Review: The Great Big Bar Show is a Brilliant Showcase of Broadway Talent

There must be far fewer than six degrees of separation between The Barn Theatre in Augusta and just about any musical you can imagine. The only summer stock theatre in Michigan has trained hundreds of dazzling performers who have continued professional careers beyond their stage, and right now The Barn is kicking off their 77th season by celebrating the “Barnies” who’ve performed on Broadway in a delightful “Great Big Bar Show.”

Many Barn patrons look forward to the cabaret-style bar show that follows every main stage production in the Rehearsal Shed bar and restaurant as much as the show for which they purchased tickets. And that kind of intimate performance wherein the summer’s entire company sings and dances their way through the audience sitting at tables around a piano in a space where brilliant performers have rehearsed musicals both classic and cutting edge as well as new and old straight plays is a wonderfully ceremonious way to begin an exciting new season.

The walls of the Rehearsal Shed are covered with Broadway show posters as well as candid shots from Barn productions throughout the years. The place exudes history and tradition, and to be in the audience is to feel like a part of it all.

Even more deliberately so with “The Great Big Bar Show” skillfully emceed by longtime Barnie and Barn Managing Director Patrick Hunter, who sets a celebratory tone, offering trivia and lighthearted banter about Barn history as well as introducing numbers in homage to a few of the more than 200 Broadway shows brightened by Barnies’ performances—as well as terrific little teases for the upcoming season at the Barn.

Hunter is one of seven Actors’ Equity members starring in the show in addition to the 18 apprentices featured, many of whom are making their Barn debut this summer. From marvelous dramatic and heart-wrenching solos to fun, tremendous ensemble pieces, they offer Broadway-quality numbers, from classic musical theatre to rock and roll, both familiar and new.

Director Brendan Ragotzy put together a beautifully balanced and emotionally rich program that highlights the powerful singing, dancing, and acting chops of the cast in three 20-minute sets. 

Melissa Cotton Hunter’s choreography itself pays homage to Broadway’s great choreographers as well as makes terrific use of the space and the performers’ talents. They skip and clap their way through the crowd in a line in the preview for “Escape to Margaritaville” (on the main stage Aug. 15-27); the women shoulder shrug and sway while the men run their fingers through their hair and grab and pull their way through “Summer Nights” from “Grease”; and jazz hands punctuate “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from “Annie Get Your Gun”.

The arrangements, accompaniment, and glorious harmonies ring out thanks to excellent musical direction from Matt Shabala, who really shines on keys during the playful “See you Later Alligator” as well as “Blue Suede” shoes, both teasers for this season’s next show, “Million Dollar Quartet” which runs June 20-July 2.

Other musicals coming up this season that are previewed here include classics “Anything Goes” (July 5-16) and “Wizard of Oz” (Aug. 1-13) as well as “Nunsense” (Aug. 29-Sept. 3). In addition, straight plays “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” (July 18-20), “Clue: The Play” (September 7-10) and “The Gift” (September 14-17) complete the season.

But many of “The Great Big Bar Show” highlights emerge in the tributes to Barnies past, from Patrick Hunter’s moving “If I Can’t Love Her” from “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” to Charlie King’s touching “Good Old Girl” from “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” to Melissa Cotton Hunter’s lovely “You Ought To Be Here With Me” from “Big River”.

The performance builds to a rock and roll crescendo when Luke and Jake Ragotzy take the stage with their guitars to accompany Melissa Cotton Hunter in the bittersweet “Where Did the Rock Go” from “School of Rock” as well as the powerful “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” from Green Day’s “American Idiot” with Aaron Czarnecki.

In between sets, a live auction offers more spirited trivia and history—and an opportunity to own a piece of The Barn itself among other homegrown art—all in the name of supporting this local institution and longtime beacon of arts and culture with far-reaching influence.

“Seasons of Love” from “Rent”, late Barnie Jonathan Larson’s magnum opus, ends the night on a potent high note, reminding us what’s at the heart of what The Barn offers season after glorious season, with the promise of what’s to come this summer. And you might just get to see someone on their way to Broadway.

Great Big Bar Show
Barn Theatre
June 6-18