PORTLAND — After a run of comedies and lighter fare, theater in Portland takes a serious turn.

The Old Port Playhouse presents the Maine premiere of “Yours, Anne,” a musical adapted from Anne Frank’s Holocaust diary, and Portland Stage Company opens Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold and the Boys,” a story about racism and hatred in South Africa.

Both plays open Friday, with preview performances tonight.

Meanwhile, prolific actor Ed Asner comes to Portland for the ambitious one-man production, “FDR,” presented Friday by Portland Ovations at Merrill Auditorium. The play tells the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a four-term U.S. president who served during the Great Depression and the start of World War II.

In other openings, Good Theater concludes its season with the comedy, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” starting tonight, and on Friday the University of Southern Maine opens the classic American musical, “The Pajama Game.”

Here are the details:

OLD PORT PLAYHOUSE previews “Yours, Anne” at 7 tonight, and it opens at 8 p.m. Friday. The musical adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary runs through March 28.

Librettist Enid Futterman and composer Michael Cohen plan to travel to Maine to attend Friday’s opening.

Anne’s writing about her Jewish family’s experiences hiding during the World War II German occupation of the Netherlands was first published in 1947, leading to her becoming one of the most public figures of the Holocaust. She died in a German concentration camp in 1945.

Futterman began working on “Yours, Anne” in 1973, and the musical has been controversial since its origination. It opened on Broadway in 1985, and was criticized for its broad treatment of the subject.

To this day, Futterman defends the work. “I wrote it because I wanted to bring Anne’s story to a wider audience and a new generation,” she said in a phone interview from her home in New York. “We believed that music could lend an emotional element and a way of expressing what Anne Frank wrote in this extraordinary diary to a wider, collective audience. We felt that by using music, we were better able to convey humanity during a difficult time for humanity.”

Michael J. Tobin, who is directing the musical for the Old Port Playhouse, said the theater has received calls from people complaining about the show. He has asked the callers to reserve judgment until they have seen it themselves.

“I understand and respect the concerns, but I am asking people to come and experience it. This is not something that you can just read about, or Google,” he said.

The play has a cast of eight, all of whom are on stage the entire show. It will be presented without intermission, with a run time of about 75 minutes.

Old Port Playhouse, 19 Temple St., Portland, presents “Yours, Anne” through March 21; 7 tonight; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; $18; 773-0333 or www.oldportplayhouse.com.

 

PORTLAND STAGE COMPANY opens another contemporary title, “Master Harold and the Boys.” By Athol Fugard, this show examines the impact of apartheid and institutional racism. Fugard wrote it in 1982, and it opened on Broadway with Danny Glover that same year. It won a Tony Award for best play.

Portland Stage is producing it a second time, after first presenting it in 1986. Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj directs a cast of three.

Maharaj is a theater star. He works all over the country, is co-founder and artistic director of an African-American and Latino playwriting festival and was assistant to the director of the Tony-winning Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., presents “Master Harold and the Boys” through March 21.

It has its final preview at 7:30 tonight and opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday; regular performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; and additional performances at 7:30 p.m. March 16 and 2 p.m. March 18; $13 to $36; 774-0465 or www.portlandstage.org.

PORTLAND OVATIONS brings Ed Asner to town in the traveling production of the one-man show, “FDR,” at 8 p.m. Friday at Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland.

Asner, 80, came of age when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president. Asner viewed FDR as a hero, and owes much of his political action in life to inspiration from Roosevelt.

“I wanted to play Roosevelt to remind people what a great man he was and how relatively little he is honored and treasured,” Asner said in a phone interview.

This is a one-man show, and it runs about two hours.

Asner portrays Roosevelt from the time he contracted polio in 1921 until his death in 1945.

Portland Ovations presents “FDR” at 8 p.m. Friday at Merrill Auditorium; $34 to $50; 842-0800 or www.porttix.com or www.portlandovations.org.

 

GOOD THEATER opens the final show of its season, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” tonight through March 28 at St. Lawrence Arts & Community Center, 76 Congress St., Portland.

This is a classic Oscar Wilde comedy, starring Good Theater regulars Denise Poirier, Brian Chamberlain, Kathlee Kimball, Glenn Anderson and Bob McCormack.

New to Good Theater for this production are Abbie Killeen, Meredith Lamothe and Matthew Delameter.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, with additional performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 3 p.m. March 20. Tickets range from $15 to $24; 885-5883 or www.goodtheater.com.

 

At the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE, the Department of Theatre and School of Music team for the romantic comedy, “The Pajama Game,” playing Friday through March 14 at Russell Hall in Gorham.

“There’s major dancing and lots of singing – and it’s a romance, definitely a romance,” director Wil Kilroy said in a press release.

Edward Reichert serves as musical director. The show includes many classics from the Broadway song book, including “Steam Heat” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”

The show won multiple Tonys when it opened in 1954.

USM presents “The Pajama Game” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; 5 p.m. Wednesday; 7:30 p.m. March 11-13; and 2 p.m. March 14.

Tickets are $20 for the public, $14 for USM staff and for seniors; $10 for USM students; $5 admission for the performance at 5 p.m. Wednesday; 780-5151.

 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com