The astronomical almanac says that spring still has a week to run, but the arts and entertainment calendar is already off and running in full summer mode. Southern Maine’s three professional summer theaters are first off the metaphorical starting block, with musicals currently running in Brunswick, Arundel and Ogunquit.
Tops in my opinion is Maine State Music Theatre’s current production of “A Chorus Line,” a show that pushes multiple emotional buttons and copped a raft of honors in 1975, including the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
South of Portland, Arundel Barn Playhouse just opened its first production of the season: “Forever Plaid.” And no, the repeat key is not stuck on my computer. This is the fourth time in 15 years that the playhouse has offered this entertaining and nostalgic musical revue.
Also vying for honors in the repeat department, Ogunquit Playhouse is offering “Always … Patsy Cline” for the third time in 10 years, each time with television actress Sally Struthers getting star billing in a secondary role.
Of all the Broadway musicals written in the past four decades, I don’t think any pushes more emotional buttons or affects more people as deeply as “A Chorus Line,” the 1975 show that won nine Tony Awards (including Best Musical) plus the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Based on a concept by Michael Bennett, with book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, “A Chorus Line” deals with multiple emotional issues, most of which revolve around powerful and pervasive questions of personal identity.
Multiply that by the many characters involved, and this is a musical that packs a powerful punch.
Maine State Music Theatre is opening its 2012 season, its 54th, with a superb full professional production of “A Chorus Line,” directed by Donna Drake, who won a part in the original New York cast and counts Bennett among her mentors. Music director is Brent Sawyer.
The story line follows two dozen dancers in a group audition for eight places in the chorus line of an upcoming Broadway show. The lives of the hopefuls is revealed over the course of two-plus hours on the stage, and the audience gets to ride along with their life experiences, hopes and disappointments.
Tops among the cast are Suzanna Dupree as a sexy and sassy Broadway veteran, Kelly D. Felthous as a wannabe dancer and Rebecca Riker, as the director’s ex-girlfriend. Selina Verastigui is outstanding when she sings the show’s best-known song, “What I Did For Love.”
Maine State Music Theatre presents “A Chorus Line” at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit msmt.org.
On June 23, 1998, a new addition to southern Maine’s cultural landscape debuted: Arundel Barn Playhouse. For her inaugural show, producing artistic director Adrienne Wilson Grant chose a very popular musical revue.
“Forever Plaid” is a jukebox musical, a collection of nearly 30 hit tunes from the 1950s linked together by the thinnest of plots and thematically connected by an over-generous dollop of nostalgia.
The Arundel landmark venue is opening its 15th season with a fine new production of “Forever Plaid” that remains true to Grant’s original aim of showcasing young professional actors.
“Forever Plaid” was originally conceived, written and directed Off-Broadway by Stuart Ross. The show is based on a simple dramatic conceit: In 1964 a close-harmony quartet of high school singers was driving to their first big gig, but they were killed in a collision with a school bus carrying teenage girls en route to a Beatles concert. After 48 years in cosmo-musical limbo, the four young men are offered the chance to return to earth to perform the concert that they never got to give in real life.
The 30 musical numbers were made popular by quartets such as the Four Freshmen, the Four Aces, the Lettermen, the Hi-Los, the Crew Cuts and similar foursomes.
Among the best songs are “Moments To Remember,” “Magic Moments,” “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing,” “Shangri-La,” “Perfidia,” “Rags To Riches” and “Catch A Falling Star.”
Grant’s four actors are all students and recent graduates of performing arts programs of colleges and conservatories: Anthony Alfero, John Carucci, Glen North and Nate Richardson. Each has a fine voice and a youthful enthusiasm that project well in venues such as Arundel Barn Playhouse.
Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Rd. (just off Rt. 1) presents “Forever Plaid” through June 23. For full schedule call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.
Patsy Cline was America’s reigning queen of country music when she died in a 1963 airplane crash.
Fortunately Cline left many recordings that still receive airplay on retro radio. In 1997, theater director/producer Ted Swindley gathered 25 of her best-known tunes and created a jukebox musical with a thin story line that was based on the singer’s pen-pal relationship with a fan from Houston.
“Always … Patsy Cline” was the result, and it quickly became one of most-often-produced musicals in regional theaters. Ogunquit Playhouse staged the show in 2003 and reprised the production a year later. That occasion also marked the first Ogunquit appearance of comic actress Sally Struthers, who played the Houston housewife and devoted fan.
To celebrate Struthers’ 10th season with Ogunquit, the playhouse is bringing back “Always … Patsy Cline” for the third time in 10 years.
I’ve seen all three Ogunquit productions – plus several others productions elsewhere – and I’m happy to report that the current version is simply extraordinary.
Marketing considerations dictate that Struthers, the better-known actress, receive top billing on the show’s promotions. But make no mistake about the principal point of interest: This show is about Patsy Cline, and Carter Calvert, in the title role, is the star. Calvert manages to keep Struthers’ clowning in its proper secondary role (no easy feat).
Calvert is blessed with a versatile contralto voice that is equally at home in country, jazz and blues. In her Patsy Cline incarnation Calvert thrills the audience with more than two dozen hits, including “Crazy,” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “I Fall to Pieces,” “Honky-Tonk Angel,” “Sweet Dreams” and “Seven Lonely Days.”
Calvert boasts the most powerful and emotionally charged voice that I’ve ever experienced at Ogunquit Playhouse.
Ogunquit Playhouse, about a mile south of the village on Rt. 1, presents “Always… Patsy Cline” through June 16. For schedule, call 646-5511 or visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.
“A Chorus Line,” which won the 1976 Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, is the opening show of the 2012 season at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.