Out & About: Superstar violinist visits Brunswick

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Mid-July is the hottest part of the summer, according to the folks who keep Maine’s weather stats. It’s also the hottest part of the summer performing arts season.

Want proof? Try this Friday’s concert at the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, where superstar violinist Anne Akiko Meyers will solo in Felix Mendelssohn’s famous Violin Concerto. It promises to be the top classical event of the summer.

There’s red-hot action in Ogunquit, where “Bullets Over Broadway,” a shoot-’em-up musical comedy, gets its Maine debut.

And speaking of Broadway, Vinegar Hill Music Theatre in Arundel is hosting Linda Eder this Friday and Saturday. The songstress first reached stardom as the original Lucy in “Jekyll & Hyde.”

Bowdoin International Music Festival

When people think of classical violin concertos, the first that comes to mind for many is Felix Mendelssohn’s 1845 composition, an amazing work that balances solo instrumental prowess against massed orchestral power.

When people think of contemporary violinists, the first that comes to mind for many is Anne Akiko Meyers, a California artist whose career trajectory began as a child prodigy and continues as a reigning classical superstar.

The twain meet this Friday in Brunswick at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, where Meyers will be the guest soloist and Angel Gil-Ordonez will be the guest conductor in a performance of Mendelssohn’s famous Violin Concerto. I am a regular at the Bowdoin festival, and I’ve already reserved my tickets.

The composer was a child prodigy himself, and the Violin Concerto (his one and only of the genre) was the end result of a long friendship with a virtuoso violinist he knew in his teens. Decades later, Mendelssohn penned this concerto over a six-year span with constant technical advice from his longtime friend, who soloed in its 1845 premiere. It’s been a staple of the classical repertoire ever since.

Meyers is known for a large and commercially successful recording career as well as a touring artist. Her 1994 CD of the Violin Concerto is one of 34 titles in her discography. Most recently, two recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi have earned her the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s classical charts.

Gil-Ordonez is a Spanish-born American conductor with major appointments in both New York and Washington, D.C. He was a violinist as a child before switching to conducting. The Bowdoin Festival Orchestra is selected from among the top conservatory-level students.

And speaking of students, I recently chatted with Phillip Ying, the co-artistic director of the festival. Now in his third season as co-director (with brother David), Ying told me that student applications have soared, increasing by 43 percent over the past two years. Admissions are up slightly, and the total student population is now about 275. Although public performances by faculty and guest artists have always been a major part of the festival, Ying reiterated that advanced music education at the conservatory and postgraduate level remains its cornerstone.

Two other works are on Friday’s program, a classical oboe quartet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a contemporary clarinet quintet by Jennifer Higdon.

The concert is slated for 7:30 p.m. July 14 at Brunswick High School, 116 Maquoit Road. Call 725-3895 or visit BowdoinFestival.org.

‘Bullets Over Broadway’

Bullets fly all evening, and so do the laughs.

That’s a quick summary of the second offering of Ogunquit Playhouse’s 85th season. It’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” a musical version of the 1994 Woody Allen film of the same name.

Set in New York in 1928, “Bullets Over Broadway” is a backstage drama about producing a play. Allen’s script pits the artistic idealism of a young, struggling Greenwich Village writer against the commercial realities of Broadway theater. And versus dozens of Mafia gangsters. And versus one very dumb blond wannabe actress and one very over-the-hill Broadway diva.

Allen doubted that his Hollywood hit would work as a musical, and the results seem to confirm that skepticism. The show opened in 2014 to mixed reviews and ran an embarrassingly short five months.

I think that there are simply too many artistically incongruous elements in this mash-up to make a coherent whole. Plus the backstage drama model, filled with stereotypical characters, is overused.

There are some very strong points. The chorus girls are delightful in their many and varied appearances, and the two female leads are wonderful. Jemma Jane excels as the dumb blonde with the Joisey accent and a mouthful of mispronunciations and malapropisms, while Michele Ragusa is equally exceptional as the slinky, sensuous, adulterous, alcoholic has-been star. Sally Struthers and her dog get loads of laughs, but I couldn’t quite figure out how her character fits into the overall scheme.

The gangsters are problematic. Television star Vincent Pastore portrays an archetypal fictional mob boss and Reed Campbell is convincing as his go-to hitman. These two are efficient gangland executioners, and these characters don’t jibe well with the Broadway musical comedy model.

The struggling writer, played by John Rochette, and his hometown girlfriend, played by Bridget Elise Yingling, ought to be the centerpieces of the show, but they aren’t. And the art-versus-money theme gets lost in the shuffle.

The score is assembled from hit tunes of the 1920s, thus making “Bullets” a jukebox musical. Taken individually, these songs are delightful, but taken as a whole there’s little coherence in style or vision.

Still, the packed house laughed throughout the evening and hummed the tunes as we left the playhouse. And isn’t that what summer theater is supposed to be?

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “Bullets Over Broadway” through July 29. Call 646-5511 or visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

Linda Eder

Linda Eder has always considered herself primarily a singer, and her many hundreds of concerts, nightclub performances and her 17 CDs, recorded between 1989 and 2015, certainly support that claim.

But she’s best known for one Broadway role, tragic, innocent Lucy in “Jekyll & Hyde,” the 1997 musical adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 19th-century horror story. Eder is also known for several other collaborations with the show’s composer, Frank Wildhorn.

Specializing in Wildhorn tunes (they were briefly married) plus other Broadway show standards, pop tunes and country songs, Eder continues her musical career as a touring artist. Last year she made a hit with me and many others at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, and for 2017 she’s been invited back for two nights.

Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, 53 Old Post Road in Arundel (just off Route 1), presents Linda Eder July 14-15 at 8 p.m. Call 985-5552 or visit VinegarHillMusicTheatre.com.

Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers will be the featured soloist Friday, July 14, when the Bowdoin International Music Festival Orchestra tackles one of classical music’s best-known pieces.

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