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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Islander stars in Annie at Sarasota Players Theatre

More than 100 children auditioned for a role in "Annie" at The Players Theatre in Sarasota this fall.

Only 12 were chosen for the 40-member cast.

And taking center stage in the starring role is Islander and Anna Maria Elementary School student Trina Rizzo.

"I cried tears of joy," Rizzo said, recalling the moment she heard the final casting decision announced.

A relative newcomer to the professional theater scene, Rizzo's mom said they were all surprised and excited about the news.

Rizzo said that even though she sang "Maybe" from the musical at her audition, she wasn't specifically trying out for the part of Annie.

"I just hoped to make the cast as one of the orphan children walking around on stage," she said.

Rehearsals began in October on Rizzo's 10th birthday and took place every day, including weekends, for the lead characters.

"I think there are only one or two scenes I'm not in, leaving little leisure time," Rizzo said. "There are a lot of sacrifices but it's worth it."

Rehearsals leave little time for other fun, or activities like piano and dance lessons, but Rizzo says it's a lot of fun being part of a cast because the members are like a second family.

In fact, her mom says it seems like the cast sees Rizzo more than her real family. Still her family is supportive and involved in helping Rizzo prepare for her role. Mom, dad, and younger sister Holly have helped Trina learn her lines.

And, after spending so much time at rehearsals with his daughter, Dad Anthony joined the pit orchestra with his guitar.

Staff at the school is also very supportive of Rizzo's debut as Annie and her hectic schedule. Teacher Marcia Brockway accommodates Rizzo's theater schedule by allowing her to complete homework assignments over the weekend instead of during the school week.

AME Principal Kathy Hayes said she is really proud of Trina and plans to attend a performance with several other staff members.

Rizzo said she heard a lot of the school staff bought tickets for the same night, but she isn't nervous about it because she doesn't know which night they chose.

Rizzo said she is confident about her acting skills. She has been taking some acting classes through the Florida Studio Theater and has performed on stage in "Nuncrackers" and "Missoula" at the Bradenton Riverfront Theatre and "Twelfth Night" at the Island Players.

Surprisingly, she isn't as confident about her singing. Since landing the role of Annie, she has begun taking voice lessons and hopes to continue them after the show wraps up.

Rizzo said this role is challenging not only because of the singing involved and the time commitment, but also because on top of learning her lines and choreography, she has to control her four-legged castmate Sandy, played by a dog named Nova.

Still one of the highlights of the show for Rizzo is performing "Tomorrow" with Sandy by her side.

Up next for Rizzo is a role in the "King and I" at the Riverfront Theatre in Bradenton. Rehearsals are already under way for that production, which opens in January. AME students Lindsey Bell and Trina's sister Holly join her as part of that cast.

For the role of Annie, Rizzo had to cut and dye her hair. She donated her long tresses to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs for sick children. She didn't mind cutting her hair, she said, but stresses over dying it, especially since next month her role calls for her to have black hair.

But until then, Rizzo is focused on taking the stage as a little orphan girl with a bright future.

The curtains open on "Annie" at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4, and the show has already been extended to run through Dec. 21.

There will be matinee performances Saturday, Dec. 13, and Sunday, Dec. 7, 14, and 21.

The Players Theatre is located at 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets cost $19 and are available at the box office, 365-2494.