Out & About: ‘The Armed Man’ is powerful new ballet

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This week’s top picks in the performing arts cover a lot of artistic territory: music, musical theater and dance. The latter is represented by Portland Ballet’s powerful new production of “The Armed Man,” a work for chorus, orchestra and dancers that will be presented at Merrill Auditorium on April 26.

One Longfellow Square continues to present top roots acts. The Howlin’ Brothers, slated for this Friday, is a gritty three-man Americana band from Nashville that’s making waves nationally.

Portland Symphony Orchestra wraps up its 2012-2013 Pops season this Saturday and Sunday with “Totally Awesome ‘80s,” a celebration of the music of that dynamic decade.

Lyric Music Theater is wrapping up its season of musical theater this weekend with the final performances of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” appropriately subtitled “A Musical Within A Comedy.”

‘The Armed Man’

“We want to go beyond good. We want to be eye-opening.”

That statement, by Portland Ballet Company artistic director Eugenia O’Brien, expresses her attitude toward her organization’s upcoming production of “The Armed Man.”

Subtitled “A Mass For Peace,” “The Armed Man” is a major new piece of choreography based on a score by contemporary Welsh composer Karl Jenkins.

“The Armed Man” is the universalized story of a soldier, based on texts from historical and contemporary sources.

As a purely musical work for chorus and orchestra, “The Armed Man” has been performed around the world about a thousand times. The choreography, by PBC associate artistic director Nell Shipman, is totally new and will premiere this Friday.

Shipman explains: “This piece follows a soldier, represented by two different men as his body and soul, facing the realities of struggling within the task of saving lives by taking lives, having his own life taken and finally finding the strength to realize there is always light no matter how dark the way to it may be.”

The cast comprises two men, who represent the soldier, and about two dozen women, who dance a variety of solo and supporting roles. The Choral Art Society, augmented by a small symphony orchestra, will also perform.

O’Brien describes her company’s new work as “contemporary ballet,” noting that “we’re really involved with what happens with this whole art form.”

Shipman describes her terpsichorean creation in more general terms: “It’s a statement of faith in the human spirit, which is one of the most powerful things on this earth.”

Portland Ballet presents “The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace” at 8 p.m. April 26 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

The Howlin’ Brothers

Three Ithaca College students, all hailing from northern states, found success playing traditional music of the southern Appalachians, then moved to Nashville to pursue their dreams.

That’s the quick take on The Howlin’ Brothers, who released their latest CD last month – appropriately named “Howl” – and are now touring the country to support it. The three guys, who are brothers in spirit only, motor into Portland’s One Longfellow Square this Friday.

Although they look like a bluegrass band, and at times incorporate bluegrass trappings and rhythms, the Howlin’ Brothers are most decidedly an Americana string band that also embraces elements of rock, pop, gospel, jazz, R&B, Dixieland and country blues.

The Howlin’ Brothers comprise Ben Plasse on upright bass and banjo, Ian Craft on fiddle, mandolin, and banjo, and Jared Green on guitar and harmonica. All three share vocals and harmonies. Since 2005 they’ve been living and working in Nashville.

Listening to some MP3s and watching some videos, I’m impressed by their instrumental prowess and their artistic vision. I expect them to draw a good crowd when they appear this Friday.

One Longfellow Square (corner of State and Congress in Portland) presents The Howlin’ Brothers at 8 p.m. April 26. Call 761-1757.

PSO Pops

As spring flowers and green foliage at last appear, it’s also time for the 2012-2013 seasons of Maine’s arts producers and presenters to disappear. This weekend marks the finale of the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s Pops series, and the season-ending theme is music of the 1980s.

Maestro Robert Moody has invited a pair of singers to appear with his 80-piece orchestra in a program that includes hit tunes written or performed by artists such as Madonna, The Police, Michael Jordan, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Bruce Springsteen and half a dozen others.

The PSO’s guest artists will be Tony Vincent and Christina DeCicco. Vincent is a recording-artist who is best known for his appearance on the second season of NBC television’s reality singing competition, “The Voice.” His stage work includes “American Idiot” on Broadway, plus he has fronted the band Queen on several occasions.

DeCicco has toured the U.S. performing in musical theater. She currently portrays the role of Eva Peron twice a week in the Broadway revival of “Evita.” Previously she starred in “Wicked” and was in the original cast of “Sister Act.”

Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “Totally Awesome ‘80s” twice this weekend at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. April 27 at 2:30 p.m. April 28. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

‘The Drowsy Chaperone’

Several generations ago, Broadway musicals were typically referred to as musical comedies. A few still merit that title, and one of the most deserving of the moniker is “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which played the Great White Way in 2006-2007. That production won two Tony Awards: for Best Book, by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and Best Score, by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is a fantasy-parody of musical comedies of the 1920s, and employs a show-within-a-show concept with many instances of overt theatricality.

Lyric Music Theater is closing its season of musicals with a superb community production this very funny and tuneful musical comedy. The very capable large cast is led by director Mary Meserve, and I felt that seven stood out above the rest.

The top women are Veronica Diebold as a ditzy show-biz diva and ingenue, Cynthia O’Neil as an air-headed older woman and Jennine Cannizzo as the tipsy title character.

Among the men, my favorites are Michael Donovan as the narrator, David Aaron Van Duyne as the clueless dashing juvenile, Peter Salisbury as an unflappable butler and Caleb Lacy as a clumsy comic Latin Lothario. Special mention is also earned by Alex Pratt and Jim Shiminski as a pair of stereotyped gangsters.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents two final performances of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” April 26-27 at 8 p.m. Call 799-1421.

Sidebar Elements

The Howlin’ Brothers, a Nashville-based string band that’s making waves on the national Americana music charts, visits Portland’s One Longfellow Square this Friday.