American high school culture of the 1950s is celebrated in “Grease,” a co-production of Maine State Music Theatre and The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn.  Janet Mitchko

With the solstice behind us, Maine’s summer schedule of the performing arts reached full velocity as two great Broadway musicals opened last week in Ogunquit and Lewiston. Both are classics of American musical theater that I have seen numerous times over the decades, and both of these current productions are superb.

Ogunquit Playhouse opened the second show of its 2019 season, a massive production of “42nd Street,” the 1980 Broadway version of the celebrated 1933 Hollywood film.

Maine State Music Theatre, in partnership with The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn, opened “Grease,” a tuneful and energetic celebration of American high school culture of the 1950s.

In Portland, Maine’s own Blues Prophets play on Friday.

‘42nd Street’

The year was 1933 and America was a down-and-out nation at the nadir of the Great Depression. The unemployment rate was in double digits, and millions stood sullenly in long bread lines. Our country needed a pick-me-up.

Hollywood delivered with one of its most famous musical films: “42nd Street.” It told a rousing and inspiring story of success with ground-breaking choreography and cinematography. With music by Harry Warren and lyrics by Al Dubin, “42nd Street” was a runaway box office success and earned the Academy Award for Best Picture.

That success was rekindled in 1980, when a stage version debuted on Broadway, copping two Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

It is a show about show business, the classic backstage story, where a naive chorus girl is unexpectedly thrust into the role of the leading lady and triumphs. Along the way a pair of romances bubble and great laughs abound. Memorable melodies and high-voltage tap dancing are a big part of the show’s appeal, and Ogunquit’s production, directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner, delivers an unforgettable theatrical experience.

Especially notable performances are given by Jessica Wockenfuss as the naive chorus girl and Rachel York as the haughty diva she replaces. The comic gen of the production – as so often the case at Ogunquit – is Sally Struthers, playing a loudmouthed scriptwriter and delightfully improbable love interest.

The ensemble includes a team of 20 dancers, whose performances are simply electric, an effect amplified by the many colorful costumes designed by Roger Kirk and elaborate set created by Douglas Schmidt.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “42nd Street” through July 13. Call 646-5511 or visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org.

‘Grease’

Another very popular Broadway musical from nearly 50 years ago debuted in Lewiston last weekend. This production of “Grease,” with book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, is an inaugural co-production staged by Brunswick’s Maine State Music Theatre and The Public Theatre of Lewiston-Auburn.

This first collaboration is an artistic and financial runaway success, and will no doubt be followed by others. Maine State provides the cast of performing interns who are living in Brunswick for the summer; The Public provides direction by longtime head honcho Chris Schario, and performances use the Public’s space and administrative infrastructure.

The show is an exceptionally tuneful romantic comedy set in a fictional high school in 1959. It’s a classic cultural conflict, with the juvenile portrayed as an archetypal working class “greaser,” contrasted with a pristine-pure ingenue. There’s a secondary romance, and the two story lines intersect at numerous points.

The totally original score is a pastiche of popular music styles of the 1950s and so closely recalls them that “Grease” exudes the feel of a jukebox musical.

Schario gets inspired performances from Tanner Callicutt and Katie Brnjac as the primary romantic pairing and Robert Avery Wilson and Alicia Babin as the secondary. Topnotch character roles are carried by Nicole Fava as an aspiring beautician and Liv Nurmi as a stuck-up cheerleader.

The Public Theatre, 31 Maple St. in Lewiston, in collaboration with Maine State Music Theatre, presents “Grease” through June 30. Call 782-3200 or visit ThePublicTheatre.org.

Blues Prophets

“Straight-up Chicago-style blues” is the Blues Prophets’ shtick, according to co-founders D.W. Gill, who plays harmonica and handles some of the vocal duties, and vocalist and guitarist Doug Wainoris.

The Blues Prophets were among several musical ensembles that comprised Portland’s cultural cutting edge during the city’s renaissance in the 1970s. They’re still going strong, although Gill and Wainoris are the only original members among the current lineup of five.

Over the years the Blues Prophets have played alongside James Cotton and Muddy Waters, but Maine is their base, and they have legions of local fans who turn out in force whenever they appear.

Catch the Blues Prophets at 8 p.m. June 28 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.