SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The Grant School Drama Club will present its 2021 production of Annie Jr. this coming weekend. The 60-minute musical features a cast, crew and production team comprised of fifth and sixth graders and can be streamed at scheduled times from Friday, May 21 through Sunday, May 23. 

"I love the music, and the message of the music and story…" said Grant orchestra director and chorus teacher Joan Stasio who, along with fifth grade teacher Susan Eichert, serves as co-director of the drama club. 

"The show was written during the recession of the 1970s about the depression of the 1930s, so I also thought the message would really resound with everyone during these uncertain times. The song "Tomorrow" is so touching and hopeful, and I can’t think of a more fitting song for these times." 

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This year's play choice was announced last December and auditions for Annie, Jr. were held in early January through Google Meet. Over the first few months, Stasio and Eichert held virtual cast rehearsals focused on delivering lines, singing, and dancing, several times a week. At this time, Shannon Maddolin, choral director and general music teacher, and fifth grade teacher Allison Gorman, who both serve as co-production directors, also worked closely with the costume, tech, and publicity crew.

In April, the Drama Club received the green light for cast to rehearse in person and those with lead and/or speaking roles were able to film their scenes at the school. 

"It was really important to get the chemistry of the actors to come out [and] the best way to do that was to film some scenes live," said Stasio, commending Eichert for doing 'an excellent job making a schedule' so that those students with lines and lead parts knew exactly which days they had to come in to work on their scenes. "We did the best to accommodate their busy schedules, and you could see how much they enjoyed working on the play and being with their friends on filming days."

In addition to directing, producing, and choreographing the musical Eichert and Stasio also worked to provide the students with background on the show. "It was important to me to have each student understand their character; the life they would’ve lived in 1933, what was going on in the country at that time, and what they might’ve felt like if they had lived at that time and what they would have worn," said Stasio. "I did my best to give them as much history from that time period and make it relatable to them.  I really think that’s important when putting on a period piece like this, and I think they really enjoyed our discussions."

While it was easier to work with smaller in-person groups as compared to large full-cast rehearsals, Stasio said it only having a handful of opportunities to meet prior to filming made it even more important for students to understand what had to go into each scene. 

"When we would do the show live, the kids had several dress rehearsals and performances to go over their lines and do the scene on stage, so by the first performance it clicked, and they just had fun. This year, we had to speed up that process rather than letting it happen organically, because we need time to edit," she said.

The students, said Stasio, rose to the challenge. "Every direction we gave them was the same we would give them whether they were on stage or making a movie," she said, adding, "It didn’t matter whether we were doing scenes virtually or filming them in person at school. We tried our best to really bring out what it’s really like to put on a production like this."

Annie Jr. will be presented virtually at 7 p.m. Friday, May 21 through Sunday, May 23 as well as at 2 p.m. both Saturday, May 22 and Sunday, May 23. Tickets, which are $6 per show and per device, can be purchased online now up until an hour prior to show time. All proceeds go to support the Grant School Drama Club and offset costs of current and future productions. 

"I think the town will see just how talented these kids are, and we hope that the audience will see that the kids really understand how to put on a live musical," Stasio said, adding, "I have done about seven productions of Annie and Annie Jr. over my many years of teaching and directing and honestly can say that this is the best cast I’ve ever worked with. Their talents are enormous, and they are just fantastic."

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