Local troupes offer scenes from a memorable holiday season

The full Talent Machine Company cast performs the final scene of "A Happenin' Holiday."
The full Talent Machine Company cast performs the final scene of "A Happenin' Holiday." (Photo for The Baltimore Sun by Bud Johnson)

The holiday theater season in Anne Arundel County started early in December and lasted through this past week, with festive and sacred concerts, "The Nutcracker" ballet and annual favorites showcasing the talents of local children.

Memories of these shows bring smiles that should last into the new year, and while that holiday glow lingers, we reminisce.


For many, the holiday season began at Eastport United Methodist Church on Dec. 2, when the Arundel Vocal Arts Society's "A Symphony of Song" concert, conducted by JoAnn Kulesza, opened the society's 30th season. The society was joined by the Londontowne Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Anna Binneweg.

Now in her sixth season as AVAS conductor and music director, Kulesza led the 40-member group in its performance of Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna," with full accompaniment under Binneweg's direction.


Conventional carols were offered, of course, but a special feature of AVAS holiday concerts is the inclusion of other cultures — in this case, the Nigerian carols "Betelehemu," performed in Yoruban, and "Noel," performed in Ket. Both had strong percussion elements as accompaniment.

For more than 20 years, the Annapolis holiday season has officially begun when J. Ernest Green conducts the Annapolis Chorale in its Celebration of Christmas concert. Over the years, the chorus has grown to its current strength of 170 voices.

This year's concerts, held in the first week of December at Maryland Hall, were highlighted by the chorale's "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and the Annapolis Youth Chorus' salute to Hanukkah in "Ose Shalom." Soprano Christina Lamberti was joined by baritone Michael Ryan in "O Holy Night," and Ryan offered a stellar interpretation of "Good King Wenceslas." The chorus also performed "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and a version of "White Christmas" that sent the audience off with a glow.

The Ballet Theatre of Maryland's performance of "Nutcracker" marked Dianna Cuatto's 10th year as artistic director. She was out of state for some of the performances, but her choreography was brought to life by dancers who seemed focused on delivering flawless performances in the absence of their mentor.

As is her usual practice, Cuatto had double- and triple-cast many of the roles to give ample performance opportunities. Kaitlin Frankenfield, who joined the troupe last year and was promoted to solo artist in 2012, excelled as she danced the lead role of Clara for the first time.

Florent Bouyat was cast as the Nutcracker Prince, and the native of France brought his experience as a soloist for companies including the Royal Swedish Ballet, the English National Ballet and Milwaukee Ballet. This year he joined BTM as a principal dancer, and in the "Nutcracker" executed strong elevations and precision dance.

Other noteworthy performances were Jillian Cyr as the Snow Queen and Alexander Collen as the Snow King. All on stage contributed to making these performances a tribute to Cuatto.

As the holiday season moved toward its culmination, The Talent Machine Company — whose players range in age from 5 to 18 — offered its enchanting show, "A Happenin' Holiday," for two weekends, Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 20-23. Founded by Bobbi Smith in 1987, The Talent Machine Company is now under the direction of Smith's daughter, Lea Capps.

Talent Machine performers move on at age 18, and one of those making a final Christmas performance with the troupe was Bowie High School senior Tabitha Thornhill, who has performed in every holiday show with the company since she was 6. Sam Curbelo, 17, was also in her last holiday show, also having started at age 6.

Those two will move on in the new year, but perhaps we'll see more in the future of two 11-year-olds who didn't miss a step — Alex Sarkady, as Raggedy Andy, and Emma Sayers, who portrayed Raggedy Ann.

Indeed, the new year brings the turning of the page, but also continues our local theater traditions.

To follow these organizations in 2013, go to arundelvocalarts.org for information on the Arundel Vocal Arts Society; annapolischorale.org for coming performances of the Annapolis Chorale; balletmaryland.org for details on performances and classes offered by the Ballet Theatre of Maryland; and talentmachine.com for The Talent Machine Company.

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