'Annie, Jr.' by Kelley School Drama Club of Southington CT
Nancy Sasso Janis
The Kelley School Drama Club of Southington CT opened their spectacular production of ‘Annie, Jr.’ on the stage of the Kennedy Middle School auditorium on Friday evening to a packed house. As in folding chairs had to be added to the smallish house in order to accommodate some ticket holders and there was not a parking space to be had in any of the parking lots. I would have stood in the back, but director and talented young actor/singer Michael Ricciardone had save me an excellent seat for my review. Principal Marilyn Kahl admitted in her curtain speech that she was overwhelmed with the turnout and asked the Drama Club parents to stand and be recognized before the children took to the stage.
Mr. Ricciardone sought out to make his second production with this group a “‘fresh,’ bright, and intelligent production of the heartwarming classic” and spent over five months in rehearsals to make it happen. In his director’s note, he graciously thanks Kelley School principal Marilyn Kahl and all the members of the creative team that make up the Drama Club family. He adds, correctly of course, that “the memories these students have created will be told throughout their lives.” Sitting next to the director behind a music stand was music director for the show was Rebecca Lo Presti and Jack Richards rushed home from Hofstra to provide the lighting that he had designed.
‘Annie, Jr.’ is based on “Little Orphan Annie” and set in NYC in 1933, with a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and the full version of the musical opened at CT’s own Goodspeed Opera House on Aug. 10, 1976 and opened on Broadway in 1977. The Jr. version is shorter and more child-friendly, but the two acts were presented with one intermission and lasted almost two hours.
From the overture of the recorded score that was a beautiful tableau of the main characters, to the fabulous “NYC,” to a stirring reprise of “Tomorrow” the thirty fourth and fifth grade students brought Annie’s story to life. They were obviously well-rehearsed and executed a bunch of fine choreography, with tap choreography by Brigette Horan. I was very impressed with the set designed by Mr. RIchards; it was on par with scenery I have seen in many an adult production. The equally impressive costumes, designed by the director and Mr. Richards, took the show to another level of excellence. The ragged orphan outfits were updated a bit and were coordinated with the colors of the orphanage bedroom; I loved them, and I appreciated the little “pops of humor” that the young actors pulled off with aplomb.
Every member of the cast gave it their all. Emily Fay was a fine actress in the title role and belted when necessary. Zachary Myrick was a fine Daddy Warbucks and Mikalyn Mirisola was a standout as his lovely secretary Grace Farrell. Tyler Hubeny was pretty cute as Rooster Hannigan, while Ania Jozczyk sang and danced her way perfectly through the role of his sidekick Lily St. Regis. All of the young ladies nailed the choreography and lyrics required of the orphans and Maggie Blanchard had the powerhouse voice to play the Star-to-Be. Fifth grader Adriana Palmieri almost stole the show as the perfectly awful Miss Hannigan; what a voice and acting skills this young lady possesses!
As I stood up for the curtain call, I realized that every elementary school deserves a drama program of the caliber of one at Kelley School. Of course, it requires that a lot of elements fall into place. It begins with some powerhouse volunteers (probably alumni) with a strong love of all things theatre to serve as its creative team. Add a dedicated core group of drama club parents and/or PTO parents, many talented and brave students, a large and quiet stage crew, an appropriate venue to show off all of their hard work, and perhaps most importantly a supremely supportive principal. Kelley is blessed with all of these and it was most evident during the opening night performance. Kudos to every one of them involved with this shining productions.
'Annie, Jr.' closes on Saturday, Jan. 30.
Photos by Michael Ricciardon