This harried writer found respite in the midst of a hectic Christmas season and it came in the unexpected form of a musical named “Annie.” Under the direction of Erin Gill, the Wildcat Players wowed their audiences during multiple performances on December 5th-7th, and 10th, 2019 in Woodmont High’s auditorium.
When asked how the group decided upon “Annie”, Ms. Gill said that the beloved musical ranked high on an end-of-year survey distributed to students and the public. Since they try to involve elementary and middle school students every other year, “Annie” provided the perfect opportunity. In addition, it seemed the perfect musical for Christmas. Coincidentally, Ms. Gill has a fondness for “Annie” since this was the first musical she watched as a child and the first musical in which she ever performed.
A host of people made this delightful production possible with over 70 students performing in the musical, 35 individuals comprising the production team, and many parents helping to support the activity.
Ms. Gill says that her students learn so much more than “doing theatre” by participating in these plays and musicals. It takes hard work to coordinate their course work with the time demands of a production. They must collaborate with other students and work as a team to pull off a musical such as this. “Annie” being set in the Depression of the 1930’s contains many references to that time period and students made connections with their United States history classes. The students actually run the shows, so they learn leadership and planning skills as well. In addition, they use their math and carpentry skills to construct sets and costumes.
For this production, the elaborate sets brought this musical to life and transformed the stage into New York City of the 1930’s. Will Luther, a local professional designer, mapped out the sets, but the students in technical theater classes constructed them, sometimes during afterschool hours. It took 3 weeks to complete this project and many helpers including parents who generously volunteered their time and skills.
Every actor and actress in this musical production gave a splendid performance. The “orphans” especially engaged the audience. The ensemble cast, moving from the wings and filling up the stage with song drew the audience into Annie’s world and the plight of all the orphans and homeless.
Camryn Cothran, who has been involved with the Wildcat Performers for 3 years, turned in a stellar and touching performance as the spunky Annie. Ed Sullivan, as Daddy Warbucks, spoke his lines expansively and was very believable in the role of a wealthy man who comes to love Annie as a daughter. Ashtyn Hammond as Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ faithful secretary, sang beautifully and played her part with a combination of tenderness and strength. Ethan Rios’ enthusiastic performance as President Franklin Roosevelt brought the legendary President to life.
Erin Gill played Miss Hannigan, the orphanage matron, to perfection! She says that she loves portraying a good villain and has always enjoyed this character and her antics. Performing in the musical and directing it at the same time did present challenges though. As director, she typically spends a lot of time watching the movement around the stage and getting the big picture. Preparing for Miss Hannigan with her various movements, lines, and songs took time and extra effort. Mr. Harry Culpepper, the assistant director and other theatre teacher at Woodmont High, conducted the technical rehearsals, freeing her to be on stage. In addition, he proved instrumental in getting the sets completed. Ms. Ana Gibbs, an English teacher at Woodmont High School, also assisted in very valuable ways. Ms. Gill says it is a pleasure to teach at a school where there is such a sense of community and comradery in the staff.
Ms. Gill first became interested in drama when in high school where she took a few drama classes. Then, she started performing in community theatre. At Winthrop College, she combined her burgeoning interest in theatre with a passion for teaching. After teaching for 5 years at Woodmont Middle, she moved over to Woodmont High where she is now in her second year.
One additional performance simply must be mentioned. Tater, a 7-year-old Boxer-mix, stole the show in his role as Sandy, the stray dog rescued from a dogcatcher by Annie. This 175-pound therapy dog regularly serves at the Greenville Children’s Museum, schools, churches, hospitals, and nursing homes. Tater pulled off a charming performance each time even with the unaccustomed bright stage lights. In between appearances, this gentle, loving dog could be found backstage playing with and enjoying the company of the students!
At the musical’s conclusion, this audience member felt deeply touched by the sincerity of the performances and the allusions to a bygone era, one of the darker times in our country’s history. Yet, “Annie” also leaves one feeling hopeful and strangely enough, smiling. If anything, the play confirms that optimism truly is contagious and can change the course of things. Ms. Gill says the show contains a big, relatable message students desperately need to hear—“stand up for yourself and take care of the people around you.” Thank you to Woodmont High Wildcat Players for this timely and beautiful reminder.
If you unfortunately missed this delightful “Annie” production, Ms. Gill will be directing a one act play called “I Bring You Flowers” on February 14-16, 2020. In addition, their next big musical, “Hairspray,” is planned for April 24-May 3, 2020. Hope to see you there!