A Decibel Disparate: Exposing the community to local artists: musicians, writers, designers, performers, thinkers, who are doing things outside of the “Annapolitan box.” You will find no sailboats or Blue Angels here. This is a place for raw and unique talent. Let us look at our city with a “view askew.” Diversity is life.
[Editor's Note: Out of all the subjects Ms. Leith has covered writing D.D., Hannah Thornhill might be the one she is most familiar with as the two grew up together as cousins.]
By Brianne Leith
Photos by David Adkins
“Well…theatre is becoming a dying art, but it’s such a different art.”
Hannah Thornhill has just finished her photo shoot outside and lounges on her couch. She has a way about her that is so charming and approachable, even though her presence is almost intimidating. Hannah plays with the back of her newly shorn hair throughout the interview. It was cut short for her current show. She smiles with her whole face at me.
“To be successful in Musical Theatre you kind of have to be a package deal – actor, singer, dancer. I think I am the best at acting, then singing, then dancing.”
Hannah has been dancing since she was three years old and spent a decade performing with The Talent Machine Company. Most of Hannah’s life has been musicals and perfecting her craft. “Bobbi Smith and her sister Vicki Smith, who founded Talent Machine started classes at Stageworkz for all types of performing arts… and that’s what you did when you weren’t in shows. That’s what you did.” All of the Thornhills are theatre people. Hannah, being in the middle, was overcome by the musical life as well.
For about twenty years, Hannah Thornhill has been performing.
“I like to escape my life for a couple of hours and take someone else’s life.”
On stage she can be whoever she wants to be. After a myriad of shows, she has been almost every type of woman: leading, supporting, damsel, heroine, vixen, antagonist, vaudeville killer. The roles Hannah specifically mentioned were Adelaide in Guys and Dolls at Anne Arundel Community College, Sharpay in Highschool Musical at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, Lola in Damn Yankees at Second Star Productions, and Milly in Thoroughly Modern Milly at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. Since I have been following her career, acclaim has paved her path from play to play. Though confidence in her talent is not lacking in Hannah, she is humble in her achievements in conversation.
“Being on stage just felt comfortable. I did it, not because I thought I was good, but because it felt right. It just took my mind off of other things.”
Besides being on stage, she also has worked behind the scenes on a few productions.
A slight murmur fills the living room we sat in. “Pi is up, I’m gonna go get her.” Hannah leaves the room to get her 1 year old daughter, Piper. Piper, though suspicious and scowling at our intrusion, is a born actress like her mother and starts posing for the camera. Hannah’s whole face lights up. It is obvious how proud she is of her daughter. Her hazel eyes sparkle with love as she rests her chin on her hand.
“I just like doing theatre… and now I have a daughter that I love. One percent make it onto Broadway… and eight shows a week is too much for a mother. And Maryland is a great place to do community theatre. There are numerous theatres around.”
Right now Hannah is doing four shows a week at SGT in downtown Annapolis as Velma Kelly in Chicago.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more perfect for my return to the stage after having a baby. It’s raw and edgy and people can connect to it… and who doesn’t want to be in such a scandalous show?… and Bob Fosse!? Bob Fosse is good for my kind of dancing…it’s such a ‘show off’ show.”
And “show off” show it is.
The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre has started its season with a bang… with many bangs. Vaudeville murderesses, sleazy lawyers, crooked wardens, and downtrodden husbands all coexisting on one stage with swanky Fosse dancing, black lingerie and belted-out songs. The dregs of society have been written into a play and put onto stage in Annapolis. Fun… dirty fun.
“Who says murder is not an Art?” – Fred Ebb
I could not take my eyes off of Hannah when she was on stage. Every moment she was in character, never breaking or doing anything that Velma Kelly would not do. No one can look away from Velma, and no one can look away from Hannah.
“I busted my ass for this show. I do it full out every time… getting into the mindset of a killer and such a desperate woman is exhausting. She has walls after walls that she can’t break down, but she still vamps it up. I tap into similarities I have with Velma.” Hannah’s voice had dropped to a serious level. She intently maintained eye contact through her words. “I like to go out and look great, but I don’t want to be open with people.”
“This show is exhausting emotionally as well as physically. Because of the theatre being outdoors I get pretty sweaty, but luckily I’m not wearing much.” Laughter peals out of her mouth and her eyes turn into thin arches.
“This is the best show I have ever been a part of. It means a lot to me.”
Probably one of the best shows I have seen at SGT. The dancing is phenomenal: sexy, fun, and brilliantly executed. The singing is raw and beautiful. Every actor is on point. When everything is going right in a play, you look behind the scenes. Taavon Gamble, the director and choreographer has to be applauded for his masterful recreation of this modern classic show. The minimalism used to highlight the abilities and talent of the actors and the exquisite play in general was a wonderful style choice. “Taavon said, ‘If people do Chicago correctly there is no way that people won’t connect with it.’”
I teared up. I laughed. I left the theatre singing and dancing. Taavon and the whole cast did the show correctly.
Hannah returned to the couch she had originally been on as we were finishing the interview. She looked at me.
“Sorry…I don’t talk much about theatre. It’s cool when you’re in a good show…besides that I don’t really talk about theatre. Other times you do How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying…” Hannah’s eyes get comically large and she throws her head back to laugh – “and you tell your friends they don’t have to come see it.” Hannah looks me directly in the eye.
“I want everyone to see me in Chicago, so people can see why I still love theatre.”
Murder is an art.
Everything that Hannah Thornhill does is an art.
Come see Chicago so you can say “I Know a Girl”…who is Art.
Chicago performances now until June 19th
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