Young Johanna Kaasik watched her cousin Serina have her hair braided as she prepared for her starring role. You could almost see the stars in her eyes as she imagined herself onstage in a few years.
The powerhouse cast dominated the stage last weekend when the Shelter Island Drama Club presented “Annie Warbucks” to sold out crowds, continuing the annual tradition of presenting first-class musicals to Island theatergoers. Under the direction of John Kaasik and produced by Anu Kaasik, the sequel to “Annie” came alive on the Shelter Island School stage. Before Sunday’s matinée, one backstage volunteer commented, “Every year John brings out the hidden talents in these kids.”
The young cast featured lots of drive and talent — only two cast members were seniors — and was half the size of years past. No matter.
The show opened with “A New Deal for Christmas” and “Annie Ain’t Just Annie Anymore,” starting the play on a high note. The actors were on their way to a rollicking good time.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Serina Kaasik, a seasoned veteran performing in her seventh play, shone in the lead as Annie. Dressed in Annie’s trademark red dress and in almost every scene, Serina lent her sweet voice to the poignant songs, “Changes” and “I Always Knew,” among others. Year after year, Seri inhabits her roles with grace.
Danny Boeklin deserves kudos for his Daddy Warbucks. This 9th grader had small parts in previous musicals, but he took on Daddy with gusto and maturity, singing his solos with a full, masculine voice.
Olivia Garrison comes from a long line of Garrison actors — well, two brothers anyway — and as always, she stole the show with her imperious and hateful Commissioner Doyle. She had some of the best lines and tossed them off with icy disdain. Especially enjoyable was her opening number, “Above the Law.”
Her duet, “Leave It To The Girls,” about murder and mayhem, with her daughter, Sheila Kelly, played by Cameron Clark, was a show stopper. Cameron has a lovely, powerful voice and she was totally believable in her portrayal of a supposed grieving mother, who was actually a gold digging felon. Her solo, “But You Go On,” was a vampy, fun number.
Elizabeth Larsen, tall and elegant, especially in her purple gown in the party scene, played the long-suffering Grace Farrell with energy and empathy — the audience was rooting for her the entire play. Her solo, “It Would Have Been Wonderful,” was sad and oh so pretty. Her patience and genuine caring for both Annie and Oliver Warbucks proved that love really does conquer all.
The character of Simon Whitehead, played with perfect formality and lawyerly confidence by Max Moroz, had the best line of the play. When the dastardly lawyer confesses that he was behind the scheme to bilk Warbucks of his billions, he said, “It was my twisted mind. I’m a lawyer.”
Tennessee farmwife, Ella Patterson, played with motherly tenderness by Elizabeth Dunning, made us all wish she was tucking us into bed with two kisses and a hug. Her solo, “Love,” was lovely, her voice lending the ballad a sweet richness.
Colibri Lopez was her daughter, GC; her angelic voice had perfect pitch. She was the fun-loving friend you’d want when you’re lost, alone and far from home.
Henry Lang played the lanky, laconic Alvin T. Patterson and the Preacher with his usual sly humor. Henry is always an audience favorite; they laugh the minute he opens his mouth and again this year, he didn’t disappoint.
Drake, the loyal manservant who was not afraid to speak his mind, was portrayed by Will Garrison with a wonderful energy as he leapt and danced across the stage, especially during his duet with Daddy Warbucks, “When You Smile.”
Amelia Clark, Mrs. Pugh, the head of the servant staff, was efficient and her voice right on key in her a cappella version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
The orphans, Olivia Yeaman, Sophia Strauss, Julia Labrozzi, Colibri Lopez, Abigail Kotula and Lily Garrison, acted as the Greek chorus, with their pretty voices and ribboned braids. Especially memorable was the scene when they try to talk Annie into not running away — and then tell on her when she does, despite their solemn promises. Also hilarious was the scene when fearless Molly, played by Olivia Yeaman, stood up to the horrible child psychologist, “the frumpy, grumpy” Dr. Whittleby, played with imperious sternness and a sense of humor by teacher Lynne Colligan.
This was Zoey Bolton’s first play and she nailed her stern and rules-are-rules Mrs. Clark, assistant to Commissioner Doyle. Nicholas Labrozzi did cheerful double duty as the chef and servant, while Owen Gibbs as the Hobo and Fletcher was energetic and humorous in his scene where he unexpectedly ended up with the “smoking gun.” Fake, of course.
If you saw the Saturday performance, you might have recognized the Hobo in a cameo appearance by School Superintendent Leonard Skuggevik. This play was so much fun, everyone wanted to get involved.
Musical Directors Jessica Bosak and Keith Brace and their 10-member orchestra performed the score with verve and energy, rarely overpowering the young singers.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The show would not go on without the help of the backstage volunteers. Members of the community, parents — even parents with kids no longer in the school — lent their talents to the show.
Stage manager extraordinaire Susan Binder, guided her black-clad backstage crew, one of the biggest in recent years. Jimbo Theinert, who’d been involved in “at least four” productions, both as a student and a teacher, hauled scenery with Ray Karen, Kelly Colligan, Kenna McCarthy, Jack Lang, Francesca Frasco and Wesley Congdon. They silently moved scenery and props like pros. Susan, even though Katy and Charlie graduated, you’re never allowed to leave.
Susan Cincotta taught the actors to inhabit their characters, bringing them to life. This is a woman who takes her job very seriously; she said she feels like the proud mother of the entire cast — some of them, she’s known since they were little. Thomas Milton made sure they sang on-key and in time with the orchestra. No easy feat, since the students rehearsed for weeks without live musicians.
Meg and daughter Meganne Larsen lent their silver needles to the period costumes. Meg was everywhere, from ensuring the actors got to the stage in time for their entrances, supplying safety pins for ripped costumes and applying special makeup, “the wrinkles and freckles.” Who else could make 9th grader Danny Boeklin look like a middle-aged man?
Hair and makeup pros Anna Salsedo and Mary Boeklen curled hair and applied makeup for every performance and dress rehearsals too, turning the teenagers into young orphans, spinsters and lawyers. Lynne Colligan braided the orphans’ hair with satin ribbons — a nice touch that could be seen all the way to the back. Joanne Calabro and Mary Boeklen worked in the “green room,” keeping the actors organized and happy.
Nicole Poleshuk attached microphones to sweaty bodies, ensuring each actor could be heard in the back of the auditorium as they recited their lines.
Peter Waldner was responsible for the artistry of the sets: the freight car, the commissioner’s office, the interior of the parlor. Maybe you noticed that all of the paintings of Daddy Warbucks’ ancestors had Danny Boeklin’s face? And a careful viewer would recognize Dr. Frederick Frankenstein’s portrait from last year, doing double duty as Mayor LaGuardia.
Peter also painted the yearly tribute to supporter and patron, Jack Monaghan: “Monaghan Freight” emblazoned on the side of the train.
Paul Mobius lent his talents to the construction of the sets and the logistics of building that life-size moving train car.
Anu and John Kaasik wore so many hats, it was hard to keep track. She produced the play, worked the sound board and acted as costume coordinator. He directed, choreographed the dance and fight scenes, worked the light board and special effects and helped to construct and paint sets.
Lisa Goody kept ticket sales organized with her usual aplomb and efficiency. Meghan Lang got the word out around the town with posters, as well as designing the program and ads and made sure everyone’s name was spelled right. Again this year, Ms. Lang was also responsible for the “Kiss the Cast” fundraiser that collected Hershey’s Kisses and notes from well-wishers, a sweet treat for the cast members.
Eleanor Labrozzi never disappoints with her photos, as she manages to capture every scene in perfect light.
In her bio in the program, newcomer Zoey Bolton mentioned “some very late nights and some serious cramming to get the scenes right.” This is where the Drama Club’s productions shine year after year. Every young actor works as hard as they can, all the while juggling schedules that would make an adult weep: homework, sports, after-school activities and a full day of classes starting at 8 a.m.
John and Anu have taught these kids an incredible work ethic. By performing in these plays, they learn to summon up the courage to appear in front of an audience, recite their lines and sing their hearts out.
We are all richer for the experience.
After each performance, members of the National Honor Society collected money for the American Cancer Society, raising $719.79.