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Arts and Culture (Theatre Reviews)

Our best family night at the theater — ever

Anight at the theater — or anywhere, for that matter — is always an adventure when you have children in tow. A few weeks ago, our family of four attended a musical production in Baltimore that left me wondering if I had made a big mistake thinking my sons would enjoy the theater.
    Dad slept through the whole thing, the younger said there was too much singing, and the elder commented all the way through, despite my insistent hushing.
    So when we were invited to see Twin Beach Players’ holiday production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in North Beach, I was hesitant.
    Turns out I had no reason to worry. This was a performance crafted especially for the younger set.
    The boys began way more interested in the snack selection than the production to come. But once we were seated in our second row spots (they thought being so close to the stage was super-cool), their eyes were glued to the action.
    That revolves around a typical small-town Protestant church recreation of the nativity, complete with baby angels, shepherds in bathrobes and Mary and Joseph at the manger. This particular church, however, gets shaken to its core by the arrival of the Herdman children, a group of juvenile delinquents who terrorize and bully everyone they meet.
    The boys noted that it was “very meta. A Christmas play about a Christmas play.”
    They enjoyed watching the kid actors running around the stage during a faux fire in a type of Freleng Door Gag.
     “It was pretty nice,” says Jonah, the 12-year-old. “My favorite part was all the Herdmans — those are the naughty kids — discussing how they are going to change the church’s Christmas pageant. I can’t believe what they wanted the Wise Men to bring to the baby Jesus.”
    The entire cast did a delightful job bringing this hilarious story to life.
    I totally related to the stressed-out mom, Mrs. Bradley, played by Terri McKinstry, who is stretched thin trying to wrangle this production into something just short of organized chaos. Then I remembered … I was Mrs. Bradley! During my high school years, I portrayed this very woman in our own church performance of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I wore my mom’s corduroy jumper in that role. McKinstry was much more believable in the role.
    Elle VanBuskirk, playing the lead role of Beth Bradley, was composed, engaging and quite professional. It wasn’t till the show was almost over (a speedy two hours with one intermission) that we realized that the remarkable actress portraying the manipulative and cunning Imogene Herdman was VanBuskirk’s sister Emma. These two actresses were standout performers; we expect to see them in lead roles in many future shows.
    Son Jordan, eight, had his own favorite. “The girl who plays Gladys (Melly Byram) stole the show,” he says.
    He gave the production a hearty thumbs-up, his favorite ranking system.
    “I give it 4.8 stars,” he said. “I think people of all ages should see it, but it was very funny and especially good for children. And they should call it Revenge at Bethlehem, like the Herdmans suggested.”
    Jordan was also happy that there was very little singing … until the end, when he glared at me as the cast sang Christmas carols. I had promised him it was not a musical.
    “I gave it 4.5 stars,” Jonah said. “It was a little slow in parts but it was pretty good overall. It made me feel like I should look at people a bit differently in the future. We shouldn’t judge kids who act bad or are messy.”
    Thanks, Twin Beach Players, for opening his eyes — and for showing me that there is plenty of room in the theater for kids.


Fri. Dec. 2 & Sat. Dec. 3 7pm; Sun. Dec. 4, 3pm, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $15 w/discounts, rsvp: ­www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Midshipmen take on Shakespeare on youth, war and relations between the sexes

Megan Geigner, the new director of the U.S. Naval Academy’s midshipman theater group The Masqueraders, grabbed the helm with deft touch and a focused vision, staging a delightfully energetic version of Shakespeare’s popular comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. She chose the play because it’s about young people, more specifically young people coming home from war, and about gender relations.
    Instead of the Bard’s Messina, Geigner has cleverly changed the setting to New Mexico just at the end of World War I. Changing Shakespeare’s setting can come off as artsy and presumptuous, but in this case it works well. The very nice southwestern-themed set by Andrew Cohen frames a production that, without changing Shakespeare’s meaning, opens up ample opportunities, most especially for some hilarious constables turned cowpokes.
    The Bard’s story of love, mistaken identities, gender conflict and status moves at rapid pace with crisp characterizations. Hero, the daughter of a nobleman, is in love with Claudio, a well-respected young nobleman. Her cousin Beatrice is in love with the sharp-tongued Benedick, whose witty and insulting repartee can’t disguise his love for her as well. Their back-and-forth banter, and Beatrice’s independence, wit and intensity make her perhaps the first suffragette ever to be included in a Shakespeare play, perfect again for this setting.
    As Hero and Beatrice, Clara Navarro and Julia Kalshoven brilliantly play two tough, strong-willed women. As Beatrice’s beloved Benedick, Jonathan Mendez adds nice comedic touches and confused patter to the befuddled character. Nick Hajek convinces us of Claudio’s willingness to sacrifice love for ego when faced with hearsay about his betrothed’s unfaithfulness. The chemistry between each couple is made nicely palpable by the actors.
    The real laughable foolishness comes with Shakespeare’s comic characters, the constables. Evan Wray is a hilarious Dogberry, the Master Constable whose smug self-satisfaction in most productions is replaced here by a frenetic, animated cowpoke in charge of a sad-sack cast of watchmen. Wray stops moving only long enough for his constantly falling cowboy hat to be replaced by a deputy. His performance as he instructs his charges how to do their jobs— sleeping on duty is fine, and never touch a criminal lest you become defiled by association — is a tumblin’ tumbleweed of  fun.
    The rest of the 17-person cast provides solid support and keeps the comedy flowing and the story unfolding apace, though in a few places more volume and projection would help the audience follow along. Lights by Jake Potter, Tony Wolfe and David Ogden nicely highlight the actors, set and moods, and Jacy’s Barbers’ costumes — especially the beautiful off-white period dresses of the ladies — work very well.
    The Nothing in Shakespeare’s title is the subject of debate: Some believe it refers not to the emptiness ascribed to it in the modern vernacular, but to the word noting, which in Shakespeare’s time was pronounced nothing but was a verb meaning to gossip, to spread rumors and to overhear. If this was Shakespeare’s intent, it makes sense because his play was not about nothing, it was about … well, something. And the USNA Masqueraders’ production is quite something.


Two and a half hours long with one intermission. Final performances Friday Nov. 18 and Saturday Nov. 19 at 8, Sunday Nov. 20 at 2, $13, rsvp: ­https://navyperforms.showare.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=35

Like a horrific accident, it makes you cringe even as you brake to see it better

When outrage-stage author Edward Albee passed away in September, the theater world mourned with a collective gasp, as if his death from old age were just another violent trick designed to snap us out of complacency. The triple Pulitzer prize-winner aimed to make audiences so uncomfortable they would “run out of the theater — but come back to see the play again.” He succeeded most notably with his first full-length production, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The Pulitzer committee chose to grant no prize in 1963 rather than award it to Albee.
    Virginia Woolf, wrapping up its run at Colonial Players this weekend, is a ­surreal stress-fest about a middle-aged couple of psychological sado-masochists at a quaint New England college who entangle a pair of unsuspecting newlyweds in their calamitous sport. The ensuing mental warfare and infidelity, stemming from ancient domestic skirmishes, is booby-trapped with antagonistic gibes, outrageous lies, professional sniping and personal sabotage. Like a horrific accident, it makes you cringe even as you brake to see it better.
    It all starts one Sunday morning at two o’clock when Martha (Debbie Barber-Eaton), the college president’s feisty daughter, informs her weary husband George (Joe Mariano), a history professor, that she has invited the new faculty couple, Nick (Ron Giddings) and Honey (Sarah Wade), over for a post-party nightcap. George balks, but Martha rules, drunkenly and teetering with schizophrenic fervor between love and hate. The feeling is mutual, and George, less a victim than he appears, ultimately proves more acerbic and dangerous than even Martha could imagine, increasingly so as night lifts to morning amid broken and empty liquor bottles.
    As campus royalty, Barber-Eaton is a superb braying siren with a magical hold on her subjects and surprising frailty that she drowns in gin. Mariano delights as the only man who can tolerate her, percolating with ironic menace like sunrise coffee laced with arsenic. Giddings is every inch the uptight opportunist with Ivy League breeding and athletic bearing. Wade is adorably vulnerable as his naïve wifey. So impressive is this foursome that they just may sweep this year’s WATCH awards for acting.
    The only catch in casting, which would not be a big deal save for significant references in the script, is the unfortunate fact that the slim-hipped and therefore implicitly weaker of the two women plays Martha rather than Honey.
    The set is homey and collegiate with costumes richly detailed and period appropriate. Sound and lighting effects are few and unnecessary, as the characters provide all the pyrotechnics. It’s quite remarkable to watch these people drink, an average of six stiff drinks each in the three and a half hours it takes for the action to unwind. Yes, you read that right: for by the time the sun rises, presumably at 5:30, the audience has endured this emotional roller-coaster in real time, and that is most unfortunate.
    The script bills this as a three-hour production, already longer than most, yet Director Craig Allen Mummey chooses to draw out the dialog for dramatic effect at the expense of audience comfort. That trade-off many resented on the weeknight I resented.
    Still, this is theater at its best. Come fresh, without the kids.


Director: Craig Allen Mummey. Stage managers: Bernadette Arvidson and Kevin Brennan. Set designer: Barbara Colburn. Sound: Ben Cornwell. Lights: Alex Brady. Costumes: Carrie Brady.

Playing thru Nov. 12, Th-Sa 8pm, Colonial Players, 108 East St. Annapolis, $20 with discounts, rsvp: 410-268-7373; thecolonialplayers.org.

This comic opera sparkles like sunshine on the sea with all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago

You may have never heard of Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, but you’ve certainly heard of Gilbert and Sullivan. The two had a run of comic opera hits in England whose popularity propelled them across the pond to America, where that popularity was magnified. Because Gilbert’s father was a naval surgeon, life on the seas and the politics of power were often themes of the librettist. That’s certainly the case with H.M.S. Pinafore, the light yet acerbic jab at patrician politics and love that 2nd Star Productions in Bowie has brought to seafaring life.
    Gilbert’s propensity for detail took him to the seaside of Portsmouth to measure and record every detail of a real ship so that his sets would be as realistic when the play opened in 1878. His could have been no more lifelike than 2nd Star’s. Director Jane Wingard has designed a nearly life-size two-level ship so real it makes us feel we’re bobbing along the waves with the crew. The detail is impressive, down to other ships far off in the background.
    The gorgeous set anchors (ha, see what I did th… oh never mind) a production that is brisk as a sea breeze. Josephine (Emily Mudd), the captain’s daughter, is in love with Ralph Rackstraw (James Huchla), a lowly deckhand. But she is expected to marry The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter (Paul Koch), First Lord of the Admiralty. Porter’s lack of actual seafaring experience is revealed in his admonitions that each order be accompanied by a friendly “If you please.” So does his insistence that class hierarchy has no place on a ship, as all are equal. Which of course leads Josephine and Ralph to believe it’s clear sailing ahead (uh-oh, I did it ag… never mind) for their love.
    As Josephine, Emily Mudd is as bright as the North Star. One second she is perfectly and hilariously melodramatic and camp; the next she is regaling us with the beautiful and haunting ‘Sorry the Lot Who Loves Too Well.’ It’s as professional a performance as you’ll see on any stage. Her vocal chemistry with Huchla’s soaring tenor is thrilling, especially when the two square off on ‘Refrain, Audacious Tar,’ as she pretends to play hard to get when he professes his love.
    Huchla in fact leads a male chorus whose harmonies brilliantly permeate the show’s group numbers but are especially in evidence on the a capella sailors’ boast ‘A British Tar.’ 
    As Porter, Koch is quite funny, and his musical explanation of how he rose to his position through sheer ineptitude, ‘When I Was a Lad,’ is a comic delight as well — if only we could hear all of it. In giving his refined fop a constricted manner, Koch, at least on opening night, allows that manner to impede the rat-a-tat of so many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s staccato lyrics, thus forcing the audience to strain to understand what’s being sung. I hope he can crank the volume a bit; his performance is too good to miss. 
    Brian Binney brings a pleasant baritone to the role of Captain Corcoran, and to the captain’s reluctant flirtation with Pam Shilling’s beautifully sung Little Buttercup, the dockside vendor who harbors (there I go …) a deep secret. As the humpbacked, twisted-legged, one-eyed Dick Deadeye, Nicholas Mudd is so in character that the deformed leg maintains its twistedness even during the dances.
    Music director Joe Biddle understands that lyrics are key in a comic opera, so he ensures that his very good orchestra plays a less-is-more supporting role. There’s even a nice glossary of nautical and other terms in the playbill to help us track the language of the day.
    2nd Star’s H.M.S. Pinafore sparkles like sunshine on the sea. It’s a funny and very well-sung comic opera that gives us all the charm that made it a hit more than a century ago.


About two hours, including intermission. Choreographer: Christine Asero. Costumer: Hillary Glass, Lighting/sound designer: Garrett Hyde.

Thru Nov. 19: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, plus 3pm Nov. 19, 2nd Star Productions, Bowie Playhouse, $22 w/discounts, rsvp: www.2ndstarproductions.com.

Twin Beach Players’ talented ensemble delivers a Vaudevillian ­circus of musical theater

“Musical comedies aren’t written, they are rewritten,” declares Stephen Sondheim, who wrote the music and lyrics to A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
    Just so, writers Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart of movie and television fame readapted a collection of Greek-themed works already adapted by the Roman playwright Plautus around the turn of the second century, B.C.
    Something familiar, Sondheim writes in the show’s best-known song, “A Comedy Tonight.” But also Something peculiar, Something for everyone, A comedy tonight.
    Those catchy opening lyrics foreshadow what to expect as Twin Beach Players’ talented ensemble delivers a Vaudevillian circus of musical theater.
    The action takes place within and surrounding the neighboring houses of Erronius, Senex and Lycus. A scheming plot swiftly develops — only to unravel when a slave negotiating for his freedom agrees to play matchmaker to his youthful master smitten with a beautiful but unintelligent courtesan in the nearby Lycus house of ill repute. The antics that follow involve multiple cases of mistaken identity, athletic physical comedy, sight gags and jokes that echo beyond social class.
    The mature themes of this show are not appropriate for children.
    The first time the Players have brought a musical to the stage, it is a formidable undertaking. Actors play their parts through clever songs and dance as well as humorous dialogue. Taped musical accompaniment adequately fills the space at the Players’ Boys & Girls Club location, but at times it overpowers the performers’ singing. A chorus line adds a kick.
    Sid Curl, director and lighting designer, has assembled a cast of familiar and new actors who create unique characters while working together to deliver an enjoyable evening of theater. Reacting well to each other, all possess an effective balance of comic and musical timing. 
    Angela Sunstone (Prologus/Pseudolus) offers insight and intensity, serving in dual roles as storyteller to introduce the show and as slave. Andrew Brinegar, Annie Gorenflo and Tyler Vaughn (The Proteans) exhibit distinct identities while smoothly transitioning through multiple roles as a cohesive group. Rick Thompson (Prologus/Senex) plays lecherous Senex with effective comic physicality. Lindsay Haas (Domina) provides character-appropriate rigidity in her interactions. John Carter (Hero), whose singing is strong and full of emotion, is convincing as the love-smitten son to Senex and Domina. Aidan Davis (Hysterium) adds vocal variations to the role of Senex’s slave.
    Jeanne Louise fluidly commands the stage with a sparkling and energetic persona as Marcus Lucus. Arianne Dalton (Tintinabula), Brittney Collins (Panacea), Mikayla Ann Ford and Aaliyah Roach (The Geminae), Hayley Miller (Vibrata), and Jenny Liese (Gymnasia) shine as courtesans, each displaying sex appeal through character-appropriate, seductive dance movements.
    Katie Evans (Philia) is hysterical as Hero’s love interest, projecting a soprano singing voice that is strong and polished. Phil Cosman (Erronius) plays the nearly blind old man very convincingly, bringing comic talent to every scene he enters. Kevin McAndrews creates a dominating presence as Captain (Miles Gloriosus), with a booming spoken and singing voice that packs a powerful punch.
    Among the production staff helping to mount this ambitious production, Dawn Denison’s costume choices — including togas, flowing robes and military uniforms — add realism to the Roman time period, while chorographer Sherry Dennison gives the actors imaginative work to perform. Wendy Crawford’s set by Robert Snider and Katie Evans’ musical direction help transport us to another time and place.


Thru Oct. 30: FSa 8pm, Su 3pm, Twin Beach Players, Boys and Girls Club, North Beach, $20 w/discounts, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

Comedy, tragedy and undercurrents of love … just like every family

“You have to soar to fill your soul, but your family is what keeps you grounded,” writes first-time director Dave Carter in the playbill for The Cripple of Inishmaan. That’s the point of Colonial Players’ season opener, a well-crafted comic piece that dips into the reality of sadness and cruelty without turning maudlin.
    Martin McDonagh’s play debuted in 1996 in London and off Broadway in 1998. The wisp of a plot focuses on an American coming to Inishmore, near the island of Inishmaan, to make a film about the locals, who are abuzz.
    Bright performances abound in this dark comedy.
    Teenaged orphan Billy Claven (Jack Leitess), known as Cripple Billy, decides that his fate — and his escape from the cruelties of the island — lies in Hollywood, so he shoves off to join the movies. His two aunts (Mary MacLeod and Carol Cohen) worry about their charge, who spends much too much time reading books and staring at cows. Friend Bartley McCormick (Drew Sharpe) tries his best to understand, and Bartley’s egg-flinging, rough-edged sister Helen (Natasha Joyce) tries to be as cruel as possible.
    Babbybobby Bennett (Scott Nichols), the rough-hewn widower facing his own demons, manages the transit off the island. Tying things all together is the theatrical town gossip Johnnypateenmike (Edd Miller), whose thirst for attention is fed by his ability to barter news for goods. Lisa KB Rath as Johnny’s elderly sot of a mother and Danny Brooks as Doctor McSharry also shine in smaller supporting roles.
    The star of this production is not one particular character over another, but rather the vast undercurrents of love that ebb and flow through each and among them all together. Thence rises the heartfelt laughter, saving what could have been too dark a comedy. Cripple Billy’s friends and neighbors are his family, and Cripple Billy takes as good as he gets when it comes to understanding and coping with his disability. The directness with which his condition is treated gives us some very lovely, often laugh-out-loud, comic moments. From the aunts’ hand-wringing angst over Billy’s lack of prospects and Helen’s addiction to cursing and kissing, to Bartley’s denseness and Johnnypateenmike’s hilariously childlike need to be first to tell, this cast makes McDonagh’s characters come to life brightly, hilariously and sincerely.  
    It’s not a perfect show, to be sure. In several scenes the pacing needs to be picked up (opening night was two hours and 40 minutes, a bit long for a two-act non-musical). Several scenes are awkwardly staged so that too much of the audience in the round is blocked from the action. In a few spots, the actors’ volume must be turned up.
    On a more positive note, director Carter and his actors take care to ensure the Irish accents are of the less-is-more variety, consistent enough that we know we’re in the Aran Islands, but not so overdone that we lose what’s being said.
    What’s being said is beautiful, funny and often heart-wrenching. The Cripple of Inishmaan rides an undercurrent of love that draws us in, gives us good, hearty laughs and soars into our hearts.


Playing thru Oct. 1: Th-Sa8pm, Su 2pm, plus Sept. 18 7:30pm, Colonial Players Theatre, East St., Annapolis; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373.

Stage manager: Ernie Morton. Costume designer: Christina McAlpine. Set designer: Terry Averill. Lighting designer: Shirley Panek. Sound designer: Michelle Bruno. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs.

Mel Brooks’ mocking masterpiece

To end its 50th season, Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has challenged itself with one of the biggest and most popular musicals ever to hit Broadway: Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Winner of a record 12 Tony Awards in 2001 and running for more than 2,500 performances, the show sought to hilariously offend everyone — Jews, producers, actors, homosexuals, Nazis … the list goes on. Brooks’ blockbuster set the stage for the kind of hard-to-get ticket that is being matched only by the current hit, Hamilton.
    It’s a big musical, with choreography, music and acting that have to be over the top to work; have you ever seen subtlety in any Mel Brooks movie? Annapolis Summer Garden Theater smartly turned the reins over to local directing veteran Jerry Vess, who strikes a nice balance between the bigness of Broadway and the limits of community theater. A tight, seven-piece band led by Ken Kimble sounds bigger, the original choreography is nicely adapted by Emily Frank, and Anita O’Connor’s music direction helps a talented cast confidently deliver on such songs as It’s Bad Luck to Say Good Luck on Opening Night.
    Costumer Jocelyn Odell brings Brooks’ wacky German vision — think pretzel heads and beer-stein jewelry — brilliantly to the stage. The costumes emulate those that helped make the original so memorable.
    The plot is simple: Down and out Broadway producer Max Bialystock (B. Thomas Rinaldi) ropes in straitlaced and timid accountant Leo Bloom (Nathan Bowen) to stage a purposely horrible musical, Springtime for Hitler, and abscond to Rio with the money they raised when it closes after one night. The wrinkle, of course, is that it becomes a smash hit.
    Rinaldi hits all the right notes as Max, and his body type, voice and attitude are perfect for the role — though opening weekend tentativeness zapped some of the zing from Brooks’ zingers. Late in the second act, when he reviews all that’s happened while sitting in a jail cell, he makes Betrayed masterful: funny, even a touch emotional. 
    Rinaldi and Bowen work well together, evoking a Laurel and Hardy dynamic. Bowen’s baritone lends itself well to I Want to Be a Producer. As actor, he allows Leo’s uptightness to be comical but not unbounded — for that would mean competing with so many unbound characters that Brooks has in store for us. Characters including —
    • Franz Leibkind, the Springtime for Hitler playwright who, on his rooftop with his Nazi pigeons, reminisces about his past (In Old Bavaria), forces Max and Leo to sing along to Adolf’s favorite song (Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop) and has them swear to never dishonor Adolf Elizabeth Hitler. Josh Mooney, complete with liederhosen and Nazi helmet, is hilarious as Franz, his bright smile and energy surpassed only by his sidesplitting seriousness when tending to the fuhrer’s honor.
    • Roger DeBris, the flamboyant “worst director in New York,” whom Max attempts to sign to ensure the show flops, and his “common-law assistant” Carmen Ghia. Pete Thompson as Roger and Kevin James Logan as Carmen are brilliant together and apart, and bring one of the most popular numbers of the show, Keep it Gay, to hilarious life. Logan’s flaccid fluidity is so beautifully comical that the audience has no choice but to laugh. Playing Hitler during the show-within-a-show, Thompson’s Roger romps mischievously and riotously as he sings Heil myself!
    • Ulla Inga Hansen etc. etc. (a long long name, pure Brooks), the tall, beautiful Swedish blonde who auditions for Max’s next show and becomes his “Secretary-slash-receptionist.”
    Max lusts, Leo longs and Ulla titillates in a complete 180 from Max’s older women benefactors. As the always smiling statuesque Ulla, Erica Miller gives us a syllable-chewing faux Swedish accent that works to perfection in When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It, which gives her body, Max’s libido and Leo’s heart quite the workout.
    • The Usherettes, Ashley Gladden and Amanda Cimaglia, musically narrate, and a fine ensemble provides wonderful voices, dancing and characters, none more uproariously than almost the entire cast in Along Came Bialy, better known in theater circles as the little old lady walker song.
    While there was that tentativeness on the second night, accompanied by some screechy microphone levels, little details like that always work out as a run progresses. Here’s the important thing:
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has gone all out for its 50th birthday. With Jerry Vess’ perfectly paced adaptation and a cast that’s having a blast, the company fits Mel Brooks’ comic genius and this big Broadway show onto a local stage. It’s the audience that gets to celebrate.
    Act quickly … several dates are already sold out.


About two hours 50 minutes with one intermission.

Thru Sept. 4: Th-Su 8pm, $22, rsvp: ­www.summergarden.com.

Find out as six young playwrights speak out in Twin Beach Players’ 11th Annual Playwright Festival

Twin Beach Players has unusual success in getting kids to say what’s on their minds. Over 11 years, youngsters from elementary to high school have taken to the Kids Playwright Festival stage, writing plays that describe the world as they know it.
    The Player and the Festival are “safe spaces for kids of all backgrounds to express themselves,” says company president Sid Curl. “Kids feel they can be themselves and have fun doing it.”
    At the same time, the annual competition and festival introduce young people to the camaraderie and teamwork needed to get live theater productions to work.
    From Kids Playwright Festival, alums have even made it big, with internationally published plays, small roles on popular shows like House of Cards and original plays on the Charm City scene.
    Six-dozen aspiring thespians are creating this year’s festival, as authors, actors and stage hands. Two dozen submitted plays. Half a dozen — all girls — earned the honor of seeing their words come to life in the words and gestures of actors in front of families and friends. That talented cadre also earns cash prizes of $100.
    After three years of acting, recent homeschooled high school grad Taylor Baker tried her hand at playwriting this year. Objection! won, she says, because it not only “breaks the fourth wall — drawing the audience in — but also is funny.”
    Sisterly competition brought younger sister Sidney Baker to this year’s stage with her Shoes, Pizzas and Spirits. “It’s a twist on A Christmas Carol,” she says, created to please theatergoers who, like herself, tire of the same old play every December.
    Rising Northern High School ninth grader Leah Hartley is a two-time winner. Last year she wrote about art and friendship. This year’s Science Mistakes was a challenging new subject for her. And, she thought, for the competition because, she says, “nobody writes about science.”
    Wrong.
    Cousin Elizabeth Kieckhefer, a home-schooled sixth grader, tracked her with Amber’s Science Lesson.
    Science would have been a natural subject for aspiring meteorologist Lucie Boyd, a seventh grader at Northern Middle School, and second-time Festival winner. A couple of years back, her play about meteorologist Doug Hill won a countywide school competition. Instead, for this year’s festival she wrote a sequel to her last year’s winner. “I love reading mysteries and learning about history in school,” she says. The Mystery of the Hum of Nachitti combines both ­interests.
    Sadie Storm, a seventh grader at Plum Point Middle School, is the most experienced Twin Beach Player, with the company since second grade. As an actress, Sadie poured her heart into her roles. One of her proudest moments was her director’s praise for her work in a very small part. “Passionate about social change,” her debut as a playwright is Changes, a play about bullying that, she hopes, is “better than the boring ones she sees at school.”


Playing thru August 14. FSa 7pm, Su 3pm, North Beach Boys and Girls Club, 9021 Dayton Ave., $7, rsvp: www.twinbeachplayers.com.

These talented kids will get your laughs

Annie Get Your Gun is a classic musical based on real people in the days of America’s western expansion. Buffalo Bill’s traveling performance entertained people from all walks of life with the best shot around, Frank Butler. That is, the best shot around other than Annie Oakley.
    The story of the girl who could shoot better is brought to life by Talent Machine, a local theater company that has been getting kids on stage since 1987.
    Talent Machine’s president Lea Capps believes in her young troupe, so there’s no “dumbing down” anything — as youth theater companies may do, performing junior versions of famous plays and musicals.
    Capps’ dedication to performing the authentic plays and musicals pushes her pupils further, allowing their talent to grow. Talent Machine’s Annie Get Your Gun delivers belly-busting laughter, foot-tapping music and talented actors to boot.
    “There’s no business like show business,” proclaims the fame-hungry Wild West ensemble. The message resonates with the budding thespians, children from ages seven to 15.
    “It’s my favorite song in the musical,” says eighth-grader Thomas Crabtree, who plays Mr. Adams.
    Talent Machine cultivates kids’ interest in theater into real talent with the help of dedicated volunteers who for this show created costumes and sets that seemed to step right out of the sharpshooting days of Annie Oakley.
    Michelle Nellum, who trained the spotlight on the young stars, had never planned to get involved. When she and her family moved locally a decade ago, a cousin invited her to one of Talent Machine’s extremely popular Easter breakfasts hosted by Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs. When daughter Maya, then around three, saw what kids not much older than her were doing, she wanted to join them. Maya wouldn’t be satisfied with dancing in the aisle. Now Maya and her mother encourage other friends to join.
    “As it’s 100 percent volunteer, Talent Machine keeps costs low for everyone,” Nellum says.
    On stage, actors and actresses lose themselves in their characters. From Annie’s rustic accent to the mesmerizingly perfect tap dancing and the children’s ability to push through sound equipment malfunctions, Talent Machine knows how to prepare its actors for their big night. Off stage, the actors were more than happy to meet new fans.
    Nine-year-old Lucy Dennis, answered my questions about the musical as though she was regularly hounded by the paparazzo. Lucy, who has been in seven Talent Machine productions, was also inspired to join after watching a breakfast show. Much as she loves acting and dancing, she aspires to be a vet.
    If you have a free night this weekend and want to change up the usual Netflix routine, see Annie Get Your Gun before Talent Machine moves onto its second summer performance.
    Remember, there’s no business like show business!


Thru July 17: ThFSa 7:30pm, Su 2pm, Key Auditorium, St. John’s College, Annapolis, $15, rsvp: ­www.talentmachine.com.
 

Stellar, but still shocking after all these years

When Jonathan Larson’s rock opera Rent, loosely based on Puccini’s La Boheme, debuted 20 years ago to a Pulitzer and Tony for Best Musical, it felt so edgy, so raunchy, so shocking with its cast of young radicals: the addicts, the drag queen, the bisexual, the stripper. Despite evolving societal norms and newer crises eclipsing the AIDS epidemic, this blockbuster still has power. With a pulsing beat and haunting earworms, it follows an unforgettable cast of characters for one year as they wrestle with the seven deadly sins and private turmoil only to realize that happiness lies only in living each moment as if it were their last.
    Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has assembled a stellar cast of singer/dancers for this production, starting with Tim German as Mark, the videographer who records it all and learns the price of success when his creative genius meets corporate TV greed. At issue is his coverage of a housing firestorm surrounding former roommate Benny (Matthew Walter), who has turned ruthless landlord since marrying into money. When Benny padlocks the building and a tent city sprouts up, the cops and the media are there. So is protest artist Maureen (Loghan Bazan), Mark’s attention-whore ex who left him for an attorney named Joanne (Andrea Greenwald).
    When Mark’s old friend Tom Collins (Christian Gonzalez), a mathematical genius, rolls back into town, he is rolled by gangstas on the street and rescued by a cross-dressing Angel (Nicholas Carter), who becomes the love of his life (Today 4 U). As both men are HIV positive, their support group plays a large role as the story progresses. Mark’s other roommate, guitarist Roger (David Colton), is similarly afflicted and spends the whole show composing his magnum opus (One Song Glory and Your Eyes) before the virus that killed his girlfriend claims him. Roger is a content loner until he meets Mimi (Athena Blackwood), an exotic dancer (Out Tonight) and Benny’s sometime girlfriend. It’s complicated, but Roger and Mimi’s affair is the catalyst for most of the show’s greatest hits, including Light My Candle, I Should Tell You, Another Day and Without You.
    Momentum is slow to build, especially regarding a secondary plotline that has Angel killing Benny’s dog by drumming. But once things get rocking, they don’t stop.
    Greenwald is dynamite with German in Tango Maureen and with Bazan in Take Me or Leave Me. Bazan’s bizarre protest piece, Over the Moon, way eclipses the film version. German and Colton’s Living in America is raw and driving, while Gonzalez and Carter slow the pace in the dreamy Santa Fe and I’ll Cover You. The ensemble impresses with powerhouse solos by Kylie Airin Sjolie and Gabe Taylor (Seasons of Love), Kyle Gonzalez (Will I), Wesley Williams (No Day but Today). Amy Matousek, Katie McCarren, Elizabeth Pittman, Lilibeth Rabang and Brian Shatt provide solid backup.
    Details are fun. Remember the Lycra and shredded denim invasion? Pay phones and bricklike cell-phones? Technological innovations like flashlights serving as spots lend poverty-chic, and the onstage band feels as natural as your noisy neighbors. Best of all, live footage of Mark’s films projected onstage provide intimacy and immediacy.
    The take-away is this: Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.
    If you fly the rainbow flag and like your rock intellectual and irreverent, don’t miss Rent. Runs two hours and forty minutes with intermission. Rated R for adult themes and language.


Director: Andy Scott. Music director: Paige Austin Rammelkamp. Choreographer: Casey Lynne Garner. Stage manager: Jen Schiller. Set: James Raymond and Jeff Huntington. Costumes: Kristina Marie Martin. Lights: Matt Tillett. Sound: Rob Glass. Video: Babs Weiss. Musicians: Rammelkamp, Ken Kimble, Kevin Hawk, Jeff Eckert and Declan Hughes.
Playing thru July 23, Th-Su plus Weds. July 13 & 20, 8:30pm, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $22 rsvp: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.