SPOTSWOOD, NJ - It may be a hard knock life for a group of spirited orphans, but they along with the entire cast and crew of the Appleby School Drama Club's production of "Annie Jr." brought down the house at the Spotswood High School Cafetorium on Thursday, April 27 for their opening night performance. The musical comedy, which is based on the lovable red-haired orphan in the popular comic strip, featured 81 of Appleby Elementary School's best and brightest fifth graders. The students, under the direction of Helmetta Mayor Chris Slavicek, have been hard at work since returning to school after winter break in January.

Savanah Rosario took on the title role of the spunky orphan that never gave up hope of being reunited with the parents who abandoned her as an infant. Rosario was darling, complete with red curls, as she navigated the often challenging vocal demands with prowess. Cyanne Chan absolutely sparkled as the gritty and mean orphanage matron, Miss Hannigan. Chan delivered her lines with sass as she completely nailed Hannigan's showcase number, "Little Girls." Kyle Chigas was another show-stopper as Hannigan's equally maniacal brother, Rooster. The pair along with Jacqueline Genthe as Rooster's gal Lily St. Regis definitely stole the spotlight when they were on stage. Jianna Bardowell captivated the showcase number "N.Y.C" with her powerful voice in an ensemble piece that featured almost the entire 81 member cast.

Realistic-looking sets served as the backdrop as a hardworking stage crew moved the set from the orphanage to the stylish home of billionaire, Oliver Warbucks like seasoned pros. Complete with a lighted Christmas tree and a light snowfall at the play's happy conclusion, audience members were treated to a heartwarming and entertaining evening of theater at its finest.

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Even the furriest member of the cast deserves a bow. Tank Engstrom portrayed the lovable stray Sandy, who like Annie was just looking for someone to love. Tank didn't miss a cue and looked quite fetching in his red bow during the final curtain call and while posing for photos afterwards.

In keeping with the theme of the fun-filled evening, audience members could even adopt a stray in the lobby before or after the show. The large cage of stuffed Sandy lookalikes was almost empty by the time the excited and tired cast and crew exited the backstage area after removing their costumes.

The fifth graders will hit the stage for additional performances on Friday, April 28 at 6:30 p.m. as well as two shows on Saturday, April 29 at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The Friday evening performance is sold out. However, an extremely limited number of tickets may be available for the Saturday evening shows.