This year’s production of the hit Broadway musical “Annie” has been brought to the stage of the Memorial Theater. Once again, I’m astounded by the talent and vocal capabilities each member of the cast displays. Having viewed the last three productions, each year the cast goes above and beyond the preceding years, bringing back previous cast members and taking on new talent.
But with every play, I’ve always wondered what goes on behind the scenes as the cast prepares for those shining moments on stage. Curious as to the post-performance atmosphere, although this was only a last rehearsal, I ventured to the dressing rooms to see what it was like.
“No, I’m not nervous at all,” said Jennifer Casner, who is playing the part of Mrs. Greer. “I’ve been working with professional production since I was 14 years old, though I’ve been in plays much longer than that. I have never been in a production of Annie before.”
Mitchell Gale, who is playing many roles in this year’s production, was more tired than anything else.
“I’ve been working at a part-time job and driving back and forth from Mount Gilead,” said Gale, who has performed in many productions in high school, and some in college.
I was a little surprised to see that most of the cast wasn’t nervous nor did it have the jitters. Most of the actors and actresses were joyous and relaxed as they waited for the play to begin.
While I observed the cast enjoy the last moments before entering the spotlight, I met with Jewel Porter of Mount Vernon, who is playing the part of Mrs. Pugh. This was Porter’s first production, and she was a little nervous about the play.
“My daughter got me into it,” she said. “Megan has been a part of many productions before; she and my husband encouraged me to give it a try.”
Carrie Swingle is no new face to the Bruce Jacklin and Company stage and has played in “Beauty and the Beast” as the Cherry Pie and in “The Wizard of Oz” as the Mayor of Munchklinland, although she is best recognized for her part in “Peter Pan” as Liza the maid.
“I’m thoroughly thrilled at how quickly things have come together from start to finish,” she said. “From the auditions, and everyone dressed in street clothes, to the finish when everyone’s in costume, makeup and hair, and is ready to take the stage, it’s amazing.”
This year, Swingle wasn’t certain she would participate in “Annie” and at the last minute decided to give it a try.
“This has been great; everyone here is like a family,” she said.
“I’m excited about the production, the nervousness hasn’t hit me yet,” said Jackie Hatch-Miller, who is playing the part of the villainess Lily. “I’ve never played this type of character, but its been a blast working with the director.”
Maria Marzarotto De Souza has done “Annie” three times, usually as one of the orphans, but this time she plays one of the flirty French maids.
“It’s been fun,” she said.
I also spoke with some of the women in the Hooverville chorus. Courtney Schmitt, Laura Tirronen, Cassidy Noonen and Erica Browning are all very excited about the production.
“I’m busting through the seams,” said Tirronen. For her, this is a “comeback” after a 32-year absence from the stage. “I just moved to Mount Vernon and I had a lot of time on my hands when my kids left for college — call it the empty-nest syndrome. But I love it. I’m glad I made the choice to get back in it; everyone here treats each other like family.”
“It’s wonderful — every year I’ve been in one of the productions, I see the same faces and new ones. It’s like a big family,” said Browning.
One actor who is known for his witty repartee and can be seen in many of the Bruce Jacklin and Company productions is really excited to be a part of this year’s play. Matt Starr, however, did find a little challenge in playing the role as Oliver Warbucks.
“It’s been a process,” said Starr. “I usually play the thug villain or the goof, but not the romantic roles. I’ve been developing and working on this character for many months.”
Watching Starr in action, if you’ve seen him in other productions, one would be astonished to see him as the wealthy “Daddy Warbucks.” And to learn that Starr had no formal training in vocals, amazes me. His heartfelt performance of “You Won’t Be an Orphan for Long” blew me away. He credits his vocal talent to hard work and learning from Diane Dingler, vocal director, as well as working alongside the Heritage Singers.
As the cast got ready for the stage, I quickly sought out Brianna Coventry-Smith, who is playing the lovable, adorable Annie. She had a few moments to spare before she hit the spotlight, and I asked her what she thought of the production so far.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she answered. “I’m having a blast and the cast has been a lot of fun to work with.”
But she did find a few challenges along the way.
“It’s been hard to keep from laughing when it’s time to be so serious,” she said.
I’ve seen two versions of the movie “Annie” but never the play, sofor me this has been a great experience. I’ve always loved plays, and the music that draws you in and leaves you wanting to hear more. Bruce Jacklin and Company has worked its magic in making this year a success. And with an incredible cast, a friendly and family atmosphere, the characters come to life right before your eyes.
For your chance to see this year’s “Annie,” the show will premiere tonight at 7. Performances will also be Friday, and July 8 through July 11, at the Memorial Theater.