A hard-knock life for Washington players

Published 7:49 pm Thursday, March 15, 2012

The lyrics might make reference to tomorrow, but it’s tonight Washington High School actors take the stage in one of the most loved musicals of all time — “Annie.”

At 7 p.m., freshman Taylor Abele will make her debut WHS theater performance in the lead role of the orphan Annie, a girl who longs to leave the orphanage behind for a real family. She’ll be accompanied by junior Gray Peedin as Daddy Warbucks; senior Taylor Bradley as Daddy Warbucks’ dedicated secretary, Grace Farrell; and senior Erin Stowe as Hannigan, the evil orphanage director. Theater-goers may recognize Peedin, Bradley and Stowe as the Cowardly Lion, Glenda the Good Witch and Dorothy, respectively, in WHS’s last musical production, “The Wizard of Oz.”

Though they will be the ones standing in the spotlight, it takes a team of about 75 people — students, teachers and volunteers — to pull off a production of this size. Many of the singers come from Jason Pulley’s show-choir class. Live music in the orchestra pit is provided by players from the high-school band and P.S. Jones Middle School, combined with music teachers and volunteers. The construction-tech classes provide set pieces; the three art teachers rally students to paint them. Costumes, lighting, music, scenery, marketing — all fall in the purview of Penny Paul, the coordinator.

“You know, the week before the play is like, ‘What have gotten into?’” Paul laughed. “It’s just amazing though, to watch them over the last week. By Wednesday, Thursday, everything just gels. Then that curtain goes up on Friday and everything just works. It’s amazing.”

At 10 a.m. today, the cast and crew will amaze 700 kindergartners through eight-graders with a preview of the play, while every K–8 student in Beaufort County Schools will receive a free ticket to attend the evening performance, as long as they attend with a paying adult. The morning crew will see the highlights of the show, songs like “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow.”

“It’s a little dancing, a little singing, a little bit of acting,” said Paul. “We figure that a lot of the children won’t be able to come back that night, so we’re giving them ‘Annie in a nutshell.’”

In all, the production took six weeks to stage. That’s six weeks in which show-choir singers work with theater actors, musicians with the techies in charge of lighting and sound, everyone working together.

“The arts are a niche for some of these kids,” explained Paul. “Everybody needs to have a group … a sense of belonging. (The musical) gives a chance for the singers, the actors, the artists to hang out together. For six weeks … we’re our own group. These kids form friendships that they might not have forged otherwise.”

Making art is important, according to Paul, but making those connections is equally so. “Maybe (the lesson) doesn’t have anything to do with academics, but it has to do with life,” she said.

“Annie” will run Friday and Saturday. Curtain is at 7 p.m. at the Washington High School Performing Arts Center, 400 Slatestone Road. Tickets are $8 a person in advance or $10 a person at the door.