April 2008

Annie! at the Main Street Youth Theatre

Author: Whitney Farmer

Fourteen middle school girls stand around, panting and sweaty.
“Can we please get a drink of water?” the girls refrain as soon as the action stops. Immediately after hearing the OK, they all rush by with an exaggerated, “Thank you!”

As they bound past, the leader calls out, “Remember, if you want, next time you can bring knee pads.”

While the episode may sound like an intense day of after-school soccer practice, it is actually the scene on stage with the cast of the Main Street Youth Theatre’s latest show.

It was, perhaps, the closest the island will ever come to American Idol. Last February, over 90 hopefuls waited anxiously outside of Hilton Head’s Main Street Youth Theatre to audition for a spot in the upcoming musical Annie. Only 14 girls won roles, beating out tons of tough competition. As a result, this month’s play promises to be one full of exceptional talent.

By only the second full day of rehearsal, the “orphans” already had each word and step of the show’s main number down. They belted out “Hard Knock Life” like true vagrants—one possible reason being that this is a repeat performance for some of the actresses. This is the second time 14-year-old Haley Stuligross is participating in the show. Two years ago, she performed as Tessie. This year, she won the lead role.

Like Haley, this isn’t the first time many of the young stars have shined on stage. Nearly all of the girls, whose ages range from a seasoned six-year-old to the oldest at 14, already have a dance background, and many have previous experience working with the director.

Annie marks more than a dozen shows directed by Jodi Layman at the Main Street Youth Theatre. Layman, a performer herself, has been with the theatre over two years and has helped it build up quite the repertoire. Her directorial credits span a varied range from classics such as Peter Pan to the modern mega-hit, High School Musical. As she directs the young cast like veteran performers, Layman elicits committed performances that leave them stomping and sliding around the stage (hence the previous kneepad suggestion).

“I’m proud of them. They’ve done really well,” Layman says of her young cast.

As the cast members take a brief pause for their much-needed water break, a faint hum of the Annie soundtrack reverberates throughout the cozy theater as each girl fine tunes her part while intermittently mingling amongst new companions—an added perk for many of the young actors.

“The best part is you get to meet a lot of friends here,” cast member Rachel Bryant said.

New friends are indeed brought together throughout Hilton Head Island. In the small cast that consists of a total of 36 members, more than four different island schools are represented.

With rehearsals taking place six days a week for a whole month, the actors have plenty of time to get to know each other—and their material. It’s a lot of script to learn in one short month, but the talented troupe picks it up quickly.

The show, which follows the tale of a poor orphan girl who tries to escape the harsh life of an orphanage and find her parents, is a touching one. On her adventures, Annie finds herself in the home of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, as he invites her to spend the holidays in his home as a publicity stunt. The two unlikely allies find comfort and companionship in one another as the search for Annie’s family continues, backed by familiar song and dance numbers.

After an initial run-through of the latest number learned, the cast pleas to try it “one more time.” Everyone is excited to be performing on stage, and that excitement is certainly translated to the audience.

Highlighting the themes of true love and acceptance, the fun-for-the-family show runs March 28 through May 4. For tickets and information, call the Main Street Youth Theatre box office at (843) 689-6246.

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