In a lovely, little open-air theater that sits across the street from the City Dock, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre opened it 47th season with Swing! — A revue utilizing the popular music and dance from the big band era. Swing is a term that defines this uniquely American art form that first evolved out of Harlem’s ballrooms during the pre-World War II era and has influenced dance trends ever since.
Swing! has all the ingredients for a promising show: classic music from the Great American Songbook—“It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Skylark,” “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy,” “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “In The Mood/Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree,” and “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” to name a few—and the exhilarating and diverse dance styles of swing that include Jive, Lindy Hop, West Coast Swing, and Latin. There is also a bit of ballet, tap, and modern dance incorporated into some of the choreography. Perhaps it was the unseasonably cool weather or beginning-of-the-run jitters but this ambitious effort just missed the mark.
…hats off to them and the cast for their energy and effort in pursuing their love of musical theater.
It is evident that there is raw talent and potential on stage. The cast members are diverse members of the community—newcomers, college students, teachers and others working in a variety of professions. Watching the cast perform with pure joy and enthusiasm, you can’t help but root for them. However, they sometimes struggled with the songs. There were problems with synchronization in the more complex dance sequences—daunting for even the most seasoned professional. The more simplified dances that featured one or two members of the ensemble were more successful. That is not to say that there weren’t some lovely moments.
Amanda S. Cimaglia is an expressive and strong dancer and did a wonderful job with the more modern, seductive choreography in “Harlem Nocturne.” Another stand out was Hannah Thornhill, often the perky comic relief of the ensemble. Her dancing duel with Wendell Holland in “Dancers in Love’ was priceless. As they try to out dance each other, Thornhill cheerfully and comically leaves Holland in the dust. But she also expresses her more venerable side through dance in “Blues in the Night.” The most competent singer of the four featured artists was Katie Gardner, she did a beautiful job with the song as Thornhill must watch and express her pain while her cheating lover, Billy Luzier, dances with another, played by Cimaglia.
A nod must go to trumpeter Gary Wolf/Randy Martell (alternating) and trombonist Nick Hogg/Mike Bravin (alternating) who became characters in their own right when they stepped off the bandstand and performed on their instruments with the singers. Most notably is “Cry Me A River,” when the trombone becomes the “voice” that responds to Janae Barber in a musical conversation. The trumpet performance in “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” shines.
The segue into a square dance and then a rockabilly song towards the end of the second act felt out of place even though there is a justifiable component of swing in the two numbers. This may have been in the original Broadway production but it felt like it was part of another show.
The cast was backed by an excellent big band. Lead by piano player Ken Kimble, the band sat center stage giving the scene a nightclub/ballroom atmosphere. Designers Patricia Golden and Matt Mitchell created the mood by surrounding them in a 30s-style black and white set with two staircases on either side of the main stage that swept up to a second level and a large, art-deco-style clock set piece. The stairs themselves were cleverly painted to resemble piano keys. Costume designer Meghan O’Beirne extended the black and white theme in the costumes adding splashes of solid, bright colors, while the featured ladies wore more elegant gowns.
Director/choreographer Patricia Golden and musical director Julie Ann Hawk were very ambitious given the inexperience of some of the cast members. That said, hats off to them and the cast for their energy and effort in pursuing their love of musical theater. With an “A” for effort, this is a pleasant way to pass a few hours on a nice summer evening under the stars.
Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Swing! runs through June 15, 2013 at The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at 410-268-0809 or click here.