A new deal for Christmas: ‘Annie’ brings optimism to stage

Cast bets the sun will come out tomorrow
A new deal for Christmas: ‘Annie’ brings optimism to stage

As live music swelled in the Upper School’s (US) Lindberg-Serries Theater, soft blue lights illuminated the Hudson Street Orphanage and its 11 young residents in the opening scene of the US winter musical, “Annie.”

In front of packed audiences, the cast told the story of Annie, an orphan who is unexpectedly adopted by billionaire Oliver Warbucks. The cast performed three times: an evening show on Friday, March 1, and two performances on Saturday, March 2. Additionally, the cast hosted a preview of the musical directly after school on Thursday, February 29.

The audition process for “Annie” began after Winter Break and lasted for a week, during which students presented a monologue and a song. The cast began rehearsals in mid- January, practicing every day for two hours and meeting on Saturdays for four hours.

US Theater Director Ross MacDonald, who directed the musical, enjoyed revising scenes and dance numbers during rehearsals to let each student take center stage, he said.

“Every year, a couple of things always remain the same with the musical. It’s an ensemble process, and I always try to ensure that every student gets a moment. I love the process more than the nights in front of an audience, and that’s been true ever since I was a jobbing actor.”

Mr. MacDonald added that he chose “Annie” as the winter musical because it was adaptable for the cast, and allowed the choreographers to create individual moments and dance numbers throughout the show.

“We had a lot of students who hadn’t been in a musical before, so we had to keep that in mind. We tried to tackle the music and movement before most of the staging, and we also had a large choreography team, so each member, including myself, had a chance to design a movement piece.”

Mr. MacDonald also expressed gratitude for the cast and crew’s dedication during rehearsals and performances and was proud of the final product, he said.

Elizabeth Velander ’26, who played Annie, enjoyed working with close friends throughout the process and appreciated the cast’s thoughtfulness and kindness.

“Everyone’s energy and how connected the cast was meant a lot to me,” she said. “The cast was a close-knit community, and it was comforting to know that you had friends to support you each day.”

Elizabeth also thought the choice of the musical effectively brought together audiences from all three campuses, she said.

“‘Annie’ was a great show for everyone to access. It had fun songs and dances to reach both younger and older students, and a lot of kids from the Lower School came to enjoy and support us.”

Asher Esty ’25, who played Oliver Warbucks, said he was grateful for the cast’s collaboration to ensure that the musical was exciting and engaging.

“I’m proud of the way the cast worked together behind the stage in setting up props and planning costume changes. The musical required trust and belief in others, as we all shared a common level of commitment.”

Student Choreographer Aparajita Srivastava ’25 designed four numbers, including “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” and worked with Mr. MacDonald to create dances from his rough sketches, she said.

“Mr. MacDonald had a vision for every scene and song, so he drew out his ideas for the dance numbers, and I helped translate them to dance structures.”

Aparajita also commended the cast members for their accurate portrayal of the musical’s historical context and emotions.

“Every member of the cast expressed that Annie was positive despite having a diffi cult life,” she said. “While there was a happy ending, the musical exposed the hardships of Annie’s life and the orphans’ lives, and how tough it was for them to find joy.”

Spotlight operator Salar Sekhavat ’26, who also worked to build and paint the musical’s set, was impressed by the cast’s final product, he said.

“I remember that early in the process, when we were doing odd jobs, it was hard to imagine what our vision and the musical would look like. All of the sudden, everything solidified when I saw the cast perform for the first time.”

For Salar, the optimistic message of “Annie” truly resonated, he said. “‘Annie’ is poignant for the world today, and it was important for people to see a production like this and immerse themselves in a different world but also come out of it feeling hopeful and optimistic.”

Lorenzo Blackston ’26, an audience member of the Friday night show, enjoyed watching “Annie” and supporting his peers, he said.

“I loved seeing my classmates, and they did an amazing job.”

In the spring, Mr. MacDonald will continue to lead the theater department by directing “The Legend
of Sleepy Hollow,” which a cast of US students will travel to Scotland to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.

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