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updated: 11/9/2011 12:00 PM

Wheaton's Monroe Middle School students prepare for school's first musical "Annie"

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It may be the first musical ever attempted by students at Monroe Middle School in Wheaton. But that doesn't mean co-directors Kathy Wessel and Julie Petrando have taken it easy on their actors. When one of them stumbled in a scene of "Annie" at a dress rehearsal, the actress asked for a do-over.

Wessel denied it and told the girl to push forward.

Meanwhile Petrando spoke to her cast and crew, going through production notes that ranged from being careful of slamming doors too loudly offstage to making sure they had their hair done right.

"We are starting it with a bang," said Petrando, who also directs the show choir at Wheaton North High School. "We have high expectations and the kids will respond to that."

The curtain goes up at 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Nov. 10 and 11, at the school, 1855 Manchester Road, Wheaton. Tickets, $5, are available at the door.

In late September, Petrando said, Principal Jason Stipp approached her about helping the students stage a musical. Petrando immediately agreed and turned to Wessel to help out because they've worked together in the past.

Petrando said she has been most impressed by the actors' willingness to show up early for rehearsals and stay late, as well as their parents' commitment to the performance.

"It shows how much this community is craving to give these kids an opportunity like this," she said.

But to get this opportunity, Monroe teachers had to get involved. Seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher Becky Rauen volunteered as soon as she heard Stipp was looking for help with the musical.

"It's a huge juggling and balancing act," said Rauen, who also coaches cross country at the school. "But it's just another plate to have in the air."

The 1977 Broadway musical, based upon an earlier comic strip, follows the orphan Annie as she forges a friendship with a millionaire who had invited her to his home. Once the budding friendship develops, the pair seek Annie's parents, but to no avail.

The musical has also given some students exposure to new facets of theater. As Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, 13-year-old Jonny Silva discovered he had a hidden talent: singing.

"I didn't know I would get the part because I didn't think I had a good singing voice," he said.

But Jonny was cast as Warbucks

And as the cast and crew has gone through weeks of rehearsal and working together, they have formed a close bond that comes out during and after the rehearsals.

"It's a lot of stress, but the way to control it is to just have fun with it, joke around but also keep serious," said 13-year-old Alyna Wilson, who plays one of the orphans in the musical.

Kiara McGee, 12, said the work has been somewhat difficult but is worth it in the end.

"You have to work at it, but after you get some of the steps down, you feel proud," she said. "You have a sense of accomplishment."

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