A youthful 'The Boy Friend' Cast of mostly teens to perform play as part of musical theater class


You know the musical has a teen-age cast when the blackboard in the rehearsal room bears a chalk inscription for "The Boy Friend" all gussied up with squiggles and curlicues. Chalk is irresistible to teens.

Most of the company of "The Boy Friend," which will be presented tonight (one performance only) at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, is of high school age.

The students are enrolled in a class for musical theater skills offered by the Peabody Preparatory Division's extension at Maryland Hall. It's open to anyone, says instructor Helen Strine, and there are adults and some junior high students.

The small classroom in Maryland Hall where the company rehearses is just large enough to contain the 22 students in the class.

With two mothers stitching costumes in a corner, pianist Lester Green, stage director Robert Neal Marshall, team teachers Strine and David Neal, who doubles as conductor, stage manager Jane Bloom (earning credit for a class at the Baltimore School for the Arts) and hangers-on such as the tango spotlight dancers, there was barely room to move, let alone dance, last week. A conga line in the first scene is more like a conga clump of grinning young dancers.

The idea of a musical theater class came 10 years ago from Dean Fran Zarubick of the Peabody Preparatory Division, which first offered the course in 1990.

The class was designed to teach stage skills to those too young for opera, says Strine. It was offered at Maryland Hall because Annapolis has such activities as a children's theater and the Summer Garden Theater for students to aim for.

The students pay $300 a semester. The fall and spring terms used to culminate in a program of scenes, but two years ago the extension course performed its first production, a USO revue-musical called "Babes in Arms."

This year, the musical is Sandy Wilson's flapper farce "The Boy Friend," which gives the cast the chance to dance the conga and the Charleston.

The company includes teen-agers from as far away as Westminster, who take the class at Peabody Preparatory's main campus in Baltimore. Rehearsals are held in Baltimore and Annapolis to accommodate students from both sites.

On a "very, very minimal" budget, Strine says, Peabody Prep offers a production with lights, costumes, body microphones, a pit orchestra and professional direction and choreography.

The production sometimes gets a little help from its friends. One morning last week, Strine was at a Hechinger store buying 2-by-4s to bolster the French doors she had borrowed from St. John's College. Bobbi Smith of Talent Machine lent a glitter ball; in return, she'll get the two beach cabanas built for the seashore scene in "The Boy Friend" to use in one of her productions.

The professional leadership provides coaching that challenges everyone in the company.

Theresa Cantone, who plays the headmistress of an exclusive girls' school, is a seasoned dinner-theater performer in the Annapolis area. "The Boy Friend" has given her a chance to practice her singing and dancing with conductor Neal and choreographer Ilona Kessell.

Even with the performance nearing, the atmosphere is positive and rehearsals peppered with rustles and squeaks and giggles. Director Marshall doesn't seem to mind: His occasional calls for less noise are as cheerful as the teen-agers are exuberant.

By the end of the rehearsal, the blackboard is covered with cartoons and trolls. Cast members, awaiting their entrance cues, have been occupying themselves. Chalk is irresistible to teens.

The Boy Friend

By: Sandy Wilson

When: 8 o'clock tonight

Where: Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis

Tickets: $6

Call: 410-269-5343

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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