Young thespians

Primary Players ready to tackle Charlie Brown musical

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By Suzy Smith
For Blount Today

Good grief! Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang will be singing and dancing into the hearts of their audience when the Primary Players perform the musical, "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

The Primary Players is a theatrical group founded by retired Sam Houston Elementary School third grade teacher Nikki Andrews. When Andrews was awarded a grant from the Maryville City Schools Foundation, she achieved her goal to start a theater group that was open to all children from second grade through middle school.

"When I taught school, I saw there were other clubs and activities, but nothing for the creative arts for young children," Andrews said. She dedicated the foundation of the performing arts group to her mother, Hayes Centebar, who was active in Blount County theater. Centebar, who passed away three years ago, dreamed of having a theatrical group for children.

Andrews said her experience has shown that children have hidden talents. The performing arts are one area where children can excel and gain confidence, Andrews said.

In addition to performing on stage, children in the theatrical group also learn how to help make costumes, paint scenery and apply make-up. Andrews said all aspects of a theater production are being taught, such as learning how to prompt the actors, becoming an understudy, blocking and stage direction.

The Primary Players performed two plays last year. "You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown" is their first musical performance.

"The Peanuts characters appeal to just about everybody," said co-director Jane Rahe. "A lot of people can relate to shy and insecure Charlie Brown, carefree Snoopy and bossy Lucy."

Rahe, who is on the board of The Primary Players, said she has wanted to direct this musical for 20 years.

"I enjoy children’s theater because I love working with kids," said Rahe, who works as a paralegal.

The children enjoy the theater program for various reasons.

"My favorite thing about acting is being on stage," said Elijah Wenndt who plays Charlie Brown in the production. "At first, you’re kind of scared, but then you kind of like it."

Elijah Wenndt, who is a fifth grader at Maryville Intermediate School, said he has been acting in plays since kindergarten. In addition to acting, he enjoys playing the violin.

The cast of six main characters and seven chorus members rehearse two nights a week for three months to prepare for a production. During this time, friendships develop.

"My favorite thing is that I’ve made two new friends," said Olivia Pepperman, a Sam Houston Elementary School second grader and chorus member in the Charlie Brown production.

For the Peppermans, acting has become a family affair. Olivia’s older sister, Kat, plays the role of Snoopy, and Olivia’s other sister, Mallory, plays the role of the Little Red-Headed Girl.

"We always did talent shows at my aunt’s house," Mallory Pepperman said. Mallory, a fourth grader at Sam Houston Elementary, also participates in softball, basketball, singing, the jump rope club and is a library helper. She said she likes acting because rehearsals are fun.

Other cast members are Alex Cherry as Sally Brown, Hannah Jones as Lucy Van Pelt, Preston Butler as Linus Van Pelt and Jacob Roberts as Schroeder. Chorus members include Hayden Coffey, Mary Katherine Fann, Emily Kauffman, Reece Nelson and Gianna Prestol.

John Cherry serves as the musical director. Melanie Cherry handles choreography.

Performances are scheduled for Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 4 at 2 p.m. at Maryville High School. Tickets are $4, and admission for children 12-years-old and younger is free.

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