Cloverland fourth grader Chloe Kerr is ready to take center stage.
While many of her peers may have spent their summer making plans with friends and family for carefree outings to help pass the summer days, Chloe enjoyed her summer break with a different plan— learning her lines.
The nine-year-old Oakdale youth was cast in the lead role of ‘Annie’ early this summer. The musical, presented by Oakdale Community Theatre and sponsored by Oakdale High School, will open on Friday, Aug. 20 with eight planned performances. Performances will be staged Friday, Aug. 20 and Saturday, Aug. 21 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 21 and Sunday, Aug. 22 at 2 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 27 and Saturday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 28 and Sunday, Aug. 29 at 2 p.m. Performances will be staged at the Oakdale High School Theatre. Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students and seniors and are available at the Oakdale Leader office.
The hit musical will be Chloe’s second stage performance. Her first taste of theatre was as Veruca Salt for a school production of Willy Wonka.
“That was a great experience,” the young actress said of Willy Wonka, noting that her mother Jennifer Kerr had encouraged her to try out and thought she might find it to be fun.
When word spread that auditions were going to be held for a summer production of “Annie,” Chloe expressed an interest in auditioning to her mother.
“I didn’t really care what part I got,” the nine-year-old said, frankly. “All my friends were wanting to do it, so I just tried out. I just wanted to do it.”
Being cast in the lead role, however, was an honor not lost on Chloe.
Faced with a script filled with lines, songs and choreographed numbers and six weeks to prepare, the youngster was far from daunted.
“I was excited, but I was nervous,” Chloe said. “I had a plan to rehearse a couple of scenes a day.”
“What was funny is she made the plan,” mom Jennifer said of her daughter addressing her preparation for the part.
“I’m very excited to work with such kind people,” Chloe said of the large cast. “My favorite part is getting to know everybody.”
“Chloe has been absolutely incredible to work with,” David Rodrigues stated.
Rodrigues will be performing the role of Oliver Warbucks in the show.
Warbucks is a billionaire who extends an invitation for an orphan to spend the Christmas holiday in his mansion. He is surprised by the arrival of the redheaded Annie, as he expects a boy. Annie eventually finds her way to the heart of Warbucks, however, and he adopts her.
“She has great instincts,” Rodrigues said of the youngster’s acting abilities. “She’s able to take advice and … she gives advice.
“We have fun back stage,” he added. “She brings out the child in me. We’ve talked a lot about using our personal relationship on the stage, because it’s real.”
The seasoned local actor admitted that he’s dreamt of playing Warbucks for quite some time.
“Actually my dream was to always play Daddy Warbucks opposite my daughter,” he shared, referring to his oldest daughter, Oakdale High School student Maddie Rodrigues. Now too old for the part, Maddie will be on stage for the production, in the show with her father.
“I like the power of Daddy Warbucks. I like that he’s a conservative,” Rodrigues stated with a laugh. “He’s a guy who has picked himself up and … he actually says I’ve never asked for any man’s help and I never will.”
Rodrigues also shared his admiration and excitement for the amount of talent that can be found in Oakdale, citing community theatre as an excellent way for community members to not only participate in theatre, but attend it locally, as well.
“Bryan working with us has been a key factor for this to work,” he said of Oakdale High School Theatre/Choir Instructor Bryan Mills. “To his credit, he’s really helped make this happen.”
While the production has required the OHS instructor to spend much of his summer break at the high school, Mills has been happy to do it.
According to the instructor, his goal and vision is to help return community theatre to Oakdale. While living and teaching in Michigan, the instructor/director took on a similar venture, requesting the local high school to sponsor a few productions to get the group up and running.
“After several productions it was able to go on to its own theatre and it’s still going on now,” Mills said. “I feel really good about that and that can happen here, too.”
Acknowledging the magnitude of a 65-member cast for a community theatre production, Mills said, “It’s a lot of cast members, but I hope it affects the community so they say ‘this is great’ and it can go on to support itself.
“My vision of it was to involve families. We have mothers and daughters, sisters and brothers, families all sharing the stage together.”
Mills noted that he also felt the amount of community support to be encouraging.
“The surprise really is the willingness of the community,” he said of donations and volunteer help. “Pretty much anyone we have asked has helped in some way. The school has also been fabulous opening the building for us throughout the summer.”
As the director of the production Mills shared his biggest fear is that people will wait until the second weekend and miss out on the production.
“That second weekend is going to sell out,” he predicted. “If someone doesn’t come they’ll really miss out.”
The teacher shared his admiration for the entire crew necessary to pull off such a production. He noted past Oakdale High students who once held lead roles in high school productions are now more than happy to play a supporting role in the “Annie” production, as well as the crew that makes it all come together, from stage, to sound, lights and voice coaching.
“We have people volunteering to do things they have been professionally trained to do,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
The tenured director also shared his admiration for Chloe and her portrayal of Annie.
“She can dance, she can sing, she can act,” he said. “The really nice thing about her is she’s humble. A young child, to be that age and have humility … her parents have done something right.
“Some have to work to be believable,” he added of Chloe in the role of Annie, “and she’s just believable. I mean, she is Annie.”