Out & About: Summer theater, music in full force

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Summer has officially arrived, and Maine’s seasonal arts and entertainment offerings are running in high gear.

In the thespian department, Lyric Music Theater is running its annual non-musical show through June 26 in South Portland; “The Butler Did It” is a very funny comic spoof of murder mystery stories.

Bowdoin International Music Festival, one of the biggest and best of its genre in the country, launches its six-week run with concerts on June 29 and July 1 in Brunswick. Liang Wang, principal oboist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, will be featured.

The International Piano Festival is a much smaller affair in Portland. It’s produced by the Portland Conservatory of Music, with public concerts scheduled June 24-26.

PORTopera is now touting itself as an operatic festival. Its first offering of the summer is “Cafe Vienna,” a production of its Young Artists, which opens June 24 in Portland.

‘The Butler Did It’

Murder is no laughing matter. Ignore the obvious. Focus on the possible. And focus on the absurdly funny aspects of murder mysteries.

Those are some of the concepts that underscore one of the best stage comedies I’ve seen in some time.

That’s all happening in South Portland as Lyric Music Theater presents a superb community production of Tim Kelly’s “The Butler Did It.”

The concept is simple. A society dowager invites seven mystery novelists for a weekend retreat at a spooky, isolated island estate sometime in the 1950s. Each author is to required to appear as the principal detective in their books. But the fun charade is interrupted by a real murder, and that’s where the real fun begins.

Don Smith directs a wonderfully funny community production. Tops among the cast are Helene Quint, playing the rich and eccentric dowager, and Dave Heath, playing a clueless, tongue-tied Oriental detective. Celeste Green, a Lyric newcomer who specializes in “bad girl” roles, is utterly delightful as Charity Haze, the slinky vamp of the show.

The show is chock-full of cliches, effectively played for laughs. These include a radio voice announcing an escaped deranged criminal, a sinister face appearing at the window and a secret sliding panel in a bookcase. Smith also deserves credit for the excellent set.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “The Butler Did It” through June 26 with 8 p.m. performances Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 Sundays. Call 799-1421.

Bowdoin International Music Festival

Maine has quite a few summer music festivals, but one truly stands out as my personal favorite: The Bowdoin International Music Festival, now in its 47th year, has grown to become Maine’s biggest and best.

Attracting 250-plus students from around the globe plus a world-class faculty to guide their studies, the festival is a six-week intensive music education program with approximately 50 to 60 public concerts offered each summer, mostly in Brunswick.

Several different concert series highlight festival faculty, visiting guest artists and some top conservatory students. The first two of these series are starting up next week with Wednesday Upbeat! opening on June 29 and the Festival Fridays beginning July 1.

Featured on both evenings is Liang Wang, principal oboist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. On Wednesday, Wang will be joined by Philip Meyers, the Philharmonic’s principal horn, in a small-ensemble work by Heinrich von Herzogenberg. On Friday he’ll team up with violinist Ray Chen in a concerto by Johann Sebastian Bach.

Performances are held daily from June 29 through Aug. 5. Monday Sonatas concerts and Wednesday Upbeat! concerts are held in Studzinski Recital Hall on the Bowdoin College campus. Ditto the Gamper Festival of Contemporary Music – a mini-festival that runs toward the end of July – and the Artists of Tomorrow concert series, which features the festival’s students.

Festival Fridays concerts are held in Crooker Theater at Brunswick High School. The festival’s educational series, Bowdoin Festival Extra, presents free lectures, concerts, and public master classes in various locations. A complete listing of all performances and ticket information can be found at bowdoinfestival.org. For more information, call 725-3895.

International Piano Festival

On the other end of the size scale is the International Piano Festival, produced by the Portland Conservatory of Music. I’ve attended many of the concerts connected with this festival and plan to attend at least one this coming weekend.

Now in its eighth year, the festival involves a small cohort of international students and world-class faculty, headed by Russian pedagogue-performer Tamara Poddubnaya, who has been the festival’s driving force. Carol Elowe, the conservatory founder, has also been involved from the beginning. The 2011 edition will be the first under the supervision of Stephen Shiman, who was named the conservatory’s executive director last March.

Three top-tier public concerts – all solo recitals – are slated for this weekend. Frank Glazer, the dean of Maine’s performing pianists, will appear at 7:30 p.m. June 24. At 7:30 p.m. on June 25 the guest artist will be Christian Sanders, who is preparing for an advanced music degree in Germany. Poddubnaya will be featured at 7:30 p.m. on June 26. Glazer and Poddubnaya will play at the Conservatory, which is at Woodfords Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Sanders is scheduled for the White Church, 15 Salmon Falls Road in Buxton. Call 775-3356.

‘Cafe Vienna’

The Young Artists of PORTopera will be debuting their 2011 production this Friday.

“Cafe Vienna” is a modern opera by American composer Richard Pearson Thomas. Set in a Vienna coffeehouse in 1907, this small-scale romantic comic drama whimsically depicts the intersecting lives of four of the shop’s patrons. It will be semi-staged and sung in English.

Director is Mary Duncan, who is in her first year helming the Young Artists. Music director is Steven Morris, another PORTopera newcomer. The cast of five singers hail from around the U.S. Most will also perform small roles in PORTopera’s mainstage production of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment,” which will have two performances in late July.

I’ve been attending Young Artists production from the early days of the company. They’re thoroughly enjoyable small-scale operas performed by very appealing college and conservatory singers who will someday be heard in major roles all over the world.

“Cafe Vienna” opens at 7:30 p.m. at the new Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library. Call PortTix at 842-0800. Four other performances are scheduled: June 26 in Augusta, June 28 in Fryeburg, July 10 in Old Orchard Beach and July 15 in Farmington.

Sidebar Elements

Liang Wang, principal oboist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, will be a featured soloist as the Bowdoin International Music Festival opens its 2011 season with concerts on June 29 and July 1.