Annie production young at heart

Those who go to see the latest Cayman Drama Society production, Annie, are in for a treat.


Annie, played by Isabella Rooney, and Sandy, played by Sammie Jo, hope to find a family. Photo: Anna Wootton

The youth of the island have come out in full force to show off their talents in this latest show – both onstage and off.

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The play, which opened last night at Prospect Playhouse, stars 10-year-old Isabella Rooney in the lead role as orphan Annie, who runs away from her orphanage to find her parents who are not dead but left her at the orphanage as a baby.

On the way she picks up a stray dog, Sandy, and is taken in by Oliver Warbucks, affectionately known as ‘Daddy’ Warbucks, a benevolent if grumpy father figure who warms to the little girl.

Isabella is not the only young face in the play. With a cast of 42, the vast majority are children who play fellow orphans and extras. This trend continues offstage, where Stage Manager Paul de Freitas manages a crew of John Gray High School students, who are helping out backstage.

Mr. de Freitas was recently named Cayman Drama Society’s first Schools Liaison, and part of his role has been to coordinate with Charlene Jarrett, drama teacher at JGHS, to involve the drama students at the high school in CDS productions.

When stage managing Snow White in 2008, Mr. de Freitas was hugely impressed with the students’ performance backstage.

‘They were wonderful,’ he said. ‘They accepted instruction, teaching and long evenings over a period of three weeks with not so much as a murmur. Every evening they performed extremely well – in one scene change moving over 20 large items off and onstage.’

As a result, Mr. de Freitas added, the Drama Society is awarding all of the students who crewed Snow White with certificates for their drama portfolios.

‘Outstanding mention should go to Brian Watler, Melody Coni, Alyssa Watler and Abigail Stoddart for their attendance and spirit,’ he said.

As a result, Mr. de Freitas was delighted to use JGHS students as his stage crew again for Annie, and was once again amazed with their dedication and focus.

‘On Saturday, 7 March the students arrived for a briefing having never seen the show or set before,’ he said. ‘Although the set contains less elements to be handled by the crew, it is far more complex in the number and nature of the scene changes since tridactyls (triple-surface elements) are used as scenery and must be fitted together like a puzzle,’ he explained.

No mistakes can go unnoticed, either, adding pressure to the stage crew.

‘All of this must be done under the scrutiny of the public in dim red light since Annie makes almost no use of the main curtains for scene changes.’

The students have boosted the junior membership to the Society, which has greatly encouraged Mr. de Freitas. ‘At the last CDS Executive Committee meeting, a project was started which will lead to a Youth Committee (for, by and of youth) being formed with its own committee structure and reporting back to the Executive Committee,’ he said.

This youth committee would possibly stage its own programmes and drive hands-on training camps. The camps would more than likely be attended by many of the 50 children who showed up to the Annie auditions to try out for roles in the play.

‘Selecting the cast was a very difficult process as there is so much talent on this island,’ said Dori Stayton, who is both directing the musical and starring in it as Miss Hannigan.

‘I have said from the beginning that there is no small part in the world of theatre and that has been confirmed time and again with each rehearsal. The children have so much energy and to them rehearsing is like playing their favourite game. They are always begging to run Hard Knock Life again and again.’

Sammie Jo, a dog owned and trained by canine trainer Kenneth Morgan, has taken on the ultimate challenge: she will play Sandy onstage during the production.

When reminded that directors are often warned not to work with children or animals, Ms Stayton laughed.

‘It’s a good thing I didn’t know any better when I assumed responsibility for this production,’ she said. ‘As I don’t have children or dogs of my own, this has been a journey of discovery for me. The children have taught me so much and it has been wonderful. As for Sammie Jo, we have been spoiled to have her as a part of our cast.’

Working with children is very different from working with adults, Ms Stayton added.

‘You have to instill within children an understanding of ‘make-believe reality’, which is what theatre is all about,’ she said. ‘This has also been a great history lesson for them since Annie is set in the 1930s during the Great Depression.’

Isabella has shown maturity beyond her age in taking on the role of Annie, said Ms Stayton, as Annie is 11 years old in the play and most actresses to play the part are in their teen years.

‘Isabella is quite mature for her age,’ said Ms Stayton. ‘She has been performing since age four and singing probably longer than that. This is quite an undertaking for anyone, especially a 10-year-old, but I must say, Isabella has surpassed every expectation. She has been a delight to direct and is always eager to learn.

‘Isabella had her lines – and just about the entire script – memorised long before everyone else, and this has allowed her to grow into her character beautifully. She has brought Annie to life and you will find yourself singing and crying right along with her. She is a true delight on stage and deserves praise for her tireless efforts and dedication to the show,’ Ms Stayton said.

Adding a true family feel to the show is the fact that Daddy Warbucks is played by Isabella’s real-life father Neil Rooney.

‘There is so much chemistry between these two as father and daughter, so take my advice and be sure to bring along a box of tissues,’ said Ms Stayton.

The production of Annie has been in the works since it was approved on 31 October 2008 by the Cayman Drama Society. Auditions were held in early January and rehearsals were launched soon after.

‘As a rule of thumb, it takes at least 10 weeks to prepare for a musical of this size,’ said Ms Stayton. ‘So when planning the rehearsals, we knew the only way we’d be ready in time was to schedule three to four rehearsals per week.’

Despite the gruelling rehearsal schedule, Ms Stayton remains delighted to have taken on the project of Annie.

‘This is my sixth and final production with the Cayman Drama Society,’ said Ms Stayton. ‘Having been on island for nearly two years, it is time for my husband, Jeremy, and I to move back to the States.

‘I knew this was my big chance to do Annie which, might I add, has been a lifetime dream for me. Something about being a redhead myself, I always wanted to be Annie growing up and when I got too old to be Annie … then I just wanted to be Miss Hannigan.’

Ms Stayton added that she has immense gratitude to the parents, local businesses and production team at CDS for their support.

‘Without them, I would still be singing about Tomorrow on my own,’ she said. ‘I am delighted to be sharing this dream come true with all my friends in Cayman and also to be sharing the stage with husband for the first time in 10 years.’

Welcoming all residents of Cayman to come out and watch Annie, Ms Stayton promises that the audiences are in for a treat.

‘With children and a live animal, expect the unexpected,’ she said. ‘[The audience] will laugh, cry and most definitely find it to be an outing the entire family will enjoy.’

Seats are selling fast, so to reserve tickets call the box office at 949-5054.

‘I am happy to report that all our hard work has paid off,’ said Ms Stayton. ‘This cast is ready for an audience and we can’t wait to share the story of Annie with Cayman.’

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