The Whistler Children's Chorus has just started practicing for an October performance of the musical Annie, and the kids are very excited, says co-director Janet Hamer, who has been with the choir for over 20 years.
"The chorus has been around for 25 years and we've never done musical theatre. We thought that this year, for something a little different, we would put on a musical theatre production," Hamer says.
She and co-organizer Alison Hunter are taking eight weeks to stage the musical, in time for two performances — matinee and evening — on Saturday, Oct. 24, at 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.
The young performers are aged six to 12, Hamer says. One adult singer, Jeanette Bruce, plays the role of evil Miss Hannigan.
"We have around 52 kids who are involved in this from our junior choir and intermediate choir," she adds. "They are rehearsing together for eight weeks so we can pull it together. It's intense."
Annie is the story of a girl who is helped by cantankerous billionaire Daddy Warbucks during the Depression-era U.S. as she looks for her parents. A villainous couple pretends to be Annie's parents in order to claim the $50,000 reward Daddy Warbucks is offering to find them.
The play premiered on Broadway in 1976, and made the song Tomorrow a hit.
The Whistler Children's Chorus will be putting on a modified version of the musical, called Annie Junior.
"Rehearsals are going really, really well. The kids are just amazing. They are so excited about it," Hamer says.
"Unless you give them the opportunity to explore their talent, children often don't know what they can do. And how much fun is it to put on a play with your kids. When we were kids we were always doing it. It's always great to do something like that."
Along with weekly rehearsals, the children have CDs they can practice with at home.
"I'm assuming all of the kids, all of the parents and all of their brothers and sisters now know every single word for every single song," she laughs.
"I've had a couple of parents say to me, 'Oh, yes, I know it all now.' And I think that's good, they can sing along during the show."
Practicing is only part of learning the story. On Friday, Sept. 25, the young singers met at the Whistler Public Library to watch the 1982 film of Annie starring Albert Finney and Carol Burnett.
Staging musical theatre is an opportunity to augment the choir's singing opportunities, says Hamer.
"What I've learned is that the songs (in Annie) are in context and I think that's important. Sometimes when we do a concert we might have a theme, so we learn songs about animals (for example). But with a musical theatre production the songs are in context with a story," she says.
"The children learn more about being storytellers as opposed to 'just singing a song.' They are also learning way more about movement with the music because they have to often move across the stage while they are singing."
Projection and voice control are also important, according to Hamer.
"It's a bonus that we didn't even think about. You audience will like it better if your singing has some feeling and expression behind it. They also have to learn about cooperation and a sense of timing. The songs and the lines have to come one right after another," she says.
"It has been a really interesting educational foray for us."
The musical is just one more impressive addition to the repertoire of the Whistler Children's Chorus. Most recently, the choir sang at Peace Day (Sept. 21) in the Village.
"And, of course, they will also learn songs for Remembrance Day because we think it's important to be a part of what happens in the community, so they will be doing that. It's not long after Annie, the kids have quite a few things they are working on, too," Hamer says.
"But right now the main focus is Annie, and we're having a lot of fun. We have a lot of talented kids in the choir."
Annie takes place at Millennium Place. Tickets cost $12 for adults and $5 for children.
For more information on The Whistler Children's Chorus, visit www.whistlerchorus.org.
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