by Dennis Dalman
When Emma Boenish auditioned for the musical Annie, she was hoping she would get one of the many minor roles for girls in the orphanage.
Later, when the cast choices were announced, the eighth-grader couldn’t believe her ears when she was told she’d been chosen for the musical’s starring part – that spunkiest, smartest, sassiest orphan of them all, Little Orphan Annie.
Emma was so thrilled she ran into the hallway to let out a loud “Hooray!”
“I was so surprised,” she recalled. “I never thought I would get that role. I would have been happy just to play one of the other orphans.”
Sartell Middle School will present Annie Jr., a shortened version of the famed Broadway musical, at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Feb. 26 and 27 and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28. Ticket prices are $5 for adults and $3 for students and children.
Directed by Sartell High School instructor and theater expert Rick Cicharz, Annie Jr. is one of the most ambitious musicals in the school’s history, featuring 45 on-stage performers, 40 crew members and eight student coaches.
The major roles are performed by the following, all seventh- or eighth-graders: Megan Mechelke as Miss Hannigan; Josh Engelkes as Daddy Oliver Warbucks; Izzy Pederson as Grace Farrell, Warbuck’s personal secretary; Jack Hackenmueller as Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s brother; Reese Schwarzentraub as Lily, Rooster’s wife; and Aiden Jose as Sandy the Dog.
The production staff includes musical director Maggie Burk, choreographer/paint designer Luke Anderson, costumer Pat Cicharz, production manager/set designer Tracey Watkin and publicity/props director Jeff Anderson.
Boenish said she’d recommend the show to anybody because it’s such fun-filled entertainment.
“It’s so much fun,” Emma said. “I love all the dancing and so many scenes where I get to interact with kids and just play along and have fun pretending.”
Emma’s favorite musical number is It’s the Hard-Knock Life.
“There’s a lot of really fast dancing during that song,” she said. “It’s so cool.”
Audiences won’t see all the hard work that goes into Annie Jr. The cast rehearses usually every weekday evening from 3:30-5:30 p.m. And many practice at home when they find the time. Emma, for instance, practices her dancing in the family basement.
Emma possesses all the talents to play the role of Annie, which requires a lot of energy – acting, singing, dancing. Emma had previously taken voice lessons at school. She used to take dance lessons, and she was at one time in gymnastics. Last year, she played the part of a young kangaroo in Seussical the Musical Jr.
For her role, Emma will sport a big red frizzy wig, just like Annie in the famed cartoon strip on which the musical is based.
“Annie is a tough girl on the outside, but she is sweet on the inside,” Emma said. “She dreams of having a parent, and she melts the heart of Daddy Warbucks. Annie and Warbucks have a lot in common because he never had any parents either. So they develop a bond that is like father and daughter. They fill the gap that was lacking in their lives, the things they were missing.”
For those who may have been living under a rock for decades, Annie takes place in the Great Depression years of the 1930s and centers around a girl who was dropped off on the steps of a New York City orphanage run by a mean-spirited boozer named Miss Hannigan. Determined to find her parents, she escapes the orphanage (which is a virtual prison) with the help of the other orphaned girls. In the big city, she happily stumbles upon one adventure after another, foiling the plots of the villainess Hannigan through her pluck and daring. She meets a billionaire named Oliver Warbucks and even befriends President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One of the main “characters” in the play is a lovable and rather unpredictable dog named Sandy.
Annie first opened on Broadway in 1977 with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan. The musical, which won a Tony award for best Broadway play and six other Tonys, ran for nearly six years and spawned many worldwide productions.
The musical has been revived on Broadway several times.
Annie has also been made into a movie – twice. The first one was in 1982 and starred Aileen Quinn as Annie, Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks and Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan.
The second movie version was released just last year, starring Quvenzhane Wallis in the title role and Jamie Foxx as an updated benefactor similar to the original Daddy Warbucks role.
Some of the famous songs from Annie are Tomorrow, Maybe, Little Girls and Don’t Need Anything But You.
The complete cast of the Sartell Middle School production of Annie Jr. (other than those mentioned in the story above) is the following:
The orphans: Jasmine Engstrom-Bolstad (July), Madison Franzmeier (Molly), Caroline Gruebele (Kate), Bethany Haehn (Jenny), Mackenzie Hansen (Kitty), Ellie Karasch (Duffy), Ella Krauel (Tessie), Meleah Myhrwold (Lizzy), Amber Pietrowski (Pepper) and Abigayle Starz (Stephanie).
Other cast members: Rion Becher (Dog Catcher), Sam Brandt (Louis Howe), Emily Callan (Mrs. Pugh), Alex Gilbert (Bert Healy), Spencer Gillian (Franklin Delano Roosevelt), Nolan Lund (Sound Effects Man), Mariah Murphy (Cecille), Taelor Nebel (Mrs. Greer), Steven Osmec (Lt. Ward), Anya Overlien (Annette), Dylan Pringle (Apple Seller), Grayson Sanderson (Drake) and Ben Saudinaitis (Bundles McCloskey).
Boyland Sisters and Star-To-Be/Servant: Anna Kucala (Connie) and Izzy Kucala (Bonnie).
Chorus: Kylah Corcoran, Hope Grasswick, Colin Hommerding, Anna Lehto, Sydney Lund, Gretta Mahowald, Callan Markey, Kaylee Ringstad, Sarah Schad, Cullen Schreiber, Aaron Soderholm and Ella Steinberg.
Stage managers: Alexis Miller, Pierce Knudson, Faith Kowalke and Noah Trombley (light-board operator).