Working as a stagehand at the Cumberland County Civic Center over the years, Joseph Boucher had the privilege of helping to carry the pianos of both Billy Joel and Elton John into the arena.

On Saturday, Boucher will be trying to carry the music of Joel and John into a different arena — the world of symphony orchestras.

Boucher is the creator of “Piano Men — The Music of Elton and Billy,” scheduled for the State Theatre in Portland Saturday. The show will feature 19 tunes played by the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra and a four-piece rock band, including Boucher on piano and longtime Joel drummer Liberty DeVitto.

There will be more than 50 musicians on stage doing orchestral arrangements of tunes such as Joel’s “Angry Young Man” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Levon.”

For Boucher, the show is the culmination of his musical past and present. In his current job as concert manager for the Portland Symphony Orchestra, he has witnessed pops concerts where orchestras play the music of the Beatles or Louis Armstrong. (Next season, the PSO will perform songs by Queen.)

And as a longtime piano player for rock bands — including Maine’s Frotus Caper a decade or so ago — he’s a big fan of both Joel and John.

“These are songs that I’ve been inspired by since I was a tot,” said Boucher, 42. “To me, these songs will be played 200 years from now, as the music of Mozart and Beethoven is played today.”

Although Boucher works for the PSO, he’s putting together this show as an independent project, and the PSO is not involved.

The orchestral duties will be performed by the Southern Maine Symphony Orchestra, made up mostly of University of Southern Maine students and community musicians. Some of the money from ticket sales will go the USM music department.

Boucher landed DeVitto sort of by accident. DeVitto had been Joel’s drummer from the mid-’70s until about 2005, and is a big name in the world of session musicians. His credits include everyone from Karen Carpenter to Mick Jones of the Clash. So the thought of recruiting him for the show didn’t occur to Boucher.

But when the local drummer Boucher had asked to do the show couldn’t make the time commitment, Boucher started looking for replacements. By chance, he went to DeVitto’s website, which said he was available for session work.

There was also a message from DeVitto that said something like, “I might even play a gig with you.”

“So I wrote to him and outlined what we’re doing, and he wrote back and thought it was great,” said Boucher. “He’ll be able to revisit these songs in a whole new way.”

DeVitto, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., said by email that he looks forward to being part of the show.

Some of the other songs that will be performed Saturday include “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer” by John, and “The Ballad of Billy the Kid” and “Allentown” by Joel.

Boucher has been part of a rock band/orchestra pops show before. Frotus Caper played a Beatles show with the Maine-based Atlantic Chamber Orchestra in 2001.

The songs for Saturday’s concert have been arranged for an orchestra by Chris Eastburn, a Boston-area orchestrator and classical composer Boucher met when they were both writing music for theater productions in Portland about 20 years ago. Boucher said what Eastburn did in orchestrating these 19 songs is equal to “writing a two-hour symphony.”

Boucher also wants people to know that this will not be a “tribute” show with people dressed as Joel and John. It will be simply a tribute to their music, with an orchestra and a rock band.

“Just a solid rock band playing great songs with a 52-piece orchestra,” he said.

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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