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‘Annie’ coming to West Branch stage

January 27, 2013
Salem News

There is nothing like the story of everyone's favorite little girl ....Little Orphan Annie.

The family-oriented musical comes to the stage at West Branch High School Auditorium Jan. 31 and Feb. 2-3. You are sure to be charmed and enchanted by the talented West Branch cast and their interpretation of this classic musical.

It would seem unlikely that Broadway could have produced a musical phenomenon in the ultra-trendy high noon of disco that was 1977. Even more incredulously, one that boasted a libretto drawn from the depression-era funny papers. But when work on Annie commenced a nation was searching for its soul. Vietnam and Watergate were raw to memory. But the Bicentennial seemed to rally the slumbering, battered spirit and the election of a smiling small-town man to the world's highest office seemed to herald a new hopeful era. The mood was right for Annie. Broadway veteran Martin Charnin (lyricist) conceived the idea of turning Harold Gray's comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" into a musical, tapping fellow veterans Thomas Meehan (playwright) and Charles Strouse (composer, best known for Bye Bye Birdie) for assistance.

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After some initial hesitation, they were won over by Charnin's approach, paring the comic strip down to its essential characters and forging an Oliver-like plot. The 1976 off-Broadway tryout caught the eye of Mike Nichols, who offered to mount the production for Broadway. When done, it hit like a rocket, along with A Chorus Line delivering a one-two punch to the notion that the Broadway musical was a dinosaur.

Annie became the third longest-running musical of the 1970s. The play opens circa 1933 in New York City's Municipal Orphanage, presided over by the vile Miss Agatha Hannigan, a female counterpart to Dicken's Bumble.

Annie, one of the residents, longs for parental intervention to deliver her from this misery. An attempt to escape, during which she meets her life companion-pet, mutt Sandy, is aborted and Annie is returned to face the wrath of Miss Hannigan. Miraculously, this coincides with the arrival of billionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks' secretary who has come to take Annie to Warbucks' mansion for Christmas as a random philanthropic act.

Fact Box

- SHOW DATES, TIMES:?Thursday Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 2, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and, Sunday, Feb. 3, 3 p.m.

- TICKETS:?For all the shows will be available at the high school during the school day or by calling the box office at 330-938-4442. Leave a message and one of the parents in charge of box office sales will return all calls. All seats for the four performances are reserved and priced at $10 for adults and $8 for students. All patrons are encouraged to come to the school and pick out their own seats as soon as possible. Because this show is very popular with young children and families so it will probably be sold out soon.

Despite his initial surprise at her gender, the rich man soon warms to Annie for her feistiness and she in turn teaches the workaholic tycoon to enjoy life more. Warbucks grows to love the little girl and plans to adopt her despite the objections and plotting of Hannigan. While visiting his personal friend President Roosevelt to seek intervention, a plot to falsify Annie's parentage is thwarted and amid general rejoicing all look forward to "a new deal."

Many people have commented that last spring's sold out production of Beauty and The Beast at West Branch could never be surpassed, but director John Zamarelli and the talented theater students have produced The Little Mermaid and Amahl and the Night Visitors this year already both of which had magnificent reviews.

"I feel Annie could be one of the best productions we have ever staged at West Branch," Zamarelli said.

Damascus Elementary third grader Julia Zamarelli will portray Annie, the young orphan who yearns to find her lost parents. Zamarelli, the daughter of John and Jennifer Zamarelli, has been seen on the stage many times but most recently as Gretyl in The Sound of Music. As Annie in this show, she gives a flawless performance of the character and is able to mesmerize the audience with her singing ability, especially with the song "Maybe."

Senior Eric Briggs, most remembered for his portrayal of Sebastian in last fall's production of The Little Mermaid, has secured the part of the Daddy Warbucks because of his rich baritone voice and ease of playing almost any character.

Briggs, son of Brian and Laurie Briggs, participates in all of the vocal ensembles, and has been in every production since his freshman year. His emotional portrayal of Warbucks is apparent when he sings the ballad "Something Was Missing" in act two.

Senior Valerie Weingart plays the well organized and loving character, Grace Farrell. Valerie is the daughter of Scott and Shelley Weingart. She has been seen on stage many times but is most remembered as Ariel in last fall's production of The Little Mermaid and as Maria in last winter's production of The Sound of Music.

Valerie is also involved in band and all the choral ensembles at West Branch. She provides the charisma on the stage which makes the relationship between Annie and Daddy Warbucks blossom at the end of the show.

Senior Leah Stahl, daughter of Mike and Judy Stahl, once again lights up the stage with her portrayal of Miss Hannigan, the crazy house mother of the orphanage.

Leah has been seen in many shows at West Branch but is most remembered for her role of Betty Jean in The Marvelous Wonderettes, Joanna in Sweeney Todd, and Flotsam in The Little Mermaid. She is known for her big stage voice and brings the house down with her performance during the show stopping numbers "Little Girls" and "Easy Street."

Matthew Edie, a senior and son of Frank and Tonya Edie, gives a stellar performance as Rooster Hannigan who is Miss Hannigan's gangster-like brother. Matt's love for the stage, singing and dancing is very apparent in the hit number "Easy Street." Matt was last seen as Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast but is most remembered for his portrayal as The Captain in The Sound of Music.

Matthew is involved in football, basketball, baseball and all the choral ensembles at the high school. He hopes to attend the United States Naval Academy after graduation.

Rounding out the cast is Marina Moffett, the daughter of Randy and Rhonda Moffett. Marina portrays Lilly St. Regis the blond bomb shell who is Rooster Hannigan's girlfriend.

Marina, who excels in singing and dancing, is a newcomer to the stage but is very well known at West Branch for her tumbling and dance abilities. Marina was last seen as one of the mersisters in The Little Mermaid and was one of the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music. She is a member of the competition cheerleading squad and the varsity cheerleaders.

Even though the show has an excellent cast, the most impressive aspect of this production is the 100-member orphan chorus. It is comprised of girls from Damascus Elementary, Knox Elementary, and West Branch Middle schools.

This group of young actors and singers that perform the hit numbers "It's a Hard Knock Life" and "Fully Dressed" are enrolled in grades one through eight. Several standouts in the orphan chorus who have speaking parts are Kingsley Briceland, daughter of Denny and Kari Briceland as Molly; Carleigh Loudon, daughter of Scott and Melissa Loudon as Tessie; Dana Wilke, daughter of Paul and Shonda Wilke as Kate; Claire Headland, daughter of Steve and Judy Headland as Duffy; Tessa Wells, daughter of Doug and Lona Wells as Pepper; and, Jennifer Phillis, daughter of Marcia Phillis, as July.

"This has been a special experience," Zamarelli said. "It has become a district-wide music experience and I have been able to interact and make music with students from the other buildings."

The orphan chorus is comprised of Aubrey Dredge, Andrea Janosik, Kate Slytz, Samantha Koneval, Auburn Hamilton, Jennifer Mondak, Morgan Brown, Haley Hazelbaker, Claire Brunner, Daphne Snyder, Kiersten Skinner, Camryn Campbell, Madison Wike, Anna Curry, Maria Manley, Kingsley Briceland, Hannah Egli, Julia Zamarelli, Jillian Zamarelli, Jaiden Hancock, Ryley Pittman, Miranda Crick, Jennifer Phillis, Emily Sheets, Liana Gabrelcik, Skyler Greeneisen, Amber Caruthers, Alyssa Barnett, Kiersten Hafmann, Elizabeth McCune, Paige Derry, Kennedy Close, Mara Woost, Grace Slimon, Danielle Koneval, Katie Krent, Ashley James, Kamryn Briceland, Destany Blake, Makenzie Walsh, Ava Decker, Shiann Schaefer, Lexey Townsend, Rylee Milat, Alaya Kiser, Jenna Limpert, Maci McLean, Sidney Milliken, Marissa Erb, Macey Stancato, Gabrielle Harrison, Kaitlynn Todd, Grace Weingart, Rilynne Baker, Claire Headland, Carleigh Loudon, Dana Wilke, Taylor James, Hannay Ridgway, Faith Brown, Callie Pitman, Bethany Caruthers, Abigail Downs, Katelin Downs, Kasandra Rea, Zoie Davis, Alyssa Bush, Macie Minich, Kirstin Smith, Hayley Krahling, Taylor Crick, Abby Shutler, Tessa Wells, Molly St. John, Kearstin Rummel, Jaylynn LaNave, Chloe Townsend, Gillian Koneval, Emily Coffelt, Karah Skinner, Emma Jarvis, Kylie Dean, Abigail Johnson, Makayla Jennings, Katie Mikes, Carrie Burns, Peyton Zamarelli, Aliza Hatton, Emilee Sanor, Sarah Jarvis, Kora Hobson, Skyler Dredge, Kailee Gibbons, Ellie Shreve, McCoy Yarian and Mackenzie Montgomery.

Besides the orphan chorus there is a chorus of high school students that make up the theatre class at West Branch. Some of the delightful songs are performed by the group of singers and dancers and they include favorites such as "NYC," "Hooverville" and "You're Gonna Like It Here."

The high school chorus is comprised of Kristen Bates, Colby Briceland, Cooper Briceland, Olivia Brunner, Rylee Caufield, Amanda Davis, Anna Dillon, Darya Doronina, Andrew Edie, Trevor Gibbons, Allison Harris, Brieanne Hurrle, Tomi Jackson, Kolton Kitzmiller, Jake Koneval, Dakota Lovell, Makayla Manns, Ashley McDaniel, Jake McIlvain, Zach McMullen, Bree Metts, Wesley Miller, Madi Mitchell, Victoria Mossow, Rachael Murphy, Audrey Nolte, Kerigan Richmond, Jessica Sands, Shayna Sands, Gabbi Sanor, Jane Stahl, Victoria Stratton, Victoria Tarolli, Lance Thompson, Brandon Utley, Paige Walsh, Megan Winters, Faith Wittenauer, Madison Woolf, Parker Zamarelli and Morgan Zamarelli.

The cast and crew of Annie includes over 175 students and volunteers. Characters that perform solos in the musical have been coached by local voice teacher Bill Ambert. Music director and artistic director John Zamarelli has worked hard on the musical numbers and dance coach Christa Harris has transformed the stage into a whirlwind of stage movements, gymnastic feats and all styles of Broadway dance steps. This is most notable in the chorus number "New Deal For Christmas" the show's biggest production number which includes the entire cast on the stage at the same time.

The costumes, designed by the parents of the cast members, are lavish and colorful and crews of volunteers have been working to complete them for the past two months. The set, also designed and built by local parents, is exquisite and fits the needs of the production's scenes and musical numbers.

The audience is taken to The New York Municipal Orphanage, A typical Hooverville of the 1930's, Oliver Warbuck's Mansion, A New York City Street and The Oval Office in the White House. Painting crews have been working on the set for several weeks while many fathers and community members are working late into the evenings to finish what might be called a theatrical "work of art."

The technical director's for the show are Eric Waggoner and Victor Trimmer, who will be assisted by Alaina Felgar as stage manager. The tech crew will be running 36 wireless microphones and making sure all the special effects are executed as planned. Over 50 hours were spent setting over 250 light cues that are required by the production.

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