Annie Jr. comes to adorable life in Rockton


Hononegah Performing Arts Center will be the site of a production of "Annie Jr." this month.

In their first performance since COVID put live shows on hold, the Christian Youth Theater (CYT) of Rockford brings Annie Jr., one of the world's best-loved, award-winning musicals, to Hononegah Performing Arts Center May 14-16. Tickets are on sale now.

In the story, set in 1930s New York City, little orphan Annie is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of an orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan. When the well-known billionaire Oliver Warbucks invites an orphan to stay with him over the Christmas Holidays - and chooses Annie - her world turns upside down. Still longing for her mother and father, Oliver Warbucks offers to help her find them. With Oliver Warbucks and President Roosevelt on her side, will Annie find her long lost family after all? With equal measures of pluck and positivity, Annie charms everyone's hearts despite a next-to-nothing start.

The show has everything you'd expect in a beloved Broadway musical: the Radio City Rockettes, President Roosevelt, intrigue, a big-hearted billionaire, his faithful assistant, his tap-dancing mansion servants (not kidding), the singing Boylan Sisters, New York tourists, and of course, lots of orphans.  Some of the musical numbers are "Tomorrow," "Hard-Knock Life," "Maybe," "Little Girls," "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," "You Won't Be an Orphan for Long," "Easy Street," and "You're Never Fully Dressed without a Smile."

Besides public performances, CYT offers three sessions of classes during the school year at First Baptist Church of Machesney Park, as well as online. The two-hour weekly classes, mostly small, run for ten consecutive weeks in drama, voice, dance, and specialty classes that vary per session. During the last week, each class presents a "high-energy showcase" for other students, family, and friends. Recent showcases have included three musical theater offerings - Seussical, Schoolhouse Rock, and Best of Broadway. Other classes this spring were Project Dance, Project Dance Jr., Project Voice and for six-and-seven-year olds, Tune Town: The Great Outdoors. A summer day camp, Showbiz Kidz Juniors, is planned for June 21-25.

After a year of isolation, the young members of the cast and crew are all eager to share their love with an audience once again. Gabriella Negrete, a 15-year-old homeschooler who plays would-be con artist Lily St. Regis, says, "It’s been such a long time since we have been able to perform, and this is the perfect show to come back to! I will never taking performing for granted again!!" Her role was played on the screen by Bernadette Peters and Kristin Chenoweth. Gabriella says the audience can look forward to "fun dances, hilarious characters, lots of emotions, and exciting scenes." Asked why kids should join Christian Youth Theater, she replies, "It’s like a family where you can be with people that love doing the same things as you!"

Annie is played by Liviana Negrete, Gabriella's 10-year-old sister, who says the audience will enjoy Annie "hanging out with her best dog, Sandy (he’s a real, live dog!)" For her, CYT is "a place where they can be themselves and feel safe. We love praising Jesus!" She rejoices the group is "finally back after a whole year!!"

Steven Mack Middle School student Addison Butz plays one of the orphan girls and is glad to be part of "our first in-person show since Covid." Addison, age 12, sees her colleagues as "an amazing cast of very special kids... It’s a group where everyone is welcome and we all come together for our love of theater and God."

Eleven-year-old Jordan Helgerson has been with CYT for three years and six shows. Though she the group hasn't been on stage for a year, the Whitman Post Elementary student says, "It's a giant family. CYT makes everyone of all ages feel welcome... You can be yourself 100% and we all know that God is our #1 fan." Jordan will sing as a member of the Warbucks mansion staff. She says, "We are doing what we love for an audience to enjoy.... Every character in the show is amazing."

Of course, the show wouldn't make it onstage without a little adult help. Lora Negrete, a CYT veteran and the coordinator of the Rockford chapter, directs the production with the help of other music and dance specialists. Many current instructors and directors were involved in CYT as children and youth.

A somewhat younger adult, 18-year-old Auburn High School Academy senior Natalie Rundblade portrays Miss Hannigan, the deliciously-evil caretaker of the orphanage. Her role has previously been played by Carol Burnett, Cameron Diaz, and Kathy Bates. Natalie says audiences can look forward to "show-stopping performance by insanely talented kids. They have surprised me in so many ways with how quickly they memorized everything and the time they put into practicing their dances.... The incredible work that these kids and the directors have put into this show... made it so much better then you could imagine." Since this is her final show, Natalie wants to thank everyone involved: the cast, directors, and parents behind the scenes. "You have made my graduating show so very special and I will be very sad to leave you all." To those considering joining CYT, she says it is "such a welcoming place that will quickly become your second home. You will make lifetime friends and memories that will never fade."

Tickets are on sale for $15.

Dates / Times:

Friday, May 14th @ 7:00pm

Saturday, May 15th @ 2:00pm

Saturday, May 15th @ 7:00pm

Sunday, May 16th @ 2:00pm


Annie: Liviana Negrete

Miss Hannigan: Natalie Rundblade -Auburn

Warbucks: Mattie Berkman - Rockford Christian

Grace Ferrell: Aly Loner

Rooster: Ryan Sherman

Lily: Gabriella Negrete


Duffy: Ella Hill

July: Ava Ellis

Kate: Molly Matuska

Molly: Lily Frew

Pepper: Paige Kohlmeier

Tessie: Lucy Schneiderman

Addison Butz, Adelaide Noble, Alaina Maurici, Brynlee Werner, Camila Duarte, Grace Solverson, Isabelle Stauffer, Makenah Schwanebeck, MayBell Berkman, Rhianna Fager


Drake: Emily Loner*

Cecille: Lily Gordon*

Annette: Allison Pfeil*

Mrs. Greer: Melayna Berkman*

Mrs. Pugh: Kelly Schemel*

Jordan Hills*, Kaitlyn Tesdorff*, Lucy Axe* Nailah Brooks*, Olivia Van Hise*, Savanah Kennedy*

*Tap Dancer

Mansion Staff

Addie Fagan, Carrie DeCoster, Gillian Nothnagel, Jordan Helgerson, Juliana Logli, Kaylee Kramer, Sophie Pauli

Bert Healy: Juliana Logli

Boylan Sisters: Jordan Hills, Nailah Brooks, Savanah Kennedy

Sound Effects Person: Olivia Van Hise

Star To Be: Lucy Axe

Usherette: Kaylee Kramer

Apple Seller: Kelly Schemel

President Roosevelt: Evan Stahl

Bundles: Cole Young

Officer Ward: Brody Konopka

Dog Catcher: Malachi Ellis

Louis Howe: Cole Young

Shop Clerk: Carrie DeCoster

Rockettes: Kaitlyn Tesdorff, Kelly Schemel, Nailah Brooks, Olivia Van Hise

Scene Change New Yorkers: Addie Fagan, Cole Young, Gillian Nothnagel, Jordan Helgerson, Sophie Pauli, Evan Stahl, Brody Konopka, Malachi Ellis

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