By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — “The sun will come out / Tomorrow/ Bet your bottom dollar / That tomorrow/ there’ll be sun! … Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya, tomorrow! You’re always a day away …”
Even if you have never heard of Little Orphan Annie, chances are you have heard the musical’s signature song “Tomorrow.”
Under the direction of Gene Gibson and Melissa Nehm, students at Colfax High School will be performing “Annie” March 24, 25 and 26.
The musical is based on the Little Orphan Annie comic strip from the 1920s and the radio drama of the 1930s.
“The biggest challenge has been that we started late. Miss Nehm and I didn’t decide to direct until late in the process. We had to find a show quickly. Then we had to start practicing,” Gibson said.
“We probably started practicing a week late. We would have liked to have had the scripts in their hands much earlier and looking at what options they would have liked for casting, what roles they wanted. The beginning was a gigantic, chaotic panic. But we found a great show. I couldn’t be more excited about the casting. The kids are fantastic,” he said.
The story involves an orphanage in New York City during the Great Depression. The characters include, in addition to Annie, the orphanage’s cruel and alcoholic supervisor, Miss Hannigan, her brother, Rooster, and his girlfriend, Lily, New York billionaire Oliver Warbucks, known later as “Daddy” Warbucks, as well as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Roosevelt’s cabinet.
Along the way, Miss Hannigan, Rooster and Lily hatch a plot for Rooster and Lily to present themselves at the Warbucks mansion as Annie’s long-lost parents to collect the $50,000 that Warbucks has promised if Annie’s parents are found. Unbeknownst to them, a bunch of other people have presented themselves as Annie’s parents, too.
And while it seems initially that Rooster and Lily are Annie’s real parents, who show up just at the point when Oliver Warbucks has decided he wants to adopt Annie, with the investigative help of President Roosevelt and the FBI, it is determined Rooster and Lily are not Annie’s parents and that her parents are both dead.
The music for “Annie” presents challenges for the students in a variety of ways.
“We have kids in roles who have never done this before. We have one in a main role who has never done this before, but when he sang in front of everybody, he started by nailing it. It made everyone smile,” Gibson said.
“We’ve got rookies, although Tate Russell (Warbucks) is anything but a rookie. We’ve got people who are doing this for the very first time. We’ve got (grades) 7 to 12, and that’s intimidating for some of those kids,” he said.
“But it’s such an inclusive atmosphere. These kids are so accepting of each other. It works in a way that it doesn’t work in other places. I see it work sometimes in cross country. They are accepting, and they are inclusive. This is awesome,” Gibson said.
The cast and crew for “Annie” includes about 50 people.
In addition to Gibson and Nehm, the Colfax Elementary music teacher, the technical crew includes Colfax resident Chris Olson working on lighting and sound.
“I’ve done this before, so I know how much work it is coming in. But I forgot how fun it was. How fun it was dealing with kids on a day-to-day basis,” Gibson said.
“We couldn’t have had a better show to pick. I was a little worried about casting. It’s been five years. I don’t know the kids as well … they have become their roles, in many cases. It’s less acting than it is they are having fun,” he said.
“Tate is able to bring an adult persona to a role he shouldn’t be able to understand yet,” Gibson said.
“And Hannah Yingst. She is playing a mid-40s alcoholic who hates life. That’s not anything she understands. But she is able to play that in many ways. She sings beautifully. She always has. In fact, I’ve had to tell a couple of people not to sing so beautifully. I say, ‘let’s mess that up a little bit. Let’s put a little whisky in the back of your throat.’ Not so clean. And it’s a struggle to do that,” he said.
“We have people placed in parts they are not used to singing. We have altos in soprano roles. We have baritones in tenor roles. Musicals are made for those with higher voices, and we are normal people. They are really doing a good job,” Gibson said.
“We have three or four seniors who have been involved in six shows since they were in seventh grade,” he said.
“When you are a junior or senior, all the work is on you. But they keep coming back,” he said.
In addition to being produced as a Broadway musical, “Annie” has been filmed as three different movies and was redone as recently as two years ago, he noted.
“It’s an awesome story, and they are making it their own,” Gibson said.
“A billionaire in the 30s is incomprehensible to them. We are talking serious wealth of a magnitude that they cannot comprehend,” he said.
Kobi Shaw, Tate Russell’s mother, is lending her professional experience and talent in helping to direct the play.
Shaw has a show business background and performs with her husband, Steve Russell, as the comedy juggling duo In Capable Hands. Shaw and Russell also have performed on cruise ships, at theaters, at fairs and on national television, including The Tonight Show and The Ellen Show, where Shaw performed the “Carol of the Bells” in her bell suit.
“Kobi’s creativity and experience is so valuable. She finds these little things and tweaks them, and it makes the scene ten times better. I have the biggest smile around. Everybody makes me look good,” Gibson said.
“This is so different from football or basketball. Football is going to have six or seven games. Basketball is going to have 30. Baseball has a double-header every other day. We have three performances that they have to get ready for in two and a half months,” Gibson said.
“All of the work up front is crazy to comprehend. When it’s all over, they wake up Monday morning, and they think, ‘oh-oh, what do I do now.’ Although nine out of ten of these kids will run track, or they will have state FBLA, FCCLA, power-lifting. They replace it immediately. But there is definitely a sense of absence when you’ve been doing something for a couple of hours every day for a couple of months. Even with everything else they are doing, this will be missed,” he said.
Cast and crew
The cast of the Colfax High School production of “Annie” includes Caroline Dworak as Annie; Tate Russell as Daddy Warbucks; Angel Woodford as Grace; Hannah Yingst as Miss Hannigan; Joshua Larson as Rooster; Leslie Ritenour as Lily; Denae Buchholz as Tessie; Kayla Schofield as Molly; Jezz Tweed as Pepper; McKenna Yingst as Duffy; Annie Sonnentag as July; Desirae Welk as Kate; Nathaniel Lee as Drake; Kaely Rieck as Cecile; Kaylynn Olson as Annette; Rachel Sherman as Mrs. Greer; and Haley Seston as Mrs. Pugh.
Cast members also include Drew Gibson as President Franklin D. Roosevelt; Eddie Doerr as Ickes; Caden Erickson as Howe; Joseph Charlesworth as Hull; Pierce Harvey as Morganthau; Hunter Larson as Perkins; Joseph Charlesworth as Lt. Ward; Wesley Kallstrom as Bundles; Caden Erickson as Star To Be; Hunter Larson as Bert Healy; Leslie Ritenour as Connie Boylan; Rachel Sherman as Ronnie Boylan; Hannah Yingst as Bonnie Boylan; Olivia Bradford as Judge Brandeis; Catherine Zons as the Appleseller; Alana Smith as Eddie; Leslie Ritenour as Sophie; Wesley Kallstrom as Fred McCracken; Otto Winings as Jimmy Johnson; Saville Wilson as the dog catcher; Tiffany Tetzlaff as the assistant dog catcher; and Olivia Bradford as the usherette.
The chorus for “Annie” includes KayLee McCawley; Olivia Bradford; Mariah Smith; Aimee Fruit; Hannah Lemler; Nokomis Nosker; Naomy Xiong; Catherine Zons; Alana Smith; and Erica Kallstrom on percussion.
The stage crew includes Chase Aspengren; Logan Carstens; and Thomas Dress.
The technical crew includes Rachel Knutson; Bryce Fransway; Brooklyn Dressel; Alex Geissler; Scout Flodquist; Cody Sault; and Tanner Hoffman.
Performances for “Annie” will be at the Martin Anderson Gymnasium in Colfax High School on Friday, March 24, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 25, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 26, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $5 for general admission and are on sale now at the Colfax High School office.