'Dear Edwina Jr.' showcases talents of 47 young actors

News-DemocratJune 27, 2013 

Dear Edwina,

I've been feeling kind of down lately. Do you have any advice to put a smile back on my face and a song in my heart?

Yout best advice is: Go see "Dear Edwina Jr." this weekend at the Looking Glass Playhouse.

That's according to the 47 local kids and teens who have been working for weeks to get the musical ready to open tonight.

"It's always a challenge to get that many kids to focus," said director Anne Ecker. "But this group has done a wonderful job. ... Oh, yeah, they are ready for opening night. They really want to be here and absorb as much as they can. And you can see they are having fun on stage."

"Dear Edwina Jr." centers on 13-year-old Edwina Spoonapple, who has very talented siblings. In their shadow, she thinks she isn't special. But Edwina has many talents, including leadership, singing and giving good advice. She combines all of her talents by directing musicals out of her garage.

The topics of these musicals are letters written by neighborhood kids who need advice. She helps them through songs and dances she orchestrates with her friends. In trying to prove that she is special by winning a spot in the "Advice-a-Palooza" festival, Edwina learns that love and friendship are the important prizes.

Putting on the musical was no picnic.

"The kids had to learn 16 songs and 16 dance numbers," Ecker said. "Except for a couple of solos, the kids are on stage the whole time.

"There are 47 roles and each character gets to do a speaking, dancing or singing solo.

"My little ones -- those under 8 -- are what I call the 'Cute Factor.' Everyone loves what they do, whatever they do. They're just so cute."

Ages range from 2 to 17.

"The 2-year-old, Juliet Monte, was there watching her siblings in the show, so we included her, too."

The show takes place in Edwina's garage and includes several memorable songs.

"Put It in the Piggy" is a catchy tune sung by farm kids about the importance of saving money. "Hola, Lola" is about meeting new people.

Ecker described a few of the principal characters:

Whitney Huffines as Edwina -- "She has a great voice and is fantastic in this role. She is a true leader among the other kids."

Makayla Eason as Becky -- "Makayla has a lot of energy. She is a cheerleader. When she talks in the show, she cheers."

Emma Breckel as Kelli -- "She is a prima ballerina. Everything she does, she dances. She dances her words."

Will Knowles as Scott, the boy trying to win Edwina's heart. "Another great kid, who follows direction well. When he sings 'Edwina,' people will love it. He puts a lot of heart into it."

Ecker credits the Looking Glass staff and enthusiastic parents for making the musical "a wonderful experience."

Glenn Netemeyer and Breanne Ecker are assistant directors. Other staff members include Cassie Gillespie, Natalia Finbres, Jeff Breckel, Laura Mitchell and Katie Knowles.

What does Ecker hope audiences will take home with them?

"I'd like them to be humming a song as they leave," Eckert said. "And I hope they remember Edwina's avice."

What: "Dear Edwina Jr.," summer youth musical

When: 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Looking Glass Playhouse, 301 W. St. Louis St., Lebanon

Tickets: $6

Reservations: Call 618-537-4962 or go to lookingglassplayhouse.com

Meet Whitney Huffines

Age: 16 "But I'll turn 17 next week."

Family: Mom Suzanne Huffines and brothers Jacob, Joshua and Noah

School: O'Fallon Township High School. She will be a junior in the fall.

Have you performed on stage before: "I'm in the Show Choir at O'Fallon. I was in school plays when I was younger. When I was a freshman, I was in 'A Christmas Carol.'"

Any opening night butterflies? "I'm a little nervous, but it will be fun."

What was it like working with the large cast of 47 and the Looking Glass staff? "The cast and staff were really welcoming. We hit it right off."

What do you like best about your role? "I love the singing. It's my thing. I'm not the best at dancing so that's hard for me. I try to build up the others when it comes to dancing."

Are you anything like Edwina Spoonapple? "In a way. She's bossy and I can be. And I can relate to her desire to shine. At O'Fallon, there are so many talented kids. I try out for everything but it's tough. When I auditioned for this play and got the lead, I thought, 'This is the answer to my prayers.' Edwina wanted her time to shine and this is mine."

Any plans for after high school? "I definitely will go to college but I'm not sure where. I like singing and I have a passion for psychology. It fascinates me. I'd like to get a Ph.D. in psychology."

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