Let's Put On A Show!

March 01, 2007|By Gena R. Chattin | Gena R. Chattin,sun reporter

Kids across America have been singing along with Disney Channel's High School Musical in record numbers since it first aired last year, but some local young actors will be the first in the Baltimore area to perform it in front of an audience.

Children's Playhouse of Maryland brings the stage version's area premiere to life starting Saturday at the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus.

Children's Playhouse got permission to perform the musical so early by moving fast and being in the right place at the right time. "We were the first people to apply is what happened," said artistic director Diane Trowbridge-Smith.

She found out Disney was releasing a stage version of the popular movie while attending a workshop sponsored by Music Theater International (the theatrical licensing company that partnered with Disney to hold High School Musical's royalties), and Children's Playhouse applied right away.

Children's Playhouse isn't just getting High School Musical early in the game. Trowbridge-Smith thinks her team has an edge. The Children's Playhouse group watched High School Musical's professional stage premiere at the 2007 Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, where they also attended a feedback session with Zac Efron, who was Troy Bolton in the television movie.

Trowbridge-Smith also calls her young cast "the cream of the crop."

The leads have extensive Baltimore theater experience, she said, and not just in youth productions. Kelsey Lake, who will play Gabriella Montez, has performed at Cockpit in Court. Elizabeth Johnson, who will play Sharpay Evans, has performed with Tidewater Players in Havre de Grace. At least three performers will follow High School Musical with roles in Dundalk Community Theater's Annie Get Your Gun.

Trowbridge-Smith said the chance to be in a production of something so popular brought 80 children to auditions from which director Liz Boyer Hunnicutt had to choose 28. "It's a huge phenomenon that they're all in love with," said Trowbridge-Smith.

The stage version differs slightly from the televised movie, but the actors aren't disappointed. "Most of the kids in our show right now ... they like the show better than the movie," said Trowbridge-Smith.

High School Musical and Children's Playhouse both have a history of sending actors on to bigger and better things.

The Disney Channel movie highlighted the talents of its young actors, including singer Ashley Tisdale, whose pop album Headstrong opened at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 album chart last month.

Children's Playhouse, formerly a part of now-closed F. Scott Black Dinner Theater, gave actress Lauren Spencer-Harris her start. She has since performed in many area productions. Actress Aja Maria Johnson went from Children's Playhouse to roles in Hairspray on Broadway and an episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

Children's Playhouse of Maryland will perform "High School Musical" at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, March 10, 11, 17 and 18 and at 3 p.m. Saturday, Sunday, March 10, 17 and 18 on CCBC's Essex campus, 7201 Rossville Blvd. Tickets are $10 regular admission and $8 for birthday parties or Scout troops. Call 410-780-6369 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday or go to ccbcmd.edu.

gena.chattin@baltsun.com

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