CSA’s youngest actors learning, loving ‘Annie’ Oct. 20-21

CSA’s youngest actors learning, loving ‘Annie’ Oct. 20-21

“Annie: Kids,” intended for elementary age performers, is just 30 minutes long, says Cody Walls, director of theater for the Community School of the Arts in Fort Smith. “But the actors put all of their energy and hearts into it.

“They are exhausted by the end of each rehearsal because they work so hard,” he says. “Children’s theater is so special simply because of the amount of love that is put into it, and, believe it or not, the shows they put on are so entertaining. I spend every day with kids, and I am always blown away by the amount of talent they display.”

Based on the iconic “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip by Harold Gray, which dates back to 1924, the kids’ version of “Annie: The Musical” is set in 1933. It’s the same story audiences have known and loved since the Broadway version debuted in 1977, abbreviated for the young actors. The moral of the story, says Walls, remains the same.

“It is a musical that humanizes children and their feelings,” he says. “Instead of these characters just being cute and singing fun songs, they are real people living in 1933 in the middle of the Depression when orphanages were overflowing, living conditions were horrible, and everyone was just trying to get through.

“It is a story about looking to the future, a reminder that our current circumstances are only temporary,” he goes on. “It is about hope. That is what sets ‘Annie’ apart and why audiences are captivated by its themes still today.”

It’s a lot for a cast of 21 students ages 5 to 8 to take on, Walls adds.

“Aside from the students being so young, and most of them new, tackling this music and getting the students to understand the time period can be quite a challenge,” he explains. “However, they are not only learning the material and doing it very well for their age group, but they are learning about an important time in American history.

“Most importantly, they are tackling and overcoming their own fears and developing a love for the arts. That is the biggest, and best, reward I could ever hope to achieve with this age group. Educational theater changes lives.”

Seven-year-old Oliver Caraway of Stigler, Okla., says he’s always wanted to act and be in plays and thanks to the CSA Rising Stars camp this summer, he is, playing the leading role in “Annie: Kids.”

“When I just watched a couple movies, like ‘The Greatest Showman,’ it hit me that I wanted to act,” he says, adding that “Annie is like me because she has courage and cares about animals. Annie isn’t like me because she has a lot of freckles.” Plus, he says, in the role, “my singing has gotten better, and I have more courage.”

Sharing the stage with Oliver is 8-year-old John Wilson of Fort Smith as Daddy Warbucks.

“This is my fourth play with CSA,” John says. “I have been in ‘Jungle Book,’ ‘Seussical,’ ‘Frozen,’ and now ‘Annie.’ I wanted to be in ‘Annie’ because I love acting.”

John says he fell in love with acting “after watching my older sister’s friend in a CSA performance a few years ago. My parents have also taken me to many other live performances.

“I am like [Daddy Warbucks] because he is bossy and has a big personality,” he explains. “I am not like him because he is a millionaire and lived 100 years ago.”

Asked what he’s learned from theater, John says: “That everybody makes mistakes, and it’s OK. Nobody is perfect, but you can always try to be better.”

Walls says he expects the song “Maybe” will be the biggest moment of “Annie: Kids.”

“Everyone remembers when they were a kid and had dreams about the future, their careers, etc.,” he says. “These kids just want a home, to feel loved, and to feel safe. We all can connect with those ideas. Watching these performers sing that song and share their hearts with us is beautiful and moving. It’s such a sweet moment that I think will bring some tears for the audience.”



Community School of the Arts:

‘Annie: Kids’

WHEN — 9 a.m. Oct. 20; 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. Oct. 21

WHERE — St. Boniface Auditorium, 1820 N. “B” St. in Fort Smith

COST — $12

INFO — csafortsmith.org

Categories: Family Friendly