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Children's Playhouse actors find friendship to be a favorite role

A pair of Towson teens who have grown up together onstage as members of the Children's Playhouse of Maryland now have leading facing roles as Ariel and Prince Eric in upcoming performances of the Disney classic, "The Little Mermaid."

Although this is the last season Allison Comotto and Brad Bowers will be working with each other and with the theater group, they both feel they will leave having found a lasting friendship. "I couldn't be happier with how things worked out," Allison Comotto, 17, of Towson, said at a recent rehearsal.

"(Brad) was in the second show I did here, and we are just absolutely best friends," Comotto said. "It's so cool that we're both going out at the same time. I made lifelong friends."

Comotto is a senior at Loch Raven High School and will play the Disney princess when the group performs at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 20.

"It's amazing," she said. "I'm living out my 5-year-old self's fantasy of being a princess in this great show."

Bowers, 18, is a senior in the vocal music prime at The Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

The camaraderie along with the commitment of members to be a part of the drama group creates an enjoyable, productive atmosphere for the young theater enthusiasts, members say.

"It's definitely a place where kids can find their passion with theater," Jamie Watson, a 17-year-old Lauraville resident, who attends Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, said. "It's hard to find children's theaters, and we're really lucky where we have this place where kids can feel safe and comfortable and have fun and put on this great show."

Bowers, whose musical theater credits also include shows at Carver and a spate of professional roles in New York, Baltimore and Virginia, said that passion fostered at the Children's Playhouse creates professionalism on par with working professionals.

"It's just as good as working with professional actors, especially because these are people I've known for nine years," Bowers said. "They're my best friends, and it makes it so much better."

Comotto said shows typically rehearse for six weeks, but with Superstorm Sandy throwing a wrench into auditions for "The Little Mermaid," the cast had just over a month to prepare for the show's December performances in its home theater at Community College of Baltimore County, Essex.

After breaking for the holiday season, the group of 49 students had just four rehearsals to condense a selection of the show's finest scenes and songs into a 15-minute performance to be judged at the festival.

Tuesday night, Jan. 8, they met to teach a handful of new performers the songs. Another rehearsal was scheduled for Jan. 12 to help fine-tune the dance numbers, with two more practices scheduled for this week to reinforce their parts.

Diane Smith, artistic director and president of Children's Playhouse of Maryland board, said the young actors are as dedicated to their work with the theater group as athletes are to their sport.

"To a lot of these kids, this is their sport … and it's just as demanding. They take this very seriously, from the young ones to the big ones," Smith said.

The trip south to compete in Atlanta, which the Children's Playhouse of Maryland makes every other year, has proven to be very successful in the past. During their trip in 2011, the group's performance of songs from "Thoroughly Modern Millie" earned awards for outstanding achievement in both technical theater and dance. Four individuals, including Bowers, were recognized for their performances.

Aside from the competition, the students enjoy other aspects of the trip. They attend workshops and, most importantly, connect with other musical theater enthusiasts from all corners of the country.

"One of my favorite parts about it is we see other theater troops from across the country," Watson added.

"I love all of us theater kids just being together," Nicole Smith, a 16-year-old Towson resident and junior at Notre Dame Prep, said.

Comotto agreed: "I look forward to it all the time. And this being my last one, I'm really really upset for it to be over because it's a great experience."

The Children's Playhouse of Maryland will reprise its performance of "The Little Mermaid" on Saturday, Jan. 26, and Sunday, Jan. 27, at CCBC-Essex. Both shows begin at 4 p.m. For ticket information, go to cpmarts.org or call the CCBC-Essex box office at 443-840-2787.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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