‘Annie, Jr.’: Youngsters tackle old classic

There are a lot of famous entertainers who only need one name to stand out: Madonna, Prince, Elvis, Cher and Rihanna come to mind. In musical theater there’s “Annie.”

The redheaded orphan has charmed kids and adults for 40 years and it’s about to get a dose of youthful energy and enthusiasm when the Springfield Art Council’s Youth Arts Ambassadors bring the musical production of “Annie, Jr.” to the Summer Arts Festival.

The sun will come out at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 15, at Turner Pavilion in Veteran’s Park. Admission is free.

Despite a shorter rehearsal period than usual, director Krissy Hartman and choreographer Paul Smith found it’s working to their advantage.

“It’s been much more condensed, but that’s added to the momentum,” said Smith. “I’ve appreciated the kids are adding to their characters, even in the ensemble. It helps the whole thing pop.”

Evie Oehlers is taking on her first lead with the title role. She’s worked her way up from smaller parts such as the caterpillar in “Alice in Wonderland, Jr.”

The Snowhill Elementary sixth-grader said it’s been exciting and nerve-wracking at once, with so many lines to learn, but with the support of her castmates will be ready for the big night.

This is just the second play overall production for fellow lead Braden Redick, who plays Daddy Warbucks. His deep voice makes him a natural for older characters, having also played King Triton in “The Little Mermaid.”

Considering most of the 45-member cast is younger than he is, it’s easier to identify with the older figures for the 16-year-old Miami East High student. He was encouraged to try out for this by Hartman, who previously directed him.

Redick confessed he’s more nervous about potential weather problems than the huge audience, which he’s excited for.

Vanessa Hagenbuch will never be mistaken for a mean girl off stage, but relishes playing tough orphan Pepper on it.

“When you’re nice, you don’t get to play much with your character,” the Northridge Elementary student said. “I get to be mean and put more attitude in, and that’s been fun.”

Taylor Compston is a stage veteran with 21 productions to her credit. This is the Simon Kenton Elementary student’s first big role with Molly, the youngest orphan.

She’ll return to the local stage again in a couple of weeks in the Summer Arts production of “Spamalot.”

Contact this contributing writer at bturner004@woh.rr.com.

How to go

What: “Annie, Jr.”

Where: Turner Pavilion, Veteran’s Park, Springfield

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 15

Admission: Free

More info: 937-324-2712 or www.SpringfieldArtsCouncil.org

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