The Ogunquit Playhouse has erected an outdoor pavilion to hold large scale musicals this summer. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Maine’s two largest summer music theaters are taking different approaches to presenting live theater in their second seasons during the pandemic, but, like last year, neither will produce large-scale musicals on their longtime stages.

The Ogunquit Playhouse has constructed a massive covered outdoor pavilion on the pastoral playhouse lawn, where it will produce four Broadway-style musicals with seating for 450 people. Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick will produce a concert series, children’s productions and other events in its traditional home at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus, but is moving its signature mainstage productions to the Westbrook Performing Arts Center and presenting those shows in September and October.

Both theaters committed to their plans before Maine adjusted its pandemic-related health and safety guidelines to allow full capacity at indoor performance venues. Ogunquit committed to the outdoor pavilion at a cost of more than $300,000 in January. And while Maine State waited as long as it could to finalize its plans, by the time the news came down from Augusta, there simply wasn’t enough time to produce large-scale musicals, including auditioning and hiring talent, assembling a creative team, building sets, sewing costumes and rehearsing, in the limited window of availability at Pickard, said Maine State artistic director Curt Dale Clark.

Instead of the usual four shows, Maine State will present two – “Jersey Boys” from Aug. 31 to Sept. 19 and “Cinderella” Sept. 28 to Oct. 17. Instead of its usual six, Ogunquit will produce four shows: an updated, socially-distanced version of “Spamalot” (set during the Great Plague and featuring the appropriately ever-hopeful “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” as its theme song), June 16 to July 10; “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville,” July 14 to Aug. 28; a premiere of the musical version of “Mystic Pizza,” Sept. 1 to Oct. 2; and “Young Frankenstein,” Oct. 6-31.

Bradford T. Kenney, executive artistic director at Ogunquit, said the theater’s decision to move outdoors under a covered tent was motivated by last summer’s successful experiment with cabaret concerts. “We found a way to operate our business and keep people healthy,” he said.

The new outdoor pavilion at the Ogunquit Playhouse will seat 450 people and stage four shows this season. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The pavilion offered a way to move forward with full-scale shows while keeping people safe. The pavilion stage is between 75 and 100 feet wide at various locations, much larger than the indoor stage at the playhouse. It will be equipped with full lighting and sound. The pavilion itself is erected with steel infrastructure and covered with a light-colored non-permeable fabric. “It looks like an airplane hangar, but with character,” Kenney said.

With a nearly 40-foot ceiling, the pavilion is constructed on a lawn to the south of the playhouse, close enough to benefit from the electrical system and so the actors can use the inside dressing rooms.

Outdoor shows have been presented at various times in the playhouse’s nearly 90-year history, Kenney noted, though it has been many years. And while these shows will be the under a weather-tight shell, the pavilion will not be heated or air-conditioned, and Kenney advised people to dress for the weather.

As for the shows, he picked musicals that felt appropriate for outdoors. Monty Python’s Eric Idle adapted the original script of “Spamalot” to streamline the show for COVID times. With tiki torches lighting the way to the outdoor bars, “Escape to Margaritaville” will be a new version of the Jimmy Buffett musical co-written by Mike O’Malley, who graduated from the University of New Hampshire and was raised in Nashua. O’Malley and his writing partner, Greg Garcia, wrote two versions – one act and two acts, depending on which direction the playhouse wants to go in terms of including an intermission.

“Mystic Pizza” is a premiere of the musical version of the 1988 Julia Roberts’ film, with a soundtrack of ’80s and ’90s rock and pop songs by Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper, Wilson Phillips, Debbie Gibson and others. Given the likelihood of cool fall weather, Kenney opted to close the season with “Young Frankenstein” because of its “thick wardrobe. … It’s also knock-down hysterical, and it allows us to deliver big, Broadway production values.”

The outdoor pavilion is named in honor of donors Carol and Noel Leary. Kenney said the playhouse expects to finish this season with a financial deficit, a first in its history.

In Brunswick, Clark at Maine State Music Theatre said it was vital to get live theater back on stage this summer, one way or another. “It’s important to get our people back up on stage to start healing these communities,” he said.

The Westbrook Performing Arts Center, photographed in 2012, will host Maine State Music Theatre’s major productions this season. Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Maine State will present a hybrid season – some shows and events at its longtime home at Pickard Theater, and the big musicals, “Jersey Boys” and “Cinderella,” at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center. If possible, Maine State would have staged all its shows at Pickard, but the college schedule didn’t allow it, Clark said. “We can’t get in to Pickard after August,” he said.

As constructed, the season will allow Maine State to present smaller and simpler shows and concerts at Pickard in the early part of the summer while preparing for the mainstage productions in Westbrook a little later. The move to Westbrook is a one-time only event – and a costly one. The theater expects to spend about $200,000 transporting the entire company multiple times a day from Brunswick to Westbrook. Higher prices for lumber also mean it will cost more money to build sets this year, Clark said. Those are some of the reasons Maine State is producing two big shows this year instead of its usual four.

Among the shows at Pickard are two small ensemble cast productions, featuring past stars of Maine State performing hits and telling stories. The first show will run July 28 to Aug. 1 and second will run Aug. 4-8. There will be five performances of each show, and each will feature four performers. Maine State also will present a series of concerts, including “The Piano Men: The Music of Elton John and Billy Joel” starring Joe Boucher on Aug. 15 and 16, and “Christine and Patsy … Together Again,” with Christine Mild singing the songs of Patsy Cline on Aug. 22 and 23. Each of those concerts will have three performances. Maine State and Portland Stage will co-produce two concert-style events, in Brunswick and Portland: the music of the Everly Brothers at Pickard July 23-25 and Ring of Fire with the music of Johnny Cash at Portland Stage Aug. 5 to Sept. 5.


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