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Local students bring 'ANNIE' home

BELMONT -- The sun'll come out on Thursday, but the big show doesn't start until it sets.

One of the more familiar musical productions also promises a few familiar faces when the Gaston Day School Thespians present "Annie," featuring more than 40 students age 10-17 along with children performing in a chorus prior to the show. Lake Wylie's own Jessica DeFrancisco landed the leading role, while her brother Tom (Rooster, Mr. Mudge) and sister Alyssa (orphan chorus) also play parts in the show. Erica Barnette and Abigail Hartley of Lake Wylie play an orphan and a Boylon sister.

For the DeFranciscos, the show continues a chorus line of theatrical moments beginning when mom Andrea met her husband in a New York City acting school and running through Clover Community Theatre and Gaston Day productions.

"We have never pushed them, but it's just something that they wanted to do," Andrea said, adding that if anything she pushed her children toward other interests, but conceding there are worse options. "I'm so glad they like the same thing so I'm not spread out all over town."

And the family takes it seriously. Jessica, 12, dyes and curls her hair for the show instead of settling for a wig, even when it means coming up just short on a chance to donate her locks.

"We were going to donate it to Locks of Love like I did last year, but it still had two inches to go before I could," she said.

Andrea, who took the old line of theater encouragement a bit too seriously last week by breaking her ankle while helping with the show, still plans on attending the performances. But perhaps no one is as committed to the show as Tom who, at 15, supports his family and the production despite quite the pickle during casting.

"That was actually pretty interesting," he said. "It came down to the final two people and it was my sister and an older girl who also happens to be my girlfriend. I was torn a little both ways, but I encouraged them both."

Even little sister Alyssa, 6, is a team player, saying her favorite part of the show is her brother singing. Jessica and Tom say, despite loving the entire show, they most look forward to the scene where Annie and Daddy Warbucks tap dance.

"It's sort of stressful having to learn all the lines," Jessica said. "I enjoy it so much it probably doesn't cross my mind half the time."

Tom can see himself continuing with theater recreationally, though his leading lady sister he could see even bigger things for--maybe even professional acting.

"I just love it all so much," she said. "I'm going to get nervous on opening night. That's just how it works for me. But once it starts I'll forget all about it."

For now, though, the family just plans to enjoy the show at hand. Tom believes "as long as we're in the school we'll continue to perform, because it's what we love to do." Not because they have to, but because the same acting bug bit the entire family and no one is recovered yet.

"We all enjoy it because we're a pretty humorous family," Tom said. "There's nothing better than making people laugh."

Want to go?

The Gaston Day School Thespians present Annie Thursday through Sunday at the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual & Performing Arts Center, 2001 Gastonia Day School Road, Gastonia. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, with performances by the orphan chorus prior to shows. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students. For more information, visit