published Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

North Georgia teen has eyes on Broadway

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    Tabitha Fowler, 12, performs skits with a group called the Ragamuffins during a performance at Barking Legs Theater.
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TABITHA FOWLER

School: Eighth-grader at Rossville Middle School.

Siblings: Sister, Tiffany, 19.

Her favorite role: Pepper in "Annie."

Her dream role: Elphaba in "Wicked."

CLAIM TO FAME

In the last four years, Tabitha Fowler, 12, has been in a dozen plays and musicals. She also has acted as a paid cast member of the Vaudeville Cafe murder-mystery dinner theater.

Tabitha Fowler's first stage was the sanctuary of a small church in Rossville, Ga., but with the energy she brought to the performance, it might as well have been the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway.

Decked out in a red hat, red boa and glitzy costume jewelry, then-3-year-old Tabitha squeezed every ounce of celebrity out of her performance of the song "Santa Baby." "She took off with it and walked through the crowd and walked across the stage," said her mother, Becky Fowler. "Everyone said she was a ham, and she's been a ham ever since."

After five years appearing in other church productions, including a turn as the baby Jesus in a Nativity play, Tabitha caught the eye of Ridgeland High School choral and drama director Dr. Anthony Goss.

As part of a countywide casting call for participants in a production of the musical "Willy Wonka," Goss called Tabitha back for the role of Matilda, a schoolmate of lead character Charlie. Having just seen the film, however, she opted instead to wear the yellow overalls and crazy up do of an oompa loompa.

A self-described drama queen with eyes on eventually becoming a Broadway star, Tabitha said she wanted to be one of Wonka's diminutive assistants because of the requirement to sing, dance and wear garish costumes.

By the time she had finished seven sold-out performances in the high school's 300-seat theater, she said, she was hooked.

"I don't belong many places, and people tell me that all the time, but being onstage is the one place I belong," she said. "I just love the thrill of being onstage and getting to perform in front of an audience.

"It makes me feel happy. You're putting a smile on someone's face, and that can be the hardest thing to do."

Now 12, Tabitha has been in about a dozen shows with numerous local production companies, including Back Alley Productions' "Three Musketeers," Closed Door Entertainment's "Treasure Island" and Kim Parrish Productions' "Aesop's Fables."

On Sunday, she ended her most recent role in Back Alley Productions' four-show run of "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure" at Barking Legs Theater. Tabitha portrayed one of a troupe of ragamuffins charged with interacting with and engaging the audience before the production as well as aiding the notorious detective during the show.

With just hours to go until the curtain rose on opening night, Tabitha said she wasn't nervous, having served a similar function last year during a six-month stint as one of the youngest cast members in the Vaudeville Cafe murder mystery dinner theater.

"Normally, I feel nervous, but when the curtain opens, you know you've got it down," she said. "There are still a few nerves in opening night, but it's still a lot of fun."

After her debut in "Willy Wonka," Tabitha continued to work with Dr. Goss on other musicals, including "Annie," "Aladdin" and "Cinderella."

The director said he was initially drawn to Tabitha by her innate vocal talents. Over time, however, he also has come to appreciate the exuberance with which she approached her roles.

"She has that confidence level that many little kids don't who are intimidated by performing," Goss said. "She just goes for it and just enjoys it.

"Her preparation impresses me. She comes in and knows everyone's lines. She's the kind of kid who you wish you could clone."

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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