Above: Co-director Autumn Willms directs Four Winds Public School students as they rehearse the number It’s A Hard Luck Life from the musical Annie Jr. set to take place from May 31 to June 2 at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre.
by Stephen Dafoe
Students at Four Winds Public School in Morinville have been rehearsing lines, songs, and dance moves for several months ahead of their latest production Annie Jr., set to take place May 31, June 1 and 2 at the Morinville Community Cultural Centre.
Annie Jr. is a beloved musical that audiences have enjoyed for decades. Based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray, the story follows the plucky orphan Annie as she navigates life in the 1930s during the Great Depression. However, Annie Jr. is a unique version of the musical specifically designed for young performers. The show accommodates a shorter runtime and younger voices while maintaining the original production’s heart and soul.
The show has become popular for school productions and community theatres, allowing young actors to shine in roles typically reserved for adults.
Four Winds Public School teachers, Autumn Willms and Savanah Bosch, have been working with the cast and crew to prepare the show for its three-night run.
“This play was selected because very early into the production process, we find that it is our female students that are more partnered with [the school’s] Dance Academy,” said Savanah Bosch, the other director and the production’s musical coordinator. “So we wanted to look at a cast that has a lot more of those female roles, but we also really liked that this play had a lot of opportunities for gender neutrality and inclusion if we needed to make adjustments.”
Bosch said they selected the play due to its classic standing in theatre. “I grew up watching the movie over and over again. I think it is one of the reasons I became a singer. The storyline of somebody coming from a tough situation and just rising to meet all of those challenges and bettering themselves really resonates for students.”
Autumn Willms, one of the show’s directors and the production’s choreographer, said Annie Jr., in addition to being a condensed version of the classic musical, removes some elements.
“It’s a little more kid-friendly. It takes away some of the scenes in the classic that maybe would not be suitable for this age group,” Bosch said. “Our play is an hour long, so we are able to get through all of the songs and the scenes in just an hour versus a play that would need an intermission.”
Auditions for the hour-long production began last November. The production runs as a Career and Technology Foundations (CTF) option. As such, rehearsals started during the school’s second CTF rotation in November and ran twice per week during that programming block, allowing two hours per week of rehearsal time. After Spring Break in March, the production commenced after-school rehearsals, with an extra four hours on Fridays.
“We’ve seen an immense amount of growth from all of our students,” Willms said. “It’s so cool to see how each and every one of them has just gotten so into their character and grown into this play. We’ve had kids start from being super shy to say anything in front of the class to staring in one of the bigger roles. It’s really impressive.”
The teacher sand directors are appreciative of the support of students, parents, sponsors and the various departments that have helped with various aspects of the production, including set building, costumes, marketing and makeup.
Annie Jr. runs May 31, June 1 and June 2 at 6:30 each night, with doors opening at 6 p.m. Each evening will be opened by either students from Four Winds Dance Academy or the band.
Tickets for the show are $10 and are available online on the school’s website or at the door.
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