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Nearly every summer theater schedule these days includes at least one “jukebox musical,” and one of the best of the genre just opened at Ogunquit Playhouse. The venerable playhouse currently offers “Shout,” a musical that celebrates 1960s-era British female pop singers and mod fashions.
But “Shout” is a lot more than 30 catchy tunes sung by five women. It’s also an eloquent statement of the social and cultural changes that took place during that crucial time period. As one of those songs says: “Those were the days, my friend!”
Back in the days when Petula Clark was the top British female pop singer, a young Juilliard violinist started the Bowdoin International Music Festival with a modest concert series. Today, Lewis Kaplan’s festival is Maine’s largest summer classical happening. It opens June 30.
Jukebox musicals have enjoyed mixed commercial and critical success over the past several decades, both on Broadway and in smaller venues such as summer theater and cabarets. One of the best of the genre is “Shout,” which runs through July 11 at the historic Ogunquit Playhouse.
A “jukebox musical” is defined as a stage show where the score comprises between one and three dozen songs that have been previously released and are generally unrelated to each other. Typically these songs have already been popular hits – sometimes decades ago – and the task of the writer/producer is to provide context and unity to this otherwise disconnected music.
“Shout” is a new jukebox musical that recycles 30 songs from the 1960s that were popular with female British singers. More than a quarter of these are associated with Petula Clark, the most famous British female pop songstress of the decade, and her top songwriter, Tony Hatch.
There’s not much plot, but the show revolves around five very interesting female characters. Each one is a composite or archetype with special qualities and challenges. They have no names, but are designated Orange Girl, Red Girl, Blue Girl, Green Girl and Yellow Girl.
Audiences will have no trouble relating to them as sisters, friends, lovers and wives. “Shout” progresses from the early 1960s to the end of the decade, following each of the characters’ progress, from teens on a road to discovery to women in their mid-twenties who have discovered a lot about themselves and the world they live in.
The song selection is excellent and the voices are likewise. Costuming is mod to the max and the very flexible set, executed in vinyl with brilliantly pastel flowers and serpentine shapes, is alluring.
Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of jukebox musicals, but “Shout” truly moved me and my girlfriend (who also lip-synched the lyrics to nearly every song).
Catch “Shout” at Ogunquit Playhouse (on Route 1 a mile south of the village) through July 11. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.
Bowdoin International Music Festival
Maine’s largest classical music festival began in 1964, when Bowdoin College professor Robert K. Beckwith hired a young Juilliard teacher, Lewis Kaplan, to perform a short series of concerts on the Brunswick campus. From that modest start, the Bowdoin Summer Music Festival flourished and grew vastly larger in scope and vision, including a major music school that attracts aspiring classical artists from around the globe to study with faculty artists who are recruited from the world’s conservatories.
Beckwith died some years ago, but Kaplan continues to helm the festival, which has evolved into an independent cultural organization that retains the prestigious Bowdoin name and uses many of the college’s facilities. The name itself changed some years ago to better reflect its geographical diversity and scope: Bowdoin International Music Festival.
This year’s BIMF opens with a special event June 30, with the public concerts beginning July 1 and running through Aug. 7. The festival offers about 55 concerts each summer. These are organized into three weekly series performed by festival faculty and visiting guest artists plus two special-focus series and numerous showcase concerts for students interspersed throughout July and early August.
Over the years, I’ve attended many concerts in all of the festival’s several series. Each has its own special character, and each is suffused with Kaplan’s very special spirit – whether he’s performing violin on stage, conducting an orchestra or sitting in the audience.
Veteran concert-goers like myself have come to know many longtime BIMF performers like Kaplan, who lend an international aura of aura of established professionalism. And they contrast so nicely with the eager and appealing young faces of the students, who provide so much of Bowdoin’s incredible artistic vitality and spirit.
Unlike many of the other classical music festivals and summer concert series that I’ve attended – and I’ve been to nearly all of them – BIMF is distinctively different in several key respects. The six-week timeframe is the longest, and public performances are scheduled almost every day. The number of participants is by far the largest, and include many wind and woodwind players.
Here’s a brief guide to BIMF public offerings:
• Festival Fridays is the name of the flagship concerts; the six-part series runs July 3-Aug. 7 in Crooker Auditorium at Brunswick High School. Festival Friday concerts normally sell out in advance.
• Upbeat! concerts comprise another six-part series that run July 1-Aug. 5, also in Crooker Auditorium. They are performed by the same faculty and guest artists, but the format is somewhat less formal and the programming features somewhat more modern works.
• Monday Sonatas run July 6-Aug. 3 in newly rehabbed Studzinski Hall on the Bowdoin College campus. The Monday concerts are the most intimate performances, and range from solo recitals by faculty artists to small ensembles of the festival’s most advanced students.
• EuroFest concerts are performances by faculty and students that take place mostly off the Bowdoin campus, in local churches, libraries, resorts and other venues. For 2009, six EuroFest concerts are slated July 9-12.
• Gamper Festival is a three-concert series, July 30-Aug. 2 in Studzinski Hall, that is entirely devoted to contemporary, cutting-edge music. These range from pieces composed by faculty and student composers to established masterworks of the modernist movement.
• Artists of Tomorrow concerts comprise the showcase series for the festival students, who range from teens in pre-conservatory programs to post-grads. Programming runs the gamut from Baroque to contemporary and performances are held in Studzinski Hall.
If all of this seems hard to sort out, the festival recently launched a new Web site that makes it easier to follow what’s happening: bowdoinfestival.org. Need additional info? Call the festival central office at 373-1400 or the box office at 725-3895.