×

Musical ‘Annie’ marks Montague return for Arena Civic Theatre

  • Cathy King performs as Miss Hannigan during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cathy King, left, as Miss Hannigan, and Ripley Dresser, as Annie, perform during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cathy King, left, as Miss Hannigan, and Sue Dziura, as Grace Farrell, perform during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cast members perform during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sue Dziura, left, as Grace Farrell, Ripley Dresser as Annie, and Cathy King as Miss Hannigan perform during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Greg Mahoney as Drake, Brooke Tiana as Mrs. Pugh, Ripley Dresser as Annie and Christina Chapin as Lily St. Regis perform during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ripley Dresser as Annie and Sue Dziura as Grace Farrell perform during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ripley Dresser, front, who plays Annie, sings beside other cast members during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ripley Dresser as Annie, left, Sue Dziura as Grace Farrell and Gerald Marcanio as Oliver Warbucks perform during a rehearsal for Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Megan Healey, who is the director of Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie,” talks to her cast during a rehearsal on Monday at Bangs Community Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2018

It may not be “only a day away,” but it’s only a week away that a special production from the Arena Civic Theatre is coming to the Shea Theater Arts Center — the first time in five years that the nonprofit production company puts on a performance at the Turners Falls theater.

Local actors and actresses with Arena Civic Theatre are preparing to perform the musical “Annie,” with six shows between Thursday, Sept. 20 and Sunday, Sept. 23.

Filing into the Bangs Community Center in Amherst to rehearse on Tuesday, they danced, laughed, shouted and sang their way through the play, giving their all for famous numbers like “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow.” Even without costumes and stage lights, it was easy to envision the final product.

“I’m super excited and I’m not nervous at all,” said director Megan Healey, a former president of the Arena Civic Theatre, who pitched the idea of producing “Annie” to the organization in January. “We really needed a family-friendly musical.”

Homecoming

“Annie” means a lot for the cast of 30, as well as the crew members. Not only do talented youths like Ripley Dresser, 11, who plays the title role, get to perform in front of their family and friends in hometown Montague, but the production marks the Arena Civic Theatre’s return home.

“This is big news for us, as we have not produced a show at the Shea since 2013’s production of ‘Seussical,’” said Dawn Mayo, Arena Civic Theatre president.

The Shea Theater was the 48-year-old company’s home for more than two decades, but, according to Mayo, with new policies and procedures at the old theater, it eventually became “economically impossible” for Arena Civic Theatre to continue in the same space.

As a nonprofit, Mayo said Arena Civic Theatre only raises enough money to continue its mission of recognizing “the unique social enrichment, spiritual fulfillment and opportunity for personal growth that theater provides its participants” and endeavoring to “embrace all members of the community through exposure to the art form.” Even the employees are volunteers.

For the last five years, Arena Civic Theatre has bounced from place to place, putting on a couple of productions at Orange’s Ruth B. Smith Auditorium, Hawks & Reed Performing Arts Center in Greenfield, and what is now the Deerfield Community Center.

“As a nonprofit, we always have to barter for as much as we can,” Mayo said.

However, the nonprofit approached the Shea Theater again over the winter, and the two parties worked out a cheaper, mutually beneficial contract.

“They were very accommodating to our needs,” Mayo said. “We never thought we’d be able to play at the Shea again, but this play deserves a real theater.”

Veterans and newcomers

Arena Civic Theatre typically only puts on one musical a year, which takes more time and costs more than the two other (nonmusical) productions each year. The 300-person Shea Theater is the ideal place for “Annie,” the story of an orphan girl in search of her parents, which has become a “classic,” Mayo said, and tickets have been selling well, too.

“A musical is always exciting because it brings out different people,” Mayo said, adding that 50 reservations for seats were made on Tuesday alone. “And it broadens our talent, too. Here we have a great mix of veteran actors and newcomers.”

One veteran Mayo said people should be excited to see is Arena Civic Theater’s “youngest veteran,” Dresser, who started acting in plays with the organization when she was 6, and has starred in four musicals.

Dresser said she is “feeling excited and nervous,” because Annie is the biggest role she’s played.

“I am just taking all of my feelings and jumbling them up and throwing them out there for the audience,” Dresser said.

Dresser said she would have been happy with whatever role she got, but wanted the challenge of playing Annie. Dying her hair red has been fun, too, she said.

But even if her hair is naturally blonde, Dresser looked all the part during rehearsals, showcasing her booming voice and making wise remarks in character that got all the adults laughing.

A musical for everyone

The humor in the play is one thing that makes it special, director Healey said, and Dresser’s performance is hilarious at times, even when dealing with the serious subject matter of an orphaned child.

“This play, it definitely appeals to every audience member,” Healey said.

The humor is political at times, too, like billionaire character Oliver Warbucks played by Gerald Marcanio, who is eventually a fatherly figure to Annie, but one that grumpily wonders “What do Democrats eat?”

“It’s funny and it’s interesting to see,” Healey said. “You have the Republican businessman, talking about the Democrat president at the time (Franklin Roosevelt).”

“Everyone will find something they can identify with,” she added.

The play is both funny and sentimental, and Healey’s husband, Patrick Healey, who is also involved with production including set design, spoke to the symbolism of the set pieces being used.

Rather than real beds, chairs, carpets and other decor, the sets are entirely made of wooden blocks, which will be uniformly painted for the live performance. The portable set of blocks makes a large wooden cube when being transported, but breaks down into different sized pieces, which can be different objects in different scenes.

“In the beginning it’s just a cube, but we can rearrange it for whatever we need in a scene,” Patrick Healey said. “It represents what you have. What you have in life is only so much, and you have to make due with that amount.”

Arena Civic Theatre’s production of “Annie” will be performed on Thursday, Sept. 20 and Friday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m., on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 2 and 7 p.m., and on Sunday, Sept. 23 at 2 p.m. at the Shea Theater Arts Center, 71 Avenue A in Turners Falls.

For ticket information and to make reservations, call 413-233-4368. Tickets on opening night are discounted from the full cost of $12.

Staff reporter David McLellan started working at the Greenfield Recorder this year. He covers Orange, New Salem and Wendell. He can be reached at: dmclellan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 268.