High-quality singing, energy mark 'Talent Machine'


In Annapolis, we have theater to set our calendars by. If it's winter, it must be the annual Wade-Gessner version of "A Christmas Carol" at the Annapolis Dinner Theater. And in summer, it's that perennial hot-weather favorite, "The Talent Machine."

Director-choreographer Bobbi Smith and her high-kicking youngsters have left their old digs at the Summer Garden Theatre and taken up residence at Key Auditorium on the campus of St. John's College, but otherwise the plot chugs along in familiar fashion.

In Act 1, the kids come under the spell of a charismatic "coach" who is half Wizard of Oz and half Norman Vincent Peale. He convinces them of their hidden talents, and in Act 2, they put on a talent show that more than bears out the coach's faith.

As I watched these familiar characters play out the familiar plot for the umpteenth time, several thoughts crossed my mind.

First, nobody gets young kids to move the way Ms. Smith does. Even the less advanced youngsters snap off their moves, exude limitless energy and smile as if their lives depended on it. It's something to watch.

And it's clear that Talent Machine's second generation thoroughbreds (the first is in college already!) are growing up before our eyes.

Molly Klein sings, moves and acts with a maturity that belies her 15 years. Kelly Lidz has become a star. TM veterans including Lorraine Boozer, Justin Brill, Julia Osborne and gymnast-dancer Michael Wright exhibit exceptional stage presence, as does (gasp!) 13-year-old Jessica Crouse, who will be featured in Talent Machine's "Singing In the Rain," which opens at St. John's July 21.

I also was struck by the quality of the singing in the 1994 version.

Oh, there are plenty of interludes where nobody much cares about vocal quality, and boy does it show. But where care is taken to pair the right voice with the right music, some very nice things happen. Take, for example, Justin Brill's selection from "Phantom of the Opera," Molly Klein's "At the Ballet" and the gospel number sung by a large ensemble.

Talent Machine should continue to work as many substantive, lyrical and introspective songs as possible into future shows and keep the juvenile screaming to a minimum. These kids can handle it, especially with such a musician as Charles Alexander to work with the singers.

I can also report that one Thespian lived out an actor's fantasy Wednesday night as he sprayed this reviewer with his water pistol from the stage. Revenge is sweet, I suppose. To say nothing of wet.

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