The students of Marion Visual & Performing Arts Magnet will bring their latest musical, “Annie Jr.,” to life Friday and Saturday nights (March 3-4) at the Marion Performing Arts Center.
Showtime is 6 p.m. both nights. Tickets are $5 each for school-age children and above and can be purchased through the VPA main office or at the door.
Featuring a cast of more than three dozen students in grades four through six, the show is under the direction of Whitney Hall, with support from Brandy Allison, Josh Rousseau, and the Studio Gray dance studio.
“I feel like each year I say ‘this is the most talented cast I've worked with,’ and each year it’s true,” Hall said. “This cast has exceeded all expectations. Our students continue to improve their skills and put in the extremely hard work it takes to achieve a performance of this capacity. Casting this show was not easy because of the caliber of talent we see in our students. We hit the ground running as soon as we came back from Christmas break, and our students have been rehearsing for weeks perfecting each scene and musical number.”
“Annie Jr.” will be one of VPA’s showcase productions for this school year. As a visual and performing arts school, VPA weaves visual arts, dance, drama, and music into the curriculum, helping students cultivate skills in time management, teamwork, problem-solving, and effective communication. Hall said the constant exposure VPA students have to creative arts can be seen in productions like “Annie Jr.”
“We are starting to see how beneficial having consistent, daily arts integration is for our students,” Hall said. “Each year, my students have more knowledge and more skills they bring to the table during the productions. That’s thanks to having theater exposure starting in kindergarten. Some of our very first group of VPA kindergarteners are involved in this show as fourth-graders this year. Being able to teach them the skills they need for high-quality performances starting at such an early age is priceless.”
Hall noted that the show’s cast includes a mixture of theater veterans – some who appeared in last year’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” -- as well as some who are getting their first taste of a larger-scale musical with “Annie Jr.”
“We are fortunate to have supportive administrators, teachers, and parents who work with us to make this happen,” Hall added. “Several parent volunteers have worked nights and weekends to help build our set, and our own principal has stayed with us painting on weekends. Mrs. (Courtney) Shumock's sixth-grade set design class has provided marquee signs that you will see during the song, ‘NYC.’ We have had multiple parents and community members donate props. It is such a team effort to accomplish every little detail, and our team is one of a kind.”
Cast in the role of Annie is sixth-grader Willow Sims. Oliver Warbucks will be portrayed by fifth-grader Keingston Turner; Grace Ferrell will be brought to life by sixth-grader Jordyn Harris; and sixth-grader Evelyn Herring will be Miss Hannigan.
Other cast members include Ja’Kenzie Wilson as Tessie, Mollie Johnson as July, Trinity Young as Molly, Addison Pontoo as Pepper, Paiden Bragg as Duffy, Trishtan Hubbard as Kate, Charleigh Chamblee as Cecille, Rylyn Johnson as Officer Ward, Makayla Nelson as Mrs. Pugh, Makenzy Nelson as Mrs. Greer, Isaiah Gray as Rooster, Zhabi Hubbard as Lily, Raja Hemphill as Annette, Isabella Fesperman as Apple Seller, Makayla Jones as Usherette, Reggrick Johnson as Drake, Christopher Brown as Man/Dog Catcher, Landon Layman as Bundles/Roosevelt, Keyvon Cole as Bert Healy, King Hubbard as Louis Howe, and Deshun Thomas as Star to Be.
Rounding out the cast are Leah Elliot, Odilia Wilson, Laila Sanders, Kiera Higgs, Tiana Banis, Keasha Smothers, Za’Nya Udel, Davia Murray, Genesis Summer, Deairea Vaughns, Ella Cogswell, and Gregory Curne.
Stage crew members include Makadrian Brown, Jenuwyn Jamar, Ava Robinson, A’niyah Smith, Na’Riya Williams, I’ga Nelson, and Nicholas Esparza. Maliyah Davis will be on the sound board, and Tyler Martin will be on lighting.
“Personally, I am looking forward to seeing the confidence my students gain through a successful production,” Hall said. “To see students come together and accomplish something this big at such a young age is one of my favorite things to witness. It makes every sleepless night, every tear shed during a particularly difficult rehearsal, every moment during nights and weekends spent painting or building sets absolutely worth it. I hope our audiences are prepared to be amazed because amazing is exactly what this group is.”
The Marion School District is an innovative and growing district committed to helping every student find their unique path to success in school and in life. With more than 150 years of experience serving families in Crittenden County, the district offers a high school, a junior high, and three award-winning magnet schools. For enrollment information, including information on school choice, visit https://www.msd3.org/ or call 870-739-5100.