Aloha Performing Arts Company presents “Annie Jr.,” an abbreviated version of the timeless classic musical that tells the Great Depression-era story of the spunky, red-haired orphan girl. Based on Harold Gray’s comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” the show filled with song, dance and plenty of shenanigans runs today through July 27 at the Aloha Theatre in Kainaliu.
“We did the full length version of Annie 11 years ago at the Aloha,” said director Sue Boyum. “The Junior version is for child actors only — anyone 18 years and younger can participate. It’s abbreviated from the full length version and it’s more appropriate for children’s voices. It has all the same essential characters as the full-length play and the same basic plot line.”
The spunky title role of Annie is played by 13-year-old Riley Newton. “Riley has a fabulous voice and she’s a little firecracker,” Boyum said. “She’s spunky and she’s everything you could ever ask for in an Annie. She’s wonderful to work with.”
Continuously optimistic, Annie attempts to run away from the orphanage to find her birth parents but quickly gets returned to the flask-swigging headmistress, Miss Hannigan, played by Nora Frank. The production includes all the favorite song and dance routines, including “Hard Knock Life,” which boasts an adorable pack of rag-tag orphans who bang buckets, scrub floors and twirl mops.
“The orphans are so good in ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ — It’s just awesome,” said Newton. “My other favorite number is, ‘I think I’m Gonna Like it Here.” It is very uplifting — literally — because I get carried.”
With lyrics by Martin Charnin and music by Charles Strouse, the other popular musical numbers include “Tomorrow,” “Maybe,” “Easy Street,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.”
Not long after Annie returns to the orphanage she steals the heart of local billionaire Oliver Warbucks, portrayed by Zachary Kaneshiro, and his assistant Grace Farrell, played by BrandyAn Amafala-Marquard, who are searching for an orphan to take to the Warbucks’ mansion for the holidays. “Daddy” Warbucks is smitten with Annie’s charms and agrees to help her find her parents.
Unfortunately, evil lurks about, when Miss Hannigan’s brother, Rooster, and a female accomplice, plan to impersonate Annie’s long lost parents in a plot that puts her in great peril. Simon Ellis plays Miss Hannigan’s sleazy brother, Rooster. He and girlfriend Lily St. Regis, played by Malia Moore, create the hilariously despicable couple who act as perfect sidekicks in Miss Hannigan’s vile schemes.
“I really like playing Annie because she has so many emotions and she’s going through a lot in her life,” Newton said. “She goes from living in poverty to living in wealth.”
“Annie Jr.” is set in 1933 during the Great Depression, when dreams were largely deflated. Annie reminds America to look to brighter days. While young audience members may not understand about depression or the discrepancy between rich and poor, they can understand Annie’s message of hope and optimism.
“The kids are having a really great time exploring the era,” Boyum said. “We’re talking a lot about why kids were orphaned in the ’20s and early ’30s and understanding that it wasn’t always because their parents died. We’ve been weaving in some really great historical connections.”
“Annie Jr.” is a staple of children’s theater. The songs and story hold the attention of even the youngest audience members. The length is also just right for kids, running about 1 1/2 hours.
“’Annie Jr.’ is very delightful,” Boyum said. “It’s a wonderful family activity. There’s song and dance, and an uplifting story. It’s a super thing to do with your family. I think it’s really important for kids to come. It’s very powerful when kids watch kids perform. It inspires a lot of people in the audience.”
“Annie Jr.” is also a reminder that regardless of current struggles, and no matter how bad things seem to be, the sun will always come out … well, you know when.
Other cast and crew are assistant director, Delaney Ross, choreographer, Nora Frank; set designer, Gerald Lucena; producers, Dale Ross and Annabelle Treacy; Delaney Ross, assistant director/hair and makeup; Mary Amafala, costumes; Bowen Ressler, sound; Justyn Toyama, lighting; Cameron Baily Bram, house manager; Terry Ann Fujioka, stage manager; and Paula Cornwell, concessions. Other feature characters ranging in age from 6 to 18 are Josiah Clark as Bert Healy and Oliver Hai-Kelly as Sandy. Rounding out the cast are Kyra Alcoran, Maddy Bram, Psalm Brough, Josiah Clark, Emily Dungate, Simon Ellis, Mahina Farmer, Nora Frank, Milena Freire, Gabriela Freire, Veronika Freire, Rihanna Goodspeed, Parker Gupton, Xander Gupton, Jaiden Hadjes, Lindsey Hai-Kelly, Oliver Hai-Kelly, Isaiah Hooper, Ariana Kaneshiro, Naia Kipling, Maya Krauss, Zea Levine, Taylin Mandaguit, Malia Moore, Riley Newton, Jade Onaka, Leilani Penaloza, Kainui Penaloza, Miles Prado, Ella Prado, Sarah Rouse, Lauren Souther, Kristen White and Mako Yamamoto.
“Annie Jr.” plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Adults admission is $12, seniors and young adults, $10, and children, $5. Tickets are available online at alohatheatre.com, by phone at 322-9924 weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., or at the box office beginning one hour prior to performance time. For more information, call 322-9924.