'Can Can' shows growth of Talent Machine's young stars

Talent Machine Can Can Cast with center back row Madeleine Raley as Pistaqche and to her right Keith Tuttle as Aristide.
Talent Machine Can Can Cast with center back row Madeleine Raley as Pistaqche and to her right Keith Tuttle as Aristide. (Bud Johnson, Baltimore Sun)

The Talent Machine Company's summer production of Cole Porter's "Can Can," showcasing its 14- to 18-year-old cast members, ran two weekends, Aug. 5 to 14, at St. John's College Key Auditorium. As in past TMC summer shows, this event could be compared to a major talent competition and graduation ceremony for exceptional teens who have become disciplined, polished professionals.

Developing raw talent is a Talent Machine tradition dating back to the company's founding in 1987 by Bobbi Smith. After the death of the founder in January 2001, the legacy has been carried on by her daughter, Lea Capps, who became director, lead choreographer and manager of the company. Vicki Smith, a director and teacher who is Bobbi's sister, served as choreographer for TMC's "Can Can."

For the first time with this production of "Can Can," Dennis Blair served as TMC musical director, and he hopes this is the start of a long association, which seems assured by the quality of the cast members' musical performances.

With music and lyrics by Cole Porter and book by Abe Burrows, "Can Can" opened on Broadway in 1953 and ran for over two years, winning Tony awards for Gwen Verdon — in only her second show — and for choreographer Michael Kidd. Critics generally deemed it old-fashioned and below Porter's usual standards, but almost 60 years later it provided an excellent vehicle for displaying the talents of TMC's teens.

Set in 1893 Paris, in a Montmartre dance hall owned by La Mome Pistache, her club is threatened with closure by Judge Aristide Forestier because of nightly dance performances of the scandalous Can Can. Aristide sends policemen to harass owner Pistache, but they like the dancers so much that they are reluctant to testify against them in court. Eventually, Forestier gets photographic evidence and the dancers are sent to jail with Pistache. But Forestier finds himself in love with Pistache, which changes everything.

A subplot that also has unanticipated consequences concerns Claudine, a dancer by night and laundress by day who loves sculptor Boris. He persuades her to dine with art critic Hilaire to encourage his favorable review of his work.

In Talent Machine's "Can Can" production, the 22-member teen cast delivered a professional show that featured capable solo singing and group harmony, convincing acting and accomplished dancing.

This joyously executed dance performance, complete with astonishingly high kicks and synchronized flying splits, merits recognizing each of the dozen female dancers: Samantha Blonder, Anna Hanley, Tabitha Thornhill, Danielle Greco, Jordan Burch-Page, Alli Musser, Morgan Gingerich, Layne Seaman, Grace Sayers, Kara Overton, Molly Maloy, and Lucy Bobbin. Also contributing to the overall perfection were male dancers Andrew Gordon, Billy Luzier, David Ossman and Justin Henderson.

South River High graduate Madeleine Raley, 18, played the lead role of La Mome Pistache, combining warmth, humor and Parisian sophistication. Add in Raley's heartfelt delivery of the best songs in Porter's score — "C'est Magnifique," "Allez Vous-En" and "I Love Paris" and you have a triumphant final TMC performance capping a Talent Machine association that began when she was in fourth grade. Raley's notable performance may also be descried as courageous in view of her recent triumphant battle with thyroid cancer.

As Forestier, 16-year-old Keith Tuttle was a convincing leading man, conveying a sophistication and commanding stage presence well beyond his years.

As Claudine, Bowie High School junior Tabitha Thornhill is the complete TMC performer, a convincing actor and accomplished dancer who also knows how to deliver a song, as she demonstrated in "If You Loved Me Truly." One of the benefits of reviewing Talent Machine shows is the satisfaction of watching an immensely talented group of budding performers grow up. It has been a special privilege to watch the gifted Thornhill family.

In the role of sculptor Boris, South River High senior Sim Rivers rates high praise for his comedic skill. Additionally 17-year-old Caleb Williams merits high praise for his energetic portrayal of art critic Hilaire, which represents his farewell Talent Machine performance.

Ben Abbot must be recognized for his portrayal of Theophile, Evan Bradley-Lewis for playing Etienne and lovely Anna Hanley who played a Parisian artist's model to perfection.

Although tall and terrific dancer Andrew Gordon is listed in the program only as an ensemble dancer, this recent Arundel High School graduate merits special acknowledgment for his energetic mastery of dance, complete with high kicks that appeared effortless. This was his 10th and final TMC performance; Gordon enters New York University this fall, where he'll pursue a double major in piano and mathematics and "keep my legs kicking in hopes of dancing on Broadway someday."

We wish all departing Talent Machine kids the realization of their every dream, and we look forward to watching their successors in future productions.

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