Charlotte Savage and Emma Eukatis are double-cast as the title character in “Matilda,” running through Sept. 29 in South Portland. Linwood Leland

The sun will slide below the celestial equator on Monday, officially beginning autumn. On cue, two of southern Maine’s venerable cultural organizations are launching their fall-winter-spring seasons, and both are marking the occasion with major changes.

Lyric Music Theater is running “Matilda,” a recent British musical that has received multiple awards. What’s especially surprising is that, for the first time in the 27 years that I’ve been covering Lyric, it has totally eschewed
the traditional canon of American musical theater, electing instead to produce a full season of 21st-century shows.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra will launch its 2019-2020 program year this weekend with a new music director. Eckart Preu will mount the podium and conduct two performances of a program that features Richard Strauss’
seldom-heard “Alpine Symphony.”


Is it a gloomy theatrical cartoon? Or a dark novel by Charles Dickens? Or a grim tale of fantasy from the Brothers Grimm?
It’s a little bit of all of these. Plus it’s also a huge hit with the people who vote for the theatrical awards in London and New York.
“Matilda,” the show that opened the 2019-2020 season for Lyric Music Theater last weekend, is based on the 1988 children’s novel by Roald Dahl. This stage version has a book by Dennis Kelly and score by Tim Minchin.

“Matilda” has garnered widespread critical acclaim and box-office success. At the 2012 Olivier Awards in London, “Matilda” copped seven honors, including Best New Musical. At the 2013 Tony Awards in New York, the show carried away five statuettes, including Best Book for a Musical.

The story revolves around the title character, a very unhappy elementary schoolgirl, and her trials and tribulations at home, where her parents disrespect her, and at school, where the headmistress hates her. But Matilda possesses supernatural mental powers, which she uses to right the wrongs she herself is experiencing and unlock and dispel the dark secrets that haunt the one person who truly cares for her.

Lyric has double-cast Matildas; on the Sunday performance I attended, the role was played by 11-year-old Emma Eukitis, whose girlish charm and precocious stage presence wowed the audience. I also loved a trio of over-the-top comic figures: Crystal Giordano as Matilda’s mother, Chad Jacobson as her father and Adam Gary Normand as the evil headmistress. Maggie Barnard nicely carried the role of a sympathetic teacher at Matilda’s school.

Lyric Music Theater, 176 Sawyer St. in South Portland, presents “Matilda” through Sept. 29, with 7:30 p.m. performances Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 799-1421.

Portland Symphony Orchestra 

There’s a buzz around the Monument Square offices of the Portland Symphony Orchestra this week, and that buzz will grow louder and more intense this weekend at Merrill Auditorium. Eckart Preu, the PSO’s new music director, will mount the podium for the first concerts of his first season as maestro.

German-born Preu (rhymes with Roy) was named last year as the culmination of a two-year search. He impressed many with his audition concert, and demonstrated an affable ability to communicate with the public when he introduced his 2019-2020 season last spring.

Like most of today’s maestros, Preu juggles multiple conducting gigs. Last April he bid farewell to the Spokane Symphony, where he was very well-liked. Previewing his final concert in April, the Spokesman-Review’s music writer commented: “In his 15 years as music director of the Spokane Symphony, Eckart Preu has come into his own, establishing himself on and off stage as a talented conductor and capable leader.”

For this season’s opening concert, Preu has chosen three works that exemplify 19th-century fascination with program music – meaning that it depicts a place or event. The opening piece will be Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” a famous orchestral
tone poem that depicts the composer’s subarctic homeland and its people. The second piece is almost totally unknown, written by a British woman who is largely obscure to music scholars. Lilian Elkington’s “Out of the Mist,” one of only four known works by her, was written shortly after the end of World War I, and it memorialized the arrival of a ship carrying the
body of Great Britain’s Unknown Soldier across the English Channel from the battlefields of France. The concluding work on Preu’s program is Richard Strauss’ “Alpine Symphony,” where a day in the Alps is musically described. Strauss, a
German, was a titan among 19th-century composers and was best known for massive symphonic tone poems. Among these, “Alpine Symphony” is probably the least often performed, according to Preu.

This program will be performed twice at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall, at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 22 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23. Call PortTIX at 842-0800.

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