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Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Best Annie I Have Ever Seen

I grew up with the musical Annie. I remember when I was a kid, watching a program called In The News (a 2 minute newscast for kids in between cartoons on Saturday Mornings on CBS) about the Broadway premiere of the show. My mom used to play the songs from Annie on her piano and sing them as well. Besides the movie, and several t.v. versions I have seen Annie or it's kid's version Annie Jr. at least 5 times. These 5 times were not including seeing it performed last night.

Last night's production was a little unusual in that it was performed by a troupe from the Penguin Project. The Penguin Project started in the Peoria, Illinois area and is theatre performed by children who are handicapped or have other special needs. The Peoria Troupe has spun off two additional troupes since then both in Illinois, one in the Bloomington/Normal area and this weekend in the Sycamore/Dekalb area.

I attended last night because my nephew who is a 4th grader was one of the artists in the production. The Penguin Project calls all their special needs performers artists. They pair each artist with a mentor, a student without disabilities who performs alongside the artists. Now if you think this would turn out like special ed students in a play with 1 on 1 aides you could not be farther from the truth. The mentors blend into the background and besides some limited physical assistance and a few line prompts were indistinguishable from the rest of the troupe.

Yesterday's performance had to be the best version of Annie I have ever seen. These kids could really act and sing and within 5 minutes you were not watching a performance of Annie with a disabled cast, you were just watching a performance of Annie.

Anyone familiar with Annie knows that the juiciest part of the show is not Annie, it's Miss Hannigan - the director of the orphanage. This version's Miss Hannigan was hands down the best I have ever seen and I say that meaning no disrespect for Carol Burnett. The girl who played her showed excellent comic bravada and a tremendous singing voice to boot. I could go and tell you which disability or special needs he and each other performer had, but the strength of their performances was what they could do and not what they could not.
Besides seeing a terrific rendition of a favorite musical was being able to see my nephew involved with it.. I have never felt of him as disabled even though he falls somewhere in the autism spectrum. This was his first acting role and he played various New Yorkers throughout the show. He did a fine job and more importantly really enjoyed himself. It was bittersweet as I know how proud his father, my brother, would have been if he would had lived to see him on that stage.

Here is my nephew getting congratulated by his sister as his mentor watches over him.

Next Time: Fall T.V.

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