Director keeps kids on their toes


You can tell a Bobbi Smith show by the way the kids move.

No inexperienced youngsters stumbling through obligatory dance numbers for this director and choreographer, whose cast will open in "42nd Street" at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre Tuesday evening.

In fact, everyone Ms. Smith touches seems imbued with a love and talent for dance. Her two adult daughters are talented dancers. She taught her younger sister to dance, and she can't wait to get her hands on her two-year-old granddaughter.

Local audiences probably know Ms. Smith best from "Talent Machine", the annual summer revue that recently ended its sixth season at the Summer Garden Theatre at the Annapolis City Dock.

"I just hope we can keep the 'Talent Machine' going along to get her in it," she says, referring to her granddaughter.

After directing "Annie" in 1985, Ms. Smith and her colleagues decided that a show was needed for the talented youngsters in the area.

"The kids developed so beautifully that we all felt bad they had nothing to look forward to," she says.

All that has changed. Not only has "Talent Machine" become a hit, but the summer theater has entrusted Ms. Smith with a second junior production each of the past three years.

After "Grease" in 1991 and "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" in 1992, this year's production is that vintage toe-tapper "42nd Street".

"It's a wonderful show with a high-energy cast, likable characters and lots of tap dancing," she says.

In love with dance for as far back as she can remember, Ms. Smith -- a Washington, D.C., native -- studied in New York City and had some success auditioning on Broadway before deciding life on the Great White Way wasn't for her.

"Basically, I was too shy to enjoy it," she says.

Returning to Maryland, she performed on the dinner theater circuit, taught at various colleges and eventually opened a school of dance in Prince George's County that became one of the state's largest, with over 700 students.

"I've had several lifetimes in my career," she says. "I've prepared others to do what maybe I should have done myself. But I have no regrets."

Her dancers and actors clearly idolize her.

"I love working with her," says Karen Zucco, a junior at Arundel High School. "She just seems to know everything about how to make a show work."

"I was much more prepared to audition for college because of my work with Bobbi," says Alisha Snider of Annapolis, a junior at Ithaca College in upstate New York.

"She allows you to create things on your own, and she really works us hard. She's a very good teacher," Ms. Snider says.

Ms. Smith is not resting on her laurels. She's already at work on a senior citizens version of "Talent Machine," featuring people from the Edgewater Senior Citizens Center.

"They're great," she says. "If they don't feel good, they come anyway. They know they'll feel better when they leave!"

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