Casting directors – from Broadway, to off-Broadway, to dinner theater, to the local high school drama club – all admit, when you’ve heard one actress sing “Caberet,” or “The Music and the Mirror,” you’ve heard them all. Except on those few occasions when something magical happens and that rare performer walks onstage and gives goose bumps.
According to Nicole Oliver, a teacher in the Frank R. Conwell (PS #3) drama program, that’s what happened when she heard Laurelie Mufute audition for the title role for the musical “Annie.”
“Lauralie encompasses what we call in show business as having it,’ ” Oliver said, describing how Mufute won the role over more than 100 other little girls who also tried out for the part. “When she auditioned, she made me cry. When you hear the song ‘Maybe’ sung all day long by audition hopefuls, it can become quite monotonous. When Lauralie entered the stage, she had a glow. I knew I could bring her raw talents to a new level.”
‘It’s my first time working with a professional dog. But I’m scared of dogs.’ Laurelie Mufute
Despite the all-African American version of “Annie” currently being produced by Will Smith and starring Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis in a lead role, Oliver said this did not influence her casting of Mufute.
“I do not cast according to race,” Oliver said. “It's really all about the talent and ability of the individual.”
Not her first turn
Mufute is the youngest Conwell student to be cast in a leading role in a drama department show, according to Oliver.
In fairness to the other girls who auditioned, however, it should be noted that this is not Mufute’s first turn in the role of Annie. She has played the loveable orphan once already.
“I’ve been in the play at summer camp,” Mufute said, referring to Next Step Broadway, a theater program in Jersey City for artistically talented children. “Annie,” she said, is one of her favorite musicals. “I like how Annie is an orphan. Then she gets to live with a nice person and a dog, instead of Miss Hannigan. I’ve watched movies of ‘Annie’ over and over again.”
“Different versions of it, too,” chimed in Lucia Mufute, the third grader’s mother. “So, she likes ‘Annie’ a lot.”
According to the young actress’ mother, Mufute, the third grader “has been singing for as long as she could talk. She was also in ballet class. And one of her teachers finally said, ‘Maybe you need to put her in some program where she can develop these skills more.’ And she’s stuck with it.”
Not surprisingly, Mufute, who has also performed in “Beauty and the Beast,” said she would like to be a professional actor when she gets older and the show-stopping tune “Tomorrow” is her favorite song from “Annie.” But when asked about her favorite actor she surprisingly said Sylvester Stallone is the all-time greatest. She particularly admires his work in the film “Rocky,” like “Annie” another story that features a character who triumphs over adversity.
Enhancing core standards
Oliver said she the Conwell drama program, and the shows she selects for her productions, directly tie into the students’ curriculum and the core standards that are used as guidelines for all public school courses.
Since Mufute and the rest of the cast will be performing a “junior” version of “Annie,” Oliver explained, “It is a curriculum based script. I can tie content standards from math, language arts, history, music, dance, etc. into my program. This particular script lends itself to learning about the history of New York City in the 1930s. The students are well-versed in that era, from historical events to the pop culture of the time.”
From Broadway to Jersey City
At age nine, Mufute still has a lot to learn about acting and theater, and even with her stage experience she will have to overcome new challenges in the Conwell version of the musical, specifically her fear of dogs. This production will feature Macy, a trained show dog, in the role of Sandy. Macy previously played Sandy in a Broadway production of “Annie.”
Mufute said she is both excited and a little nervous about playing opposite Macy.
“It’s my first time working with a professional dog. But I’m scared of dogs,” Mufute said, explainiung that when she played Annie at summer camp, her time onstage with Sandy was much less than it will be in the Conwell production.
Her mother said, half jokingly: “So, she’ll really be acting this time.”
Oliver and her students will perform two shows for the general public on Wednesday, June 5 and Thursday, June 6 at 6 p.m. Tickets for these shows are $8 for adults and $3 for children under the age of 12. The Frank R. Conwell School is located downtown at 111 Bright St.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.