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Students lift voices in ‘Annie’

Audrey Strock, Macie Belk and Aaron Matson rehearse their roles (above) as Grace Farrell, Annie, and Oliver Warbucks in North Lincoln High School’s musical production of Annie on Tuesday.

Drama teacher sees parallels between Depression-era themes, current times

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

More than 60 Lincoln County students are inviting audiences to experience the tears, laughter and love behind North Lincoln High School’s musical production of Annie.
The show, set to run tonight through Sunday, is one of three annual performances put on by the school. While a majority of the productions involve only North Lincoln High School students, occasionally students from local middle and elementary schools also participate.
Annie details the story of a pre-teen girl who escapes from an orphanage to search for her parents, whom she believes are still alive. After living with billionaire businessman Oliver Warbucks for some time, she learns the truth about her parents’ death while simultaneously teaching Warbucks the importance of love.
“I love the show,” North Lincoln drama and choral director Joanna Underwood said.
She’s confident that the play’s Great Depression setting is still relevant in today’s society.
“What happened in the 1930s is going on right now,” she said. “History repeats itself.”
Students auditioned for the play in November with a bulk of the rehearsals starting in January, Underwood said.
Macie Belk, who plays “Annie,” may only be in eighth grade, but with acting experience that goes back to kindergarten, she lights up the show with her character’s magnetic appeal and heartfelt innocence.
The North Lincoln Middle School student said she’s enjoyed filling the biggest shoes on stage and memorizing the role’s lengthy set of lines as well as “getting that experience early on.”
Belk, who looks forward to joining next year’s high school drama class as an incoming freshman, was especially grateful for the positive example the older students provided her throughout rehearsals. She even shares the stage with three senior seasoned drama students.
“It’s nice to do my own thing but good to have their help,” Belk said.
Senior Aaron Matson, whose previous stage experience includes Bye Bye Birdie, fills the role of “Warbucks.”
“He is very to the point and keeps to himself until he meets Annie,” Matson said of the character. “Then he begins to see his softer side … She reaches out to his heart and shows him there’s more to life than money.”
Matson’s passion for the arts has inspired him to double major in opera and jazz guitar at UNC-Greensboro next fall. “I feel like singing is what I wanna do,” he said.
In addition to the overwhelming talent involved, Matson encourages people to attend the show because of its mature and meaningful story line. “There are a lot of important things to say,” he said.
Senior Shaunasie Adams, who’ll be attending NC A&T next year on a tennis scholarship, plays the role of drunk and moody orphanage director Miss Hannigan.
“She’s over 35 and wants to find love,” Adams said. “She’s sexy and flirts with everything with two legs.”
Adams has been in drama since freshman year, and despite any negative stereotypes attached to theater students, she believes they’re “the coolest people.”
Although the play never gives Adams her fairytale ending, love does pierce the heart of senior Audrey Strock’s character “Grace Farrell.” The sophisticated secretary and mother figure to Annie eventually falls in love with Warbucks, her boss.
Strock admits there’s an addiction to being on stage, “connecting with the audience” and pretending to be somebody else for awhile. She plans to minor in musical theater at Anderson University.
Iron Station Elementary student Hannah Kidder, who plays one of Annie’s fellow orphan friends, is one of the production’s youngest cast members, but her adolescence and small stature is anything but evident when listening to the budding, fifth-grade actress talk about her acting dreams. She’s confident that she was born for the stage.
“I love being on stage,” she said. “It gives you power that energizes you … like you’re part of something.”
Underwood believes that all students should take part in a drama class to fine-tune their etiquette and public speaking skills.
“Everyone gets to participate, and no one gets left sitting on the bench,” she said. “It teaches students how to work together; it’s not instant gratification. All are working together for the same goal.”
Friday’s performance will be especially unique as students attempt to display their best acting skills for three North Carolina judges associated with this year’s inaugural Blumey Awards. The award show, designed after Broadway’s infamous Tony Awards, will take place in May at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte.
At the show, students will engage in opening and closing numbers as well as live performances from those nominated in the categories of Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Musical. The award show features a total of 13 categories. The top six of 22 total schools competing from the Charlotte region will receive a Finalist title.
Annie show times will be 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at North Lincoln High School. The Instrumental Department will provide live music during each performance. For ticket prices and information on ticket reservation, call (704) 736-1969 ext. 61725.

Other cast members appear in various scenes during the rehearsal.

Images courtesy of Ray Gora / LTN

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