The sun might not come out tomorrow but Annie, the latest Footlighters Theatre Society and Adam Robertson Elementary School co-production, opens April 11, rain or shine.
Since 1977, audiences have flocked to productions of the popular musical. Now thanks to a dedicated group of theatre enthusiasts, Creston residents get their turn.
Based on the long running (1924-2010) comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, the stage musical features familiar numbers like Tomorrow and It’s the Hard-Knock Life in a story set in 1933.
Creston audiences are in for something of a rare treat — 11-year-old Katie Foy takes on the role of Annie, who is also 11 in the story. Annie is often played by girls in their teens.
“Katie has been quite the trouper,” said director Brian Lawrence. “She has two solo numbers and takes part in several more, and she’s in nearly every scene, so she’s rehearsed up to five times some weeks, which is a lot of work for an adult, let alone an 11-year-old. But she has really opened herself up to trying new things to bring the character to life — Annie is highly optimistic, but vulnerable at the same time, and Katie seemed to really get that from the start.”
Of Footlighters’ decision to present Annie, Lawrence said, “It’s always had something for everyone.
“The original comic strip was serious, geared to adults and full of political commentary. That premise was maintained until it ended in 2010. And younger readers, of course, could identify with Annie. The same holds true with the musical — it’s vibrant and full of life so kids can enjoy it, but it’s not ‘dumbed down’, so there’s still something there for adults.”
For three months, the cast and crew have been hard at it, with many rehearsing up to four times a week. Lawrence and musical director Simone Wiebe (who also appears on stage as the unlikeable Miss Hannigan) have been impressed with the dedication of the cast, most of which don’t have much background in musical theatre.
“Other than Simone, who played Maria in The Sound of Music, some of our leads have had relatively little experience in musicals — and they’ve all come a long way in the last few months,” Lawrence said. “Colin Hardwick has had supporting roles in our last few musicals, but this time he gets to sing a few very emotional solos. Candace Foy hasn’t performed before, but her confidence and range have just blossomed, and it’s been a pleasure to watch.
“And seeing Jordan Koop and Ashley Lee conspiring with Simone has been too much fun!
“Of course, I can’t overemphasize how impressed I am with the ensemble. It’s a great mix of about a dozen veterans and newcomers who have some complicated music, as well as several costume changes — some of them play six characters. Their collective role is to populate the world of Annie, and they do it remarkably well.”
Children have often been featured in Footlighters’ musicals and the director said their success comes hand-in-hand with understanding their roles.
“The biggest challenge is making sure they have fun while still putting in the effort it takes to make sure they’re ready for the stage,” he said. “It’s never as simple as having them memorize lines and lyrics and choreography. If they don’t understand why their character is doing something, they won’t understand why they, as actors, have to do it. You really have to pay attention to them — you can’t just bluff your way through it.”
Like all enduring theatre, Annie has themes that resonate year after year. The optimism of an 11-year-old orphan who finds herself in the company of a half dozen other parentless children is expressed in Act I, when she sings:
When I’m stuck with a day
I just stick out my chin
Oh, the sun’ll come out
So ya gotta hang on
Come what may
I love ya, tomorrow!
“The story might take place in 1933, but the characters have the same hopes and dreams, and strengths and weaknesses that we have today,” Lawrence said. “And it’s a great reminder that no matter what troubles may befall us, we always have the hope of better times ahead.”
After hundreds of hours of planning and rehearsals, the cast and crew are more than ready to get the show on the road, or stage. Katie Foy, as Annie, is joined by Andrea Daignault, Kienna Dyer, Mackenzie Fowler, Zoe Marini, Sydney Pugh, Shaylee Stuart, Jesika Troughton and Meredith Walker as orphans at the New York City Municipal Orphanage.
Annie is thrilled to be taken from there to spend Christmas with billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Hardwick) and his assistant, Grace Farrell (Candace Foy), who vow to help the orphan find her parents. When Warbucks offers a reward, orphanage mistress Hannigan (Wiebe), her brother Rooster (Koop) and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Lee) hatch a plot to get their hands on the money.
The show is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, and provides a fictional account of how President Franklin Roosevelt (Bob Purdy) was inspired to develop his New Deal, which boosted the U.S. economy.
Joining them is an ensemble (Morgan Benty, Gwen Benty, Keiryn Dyer, Frank Goodsir, Vern Gorham, Louise Lansing, Jasmine Lothien, Jesse Moreton, Laura Nelson, Marybeth Stenhouse, Jason Smith, Victoria Troughton, Jacqui Vezina, Cara Waddle, Gill Wells, Caleb Wells) playing a variety of roles, some as many as six.
Annie will run at 7:30 p.m. April 11-13 at Prince Charles Theatre. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors/students and $5 for children under 12, available at Black Bear Books, Kingfisher Used Books or at the door.