My story on “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” at Albany Civic Theater from the December 7, 2012, edition of the Entertainer.
BY HEATHER CRABTREE
Since the first time I saw “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,” when I think of the title role, I always think of Shirley Temple, who brought the same magic to that film role in 1938 as she did so many other movies.
The play follows Rebecca Randall as she goes to live with her two aunts in Riverboro, Maine. One of the aunts, Miranda, played by Laurie Mason, is strict, while the other, Jane, played by Jackie Tasker, admires her young niece.
Rebecca has such a wide-eyed innocence and zest for life that finding the right girl for the job for Albany Civic Theater’s production of the play was tricky even for director Diane Allen.
“Everything else hinged on (the character),” Allen said in an email to The Entertainer. “After McKenna Mills read for that part on the second day of auditions, my assistant directors (Missy Mills and Mirinda Keeling) and I just looked at each other and said, ‘She’s got it.’”
The “it” is apparent from the moment McKenna, 11, takes the stage. She immediately stands out in the crowd of children even before it is clear that she is Rebecca, and she maintains her energetic and youthful innocence from beginning to end.
With the title role covered, it was up to the set designers to bring Rebecca’s world to life.
“Thanks to the efforts (and genius) of John Sams and Jim Wind, we have a creative, multipurpose set that can provide atmosphere for everything from a two-story brick house to a secret meadow and a school classroom,” Allen said. “We even have an authentic turn-of-the-century carriage.”
Sams and Wind actually built a two-story structure to serve as the brick house. On the first floor is the parlor where much of the interaction between Rebecca and her aunts takes place. Rebecca’s bedroom is on the second level.
Sams and Wind even took the time to paint “bricks” at the edges of its frame to make it look not just like a house, but the house mentioned in both the 1903 book by Kate Douglas Wiggin and the play.
In addition, little accents around the stage add beauty to the set as well as serve a function: an old-fashioned water barrel and pump; trees that can be moved around the stage to serve in multiple scenes; and flowers that decorate the base of those trees, which can be “picked” when needed.
“Rebecca” is Allen’s fourth show with ACT, and she and Keeling are the coordinators for the ACT YouThespian program, for kids fourth grade through age 18.
This production is part of that program.
Allen got involved with youth theater to make sure her children had opportunities to perform.
“They had an interest in this area and their options in Albany were relatively few,” Allen said.
Keeling approached Allen about the YouThespian program five years ago, and the program has been popular since it started. Workshops and auditions for shows like “Rebecca” have attracted a strong turnout.
“Working with youth in theater is an experience like no other. I’m constantly amazed by the talent and creativity they bring to the table,” Allen said. “As a director, I give them as much guidance as I can, but then I love to sit back and see what they are able to add on their own. These kids are truly gifted! The things they come up with are every bit as entertaining as what you’d expect from a group of adults.”
Because of the large number of children in the cast, ACT’s usual show schedule has been modified for “Rebecca.”
Instead of the traditional Sunday matinee, that performance has been shifted to a Saturday matinee, followed by an evening performance. Because shows like this involve the whole family, not just the children, it allows everyone to have a day off to “recharge” for the work and school week ahead.
Additional cast members are: Zoey Jenkins-Brown as Miss Dearborn; Sarah Munk as Emma Jane Perkins; Mimi Mills as Clara Belle Simpson; Rebecca Munk as Millie Smellia; Cabeau Schuerger as Seesaw Simpson; Curtis Allen as Elijah Simpson; Sydney Allen as Elisha Simpson; Jason Howell as Jeremiah Cobb; Holly Mitchell as Lucy Cobb; Timothy Ward as Alan Ladd; Julie Schuerger as Aurelia Randall; Emilia Soot as Hannah Randall; Alonzo Fandrem as John Randall; Janessa Minta as Jenny Randall; Quentin Mitchell as Mark Randall; Hallie Coleman as Fanny Randall; and Rachael Stephen, Mashayla Nelson, Carson Davis, Adam Keeling, Kayla Lesser, James Schmidt and Cadence Schuerger as classmates.
View it here: REBECCA12712