For many people, summer officially arrives in Annapolis with the opening of Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre — which usually coincides with the U.S. Naval Academy's Commissioning Week.
That tradition continued May 22, as the troupe debuted its 49th season under the stars with the Broadway musical "42nd Street."
Based on the groundbreaking 1933 movie-musical, the show reveals the difficulties of backstage life for hardworking dancers during the Depression. The movie featured young singer Dick Powell along with relatively unknown Ginger Rodgers and Ruby Keeler. The Tony Award-winning 1980 Broadway adaptation won legendary director and choreographer Gower Champion his final Tony — Champion died the day the show opened.
An instant hit, "42nd Street" enjoyed a long run on Broadway, and in 2001, a new Broadway production received a Tony for best revival.
What makes this show so great? The answer can be found at Annapolis Summer Garden, where we "come and meet those dancing feet / On the avenue I'm taking you to: 42nd Street."
The show is magical, with performers revealing a rare combination of skill, energy and precision dance set to classic Harry Warren tunes.
Kristina Friedgen, director and choreographer of the Annapolis Summer Garden production, says in her director's notes that "dance is the show's most eloquent form of expression."
Friedgen is faithful to that sentiment and to the exciting, Champion-inspired choreography. She has assembled a highly skilled cast to execute each number, and her direction is fast-paced — a plus for the troupe's shows starting at 8:30 p.m.
Essential to this production is a strong group of six musicians under the alternating direction of two conductors Julie Ann Haw and Laura Brady, who also play piano.
The "42nd Street" plot is a backstage look at what goes into making a Broadway show. It's also a familiar fairy tale about a talented dancer plucked from the chorus line to become a star after the show's leading lady breaks her ankle. Just off the bus from Allentown, Pa., dancer Peggy Sawyer is looking for her break on Broadway as she arrives on the backstage scene to find an assortment of players.
As the show-within-the-show unfolds, director Julian Marsh is driving his cast to deliver his needed hit. Also needing a career revival is leading lady Dorothy Brock, whose sugar daddy, Abner Dillon, has invested $100,000 in the show. Upbeat songwriters Maggie Jones and Bert Barry try to spread cheer among the players, who are required to deliver difficult dance routines for demanding dance captain Andy Lee.
Hannah Thornhill is perfect as Peggy, delivering credible acting, lovely singing and her usual phenomenal dancing. She executes every tap step brilliantly and displays skill at reproducing every step illustrated by Lee, played by superb dancer Nick Carter — the grandson of Severna Park dance teacher Mary Carter.
Other noteworthy dancers include the always terrific Amanda Cimaglia playing Lorraine Fleming, Samantha Curbelo as Gladys and Caitlyn Ruth McClellan, incredibly energetic as wisecracking Ann Reilly.
Playing writer Maggie Jones, Allie Dreskin provides needed warmth, and Allison Erskine makes a strong Summer Garden debut as Dorothy Brock, doing full justice to her solos, "Shadow Waltz" and "You're Getting to be a Habit with Me," while also delivering impressive acting.
Outstanding male players include Trent Goldsmith as writer Bert Barry; Kyle Eshom, a strong singer, as Billy Lawlor; Thomas Brandt as Brock's love interest, Pat Denning; and Wendell Holland as show investor Abner Dillon.
As Marsh, director, Brandon Deitrick sings a compelling "Lullaby of Broadway," but his portrayal was a bit one-dimensional, with a little too much shouting at the May 23 performance.
Every dance number is delightful, including the rehearsal scenes, which have their own charm. The show begins with a spectacular number that instantly captivates the audience, and the variety throughout maintains enchantment. From the romantic charm of "The Shadow Waltz" to the lively spectacle of "We're in the Money" and the infectious beat of "Lullaby of Broadway," the dancers consistently deliver more than expected.
There's a lively, inventive "Shuffle off the Buffalo" — complete with train cabins — and an unforgettable "42nd Street" for the grand finale.
Adding to this amazing spectacle are the dancers 'dazzling costumes created by Miriam Gholl.
Tickets for "42nd Street," which runs through June 21, can be purchased online at summergarden.com or by calling 410-268-9212. Season subscriptions include performances of "Shout," playing from June 27 to July 19, and "Spamalot," running July 31 to Aug. 31.