Students bear down as ‘Annie’ heads for the stage

A li LeClair admits she isn’t normally the most enthusiastic, bubbly person in the world, but that doesn’t mean she can’t pretend.

The junior at Whitehall Central is one of about three dozen students in this year’s Whitehall Drama Club production of ‘Annie,’ which will be staged next Friday and Saturday in the Whitehall High School auditorium.

LeClair, who will play the lead role of Annie, joked how she is nothing like the vivacious character created by “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip writer Harold Gray.

“I’m the complete opposite of her,” said LeClair during a break in rehearsal Monday morning. “But it’s fun to be someone completely different and to let loose.”

Her fellow cast members shared that same sentiment.

“You’re not yourself on stage. You get to be a character,” said junior Stefan Lemery who plays Rooster.

“I can be mean and it doesn’t count,” joked fellow junior Faith Eaton who plays the child-hating orphan matron, Miss Hannigan.

All that pretending may be fun but its also a lot of hard work.

Auditions for this year’s production were held near the end of October and the students have been memorizing their lines and perfecting their roles several times a week since, including nearly four hours of rehearsal during the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, when many of their peers were at home enjoying their day off.

“Commitment is the biggest challenge,” said Ian Rollins, who plays billionaire Oliver Warbucks and is a junior at Whitehall. “The hardest part is getting everyone here.”

This year’s production is being held two to three months earlier than is tradition because of an auditorium renovation project slated to begin next month. The earlier date has compressed and added to what were already busy schedules for many of the students.

“There’s so much to remember and there’s a lot going on with basketball, school and drama club,” Eaton said.

Cast members said it takes some flexibility and time management skills to balance school, sports and drama club.

“It’s hard work. I’m not used to it,” said junior Weston Troutman, who plays Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Homework is done between rehearsals, before bed and sometimes only a few periods before class.

“I’m very proud of the kids and their ability to juggle,” Chris Palmer, music teacher and Drama Club co-producer said last week.

As for the play itself, cast members said they are enjoying the production, despite the fact that most of the male students were unfamiliar with the story until this fall.

“It’s incredibly relatable and optimistic,” said Rollins. “The story is inspiring.”

Palmer chose ‘Annie” because of the parallels between the Great Depression and today and students have been learning more about that time.

“It’s certainly a similar time period,” said Troutman. “Most didn’t know about it.”

Although cast members have memorized their lines and became familiar with the characters they are playing, they admitted there’s a lot to be done between now and when the production is staged next week.

“There are a lot of little things,” said Rebecca Lavin, who will play Grace Farrell.

Students said they need to perfect their entrances and exits and make sure they can change costumes between scenes.

“We’re going to have practice our heads off,” Rollins said. “But we’re confident.”

“It’s going to be a group effort,” added Eaton. “In the end you just take a deep breath and it’s all worth it when everyone is clapping.”

‘Annie’ will be staged at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28. Tickets cost $5 and will be available at the door or in advance.

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