, Muskogee, OK

November 14, 2013

‘Annie Jr.’ and pal take stage

Young actresses at center of AR version of classic musical

By Leilani Roberts Ott
Phoenix Correspondent

— 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.

If you go

WHAT: “Annie Jr.”

WHEN: 7 p.m. today and Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Alice Robertson Junior High School.

TICKETS: $5 at the door.

Cast and crew

Molly — Abby Johnson

Pepper — Anyjia Brown

Duffy — Mekenzie Foreman

Kate — Haley Rowlett

Tessie — Camryn Runyan

July — Alexis Wheeler

Orphan #1 — Molly Cooper

Orphan #2 — Jillian Guinn

Orphan #3 — Zadie Cook

Orphan #4 — Zoey Hutchins

Orphan #5 — Kiri Holder

Orphan #6 — Reyd Foster

Annie — Carly Johnson

Miss Hannigan — Jakaiiyah Turner

Bundles McCloskey — Wyatt Miller

Apple Seller — Samantha Brackett

Dog Catcher — Camden Bowlin

Sandy — Kadee Farley

Lt. Ward — Michael Yadon

Grace Ferrell — Jasmine Speer

Drake — LaRon Wilson

Cecille — Alexis Odom

Annette — Melanie Smith

Mrs. Greer/Mrs. Pugh — Brittany Garrett

Oliver Warbucks — Micheal Buckhanan

Star-to-Be — Amari Brown

Usherette — Cassidy Reed

Radio Announcer — Bruce Thompson

Rooster Hannigan — Solomon Bunch

Lily St. Regis — Tess Huffer

Bert Healy — Wyatt Miller

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — Zack Bush

Servants — Gabi Gatzman, Leighanne Ashby, Kimberly Acevedo, Darby Church, Kaylee Southern, Kayla Coxum, Mary Turner, Kerston Richardson

Pedestrians — LaRaven Smith, Ashlee English, D’India Brown, Destiny Roviso, Ashlynn Burruss, Kaelei Jackson

Director — Shalyn Gallaway

Set designer — April Coen

Lighting designer — Mike Zubeck

Stage manager — Zoey Huffer

Ticket sales — Tressa Heytz