A hot season for June

CHARMER: Madeira School junior June Schreiner beat out dozens of professional actresses to win the role of Ado Annie, who sings "I Cain't Say No," at Arena Stage.
CHARMER: Madeira School junior June Schreiner beat out dozens of professional actresses to win the role of Ado Annie, who sings "I Cain't Say No," at Arena Stage. (Astrid Riecken)
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 18, 2010

There is, it seems, no holding June Schreiner back. During a rehearsal for "Oklahoma!" - the hit Arena Stage revival in which the 16-year-old is making such a remarkable impression - Schreiner was standing nearby when director Molly Smith had the idea to invite a few members of the band onstage to join the actors in a production number.

"She was just so excited she jumped onto the back of the fiddle player while he played," George Fulginiti-Shakar, "Oklahoma!'s" conductor, recalls with a laugh. "He's a classically trained musician! I had to explain to her that you can't do that."

Aw, shucks! Schreiner has endeared herself to her elders in the cast - and older would mean everyone else, including the adult who understudies her - with her exuberant embrace of the role of Ado Annie, the lively girl of the Plains who sings "I Cain't Say No." If an actor is called on to throw a wedding bouquet, Schreiner just might lunge for it as if this were the Olympics. If a hat falls off the head of an actress playing her romantic rival, Schreiner has been known to kick it clear into the audience.

"She really is a prodigy," observes Cody Williams, the 23-year-old who plays the object of her affection, Will Parker. Adds Smith: "To put it in a modern context, she's the It Girl. She has It."

Kids with that certain something are waiting everywhere to be discovered, but it's especially surprising when one gets a break who lives around the corner. Schreiner, born in California and raised in Reston, is a gregarious youngster who can't believe her good fortune. "It still seems unreal," she says. Her parents are naturally thrilled with her success but also understandably a bit unsure where in the theater biz - if anywhere - this all will lead.

Were enthusiasm the extent of Schreiner's capabilities, you'd chalk up the impact of her performance to youthful adrenaline. But it's perfectly apt to say that talent-wise, June is busting out all over. A junior at the Madeira School in McLean, Schreiner beat out dozens of professional actresses to earn the coveted part of Ado Annie, a linchpin of the comic romantic subplot of "Oklahoma!" And by virtue of the dewy resoluteness she confers on the character, the role is illuminated in what feels like an entirely new way.

Annie is frequently portrayed in this emblematic Rodgers and Hammerstein work by grown-up actresses coached to put the accent on, shall we say, an eagerness for sex. "What do you think she cain't say no to?" has become the implicit operative question in revivals of the musical. But Smith and her adolescent Ado Annie don't subscribe to these prurient underpinnings. Their idea is that there's far more to Annie than physical desire, that she is an embodiment of the musical's setting, an American territory churning with promise. And that what she cain't say no to is, well, everything.

In which case, Schreiner has been type-cast. "I remember in rehearsals, my face would be hurting from smiling so much," she says, sitting in a handsome conference room at the all-girls' private school after finishing lunch with a pack of her friends in the cafeteria.

Of Annie, she adds: "She's a real person. Both Molly and my understanding of her is that she's 16 and coming into her sexuality. She's discovering life. Her body has just started yelling at her, but Rodgers and Hammerstein didn't write it for her to be a slut. She's innocent, and she's written that way."

Schreiner, too, projects a vivacity, the kind stage directors say yes to. "If she were a boy, I'd say she was Peter Pan," says Andy Regiec, who's directed her in "The Crucible" and "Urinetown" for the Reston Community Players. "Even at the age of 9, she hung out with the people who were really into theater. She was always front and center asking, 'Why are you doing that?' She wanted to learn what was going on."

Anita Maynard-Losh, "Oklahoma!'s" assistant director, noticed a special quality after Schreiner enrolled in Arena's summer musical-theater academy. "It makes you watch everything she does; she's just that magnetic. She'd be interesting flossing her teeth."

So her name inevitably surfaced after Smith started mulling the idea of skewing young with the cast. "When she auditioned, she was fresh and open and sophisticated in her reading. She's very bright," says Smith, whose novel choices included a black actress, Eleasha Gamble, and a Latino actor, Nicholas Rodriguez, as the show's romantic leads, Laurey and Curley.

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