Talent in 'Annie' is not so little

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By Sara Miller

Maybe far away or maybe real nearby — as nearby as Conifer, in fact — the tale of the infamous Depression-era orphan, Annie, is coming to life at StageDoor Theatre.

Middle school students from throughout the mountain area are dressed in rags and gathered to portray the Hard Knock Life of the orphans at the Municipal Girls Orphanage.

Just as the orphans at Ms. Hannigan’s orphanage have pulled together and become a family, so has the junior company at StageDoor.

“StageDoor is a second home to me,” says Wesley Parker, cast member and son of Annie’s director, Belinda Parker.

“People don’t realize how unique it is to have a place like StageDoor right in our own community,” says Belinda Parker. “The kids are getting quality performing opportunities. And it brings kids together from all different schools and communities. These kids are in shows like ‘Annie’ together and continue to support each other at their school productions and activities.”

The cast of “Annie” has 16 students from throughout the mountain area. The actors are from West Jefferson Middle School, Evergreen Middle School and home-schooled students, and one cast member commutes from Fairplay to take part in this award-winning show.

The story takes place in New York City in the early 1930s. Eleven-year old Annie (played by Madison McDaniel) is the surrogate big sister to a pack of orphans who live out their days waiting for adoption or the return of their birth parents at the Municipal Girls Orphanage. Annie decides to take matters into her own hands and escapes to find her birth parents. Before Annie is caught and sent back to mean Ms. Hannigan (played by Kelsy Wilcox), who runs the orphanage, she meets Sandy, a dog played by Parker’s own red Heeler, Rex.

Annie is eventually taken in by Daddy Warbucks (played by Sam Thompson) and his secretary, Grace (played by T. Parker). What follows is a scheme by Ms. Hannigan and her brother Rooster (played by Chris Wilcox) to tap into Warbucks’ fortune by claiming to be Annie’s parents.

The action takes place in a Broadway-esque song and dance setting, complete with recognizable numbers such as “Easy Street” and “Tomorrow.” Parker, who worked in theater professionally for many years, has created a strict training regimen for her middle-school cast to ensure that they can keep up with her high-spirited choreography.

“We don’t treat them like middle-schoolers,” says Parker. “We don’t water things down and say, ‘These are just kids.’ If you treat your cast like professionals, they step up to the occasion every time. This cast has definitely risen to the challenges that ‘Annie’ presents.”

Parker works closely with Nelson Conway, the show’s musical director, as well as a cadre of volunteers.

“We really are a family at StageDoor. Not only do we have three different sets of siblings in the cast, but we have parents and friends who help with costumes, sets, lighting and more,” says Parker.

All of this manpower combines to create a family-friendly production that is a delight for both the cast and the audience. “Annie” is a show for all ages that you won’t want to miss.

Sara Miller, a freelance writer and a resident of Evergreen, lives with her husband, two children and a dog.