Back from Scotland with a 'Smile' Theater: High school drama group from Columbia enjoys European experience while performing its musical production abroad.

September 13, 1996|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

When the drama department from Columbia's Wilde Lake High School went to Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival last month to present its fall musical, acting only partially filled the bill.

"When in doubt, go to the hypno-dog show," said Katie Hark-ness, a senior at Wilde Lake, referring to the hypnotism act that became a favorite among the students. "It's funny to see your director go up there, straddle a chair, and sing 'Like a Virgin'."

The students didn't spend the entire time mesmerized by a mystic mongrel, however.

They were there to perform "Smile," a musical by Marvin Hamlisch and the late Howard Ashman, a Baltimore native. An authentically American musical whose Maryland connections include a 1986 a pre-Broadway run at the Mechanic Theatre, "Smile" is about the sometimes dirty politics behind beauty pageants.

The show, which they performed four times in "the tiniest theater in the world," added a uniquely American twist to the annual Fringe Festival, a nearly half-century-old nonstop arts orgy featuring theater, comedy, music, burlesque and magicians.

They appeared as part of the American High School Theatre Festival. Only 11 other high schools nationwide joined them for their 13-day trip to England and Scotland. The Wilde Lake entourage included 39 students, 14 adults and a 2-year-old.

"Smile" received a rave review in The Scotsman, praising the production's professionalism, lively action, fast pacing and choral work. Casey McCoy, who played one of the chief pageant contestants, was singled out as having "the clarion voice of a young Ethel Merman."

The students were surprised to see how well European audiences swallowed a show saturated with Americana. Its satirical view of American behavior and competition just might have helped, according to director Tracy Adler.

"The show has got a bite to it. And it's kind of a weird thing, because nobody really wins," Adler said. "The international audience got more than our home audience ever did."

New friends and memories of breathtaking sights are among their prized souvenirs, and they even developed an appreciation for the local cuisine.

"Haggis is actually pretty good," Michael Robb, a junior at Wilde Lake, said of the Scottish dish consisting of a sheep's stomach stuffed with organ meats and oatmeal. "It has a bad reputation."

It wasn't all stomach lining and sunsets, however. The students noted that some of their experience left room for improvement.

"Waking up to a bagpipe is something I hope I never have to do again," Harkness, 16, said.

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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