BWW Review: Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre LIGHT UP THE STARS with a Tribute to Broadway
Last summer, the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre performed 50 YEARS UNDER THE STARS, an evening of Broadway songs and dances to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. It was such a hit that they decided to mount another production this year, and after seeing their gorgeous production of RENT last summer, I decided I wasn't going to miss it this time around. LIGHT UP THE STARS opened September 15th and will run until September 24th, on the weekends, and I had the pleasure of seeing it on opening night. After the first few songs, I mentally decided that to really do this show justice, I would need to start creating adjectives that would accurately describe just how amazing this cast was. In short, I was blown away.
Everything, down to the lighting and staging choices, was pretty close to perfect. But it all started with this cast of super-talented performers. Often with cabaret shows, the full cast doesn't gel as well as they are allowed to in full shows, however, in this production, the cast was given ample time to perform together which is where they truly shined. Right out of the gate, the full cast came together for A Musical (SOMETHING ROTTEN). It was the perfect song choice to introduce an evening of Broadway musical numbers, and it was just fun. From that very first number, you could just tell that this cast worked wonderfully together, and that it was going to be a special evening.
Of course, it wasn't all about the big flashy numbers. Most of the players were given the chance to shine in well-performed solos or small-group numbers. As a Broadway fan, I knew many of the songs and it was thrilling to see these new versions of classics I've loved for so long. However, there were also a few surprises. One such surprise was Spark of Creation (CHILDREN OF EDEN). It's a gorgeous song that I've somehow missed, and thanks to some crafty light work, and an on-stage stealthy costume change, it was a highlight for me.
Along with the beautiful singing of course, there was also quite a bit of dancing. All numbers were choreographed elaborately, and you could tell that there were definitely a few - if not many - trained dancers in the cast. From elaborate swing numbers (It don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't got that Swing - SWING!) to intricately organized group dances (My Shot - HAMILTON), the cast as a whole executed it all masterfully. One song in particular, Cell Block Tango (CABARET) was a real stand out. Audience members often expect a certain type of synchronicity and sex appeal with this song, and the 6 female performers definitely delivered on that promise, thanks to Broadway-worthy choreography. Another standout was Crazy about you Baby (FOREVER PLAID). The quartet in this song performed in plaid shirts naturally with long-handled plungers (interesting choice to say the least) which were used interchangeably as microphones, batons and also for a bit of fun sound effects when they were stuck and released from the stage. It's hard to explain, but trust me, it worked.
That's what was truly great about this production, not only was the full cast wonderfully talented, but the creative team also took center stage with their choices. The costumes were beautifully designed and crafted. Some were able to be re-used throughout a few of the numbers, and never felt stale. For instance, in the Rock and Roll section - the flow of the songs progressed through the decades - the performers were clad in mostly 50s attire: lots of plaid, polka dots and bow ties. But as the songs went on, a sweater was added here and a leather jacket was added there, and the costumes seemed brand new. The only unfortunate part was that the theater is entirely outdoors, and last night was a bit warm. I'm sure those performers could have done without the heavy sweaters and leather jackets, but they powered through the heat.
The stage itself was fairly bare, which worked well with the flashy costumes. You don't need much when the performers and the costumes are doing the heavy lifting. However, the lighting team needs a special mention. Some of the small lighting choices really elevated the production. For instance, during Spark of Creation, the performers were holding small light orbs on a completely dark stage - how's that for getting across the idea of a "spark" of creation? Another lighting choice I loved was the green spotlight that was used during For Good (WICKED). The way the green hit the performers' dresses as a subtle nod to Elphaba's verdigris was perfect. These touches highlighted the fact that each production piece, no matter how small, can really add to the look and feel of a show.
Now it may seem as I've been gushing for the last few paragraphs, but honestly, it's hard to express just how lovely this show was without gushing. The standing ovation the cast and crew received was fully earned. They deserve all of the praise given for this marvelous evening celebrating music and dance. As the performers said themselves, during their electric performance of You Will be Found (DEAR EVAN HANSEN), in a time that's ugly and cruel, it's necessary and important to take time to celebrate what is still beautiful in the world. And LIGHT THE STARS did just that.