At the age of 25, director is a `Renaissance man'

Young actor, dancer, musician puts veteran cast through paces at Summer Garden Profile

September 01, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,Special to The Sun

Ron Giddings, 25, describes himself as a jack of all trades and a glutton for punishment.

This season, he has dedicated considerable time and talent to directing two Annapolis Summer Garden shows: the midseason offering Urinetown and the Broadway Under the Stars 40th Anniversary show opening Sept. 8.

The event will raise funds for the restoration and renovation of Summer Garden's building and performance space.

"I have had a blast shaping them and pulling new things from all these experienced performers," Giddings said of the cast, embracing the "choreographed chaos that makes a smooth and tight show for the audience and absolute madness for the actors. It's what keeps us energized."

Giddings has been performing as long as he can remember. Giddings, a 1999 graduate of Severn School played the title role of Pippin during his senior year.

His talent helped put the production a few notches above the usual high school musical. Pippin set the standard for successive shows at Severn's Price Auditorium. It marked teacher-writer-director Sharie Lacey Valerio's first professional involvement with Severn's theater department. She fondly recalled working with Giddings and seeing him in productions including --Equus and Carousel -- at Loyola.

"Ron knew he could handle comedy and musicals and found out he could handle drama," Valerio said. "He is multifaceted, talented in all aspects of theater, including having strong communication skills. Ron might be called a 21st-century Renaissance man."

As director, choreographer and occasional actor (playing hero Bobby Strong) in Urinetown, Giddings conducted a pre-performance session sponsored by Summer Garden.

Having seen it on Broadway, I felt familiar with the show until hearing this young director expound on its musical, dramatic and political layers. Ultimately, Urinetown under Giddings' direction rivaled the one I'd seen in New York.

Last month, I observed Giddings in rehearsal for the 40th Anniversary Broadway Under the Stars Celebration. He arrived early at the Conte Building on Defense Highway, carrying a large keyboard, depositing it before making a few subsequent trips to his car to pick up stacks of rehearsal schedules, forms for the cast to complete and musical scores.

When he began rehearsing "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray with the cast, he played only the treble notes often with one finger.

I suspected that his keyboard talents were minimal, but soon heard otherwise, as he played more professionally to accompany his quick-study singers. By the time I left, everyone was totally into the music, with Giddings playing like a keyboard virtuoso.

An English and drama teacher at Calvert Hall College in Towson, Giddings directs three shows a year there. He estimates that he has directed 30 shows, counting his directing work starting in his sophomore year at Loyola.

Giddings predicted that the highlights of the coming Annapolis Garden show will be Ashley Adkins' "Adelaide's Lament."

"Annapolis divas singing `Bosom Buddies' and unbelievable Nori Morton in `Losing My Mind,' which I think will bring the house down," Giddings said.

"The thing that gets me about this show," he added, "is that everyone is really acting the hell out of these numbers. They are not merely songs that we park and bark -- they are visions of the past, present and future -- fully developed characters pouring their hearts out for three minutes. They tell their whole story in three minutes. It's really amazing to watch."

From what developed at last month's rehearsal and from subsequent conversations, I predict that this is the kind of show that comes along only once in 40 years -- a not-to-be-missed theatrical treat.

The gala on Sept. 8 will be preceded at 6 p.m. by a reception. Tickets cost $50. Tickets to all other shows starting at 8 p.m. Sept. 9, 15, 16, 22 and 23 cost $25.

For information and to order tickets, call 410-268-9212.

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