Catch the warmth and wisdom of Annie in Chilliwack

Arne Larsen is Mr. Warbucks and Avianna Clempson plays the lead role in Annie by the Chilliwack School of Performing Arts. The show opens Jan. 9 at the Cultural Centre.  - JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS
Arne Larsen is Mr. Warbucks and Avianna Clempson plays the lead role in Annie by the Chilliwack School of Performing Arts. The show opens Jan. 9 at the Cultural Centre.
— image credit: JENNA HAUCK/ PROGRESS

A cast of 23 performers — and two dogs — are bringing the blockbuster musical Annie to the stage at the Cultural Centre, Jan. 9-20.

The enduring popularity of Annie is not hard to fathom.

"I think a huge array of people can relate to her journey," says director Andrew Smith of the Chilliwack School of Performing Arts.

With equal measures of pluck and positivity, Little Orphan Annie manages to capture everyone's hearts, starting from scratch as she does in New York City during the Dirty Thirties.

"Children can relate to the story because it touches on so many issue that all kids go through, as demonstrated by Annie herself and some of the other orphans."

Annie opened on Broadway in 1977 and ran for 2,377 performances. It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards that year, and won seven, including Best Choreography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score, Best Book and Best Musical. The play was inspired by Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strip which premiered in the New York Daily News in 1924.

As the story goes, Annie is determined to find her parents. They abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of an orphanage run by the cruel, embittered Miss Hannigan.

With the help of the other girls in the Orphanage, Annie escapes to the wondrous and magical world of New York City.

"The adults can relate to Miss Hannigan," says the director. "Every parent has had moments where they're pulling their hair out and not sure what to do."

CSOPA Sophomore Avianna Clempson plays the lead role of Annie at the feisty age of 11.

"She's fantastic," says Smith. "She's been keen and super hard-working. Avianna fits the bill. She's got tons of talent and she understands Annie's journey."

He says he couldn't have asked for a better Annie.

"She has a lot of the qualities in herself that are ideal for the part of Annie, like a generally positive demeanor."

The play follows adventure after fun-filled adventure, as Annie foils Miss Hannigan's evil machinations and befriends President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She managed to find a new home and family in billionaire Oliver Warbucks, his personal secretary Grace Farrell, and a lovable mutt named Sandy.

Of course, the songs are catchy as ever.

"The tunes are wonderful and the story is very cleverly written."

It also has political elements since the play version, as opposed to the movie version, is more true to the political tone of the original comic strip by Harold..

"The play itself is hugely political, since it was the time of the Great Depression and the transition from Hoover to Roosevelt."

The role of Grace Farrell will be played by Kate Fairley, and Oliver Warbucks by Abbotsford resident Arne Larsen. Kessia Warren will take on the role of Miss Hannigan, while Rooster and Lily will be played by Max Glover and Carmen Sigurdson.

The roles of the other orphan girls will be portrayed by Adrienne Reitsma, Meghan Mindel, Andrea Arce, Olivia Moniz, Kirsten MacDonald and Melynda Nadon. Hannah deNevers will take on the head maid, Mrs. Drake, while Jonathan Woyke will play U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Rounding out the rest of the cast are Caylen Braun, Brandon Grove, Hailey Hansen, Kathryn Harder, Hyacinthe Lithgow, Jordan Orto, Josh Robinson, Olivia Simpson, Sebastian Warkentin-Scott and Jessica Westeringh.

They've worked hard to make the look of the set and the costumes complementary, and evoke the look of the Dirty Thirties in NYC.

Lisa Zimmer is the musical director, Trischa Buhler is the orchestra director, and Shelley Wojcik the choreographer. Set by Tara Arnett, costumes by Heather Westergard and lights by Jamea Lister.

"We've tried to be as authentic as we can with a little bit of creative flair, so the audience goes, here we are in 1933," Smith says.

Leapin’ lizards, it oughta be fun!

The Chilliwack School of Performing Arts is proud to present Annie, from Jan. 9 to 20 at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre. Previews on Wednesday, Jan. 9, and Jan. 10, and Annie opens on Friday, Jan. 11, and runs until Sunday, Jan. 20, 7:30 p.m. evening performances on Jan. 9, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, and 2 p.m. matinée performances on Jan. 12, 13, 19, 20. Adults $20, students & seniors $15, $9.75 all seats on Jan. 9, 10 (evening),12 (matinée) Tickets at the centre box office or 604-391-SHOW (7469).

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