Two stage musicals mark the alpha and omega of the seasonal offerings of two southern Maine theatrical companies.

In the alpha department, “Sophisticated Ladies,” a jukebox musical based on the tunes and rhythms of Duke Ellington, opened the 2019 summer season at Maine State Music Theatre.

On the omega side of the ledger, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” a new musical based on the famous novel by Victor Hugo, marks the finale of Lyric Music Theater’s 2018-2019 season.

The Portland Bach Experience launches with a concert on Friday in Falmouth; it’s the first in a series of 25 events.

‘Sophisticated Ladies’

A visual and aural confection of the first order is an apt description of Maine State Music Theatre’s season-opening show. “Sophisticated Ladies” is a jukebox music based on the tunes and rhythms of Duke Ellington, an icon of American’s big band era.

Ellington was a seminal figure and star during the era, with its heyday in the 1920s through 1950s. Ellington’s orchestra was a fixture at the Cotton Club during New York City’s Harlem Renaissance, and he toured nationally and internationally. These tours included multiple appearances at The Pier at Old Orchard Beach.

There’s not an inkling of plot in “Sophisticated Ladies,” just a collection of more than 30 of Ellington’s greatest hits with a visual feast of dazzling costumes and inspired dancing.

Hits include “Take the ‘A’ Train,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Mood Indigo,” “Satin Doll” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

Director and choreographer Marc Robin, assisted by three other choreographers, gets topnotch performances from his cast of 14, appearing in solo numbers, duets, trios, quartets and large ensembles. Music director A. Scott Williams leads a band of 10, the same as Ellington’s. In keeping with the spirit of the show, the band is prominently visible at center stage throughout.

Spectacular costumes by Jeff Hendry are another strong point; he’s provided a costume change for nearly every one of the show’s 30-plus numbers.

Maine State Music Theatre presents “Sophisticated Ladies” through June 22 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8769 or visit

‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’

In stark contrast to “Sophisticated Ladies” is Lyric Music Theater’s season-closing show, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Based upon the famous 1831 novel by Victor Hugo and the 1996 Disney animated film, the stage version has a book by Peter Parnell, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

Set in Paris about 1500, “Hunchback” is a dark tragedy that revolves around a pair of unlikely social outcasts and their struggle for acceptance. The namesake character is a physically deformed young man who lives high in the bell tower of the famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

He encounters another outcast, a mysterious Gypsy dancer who lives in a Paris hideout with the rest of her band. The two befriend each other, but the relationship is disrupted by a pair of men, the hunchback’s evil uncle, a bishop who runs the cathedral, and a soldier who is hired to guard it.

Lyric has mounted a fine community production, with a cast of about 30, directed by Don Smith with music direction by Bethany Perkins Hall. Top roles are filled by Jeffrey Fairfield as the title character, Liz Kershenbaum as the Gypsy, Mark Barrasso as the bishop and Schuyler White as the soldier.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” through June 23, with 7:30 p.m. performances Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 799-1421.

Portland Bach Experience

Hard on the heels of the recently concluded Bach Virtuosi Festival is another and quite different celebration of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, regarded by many as the greatest genius in the history of music.

On Friday the Portland Bach Experience launches in Falmouth. Some of the numbers are impressive. Twenty-five separate events are scheduled to be performed by 21 featured artists plus a brass quintet over an 11-day span. And despite its name, several of the most important events are slated for Falmouth and other towns.

Artistic director is Emily Isaacson, best known (at least previously) for her directorship of the Brunswick-based Oratorio Chorale. The Portland Bach Experience, now in its second year, is a new venture for Isaacson. Her stated goal is to present the music as a series of “experiences”; most of these take place beyond traditional concert venues. She aims to make the music of Bach and his fellow Baroque masters accessible to modern audiences.

The Portland Bach Experience opens with a June 14 concert at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Falmouth. For the complete schedule, visit

The tunes and rhythms of Duke Ellington are showcased in “Sophisticated Ladies,” a jukebox musical that opened the 2019 season at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.

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