By Harold Egeln, Jr.
The Broadway hit musical that has dazzled audiences since 1977 thrilled families anew at a five-star student performance of “Annie Jr.,” which lit up the stage at Seth Low I.S. 96 in Bensonhurst over the weekend.
“We’ve tapped into our regular teachers’ talents, and the choice of ‘Annie’ is a musical dear to my heart,” said Principal Erin Lynch during an opening speech at the June 29 production at the middle school located at 99 Avenue P.
Lynch commended the student actors and teachers for their hard work, including director Alison Asfazadour.
Indeed, the performers did a terrific job singing, dancing, and delivering their lines — particularly Shayman Aribou, who played Annie. Aribou, a sixth grader, could easily play on Broadway herself, along with her performing companions.
I had seen the original musical, cast with Andrea McArdle as Annie at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre) on Broadway, more that 35 years ago, and hearing the famous tunes — renditions of “Tomorrow,” “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” “Maybe,” and “I Think I’m Going to Like It Here” — brought back memories of the original show.
For students, working on the musical was an opportunity develop their artistic expression and teamwork skills.
“The play ‘Annie’ changed my life because it taught me how to work with others, helped me control my vocals, and how to express myself on stage,” said Aribou in the playbill. She also thanked her parents for their “you can do it” encouragement, her teachers, and her fellow students.
Other cast members also delivered stellar performances, including Denisse Gonzales’ version of Grace Farrell, Destiny Tishchenko as Miss Hannigan, Muna Baghirova as Lily St. Regis and Amir Zarman as Oliver Warbucks. The musical numbers by the girls at the St. Marks Place orphanage were absolutely superb.
The sets provided perfect backdrops, thanks to students April Pan, Gary and Tiffany Tran, Andrew Asante and Nataliya Pavlyk, with the help of teacher and set designer Jeannene Arcuri.
Asfazadour’s team included music director Andrea Pryor, choreographer Rosanna Cinquermani, costume designer Danielle Blickhahn and project advisor Chris Heller.
“Annie Jr.” is Seth Low’s first-ever Broadway Junior performance, made possible after Asfazadour and her team applied for a grant from The Shubert Foundation’s Music Theatre International [MTI] — which provides up to $10,500 in services and resources to engage schools in the process of creating a sustainable theater program. Seth Low was one of 15 finalists, among 35 applicants, to win the Broadway Junior grant.