While many students chose to spend some of their last days of summer vacation relaxing or at the pool, a group of children took to the cool darkness of Zachary’s Visual and Performing Arts Center to learn to act and sing.
The young performers attending the “Annie Kids” theater camp spent July 19-25 learning lines and techniques and rehearsing for a 30- to 45-minute concert version of the Broadway show “Annie” that premiered on the final day of camp.
“These kids are exceptional both on and off the stage,” said Allison Harrison, vocal director and music teacher at Zachary Elementary School.
Harrison said 22 kindergarten through eighth-grade students participated in the summer drama camp at Zachary High School that was hosted by Harrison, ZHS drama and theater teacher Jen Masterson, ZHS alumni Tony Collins and Jamarcus Smith and a staff of theater students.
“We took the kids through the same production process we use at the high school level. Everyone came in fresh, attentive and ready to work,” Masterson said. “I’m not sure who impressed me the most, the campers with how fast they picked up on everything or my students, who took such initiative throughout the week.”
Masterson told the high school students it was their job to bring out the best in the young campers, making sure they had a fun experience.
“I’m proud of my students and excited about their futures. When everyone gives like they did during the camp, it’s exciting. We knew Tuesday at noon that we were going to have a great show Saturday,” Masterson said.
The first day of camp was audition time for roles such as Annie, Miss Hannigan, Daddy Warbucks, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the orphans.
Once roles were cast, participants spent the rest of the week, from 8 a.m. to noon daily, memorizing lines, both spoken and sung, and working with Harrison, Masterson and the high schoolers in small groups, as well as one-on-one instruction.
For many, it was their first time singing and acting, the instructors said.
“We were really impressed,” Masterson said.
The title role of Annie went to Deborah Kleinpeter, 10, who’ll be attending Copper Mill Elementary School in August.
“This is not the first time I’ve been in a musical production,” said Kleinpeter, who has played Charlie Bucket in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
“Me either,” said 10-year-old Nia Butler, also a Copper Mill student. Butler won the role of Miss Hannigan in the “Annie” production and has performed in Willy Wonka, as well, playing the role of Veruca Salt.
The girls had several scenes together on Saturday.
The Annie Kids camp and subsequent “mini-musical” is from the Music Theatre International Broadway Junior Collection, a special collection of musicals for younger performers, which includes “Jr.” titles, 60-minute musicals performed by middle school children, and “Kids” titles, 30-minute musicals performed by elementary school children.
“It was a week full of theater, music, dance, friends and fun,” choreographer and ZHS graduate Tony Collins said. “The camp gave kids a taste of what it can be like as a future member of the ZHS Choral and Theatre programs.”
Parents were encouraged to highlight and rehearse lines with their children, giving them an idea of their roles.
Along with Kleinpeter and Butler, each camp participant had a role in the Annie Kids cast, including: Camille Masterson as Molly; Whitney LeBlanc as Pepper; Samantha Deshotels as Duffy; Hannah Jane Thompson as July; Landrie Barr as Tessie; Maggie Thompson as Kate; Leila Alexander, Kaydra Bates and Averie Manuel (who also played the usherette) as the Orphans; Katie Evans, Caroline Kitchen and Grace Noel as the Stars-to-be; Georgia Charlet as Bundles/Louis Howe; Maggie Charlet as the apple seller; Sophia St. Martin as Lt. Ward; Celeste Cavell as Grace Farrell; Amelia Concienne as Drake; Parker Scott as Bert Healy; and Caleb Barfield as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Additional roles were played by the high school theater group. Additional camp program and crew members included Visual and Performing Arts coordinator Jeremy Reynolds and drama department administrative assistant Curtis Hooper, who is on the Manship Theatre Student Advisory Board.
Based on the popular comic strip Little Orphan Annie, “Annie” tells the story of a spunky, Depression-era orphan determined to find the parents who left her on the doorstep of a New York City orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan.
“This musical reminds us about the importance of community. By engaging her own community in her search for her parents, this charismatic little orphan girl finds her ‘family’ in a way she never anticipated,” Masterson said. “Similarly, these summer campers and group of theater students, who all have different interests and strengths, worked together to bring their own unique interpretation of the musical to the Zachary community.”