ELLSWORTH — About 15 or so kids ranging in age from say 4 to 13 years old have assembled themselves into three small groups on The Grand’s stage.
They are orphans in training, ready to start learning a new dance number for the musical “Annie,” opening Friday, Oct. 12.
Well, not quite ready.
“I need these groups to be more balanced,” says director Leslie Michaud, “Can you accomplish this?”
The kids get up and mill around a bit, before arranging themselves in new, but equally unbalanced groups. One of the tiny ones wanders off stage.
“Are you still with us Ruth?” Michaud calls after her.
“Yes!” the child answers cheerily but continues on her way.
“OK, let’s try this again” the director says to her groups, this time suggesting changes, which they quickly accomplish.
Satisfied now, Michaud confers for a few minutes with her choreographer, Jasmine Ireland, and then leaves the stage, as musical director Holly Smith starts playing the music for “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and Ireland steps in to turn these nicely balanced groupings of children into a lively song and dance number. Little Ruth reappears on stage and inserts herself back into the chorus singing with gusto.
Michaud has worked with large casts before as both the director and an actor in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. But this is her first time with “Annie” and a cast that is mostly youngsters. At times, she admits, it’s like herding cats.
“There are so many moving parts to this whole thing, like cogs in wheel I have to keep in constant motion; it can be overwhelming at times,” she says, “But their energy and enthusiasm is so impressive. I catch myself, at times, having fun, too.”
Well, the kids are certainly having fun as they strut across the stage, in orphan mode, singing about their troubles.
Although the musical is set in a girls’ orphanage, there are several boys in this chorus.
“I figured any boy who was brave enough to audition for a part should get one,” says Michaud, explaining that the boys are not orphans but more like refugees from the musical “Newsies” who have infiltrated the terrible Miss Hannigan’s domain.
Anyway, it works, and it’s easy to picture these boys in their knickers and caps having a lark with the ragamuffin girls.
Missing from the ensemble this evening is the Alpha orphan, Annie.
This is actually a reprise of “It’s a Hard Knock Life” in which Annie has already made her escape. So Megan Gerbi, who plays the role, was not asked to come all the way from her home in Orono to participate in this rehearsal.
But Michaud seems confident that Megan is rehearsing her songs at home.
“She has all the pizzazz, sincerity and dedication you could want in an Annie,” she says. Not to mention her dedicated parents, who provide the young star’s transportation.
“One great thing about this show,” Michaud says, “is how involved the families get in all aspects, including on stage. She says there are multiple siblings, cousins, parents and kids and husbands and wives in this cast and crew, including Holly Smith’s husband, Bob, who will be playing Daddy Warbucks.
The Smiths just moved here from New Jersey, where they were active in the local theater scene, and were delighted to find such a robust theater community in Ellsworth.
In addition to providing piano accompaniment for these rehearsals, Holly Smith also will have a full orchestra to work with as opening night approaches.
There’s a lot to do in the next few weeks — a lot of cogs to be managed and maintained.
But at least two of them seem to be running smoothly.
Over in one corner of the stage, Smith is accompanying a group of older kids in a tap routine, while Ireland is leading the others through a step and kick chorus number. Her back is to them, so they can follow her.
“How’d you do?” she calls out when the sequence is completed.
“Good!” “great!” “OK!” the kids variously respond.
“Hmm, well, we’re gonna go through it at least five more times before I turn around and see what you’re up to.”
In truth they really are doing good, great and OK strutting in time to the music, for the most part remembering their left from their right feet. One little girl named Lucia, who has loose brown pigtails and enormous brown eyes, hits her center stage mark every time to belt out her solo, and I don’t care how many times you’ve seen this show, it’s just so heart meltingly sweet, you can’t wait to see it again.
“Annie” runs for three consecutive weekends. The musical will be performed at 7 p.m. on Friday-Saturday, Oct. 12-13, at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19 and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 21.