Talented high school cast brings musical to life at ASGT


Imagine the cast of "Grease" raising hell at parochial school instead of Rydell High and you pretty much have the gist of "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" the musical comedy currently under the lights Mondays through Wednesdays at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater.

"Patent Leather Shoes" is not as inventive and sassy as its secularized cousin. Most of its vibrancy lies in the songs that dot the score. "Little Fat Girls," "It's the Nuns," "Cookie Cutters," "Patron Saints" and "Private Parts" are all funny, clever numbers that carry the show.

But the knuckle rappings and "naughty boys going to FTC confession" jokes quickly lose their potency, leaving little other than the occasional song to pick up the pace. The "Grease" characters obviously weren't drawn by Shakespeare either, but they are funnier and more interesting then their uniformed counterparts at St. Bastion's and St. Anne's.

Still, "Patent Leather Shoes" is a cute enough show worth doing well, which it most certainly is over at ASGT. Brought to life by talented high schoolers from Arundel, Broadneck, Annapolis, Severna Park, Key and Severn under the direction of Bobbi Smith and Sally Giles, the production, on the whole, is polished, humorous and enthusiastically brought off.

As always in a Bobbi Smith production, movement is key, and these youngsters are to be commended for moving splendidly through her inventive, demanding choreography. True, there is a dance reprise stuck on gratuitously at the end of the curtain call, but otherwise the dancing and blocking are terrific.

The principals are all very gifted kids. Matt Bridges of Arundel High makes an affable Eddie Ryan. With a mature sense of stage presence, he sings expressively and conveys his character with admirable polish. The show coalesces nicely around him.

Karen Zucco as Becky, Eddie's love interest, is the best singer I've heard on the ASGT stage this summer. Karen, a 15-year-old sophomore at Arundel, is the real thing. She plays vulnerably for a laugh in "Little Fat Girls" like a true pro, and her "serious" numbers in Act II sound better than the composer had any right to expect. (They're not such great songs, but she makes them go.)

Tiffani Baldwin of Severna Park is terrific as the snotty Virginia Lear. Tiffani is an excellent dancer and a talented soprano. She gives 200 percent every moment she's on stage.

The other scene-stealer is Pam Diedrich as the feisty, fussy Sister Lee. Her lines are a riot and when she cuts loose in "Cookie Cutters," her show-stopping song, it's impossible to remember that she's a 17-year-old kid.

Ben Lambert is also quite good as Felix, the combination nerd and class cut-up. Facially, he's great fun to watch.

The rest of the ensemble does extremely well, especially the girls, although there are occasional chinks in the armor. Coordination between the singers and the recorded tape was shaky on several occasions and some solo vocal lines were delivered off-key. I also thought the young fellow playing the priest might have worked harder to perfect an Irish brogue.

One other thought: Like "Grease," this is supposed to be a period piece. In the 1950s, no one -- but no one -- ever gave his buddy a high-five. It just wasn't done. Know what I mean, daddy-o?

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