PORTLAND PRESS HERALD – You’re bound to find a story you know and love on Maine stages this summer.
That’s what theater directors are hoping for, at least.
Audiences have lagged since the pandemic, but venues are hoping to fill seats by bringing crowd-pleasers to the stage this season. That doesn’t mean the shows all have happy endings or aren’t high caliber. It means theaters chose shows that would have broad appeal and familiarity for as many potential ticket buyers as possible.
You love Dolly Parton? Go see “9 to 5” at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. You want a thriller? The Ogunquit Playhouse is presenting the American premiere of “The Da Vinci Code,” a play based on the novel by Dan Brown. How about a historical drama? Buy a ticket to “Titanic” at Maine State Music Theatre, not based on the movie but instead on the true story of the 20th-century disaster. A cinematic classic? “Singin’ in the Rain” will be on stage in Ogunquit. You listen to music by Carole King, Buddy Holly or Gloria Estefan? You can find musicals based on each one.
“We were very specific and careful with what we chose this year because there’s got to be a path for a lot of the entertainment venues to get our audiences back,” said Brad Kenney, executive artistic director at the Ogunquit Playhouse.
A Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of Maine theater attendance data found that audiences are 60% to 80% of what they were in 2019 on average. Actual numbers fluctuate depending on the show, the time of year and other factors, such as weather. But theaters said early signs point to a stronger summer.
“We’re inching toward normalcy, which is really good,” said Curt Dale Clark, artistic director at Maine State Music Theatre, which usually sold out the 600-seat Pickard Theater at Bowdoin College before the pandemic. “We’ve got to get back there because that’s what we need in order for this company to run on all cylinders.”
Last year, Clark said they missed that mark by about 27%. This year, he expects to be only 10% to 13% under that threshold. He thinks the lineup of shows is prompting people to buy tickets.
“I wanted to find a couple shows for everybody,” he said. “Meaning if everybody is interested in at least two shows, I know my subscription sales will be high.”
Kenney is also seeing positive signs at Ogunquit Playhouse. They looked to “very strong brands” when planning the season, he said, and it seems to be paying off.
“Ticket sales are doing very well,” he said. “We’re almost doubling the numbers from last year alone. It looks like people are coming back.”
At Ogunquit Playhouse, the season opened May 11 with “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” It had a regional premiere at the playhouse in the fall and is back by popular demand until June 10. Then “Singin’ in the Rain” will run June 15 to July 15.
“It translates beautifully on stage,” said Kenney, who also hinted that “a very wet musical sequence does occur.”
From July 20 to Aug. 19, “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan” will bring an international cast to Ogunquit. The American premiere of “The Da Vinci Code” will run Aug. 24 to Sept. 23. Kenney said author Dan Brown, who lives in coastal New Hampshire, has been very involved in the production, which will involve a number of special effects.
“The set design is very amorphous and has a lot of tricks in it, and then extraordinary projections and score go along with it to take people to a lot of different places,” he said.
The playhouse will also offer three youth shows this summer: “Disney’s Finding Nemo (July 1-2, 8-9), “Disney’s Descendants: The Musical” (July 29 and 30) and “The Spongebob Musical” (Aug. 5-6, 12-13).
The full schedule is available at ogunquitplayhouse.org.
Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick will present four mainstage shows. The first is “Titanic,” which Clark described as one of the most technical shows ever produced at the theater because of the mechanized system that runs elevators, screens and other aspects of the set. It will run June 7-24.
“The audience leaves absolutely wowed by the show,” he said. “I know that a lot of people think, oh, it’s just Leonardo di Caprio. But it’s a stunningly beautiful retelling of the actual events that took place.”
Next is “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” from June 28 to July 15, which Clark described as “incredibly electric.” From July 19 to Aug. 5 is “9 to 5: The Musical.” Clark said he has been trying to get the rights to the show for years and is excited to present it this summer. The final main-stage show, Aug. 9-26, is “Something Rotten!,” a comedy about two brothers who set out to write the world’s first musical in the days of Shakespeare. Clark said the show, which has been nominated for major awards, is less familiar general audiences but is well-known among “musical theater die-hards.”
The Maine State Music Theatre will also offer three shows for young audiences: “Rapunzel” (June 12), “3 Little Pigs” (July 24) and “Alice in Wonderland” (Aug. 21).
For the full schedule, visit msmt.org.
Portland Stage will not have any summer shows this year while its Forest Avenue building is under renovation. For information about the 2023 season that will open in October, visit portlandstage.org.
Fenix Theatre Company will again present free (or donate-what-you-will) performances in Portland’s Deering Oaks park from July 6-30. This year’s show is “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised) (Again).”
For more information, visit fenixtheatre.com.
Portland Ovations will present Circus Smirkus: “A Midsummer Night’s Circus” for four performances on Aug. 7-8 in Payson Park. The Vermont-based company and its professional coaches bring 30 youth performers and a big top tent on the road throughout New England.
For more information, visit portlandovations.org.
The Studio Artist Program at Opera Maine will present two performances of “Rocking Horse Winner” by Gareth Williams with libretto by Anna Chatterton on July 5 and 7 at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center. The show is a modern adaptation of the short story by D.H. Lawrence and is recommended for mature audiences.
Later that month, the opera will present “Cinderella (La Cenerentola)” by Gioachino Rossini on July 27 and 30 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland. The company says, “Rossini’s delightful version of the beloved dustbin-to-palace tale of Cinderella is certain to enchant audiences of all ages. A heartless stepfather, scheming stepsisters, and a prince in disguise create hilarity and confusion, but goodness and love triumph in the end.” The performance will be in Italian with English translation projected above the stage.
Details are available at operamaine.org.
Deertrees Theatre in Harrison is doing two plays by and about Mainers this summer. “Almost Maine – A Real Romantic Comedy” is actually nine short plays that explore love, loss and magic in the fictional town Almost. The writer is Tony Award-nominated actor John Cariani, who grew up in Presque Isle and has also written a novel based on the play, which will run at Deertrees from July 7-23. The theater is also bringing back “An Evening at Dave’s Sauna,” a mostly true original musical by playwright Jonathan Leavitt about a one-of-a-kind business in South Paris. The show will run August 4-5.
Other summer events at Deertrees will include tribute concerts featuring the songs of The Who (June 30), Elton John and Billy Joel (July 29), and The Carpenters (Aug. 24).
For more information, visit deertrees-theatre.org.
By Megan Gray, Portland Press Herald staff writer