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BWW Critic's Choices: Maine 2014

Once again 2014 was a year to revel in the diversity and accomplishments of the theatrical scene in Maine. The summer and winter seasons yielded a nice balance between adventurous programming and classics. Here is my personal list for 2014, grouped by theatre company and show.

1. MAINE STATE MUSIC THEATRE once again receives my vote for the finest company in the region. Their 2014 season offered four dazzling main stage productions, including the remarkable revival of Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance, a daring and moving music theatre piece, beautifully realized by director-choreographer Marc Robin together with stars James Patterson and Kathy Voytko.

The rest of the season was memorable for rousing productions of The Buddy Holly Story, dominated by the incandescent performances of Andy Christopher as Buddy and Sam Weber as Joe. B. Maudlin, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Footloose, directed by Patti Colombo, who not only brought heart and grit to both stories, but crowned them with breathtaking choreography, magnificently danced by the entire company. Notable performances included Jarid Faubel's Adam, Heidi Kettenring's Millie, Karl Warden's Benjamin, and Eric Sciotto's Frank (Seven Brides) and Ren (Footloose).

MSMT is commendable for so many reasons, among them the glorious production values evidenced in every production by a design and technical team, too numerous to mention here; the high caliber of their young interns, who add so much to the shows; and by the new, visionary, imaginative leadership of Curt Dale Clark and Stephanie Dupal, who direct the artistic future of this state treasure!

2. GOOD THEATER mounted a season of stylish and provocative theatre under the artistic direction of Brian P. Allen, who brilliantly directed most of their offerings. Though each production was a gem, the year's standouts for me were The Outgoing Tide, with riveting performances by Florence Lacey and Will Rhys, and The Rain Maker, brought to life by a stunning ensemble led by Laurel Casillo and Max Waszak, surrounded by Stephen Underwood's beautiful décor.

3. MAD HORSE THEATRE COMPANY continues to offer some of the boldest and most daring productions in the area. Using their tiny, fifty-seat black box space with adventuresome imagination, this "little company that could" defied all expectations this year by presenting two musicals in incomparable productions, heightened by their intimacy, that won widespread accolades. Both directed and choreographed by Raymond Marc Dumont, Grey Gardens and Cabaret (the latter produced in association with Dumont's Razer Entertainment) proved exceptional theatrical experiences with outstanding performances by Christine Louise Marshall as "big" and "little" Edie Beale in the former and Tommy Walz as the Emcee in the latter. The company also displayed its classical chops in a wrenching production, directed by Christopher Price of View from the Bridge, with masterful performances by Christine Louise Marshall, William McDonough III, Brent Askari, Nate Speckman, and Kat Moraros.

4. OQUNQUIT PLAYHOUSE offered a summer season of glossy musicals, produced with their usual éclat, but it was their mounting of Billy Elliot which stood out for its combination of dazzling choreography, propulsive Elton John score, and deeply moving story, told with intensity in the direction of BT McNicholl and choreographer Adam Pelty. The two young dancer-actors, Noah Parets and Sam Faulkner, who alternated as Billy deserve special mention for star quality performances.

5. PORTLAND STAGE offered a season of thought-provoking contemporary plays, of which my favorite was the elegant mounting of Words by Ira Gershwin, with a finely nuanced performance by Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper in the title role.

6. LYRIC MUSIC THEATRE of South Portland takes my vote for Best Community Theatre this season. The venerable company mounted vibrant, full-scale productions of a range of Broadway hits, including a rollicking Young Frankenstein and a saucy Avenue Q. But their crowning achievement was a glorious, poignant, indisputably professional production of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, directed and choreographed with élan by Raymond Marc Dumont, boasting an outstanding ensemble led by Tommy Waltz and Rebecca Rinaldi.

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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold