Opening night is just a day away for South Coast Repertory Summer Players production of "Annie," which plays this weekend and next on the Julie Argyros Stage.
The show stars local youth in grades 5-12 who auditioned for their roles after completing one year in SCR's theater conservatory. The musical will be performed in the 336-seat theater, giving the students the complete experience: the big stage, full lighting and sound, period costumes and sets changes.
Theatre conservatory director Hisa Takakuwa is directing the show, which takes place during the Great Depression.
Takakuwa enlisted the help of SCR literary assistant Andrew Knight to help the actors connect the play's context to the recently ended recession, according to a news release.
The show opens with a prologue, which draws upon the similarities between the two time periods.
"'Annie' really required the kids to immerse themselves in the historical era of the piece," said Music Director Erin McNally.
"We were lucky enough to have our very own dramaturg to work with and each actor took part in researching the vocabulary, history and look of the 1920s and 1930s. Given that most of the actors play multiple parts, it was important that they create distinctive, accurate and believable characters."
The show features several Newport Beach youths, including Jaden Fogel, Christopher Huntley, Mitchell Huntley and Lauren Lyons.
Lauren, 13, plays the orphan July in the musical. This is her second year with SCR's theater conservatory.
"The specific thing that SCR does differently than other theater groups that do 'Annie' is they really help you figure out what it would be like to be that character and how it's not just a bunch of happy people singing songs," she said. "It actually has some meaningful and depressing parts to it. The thing I like about the show in particular is that anyone old and young can come see the show and enjoy it. Also I love all the music in it."
McNally has been involved with SCR for 10 years. She has helped a lot of young actors in the theatre conservatory program.
"I love that this program isn't just about 'putting on plays,'" McNally said. "It really focuses on the process of being an artist. Ensemble is everything at SCR, whether it be the students in class or the designers working on a show."
Lauren said the cast has been rehearsing for the show for four weeks, five days a week and for three to six hours a day.
"We have a wonderful mixture of young first-year students, all the way up to high school graduates who have been taking classes at SCR since they were 10," McNally said. "It is especially meaningful to me because I have so many former students in the show. I constantly find myself beaming with pride, and often teary-eyed, to see how much they have grown over the years."
The show "is perfect for all ages," she said.
"You will definitely learn a lot about the Great Depression and what people went through," Lauren said. "You will definitely have hope when times are tough after seeing the musical and what could be better to do than see a bunch of kids perform their hearts out onstage."
If You Go
Where: South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and Aug. 17-18
Cost: $12 for children; $15 for adults