Stage West brings 'Annie Jr.' to Spring Hill through July 22

Annie (Holly Frendberg, right) and Molly (Sydney Gargiulo) commiserate over life in the orphanage in Stage West’s production of Annie Jr. This will be Frendberg’s second time in her “dream role.”

Carol Ballard | Special to the Times

Annie (Holly Frendberg, right) and Molly (Sydney Gargiulo) commiserate over life in the orphanage in Stage West’s production of Annie Jr. This will be Frendberg’s second time in her “dream role.”

SPRING HILL — Holly Frendberg was only 3 when she first watched the movie version of the musical Annie. But even at that early age, she says, she knew that Annie was a character she wanted to play someday.

"I would go all over the house singing Tomorrow and Maybe," said Frendberg, now 11. "I've always wanted to play Annie."

She got her chance two years ago, snagging the lead role in the Springstead High School production of Annie.

But once was not enough.

Frendberg will take the stage again as the rambunctious red-headed orphan in the children's production of Annie Jr., which kicks off tonight and continues through July 22 at Stage West Community Playhouse.

"It really is a dream role," Frendberg said. "And to do it twice is an honor."

What Frendberg really likes about Annie is her spirit.

"Even though she is struggling, she is tough but also a sweet girl," Frendberg said.

Despite her age, Frendberg isn't a stranger to local theater buffs. She has performed in several local productions, including as princess in The King and I and as Wilbur in Charlotte's Web. At the 2011 Stage West HAMI awards, she won the Female Rising Star Youth Award.

Having Frendberg as the lead in Annie Jr. was a perfect fit, says director Keith Meccia.

"Holly is awesome," he said. "She has a voice like no other. And she is the perfect age for Annie."

Based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie, the musical takes place in the 1930s at a girls orphanage, run by the horrible Miss Hannigan. Annie's life changes when she — along with her dog, Sandy, played by Jaclyn Doxey — is selected to spend the Christmas holiday at the mansion of the hard-hearted billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, played by Christian Braz. The show includes several favorite songs, including Tomorrow and It's the Hard-knock Life.

As Miss Hannigan, Nina Mackin, 14, is having a great time.

"She is an over-the-top, extreme character," Mackin said. "She is extremely mean and rude. It's almost hard to believe anyone would act like that. … I really had to find a part in myself to convince people that I am an angry, bitter old woman."

Miss Hannigan pushes people, spanks a girl, rips off a doll's head and wears outrageous clothing.

"And, I wear some of the most disgusting outfits you've ever seen," Mackin said, describing one as a green polyester nightgown with feathers.

Taking on the role as Oliver Warbucks was a bit of a challenge for Christian Braz, who had less time to learn his lines than the rest of the cast. Meccia was dead-set on finding someone who had a deep voice, and it wasn't until a second audition — that raised the age limit from 15 to 16 — that Braz, with his baritone voice, was selected.

"It's been really fun," said Braz, 16.

Originally, he was going to shave his head for the role, but instead chose to wear a bald cap.

"I really like that (Warbucks) changes," Braz said of his character. "When he takes Annie out on the town, it's then that his perspective changes. His whole attitude of being all business, iron-fisted, all changes. He softens."

The musical, with a cast of 30 young people, age 6 to 16, differs slightly from the original, Meccia said. It is not as long and doesn't include the more adult situations, such as Miss Hannigan's excessive use of alcohol.

The musical director is Steven Schildbach, and the choreographer is Julie Nelson.

Stage West patrons may remember Meccia as Naphtali in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and in Arsenic and Old Lace, where he won a HAMI Award for his role as the slightly nutty Teddy. Wanting to also take on director's duties, Meccia was assistant director of Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr. at Stage West, as well as Into the Woods and Meet Me in St. Louis at Weeki Wachee High School.

Annie Jr. is his first opportunity as a director, which Meccia finds somewhat ironic since his first taste of the stage was a production of Annie when he was 10.

"Annie was the first show I performed in (as Drake and Mr. Bundles)," he said, "and it's fun to be able to make it my debut as a director."

As for directing, "I'm loving it," Meccia, now 21, said, and expressed his amazement at the talent in the show.

"I think folks will be shocked," he said. "All these kids are so talented. ... They just blew me away during rehearsals."

>>if you go

Annie Jr.

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, today through July 22.

Where: Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill

Admission: $10, reserved seating

Contact: Call the box office at (352) 683-5113 or visit the website at stagewest.net.

Stage West brings 'Annie Jr.' to Spring Hill through July 22 07/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 5:33pm]

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