A hard-knock life

Student cast prepares with vocal coaches and choreography

ROWDY KIDS South Valley Civic Theatre’s 2018 cast of ‘Annie Jr.’ rehearses for its Friday, April 20 debut. Photo: Jason Leong
The cast of the South Valley Civic Theatre’s production of the musical “Annie Jr.” is made up entirely of young people—and two dogs.
Golden retrievers Bailey, 6, and Mason, 5, will share the crucial role of the title character’s canine companion Sandy.
At a rehearsal recently at the organization’s warehouse off Joleen Street in Morgan Hill, producer Kathy Tom exhorted the children in the cast not to play or otherwise interact with the canine actors, whose focus needs to be entirely on Tegan Leong, playing the role of Annie.
“We want our dogs to do just as good a job as you do,” said Tom. “If you distract them, they’re not going to say ‘Never mind, I’m working.’ No hands, no petting. You say ‘oh yeah, there’s a dog’ and walk away from it.”
Earlier in the rehearsal, before the entire cast had arrived, Tegan worked with Bailey, who happens to be Tom’s pet, on the beginning of the show’s signature tune, “Tomorrow.” Bailey needed to be summoned from hiding out of view of the dogcatcher (played temporarily by Tegan’s mother, Liana), and then come to Tegan after being called by the name Sandy.
It was a balancing act for everyone.
“The biggest problem is when we have a lot more people around; I’m thinking of the audience,” said Tom.
Bailey, with a golden’s friendly smile and wagging tail, did as commanded, as well as practicing his entrance of crossing from stage right to stage left in silhouette behind a scrim.
Dog trainer Sherry Boyer was on hand to give advice.
“The dog is a character and we have to give him his space,” she said.
Tegan, who is 13, is a veteran of SVCT shows, having first performed in “Oliver Twist” when she was 9. “Annie Jr.” is her first starring role.
“It’s difficult, very difficult,” she said, “to have a character who’s on stage 90 percent of the time.”
Tegan, a seventh grade student at Oakwood School, has been working with a private vocal coach to strengthen her singing.
Opposite Tegan on the experience level is James Tuttle as Daddy Warbucks. A seventh grade student at Britton Middle School, James said he was “uneasy” with the singing at first but now is “pretty comfortable” with it. He also plays trumpet during the show’s overture.
He was encouraged by his mother to audition for the show. It’s too soon to say, however, whether he’ll stick with acting, although he’s enjoying the Daddy Warbucks style.
“I like that basically I’m the man of the house. If I want to do something, I can do it,” he said.
The show, designed to be acted entirely by children, is a trimmed-down version of the Broadway musical “Annie,” with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charmin and book by Thomas Meehan. It’s about 90 minutes long versus the 2-½ hours of the full-length show, but the basics are all there: a rowdy crop of orphans, the dog, the well-known songs.
It’s ideal for community theater troupes because it allows “as many kids to find themselves on stage as possible,” said Tom. “We’re just hoping to give the kids a good theatrical experience.”

“Annie Jr.” South Valley Civic Theatre. April 20-May 12 at Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. Tickets $16-$25. svct.org; 800.838.3006.

Susan Rife
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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.