Mezzo soprano Laquavia Alston has been working with seventh and eighth graders as they rehearse classic songs like “Tomorrow," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile," and "It's a Hard Knock Life,” while performing arts head Jordan Yonce is away on paternity leave. Alston, an award-winning concert vocalist who has performed throughout Europe, is the founder of La Mezzo Private Voice Studio.
“She has a passion for singing and I feel like I can relate to her,” said Lara ’24, who is playing Annie. “When we’re in a room together I feel like I can grow as a person as well as a performer.”
Lara, for whom “Annie Jr.” will be her first school musical, said Alston has helped her overcome her fear of stage fright and develop her stage presence, skills that she has applied off stage, too.
“She’s helped me be more mindful of my posture and my attitude,” Lara said. “She’s made me a more clear person in my mindset, and I feel that has helped me be more calm and patient.”
Zoie ’23, who plays Grace, said Alston has taught her strategies for warming up her voice so she can reach higher notes.
“I feel like I’ve definitely learned more stage etiquette. Now I’m always turned out and facing the audience – it’s always in the back of my mind to do that and I learned that here,” Zoie said. “I’ve gotten to be a better singer through Ms. Alston.”
Musical director and drama teacher Ritchie Porter remarked on Alston’s balance between offering compliments and criticism.
“She’s efficient and can go right to the heart with what they need for vocals, and she can be effusive with praise when it’s warranted,” he said.
Alston said she has enjoyed the students’ enthusiasm and witnessing their sense of community.
“They all seem to be friends and really uplift each other,” she said. “I’ve seen them grow collectively as an ensemble, but individually as people, they have stepped up and tried to really own their talents in a new way. I think they’re really surprising themselves.”
This is the second year in a row when a seventh grader was cast as the show’s lead. Lara said she has valued mentorship from Zoie, who played young Simba in the 2018 Middle School musical, “The Lion King Jr.”
“She has helped me calm my nerves and rehearsed lines with me,” Lara said. “Just having someone that positive on the team is a very good reminder that we’re all not only a group of people who are coming together to make something excellent, but we’re a family here and this is how families should act.”
"Annie, Jr.," is an hour-long version of the Broadway hit, which opened in 1977. Based on a comic strip by Harold Gray, Annie tells the story of a Depression-era orphan in New York City whose fortunes turn when she meets the wealthy Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. More than 30 seventh and eighth grade students are part of the cast and crew. Tickets are available at the door and are $3 for students/seniors and $5 for adults.