Anne Arundel County offers a performing arts array to compete with nearby Washington and Baltimore - neighbors possessing renowned symphony orchestras, theaters and opera companies.
The county's cultural center is Annapolis, with the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts as its hub, a recycled high school where four resident arts groups converge: a symphony orchestra, chorale, opera and ballet company.
Most offer free pre-performance lectures along with innovative programming in a homelike atmosphere where reasonably priced light fare can be found at the cozy basement cafe.
Maryland Hall's crown jewel is the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, completing its third season under Music Director Jose-Luis Novo.
"ASO is doing well, branching out into regional territory like Strathmore Hall, Chesapeake Arts Center and South County," ASO President R. Lee Streby said. "We've developed the largest corporate relationship in our history with the new three-year sponsorship by Lexus. Individual giving has continued to rise with our budget and ticket sales meeting our goals. These support activities reflect the artistic progress of the orchestra under Maestro Novo; people are enjoying his concerts and his programming."
Of arts in the county, Streby said, "Everyone is working hard to take their work to a higher level of artistry, professionalism and polish. Bay Theatre has taken the community by storm in only a few seasons. The Annapolis Chorale is doing diverse work, gaining support and meeting the needs of people who want to sing and learn more about music.
"The opera is casting unbelievable young singers in their productions. The Chesapeake Arts Center has continued to develop well under solid leadership there. It's a positive vibe in the community, but yet it is not without challenges. There are still more empty seats at performances than there should be, and the struggle with so many offerings competing for time and attention," Streby said.
"We all could use more editorial help from the media. Maybe the arts should have a daily news section just like sports, and we could fill it."
ASO's 2007-2008 season begins Sept. 28-29 with a Beethoven, Brahms and Bartok concert featuring violinist Soovin Kim.
Nov. 9-10 brings Grieg, Dvorak and a world premiere of a Charter 300 finalist composer's work with pianist Jon Nakamatsu. Cellist Julie Albers will perform Elgar's Cello Concerto with music by Schumann and another Charter 300 finalist composer's work Feb. 15-16.
Works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Rachmaninoff and Strauss with pianist Orli Shaham and a premier of another Charter 300 finalist composer's work will be performed March 21-22.
The classic series with all concerts conducted by Maestro Novo closes May 2-3 with Audrey Luna as soprano in Rodrigo's Four Madrigals of Love in addition to Smetana's The Bartered Bride Overture and Mahler's Symphony No. 4.
ASO's Pop Series will feature the Broadway Tenors on Dec. 14 and a Gershwin concert April 11. A family concert is set for Jan. 12.
Information: call 410-269-1132 or visit www.annapolissymphonyor chestra.com.
Completing her fourth season, Ballet Theatre of Maryland Artistic Director Dianna Cuatto continues to challenge her dancers and choreograph to their strengths.
BTM's 2007-2008 season will open Oct. 19-20 with the return of Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Performances of The Nutcracker are scheduled for Dec. 8, 9 and 16. Director's Choice on Feb. 23-24 will feature works from women composers and Cuatto's new work in honor of the 300th anniversary of Annapolis.
BTM's first family series will be at the Boys and Girls Club Center in Annapolis in October, December and April. BTM will offer the world premier of a specially choreographed Celtic Book of Days from Samhain (Nov. 1) through January at the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum series at Chesapeake Arts Center.
"I'm pleased to announce the first-ever corporate sponsorship for Ballet Theatre of Maryland with the awarding of a three-year sponsorship by Merrill Lynch, one of the world's leading wealth management, capital markets, and advisory companies," Cuatto said last month. "As partners, Merrill Lynch and Ballet Theatre of Maryland are dedicated to keeping the art of dance alive and well in Maryland. We look forward to working with Merrill Lynch beginning immediately."
Maryland Hall resident Annapolis Opera comes off a 34th season that featured Barber of Seville with a stellar young cast that included critically acclaimed young diva Carla Dirlikov and Annapolis Symphony Orchestra members led by Musical Director Ronald J. Gretz.
Although an Opera spokesman said next season has not been finalized, it is likely to include a fundraiser opener in October followed by "Mozart by Candlelight" in December, the annual vocal competition in February, with a strong possibility of Bizet's Carmen being the company's fully staged opera in March.
A Children's Opera will probably be presented in April and "Pasta and Puccini Ancora" in May.
Information: 410-267-8135 or www.annapolisopera.org.
The fourth resident company at Maryland Hall is the Annapolis Chorale that enjoyed a successful 2006-2007 season featuring a spectacular La Traviata ranking near the top of all this season's Maryland Hall performances I attended.
With a full chorus of 180 singers and its own in-house Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, the Annapolis Chorale under Music Director J. Ernest Green consistently offers exciting and unique programs. Green also has earned a reputation for finding fabulous singers, as evidenced by the near-flawless singing of the role of Violetta by Amy Cofield.
The 2007-2008 season opens Oct. 5-6 with a "Broadway in Annapolis" production of Kiss Me Kate followed on Nov. 2-3 by Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem. Dec. 6-7 brings the "Celebration of Christmas" concerts and Dec. 14 and 16 Handel's Messiah. In 2008, Feb. 8-9 brings "Broadway in Annapolis," South Pacific, and on March 8 Requiem by Gabriel Faure and Lux Aeterna by Morton Laurisden. The season closes April 25-26 with Verdi's Aida, with emphasis on the music without the distraction of sets and scenery.
Concerts will be offered at Maryland Hall and St. Anne's Episcopal Church.
Information: 410-263-1906 or www.annapolischorale.org.
In addition to showcasing the resident companies, Maryland Hall produces significant one-night events such as the Annapolis Film Festival and Emerging Artist Series. On May 20 the Alice Kennedy Center Imagination Celebration on Tour will take to the stage. For information on Maryland Hall events, check the Web site at www.mdhallarts.org.
Outside Maryland Hall, the county boasts a number of talented musical groups including the Arundel Vocal Arts Society, where David Daniel has completed his second season as director/conductor.
Daniel conducted an unusual program that included composer Paul Carey's Play with Your Food in a concert titled "Eat, Drink, and Be Merry" for AVAS last May 13 at the Annapolis Area Christian School in Gambrills. AVAS presented a holiday program in December.
On April 21, 2007, AVAS offered "A Patriotic Salute" at Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis. AVAS begins celebrating its 25th season Dec. 2 with a holiday concert.
Information 410-268-3131 or at the Web site www.arundelvocal arts.org.
Definitely worth a mention are two county-based orchestras.
The Chesapeake Youth Symphony Orchestra, which was founded in 1990, has consistently offered high-quality performances that showcase exceptional young artists.
Information at www.cysorchestra.org will include details of Chesapeake Symphony's concerts, including May 20 and 21 at Maryland Hall.
Londontowne Symphony Orchestra is completing its fourth season of concerts at South County High School and other county locations. Spokeswoman Kathy Solano has listed a tentative season to include a concert of Spanish music May 20 at Southern High, and plans for next season include an all-Beethoven concert Sept. 16 at Southern High, a piano recital at Baldwin Hall Oct. 28, a concert at Southern High Nov. 18, and on Dec. 21 and Jan. 13 at locations to be named.
Information: www.london townesympony.org.
Jazz concerts are offered monthly at Loew's Powerhouse and weekly at 49 West St. For information and to get on her newsletter address list, call Elana Byrd at 410-266-7338.
Lots of first-rate theater can be found in Anne Arundel County. Annapolis is home to three major theater companies, the youngest, Bay Theatre Company, now ending its fifth season, and the oldest - Colonial Players - this month completing its 58th year, and Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre now beginning its 41st season.
Located at Main and Compromise streets at the site of a former Colonial blacksmith's shop, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre offers three "under the stars" shows from the end of May through Labor Day.
Coming off a season of Cinderella, Urinetown the Musical and Cabaret, Summer Garden concluded its 40th season with a two-weekend celebratory tribute featuring dozens of local favorites and a few genuine stars like Nori Morton and Tim King in selections from every musical staged during ASGT's 40-year history.
Describing the 2007 summer season as "building on a banner year," ASGT President Carolyn Kirby said it "opens in May with Godspell - a show filled with uplifting music." This will be followed by Sweeney Todd, which Kirby describes as "darker and dramatic," and Thoroughly Modern Millie - a "light fun show with lots of energetic dancing."
Kirby notes that ASGT has entered "an exciting period, having undertaken a project to renovate and restore our historic building and performance space."
Information: 410-268-0809 or www.summergarden.com.
Colonial Players Inc. is an all-volunteer company offering a five-show season. Colonial's 59th season begins in September with Michael Hollinger's Incorruptible, a farce set in a French monastery during the Dark Ages.
In October Diane Samuels' drama Kindertransport arrives to explore the mother-daughter relationship through the eyes of a German Jewish girl sent to England before the Holocaust.
After the traditional A Christmas Carol, January 2008 brings Matthew Barber's gentle comedy Enchanted April about a group of dispirited English women in the 1920s who rent a villa in Italy. In March arrives Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, a classic musical based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew.
The season ends with John Logan's Hauptmann, featuring a cast of six actors playing multiple roles to tell the story of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was convicted and put to death for the 1932 Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder.
Information: www.cplayers. com.
Bay Theatre Company is completing its sixth season of offering consistently polished, professional performances that have earned the young company a devoted following.
The current season ends with Table Manners from Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests trilogy that continues through June 2 at the theater on the lower level of the West Garrett office building at 275 West St. Originally, the plan was to continue Norman Conquests into the next season, a goal now seeming unlikely according to Bay's co-founder Lucinda Merry Brown.
Pleased with this season's successes despite the current inability to mount the second segment of the trilogy, Brown said, "My partner Janet Luby and I may figure a way to do Norman Conquests with perhaps the help of a new group of supporters who have each given $500.
"We have huge cost differences over volunteer theater because we hire only professional actors, often Equity ones who we pay according to scale."
The 2007-2008 season will open at the end of September with a revival of the musical I Do, I Do featuring a four-person young and older couple cast. This will be followed by Charles Webb's The Graduate - from the 1967 film remembered for Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson and Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin. Scheduled next is Edward Albee's sensational 2002 Tony-awarded play, The Goat. The season will end with Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie.
Information: www.baythea tre.org or 410-268-1333.
Mickey Handwerger, founder and artistic director of the Dignity Players of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, concentrates on works of social relevance and has produced The Exonerated, The Laramie Project and Dead Man Walking.
Noting "an exciting season of diverse and challenging plays this year which I hope will appeal to a wider variety of people," Handwerger directed the 2007 season opener running May 4-13 - Six Degrees of Separation - a witty commentary on what motivates people by contemporary playwright John Guare.
Other plays to be offered include Permanent Collection the first two weekends in August and Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, scheduled for the first two weekends in October.
Information: www.dignity players.com. For reservations, call 410-266-8044, ext. 127.
Now in its fourth year, Spirited Productions is a nonprofit company founded by a Millersville couple to present original plays by their son, Matthew Martelli, that articulate a Christian message.
Spirited's Christian musical exploring Lucifer's exile from heaven, titled Appeal, played to audiences numbering in the hundreds at AACC's Pascal Center for the Performing Arts in August. The company's intent is to produce at least one play a year. For additional information, check the Web site at www.spiritedproduc tions.com.
North of Annapolis in Brooklyn Park at 194 Hammonds Lane is a former middle and high school converted seven years ago into an arts venue now known as Chesapeake Arts Center. It houses a 900-seat main theater and a 110-seat studio theater where Pasadena Theatre, Do or Die Productions, Winters Lane Productions and others performed in the past and where Merely Players continues to offer shows.
Most recently from late April until early May, Merely Players produced A Little Princess in CAC's smaller studio theater.
This year CAC initiated a series that began in January with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, followed by The Glass Menagerie in mid-March, both well done but not well attended. This series concludes June 15 through July 1 with Steve Martin's play Picasso at the Lapin Agile in the studio theater.
CAC spokesman David Ponder reports on a number of shows slated in both theater spaces. Baltimore Playwrights Festival comes to the small studio theater Aug. 3-19. Shows in the main theater will include: July 28 Ronnie Dove and Michael Hoover July 28, Deanna Bogart Oct. 13 and David Phelps Nov. 17, with a "Senior Idol" show Nov. 27 and "Hack & Slash Christmas Show" Dec. 7 and 8.
"The total number of people attending theater may have dropped slightly, but overall we are offering a wider range of arts entertainment and have increased audience numbers," Executive Director David Jones said. "CAC's theater program has changed because of cash-flow problems. We still welcome theater programs and hope that the theater side will grow both in number and in quality."
From northern Anne Arundel County we move southwest slightly over the county line to the 150-seat theater in White Marsh Park that is home to award-winning 2nd Star and Bowie Community Theatre.
Joining them this past season was a third company - Prince George's Little Theatre, which is presenting Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest on weekends May 11-19. The schedule includes The Battle of Shallowford weekends Oct. 19-28; Heidi Dec. 13-16; Barefoot in the Park Feb. 8-17; and Steel Magnolias May 2-11
For information on Prince George's Little Theatre, phone 301-937-7458 (PGLT) or check the Web site at www.pglt.org.
Bowie Community Theatre tentatively set its first summer show, Who Dunit, to run July 8 to Aug. 4. BCT's coming 42nd season will definitely include A Little Murder Never Hurt Anybody - a comedy-murder mystery, Dearly Beloved, a Deep South comedy, and a third, surprise selection, according to spokeswoman Joanne Bauer. Information: www.bctheatre.com.
2nd Star President Jane Wingard shared tentative plans for 2nd Star: in September The Miracle Worker, November Camelot and March Leading Ladies with a possible production in June of Pirates of Penzance.
For information see: www.2ndStarproductions.com.
Having now completed a full season at its new Severn location at Kerr Performing Arts Center of the Annapolis Area Christian School, at Severn Run and Burns Crossing Road, Pasadena Theatre Company approaches its 30th season. It has performed in a variety of Anne Arundel locations from Severna Park to Savage to Arnold to Glen Burnie, but so far as anyone can remember - never in Pasadena.
President Sharon Steele said PTC enjoyed "artistic and financial successes with Fiddler on the Roof and It's a Wonderful Life, with the only problem here is that people do not look carefully in the newspaper ads to see that we are not located at Bestgate. They see Annapolis Area Christian School and don't realize our location is in Severn."
Steele added that PTC has branched out with a show called Broadway Melody, which opened for one weekend at the new Catonsville Dinner Theatre and will go to Bay Church in Severna Park and to Pascal Senior Center in Glen Burnie, and possibly on a cruise from Annapolis to the Inner Harbor. The 2007-2008 season will feature a revival of Godspell.
Information: 410-975-0200 or www.pasadenatheatrecompany .com.
In Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center for the Performing Arts, Moonlight Troupers mounts two shows each year.
AACC theater department chairwoman Barbara Marder said plans for the coming season include a musical at Pascal Center in the fall - Ragtime and Thoroughly Modern Millie are under consideration. The Troupers will present an evening of one acts, scenes and improvisation in Humanities Little Theatre in March and a full-length children's show in Pascal Center in April.
Additionally, AACC has announced The Spencers: Theater of Illusion on Sept. 14 at Pascal Center. Also at Pascal, AACC's resident dance company offers eclectic performances of various styles. The 2007-2008 season begins Dec. 7 and 8 with works by Artistic Director Lynda Fitzgerald and student choreographers.
"We are blessed to have such a diverse and wonderful range of arts organizations in Anne Arundel County with extremely high-quality performing arts programs that foster a climate of integrity and collegiality unsurpassed in the Mid-Atlantic region," said the AACC music department's Douglas Byerly, whose own rich contributions are reflected in the coming 2007-2008 season.
The season opens Oct. 19 and 20 with an "Evening of Puccini" starring Jason Stearns, Mary Ann Barcelona, Daniel Holmes and Joy Greene conducted by new AACC orchestra conductor and director Anna Binge at Pascal Center. Nov. 30-Dec. 2 will bring the seasonal opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, and in January La Traviata will be presented at Pascal Center.
The U.S. Naval Academy offers theater and a respected concert series each season. The longest-running extracurricular activity - the Masqueraders - has for the past five seasons presented dramas under the direction of faculty member Christy Stanlake that included George Bernard Shaw's St. Joan, John Guar's Chaucer in Rome, Macbeth, Belle Stratagem, and most recently in fall 2007 Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire.
Stanlake said the Masqueraders will perform "a play written by a St. John's College grad that celebrates theater's power to promote civility and respect across disparate communities" in Timberline Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good Nov. 9-18 at Mahan Hall.
Information: www.usna.edu/masqueraders. Tickets can be purchased one month prior to the show at 410-293-TIXS.
Each year the Naval Academy Glee Club presents a winter musical - last February it was Oklahoma. Next season's musical has not been announced.
The Academy also sponsors the Distinguished Artists Series, which for 2007-2008 will offer in October Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, in November the Dresden Orchestra, in January the Band of the Coldstream Guards and Royal Scots Guards, and in April the St. Petersburg Ballet Theatre. The season closes April 26 with a performance by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and USNA Glee Club.
Entertainment is offered by three regional concert associations - the Performing Arts Association of Linthicum, now in its 26th season, South County Concert Association celebrating its 32nd season and Anne Arundel Community Concert Association offering its 56th season.
These series represent a fine entertainment bargain. A subscription to five concerts at AACCA costs $45 a person or $100 a family, which allows subscribers to attend for free the five concerts offered at South County.
Information on combined AACCA and South County concerts: AACCA President Gale Gillespie 410-647-4881 or membership chairwoman Grace Shapiro 410-263-9553. PAAL subscriptions to five concerts are available for $45 before May 30 and $49 after by calling Jo Barker at 410-859-3308 or David Banister at 410-684-2854.
No rundown of Anne Arundel County's performing arts would be complete without mention of two groups that develop and showcase the talents of our youngest performers.
Now in its 48th year, Children's Theatre of Annapolis usually presents two shows each season at the Pascal Center for the Performing Arts. CTA is building its own facility to include a 256-seat theater by spring 2008. Information: www.childrenstheatreofannapolis.org.
Founded in 1987 by Bobbi Smith, who encouraged children to reach beyond their limits, this vision is now carried on by daughter Lea Capps and her sister, Vicki Smith.
Talent Machine produces two shows each summer, one featuring a younger cast and another teenage cast. A highly successful Christmas show is offered each year. All shows are in the Francis Scott Key Auditorium at St. John's College. Information: www.talentmachine.com.