, Muskogee, OK


November 14, 2013

‘Annie Jr.’ and pal take stage

Young actresses at center of AR version of classic musical

Carly Johnson and Tess Huffer are a long way from knowing what it’s like to live in an orphanage. They have family around them that support their interest in music and theater.

The two have lead roles in “Annie Jr.,” a scaled-down version of “Annie,” a musical based on the classic comic strip character whose life has been played out in theater and movies for generations.

“Annie Jr.” is being presented as an all-school musical at Alice Robertson Junior High School at 7 p.m. today and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The show is directed by vocal music teacher Shalyn Gallaway, who is in her third year at AR. She’s also taught at Whittier Elementary, Grant Foreman Elementary and Irving Elementary. She wanted the students to do “Annie Jr.,” so she wrote a grant for funding and got it.

“I’ve done small plays, but I’ve never attacked something this big before,” she said. “We started from scratch with no costumes or anything.”

The things she does have that she is very excited about are new lights, sound system, curtains and resurfaced floor courtesy of a Jimmy Johnson Foundation Grant of $90,000. Gallaway said improving the seating will be the next project.

Costumes have come from Goodwill or parents. Art teacher April Cowen has led the team to make New York City scenes and the orphanage on panels that flip from scene to scene. Consumer science teacher Sabiela Kembel made aprons for the servants.

The students have been rehearsing after school since mid-September. The challenge is getting everyone to practice when there are so many other activities. That’s been a priority for Carly, 13, and Tess, 12.

Carly, who is portraying Annie, and Tess, who is portraying Lily St. Regis, said they “felt honored” to be chosen for the roles.

“I’m only in seventh grade,” Tess said. “It’s so amazing.”

Tess is the daughter of Jay and Lisa Huffer, who are involved with the music ministry of Boulevard Christian Church. She has performed in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “My Deliverer” and other productions.

Carly, daughter of Jared and Shannon Johnson, also comes from a musical family. Her father is a music teacher at Harris-Jobe Elementary School and her mother performs in Muskogee Little Theatre. Carly, who is in the eighth grade, was in “Annie Jr.” when it was presented at MLT’s theater camp for kids several years ago. She’s also done numerous plays at MLT including “A Christmas Story,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Honk” and “Godspell.”

“Annie is a sweet character,” she said. “It’s nice playing her. It’s easy because I know all the songs and it’s cool I get to be a lead.”

Both girls want to encourage other students to participate in theater.

Gallaway said the show appeals to all ages, and even young children can follow the storyline of a red-headed orphan who finds a home.

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