Summer Garden stages lively `family reunion'

40th anniversary show honors theater's past, looks to future


September 15, 2006|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,special to the sun

Annapolis Summer Garden's 40th anniversary celebration, "Broadway Under the Stars," is a star-studded triumph -- and a family reunion, of sorts.

It showcases the talents of 34 locals who have graced the Garden's stage in some of its more than 100 past productions.

Saturday's show opened appropriately with a near-reverential performance of the title song from Lerner and Loewe's Brigadoon, the first show done in 1966 at the William Paca Garden before the troupe moved to its Compromise Street location.

Brigadoon was repeated in 1983, and other shows, including Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls, were also done more than once, in 1980 and 1994. That musical was well represented here by Ben Dillard, Bob Brewer and Pete Thompson in a polished version of "A Fugue for Tinhorns," Ashley Adkins' show-stopping "Adelaide's Lament," and a rollicking ensemble version of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."

Many highlights followed in rapid succession, with apparent thought given to variation between ballads and up-tempo songs, as well as to familiar and less-known tunes.

In addition, a special segment from Kiss Me Kate was offered, with new lyrics offered to Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" written by Tim King. It featured excerpts performed from the Bard's Taming of the Shrew and The Tempest, among others.

All of this was conceived and executed by 25-year-old director Ron Giddings, who also served as musical director, beautifully weaving the songs together. He also juggled the duties of choreographer, designing at least a half-dozen exciting dance numbers. In addition, he served as set and lighting designer and piano accompanist. Giddings somehow had energy left over, taking to the stage himself to sing and dance as a fine leading man.

The last show of Summer Garden's regular season, Cabaret, was revisited in "The Money Song" that was better choreographed in Giddings' earthier, edgier version.

I confess to being star-struck by Nori Morton, who performed "Roxie" from Kander and Ebb's Chicago. In a gorgeous white gown, she delivered a savory interpretation that included some casually polished dance moves with her four chorus boys. Later, Morton returned in a glittering black gown, again commanding the stage as she summoned a heartfelt "Losing My Mind" from Side by Side by Sondheim to create quiet drama.

Chicago's "Cell Block Tango" was another choreographic highlight. That was due in part to Adkins, who could not help but steal every scene she graced, including the "Skid Row" number from Little Shop of Horrors and as part of the trio doing "Easy Street" from Annie.

Other Annapolis divas included Eloise Ullman in Bosom Buddies with Sue Centurelli, and Debbie Barber, who together with Morton and Dianna Wolfe have done 68 shows at Summer Garden.

With a chorus of youngsters, Ull- man brought new life to The Sound of Music's "Do-Re-Mi." Barber's fantastic summoning of Annie's Miss Hannigan in "Little Girls" provided another electric moment.

Andrea Elward delivered a memorable "As Long as He Needs Me" from Oliver and a moving "Over the Rainbow."

Summer Garden's future seems assured by young people like Jennifer Grimes, a product of ASGT's Teen Camp, who belted out an amazing "Tomorrow" from Annie.

And in another view to the future, the finale not only included a line or two from songs from every show the Summer Garden has produced, but also a medley of songs that may be part of the next 40 years from such newer shows as The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Hair- spray and Ragtime.

The show continues tonight and tomorrow night and next Friday and Saturday. Information: 410-268-9212.

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