Talent Machine cranks out family fun, entertainment

Daughter-and-aunt duo preps cast for production of `42nd Street'



For the last 18 years, the Talent Machine has rolled into Annapolis every July to brighten the summer entertainment scene.

The Talent Machine - the show that gave birth to the company of the same name to provide a performance vehicle for young people - is now being fine-tuned to roll down 42nd Street for a two-weekend run July 14 to 16 and July 20 to 23 in Key Auditorium at St. John's College in Annapolis.

The late Bobbi Smith, who spun magic for hundreds of children by teaching them to reach beyond their limits and dance like pros, created the show and Talent Machine Company in 1987.

At her death in January 2001, her daughter Lea Capps and sister Vicki Smith decided to continue this legacy of artistic vision and joy by "catching the energy" and spreading it through young casts and audiences in the lively shows produced.

Teaching to the high standards set by her mother, Capps has kept the Talent Machine going since 2001 with full annual schedules that include two summer shows, a winter holiday show and summer camps.

In producing these high-energy shows over the past five seasons, Capps has been assisted by her aunt, Smith, who generally serves as choreographer, along with dedicated Talent Machine alumni and parents.

42nd Street is directed by Capps and choreographed by Smith with musical direction by Schuyler Sutton. The cast is drawn from all over Anne Arundel County.

At a recent rehearsal at Stage Workz in Millersville, Capps admonished the tap-dancers, "You all have to give something other than nothing. Nothing is not an option."

The dancers seemed to deliver tap moves of near-professional chorus-line precision, not unlike those I recalled when watching Bobbi in action encouraging her kids to deliver an extra effort to make it magical.

At a brief break, Capps indicated that she was generally pleased with the dances, although setting up dance routines on the stage proved difficult in the studio with Key stage space not available until next week.

"We have a lot of new kids who have never done a show before," she said. "There are a number of siblings - Samantha and Tabatha Thornhill, Sarah and Andrew Johansen, Emme and Grace Sayers, Nick and Jennie Pajerowski ... and my daughter Samantha Blonder and Justin Rodgers are cousins." The Thornhill family has a proud tradition that includes 18-year-old Hana, who recently lit up 2nd Star's stage as Rosemary in How to Succeed in Business after an impressive debut the season before as Lola in Damn Yankees.

Cousins Justin and Samantha, both 12, will play Dance Captain Andy and Peggy Sawyer, respectively, in 42nd Street.

Traditionally the July offering showcases the talents of a pre-teen cast with an August show ("Grease" this year) featuring teen performers.

42nd Street is loosely based on the 1933 movie that starred Ruby Keeler as chorus girl Peggy Sawyer and Dick Powell as leading man Billy Lawler. In 1980, it arrived on Broadway directed by Gower Champion and starring stage veterans Jerry Orbach as director Julian Marsh and Tammy Grimes as Dorothy Brock.

Set during the Depression, 42nd Street tells the story of down-on-his-luck director Marsh looking for one more hit with his new show Pretty Lady, to star his over-the-hill leading lady Dorothy Brock. She falls and breaks her ankle, preventing her from going on.

Billy Lawler, along with several cast members, suggests that chorus girl Peggy Sawyer, newly arrived from Altoona, Pa., should go on in the role.

As Peggy is transformed from chorine to star, the audience gets to hear great tunes including the title one, plus "Lullaby of Broadway," "We're in the Money" and "Shuffle Off to Buffalo."

"42nd Street" will be performed at Key Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. July 14, 15, 20, 21 and 22, and at 2 p.m. July 16 and 23 with a 6:30 p.m. show July 16.

Reservations: 410-956-0512 or www.talentmachine.com.

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