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All during July, the stage in the fellowship hall at Marco Lutheran Church is transformed into Miss Hannigan’s orphanage – as well as Oliver Warbucks’ mansion and the streets of New York.

Island Theater Company is staging “Annie Jr.,” a condensed version of the smash hit musical “Annie,” in their summer theater camp program. Adults will take the adult roles, but right now, the juveniles who make up the majority of the cast are polishing their acting, singing and dancing skills, as well as polishing the stage.

On a recent morning, the young actors had just been cast in their roles for the play, and were hard at work, although the work seemed a lot like play. Under the direction of choreographer Christy Pagoni, they ran through the dance routine for “It’s the Hard-Knock Life,” establishing the less-than-ideal circumstances of life as an orphan. Island Theater Company music director Lu Gaita had already coached the children in some of the musical numbers.

The players scrubbed, swept, and literally kicked the bucket off to the side, utilizing the entire breadth of the stage. Further into rehearsals, they will be singing the song, but at this juncture, the sound came from a boombox. The number featured Eden Krumholz, one of two Annies in the double-cast role. She will share the part with Ashley Francis, who was unable to attend that particular rehearsal.

“We had these two candidates, and we couldn’t decide between them,” said Island Theater Company founder Pat Berry, watching from a table as the cast cavorted onstage. “They were both very good, although they each interpreted the part in different ways.”

When not portraying Annie, each girl will take the part of Pepper, another of the orphans. Having two Annies also provides an understudy for this most vital role in the production.

The cast has 40 members altogether, the majority taking the parts of orphans at Miss Hannigan’s, or servants at the Warbucks estate. Of all the youth who registered, paying $90 a week for the camp, all but one were girls. As the sole boy, Tyler Mastrangelo was not intimidated, said Berry.

“He said, ‘I’m the only boy? Great. I get all those parts.’ This is a tremendous experience for the kids,” said Berry. “They grow while they’re here. Even the parents say it. Some kids start out shy, but they get over it really fast.”

To help mold the cast, and burnish their acting skills, as well as keeping the high-energy youngsters active and engaged, Christopher Cheng, a theater student at Miami Dade College, one of the show’s directors, led them through a series of improv routines and theater games. In one exercise, a pair of twosomes sat in chairs onstage, and conducted a rapid-fire conversation that, at a moment’s notice, shifted back and forth from one couple to the other. In another, shades of Twister, a mass of kids all joined hands in a large jumble, and then had to sort themselves out into a ring of children, all without letting go of each other’s hands.

The young cast members will continue rehearsals through July, joined when possible by the adults, and then, once school starts, will meet each Sunday until the public performances of the show on October 13, 14, and 15.

Carl Back, playing Daddy Warbucks, “has already shaved his head for the part,” said Berry. “He walked in all shaved and said, ‘it was time for a haircut.’” Miss Hannigan will be portrayed by Abby Yetter, Rooster Hannigan by Jared Wagner, and the part of President Roosevelt is listed as being played by Judy Daye.

This is the “sixth or seventh” season for the Island Theater Company and its summer theater camp, said Berry. During the coming season, they will be staging “Singing Broadway #2,” a revue of musical theater numbers that was so popular in its first production it is being brought back.
The group is always looking for volunteers in a wide range of tasks and activities. For more information, call 239-394-0080, email info@theateronmarco.com, or go to the group’s website, TheaterOnMarco.com.

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