‘Annie’ musical draws ‘record breaking’ attendance in Fort Kent
FORT KENT, Maine — A cast of more than three dozen elementary school, high school and college students, along with a dog named Bentley, drew hundreds to each of four performances of the musical “Annie,” at the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s Fox Auditorium, Nov. 16-18.
“It was record breaking,” said Director Doug Clapp of audience attendance for one of his productions. “Hundreds of people attended every show.”
Sadie Cairns headed up the cast in the titular role of Annie, a spunky orphan who overcomes adversity to eventually find a home with the wealthy and kind-hearted Daddy Warbucks.
Clapp said many high school productions of the musical include actresses in their early teens portraying Annie, but it was clear to him from the start that Cairns, who is just 10 years old, had what it took to handle the part.
“She was so young but she came in really, really solid right from the start of tryouts. It was obvious she was capable of doing Annie,” Clapp said. He added that Cairns delivered throughout the performances.
“How in the world did that little girl manage to pull that much emotion and that much singing ability and dancing into the play?” he wondered aloud.
According to her mother, Jill Cairns, Sadie has been a dancer since the age of 3. She performed a small role in the UMFK Summer Theater production of “Hamlet” in August, and has participated in a few school plays as well as an after school theater program at Fort Kent Elementary School, which “Annie” acting coach and consultant Caryn Cleveland-Short oversees.
“For a long time now her dream has been to be an actress, a singer and a dancer,” Jill Cairns said of her daughter. “She has absolutely loved every single minute of being a part of this production, from the audition to the final show. She says she’s ready to do another play.”
Jill Cairns also expressed her appreciation for the community at large and other “Annie” actors who helped Sadie achieve success in the role.
“The crowd at every production was nothing short of phenomenal,” she said. “I’d like to especially acknowledge the older cast members who really took to the younger kids, welcomed them onto the stage with them, supported them and made this such a fun experience.”
One cast member who proved a little bit more challenging throughout the production was Bentley, the dog who played the part of Sandy. A member of the Matt and Kellie Michaud family, Bentley behaved on stage for the most part, but during a scene on Friday night during which Annie and other actors were eating bread and soup, Bentley temporarily broke from character, barked and tried to gobble up some of the bread himself.
To prevent a recurrence, Clapp made the directorial decision that the remaining two shows on Saturday would be soup only endeavors.
Clapp added that without his assistant director and wife of 44 years, Nancy Clapp, and others who devoted their time to the musical, “Annie” would not have been so successful.
He also praised Cleveland-Short for being “such a pro. She knows what she’s doing so well. She would say, ‘Let me take these kids aside and work with them for a little while,’ It paid off.”
For her part, Cleveland-Short credited everyone involved, saying, “It was truly a team effort and Doug did a wonderful job leading the team. The entire production was filled with joy and excitement — the energy stunned us. Doug gets most of the credit for his vision and collaborative style.”
Doug Clapp, who is an educator at Fort Kent Community High School also said the production benefited from having Fort Kent Elementary School music teacher Samantha Boutot on board as vocal director for “Annie.”
Boutot said she was excited about helping out with the production from the start.
“I thought it was a great idea, especially because it would involve our younger students. I wanted to be part of something I knew would be so great. And it certainly was just that,” she said.
Boutot added that providing students with opportunities to participate in music and theater is a beneficial part of their education.
“It is so important because it opens avenues for those who have great talents to share,” she said.
Clapp said he also was thankful for the support of “Annie” musical coordinator and pianist Joanne Zafonte.
Clapp said he is keeping the success of “Annie” in mind while considering future shows.
“The community support was incredible. There are not a lot of productions which involve elementary, high school and college actors but we have got to find them. We’ve definitely got to find them,” he said. “If the community wants this kind of theater and shows up for it, it’s a win-win situation, I think. People can expect to see more of this.”
Editor’s Note: Reporter Jessica Potila’s daughter was a member of the cast of “Annie.”