Cast readies for opening weekend of 'Annie'

Ian McEwen only needed one word to describe why residents should come out and see the Kenai Performers' presentation of "Annie" starting Friday.



"It really is a feel good show, especially in a time when we are dealing with similar issues now that they were dealing with in the show -- financial trouble and people having a hard time finding work and all of that," said McEwen, who is serving as assistant director as well as playing the booming role of billionaire businessman Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks.

"Optimism is hard to find nowadays," McEwen said. "Especially when we have (the opposite) coming at us from every direction from politics and media because of our 24 hour news culture. We are always getting hit with everything.

"Sometimes it is nice to take a few hours out and watch a show that makes you feel better about anything. 'Annie' is a show that has an optimistic core."

"Annie" opens Friday and will run for three weekends with 7 p.m. shows on Fridays and Saturdays and a 3 p.m. matinee on Sundays. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors and students. There will be a total of nine performances. Phil Morin is directing the musical.

"Annie" is a Broadway musical centered around the 11-year-old orphan who attempts to escape the grasp of the orphanage and its menacing Miss Hannigan on the belief her parents are still alive. Annie quickly charms the heart of Daddy Warbucks, who can't help but launch a nationwide search for the girl's family.

Just as McEwen contends the core of the show is optimism, he said he thinks the young actress playing Annie brings an undeniable enthusiasm to the show.

Hunter Hanson, 11, was cast for the role and said she greatly identifies with her character.

"I really like it because (she) is really a lot like me because by the end she becomes a lot like Grace (Farrell)," Hanson said. "But in the beginning she is really tough and spunky and I think it is a good combination and I enjoy playing the role."

This isn't her first play -- she was also cast in last year's performance of Peter Pan.

"I was a tree," she said.

Hanson said she tried out among a sizeable group of other hopeful girls for Annie's role. When Hanson received word that she landed the part, she was understandably excited.

"I screamed and jumped up and down and made a really, really big scene in the Safeway parking lot," she said before a recent rehearsal at the Kenai Central High School auditorium.

Hanson said one of the most difficult parts of learning the role is developing connections with the other actors and actresses, especially considering her character is so involved with the plot and the development of other characters.

"You are more willing to be yourself if you are with someone you connect with or that you feel comfortable around," Hanson said.

McEwen said he has been impressed with Hanson so far.

"She has blown me away," he said. "She knows all of her lines and most of the other people's line. She knows the choreography, her songs and I have had the opportunity to just hang out with her and she is a great kid and has been a lot of fun just to get to know."

McEwen said there are close to 90 people working to perfect the performance.

"That kind of includes the crew and things, too, but we have a lot of people working on this show," he said.

Chelsea Hart, 19, is cast in the role of Grace Farrell.

"It is weird for me to play Grace because she is so much older than I am," said the Kenai Peninsula College student.

"Are you kidding me? Miss Hannigan is so much older than I am," said Larissa Notter.

Farrell is Hart's first main role, she said.

"It was a little daunting, thinking, 'How am I going to learn all these lines?'" she said. "But I got it down and with the costumes, with the sets coming together everything is just kind of meshed."

McEwen, who majored in theater at North Park University in Chicago, said Warbucks was always a role he wanted to play.

"The hard part is that he really has a dichotomy that's pretty drastic," he said. "He is big and he'll run everybody over to get his way, especially at the beginning and you can see that. I mean just the voice I use is huge.

"But then as Annie comes into his life he starts to change and he softens and cares and starts to see those around him for the first time. It has been hard to play that without getting kind of cheesy."

The show, more than most musicals, McEwen said, is highly choreographed and musical.

"We have done musicals before where it is sing a song and then you (talk) you sing the next song and then you move on," he said. "But this one has a lot of incidental music that runs underneath the dialogue."

McEwen said the group has been preparing for about four months and he expects a good performance as long as the audience plays along.

"The audience is a very important part of the whole production," he said. "Obviously that is why we do it, but we get so much energy from the audience and we'd love to have people come willing to laugh and willing to play along. We hope everyone will come see the show and have as much fun watching it as we have putting it on."

Brian Smith can be reached at