‘Annie’ Returning to the Area With a Twist

Kids Will Play All of the Roles
Jun 27, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Our Gang Players, Ocean County’s longest-running community theater troupe, will be performing “Annie Jr.” at Barnegat High School’s Bengal Auditorium at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday, June 30 and July 1, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 2.

Actually it will be Our Gang’s Junior Division, comprised of kids of elementary school age, which will be performing the show. All 90 of them!

You almost assuredly know the show’s plot line, but just in case you don’t: Annie (Stella Crowley) and her friends Molly (Ryleigh McDonald), Pepper (Diana Limosnero), Duffy (Paige Fischer), Kate (Gianna Rosario), Tessie (Olivia Linton) and July (Madison Jackson) live a hard-knock life in an orphanage run by the miserable Miss Hannigan (Julia Drewes).

Annie escapes to find her long-lost parents, first running away to a Hooverville (the show is set during the Great Depression) and collecting a dog, Sandy (Sawyer Pullin), along the way. Alas, a copper, Lt. Ward (Brandon Cuberio), finds her and returns her to Miss Hannigan’s. If Annie’s life hadn’t been a bed of roses before, you can be sure Hannigan is going to make it a bed of thorns now.

Luckily Grace Farrell (Hadley Magaziner) shows up on the scene. She’s the personal assistant of billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. He has decided it would be good PR if he were to take an orphan into his mansion over the Christmas holidays. Annie just happens to be in Hannigan’s office when Farrell arrives, and convinces her she would make the perfect orphan.

Warbucks (Ryan Winn) returns from a business trip to find Annie. He’s tired and grumpy and not happy to see her at all. But the 11-year-old eventually charms him, so much so that he develops a fondness for the girl. Warbucks sees she is wearing a broken locket and buys her a new one. He’s shocked when she refuses it because that broken locket is Annie’s only clue to find her parents. If a couple knows about the locket and an accompanying note, her search for her parents, now joined by Warbucks and his servants (led by Ryan Cubeiro, Brynlee Pullin, Emily Reid, Caitlyn Kaiser and Brianna Burr), will be successful.

Warbucks goes on a popular radio show, hosted by Bert Healy (Mitchell Critelli), to announce he’s offering a $50,000 award – a huge sum in the 1930s – to any couple who can prove they are Annie’s parents. Things are looking up for Annie, as reflected in the song sung by the Boylan Sisters (Lauren Pascucci, Ciara Miller and Zinnia Moon) on the radio show, “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”

Warbucks goes to meet with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Frankie Petillo) and his cabinet in Washington. Annie tags along. Roosevelt and his advisers have been stymied in trying to deal with the Depression. The president, like Warbucks, is charmed by Annie, especially when she sings “Tomorrow.” He forces his cabinet (Zac Ciappa, Brandon Cubeiro, Michael Veshela, Lauren Pascucci and Emily Reid) to join in the singing and decides his administration will project a positive attitude to the American public.

Alas, the search for Annie’s parents has not gone well. But Warbucks has become so smitten with Annie he decides to adopt her. A happy ending, right?

Wrong. Hannigan’s brother Rooster (Jacob Mastroly) and his moll, Lily St. Regis (Casey Sica), arrive on the scene, claiming they are Mr. and Mrs. Mudge, pig farmers from New Jersey. They say they are Annie’s parents and, having been tipped off by Hannigan, know about the locket and note. Warbucks is suspicious and asks them to wait one more day before taking Annie so that she can attend a Christmas party.

Luckily Warbucks has friends in high places. Roosevelt has put the Secret Service on the case, and it is discovered that Annie’s real parents died when she was but a baby. Hannigan, Rooster and Lily are exposed and arrested, Warbucks will be able to adopt Annie, and her friends from the orphanage have the time of their lives at the huge party.

The SandPaper attended a rehearsal on Monday evening, the very first day the troupe had been allowed into the high school auditorium. So it was a very raw rehearsal indeed, meaning no sort of review is possible.

But, as usual, it was great to see the enthusiasm of many of the young performers.

Mastroly as Rooster especially stood out. It was easy to see he loved the spotlight as he threw everything he had into his portrayal of the greasy, slippery conman. This is a kid who obviously will be hooked on theater, in one way or another, for his entire life.

Our Gang was founded 40 years ago with a few goals in mind. One, it wanted to give local kids a way to occupy themselves in the long cold winter of LBI or, as is the case with “Annie Jr.,” after school lets out. Two, it wanted to teach children of all different types – shy or outgoing, clumsy or agile – how to work together. Three, it wanted to introduce kids to the wonderful world of musical theater.

Just as a Little League player probably decides to seek an athletic scholarship the first time he clears the fence with a homerun, so, too, do kids like Mastroly find their talent thanks to Our Gang. It has happened dozens of times in Our Gang’s history, with performers advancing to Broadway, the movies and TV.

So “Annie Jr.” is your opportunity to see a star, or perhaps more than a handful of them, be born.

Tickets for the show are $18 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $10 for children 12 years of age and younger. They may be purchased online at ourgang.org, by phone at 609-597-0553 or at the door. Be careful, though, about selecting that last option. A kid has at least two parents, four grandparents and who knows how many brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom want to see the child perform. Don’t forget there are 90 children in the cast and be shut out by waiting too long.

— Rick Mellerup


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