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The Collins Center comes alive once again: A 2022-23 CCA season preview

August 15, 2022
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ORONO – The Collins Center for the Arts is back at it, bringing its usual collection of entertaining and engaging shows to the campus of the University of Maine in Orono.

The CCA – formerly known as the Maine Center for the Arts – has been a major hub for the region’s performing arts ever since the Bangor Symphony Orchestra christened its stage all the way back in 1986. The iconic building has played host to memorable acts large and small over the years, bringing a wonderful variety of arts and entertainment to our area.

The Collins Center is a foundational piece of the region’s cultural community; for over three decades, they have been a key part of the scene, offering quality programming at affordable prices year after year.

Even with the challenges that they – and all arts organizations and venues – have faced over the last two-plus years, the key figures at the CCA, from Executive Director Danny Williams on down, have pushed onward. Despite the obstacles – some new, some longstanding – they have managed to assemble a wonderful variety of music, theater and dance aimed at audiences of all ages. As per usual, the powers that be at the CCA have managed to ensure that there really is something for everyone. No surprise there – accessibility has always been a watchword for the organization.

The slate of performers in the 2022-23 season is a strong one, giving audiences a much more robust set of options than they’ve seen over the past couple of years, both in terms of their own scheduled offerings and their various partnerships.

There’s a lot to see, is what I’m saying.

Obviously, I can’t walk you through EVERY wonderful offering coming your way in 2022-23, but I thought I would hit a few of the high points (with a little help from the aforementioned Mr. Williams and Associate Director Karen Cole) to let you know just what you can expect from the folks at the CCA

The CCA season always tends to open on a high note, thanks to the standard September placement of the annual Gala. However, thanks to a combination of factors – including the involvement of a prominent UMaine alum and a truly breathtaking array of talent – this one might hit the highest one yet.

This year’s Gala performance – set for Saturday, Sept. 24 – is “Broadway Rocks,” a revue of sorts brought together by Broadway performer and University of Maine graduate Merritt David Janes. Basically, Janes is assembling a singing superteam of sorts, recruiting a number of his friends and fellow Broadway denizens to offer audiences an evening packed with spectacular showtunes.

Now, let’s be clear – these folks will be singing songs that they themselves have performed as part of Broadway productions and/or tours. Over the course of the evening, Janes – along with Amanda Cooper, Matt Cusack, Kevin Faraci, Elysia Jordan and Andy Peterson – will offer up tunes that run the gamut from the Great White Way. It’s a chance for musical theatre lovers to get a sonic sampler featuring some incredibly gifted and experienced talents, not to mention some stories that will offer a unique peek behind the curtain.

“We’re always excited for the Gala performance,” said Williams. “It serves to kick off our season. But to have a show like this – one led by a UMaine alum – makes this one particularly special.”

Of course, while the Gala is the launching point of the season, there are a lot of wonderful acts coming to the Collins Center this season. Some of them are new, while others are old favorites. And thanks to the scheduling chaos resultant of the events of the past two years, it has proven to be quite a complicated process to bring it all together.

“Because of the circumstances of the past couple of years, we’ve definitely had to do some juggling,” said Williams. “We’ve had some acts that previously canceled reschedule, we’ve had some where we were able to transfer tickets to new dates and others where refunds were issued and new tickets need to be purchased. Whatever the case, we did our best to ensure that we were as accommodating as possible.”

An accommodating attitude is important in any sort of venue booking situation, but the unique particulars of the CCA require a flexibility that other spots might not need.

“We’re tucked up here in the corner [of the country],” said Cole. “With so many acts and venues rebuilding their schedules, we have to be ready to shift gears as availabilities change.”

Still, while putting together a schedule of acts was undoubtedly a massive undertaking for the CCA braintrust, it’s difficult to argue with the results. The sheer volume and variety of excellent performances making their way to Orono in the coming months is impressive, and reflective of the hard work being done as touring schedules and space availability are juggled.

Let’s take a look at a few more highlights.

On Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. – Homecoming Weekend at the University of Maine – the CCA will play host to the musical parody “Spamilton.” The show is the latest creation of Gerard Allesandrini, the parodic force behind the ever-popular “Forbidden Broadway.” This newest show is the fictitious story of a megafamous actor/writer/director on a quest to save Broadway itself through his own considerable (but perhaps not quite so considerable as he thinks) talents. Not only do we get the skewering implied by the title, but also plenty of swings at other famed Broadway musical moments.

Once your appetite for Broadway is whetted, well … you’re going to need to check out “Legally Blonde – The Musical” when it graces the Collins Center on Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. This national Broadway tour offers up the musical adaptation of the beloved film, which follows young Elle Woods as she pushes through the obstacles standing between her and her dreams (and stays stylish as she does so). These touring shows have long been a cornerstone of CCA seasons, so it’s wonderful to see that they’ve landed such a good time to continue the tradition.

If you’re a fan of classic pop harmonies, you’re going to want to check out “Doo Wop Christmas” when it hits the CCA stage on Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. It’s a show that features performers drawn from a number of popular Broadway hits; shows like “Jersey Boys” and “A Bronx Tale” and “Motown: A Musical” are represented in The Doo Wop Project. The show serves to send audiences on a sonic journey through the history of American pop and rock music.

Has it been a long time since you rocked and/or rolled? Well, you needn’t wait any longer, thanks to “50 Years of Rock & Roll” coming your way on Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. This show – assembled by the amazing Neil Berg – puts together an astonishing array of musical talent in an effort to tell the half-century-long tale of rock. With great songs interspersed with tales pulled from the various decades of rock and roll history, this show will rock your proverbial socks off … and you’ll learn a little something too!

One of the joys of a venue like the CCA is that these folks are dedicated to bringing you things that you might not otherwise have the chance to see. One such unique act coming this season is “Red Hot Chili Pipers,” blowing through Orono on Feb. 25. Admit it – you’ve always wondered what it might be like to hear your favorite anthemic pop and rock sounds as interpreted by a bunch of dudes in kilts with bagpipes and drums. Well, now’s your chance, as this fusion group brings their particular brand of “Bagrock” to the Collins Center.

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That’s far from everything, of course. There's the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, bringing their classical music excellence to the CCA stage just as they've been doing since the venue's inception nearly four decades ago. Their season of concerts, plus everyone's favorite holiday experience - "The Nutcracker" - will provide the usual outstanding experience.

If you’re looking for stand-up comedy, the CCA’s got a double-dip for you in October, with Maine favorite Bob Marley hitting the stage on the first of the month, while the legendary Jay Leno will make his rescheduled appearance on Oct. 22.

The dance stylings of Step Afrika! bring together traditional and contemporary percussive dance styles into an altogether unique experience on Sept. 30. The gospel brilliance of Blind Boys of Alabama will forever change the way you experience that musical genre when they roll through on Nov. 12. There’s a beloved musical comedy coming that celebrates the trials and tribulations of women of a certain age – “Menopause: The Musical” will play on Feb. 17. And the CCA will play host to the latest touring production from Maine’s own Theater at Monmouth, presenting Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” on Oct. 20.

Oh, and on April 16, the CCA will play host to one of the best tribute shows currently running. “One Night of Queen” is performed by Gary Mullen and the Works and is a meticulously assembled tribute to the late, great Freddie Mercury and the band Queen. Mullen and the rest recreate the powerful, glorious showmanship that defined that band’s generational impact.

All this, plus the broadcast series – both the Metropolitan Opera and the National Theatre will be featured in nearly 20 different broadcasts over the course of the season – and the always magnificent Music in Minsky offshoots, with both the Chamber Music Series and the Jazz Series featuring some of the most accomplished and talented musical artists you’re likely to see.

We remain fortunate to have such a wonderful performing arts venue in our region, a beautiful facility run by passionate, hardworking devotees of the arts. Oh, and did I mention resilient? After working to keep everything in order in the face of two-plus years of chaos and uncertainty, Williams, Cole and the rest have put together a season of which they can be proud.

The CCA has been an integral part of the cultural fabric for coming up on 40 years now – let’s look forward to 40 more.

(For more information about the CCA’s 2022-23 season or to purchase tickets, visit the CCA’s website at www.collinscenterforthearts.com or call (207) 581-1755.)

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 September 2022 09:00

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