Community effort brings 'Annie' to the stage for Summer Theatre

July 09, 1993|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

"Hey kids, let's put on a show."

That said, fictional folks living in the small town of Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies of the 1930s would zealously pool their collective talents and throw together a spectacular production in a neighbor's barn.

That same line could have been said by members of the Howard County Summer Theatre, whose production of "Annie" premiers at 7:30 tonight at Centennial High School in Ellicott City.

The troupe is under the aegis of the county parks department. Laboring for months to produce its annual musical, the 19-year-old company reaches into the community to develop every aspect of a production, with members often wearing more than one hat.

Mo Dutterer, for example, not only plays gruff billionaire Oliver Warbucks but doubles as the set designer. The Centennial High drama teacher also directed three of the company's previous productions.

Despite the several professional members who devote their time -- such as orchestra director R. L. Rowsey, who performs on national theatrical tours -- neither cast nor crew is paid.

"It's a true community theater," said board member Fred Neil, who plays Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In "Annie," as in past productions, students, teachers, parents and children make up most of the cast and crew.

"It's a cross section of the community," said director Tom Sankey, a math teacher at Mount Hebron High. "The key to our success is the family-type atmosphere, even if we get new people in. It's the team approach and it's very collegial."

The 75-member cast spans the ages from Gloria Makino, 6, as the irresistible orphan Molly, to Mr. Neil, 59, who has played the president in three other productions.

"This is my fourth term," he said.

"Annie" is heavily represented by members of the county school system, including 16 elementary, eight middle and 20 high school students, and seven teachers (plus two from Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties) who drop school rivalries once production begins.

"Theater brings students together in a common cause and they shed that rivalry," said Lynn Broderick, an English and drama teacher at Centennial High School who plays drunken orphanage manager Miss Hannigan.

Formalities and inhibitions are also shed as teachers and students sing, dance and prance together.

"One of the students I had in English this year just looked at me and said, 'Oh, my God, it's you. I've never seen you like this,' " said Ms. Broderick. "[My character] would be lying on the desk drinking from a flask.

"But it's theater at its best when you could work with your students and see what you have taught them manifested in their own performances.

"It also keeps you sharp. I go back and test my own theories on myself."

Families that play together apparently stay together. There are six fathers and daughters, and six mothers and 11 sons and daughters performing in "Annie."

Jessica Best, performing the title role, is the granddaughter of company co-founder Elise Best and is joined by her father, Gary, a professional actor, who plays dapper radio announcer Bert Healy.

Vocal director Sandy Adkins, who is vocal music director at Wilde Lake High, has two daughters in the chorus; assistant producer Toba Barth's daughter plays an orphan; and Craig Crandall, as Drake the butler, plays opposite daughter Marloe Apelman.

The company, expecting about 2,000 people for the seven performances, attributes its growing reputation to past productions that include "The Sound of Music," "Brigadoon" and "Anything Goes."

That reputation drew almost 200 people to auditions, including 130 girls auditioning for the 14 orphan roles.

"Our name is out there," said Mr. Sankey, who recalled the overwhelming response to "Singing' in the Rain."

"The audience was surprised at a community theater that could put on a production that involved so much tap and technical effects," said Mr. Sankey, who directed 10 of the past productions. "It actually rained on stage."

Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia even lends the company costumes and furniture.

"When I was in their shoes, people I knew in professional theater helped me out," said Toby's founder Toby Orenstein.

On its second round at the company, "Annie" was first directed by Mr. Sankey in 1986. Three cast members reprising their roles include Ms. Broderick, Mr. Dutterer and Mr. Neil.

In the face of veteran performers comes rookie Jessica who has never performed onstage -- though her strong voice may fool even seasoned theater-goers into believing it's trained.

She also brings the easygoing attitude of someone who has been doing it for years.

"Once you learn the lines, it becomes natural and really easy," the 10-year-old said.

"Annie," the story of a determined redheaded youngster in a Depression-era orphanage, is marked by powerful voices and credible performances, particularly by the lead characters.

Ms. Broderick, Rick Brown and Marloe Apelman are terrifically wicked as the mean-spirited Miss Hannigan, her lowlife brother, Rooster, and his ditzy girlfriend, Lily, respectively. Their slinky "Easy Street" is one of the show's best numbers.

In rehearsal, the oversized cast was particularly stirring in group street songs. And if you don't mind some heavy shrilling every now and then, the orphans will steal the show every time they walk on stage.

Even Mickey and Judy would be proud.

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