March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Augusta summer theater returns with rousing revue that celebrates its history and looks into its future


AUGUSTA — “Holey moley!” veteran Barn Theatre star Eric
Parker gasped as he surveyed the crowd for Tuesday evening’s “The Great Big Bar
Show.” “We’re here — and they’re here! The Barn Theatre is back, and it’s here
to stay!”

A year ago, those words might have been less convincing. The
Barn, an Equity theater that had been in operation for 64 years, did not launch
a 2010 season in the wake of what producer/owner Brendan Ragotzy called a
“horrible” year in 2009 that left the theater approximately $200,000 in the
hole. But if there were any hard feelings or misgivings among the patrons who
crowded into the cozy Rehearsal Shed Lounge for the first night of the “Bar
Show,” they weren’t evident: From the opening medley of “As If We’d Never Said
Goodbye” (from “Sunset Blvd.,” which the Barn will produce in August) and
“Another Openin’, Another Show” (from “Kiss Me, Kate”), the Barn received a
rousing welcome back. Number after number was greeted with hearty applause,
whistles and cheers.

“It’s been a long year and a half,” Ragotzy admitted in his
curtain speech. He must have been deeply gratified to find that his audience
had returned in high spirits.

Playing out in three generally lighthearted sets over two
and a half hours, “The Big Bar Show” is part Barn history lesson — with Parker
and co-stars Roy Brown and Emily May Smith providing entertaining trivia about
the theater’s past — and part preview of coming attractions. Substantial
portions of the program are devoted to the scores of “Man of La Mancha,”
“Chicago” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” all of which are on the
summer slate.

Although the physical space is limited, there’s no
restricting the energy of the nearly two-dozen Barn Apprentice Company members,
who are effectively spotlighted. They do a particularly impressive job
compressing the Bob Fosse-inspired choreography of “Chicago” into the cozy
confines of the Rehearsal Shed. (In between sets, they serve as the waitstaff
and bartenders, so you literally get to see them set down their trays, take off
their aprons and take to the stage.)

Through clever staging by director Hans Friedrichs and often
gorgeous vocal arrangements from musical director John Jay Espino, the “Bar
Show” often feels like a much bigger production than it is. There are no
microphones and, aside from guest appearances by guitarist Troy Benton and
banjo player Charlie King, no musical accompaniment except Espino’s piano. But
the Barn has always been smart about making a little go a long way.

Friedrichs frequently surrounds the audience with song to
enchanting effect: After hearing what the Apprentices do with the multiple
sections of Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein’s “Tonight,” it’s intriguing
to imagine a cabaret presentation of “West Side Story,” and when the chiming
harmonies of “The Sound of Music” hit you from all directions, it’s a wonderful
sensation. The sublime voices of third-year Apprentices Katrina Chizek and
Patrick Hunter are spotlighted, as Chizek puts her soulful belt behind “Skid
Row” (from “Little Shop of Horrors”) and “Seasons of Love” (from “Rent”), and
Hunter demonstrates his formidable range by tackling solemn Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset
Blvd.” material at the beginning of the third set and then leading a rambunctious “Time
Warp” (from “The Rocky Horror Show”) shortly afterward.

Parker, Brown and Smith anchor the evening with solos and
duets that remind you why they’ve become three of the theater’s most
dependable, versatile performers. Parker (who confessed that “The Big Bar Show”
is his 100th Barn production) channels the fiery spirit of Jean
Valjean in “What Have I Done” from “Les Miserables,” but is equally skilled at
finding the comedy in Lancelot’s vainglorious “C’est Moi” from “Camelot.” Smith
easily moves from wistful Cinderella in “My Own Little Corner” to the spunky
Annie Oakley of “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” and the mystified
vulnerability of a cast-off mistress in “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.”
Brown’s finest moments come in his playful take on “My Fair Lady’s” “Get Me to
the Church On Time” and his mournful, slow-boiling “Kiss Juanita for Me,” taken
from the score of Ragotzy’s original musical “Old Timer, which the Barn
premiered 10 years ago.

“The Great Big Bar Show” concludes with the entire cast declaring “There’s
No Business Like Show Business,” a fitting finale to a night that persuasively
argues that the Barn is most definitely back in the game.

‘The Great Big Bar Show’
Barn Theatre,
13351 W. M-96, Augusta
Through June 12
8:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 5 p.m. shows Saturdays and Sundays
(269) 731-4121