Groton on the Inside: Orphans, a billionaire, and a real dog grace Groton’s stage

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Boasting a cast and crew of more than 50 students, ranging from second through 12th grade, another fabulous musical, “Annie,” will grace the stage of the Groton High School auditorium under the direction of GHS Drama Club director, Annette Twitchell.


Twitchell brought musicals back to the Groton stage for the first time in two decades with “The Wizard of Oz” in 2006. Each year since has continued to bring talented students together with some amazing musical productions that have rivaled Broadway in our little town.


This year promises to be no exception, as Twitchell and company are putting the finishing touches on the show, which will open on Friday, March 15 at 7 p.m., followed by a matinee at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 16, with the final production at 7 p.m. that evening.


When I dropped in on a recent rehearsal, I asked Twitchell how she was feeling about this particular musical. “This is going to be a great show! It’s been so much fun seeing how much the students have enjoyed singing every song,” she said. “There’s just something really catchy about every tune, and we all love how upbeat everything is. It’s such a family-friendly, classic, heart-warming show.”


Based on the popular comic strip; “Little Orphan Annie” by Harold Gray, the musical production of “Annie” has become a worldwide phenomenon and was the winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical.


As in years prior, GHS’ “Annie” will be competing with other area schools to win awards of its own via The Cortland Repertory Theatre’s annual Pavilion Awards. They have met with great success with past shows and based on what I saw during rehearsal, I have high hopes for them again this time.


The talent abounds in this show! With equal measures of pluck and positivity, little orphan Annie, played by senior Maggie Ossit, charms everyone’s heart despite a next-to-nothing start in 1930s New York City. She is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of a New York City orphanage that is run by the cruel, embittered Miss Hannigan. Newcomer to the Groton stage, senior Peyton Klein, will play the role of Hannigan.
With the help of the other girls in the orphanage, Annie escapes to the wondrous world of NYC.


In adventure after fun-filled adventure, Annie foils Miss Hannigan’s evil machinations, and even befriends President Franklin Delano Roosevelt! Another senior, Anthony Sirvent, plays Roosevelt, as well as the roles of Lt. Ward and Fred McCracken in different scenes of the play.


Annie finds a new home and family in billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, who is played by Travis Oudekerk, who is also a GHS senior, along with Warbucks’ personal secretary, Grace Farrell, played by GHS junior, Morgan Dittman, and a lovable mutt named Sandy.


The part of Sandy will be filled by a real canine, “Homer,” who happens to belong to Averie Roberts, a junior who fills the roles of Annette and Usherette and performs in the ensemble.


As you may have noticed, the cast for “Annie” is quite senior-heavy. When combined with the seniors on the stage crew, Twitchell will be bidding farewell to 16 students who will graduate this June. Thankfully, she is already grooming some of the younger students to come up through the ranks, such as Peyton Conger (second grade) and Jaiden Mitchell (sixth grade), who each made their stage debuts last year in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” They are joined by several of their classmates for this production.


Perhaps some of these seniors may return to lend a hand in the future. GCS alumnae, Kayla Lyon and Brandy Wright, have done just that. Lyon as assistant director, and Wright as the choreographer, for the past five years. It is always so gratifying to see alumni return to their alma mater to find ways to give back.


I asked some of the leads in “Annie” to share their thoughts about the parts they are playing, their general sense of the show, and what they plan for the future.


Oudekerk spoke about the challenges playing Warbucks because he feels it is difficult to play a character that is the opposite of his own personality. In general, though, he is impressed by “such a strong cast all working extremely hard.”


This will be Oudekerk’s second musical, and he regrets not doing it sooner. “It’s so much fun and everyone is great to be around. I hope a lot of people can come see the show,” he said. He plans to attend TC3 in the fall for general studies but would then like to major in directing and theatrical productions – hopefully at Ithaca College or SUNY Cortland, but his dream would be NYU.
Although a senior, playing Annie is Ossit’s first performance. “It’s so exciting and interesting to play an 11-year-old when I am 18,” she said. “Annie is optimistic and loves to have fun. I relate to that, so she’s been easy to play. Averie Roberts’ dog, Homer (who plays Sandy), is so sweet and listens so well. Miss Hannigan and Rooster are hilarious – kids are going to just love it!”
Ossit hopes to attend SUNY Oneonta in the fall for English education with a minor in creative writing. Her future plan is to become an English teacher and then write a book.


Dittman said, “Grace Farrell is different than who I am, or any other character I’ve played before, so it’s really out of the box for me.” She is impressed by the hard-working cast and that “everyone is so respectful of Mrs. Twitchell and each other.”


Robert Brehm, who plays the stately character, Drake, said he has always played parts that are “goofy” before, and this one is such a mature character. Brehm is also confident that “everyone is working hard and that the show is going to be terrific!”


Angela Conger, the mother of cast members Peyton and Chloe, has been a “stage mom” for quite a while, but this year is officially the production assistant. Her overall impression is “the kids put in a lot of work and the show is going to be awesome and it’s a classic!”


Conger also mentioned that this is the first time she can say “there has been no drama with these kids except the drama they’re supposed to be creating!”
I sense a theme here – that this show is going to be an amazing, family-friendly, really-happy-that-you-went, kind of thing. I know I won’t miss it! Admission is $7, $5 for children under age 10. To order tickets now, call (607) 898-4550, or purchase at the door.


The Drama Club will be fundraising at the performances by making small stuffed dogs resembling Annie’s dog, Sandy, available for $5 each. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Graham family of Groton, who are still facing medical and other costs, although Bruce Graham’s health is improving every day.


Groton on the Inside appears weekly. Submit news ideas to Linda Competillo, lmc10@cornell.edu or (607) 227-4922.

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