Friday, March 18, 2016

Roy B. Kelley's "Annie" Shines on Stage

The Historic Lockport Theatre played host to Roy B. Kelley’s 3rd and 4th grade production of “Annie kids” last evening to a full house. Every seat in the house was riveted to the action taking place on the stage. Including stage crew, there were nearly 90 kids providing entertainment for the evening.

Contributed Photo -The Orphans sing along.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that these kids are all between the ages of 8 and 10. THey grace the stage with a poise that far exceeds how old they really are. They pull it off without the nervousness that I would feel, or they hide it really well in their performance.

Right from the beginning, the actors and actresses command attention. In the orphanage when the orphans are first introduced to us, they immediately set up their personalities which are carried through the rest of the show. From the outset, I was reminded of the 1982 John Huston film that we all grew up with. The struggle between orphans July and Pepper (Corliss Bacon and Ava Thompson) in the opening scene made me laugh as I know first hand how much that is in Corliss’ personality.

Contributed Photo - Corliss Bacon, Ava Thompson, Charis
Foster, and Koen Bailey
Charis Foster took center stage in the limelight with a charisma that nearly matched Aileen Quinn’s. There was a spunk to her character that seemed to come so natural to the fourth grader. She is a very capable singer who pulled off some of our favorite songs from the musical with great aplomb. She carried the tune and had some of us singing along from our seats.

When Nicholas Radwanski entered the stage as the friendly millionaire, Oliver Warbucks, I knew immediately that this kid was meant for the stage. Every mannerism and every inflection in his delivery draws all attention to him. Nicholas is still a fourth grader. What heights will he soar to with eight more years of musicals ahead of him?

One of the other major characters, Miss Hannigan, was played by Janiah Bennefield. And boy, can she sing! She really belted out “Little Girls.” While no one will ever be able to capture what the inimitable Carol Burnett brought to the role, Janiah not only makes the role her own, but she still echoed enough of Burnett to remind us once again of the film.

Contributed Photo - Janiah Bennefield, George Wiley, and
Petra Bish singing "Easy Street."
For any of you, like me, who grew up on the 1982 film, the songs from “Annie” were stuck in your heads, especially if you had kids at home practicing them over and over and over. It is definitely one thing to hear them at the dinner table, and then to hear them on stage with an ensemble. “It’s a Hard Knock Life” knocked my socks off. Easily the second-most known song behind “Tomorrow,” the entire cast set the bar for the rest of the evening with their rousing rendition. The choreographed moves accompanying the tune were spot on, and all the kids did it perfectly.

A highlight for me, partly since my daughter Corliss sang a solo verse, was “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” Despite hearing it so much at home that I had to walk out of the room, when they took it to the stage, it was amazing. The kids nailed it perfectly.

Contributed Photo - Charis Foster as Annie
During intermission, we were treated to something completely unexpected. The adult advisors and helpers shooed the kids from the stage and subsequently took the stage themselves. The music of “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” rang through the theater as the adults carried out a choreographed dance to the song. The time it must have taken to pull this together must have been crazy considering they still had to teach the cast their roles, get the scenery set, teach their classes and have a home life. The rousing round of applause was definitely deserving of all this hard work.
Director Amanda Criddle, with her Assistant, Kristen Smith, and vocal director, Kelly Tokash, put together an amazing show with an amazing group of children. It behooves us to remember exactly how old these kids are and the talent they have. It comes from the leadership of Criddle, Smith, and Tokash, along with all the other volunteers who stepped in to make this a huge success. Without a great leader at the top like Mrs. Currie-Hall, these mentors would not have the freedom to bring out all the inherent talents of our children. Kudos to all.

Photo by Craig Bacon -The cast of Annie

“Annie Kids” was a wonderful show. In all honesty, the cast and crew could have played a weekend at the Palace and drawn sellouts each night. It still amazes me, the morning after the show how great this performance was. It bodes well for the future of the musical department in the Lockport City School District. Congratulations to all who were involved, on stage and behind the scenes.

Craig Bacon loves the theater, and is happy that his kids love it, too. You can follow him on Twitter at @hippieboy73