A great deal of three-dimensional life has emerged from Harold Gray’s popular print comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.”
Most notably, there was the Broadway show “Annie,” with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical. Many productions and film versions of the show followed, and then there’s “Annie Jr.,” a musical licensed by Music Theatre International’s Broadway Junior Collection. It’s been edited down to be performed by youngsters in a version that lasts about an hour.
“Annie Jr.” is coming to Damascus Theatre Company as part of its DTC Kids division. Jerilyn B. Nacht, one of the early founders of the theater who co-initiated DTC with Elli Swink, is directing as she has many adult and DTC Kids productions at the theater.
Nacht has a particular affinity for any kind of “Annie.”
“I directed the full version years ago at Damascus Theatre Company, before DC Kids, and a few other times before,” she said. “It’s one of my favorites.”
Not to mention that any production of “Annie” is likely to attract lots of youngsters to auditions and large audiences.
This production of “Annie Jr.” called for cast members in third to 12th grade, though most turned out to be in ninth-grade or below.
One of the high schoolers is Chloe Jackson, a 10th grader at Friends Meeting School in Ijamsville. She is Grace, secretary to billionaire Daddy Warbucks, who adopts the red-headed orphan.
This is Jackson’s fourth show with Damascus Theatre Company; previous roles have included a tap-dancing gull in “The Little Mermaid” and Rosie in “Bye, Bye Birdie” Youth Performers Edition. She has also appeared in shows at school.
“I enjoy working with the staff and crew at Damascus Theater Company,” Jackson said. “I have danced for most of my life, but DTC gave me my first chance in a musical theater role. They have helped me to develop my own voice and gain confidence.”
Jackson said she particularly wanted the role of Grace because Grace gets to interact with many different characters throughout the show.
“I can also personally connect with the character because she is warm-hearted and strong and sees the best in people,” she added.
The hardest part is that Grace appears in multiple scenes where she is a quiet observer, Jackson said. She doesn’t have many lines, but the audience still needs to see her emotions in her face and body.
“It’s also harder to convey emotions without the benefit of words,” she added. “I’ve also had to work to stay engaged during an entire scene even if is just watching other people interact.”
Most of the songs we all know – most famously, “Tomorrow” – are in “Annie Jr.,” but the story is condensed, Nacht said. “Still it flows like a musical. It’s not like a cabaret.”
For Jackson, the appeal of this show, in whatever version it appears, is its hopeful message. The message reflected in Annie’s philosophy: “no matter how things are going today, there is always hope for tomorrow. If you make the best out of difficult times and continue to smile and focus on the good, who knows what the future might hold?” Jackson said.
Music Direction is by Keith Tittermary. Megan McNellage choreographed.
A nonprofit organization founded in 1985, Damascus Theatre Company performs at Carl M. Freeman Auditorium in Olney, the Gaithersburg Arts Barn and Damascus United Methodist Church.
There are only four performances of “Annie Jr.” over the dates of April 12-14, which are taking place inside the church at 9700 New Church Street, Damascus. www.damascustheatre.org.