BWW Critic's Choices: Maine Best of 2013

Despite its location far, far north, and its relatively sparse population compared to cultural capitals, Maine boasts a rich regional theatre climate. There are quite a few thriving, adventurous, permanent professional companies, as well as an excellent contingent of community theatres. This year offered a wealth of exciting choices. Here is my personal list for 2013, grouped by theatre company and show:

1. MAINE STATE MUSIC THEATRE in Brunswick can be counted on to deliver consistently high quality professional productions, and this season was no exception. Among this season's standouts was LES MISERABLES, a beautifully mounted ensemble production of the classic. Despite the familiarity of the work and the recent cinematic version, MSMT's production was a fresh, inspiring, and deeply emotional theatre adventure. It was, to my mind, the best ensemble production I saw all season. Credit goes in large part to director/choreographer Marc Robin for emphasizing the redemptive themes and for his brisk, propulsive staging which alternated tension with tenderness. Among twenty-seven fine performances, Gregg Goodbrod as Valjean and Curt Dale Clark as Javert thrilled both dramatically and vocally, and Robert Klingelhoefer's spare and elegant set created a beautiful ambiance.

The company's production of Gypsy was noteworthy for the commanding performance of Charis Leos as Mama Rose and for the brilliant, witty, inventive choreography of Raymond Marc Dumont.

Finally, the theatre's Mary Poppins which closed the summer season again showcased the talents of Marc Robin as director/choreographer, Tyler Hanes in a dazzling dance performance as Bert, and Charles S. Kading's elegant period set bolstered by fantastic technical effects.

Throughout all four productions, (including Dreamgirls), resident costume designer Kurt Alger proved his supremacy in creating stunning, dramatic, character rich stage attire.

2. OGUNQUIT PLAYHOUSE in Ogunquit offered another star-studded summer musical series. Of their productions, my favorite choice falls to their rousing, romantic West Side Story, directed with lucid economy and intensity by B T McNicholl and choreographed with daring éclat by Jeffry Denman, whose electric dances and musical staging proved him a worthy successor to Jerome Robbins. The talented ensemble led by Ross Lekites as Tony and Carly EVan Hughes as Maria gave vocal and histrionic performances of depth and delineation.

3. PORTLAND STAGE in Portland continues its tradition of adventuresome theatre, offering plays which provoke thought and challenge audiences. Among this season's highlights was David Davalos' Wittenberg, an erudite, witty, often bawdy historical comedy, directed with great flair by Ron Botting and Merry Conway and punctuated by the spot-on performances of Robert McFadyen as Hamlet and Michael Hammond as Faustus.

Also noteworthy was the fine ensemble performance of August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom with an attractive period set by Anita Stewart and the acting tour de force of Dustin Tucker in Morris Panych's difficult and dark comedy, Vigil, as well as his comedic virtuoso romp as Elf Crumpet in Santaland Diaries. A Portland based actor for the past five years, Tucker is a rising star in regional theatre.

4. GOOD THEATER in Portland continues to mount stylish and thoughtful productions of contemporary plays. This season's Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park took incisive aim at racism and prejudice in Brian P. Allen's keen, rhythmic direction and in the work of the brilliant seven-person ensemble each playing two different roles.

Later in the season, Allen also mounted a nostalgic and moving production of A.R. Gurney's recent In the Grand Manner with stylish performances by Denise Poirier as Katharine Cornell and Tony Reilly as her husband Guthrie.

5. MAD HORSE THEATRE COMPANY in South Portland is one of the boldest small companies in the state, and they proved their mettle with their fall production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Despite the challenges of this bloody revenge play, director Stacey Koloski triumphed with a hard-driving economy, aided by Corey Anderson's attractive minimalist archaic décor. The towering performance of Tony Reilly as Titus was nothing short of monumental!

6. PORTLAND PLAYERS in South Portland takes my vote for Best Community Theatre Company this season. The eighty-five year-old company has been ambitious and dedicated in bringing accomplished productions of classic musicals to its audiences. Standouts this season were Jesus Christ Superstar and The Sound of Music, both strongly cast and produced with attractive décor and technical values.

Photos Courtesy of Maine State Music Theatre & Mad Horse Theatre Company

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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold