Local cast shines in ‘Annie Jr.’ production at Lyceum Theatre


By Susan Farese

Let’s face it, the sun usually appears each day in San Diego, despite Gray May, June Gloom and the mysterious marine layer! It’s summertime, so you can bet your bottom dollar that the sun will come out — not only tomorrow, but from July 18-27, when the award-winning Actors Conservatory Theatre of San Diego brings its all-youth production of “Annie Jr.” to the Lyceum Theatre.

Bernard Baldan directs “Annie Jr.,” with musical direction by Tim McNight, choreography by Athena Espinoza, costumes by Janet Pitcher, and stage management by recent Canyon Crest Academy graduate Mandy Wirt.

The 42 effervescent “Annie Jr.” actors, ranging in age from 5 to 20, are double-cast in “white” and “red” casts. Many of them play several roles. The cast has 18 Carmel Valley youth actors in the show, along with two cast members from Encinitas (both recent graduates of Canyon Crest Academy), one from Del Mar and four residing in Rancho Santa Fe.

The upbeat musical is based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” taking place in a Depression-era New York orphanage run by the over-the-top, rude matron Miss Hannigan (Encinitas resident Lindsay Grant, white cast and Carmel Valley’s Alyssa De Vries, red cast). Spunky orphan Annie, (played by sixth-grader Carmel Valley resident Tess Maretz, white cast) is determined to find her birth parents. Annie runs away from the orphanage, befriends a dog that she names Sandy and serendipitously is “chosen” (with her charm and wit) by the elegant Grace (Carmel Valley’s recent CCA graduate Marisa Acosta, white cast), to spend the Christmas holiday at the mansion of Grace’s employer, hard-hearted billionaire Oliver Warbucks.

Along the way, Hannigan’s crooked swindling brother Rooster (played by Encinitas resident and recent CCA grad Troy Lingelbach, white cast) and his bubbly, not so elegant or bright accomplice, Lily St. Regis (Carmel Valley’s CCA sophomore Emmy Farese) bring more comic relief and plenty of shenanigans to the plot!

In this beloved musical, all ends well and is suited for all ages. Popular songs include “Maybe,” “Tomorrow,” It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “NYC.” The music is by Charles Strouse, with lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan.

Director Bernard Baldan warmly smiled after a recent rehearsal and said that he loves working with ACT-San Diego because “these kids gain insight, professional ethic and real world theater experience from dedicated professional adult mentors from the theater community.”

Barbara Maisel, CFO and founding member, said, “As we enter our seventh year and our 17th production, we are grateful to be able to offer shows ranging from the classics to the cutting edge.” And board member Staci Wax-Vanderweil added, “For me, I love the entire process of educational theater ... watching the kids grow and learn, and older kids mentoring the younger ones. By opening night, I’m amazed by how far they have come and what amazing progress they’ve made. Seeing the show come to life is magical.”

Some comments from the cast:

Tess Maretz (Annie, white cast): “This is my dream role! The most challenging thing is leaving rehearsals ... I love being there so much!”

Troy Lingelbach (Rooster, white cast, and Bert Healy, red cast): “It’s been challenging, but I love that my two roles are polar opposites!”

Alyssa Devries (Miss Hannigan, red cast): “The challenge is having to use such horrible grammar. I have been trained to speak better, her style is grungy”!

Finally, Jadyn Kaplan: “I love performing. I get that from my Dad (Scott Kaplan); but the best part about being in this show is that my two sisters get to do it with me. It’s the first play we have all done together and it’s so much fun to be on stage with them.”

“Annie Jr.” plays at the Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, San Diego. Tickets are $15 (or $13 for groups of 10 or more). Visit www.actsandiego.com or call 619-544-1000.