May 20, 2013

In Boothbay Harbor, good opera-house keeping

Thanks to a coterie of adoring supporters, the restored and revitalized Opera House at Boothbay Harbor has risen to prominence on the national scene.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

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Built in 1894, the opera house has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

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The Opera House at Boothbay Harbor today after a decade of restoration work.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


Wednesday: Jonathan Scales Fourchestra

Thursday: Portland String Quartet

June 5-6: Old Crow Medicine Show

June 8: McAuley, Horan and O'Caoimh

June 15: Ellis Paul

June 21: John Ford Coley

June 22: The Magic of Lyn Dillies

June 23: "P.S. I Love Music" with Paul Sullivan, Suzanne Nance, Gordon Gotlieb and Sam Schwehm

June 27: Tim Sample

June 30: John McCutcheon

July 3: The Black Lillies

July 5: John Gorka with special guest Michael Johnson

July 10: Jackson Browne (sold out)

July 13: Cordis Quartet

July 18: Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo

July 21: Jimmy Webb

July 25: Solas

July 26: Delfeayo Marsalis and The New American Songbook

July 31: Danny Beal's Downeast Goodtime Hour (and a Half!)

Aug. 2: Cherish the Ladies

Aug. 7: Maine Pro Musica

Aug. 8: The Stories and Songs of Bill Harley

Aug. 10: Francine Reed

Aug. 15: Ed Gerhard

Aug. 16: Kathy Mattea

Aug. 17: Livingston Taylor

Aug. 22: Bob Milne

Aug. 23: Eileen Ivers and Immigrant Soul

Aug. 29: Novel Jazz Septet

Sept. 14: David Wilcox

Sept. 21: Downeast Brass Quintet

Sept. 27: The Bodeans

Oct. 24: Paul Brady

FOR PRICES AND TIMES, call 633-5159 or visit


A group of locals came together to talk about a plan. They pooled their money together, then went to a local bank for a loan. A non-profit arts organization grew out of that effort.

"The opera house has done a lot to bring people together," said Dennis Gleason, who owns the Gleason Fine Art gallery with his wife, Marty, just down the road from the opera house.

Gleason was on the board during those early days.

"We were fortunate in that we had a couple of really good benefactors," he said. "We had a lot of local support, and not just among the locals but also among the summer folks who come out for the events and sponsor some of them as well. I think the community is really proud of the opera house."

The opera house has been good for the entire community, Gleason said, noting that the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens opened since the opera house reopened, giving the Boothbay peninsula another major cultural draw.

More important, it provides an anchor for the community, an open door and a gathering place for locals, summer residents and tourists alike.

"There is just some kind of spirit in that place that is really different to me," said Susan Brackett, who owns a frame shop in town and serves as president of the opera house's volunteer board. "It draws people from so many different places.

"We have a lot of locals who come a lot, but we draw people from a lot of different parts of the state. It's fantastic. To be able to see live performances and be 10 minutes away from home, it's pretty special and also kind of unique."


Gleason credits Sherrill for the recent success.

"When she came on board as executive director, it propelled the opera house forward and gave some people a feeling that it was worth supporting and keeping around," he said. "She has brought in a lot of entertainers that people never expected they would see down here. Not just Jackson Browne and Mark Knopfler, but Tom Rush, Grant Lee Buffalo and a lot of other acts just like them."

Ford loves that the opera house exists at all. He called it a "diamond in the crown" of the town's culturally complex arts scene.

It existence and its revival represents the best of that community, he said, noting that much of the labor for the revitalization was provided for free by local tradesmen.

"It represents a community-wide commitment to the arts, and not just the fine arts and the high arts, but all kinds of arts that bring all aspects of the community together," Ford said. "It's not just Jackson Browne and big-time rock 'n' roll headliners like that. It's chamber music, it's zydeco music and music for all kinds of tastes and all kinds of backgrounds. And it's a good venue for local musicians. It represents the community's stated, expressed commitment to the performing arts."

In the decade since its reopening, the opera house has been restored from top to bottom, with a new roof, windows and doors, new siding and new and efficient heating, plumbing and electrical systems, as well as fresh paint.

Two years ago, the interior floors were either replaced or refinished; the stage enlarged and raised to improve sight lines. The theater got new sound and lighting systems, along with a splendid house piano.

The heavy wooden balcony half-wall was replaced with a cable railing similar to what would be seen on a ship, improving the view for people seated up top and paying tribute to the boat builders who built the hall in the first place.

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Additional Photos

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The backstage dressing room’s walls are signed by those who have entertained audiences in the past, and an ironing board stands at the ready for use by current performers.

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Cathy Sherrill has been executive director of the opera house since 2006.

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A grand piano graces the opera house stage.

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