BWW Review: Broadway World Critic's Choice Maine 2018
Maine seems to be enjoying a theatrical renaissance with large and small companies vigorously engaged in producing a wide range of repertoire throughout the state. Several of the leading professional theatres have become destinations in and of themselves - (witness the inclusion of Maine State Music Theatre and Ogunquit Playhouse in Scott Andrews' upcoming book, Vacationland) - while venerable community groups continue to raise the bar for their work. I am privileged to get to sample these performances as Broadway World's Maine editor and to be able to compare many of them favorably with shows I see across the country, in New York and London. These are my personal choices of the best in Maine for 2018, grouped by theatre company and show.
1. MAINE STATE MUSIC THEATRE delivered a 60th anniversary season that redefined the meaning and substance of "gala." In addition to their four main stage shows, one more dazzling than the next, they presented a stunning concert series topped by the Best of MSMT at 60 Concert and a huge open air MSMT Concert on the Mall, as well as their increasingly sophisticated children's series, and several memorable touring performances in places like Fryeburg and Lewiston. The main stage shows, each so intrinsically different, Million Dollar Quartet, Beauty and the Beast, Saturday Night Fever,and Singin' in the Rain allowed the company to showcase its stylistic breadth, and while each offered its own rewards, it was the opulently beautiful, breathtaking and touching production of Beauty and the Beast, directed/choreographed by Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark and starring Lexi Rabadi as an incandescent Belle, Darick Pead as an intense Beast, and James Patterson as a brilliantly virtuoso Lumiere, together with the artistic extravaganza that was the grand Singin' in the Rain, directed/choreographed by Marc Robin with Nicolas Dromard, Brian Shepard, Kate Fahrner, and Kim Sava among the entirely outstanding cast, that left the most indelible impressions. Finally, they wrapped up a stellar season with a delicious co-production (with Portland Stage) of Dan Goggin's timeless Nunsense.
This is a company which has enjoyed a storied past, but which has risen to visionary heights in the last six years under the leadership of Artistic Director Curt Dale Clark and Managing Director Stephanie Dupal, and it is a theatre that continues to dream big and make those dreams into reality.
2. THE GOOD THEATER, having recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, continues to stretch itself artistically, taking on more and more complex challenges, while never losing sight of the artistic parameters of their venue and company size. Increasing the number of performances and productions, tackling new work, and taking on some very demanding plays has made the past year memorable. Executive and Artistic Director Brian P. Allen and co-founder Steve Underwood delighted audiences with repertoire that ranged from the brilliant, mesmerizing An Inspector Calls to the zany A Comedy of Tenors. But perhaps it was their 2018 season opener, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,directed by Allen, with its superstar performance by young Griffin Carpenter, that marked an impressive highpoint for this theatre.
3. OGUNQUIT PLAYHOUSEalso enjoyed an ambitious, enthusiastically reviewed season that combined classics and newer works.The gloriously sung, acted, and danced performances by Stephen Mark Lukas and Taylor Quick in Oklahoma made this a worthy revival in the show's 75thyear, while JeffryDenman's direction and choreography for An American in Paris gave special sparkle to this show. Jersey Boysclosed the season with record crowds enthusiastically absorbed in the story and music created so compelling by the cast that included Matt Magnusson, Jonathan Mousset, Andy Christopher, and Matthew Amira. The 85-year-old playhouse attracts audiences from near and far to experience their opulent productions and star-studded roster, as each year it reaffirms its historic place in American musical theatre and seeks to chart new repertoire for itself.
4. PORTLAND STAGE, as always, offers a repertoire of primarily new work with serious, socially conscious messages. Of these in the past season, Abigail Kileen's re-imagining of Babette's Feast proved one of the most original and compelling dramas they have staged in recent years, while the crime thriller Red Herring with its excellent ensemble anchored by Dustin Tucker made for an entertaining evening. The Studio Series also continues to explore and develop new titles and experiment with stagecraft, this year reprising the popular thriller/horror compilation curated by Dustin Tucker, The Haunting 2.0. In addition, Portland Stage collaborated with Maine State Music Theatre on the perennial comic classic Nunsense, giving audiences a chance to experience a full-fledged musical in their intimate venue.
5. CITY THEATRE BIDDEFORD had an especially fine year that allows their mention, as a community theatre, among this list of professional companies. Artistic Director Linda Sturdivant leans toward sophisticated repertoire, and in her direction and with the support of her strong technical team and fine casts, she is able to deliver quality performances. This year's two musicals which Sturdivant directed, Sondheim's Company and Mel Brooks The Producers were both highlights and featured quality performances by Caleb Lacey, Jennine Cannizzo (Company),and Brian Mcloon, Miles Gervais, Caleb Lacey, Tommy Walz, and Elisabeth Lester(The Producers)capturing the satire of the piece.
Honorable Mention: I did not want to close this piece without a nod to one of my favorite and boldest little companies in Maine, MAD HORSE THEATRE. For me highlight in 2018 was Naomi Wallace's One Flea Spare, a provocative and gripping allegory of humankind in the grips of the medieval plague with its unsparing, but brilliant directing by Reba Short.
Photographs courtesy of MSMT, Good Theater, Ogunquit Playhouse, Portland Stage, City Theater of Biddeford, Mad Horse Theatre