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South Jordan Journal

South Jordan students learn about performing, history, friendship through “Annie, Jr.”

Feb 06, 2023 12:58PM ● By Julie Slama

At South Jordan Elementary, a cast of 65 fourth- through sixth-grade students performed “Annie, Jr.” for their schoolmates and community. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

Shortly before winter break, South Jordan Elementary students performed “Annie, Jr.” on stage – or on three stages — in their school multi-purpose room.

For months leading up to the show, the cast of 65 fourth- through sixth-grade students learned the 10 songs with Beverly Taylor Sorensen music specialist Nancy Hopkin, practiced their dancing with second-grade teacher Alan LaFleur, and rehearsed the show under the direction of fifth-grade teacher Diane Witt-Roper. 

It’s the tenth musical South Jordan Elementary students have performed.

“The kids are amazing, and they really have so much talent,” LaFleur said.

To help students understand the time period the story is set in, the teachers taught them a little about life during the Great Depression. They also got special permission to perform “Hooverville,” which is not part of the “Annie, Jr.” script.

The cast performed to a backdrop of a city skyline, and of a mansion featuring a grand staircase. Their sets included actual bunkbeds in a dull orphanage setting and a parlor with furniture around an old-time radio. For two weeks, a dozen parents created the sets under the direction of volunteer Stephanie Miller.

Although the cast battled some illness as well as microphone and sound system issues, the show went on — much to the delight of their schoolmates that crowded around the stages to see the preview before it opened for the community.

“Annie, Jr.” is set in the 1930s in New York City and opens with an optimistic and upbeat Annie determined to find her parents who left her on the doorstep of an orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan.

Brooke Hansen played Miss Hannigan.

“I wanted to be Miss Hannigan because it’s fun to be the villain; I get to show more character,” said the home-schooled fifth grader who returned to her boundary school to perform with friends. “My friends say I’m the nicest person, so I had to practice for two weeks to say my lines with meanness.”

Brooke is friends with fourth-grader Gwenyth Nielsen, who played Annie.

 “I wanted to be Annie really bad,” she said. “I love theater a ton. I love telling stories and dancing. It’s been my dream to be Annie, to step into her character and feel what it’s like to be her. It’s been powerful to perform her story.”

Gwenyth said that she studied more about the depression and orphanages for her role.

“It was just terrible; everybody lost their job. The orphanages were crowded and didn’t treat the children well. They were expected to work hard and not be kids at all. When (Oliver) ‘Daddy’ Warbucks, who is really rich, came into Annie’s life, she helped him open his heart. I liked that part of the story; it’s important we take the time to listen to each other and be kind.”

It’s also important to have fun, said sixth-grader Maddox Pogue as he played Drake, Warbucks’ head butler.

“I like making my friends smile and laugh with trying to have an English accent,” Maddox said. “In rehearsal, I had to improvise a bit when I forgot my lines, but I got them down. It was challenging at first because I was nervous performing in front of a bunch of people and I had some quick costume changes, but I got it down, and now, I like performing so people can have a good time.”

Fifth-grader Jacob Pacini portrayed Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s flashy, smooth-talking brother. His two older brothers also performed in South Jordan’s musicals, including “Aladdin,” “Wizard of Oz,” and “Lion King.”

“I wanted to be a protagonist,” he said. “I like challenging roles. I like that he is scheming and has a swagger about him. He is a character that is so large, but is limited in his scenes, so I had to learn to be expressive, to have his character and story be told.”

While he enjoyed singing “Easy Street,” Jacob said he had to remember to squirm a little when he was arrested in front of Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, played by fifth-grader Stockton Affleck, who was so dedicated to his role, he shaved his head.

“I did it for the commitment,” he said. “My dad got the razor, and I was all in. This has been the most fun.”

His classmate Ruthie Mortensen had to wear a wig for the show as Lily, Rooster’s girlfriend, so she could “pretend to be a dumb person.”

“It was kind of fun purposely not being perfect singing ‘Easy Street’ or acting as if I wasn’t quite sure what was going on,” she said.

Sixth-grader Lauren Cowan played Warbucks’ secretary, Grace.

“It was fun having a more challenging role,” she said. “I worked on my part, but the most fun was working with my friends.”

That’s what sixth-grader Spencer Storm, fourth-graders Emmett Pehrson and Glorya Weaver appreciated, while fourth-grader Elizabeth Welch acknowledged that as well as having the chance to wear make-up for the performances. Her classmate, Hazel Anderson, said she liked wearing a microphone until it pulled her skin taking it off.

Fourth-graders Isla Crowther, Lyla Barrus and Whitney Park love singing and dancing, but they got to learn a little about cleaning with rags and mops as orphans. Their classmate Brinlee Zingleman learned about projecting her voice and discovered she likes to perform. She appreciated the choreography, especially as each orphan rotated to the front in “Hard-Knock Life.”

Others, like fifth-grader Sanah Bhardwaj, appreciated the choreography as well. 

“I love dancing; it’s great exercise and fun to do,” she said. 

Fourth-grader Hadley Clark couldn’t decide if she liked the choreography, the staging, the acting or the whole experience best, but her classmate Claire Stevenson knew what was the best: ‘The ending when everyone was clapping. I knew we did our best and I was happy with how it went.”