Young cast brings fun to `42nd Street'

Children shine in Talent Machine's production of classic musical



The Talent Machine is purring along 42nd Street this weekend. The company's younger cast, ranging in age from 4-year-old Emme Sayers (who studies ballet, tap and jazz) to 14-year-old veterans, opened its super-charged show last weekend with performances continuing tonight, tomorrow and Sunday at St. John's College Key Auditorium.

Next month will feature older children in Grease, opening Aug. 4 and running through Aug. 13.

The Talent Machine was formed about 20 years ago by dynamic director-choreographer and teacher Bobbi Smith to develop young peoples' dancing and singing talents and provide a performance vehicle for them - something she did for hundreds during her lifetime. (She died of cancer in 2001 at age 60).

The current show is a family affair that features four sets of siblings and two 12-year-old cousins who light up the stage with their electric energy. The legacy of Bobbi Smith can be found in the hundreds of young people she taught that include her grandchildren Samantha Blonder and Justin Rodgers, 12-year-old cousins who are terrific dancers. Her daughter Lea Capps is the show's director, and Bobbi's sister Vicki Smith serves as choreographer. Musical direction is by Schuyler Sutton, who spent eight years (starting at age 7) performing for the company and working with Bobbi.

With its story of young Peggy Sawyer, who arrives in New York from Altoona, Pa., to become a chorus girl and later the star when she replaces the injured leading lady - is an ideal vehicle for Talent Machine's young cast. The many plum roles include those of Broadway director Julian Marsh, leading man Billy Lawler, wisecracking songwriters Maggie Jones and Bert Barry, and diva-leading lady Dorothy Brock and her sugar daddy, Abner Dillon. It's another plus that the score contains catchy tunes such as "Lullaby of Broadway," "You're Getting to be a Habit with Me" and the great title song.

But what can be expected of a 42nd Street where the oldest performer is 14 and two of the stars are barely 12? The answer is plenty in terms of mega-watt energy, camaraderie, dedication and professionalism. To echo a line in this show, "Kids can do anything."

Sarah Johansen is mature beyond her 14 years, giving a polished performance as Maggie Jones. A dancer in control of every muscle, Sarah is hysterical demonstrating how to dance and sing "Shadow Waltz" to leading lady Dorothy Brock, and she knows how to belt out a song.

Samantha Thornhill has the requisite regal stage presence to play the diva role of Dorothy Brock. On Sunday, 14-year-old Samantha also proved to be a real trouper by remaining through the first act despite not feeling well. She was replaced in the second act by Caitlin Jennings, a freshman at Bowie High, who hardly missed a beat delivering Dorothy's big number, "About a Quarter to Nine," and competently produced the many lines of dialogue on cue.

An outstanding dancer in the ensemble is 11-year-old Matthew Crook, who takes five dance classes at Stage Workz and has obviously learned a great deal in all of them.

Justin Rodgers is a highly skilled tap dancer, delivering a demanding routine in "We're in the Money" with bravura. He is convincing as dance captain Andy Lee.

Samantha Blonder as chorine-turned-leading-lady Peggy Sawyer is fun to watch - spellbinding when called upon by one of the chorus girls to follow her tap routine, which Samantha does in amazing rapid-fire fashion. She lights up the stage with her talent, charm and likability.

Nick Pajerowski proves he can sing, dance and act as leading man Billy Lawler. Max Kalifut summons the maturity to be convincing as Broadway director Julian Marsh and offers a heart-felt "Lullaby of Broadway" that nearly stopped the show on Sunday.

42nd Street can be seen at St. John's College Key Auditorium in Annapolis at 7:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Reservations: 410-956-0512 or www.talent

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