A popular saying in show business is, “Never work with children or animals.” Thankfully Stage Door Entertainment and director Terrence R. Williams didn’t heed that warning when they decided to tackle a production of the classic musical Annie for Super Summer Theatre’s 2011 season opener at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.
With a cast of 45, Annie is the biggest production to ever hit the Super Summer Theatre stage. (Williams, in his seventh season with the company, began by directing casts of about 10.) Of that large ensemble, 22 are children ranging in age from 5 to 13. And there’s also a dog. Williams believes the large number of children was necessary to stay true to the artistic message of the musical. “On Broadway they had about six orphans, and I just didn’t feel like they seemed desperate to be adopted. With six you have a [good] chance of getting adopted, so I figured why not cram it full of kids and make it seem like no one’s getting out of here,” he says.
This presented challenges such as coordinating rehearsal times around school schedules, introducing children to Depression-era cultural references and squeezing a large cast into a relatively small theater space (use of the dressing rooms had to be scheduled in shifts to accommodate everyone). But once the first act started on the June 8 opening night, none of that seemed to matter. Everyone in the talented cast—young, mature and canine—exhibited a great level of professionalism, and the performance went off without a hitch.
Twelve-year-old Jessica Reuttiger, who has been singing since she was 2 and acting since age 6, played the lead role with such confidence it’s hard to believe this was her Super Summer Theatre debut. She says the best thing about being part of the production is “having fun and goofing around with everyone at rehearsals.” Instead of opening-night jitters, Reuttiger was excited to show the result of the hard work she has been putting in since rehearsals began in March. Even Dee Dee, who plays Sandy, Annie’s loyal pup, recovered from a brief bout of stage fright to take cues like a seasoned vet.
The outdoor setting adds to the story’s realism. At one point, a breeze swept through and blew papers that were used as props off the stage and into the audience. It helped to transport viewers to blustery New York City along with the characters, and made it seem as though they were all battling the same elements.
The response from the crowd, which sat in the grass on chairs and blankets, was impressive. Williams says that the audience is the most rewarding part of opening night. “Being able to sit back, relax and take in the audience reactions during key moments, there’s a lot of joy in that.”