In 1986, the brand-new Maine Center for the Arts facility on the University of Maine campus in Orono opened its inaugural season with a very special performance from two great musicians — Yo-Yo Ma and Isaac Stern — accompanied by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra. Since then, it goes without saying that the center, renamed the Collins Center for the Arts in 2008, has become an indispensable cultural resource for eastern Maine.
So, it only makes sense that after all these years, it’s time to bring the orchestra back to open a new season. The BSO will perform at the CCA with Broadway star vocalists Christina Saffran Ashford and Norman Large, in a gala concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 11.
“This year is so exciting because so many wonderful things have really fallen into place for us,” said Adele Adkins, assistant director of programming for the CCA. “The BSO has not been a part of the regular season, outside of their own concerts, for many, many years, so it’s so great to see this collaboration happen and to have these two big New York singers perform.”
Large and Saffran Ashford met while performing in Los Angeles and have performed in countless shows together. Before their collaboration, they appeared in such Broadway shows as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Les Miserables,” “Cats,” “The Music Man” and “A Chorus Line.” Their performance Saturday will be with conductor Larry Blank, as new BSO conductor Lucas Richman will not begin his tenure with the orchestra until the “Welcome Lucas” BSO concert at the CCA on Oct. 3.
After the Sept. 11 concert, the CCA season dives right into its programming, beginning with a Sept. 19 performance featuring Peter Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey, formerly of legendary folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. It will be Yarrow and Stookey’s first performance since the death of Mary Travers in 2009.
“They could have performed literally anywhere in the world, and they chose Maine,” said Adkins. “It’s a very, very special show.”
“Illusionaire: The Magic of Lyn Dillies” will take the CCA stage on Sept. 25, featuring the master illusionist Dillies and her Las Vegas-style show. The highest-selling event of the season, the National Broadway Tour of “Spamalot,” will roll into Orono on Oct. 5. The hilarious, delightfully silly musical based on the classic Monty Python film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is set for 7 p.m.
“It’s well on it’s way to selling out,” said Adkins. “I would get your tickets as soon as possible.”
A perfect show for the month of October is the Halloween-friendly performance at 7 p.m. on Oct. 12 by the group Classical Albums Live, of the late, great Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Longtime CCA favorite the Aquila Theatre Company will bring a performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to the stage at 7 p.m. Oct. 21. The Parker String Quartet will return to Minsky Recital Hall at 3 p.m. Oct. 24.
An exciting new kind of show for the CCA is the Oct. 27 performance of “The Merchant of Bollywood,” a high-energy troupe of Bollywood-style Indian dancers.
“The Bollywood craze really brought a whole new genre to America, especially with the popularity of ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’” said Adkins. “It’s been popular in all parts of the world, and it has finally made its way to the United States. They bring 40 performers. It’s a really huge, colorful, fun show.”
Two more big dance shows come after that — the STREB Extreme Action Company, which combines daredevil action movie-style stunts and acrobatics with ballet and modern dance, will perform at 8 p.m. on Oct. 29. Then, in a highly anticipated world premiere, internationally acclaimed dancer and choreographer Alison Chase, co-founder of the renowned Pilobolus Dance Company and a Maine resident, will give the first-ever performance of her new company, Alison Chase Performance, at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19.
“We really try to bring the highest-quality dance to the Collins Center, and no one exemplifies that more than Alison Chase,” said Adkins. “It’s something new for us. It really evolved as a perfect example of collaboration between our organization and hers. It’s an event not to be missed, for sure.”
Mariachi Los Camperos, a group of musicians from Mexico and the U.S. playing in the mariachi tradition, will perform on Nov. 21, and beloved Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster will give a Christmas performance on Dec. 7. The Peabody Piano Trio will give an early afternoon performance at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011, in Minsky Recital Hall, the first CCA show of the new year.
Children and adults alike will enjoy the Feb. 6 show. Mad Science Productions will present “STAR TREK Live!” at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the CCA stage, combining the iconic bridge of the Starship Enterprise, actors taking on famous roles such as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, and an interactive educational experience about space and technology.
“I have a 5-year-old, and there’s not a lot to do in the colder months that everybody can enjoy,” said Adkins. “We try to offer family programming that is affordable. We’ve priced these tickets at slightly higher than a movie ticket, so it’s something everybody can go to.”
Philadelphia-based dance troupe PHILADANCO! will perform “By Way of the Funk,” a new work that harnesses the energy and culture of funk music, at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16. Violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Jeffrey Kahane will play at Minsky at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18, and a group of Irish dancers and musicians called “The Magic of Ireland,” will give a colorful performance at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27.
They’re regarded as cultural emissaries from South Africa — and they’re also incredible musicians, with rich, note-perfect harmonies. Ladysmith Black Mambazo will return to the CCA stage at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 5. The next day, a family-friendly performance by the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater is set for 3 p.m. Sunday, March 6. Gregory Popvich and his cast of jugglers, clowns, 15 house cats, 10 dogs, four geese, eight white doves and two parrots perform a variety of stunts and skits.
“It’s so different and funny,” said Adkins. “You will not believe what he can get those cats and dogs and birds to do.”
The national Broadway tour of “Grease” is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 15, and is sure to please fans of the all-American musical. The second annual Bangor Symphony Orchestra pops concert, “An Evening of Motown and R&B with Spectrum and the Bangor Symphony Orchestra,” is set for 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26, on the heels of the wildly successful Beatles pops concert in March 2010.
The Belcea String Quartet will take the Minsky Recital Hall stage at 8 p.m. Friday, April 1, followed shortly thereafter by the children’s theater troupe Imago Theatre and their playful, imaginative puppetry performance of “ZooZoo.”
The season closes with the hotly anticipated show “Spring Awakening,” on its first national Broadway tour. The musical, winner of the 2007 Tony Award for Best Musical, and one of the most critically acclaimed new Broadway shows in decades, fuses morality, sexuality and rock ’n’ roll into a passionately felt performance.
“It’s something that’s going to appeal to a very big audience, especially students,” said Adkins. “When I do programming, I try to program for every age group — from students to families, and everyone in between. I think this year we’ve really met that goal. There is literally something for everybody.”
Tickets for all Collins Center for the Arts shows may be purchased by calling 800-MCA-TIXX, or by visiting www.collinscenterforthearts.com.