By Brandon HENSLEY
Stage performances, late rehearsal hours, homework, lack of sleep and college applications: talk about a hard-knock life. But Friday’s almost here, the day Allie Fernandez has been waiting for, the one where all her hard work will pay off since she first began dreaming about playing that little girl with those iconic red curls.
Running from Friday through Feb. 27, the Crescenta Valley High School Performing Arts Dept. presents “Annie,” directed by Kay Cole and Brent Beerman, taking place at the school’s MacDonald Auditorium.
The musical will give Fernandez, who plays the titular character, a chance to become unburdened from the demands of her hectic schedule, not that she was ever complaining to begin with.
“Senior year has not been chill, but’s it’s been fun. I like the busy-ness,” she said. “It’s been fun to play a kid again. Figuring out where I’m going to school next year and growing up has been kind of scary, so it’s nice to regress back to an 11-year-old.”
Fernandez grew up putting on skits for her family, and later volunteered acting out Bible stories for children at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church. She didn’t start acting until her freshman year at Crescenta Valley – she was in ASB at Rosemont Middle School, not drama – but now it’s four years later, and the feeling she’s had seeing posters for her show being displayed throughout town can only be described as surreal.
It’s a moment the Falcon senior has been anticipating since last spring, when Beerman announced the department would put on a production of the 1977 Broadway musical, with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin.
After Fernandez discussed the play with her family, her grandmother pulled out an “Annie” figurine she had hiding in a box and gave it to Fernandez, who has kept it beside her bed.
“Waking up to it every morning really made me want to be Annie,” she said. “It was solid inspiration.”
Fernandez will play opposite Cameron Vargas for much of the show. Vargas, in his white suit, red bowtie and slicked back hair, will step into the role of Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the billionaire businessman who learns to open his heart to orphan Annie.
Vargas said he was unfamiliar with Warbucks’ character initially, but has enjoyed learning to portray him thus far.
“I thought he’s kind of this mean old man who doesn’t like children too much,” Vargas said. “But then I got the callback, and I got to read through his lines, and I realized he is kind of all of that in the beginning, but he changes over time. I think it’s a really nice story arc, where he’s a billionaire and [he] becomes a father in the end. I think it’s a nice role to be able to play.”
Vargas, a junior, moved to La Crescenta from Portland, Oregon as a sophomore. Aside from the obvious lack of rain, he said he feels right at home in the foothills. But being comfortable in his own skin was something he had to work on as a boy. He described himself as shy, only breaking out once he joined drama class in seventh grade, which he admitted to mostly doing to be with his friends. There, he played the villainous Gaston in a production of “Beauty and the Beast.” In high school, he’s been in “Bye, Bye, Birdie,” and “Hello Dolly!” and calls theater arts his “passion in life.”
The chemistry between Fernandez and Vargas has been smooth. They read together during callbacks, and were happy to end up as castmates.
“I think it has been great. She kills it,” Vargas said. “I really did enjoy the challenge of becoming older and trying to sound older, look a little older and act a little older. And she’s made it so easy to be able to do all of that. It’s been great working with her.”
Fernandez said Vargas has transformed into the role of an older man perfectly. She said he acts like a 50-year-old, which prompted Vargas to make sure she was referencing only his stage persona. She clarified she was.
“It’s not hard. I don’t see Cameron; I see Daddy Warbucks,” Fernandez said.
On Tuesday evening, the first several rows of the auditorium were filled with the rest of the cast, all paying attention to notes given on how to improve their performances. As the saying goes, there are no small parts, only small actors.
Fernandez and Vargas would implore any aspiring actor to give their role more depth. For instance, you’re not simply Orphan Number Four. What’s your backstory? Everyone has one, after all. By peeling the away the layers, actors can gain more confidence in their performance.
Another piece of advice for those who wish to attain a substantial role? Act and react, said Vargas.
“People think acting is listening for your cue and then saying your line, and your line’s a cue. But it’s really about reacting to each other and listening to each other when you work together on stage.”
While Vargas would like to continue down this path as a career, Fernandez admits she’s open to other ventures, potentially broadcast journalism. It’s just another kind of audience, she points out. Whatever her calling will be, she knows there will be at least one proviso when it comes to accepting a job.
“I like anything with a script,” she joked. “I can’t do improv.”
Showtimes for “Annie” are Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., and Feb. 26 and Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 for reserved orchestra, $15 for general admission and $10 for student balcony. Reserve tickets at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (818) 249-497-5801.
MacDonald Auditorium at Crescenta Valley High School is located in the 4400 block of Ramsdell Avenue in La Crescenta.