Cast of `Annie' shoots for stars

Show: Young actors and dancers bring high-voltage energy and talent to match to Irving Berlin's musical.

July 18, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The stage pulsated with energy at St. John's College during the weekend when the Talent Machine Company opened Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun, featuring its younger performers in the 7-to-14 age group.

With its depiction of authentic American icons such as Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull, the 1946 classic proved an ideal choice for this 50-member cast.

Every member of the cast exuded high-voltage energy with talent to match and a high degree of professionalism that sprang from rigorous rehearsal.

These hallmarks of the company remain as strong as ever under director Lea Capps, daughter of the Talent Machine's late founder, Bobbi Smith. Capps' talent and hard work are evident in every scene.

Instead of dark time for set changes, Capps utilizes every inch of stage wing space in the Francis Scott Key Auditorium for actors to move the action forward during scene changes on the main stage.

Capps' commitment to this show is reflected in how well the newcomers, who make up half the cast, blend in with more-experienced performers so that they move in perfect step. And there were fewer miscues or missed lines on this opening night than I've witnessed at many adult openers.

All of this was evident from the first scene, "Colonel Buffalo Bill," in which Wild West show manager Charlie Davenport (13-year-old Ross Koenig) was joined by a large ensemble on stage to generate instant excitement in the audience.

The excitement increased when 12-year-old Taylor Rector appeared on stage as Annie Oakley.

Rector sang every song with feeling and was touching in "They Say It's Wonderful," feisty in "Anything You Can Do" and funny in "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" and "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun."

She was able to convey every nuance of Annie's character to reveal an eager, innocent, funny, feisty and vulnerable Annie. To top it off, Rector didn't miss a step in her dances, despite their number and complexity.

Fortunately, Capps found for Rector's Annie a strong Frank Butler -- Oakley's husband -- in 14-year-old Matt Keller. He held his own in their duets, "They Say It's Wonderful" and "An Old-fashioned Wedding."

Keller added some pizzazz of his own to the show's biggest hit -- "There's No Business Like Show Business." He brought warmth to solo numbers including "The Girl That I Marry" and "My Defenses Are Down."

The supporting cast was strong with outstanding performances by 13-year-old Hana Thornhill as Frank Butler's assistant Dolly, 14-year-old Kyle Sweeney playing Mac, and 14-year-old Jordan Klein -- an awesome Colonel William F. Cody.

I've seldom encountered a more appealing brood than Annie's siblings as played by David Grindrod, Amber Spry, Samantha Curbelo and Ben Dean.

This cast is a fine example of what an ensemble really means.

Choreographer Bobby Smith, who performed and worked with founder Bobbi at Toby's Dinner Theater in the '70s, has done a masterful job of choreographing a demanding show. His talents are most notable in the "Indian Ceremonial" number.

Musical director Nicole Robyler brings her own formidable skills to this timeless score, retaining all the magic and making many of the songs seem fresh.

Having seen most of the Talent Machine shows offered the past six years, I'd have to rate the Annie Get Your Gun costumes the best.

Kudos go to Linda Scot and Barbara Klein and a hard-working group of at least a dozen parents, who had to construct and then find room to store the costumes.

The sets, constructed and decorated under the direction of Jerry Scott, were also notable.

"Annie Get Your Gun" continues at St. John's Key Auditorium in Annapolis on weekends Thursdays through Sundays through July 28. Call Talent Machine at 410-956-0512 for reservations.

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