‘Annie Jr.’ musical enlists area middle school talent

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The familiar story of an orphan during the Depression finds new moments in “Annie Jr.,” now in rehearsal for two shows at Concordia Lutheran Elementary School.

Chris Murphy has a crew of about 65 young students who are prepping sets and practicing their lines for a citywide middle school musical, “Annie Jr.”

Performances will be given at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18, at the Concordia Lutheran Elementary School Arena, 4245 Lake Ave., Fort Wayne. The admission price will be determined and tickets will be available at the door.

Murphy issued the call for students from across the area to audition. “We invited students particularly from our Lutheran schools, but also students who attended Concordia [High School’s] summer drama camp, and others who heard about the show, to audition,” he said. “There are about 45 students in the cast and we will probably have another 20 or so involved in the set design, set crew and light/sound crew.”

Students in Grades 6-8 auditioned for roles in the musical last September. Rehearsals are scheduled twice a week, to make sure everything is ready for the March performances. “There is [only] one cast,” Murphy said, “no understudies.”

The musical “Annie Jr.” looks very much like the traditional “Annie” musical. The website for Music Theatre International, a licensor for musicals and plays in New York City, explains that Annie Jr. is “…based on the popular comic strip and adapted from the Tony Award-winning Best Musical….”

The original script for this musical is set during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Annie is an orphan, left at Miss Hannigan’s orphanage in New York City. Annie is subjected to a life of drudgery until a wealthy businessman volunteers to have an orphan stay at his home for Christmas. Then, the real adventures begin for the little orphan who wants to find a home.

Audience members who are familiar with either the comic strip or any of the “Annie” movies will recognize characters like red-headed Annie, kindly Grace Farrell, billionaire Oliver Warbucks, and Sandy, the little dog. Musical numbers include solo parts and group singing of tunes like “Maybe,” “Hard-Knock Life” and “Tomorrow.”

While there will be no adults who appear onstage as actors, Murphy explained that he has a staff of three teachers who are helping him pull the production together from across the city.

“Natalie Reynolds [a teacher at Lutheran South Unity] is our music director,” he said. “Erin Mickelini is our choreographer and … a teacher at Concordia Elementary School.” Completing the list is Angie Owen, who “is set designer and assistant director.” Owen teaches at Concordia Elementary School.

Murphy also works as the artistic director of drama at Concordia High School and last summer led Concordia High School’s drama camp. He is passionate about the dramatic arts. “With cutbacks in the arts occurring in so many schools,” he said, “I wanted kids from various schools to get the opportunity to participate in a bigger musical with other kids who also enjoyed participating in drama. I also wanted students to have the opportunity to get to know students from other schools.”

Murphy hopes to continue holding large-scale musicals. “Depending on our individual schedules at our elementary schools, this will either be an annual or bi-annual production,” he said.