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Oakmont's musical theater class gives 'orphans' a home

Young actresses get second chance to perform "Annie"
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Sammie Lee Wilhoit vividly remembers that fateful day when the news broke.

“I was there when they told us — we all were,” she says, pointing to the six girls seated next to her.

The girls had been in the middle of rehearsals for Civic Theatre West’s production of “Annie” when a staff member informed the young actresses and crewmembers that the nonprofit theater company had ceased operations due to mounting debt.

This happened Nov. 10, ending a 23-year run for the organization. Sammie, 11, and her friends left Roseville Theater that day without having performed a single show of “Annie.”

But then, a few months later, Oakmont High School theater coordinator and drama teacher Samantha Howard had a bright idea. She decided to use these actresses for a high school production of the musical. They already knew the songs and just needed an opportunity to shine.

“They were so heartbroken they had lost their chance,” Howard says. “These orphans needed a home, so let’s give them a home.”

Oakmont’s musical theater class is now perfecting “Annie,” which opens March 31 and runs through April 9.

“We were so excited,” Sammie says. “I was jumping around.”

At the start of the semester, Howard picked “Peter Pan” for the class’s spring musical. But at the last second, the school was denied rights, she says. Howard had previously worked on “Annie” at Music Circus in Sacramento. Plus, she knew about the local theater company’s sudden closure.

“It seemed like all signs were pointing in that direction,” she says.

The teacher brought in the Civic Theatre West kids and recast the rest of the show using her students.

“At first, there was some resistance because there was the thought that the title role wasn’t going to one of (our students),” Howard says. “But they readjusted that thought. (It’s good) for the students to work with different kinds of casts. And the girls are so sweet and talented.”

During a recent after-school rehearsal, students gather in Oakmont’s choir room as Little Orphan Annie and her orphan friends perform “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” They dance and sing in loud voices to piano music played by Jennifer Vaughn.

Vaughn, former musical director at Civic Theatre West, now works as artistic director for the recently formed Roseville Theatre Arts Academy.

The Tony-award winning “Annie,” which debuted on Broadway in 1977, takes place in 1933 and tells of the title character’s attempts to find her biological parents who left her at the orphanage a decade earlier.

Oakmont junior Ryan Murphy plays Rooster, “a gangster character” with a floozy wife named Lily — the couple is intent on getting rich off Annie’s plight.

“It’s a really cool story that comments on the Depression era and what people went through losing their jobs,” Murphy says. “So it’s relevant today and it’s cool to be doing it during this time.”

This stage actor began performing at 6 years old when Civic Theatre West was still called Magic Circle Theatre. He stopped acting there a few years ago because Oakmont “has such a good program,” but considers the organization’s closure “a big loss to the community.”

Senior Shannon Enoch plays Grace Farrell, assistant to billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. This “sophisticated, ladylike and nurturing character” develops a close bond with Annie.

“It’s a really good experience,” Enoch says of working with younger kids. “I was hesitant at first because I’ve only worked with teenagers, but they’re so good and I can’t imagine doing the show without them.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.

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Oakmont High School presents “Annie”

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, March 31 and Friday, April 1, 2 p.m. Saturday, April 2, 7 p.m. Thursday, April 7, Friday, April 8, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, April 9

Where: Oakmont Theatre, 1710 Cirby Way in Roseville

Cost: $10

Info: www.facebook.com/ohsdrama