By Alex Owens
Yes, the sun is going to come out tomorrow, but you can bet your bottom dollar it will really shine in La Mesa March 16-19.
That’s when Peter Pan Junior Theatre will be presenting a production of the hit Broadway musical “Annie” at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre at The Salvation Army Kroc Center.
This marks the third time the company has presented “Annie,” according to the show’s director, Dr. Mark Arapostathis, a teacher at La Mesa Arts Academy (LMAAC) and the Mayor of La Mesa.
Ninety students have been rehearsing songs and choreography since November, but the show isn’t just about singing and dancing, Arapostathis said.
“We’re not working just on the production, but we’re striving for cultural literacy,” he said. “We’re teaching the students about the Great Depression. We explain that there was no Annie or Daddy Warbucks, but we explain about the New Deal and FDR.”
Long before Arapostathis became the PPJT director, he was one of many performers in the show. He said the cultural literacy is something new and adds to the show’s value.
“When I was growing up, we didn’t do that as much,” he said. “But kids have greater access to finding out information about that era than we did.”
The show features a few cast members as Rockettes, and a couple of them got a little bit of extra help when they went on a class trip to New York in October and met one of the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
Alexandra Moye, a seventh grader at LMAAC, said the Rockette gave her some useful performance advice.
“She said, ‘Practice! Practice! Practice!’” Moye said.
Attendees will see a slightly different show than the production on Broadway or the one that toured through San Diego a few months back.
“Normally, ‘Annie’ has a cast of 22, but we have 90 performers – we’ve expanded the cast times four,” Arapostathis said. “Every child has a role and a name. They’re not just the chorus.”
Although many students have gone on to other productions after being aged out of the PPJT program, Arapostathis emphasizes the program’s goal is to build character, not stars.
“Talent is relative,” he said. “I want kids with good attitudes who want to work. I consider it a big compliment when people say, ‘Oh, you found such talented kids.’ In truth, the rehearsals can look like claymation – I have to go line by line to help them make the stage moves look natural.”
This marks the 23rd production that Arapostathis has directed and he has changed his approach in recent years.
“Lots of children are involved in sports and other things so we’re trying to tailor the program to that,” he said. “We’ve reduced rehearsals from six days to four. It’s forced greater clarity in my thinking because there isn’t as much time.”
There will be five shows – four evening productions and a Saturday matinee – but the students will also perform free shows for students in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District as well.
“PPJT is not subsidized by the district,” he said. “We pay to rent the theater, we pay the musicians and pay for the school buses so that 2,000 students can see the play for free during the week of the show. We also pay for a substitute teacher at LMAAC for me the week of the show.”
Although the students will be as prepared as much as possible, Arapostathis said sometimes they learn to adapt to the unexpected.
“Last season, when we did ‘Once Upon A Mattress,’ a child couldn’t make it so I put on a crown and read her lines,’” Arapostathis said.
Peter Pan Junior Theatre’s production of “Annie” will be presented March 16-19 at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre at The Salvation Army Kroc Center, 6845 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92115. Tickets are $15. Performances begin at 7 p.m. for evening shows, 1 p.m. for the Saturday matinee.
For information, check out ppjt.org.
––Alex Owens is a freelance writer from La Mesa. Reach him at email@example.com.