Drawing on the soul of the 'Machine'

Experienced artistic team delivers an energetic musical

Theater review

July 16, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

The Talent Machine Company didn't look far for the backbone of its new show, Camp Hawyah - The Musical: The entire artistic team consists of company veterans.

Director Steve Love adapted it from a show he co-wrote with Jake Thornhill that debuted in summer 2003. Love started at age 8 with the Talent Machine, was a regular in productions through his teen years, then went on to a professional stage career in such venues as Toby's Dinner Theatre. He took on this writing and directing assignment out of devotion to the young performers who wanted to revive the Camp show.

While keeping the essential message of self-acceptance and friendship of the 2003 Camp Hawyah show, Love said, he tailored this production to the talents of this particular cast and moved the setting from a regular summer camp to a performing arts camp.

Nicole Roblyer Fickes, a longtime Talent Machine member, serves as musical director. Teens currently performing with TMC who are helping out behind the scenes include Katie Pajerowski, Haley Dean, Sarah Johansen and Ryan Gunning, who are joined by alumnus Amy Sonntag as guest choreographer.

The results have all the hallmarks we've come to expect of Talent Machine productions: energy, bright smiles, dance precision and strong ensemble work. These are the legacy of the late Bobbi Smith, who founded the Talent Machine Company in 1987 to give children opportunities to perform in Annapolis. Her stamp remains in Camp Hawyah with a Singin' in the Rain salute and streams of confetti at the end of the show. Another tribute is the fanny pack worn by central character Harvey and later by everyone in the cast, because anyone who knew Bobbi recognized that a bulging fanny-pack filled with clippings about her "kids" was part of her endearing image.

After Bobbi died in January 2001, her sister, Vicki Smith, and Bobbi's daughter, Lea Capps, decided to carry on the tradition. Capps serves as this show's assistant director and choreographer, and her daughter, Samantha Blonder, soon to be a freshman at South River High School, evokes the iconic Cyd Charisse in her famous dance from Broadway Melody. Sammi played with comedic flair the role of Louise, who happily discovers that handsome Steve (Patrick Gunning) is interested in her.

Nine-year-old Carly Hirsh has an amazing debut. She's a small girl with a big voice who barks orders as camp official Darla.

As leading character Harvey, who is a bit of a misfit, 13-year-old Zachary McKinney proves again to be a strong actor, naturally loose dancer and fine singer. His "Mr. Invisible" ("Mr. Cellophane") routine is a highlight, and he makes Harvey a unique, multifaceted and endearing character whom we have to root for.

Playing dance coach Miles is 13-year-old dance phenomenon Matthew Crook, who can do it all - tap dancing, multiple splits in the air, and show off strong partnering skills that are reminiscent of Gene Kelly. Matthew is also a fine singer, blending easily with the best singers in duet and ensemble.

Archbishop Spalding High School sophomore Nick Pajerowski sings, acts and dances well as Jonathan and looks like a leading man.

Meredith McBroom, 14, in the role of Keri has a commanding stage presence and sophistication beyond her years.

Tabi Thornhill at age 13 gives off the unmistakable vibe of being part of the tradition of her talented older siblings. Her sister Hana progressed from the Talent Machine to star as Millie in Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre's Thoroughly Modern Millie last summer. Tabi is convincing as nonconformist Diana - conveying her character's reluctance to conform to a glamorous image that doesn't suit her, and she knows how to deliver a comic line as well as a sung one.

Other leading players who deserve kudos include Lydia Ramsey as Linda, Ana Hanley as Haley, Nicholas McClare as Devon, Patrick Gunning as Steve, Colin Snyder as Little Willie, Andre Johansen as Lucas and the Phantom Boy, and Shelby Olender as Jenifer.

Outstanding numbers include a moving heartfelt salute by the entire cast in a medley from Les Miserables and a "Broadway Rhythm" that features Matthew Crook, Samantha Blonder, Meredith McBroom and Tabi Thornhill. The numbers that close the first and second act have all the TMC razzle-dazzle we've come to expect.

Every summer, the Talent Machine offers two shows - one for ages 6 to 14 and another for older teens. That one, Evita, runs weekends Aug. 1-10. Camp Hawyah runs weekends through Sunday at St. John's College's Key Auditorium in Annapolis. For reservations, call 410-956-0512 or visit at www.talentmachine.com.

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