They joked about his signature fashion style, his fondness for calling everyone “Sugar” and his height. But even with all the ribbing at the Chuck Roast party Monday night at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, no one made a wisecrack about the significance of Charles Abbott’s contributions to the Maine State Music Theatre.

“We wanted to celebrate Chuck’s three decades here,” said Jan Wilk, who chaired the committee, which organized the roast as a way to give Abbott a proper show biz send-off as he prepares to leave the theater at the end of summer. “He’s put such an imprint on the theater that hasn’t been matched since Vicki.”

That would be the legendary Victoria Crandall, the organization’s founder and first artistic director. She launched the organization in 1959 as Brunswick Summer Playhouse and hired Abbott in 1975 to fill a variety of roles, including resident director, choreographer and actor. When Crandall passed away, Abbott became its second artistic director.

“There’s no doubt Chuck has elevated the quality of music theater over the past 20 years,” board chair Marge Healing told me.

Like many I spoke with, she expressed her confidence in executive director Steve Peterson, who will be adding the role of artistic director to the many hats he wears once Abbott steps down.

Healing pointed out that the organization will continue to bring in guest directors.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Healing said. “And we can hire Chuck as a guest director, if he’s available. It’s not goodbye, the end.” For his part, Peterson marveled over how well the party’s entertainment lineup came together, with only a couple hours in the afternoon given over to rehearsal.

“We’re calling this just add water and stir,” Peterson joked before the performances began. “But in a world where a leading lady goes on after four hours of rehearsal, it’s a luxury.”

He was referring to the much-talked-about fact that Kate Fisher, cast in the leading role for “My Fair Lady” (which closed yesterday), was diagnosed with laryngitis mere hours before the curtain was to go up on opening night. An intern happened to mention that his girlfriend, Brittney Morello, had played the role in the past. She was tracked down at a bus station, where she was preparing to leave town, and with only a couple hours of practice jumped into the role on opening night to the delight of the audience.

Following a lovely cocktail hour on the terrace and in the garden-level function rooms, the more than 200 guests moved upstairs to the ballroom for a dinner offering a choice of barbecued short ribs, halibut en croute with leek ragout or vegetable ratatouille galette.

I had the pleasure of sitting at a fun table hosted by Dean and John Paterson of Freeport. They’ve held season tickets to Maine State Music Theater since they moved back to the state in the early 1980s. Also at the table were season ticket holders Sam and Judy Parkhill, Sandra and Bill Wallen and Meredith and Dan Tipton.

When Peterson stopped by the table to say hi, Sandra, who bears a noticeable resemblance to culinary star Paula Dean, wanted to know when he was going to produce a show that needs a Paula Dean look-alike.

He laughed and said he’d look into it.

I was blessed to sit between John and Sam, who were so helpful in offering details about the long list of actors who provided the after-dinner roasting by adding new lyrics to popular show tunes.

WGME-13 anchor Kim Block emceed the entertainment and even honored us with her beautiful voice. The evening’s performers, who’ve all graced the Maine State Music Theatre stage over the years, included Nat Chandler, Curt Dale Clark, Raymond Marc Dumont, Karen K. Edissi, Bernard Havard, Mary Jane Houdina, Mark Jacoby, John-Charles Kelly, Robert McCormick, Joyce Presutti, Edward Reichert, Ed Romanoff, Connie Shafer, Jeremy Webb and Bernard Wurger.

“When Chuck Abbott has his fingerprint on something, we know it’s going to be good,” said Keith Ruona, who is a member and two-time past president of the theater’s Angels. The volunteer group takes care of a host of tasks for the organization, including ushering on opening nights, hanging posters, organizing cast parties and preparing goodie bags for the actors.

Ruona first saw one of the company’s musicals in 1966, when he was stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station. He became a season ticket holder and an angel in 1986, after he returned to the state.

“He’s probably the finest director I’ve ever seen,” Ruona said. “We’re going to miss him. Maybe we can talk him into coming back?”

Peterson was thinking much the same thing.

“We’re holding our breath and hoping that we’re doing the right thing,” Peterson said before noting that he still has Abbott’s cell phone number and he won’t hesitate to use it.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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