The fall-winter-spring seasons for most of southern Maine’s performing arts producers and presenters have either closed or are wrapping up right now. Among them is The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn, which opened the last production of its 2008-2009 subscription season last weekend. “Last Mass at St. Casimir’s” is also the last in the series of three plays about the fictitious Pazinski family of Buffalo, N.Y.

“Best of Broadway” has become an annual mid-May tradition with many in southern Maine. A major benefit performance for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center, this big show serves as a sort of valedictory salute to the theater season.

“Best of Broadway” has been a personal favorite of mine for well over a decade, and I’ll be among the crowd once again this Saturday at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.

Also on Saturday, troubadour Peter Mulvey travels to Portland for an appearance at One Longfellow Square.

‘Last Mass at St. Casimir’s’

There’s an old adage that writers write best when they write from personal experience. That’s certainly the continuing refrain of Tom Dudzick, a playwright who has crafted a trilogy of comic dramas very loosely based on his family and friends in Buffalo, N.Y.. Collectively they’re known as “Over the Tavern,” and last weekend The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn opened a wonderful professional production of the finale of the series, “Last Mass at St. Casimir’s.”

Here’s the situation: The Pazinski family’s longtime home and business – a neighborhood tavern in a Polish, blue-collar section of Buffalo – have been sold and the clan gathers in the deserted bar to reminisce and hash out some family affairs. Longtime rivalries and personality conflicts flare up, fanning old flames and generating emotional heat for about 12 hours during one of the biggest snowstorms in the city’s history.

A cast of five is deftly directed by Janet Mitchko Schario, associate artistic director of the company. Tops among the actors are Maura O’Brien as the Pazinski’s rock-solid matriarch and Sara Schabach as her hyperactive, hypochondriac daughter. Their chemistry provides much of the emotional horsepower for this drama.

I also liked Matthew Delamater as the steadiest of the three Pazinski sons. Slightly less effective were Andrew Cruse as an intellectual and David Mason as an autistic adult. The set, by Dan Bilodeau, is a breathtaking exemplar of verisimilitude in drama.

There’s nothing exceptional about the Pazinski family; they’re typical Polish-American individuals from a working-class background. Their extraordinary ordinariness is the artistic foundation of Dudzick’s plays – and one of the reasons they’re so fascinating.

The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn (corner of Lisbon and Maple in Lewiston) presents “Last Mass at St. Casimir’s” through May 10 with performances at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 7, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 8-9, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 10. Call 782-3200.

‘Best of Broadway 2009′

A wonderful and magical revue of song and dance featuring an extraordinary all-local team of Maine’s top theatrical talent working very hard to support an extraordinary cause: that’s a quick summary of my longtime personal favorite arts event for the middle of May. “The Best of Broadway,” staged this Saturday in Merrill Auditorium, promises a full evening of entertainment to benefit the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.

“Best of Broadway” has been a personal favorite of mine for longer than I care to remember. I love the way so many talented people team up to put on such an excellent evening to raise money for such a splendid charitable purpose.

The show’s driving force since the mid-1990s is the team of Steve and Jane Filieo, a South Portland couple who have co-directing musical theater for about a quarter-century for community companies and schools. The Filieos select each year’s program and audition new cast members – and rehearse them every Sunday evening from midwinter into May.

Broadcast personalities from WGME Channel 13 have been hosting the show from the get-go.

The 2009 vocal ensemble – definitely the on-stage heart and soul of the show – includes five guys and five gals with many years of collective experience in Maine musical theater: Neil Andersen, Kelly Caufield, Scott Furrow, Laura Hurd Whited, Larry Jones, Kammy Marcotte, Marilyn Minsky Melton, Tim Salce, Karen Stickney and John York.

All are unpaid volunteers; most have been returning year after year.

Voices cover the full range: sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. The Filieos always choose a program of new and old Broadway numbers that nicely showcase the ensemble. Selections range from heartfelt solos to upbeat duos and trios to energetic full ensemble numbers.

On Saturday we’ll hear selections from old standards such as “Annie Get Your Gun” and “The Music Man” to modern tuners such as “Little Women” and “The Color Purple.”

Variety is the key. “Although it’s all Broadway, there’s a wide variety of music,” Steve Filieo explains. “We try to cast different types and styles of voices, so we have good balance in the program.”

Two terpsichorean troupes provide kinetic energy: Maine State Ballet and Portland Ballet. Katey Yoder is the featured solo dancer.

Not a theater-goer? Not a problem. “A lot of our audience members may not be familiar with Broadway,” Filieo says. “But there are a lot of tunes that they will be familiar with. They’ve just never realized that they’re from the Broadway repertoire.”

Catch the “Best of Broadway 2009” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 9, at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Peter Mulvey

For nearly two decades, singer/songwriter/guitarist Peter Mulvey has been the consummate troubadour, traveling around this country and abroad, earning his living by his music and wit. Being a musical road warrior is certainly an unconventional lifestyle, and Mulvey’s a bit more unconventional than most. For a several weeks last fall, he made a “No Gasoline” tour of Wisconsin, traveling entirely on a recumbent bicycle that was specially fitted with a guitar carrier.

I’m assuming that he’ll arrive in Portland by more conventional means this Saturday, but his legion of fans can expect Mulvey’s usual brand of unusual when he plays at One Longfellow Square.

Mulvey has recorded 10 CDs since 1992; his latest is “Notes from Elsewhere,” a retrospective of his entire career. His music is characterized an assured baritone voice, a wry eye for subject matter and a virtuoso accompaniment using a full gamut of guitar styles.

Peter Mulvey appears at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 9, at One Longfellow Square (Congress and State streets) in Portland. Nicole Reynolds opens. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

pnms-outabout.jpgTensions among the Pazinski family are resolved in “Last Mass at St. Casimir’s,” a comic drama by Tom Dudzick, which runs through May 10 at The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn.
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