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PTC’s 45th features musicals, murders and Mrs. Robinson

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PTC’s 45th features musicals, murders and Mrs. Robinson (Images courtesy of Penobscot Theatre Company)

Previewing Penobscot Theatre’s 2018-2019 season

BANGOR – One of the Bangor area’s cultural cornerstones is getting ready to take to the stage for its 45th season.

Penobscot Theatre Company has been a performing arts mainstay since its founding in 1973. In the decades since, it has remained a vital part of the region’s creative community, growing and evolving right alongside the ebb and flow of the cultural scene.

For the theatre’s 45th year, Artistic Director Bari Newport and her team have put together another interesting season. It’s got music, of course – a country footstomper, a new holiday classic and a thoughtful modern musical. It’s interpreting some familiar stories – comedic and dramatic alike - in new and interesting ways. And in many cases – four out of the six, in fact – you’ll be watching the first-ever production of the show anywhere in the state of Maine.

It’s a great assemblage of shows, one Newport feels strongly about.

“We’re excited to have four Maine premieres this season,” she said. “It’s something that we’ve made a conscious effort to do. It’s one of the things that makes our company distinctive.”

That commitment to finding ways to stand out carries over to their recent trend of announcing a surprise seventh show just before the season opens, something that has rapidly become a PTC tradition.

“We love doing the seventh show,” said Newport. “It’s a terrific way for us to add to the excitement going into the season. That excitement does a lot to help us gain subscribers as well.”

The seventh show is officially announced at PTC’s annual “Scenes and Songs” preview event in the late summer; this year is no different.

(Well … maybe a LITTLE different. Stay tuned.)

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the 2018-2019 Penobscot Theatre Company season:

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COVER---The-Graduate

The Graduate (Sept. 6-30)


Odds are you’ve got at least a passing familiarity with the iconic 1967 film directed by Mike Nichols and starring Dustin Hoffman in his breakout role alongside screen legend Anne Bancroft as the seductive Mrs. Robinson.

The stage version sees young Benjamin Braddock, a recent college graduate, returning to his childhood home in Pasadena. Despite academic success, he finds himself yearning for something that he can’t quite define. He finds himself entwined with the Robinson family, drawn in by both Mrs. Robinson and her daughter Elaine, for reasons both similar and vastly different.

“The Graduate” will be directed by Newport and is the first of the season’s four Maine premieres. While there are plenty of similarities to the familiar film version, the stage play – adapted by Terry Johnson from both the novel by Charles Webb and the screenplay by Calder Willingham and Buck Henry – definitely tells its own version of the tale.

“I love this play; it’s so majestic and far out,” said Newport. “It’s my love letter to California. It’s a love letter to my parents – their first date was seeing the movie. It’s a great, fun ride.

“People tend to fixate on the one plot point, but really, we get to live this story through Ben and chart our path through him and engage with the adventure and experience. It’s such an iconic film – I really want to do justice to all of it.”

 

COVER---Wait-Until-Dark

Wait Until Dark (Oct. 18 – Nov. 4)

This is a new version of a classic thriller. The original, written by Frederick Knott, has been adapted and updated by Jeffrey Hatcher. You may have seen this one before. Perhaps it was the 1967 film version starring Audrey Hepburn. Or maybe – just maybe – you saw a production of Knott’s version on the stage of the Bangor Opera House way back in the fall of 1998 (a version which, by the way, featured yours truly in a small part that just happened to be his non-holiday mainstage debut for PTC).

Susan Hendrix is blind, but she’s learned well how to deal with her lack of sight. When her husband Sam goes out of town, she’s fine on her own. But when a collection of thugs show up, looking for something illicit and extremely valuable, she finds herself in grave danger. With only the help of her wits (and her young neighbor), she has to outwit these desperate men who are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want.

“This is a new adaptation of the classic thriller,” Newport said. “This new stage version works wonderfully. The story offers so much opportunity; there’s room for so many moments of darkness – times when we can see and when we can’t see.

“And [Susan] is such a strong female heroine,” she continued. “She’s not just another victim.”

Directing the show will be longtime PTC production manager, technical director and set designer Tricia Hobbs, taking on one of the few roles she hasn’t already filled for the company at one time or another.

“I’m excited that Tricia is directing for us,” said Newport. “I’ve always felt that the best set designers are also directors; they’re built for problem solving.”

 

COVER---ElfElf: The Musical (Dec. 6-30)

This musical has been one of the biggest shows of the 21st century. Based on the 2003 Will Ferrell movie, “Elf: The Musical” – adapted from David Berenbaum’s screenplay - hit Broadway in 2010, with book by Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin.

And believe it or not, this one is a Maine premiere as well!

It’s the story of Buddy, the titular elf (to be played in this production by local favorite Ira Kramer) who discovers that he’s a bit different from his fellow North Pole denizens. Certainly taller. And so he heads out into the world hoping to discover who he really is. His travels take him to New York City, where he discovers that the reunion he dreamed of might be a little more complicated than he expected. Even in the face of obstacles, however, Buddy remains relentlessly cheerful as he spreads Christmas cheer everywhere he goes.

“This show is a massive, epic undertaking,” Newport said. “It is a big, big show that is going to be a LOT of fun.”

It’s fun that’s been a long time coming, according to Newport.

“We’ve been working for four years to get the rights,” she said. “I was going back and forth to New York, going to all these meetings, begging. And we got them. It’s a coup for us for sure.”

 

COVER---Honky-Tonk--LaundryHonky Tonk Laundry (Jan. 31 – Feb. 14)

Here’s another Maine premiere to add to the list. This one is a surefire cure for the wintertime blues, a jukebox musical featuring enough country tunes to keep your toes tapping and your feet stomping right up until spring.

“Honky Tonk Laundry” was written by Roger Bean (who also created “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” a show that was a big hit for PTC back in 2011) with musical arrangements by Jon Newton. The show features country songs made famous by the likes of iconic women such as Dolly and Tammy and Reba all the way up to newer acts like Carrie Underwood and The Dixie Chicks.

Lana Mae Hopkins owns the Wishy Washy Washateria and is looking for some help. She hires Katie Lane Murphy to help out … and a friendship is born. The pair wind up singing their hearts out while trying to get stains out. From laundromat to honky tonk – just like that.

“This show is so fun,” Newport said. “It’s going to be so great. We’ll have a live country band on stage. The show features Heather Libby and Laura Hodos, who will be singing all your favorite female country hits.”

 

 

 

COVER---Ripcord-posterRipcord (March 14-31)

Ever wonder what you might get if you combined “The Golden Girls” with “The Odd Couple” and gave the whole thing a weird twist? That’s essentially the gist of “Ripcord,” a comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire.

There’s a fantastic room on an upper floor of the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility – a room that cantankerous resident Abby has staked a claim to. But when she’s forced to share her space with an ever-positive new arrival, she finds herself willing to do whatever it takes to remove this irritatingly chipper woman from the picture. What starts out as a seemingly harmless bet quickly escalates into dangerous territory, leaving the two women one-upping each other and eventually forced to confront the real truths beneath the surface of the tensions between them.

As you might imagine, it’s the sort of show that requires some pretty dynamic leads that happen to be women of a certain age. There aren’t a lot of them out there, but Newport has landed two – including one whose face will be familiar to PTC audiences.

“We’ve got Danielle Kennedy [who played Violet in PTC’s 2015 production of “August: Osage County”] and Sarah Morrissey playing the two senior living residents. They’re going to be so, so great.

“It’s such a funny script,” continued Newport. “It was a production at the Public Theater in Lewiston that brought it to my attention, and I knew I wanted to do it. It’s a really good script. It’s heartfelt and hopeful and so so so funny.”

 

COVER---Fun-HomeFun Home (April 25 – May 14)

The final show of PTC’s 2018-2019 regular season is also the fourth Maine premiere on the docket. The musical, adapted from Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name, with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, won five Tony awards – including Best Musical – in 2015.

When Alison’s father passes away, she’s left with some complicated feelings to unpack. In an effort at understanding, she delves deep into her past to find a way to tell the story of the man who in many ways defined her life and the lives of her family. Time is fluid as the narrative moves back and forth between past and present as she examines her childhood in the family funeral home and her burgeoning awareness of her own identity, all while confronting questions about her father that will likely never be fully answered.

“It’s unbelievable to me that this is the Maine premiere of this incredible show,” said Newport. “It’s this amazing look at Alison Bechdel’s childhood growing up outside of Philadelphia and her relationship with her father.

“It’s very much a modern musical,” she continued. “It’s got a small cast – there are only eight people in the show. It’s packed with new music that is just fantastic. And the subject matter – it really is challenging material.”

These sorts of challenges are important for a theater to remain vital. Programming shows like “Fun Home” illustrate Newport’s understanding of that importance and the need to keep pushing toward that vitality.

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Finally, we come to the season’s surprises. While there’s a good chance that you’ll already have heard by the time you read this – the announcement will take place a day after this edition hits the streets – I’ve decided that The Maine Edge will stick to our standard editorial policy of “No spoilers!” Despite having been given express permission by Artistic Director Newport, I will not be divulging the specifics of the surprises to be announced at the Aug. 23 Scenes and Songs event.

What’s that you ask? Did I say “surprises” plural? Indeed I did.

I’m not going to tell you what delightful musical experience will serve as this season’s surprise seventh show, though I have no doubt there will be something in the air that night. Nor am I going to tell you which iconic character may or may not be returning to the Bangor stage – bells and all – come holiday time.

(Note: This story will be updated with information about these surprises following the official announcement. Again – we don’t do spoilers here.)

UPDATE: 08/24/2018

The announcement was made at last night's Scenes & Songs event, so we can make it official here: the season's seventh show is going to be a production of the musical "Mamma Mia!" The show will fun for an astonishing five weekends in June and July next summer. The show will feature a cast of 22 and will be directed and choreographed by newcomer to PTC Aimee Turner. In a surprise surprise, the theatre also announced a remounting of David Sedaris's one-man show "The Santaland Diaries" - once again starring Dominick Varney - for a limited holiday run in their alternate space at 51 Main St. The more the merrier!

All you need to know is this – Bari Newport and company have put together another top-notch season, one packed with shows that are appearing on a Maine stage for the very first time. There will be plenty of laughs, some marvelous musical moments and even a few chills and thrills. Put it all together and you’ve got one hell of a lineup.

See you at the theater.

(For more information about any of these shows or about Penobscot Theatre in general, visit their website at www.penobscottheatre.org or call the box office at 942-3333.)

Last modified on Friday, 24 August 2018 09:17

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