If plunging temperatures and diminishing hours of sunlight are getting you down, you might try a sensationally funny musical comedy as a psychological antidote. “Spamalot,” the funniest musical I’ve seen in years, is coming to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium for two performances, Oct. 20-21, as Portland Ovations hosts a national touring company.

There’s plenty of fine music this weekend. The Portland Symphony Orchestra continues its Sunday Classical season on Oct. 23. The Portland Conservatory of Music launches a new annual happening this fall, an early music festival that runs Friday through Sunday.

And Malcolm Holcombe, a gravel-voiced singer-songwriter, appears Oct. 27 at Portland’s One Longfellow Square.


Between 2005 and 2009 one of the hottest tickets on Broadway was “Spamalot,” a wildly funny and very tuneful musical comedy based on the film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” With a libretto by Eric Idle and music by John Du Prez and Idle, “Spamalot” was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, winning three, including “Best Musical.”

I’ve seen it several times, and plan to see it again as Portland Ovations launches its Broadway series when a national touring company visits Merrill Auditorium.

Idle’s book is solidly based on the legends of King Arthur, the knights of the Round Table and the search for the Holy Grail, but his send-up of the oft-told tale and his uncanny ability to find hilariously comic twists in familiar characters is a truly amazing piece of comic craft.

The story arc follows King Arthur from the early years of his reign to his successful recovery of the Grail. Accompanying Arthur’s quest are his long-suffering sidekick and three very errant knights.

Lady of the Lake is the leading female in the cast. She has several incarnations, including a wonderfully funny parody of Cher. Following Monty Python practice, several of these actors also get to demonstrate their talents in secondary and tertiary roles. Plus there’s a flying cow and a vicious killer rabbit.

Several of the songs are infectiously melodious. Examples are “The Song That Goes Like This,” a send-up of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s style of composition, and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which is the show’s most memorable song.

Portland Ovations presents “Spamalot” with two 8 p.m. performances Oct. 20-21 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

The Portland Symphony Orchestra continues its Sunday Classical series on Oct. 23 under the baton of maestro Robert Moody in a program that features works by two well-known 20th-century American composers, plus the symphonic masterpiece of one of the 19th century’s European giants.

This Sunday’s concert opens with American composer Samuel Barber’s enthralling one-movement “First Essay for Orchestra.” Second on the program is Ernest Bloch’s “Suite Hebraique,” which spotlights PSO principal violist Laurie Kennedy as the soloist. Bloch was born in Switzerland and emigrated to this country during World War I and finished his life as a mainstay of our country’s musical culture.

Following intermission, the afternoon wraps up with Franz Schubert’s majestic Symphony No. 9 in C Major. Innovative and highly melodic, No. 9 is widely considered Schubert’s greatest work.

Principal violist Laurie Kennedy is celebrating her 30th season with the PSO. Kennedy is well known as a chamber music artist throughout the northeast, plus she’s also the long-time artistic director of the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival, a summer chamber music series in Harrison.

Portland Symphony Orchestra plays at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 23 at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Portland Early Music Festival

Maine has a very vibrant classical music scene, but the state’s experience in the sub-genre of early music – Renaissance, Baroque and other styles that pre-date the late 1700s – is far less successful. Several fine ensembles have come and gone over the past 20 years, and aficionados such as myself have to make do with the occasional visit by a touring ensemble – or make the trek to Boston, which is a global center of early music.

I’m hopeful that that’s about to change. The Portland Conservatory of Music is launching its inaugural Early Music Festival this weekend, featuring three public concerts Oct. 20-23 plus a menu of other presentations.

The artistic director is Tim Burris, a medieval lutenist and a PCM board member. He and 14 other musicians he’s engaged will treat audiences to music once played in the courts and salons of 16th, 17th and 18th century Europe.

The sounds of the lute, harpsichord and viola da gamba will reverberate once again. Tenors, basses and sopranos will describe the Baroque Age in song. Featured composers include Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Pachelbal, Girolamo Frescobaldi and Henry Purcell.

All events take place at PCM’s digs at Woodford’s Congregational Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. Friday’s 7:30 p.m. concert focuses on English songs accompanied by lute. Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. program features music from 18th-century Saxony, while Sunday’s 4:30 p.m. presentation is titled “The Soul of Italy,” and explores the music of the birthplace of Baroque. Call PCM at 775-3356.

Malcolm Holcombe

Country blues is his forte and a gravelly baritone voice and a guitar are the twin instruments he uses to weave musical stories. That’s the quick summary of singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe, a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina who’s made a living for a couple of decades traveling around the country with his music. On Oct. 27 he’ll visit Portland with a one-night stand at One Longfellow Square.

This year’s tour is in support of “To Drink the Rain,” his eighth full-length album which was recorded in Austin, Texas, and released last February. Rolling Stone reviewer David Fricke characterized the CD: “Not quite country, somewhere beyond folk, Holcombe’s music is a kind of blues in motion, mapping backwoods corners of the heart.”

I’m spinning the CD as I write this, and heartily concur. Holcombe is both a perceptive writer and a skillful interpreter. Plus there’s lots of variety on the album. I like the rollicking jug band style of the opening number, “One Leg at a Time,” and the modern take on the time-honored train song genre expressed in “Behind the No. 1.” And it’s not all country. “Comes the Blues” laments the legacy of some unfortunate urban experiences. The concluding song on the CD, “One Man Singin,’” exudes a positive and uplifting personal touch.

Catch Malcolm Holcombe at 8 p.m. Oct. 27 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Sidebar Elements

A comic quest for the Holy Grail is the plot line for “Spamalot,” the 2005 Tony Award-winner for best Broadway musical that plays Portland Oct. 20-21.
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