Tmc's 'Wiz' Sparkles With Singing, Dancing

Theater Review

Musical Produced By Talent Machine Features Teens On The Road To The Land Of Oz

July 19, 2009|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Baltimore Sun

The Talent Machine Company's July show, The Wiz, a retelling of L. Frank Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, is an excellent vehicle for the skills of the energetic young performers who make up the musical's cast.

TMC is a family phenomenon rooted in the traditions of founder Bobbi Smith, who formed the company in 1987 to create a supportive environment for children as young as 5 to participate in polished musical theater performances. After Smith's death in January 2001, her sister, Vicki Smith, and her daughter, Lea Capps, continued the tradition.

In this production of The Wiz, the family ties extend beyond executive director Lea Capps. TMC's 18-year-old director and choreographer David Grindrod is an alumnus whose first show was as an 8-year-old in its 1999 production of The Wiz. Grindrod also had one of his plays produced this year.

Another family represented is the Thornhills. The 1999 Wiz featured 11-year-old Hannah in several roles, along with her 17-year-old brother Jake as the Scarecrow. In the latest production, the youngest Thornhill, 14-year-old Tabi, takes on the role of Dorothy.

At a recent studio rehearsal, Tabi sang a powerful "Be a Lion," elevating the performance to a polished level. She gives every indication that she will excel at dissolving witches and lending courage and comfort with a Motown beat to the Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion.

Recent media coverage of the death of Michael Jackson, who played Scarecrow in the movie version of The Wiz, placed an extra burden on the cast at a recent rehearsal.

Annapolis resident Reed Webber, 12, said, "I feel really good to be playing the Scarecrow, like I'm the Michael Jackson guy carrying on."

Crofton resident Jack McMullen, 13, impressed as the Lion. He's a strong singer and convincing comedic actor with the right dance moves, and seems destined for a strong TMC debut.

Already convincing as the Wiz, Crownsville's Zach McKinney, 14, said, "It's so much fun having attitude."

TMC executive director Capps said, "All of these boys play on school teams and are athletic. I discovered some of them in my work at Crofton, where they were eighth graders." Often one boy recruits another from school, and sometimes they involve cousins or siblings, reinforcing TMC's strong family ties.

Holding her own with the boys at rehearsal was 14-year-old Samantha Curbelo of Bowie who was sharp, feisty and completely prepared.

"Believe in yourself" sums up the basic message of The Wiz, which is echoed in TMC's earliest message that "every child is a star."

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was made into a movie in 1939 and in 1975 inspired the Motown version with the same characters - Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion.

The Wiz boasts Charlie Smalls' score, giving a rock and soul beat to every infectious tune along with updated dialogue. It ran for four years on Broadway and spawned multiple touring shows that preceded the 1978 movie version with Diana Ross as Dorothy.

Despite the formidable shadow cast by the movie, this TMC production does not suffer in comparison to the now-30-year-old work and instead has gained a bright new identity of its own.

If you go

"The Wiz" will be performed at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. today; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m. July 26. All performances are at Key Auditorium at St. John's College in Annapolis. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children 7 and younger and are available online at talentmachine.com or at the door.

Next month, The Talent Machine will present "Seussical the Musical." Performances are 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15; 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Aug. 9; and 2 p.m. Aug. 16. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for children 7 and younger, with a $2 discount available for tickets purchased by Monday.

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