Barbara Lawlor, Gilpin County. It was hard to believe that the actors on the Gilpin School stage were elementary school students. They sang with confidence, belting out the familiar songs from “Annie,” with colossal stage presence, knowing the lines, hitting the right notes and unwaveringly holding them at the right places.
Musical productions put on by young children are always adorable, no one cares about forgotten lines, out of tune voices, a child waving at his or her parents in the audience. They take videos of the moments, videos they will cherish forever.
But last weekend’s production of Annie was different. These elementary school students knew what they were doing. They performed as if they had been performing since they could speak. Their voices meshed with an orphan’s outrage fused with spunk and tenderness towards each other. Their right-on emotions moved the audience, who laughed and cried at the same time.
Everything involved with the musical was not just perfect, but as well done as a professional production. The costumes were remarkable, as if the school had borrowed them from Broadway. The sets were seamlessly changed by the techies, the sound and lighting crew created the drama faultlessly.
Two grandmothers sat in the front row. Sharon Seelig flew to Colorado from Minnesota to see her daughter, Crystal Zeilbeck, the musical director, and her grandchildren who were in the play, Aiden and Lexi. The other grandmother came from Florida to see her granddaughter Eliza Westbrook, who starred as Annie. She said it was Eliza’s first time on stage and she would often tell her grandmother how nervous she was about her role. Eliza took voice lessons to prepare for the show, to learn how to project her voice, be poised.
When the audience arrived, they were greeted by the ushers who introduced the show, “Let’s Go to the Movies.” They were the youngest girls, but when they marched down the aisle, singing, people knew they were in for a special night of top notch entertainment.
Ella Albrecht, Amelia Bushey, Kaylee Harmsen, Devyn Hulin, Norah Manley, Addyson Myhre, Fallen Rungved, Mila Scheider, Maya Secular and Sofia Whisenant led the audience into the orphanage where the ragamuffin kids were ready to complain about their “Hard knock Life.” Additional orphans were Lexi Zeilbeck – Molly, Joei Sutton – Kate, Kari Hanson – Tessie, Killian O’Brien – July, Faith Ramsey – Pepper, and Jiselle Osteboe – Duffy.
And Eliza, as Annie, owned the stage when she sang her solos, poignantly yearning in “Maybe” expressing Annie’s longing to find her parents. And then she bravely projects hope with “Tomorrow,” the song about the sun always showing up, no matter what.
Sandy, Annie’s beloved adopted mutt, played by Cason Turkaly was the canine show stealer, getting a load of laughs every time he woofed.
The orphans were played by Annabelle Aloel, Brooklyn DeLeon, Persephone Randall, Remington Rich, Alyssa Ruhl and Tori Turner, finding whatever comfort they could in each other. In their shabby clothes and with forlorn faces, these kids became orphans.
Adele Fisher was Miss Hannigan, the orphanage villain, who sang, “Little Girls” with an extraordinary amount of venom, a quality needed for the part.
The money hungry bad guys, Rooster Hannigan and Lily St. Regis were played by Aiden Zielbeck and Elise Vincent and they managed to present the smarminess of the couple who pretended to be her parents. Justin Cass played the part of Daddy Warbucks with just the right amount of tender gruffness.
Each actor is to be commended for their talent and eagerness to do their best. The directors did a fabulous job of leading these children, bringing out their individual strengths and bringing them together in an outstanding musical show.
The Gilpin County Theatre Players will present a Midsummer Night’s Dream in April of 2018.
(Originally published in the November 23, 2017 print edition of The Mountain-Ear.)