IT HAS become the people's opera. Oyster Lane theatre group could have chosen to take to the stage at a time of year when Wexford is not swarming with a cosmopolitan bunch of culture vultures. Instead, each year for the past two decades, they prefer to harness the buzz that sets the streets of the town a-tingle during the opera festival to present their own extravaganza.
The Oyster orchestra may be a semi-quaver shy of orchestral in scope. The Oyster theatre (better known as the Dún Mhuire) may be more bingo hall and less Covent Garden for style.
The Oyster audience opts for denims rather than dress suits - but an Oyster show is emphatically not to be sniffed at.
The plot of this year's Oyster production is as bizarre as any story ever presented on the stage of The Met or La Scala: little girl with freckles and frizzy hair wins the heart of world's richest millionaire. As in the shows up the street in the Opera House, the Oyster cast boasts stars from all manner of faraway places, with main man Ted Quinn travelling all the way from Bunclody. And Lorcan Dunne overlanding from Clonroche!
The big name, big money, big time event up the street has assembled a formidable line-up. The festival has a trio of illustrious composers on the 2012 roster – Cilèa, Chabrier and Delius, no less. Oyster has Strouse. You have probably never heard of Charles Strouse but the odds are that you have hummed his tunes, for his was the melodic mind that dreamed up 'Annie'.
The official festival has long since handed most of the business of producing opera over to the professionals. The day is gone when local singers were rounded up to fill out the chorus. But the very reason Oyster exists, on the other hand, is to give an opportunity to the talent from round the corner. Let us see if they can mesmerise an audience, just as the hired hands appearing up the street have their aficionados eating out of their hands.
'Annie' is the people's opera this year. Your reporter caught up with the Oyster Lane cast in rehearsal last week at the Mercy school in John's Road. Some of them were still in their school uniforms. Others sported very natty 'Annie' hoodies. The talk was of where on earth to track down laceup boosts. Yes, Oyster 'orphans' must supply their own footwear, appropriate to Recession-hit New York.
The production team of Alan Corcoran, choreographer and moustachioed musical maestro Patrick Clancy should know their charges very well indeed by now. The show has been in preparation since high summer. Such an epic time scale for rehearsal is a luxury that a professional company could never afford.
The result of the lengthy run-up to the show, which opens on Tuesday, October 23, is that the cast are in their own little 'Annie' bubble. They have spent so much time together over so many weeks working together that there will be bucket loads of emotional tears when they must finally go their separate ways after the curtain comes down on 'Annie' for the last time on October 28.
Familiarity has certainly not bred anything like contempt. When Emma Morris as Annie sits on a dusty floor and wrings every last drop of emotion from ' Tomorrow', suddenly everyone else in the school hall stops chewing popcorn or fiddling with their smart phones or doing whatever it is they do to while away the idle moments between the bursts of activity when they are the ones rehearsing.
Emma's pure, clear, simple effort blasts away the tedium of a three-hour session that is otherwise all rewind and repeat, tinkering away at many the little variables, going over and over again pieces that were first practised two and a half months ago.
These are the fine tuning sessions that will make the Oyster 'Annie' special but they tend to reach a point where even the most enthusiastic performer hits the equivalent of the marathon runner's wall. Then Emma's scintillating solo overcomes the torpor and the hall rings with applause from her comrades. It is hard to imagine such a moment occurring with a professional company.
The people's opera will have its ' Annie' stars. Stand by to throw bouquets at Holly Rossiter, Kayla Smith, Alannah Corcoran, Sorcha Finn, Lauren Clancy and Emma O'Leary. Adults to the fore will include Adrienne Meyler, Neal O'Leary, Aisling Reardon, Joanne McCabe and Michael Doyle.
They should be warned that they will be only in the ha'penny place in the charisma stakes compared with Bosley, the golden retriever trained by Edel Quinlan to steal the show with his blond good looks and ever wagging tail in the role of Sandy. The people's pooch in the people's opera.
(PS: I should declare an interest here. My daughter is among the tribe of orphans currently scouring charity shops and skips for pairs of lace-up boots. Break a leg, Alice.)