we use the phrase, ‘the vision goes on.’”
Five concerts are scheduled, with the three biggest slated for St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland and one each in South Portland and Falmouth. All are intimate spaces with superb acoustics.
A total of 25 performers are slated, many connected to the Juilliard School. These include Kaplan himself and Henry Kramer, a pianist who grew up in Cape Elizabeth and now travels the world as a virtuoso soloist and chamber musician. I’ve been a Kramer fan for nearly two decades.
Organist Katelyn Emerson is another Maine native. She grew up in Augusta, graduated from Oberlin Conservatory and has now performed on many of the world’s great instruments.
On Dec. 4, 1956, singer-guitarist Carl Perkins was scheduled to record several new songs at the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Perkins had already scored a chart-topper with “Blue Suede Shoes,” which he wrote, and he was aiming for his second big success.
Sun Records owner Sam Phillips also brought in a young piano wiz, Jerry Lee Lewis, as a session musician. Midway through the day, Perkins, Lewis and Phillips were joined by two other musicians with Sun contracts: Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. An impromptu jam developed.
Recognizing the uniqueness of the situation, Phillips called a newspaper, and the next day a photo and story appeared under the headline “Million Dollar Quartet.”
That’s the real story that underlies one of the most electrifying jukebox musicals ever created, “Million Dollar Quartet,” written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. Their script relates a story that actually happened over a six-month period, compressed for artistic unity into a few hours. The show contains 23 songs, representing early hits by all four pioneer rockers.
These include Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Matchbox,” Lewis’ “Real Wild Child” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line” and Presley’s “That’s All Right” and “Hound Dog.”
“Million Dollar Quartet” opened on Broadway in 2010, receiving four Tony nominations, winning one. Since then it has been on national tour and several top-tier regional professional productions have been mounted. Maine State’s current production is one of these.
I attended opening night. It was sensationally good. All four principal actors are spot-on, both in looks, voice and mannerisms: James Barry as Perkins, Brandyn Day as Lewis, Scott Moreau as Cash and Ari McKay Wilford as Presley. (Moreau grew up in Litchfield, Maine.)
Additionally, Jason Loughlin plays Phillips and Brittany Danielle takes the role of Presley’s fictional girlfriend. Hunter Foster, who played Phillips on Broadway, directs; Barry doubles as music director.
“Million Dollar Quartet” marks a truly sensational start to Maine State Music Theatre’s 2018 season.
Maine State Music Theatre presents “Million Dollar Quartet” at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick through June 23. Call 725-8769 or visit MSMT.org.
Weather or not, the show must go on. After a blizzard forced Portland Ovations to cancel the national touring production of “Dirty Dancing” last January, the redo happens next week.
The cancellation was inconvenient for some, but “Dirty Dancing” is a summer show, and weather-wise it’s so much more appropriate for this time of year.
This tuneful musical tale takes place in the summer of 1963 in a Catskill mountain resort, where a guest falls in love with the resort’s dance instructor. Dance and love intertwine – with several sub-plots also intertwining – and climax in a dance contest at the end of the summer.
Technically speaking, the show is a jukebox musical. Most of the two dozen songs were popular hits that predated the movie and stage versions.
“Million Dollar Quartet,” the Tony Award-winning jukebox musical about one day in the life of Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, opened the 2018 season at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. It runs through June 23.