6th graders at La Vall had a big surprise in store for them during their last few weeks as primary students!
The 6th grade English teachers decided to organize a play production of the American Broadway musical ANNIE, a timeless show which has also been adapted to the big screen in the 1982 version starring Aileen Quinn as “Annie” and Carol Brunett as ” Miss Hannigan”. Each of the four classes would perform an adaptation of this classic musical and would showcase it in front of their fellow peers and select primary classes.
ANNIE is a wonderful tale of an optimistic 10 year old orphan Annie, who lives in a New York City orphanage during the Great Depression. The orphanage is run by the alcoholic, bitter, and dysfunctional Miss Hannigan, who is unkind to the orphans and forbids them to leave the confines of the orphanage walls. One day, Grace Ferall, secretary to the powerful billionaire, Mr. Warbucks, invites a girl to stay at Mr. Warbucks’ mansion, with the hope that he will eventually adopt the child. Grace chooses Annie and Annie’s lifestyle is completely transformed, as her home comes equipped with a swimming pool, a tennis court, cleaning staff, and, most importantly, a loving new father figure personified by the imposing Oliver Warbucks. When it seems all will end well, Miss. Hannigans’ brother, Rooster, and his wife, Lily (upon hearing of Annie’s wealthy guardian) scheme along with Miss. Hannigan to pretend to be Annie’s parents to order to obtain a hefty monetary reward. What follows is a dramatic and overly funny cat-and- mouse game complete with endless comedy and showstopping tunes!
The English teachers assigned each 6th grader their role and gave every girl an individual script. They also selected a director from each class to oversee the general progression of each class production, including the organization of costumes, set design, props, and choreography. From then on, each class practiced endlessly during recess hours, rehearsing the musical numbers nonstop and perfecting their pronunciation and accents. This was especially tricky as several characters, such as the orphans and Miss Hannigan, spoke a typical but slang New Yorker accent. ANNIE introduced 6th graders to words and expressions such as “ain’t”, “scum”, “tryin’ to make a break”, “she’s got it comin’ to her”, and “we’ll be waitin’ for ya.” These words and phrases are definitely not present in La Vall English textbooks but they were (and still are!) the spoken English of the time. The English teachers agreed it was important to teach students these expressions and accents as these slang terms are essential to understanding American culture and the American historical time period present in ANNIE.
After practicing during their recess hours and avidly memorizing their lines at home, the girls began rehearsing in their classrooms and soon after, in the auditorium. This change of setting proved another tricky challenge, as teachers and students alike had to adapt the dance numbers to the space of the stage and to a new system of lighting and audio. It seemed every class had a problem with their CD players and speakers! It became clear that one girl had to be in charge of audio and it was her responsibility to set up the system and to pause and play each tune.
To prepare for each performance, each class set out “playbills” on the seats for the incoming audience. Playbills are Broadway programs that the American audience gets free of charge for musical performances. A Playbill is usually a thick booklet filled with photos of the actors, a summary of the show, credits and acknowledgements, and advertisements for upcoming musical productions. Our ANNIE playbill was not so ambitious but it did include the names of each actress and the character she played.
Costumes and props were another delicate issue, as many objects such as whistles, flashlights, brooms, buckets, pillows, etc. were constantly moved from class to auditorium and back to class in the span of 40 minutes. In order to be ready for dress rehearsals, girls had to be changed on time but also had to immediately change back in order to look presentable for their next class. What a sight it was seeing 6th graders scurrying from the auditorium to their classrooms wearing wigs, lipstick, heels, hats, and fake moustaches!
Shortly before opening day, students taped up flyers promoting ANNIE all over the school. Girls entering the cafeteria, for example, were greeted by a flyer with a picture of a red headed Annie with outstretched arms. 6th graders were so enthusiastic about ANNIE that they wanted to transmit this energy to the rest of the school! In order to additionally prep younger students for the show, 4th and 5th grade teachers showed the 1982 film version to classes of squealing girls. They hummed along to catchy tunes such as “It’s A Hard Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.” As a final promotional touch, 6th grade students visited classes with hand-made formal invitations to see ANNIE.
Friday morning finally came and the 6th grade hallway was bursting with excitement and nervousness. Two classes, 6D and 6C, were set to perform and they rushed to set the playbills, organize the stage, and prepare the props. Outside, the audience buzzed and peaked through the windows to peer at the students. Finally, the lights dimmed and the directors spoke a few words. It was time for people to meet ANNIE.
ANNIE was such a hit on Friday that more teachers expressed interest in seeing the show and the auditorium was completely packed the following Monday morning, overflowing with 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and even some preschool students. 6A and 6B performed on Monday to the same enthusiastic appraisal. It is important to note that once the lights turned on and the music started, the audience wasn’t viewing a play of dressed up students. These students transformed into their characters, giving them the necessary vitality needed during a stage performance. They danced around the stage and, at certain points, paraded down the seat aisles. The success of ANNIE was possible because of all these students’ enthusiasm for their show.
The popularity of this musical is made evident by the musical revival of ANNIE which is set to play on Broadway fall 2012. Actress and Screenwriter Emma Thompson and actor Will Smith have also expressed interest in ANNIE and will produce a modernized screen version of this classic tale which will feature Will Smith’s daughter, Willow Smith, as “Annie”. We are happy to report that though it is a modernized re-telling of the story, the sentimental song “Tomorrow” will be sung once more!
The last bittersweet, final production of ANNIE was on Thursday, June 21st. It was a private showing for the principal and the primary school coordinator as well as for 6th grade themselves. This ANNIE was different in that it combined selected members from the four classes to perform one final ANNIE show. It was the perfect finale to such a successful 6th grade academic year! Though some students expressed concerns about next year, when they become first year ESO students, they would be wise to remember Oliver Warbucks’ final lines when he exclaims, “I think it’s the start of a wonderful new life for us!” ANNIE is not the end but the beginning of a wonderful and rich life for these girls and is a testament of what they can achieve if they have necessary conviction.
The goal of this first musical was more than just a spirited show to commemorate 6th grade and primary education. It was a heartfelt attempt to introduce the joys of drama performance to La Vall, for drama is not only a vehicle for practicing English. Drama serves to boost a girl’s personal confidence and perfects the art of public speaking, which will prove useful in any professional career. It brings varied groups of students together and heavily depends on their joint cooperation. In addition, theatrical plays educate their audience by dramatizing and embodying a period’s culture and history. How might Elizabethan society be remembered without William Shakespeare’s presence, for example? Drama therefore serves multiple purposes. When an audience member sees a play, he/she is not only viewing someone’s acting ability but the epitome of many hidden accomplishments. This is the real ticket, the real performance.
Special thanks go out to Miss Eve, Miss Anne, Miss Marisol, and Miss Anna for practicing constantly with their classes and for always keeping in mind that no matter the difficulties and stresses involved, the sun will always come up tomorrow.
En la Farga he hecho amistades entrañables y duraderas"
Luis MonteroLa Farga