“You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile!” Get ready for Annie!

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The sun’ll come out tomorrow; bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun!” So warbles that feisty but loveable red-haired imp, Little Orphan Annie, in one of the most popular musicals of all time, Annie. She is the poster child for “cockeyed optimist,” singing this gloriously positive lyric as she sits under a bridge, in the midst of a cardboard town, a “Hooverville” as they were called during the Great Depression. She is surrounded by rag-pickers, tar paper shacks and trash cans – but she sings about the sun.

And her sunny outlook on life is contagious. It infects everyone who crosses her path, including Franklin D Roosevelt who, in this fictitious version, along with his Cabinet, is inspired to implement the New Deal which ultimately helped lift the country out of the worst economic crisis in our history.

Well, this adorable little child is heading our way very soon, and just in the nick of time. Just maybe she can help us out of our own doldrums in the midst of this current economic recession which has been with us now for more than three years.

The immensely popular musical, Annie, will be presented November 12-21 by the Community Theatre of Howell with performances at Howell High School Freshman Campus, 1400 W Grand River, Howell. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

This classic musical tells the story of a young orphan girl named Annie who lives in a dilapidated orphanage run by the ill-tempered, often inebriated, Miss Hannigan, in New York City in 1933. She is surrounded by a whole gaggle of tough but cute and incredibly resilient orphans who bemoan their dismal life in the rousing “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” Annie dreams of one day “Maybe” escaping her miserable existence and going to live once again with her real parents who are out there somewhere, and love her very much.

She finally escapes the orphanage, adopts a mangy stray dog she names Sandy, and sings to him of the sun coming out for all of the depressed people “Tomorrow,” the virtual anthem of this musical. When Annie is chosen to spend the holidays with the well-known billionaire, Daddy Warbucks, Miss Hannigan is furious at this cruel twist of fate. Annie will be living in the lap of luxury with a high class entourage of assorted servants and lackeys, serving her gourmet fare in between visits by FDR and other hold-over celebs of the Gilded Age, while she struggles in poverty surrounded by the horrible “Little Girls” in her charge.

The bad guys eventually show up in the shape of Miss Hannigan’s con-man brother, Rooster, and his ditsy girlfriend, Lily St. Regis who is “named afta the hotel.” They provide the conflict in the story and much of the comedy as they cook up a wacky scheme whereby they will steal Annie, get some of Daddy’s bucks, and end up on “Easy Street.” All ends happily, however, as the final scene plays out against a backdrop of Warbucks’ huge Christmas tree, surrounded by the delighted orphans as the bad guys are led away to do their penance.

The role of Annie, a dream role for any young girl, has been double cast with talented nine-year-old local actors, Arielle Bliznik and Katie Mazzullo alternating performances. We had the opportunity recently to visit with the two bubbly young actors to talk about their experience doing this show.

What has been the most challenging or difficult thing about creating the character of Annie?

Arielle: I definitely think having to cry is the most challenging part of the Annie role. You can’t overdo it, but it can’t be underdone either.

Katie: Well, thinking about what the locket means to Annie and making that a part of the role was very difficult. (Annie always wears her most prized possession, half of a locket, and she thinks that her real mom and dad have the other half, so she is constantly searching for that precious match to her locket.)

What has been your favorite scene?

Arielle: My favorite scene is when Annie gets chosen to spend the Christmas holidays at the Warbucks’ mansion. I get to ad lib and make the scene funnier than it was!

Katie: I love her first experience living “the good life” at Daddy Warbucks mansion, and being welcomed into their family. (So both girls chose the same scene as their favorite. And they both love the production number “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here” in that same scene in which they get to climb up a human ladder.)

Who is the most fun character in the show?

Arielle: I like Drake best; he is all stiff and butler-like, but you get to see his soft side sometimes and he acts like a ten-year-old again.

Katie: I love Rooster – he’s so funny!

What is Annie’s biggest dream in the show? What is it she wants more than anything?

Arielle: Her biggest dream is to find her mother and father and to be like other kids, with folks of her own.

Katie: Annie thinks her biggest dream is to find her real mom and dad. But in the end she realizes that she just wants to be loved.

We can’t imagine two more charming young ladies to be playing the role of Annie. And both demonstrate great insight into the story and its deeper meaning.

Beginning October 15, tickets may be purchased at Bennett Recreation Center in Howell, Snedicors Cleaners in Brighton, through the theatre box office at 517-545-1290, or through our website at www.cththeatre.org. Prices are $16 for adults and $14 for seniors and students if purchased in advance; they are $2 more at the door. Group discounts are available.

This production is generously sponsored by Drs. Fuhst-Wylie and Kahn, Family Dental Care of Howell, Employment Group of Grand Rapids, and Alterations Unlimited of Brighton.

The original production of this musical, inspired by Harold Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip, opened on Broadway in 1977, won seven Tony Awards, and went on to play for an astonishing 2,

Arielle Bliznik (Annie) and Andy Techentin (Daddy Warbucks),
Katie Mazzullo (Annie) with the ensemble.

377 performances, making it the third longest-running musical of the 70’s. This run was followed by several national and international tours and a popular sequel, Annie Warbucks. Stars associated with Annie at one time or another include Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, Sarah Jessica Parker and Andrea McArdle.

The cast also includes Andy Techentin as Warbucks, Amy Lauter as Grace, Joanne Saoud as Miss Hannigan, Kevin Rogers as Rooster, Heather Kerr as Lily, Mark Mazzullo as Bert Healy, Gerald Bliznik as FDR, Brian Bickel as Drake, and Chelsea Moores, Jill Bliznik and Mary Jo DelVero as the Boylan Sisters. Appearing as the main orphans are Emma Ulman as Duffy, Aubrey Klein as July, Tori Rogers as Pepper, Anna Zanin as Tessie, Evy Schoeberlein as Kate, and Kaelyn Parker as Molly.

The production staff includes Scott Usher – Director, Linda Peasley – Producer, Mary Jo DelVero – Asst. Director, Laura Bickel – Asst. Producer, Maria Usher – Choreographer, Christine Clinton-Cali, Becky Hess and Terry Sacker – Costumes, Sally Mikat – Vocal Director, Brian Pearson – Orchestra Director, Deb Tyler – Pianist, Mark Mazzullo and Brian Bickel – Set Build, Richard Mikula – Technical Director, and Debbie Mikula and Abby Michaels – Stage Managers.

So if you want to believe that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel, and believe that the sun really will come out tomorrow, bring the whole family on down and join the fun with tickets for this delightful show. We guarantee that you’ll leave, fully-dressed, with a smile!

For further information, contact Linda Peasley, Producer, at lpeasley@umich.edu