BRUNSWICK – The curtain rises on the Maine State Music Theatre summer season in four months, and Steven Peterson is ready.

He’s lined up the shows and hired the directors, and is making casting decisions about the season-opening production of ”Always … Patsy Cline,” scheduled to open June 9.

Before then, there are a million details to attend to – marketing decisions, ticket-sales strategies, fundraising opportunities, hiring interns and old-fashioned glad-handing.

But the biggest task that Peterson faces involves ensuring that longtime artistic director Charles Abbott gets a proper send-off.

Abbott plans to retire as artistic director at the conclusion of the season in August, although no one would be surprised to see him act and sing on stage or direct a show in the future.

”Chuck has spent 30 years with this theater in some capacity or another,” says Peterson. ”That accomplishment is remarkable and honorable.”

Abbott will be busy in hands-on ways this season.

He will direct ”My Fair Lady,” opening June 30, and will appear in the season-closing production of ”Spamalot.” In some way or another, he’ll have something to do with each of the four shows that goes up at Maine State.

It’s been that way since he became the theater’s artistic director in 1991, succeeding theater founder Victoria Crandall. Prior to his appointment, Abbott acted, directed and choreographed shows going back to the early 1980s.

On July 12, he will be the subject of a ”Chuck Roast” at the Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.

”We’re going to go out of our way to make sure Chuck receives the recognition he deserves,” Peterson said.

Abbott’s retirement marks a major transition at Maine State. The theater’s board has decided not to replace him. As a result, Peterson will assume the dual role of artistic and executive director.

The move makes economic sense, and should lead to a more efficient operation at the theater. It also means that Peterson is vested with artistic authority, although he promises he won’t be ”the be-all and end-all” when it comes to artistic decisions.

It’s not uncommon for theaters to operate with a single authority, particularly in this economy. The closest example can be found at Portland Stage Company, where Anita Stewart holds the titles of artistic and executive director.

And let’s not forget, Maine State began with just one person in charge. Crandall, the theater’s founder, filled both roles during the company’s formative years.

Peterson has his hands full.

It’s no secret that Maine State suffered at the box office last summer. Many of the theater’s loyal subscribers stayed away from ”A Light in the Piazza” and ”The Drowsy Chaperone.”

The season was considered too edgy by some, and they expressed their unhappiness by staying away.

In a letter to subscribers, Peterson defended last year’s decision to schedule shows with less name recognition by citing their artistic accomplishment.

”We cannot simply rotate Rodgers and Hammerstein titles through a constant cycle, regardless of how popular they are with some. An arts organization, particularly a nonprofit arts organization, should stimulate thought, feeling, questions, and trends,” he writes.

This year’s shows – ”Always … Patsy Cline,” ”My Fair Lady,” ”Chicago” and ”Spamalot” – have more recognition and proven track records.

The hope is that will translate to better box-office numbers; the theater cannot afford a lackluster season at the box office.

Besides, it would be a shame to send Charles Abbott on his way with anything less than a full house.



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

[email protected]


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