Now mostly a music venue, Vinegar Hill used to be home to the Arundel Barn Playhouse.

When you have too many apples in a barrel and you neglect them, they might turn to vinegar, which has culinary uses, among other things.

That’s the lore behind the name of the Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, a 240-seat venue on a 19th-century farm in Arundel that provides musical and comedy entertainment from late May to late October — also known as summertime in Maine. When it was restored four years ago, using remnants from the old Smith Sisters’ Farm where it stands, there were still vinegar stains on some of the wood, from when the apple vinegar soaked the barns and had to be poured down the hill.

“We’re very easy to get to and we’re just as close to Portland as we are to Portsmouth, so we get locals and visitors,” said Vinegar Hill Managing Director Sarah Dearing. “We love to see people come from everywhere.”

A musical performance at the Arundel venue. Photo courtesy of CS Smith Photography

Vinegar Hill doesn’t present plays during the summer, but theater runs through its history and its current mission. The property was first converted to house the Arundel Barn Playhouse in 1998 by then-artistic director Adrienne Grant. The playhouse operated for two decades; its most notable alum is John Lloyd Mills Young, who went on to win a Tony award for best lead actor in a musical, for his portrayal of Frankie Valli in Broadway’s “Jersey Boys.”

Grant sold the place in 2015 to managing partners Tim Harrington and Debbie Lennon. Although they shifted the venue’s emphasis to music, they also run The Vinegar Hill Youth Theatre, a nonprofit founded to support local youth drama in southern Maine. Vinegar Hill supports an annual scholarship funded through various events that provides $4,000 to a student who has been a part of the performing arts for at least two years in high school. Applicants write an essay about how they think music and live theater benefit the community and their own growing up, Dearing said.

The lucky winner doesn’t have to use the scholarship to study drama at school, but takes with them values rooted in theater, she said. In addition to its own scholarship fund, Vinegar Hill has raised money to benefit the Maine Cancer Foundation, the Center for Grieving Children, Seeds of Peace, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, Community of Caring and Gary’s House, a home-away-from home for families of people receiving treatment at Mercy Hospital in Portland.

And then there’s the music. Vinegar Hill, now in its fourth season, presents a slate of unabashedly nostalgic acts, like The Doo Wop Project, and original acts, including roots band Adam Ezra Group.

“We do everything from comedy to national and regional music,” Dearing says. “We have a beautiful garden bar — it has all kinds of seating vignettes for cocktails at intermission. And we open the garden to the community for free live music for our Sunday ‘Chill at the Hill,’ with food trucks, for those people who want an early celebration before they have to work the next day or leave Maine when their vacation is done.”

Daphne Howland is a freelance writer based in Portland.


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