It may be a “Hard Knock Life,” but you can bet your bottom- dollar things will be better “Tomorrow” – the optimism is unstoppable when everyone’s favourite little redheaded orphan is around.
Smiling, toe-tapping and the urge to sing along are likely to abound during the If The Shoe Fits Productions staging of Annie Jr., which opens next week in St. Jacobs.
A slightly scaled back version of the Broadway musical, the junior version is just the right fit for a cast of kids, which is what If The Shoe Fits is all about.
Directors Charlène Le Duc and Garrett Shoemaker are working with about 35 young performers, ranging in age from six to 17 years.
“This is a version of Annie taken from the Broadway musical, which drew directly on the old comic strip,” said Le Duc, adding audiences will see all the familiar components of Little Orphan Annie.
The story revolves around the spunky, Depression-era orphan determined to find the parents who abandoned her on the doorstep of a New York City orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan. In adventure after fun-filled adventure, Annie foils Miss Hannigan’s evil plans, befriends President Franklin Roosevelt and finds a new family in billionaire Oliver Warbucks, his personal secretary Grace Farrell, and a lovable mutt named Sandy.
“All of the story elements are there, just the songs have been shortened to make the musical more family-friendly as far as time is concerned.”
Although it’s a period piece, Annie resonates with the young actors, who have eagerly immersed themselves in the story, noted Le Duc.
“We really work with them on their characters. We talk about it at length in development – who their characters are and their motivations –to get them to identify with that character,” she said. “At this point, the actors are definitely identifying with their characters.”
Even after eight seasons of If The Shoe Fits Productions, Le Duc said she continues to be astounded by the enthusiasm of young performers. When the group was holding auditions last spring, for instance, more than 500 kids turned out.
“We had a lot of interest. It was amazing the talent out there.”
Having gone through this many times over the years, Le Duc said dealing with a large group of young performers is second nature. Now, even some of the kids who’ve been involved for four or five years are lending a hand with the day-to-day operations, providing extra help – “They’re willing to take that on.”
Along with the sheer entertainment of the story, If The Shoe Fits will also be accepting donations for the Farley Foundation, which helps seniors and disabled Ontarians cover the cost of their pets’ veterinarian bills.
“With a story full of orphans and a dog at the center of attention, we thought that would be a good cause,” said Le Duc, noting plenty of pet owners associated with the show were eager to have their dog in the role of Sandy.
In the end, it was the choreographer’s dog who won the audition – “such a sweet dog … everyone will want to adopt Sandy after seeing the show,” she laughed.
Annie Jr. runs Nov. 18 (7 p.m.), Nov. 19 (7 p.m. gala), Nov. 20 (2 p.m., 7 p.m.), Nov. 21 (11 a.m., 3 p.m.), Nov. 24-26 (7 p.m.) and Nov. 27 (11 a.m., 3 p.m.). Tickets are $5-$10, available by calling 519-591-8737, online at www.shoefitsproductions.com or at the Church Theatre box office (Wed. 5-7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m. to noon), 1376 King St. N., St. Jacobs.