June 1 2011 12:00 AM

’Great Big Bar Show’ relaunches venerable Augusta summer theater


Hans Friedrichs spent three seasons at
the Barn Theatre in Augusta as an Equity Membership Candidate. Then he
took more than 20 years off.

He’s back this summer as the director of “The Great Big Bar Show,” which opens the theater’s 65th season this week.

It’s a small show and, at the same time, a
big one: an intimate evening of music in the Barn’s cozy Rehearsal Shed
lounge that represents a notable comeback for the venerable theater,
which was closed last summer for the first time in its history because
of financial concerns.

“I wanted to come back a few years ago,
but the timing wasn’t right,” Ann Arbor native Friedrichs said in a
phone interview. “I felt like I’d been away long enough that I had some
life experience to bring back. After they didn’t have a season last
year, I was very concerned: This was a very special place for me. I
reached out to Brendan (Ragotzy, the Barn’s owner/producer), and this
time the timing was right.”

“The Great Big Bar Show” features veteran
Barn performers Eric Parker, Emily May Smith and Roy Brown alongside
this year’s crop of apprentices, many of them college students from
schools all over the country. So, in addition to directing, Friedrichs
is also doing a bit of education.

“I know the Barn’s history, and now I’m
teaching a new generation about the history of the Barn and the history
of musical theater, from ‘Guys and Dolls’ to ‘Rocky Horror’ and ‘Rent.’

“We were doing selections from ‘A Chorus
Line’ the other day, which was the big show when I was their age. They
know it — and they don’t really know it, so it’s great to be able to say
‘this is what it’s about and this is why it’s important.’”

“Bar Show” also features numbers from
dozens of other shows, including several of the Barn’s upcoming
attractions, including “Chicago,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Sunset Blvd.” and
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” 

Friedrichs, who lives and works in New
York, says the summer stock experience — which often means having to
rehearse one show during the day, perform another one at night and study
the script and score for the next one in your spare time — is great
preparation for professional theater.  

“It’s so important for young actors to do
this stuff,” he said. “Even the best conservatory can’t teach you this.
I’ve said to several of them, ‘This is not your college theater
program, and what you get away with there, you’re not going to get away
with here.’”

Friedrichs is equally adamant about
downplaying the competition aspect that can get in the way of actors,
that old “why does he have more lines than me?” or “why does she get
that solo?” bugaboo. Instead of focusing on ego, Friedrichs advises his
cast members to think about their own work: “You have to do your best,
and good things will come your way.”

Friedrich performed in “Music, Music,
Music,” which was the 1989 ancestor of “The Big Bar Show,” and — who
knows? — perhaps in 20 years, one of his cast members will be back to
oversee the 2031 version of “The Great Big Bar Show.”

If so, it should a very happy homecoming, Friedrichs says.

“There’s a lot of ghosts, but ghosts in a
good way. Now I’m the person who has to teach and inspire. I can tell
them, ‘This is what I did wrong — don’t let it happen to you.’”

‘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
(517) 731-4121

Barn Theatre schedule

June 14-26: "Escanaba in Love," comedy by Jeff Daniels

June 28-July 10: "Man of La Mancha," musical with Robert Newman

July 12-24: "Chicago," 1920s musical

July 26-Aug. 7: "A Streetcar Named Desire," Tennessee Williams drama

Aug. 9-21: Rodgers & Hammerstein’s "Cinderella"

Aug. 23-Sept. 4: "Sunset Blvd.," Andrew Lloyd Webber musical

Performances are 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays
through Saturdays, with matinees at 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Tickets to Main Stage shows are $34. Call the box office at (269)
731-4121, or visit www.barntheatre.com for more information and updates.