The Fourth of July is behind us and Maine’s long-awaited summer has truly arrived. The same goes for our state’s summer arts and entertainment; the calendar is chock-full of wonderful offerings.
My top pick is “The Sound of Music,” the renowned Broadway musical that opened last week at Ogunquit Playhouse. It’s the final collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and it’s long been a personal favorite.
“The Producers” is Broadway’s all-time winner in terms of the number of Tony Awards. It’s also a big winner at Arundel Barn Playhouse.
Intermezzo features a concert of Broadway numbers sung by Craig Schulman this Saturday in Portland.
July 13 marks the start of the 38th season of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival. Headed by the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s principal violist, this five-week series is a favorite with rusticating Port City audiences.
‘The Sound of Music’
The composer-lyricist team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote five incredibly successful Broadway musicals, beginning with “Oklahoma!” in 1943. Their final effort was “The Sound of Music,” which is based on the story of the Trapp Family Singers and set in the tumultuous political environment of Austria shortly before World War II.
“The Sound of Music” opened in 1959 and became the second-longest running show in Broadway history in its day. It also won an unprecedented eight Tony Awards.
It’s long been one of my personal favorite shows, and I’ve seen it many times. In my experience, the best-ever regional professional (Equity contract) production opened last week at Ogunquit Playhouse.
The top name among the actors is Rex Smith, a veteran who boasts a mile-long list of credentials including major roles on Broadway. I liked his performance very much. He projects a quiet reserve and a strong will of the widowed Navy captain.
The star of the show is Gail Bennett, portraying Maria, the central character. Bennett boasts a wonderful voice and a strong and appealing stage presence. She’s ably supported by Meg Bussert, whose “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is simply spine-tingling.
Ogunquit’s set, designed by James Fouchard, evokes the gold-gilt rococo majesty of Austria, plus its mountains and other scenes.
Ogunquit Playhouse, half a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “The Sound of Music” at various times and dates through July 24. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.
Adrienne Wilson Grant, founder and producing artistic director of Arundel Barn Playhouse, has several criteria for selecting shows each season. One of these is personal preference, while another is the likelihood of selling lots of tickets.
Both these criteria neatly coincide in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers.” Grant counts the show among her personal favorites. And when saw her production last week, I noted that it’s sure to sell tons of tickets.
“The Producers” has been wildly successful in terms of sales; the original Broadway production was one of the top-drawing shows of the past decade and it’s become a staple of theater companies of all stripes all over the country.
After opening in 2001, “The Producers” ran for six years and 2,502 performances. It also notched 12 Tony Awards – Broadway’s all-time winner on that score.
With music and lyrics by Mel Brooks and book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan, “The Producers” is a behind-the-scenes show about show biz. It works nicely on Arundel’s stage because Grant and director Dewayne Barrett have assembled a professional (non-Equity) cast that’s bursting with appealing energy and enthusiasm.
Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) presents “The Producers” at various dates and times through July 17. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.
Intermezzo Foundation is a 10-year-old nonprofit organization that’s providing practical training for young music students who aspire to careers in musical theater and opera. I attended one of Intermezzo’s Broadway cabaret performances last week and was tremendously impressed by the caliber of the voices and their ability to project characters on stage.
Intermezzo continues in Broadway mode this Saturday with a benefit performance for its scholarship fund. The featured performer will be Craig Schulman, an actor who has played some of the most celebrated roles in American musical theater. Among these are the Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera,” Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables,” Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” and both title roles in “Jekyll & Hyde.”
Schulman’s Saturday concert will feature great songs from Broadway from many periods. Catch it at 8 p.m. July 10 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.
Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival
Mozart amongst the maples, Beethoven in the birch grove and Poulenc in the pines. That’s the bucolic vision of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, held every summer at Deertrees Theatre, a charmingly rustic edifice in the pines-and-ponds region of western Maine.
If there’s a single arts affair that most truly epitomizes my vision of summer entertainment in the Pine Tree State, it’s this annual five-week series in the village of Harrison.
The setting certainly exemplifies laid-back summers in Maine: The 350-seat theater, built in 1936 on a hillside deer run by a vacationing opera impresario, is a fine example of the rustic Adirondack style executed in rose hemlock harvested on the site.
After decades of decline physical decline and revolving-door ownership-management, Deertrees was lovingly restored in the 1990s – an effort that still continues. Nowadays Deertrees hosts a full calendar arts and cultural events during July and August.
The Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, playing Tuesdays July 13 through Aug. 10, is the anchor event of Deertrees summer programming. Artistic director is Laurie Kennedy, longtime principal violist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Each summer she invites about two dozen professional colleagues from around the country for a five-week series of concerts that focus on tried-and-true composers with an occasional modern work added for interest and balance.
The Tuesday’s season-opener features French composers and the French influence in classical music. Seven composers are represented and the time frames range from the Baroque to contemporary. Also featured will be soprano Lisa Saffer, an international caliber opera singer who recently relocated to the neighboring town of Naples.
Concerts are slated for 7:30 p.m. at Deertrees Theatre and Cultural Center on Deertrees Road, a mile outside Harrison Village. First-timers beware: Bring clothing appropriate for Maine evenings because Deertrees has neither heat nor air conditioning. Call 583-6747 or visit deertreestheatre.org.
The singing lesson is an iconic and pivotal moment in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music,” which plays through July 24 at Ogunquit Playhouse. Gail Bennett, playing guitar, stars as Maria, a governess who was hired to teach and watch over the seven children of the widower Georg von Trapp.