The Hermantown High School Drama Club has spent the past two and a half months preparing for their first show in the brand new auditorium.
"The first time I came in here, I cried," said senior Ana Mattson. "I couldn't believe how beautiful it was and that we get to use this brand new space. It's amazing."
"It actually feels like a real show now," said junior Andy Hooper. "In the other space, it didn't feel like a real theater."
That's because the former space was built to be a lecture hall without the hallmarks of a theater: wings, a backstage, a fly system for backdrops and lighting, or a dressing room — all features that the new auditorium hosts. The new 680-seat auditorium also houses an orchestra pit, a 128-channel sound board and a 500-channel lighting board. The new technology does include some challenges for directors Ken Ahlberg and Theresa Taraldsen.
"The learning curve for us has been enormous. All of the technical aspects are brand new for everybody. We have folks on speed dial to check how to do things," Ahlberg said. "But to do a show in a space like this is a dream come true."
"Annie" the musical is the first show Ahlberg and Taraldsen selected for the new space. Annie is based on the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" and is written by Martin Charnin. The book is by Thomas Meehan with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. It is presented by special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI).
"We wanted to pick a show that is a crowd-pleaser for everyone so we could say thank you to the community for providing us with this great space," Ahlberg said.
The show covers America in the 1920s and 1930s, Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt, the Great Depression, homelessness, employment, orphans and orphanages, hope and the power of being positive. Senior Ana Mattson, who plays the titular role of Annie, said it's the first musical she remembers watching as a child.
"It's been my favorite musical since I was little. It has an important message as well. I think everyone could think a little more optimistically," Mattson said. "Annie has every reason to be pessimistic and mad at the world. She's an orphan who is treated badly. Yet she still continues to go on, she pulls upon good things and finds hope in every situation."
Mattson said she also likes the role because she gets to spend more time with her 7-year-old golden retriever, Reese, who plays Sandy in the show.
"She was bred to be a show dog, so she's just loving this," Mattson said.
One of the people who treats Annie poorly is orphanage head Miss Hannigan, played by senior Daylen Moore. This is the second time Moore has stepped into this role, having played it in Annie Jr. at the Duluth Playhouse in 2013.
"It's fun to do it again and to make changes," Moore said. "I can look back on what I did before and decide how to approach it differently. It's such a fun part."
Her favorite song is her solo, "Little Girls."
"I can be so angry and disgusting. I love it," Moore said.
Also new this year, the cast includes a large number of middle school students. The middle school moved into the former high school space and the high school moved into the new buildings. Taraldsen said they also picked Annie because it would allow the two age groups to come together in one show.
"The middle school students have been some of our strongest workers. Whenever we have set build days, the middle school kids all come to help and bring their parents and grandparents. And they like to stay until everything on the list is done," Taraldsen said.
The biggest challenge for this show, according to Taraldsen and Ahlberg, was getting the entire cast in one room at the same time.
"We have 82 students involved in this show and they're involved in everything else as well. We don't want to make them choose one activity over another, so we do our best to accommodate everyone. We haven't had a rehearsal yet without at least one person missing. But we have a strong cast and crew who will live up to the challenge," Taraldsen said.
If you go
"Annie" performed by the Hermantown High School Drama Club
Where: Hermantown High School, 4335 Hawk Circle Dr.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday Nov. 19 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 20
Tickets: $5 students, $8 adults, available at the door