BRUNSWICK — Charles Abbott looks over the walls of photos that hang in his office at Maine State Music Theatre, and the memories come washing down like rain.

“There are so many people, so many friends,” he says. “It’s fun to look back over the years and see all the different people who have worked here and gone on to careers on Broadway and on TV and in films. This place, this theater, has had such an impact on the lives of so many.”

Over here is Aaron Lazar, whom Abbott hired as an intern. He has since gone on to a career on Broadway. Over there, a photo of Barrett Foa, another actor under Abbott’s influence. We see him these days on “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

Hundreds of photos, hundreds of memories.

Abbott steps away from his job as artistic director at Maine State after the current season. He’s logged more than three decades of summer theater in Brunswick since taking over from the theater’s founding director, the legendary Victoria Crandall.

Abbott is stepping away from this job, but not his work. “I’m retiring the title here, but I am not retiring,” he says.

He directs the current production of “My Fair Lady,” on stage at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus through Saturday. He will also act in “Spamalot,” which closes the Maine State season in August.

On Monday, he’ll be the subject of an evening of tributes at a celebratory party aptly titled “The Chuck Roast.” It’s a $100-per-person fundraiser for the theater, to be held at Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.

Newswoman Kim Block will serve as emcee, and joining Abbott and friends for the party are actors and actresses who have graced the stage at Maine State over the years, including longtime audience favorites Bernard Wurger, Mark Jacoby, John-Charles Kelly, Larry Raiken, Karen K. Edissi and others.

They will tell stories and jokes at Abbott’s expense, and he can’t wait. He’s looking forward to the evening, and has played an instrumental role in its planning.

“My title, my idea,” he says, making sure that everybody knows he is totally on board for the good-humored roasting.

A DEAN OF THE OLD SCHOOL

Abbott is an old-school entertainer.

He grew up in Chicago, and fell in love with the stage early in life. After high school, he enrolled at the Goodman School of Drama, which has since been renamed the Theatre School at DePaul University. Among his classmates was Melinda Dillon, who is best known for her role in the classic holiday movie “A Christmas Story.”

Abbott was a year shy of earning his degree when, on the day he turned 21, his father died. His mother had died a decade earlier.

That day, Abbott became a man.

He quit school, earned his Actors Equity card and went to work. Much to the dismay of his professors, who trained him classically, Abbott took a job with a nightclub revue.

It wasn’t quite Shakespeare, but it was a paying gig. He couldn’t afford to go back to school. He had no choice but to go to work.

“I could sing and I could dance,” he said. “Singing came naturally. Dancing I had to learn.”

But learn he did. Two years later, Abbott left Chicago for New York. He arrived in Manhattan in 1963, and went to work pretty much right away. He was cast in Shakespeare’s “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and soon after made his Broadway debut.

THE ‘CABARET’ CONNECTION

Abbott’s big break came later in the ’60s when he was cast as the understudy to the emcee in the first national tour of “Cabaret,” directed by Harold Prince.

Four months into the tour, the man who was cast in the role had a falling out with Prince. Abbott got the call, and he nailed the role.

It has become his signature piece, and to this day he is better known for his work in “Cabaret” than for any other show that he has done. No one has played the role more than he has.

His success with “Cabaret” led to other opportunities as both a writer and director. As a director, Abbott found his calling. Crandall noticed his work, made his acquaintance, and in 1975 hired him to direct “Brigadoon” during Maine State’s 17th season. That was his first show with the company, and it led to a long relationship.

Abbott called the experience “scary as hell. ‘Brigadoon’ was Victoria’s favorite show. She knew it inside and out. I did not.”

The show apparently went well. Crandall must have appreciated Abbott’s treatment of it, because the two struck up a relationship that eventually led to his taking over her beloved theater after her death in 1990.

Thirty-one years later, Abbott finds himself in the position of looking back. It’s been an incredible ride, he said.

Maine State’s future begins next year, when Executive Director Steve Peterson assumes artistic duties. Thanks largely to Abbott’s efforts, Maine State remains an active, viable theater. When Crandall began the company in 1959, the summer theater culture was alive and well across America. Summer theaters were everywhere.

Today, things are less vibrant. Maine State is among only a dozen or so still in business. It is a tribute to Abbott that it is still in business, and on Monday, his friends will let him know how much they appreciate all he has done.

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

[email protected]