Annie wasn’t the first orphan to sing and dance on stage. Oliver beat her to the punch on that one. Nor was she the first little girl to share her eternal optimism in film. Remember Pollyana?
But Annie manages to stand out among the others. She remains an optimist in a time when droves of Americans are jobless and homeless, when soup kitchen lines wrap around buildings, when people’s homes are cardboard boxes and discarded newspapers are their sheets.
She believes in the hope of tomorrow, which is only a day away.
Then again, tomorrow isn’t the day when Annie will make her debut on the Pasqua Theatre stage in Gonzales. That will be July 7 when the Ascension Community Theatre opens the production of its summer musical Annie.
Annie, the orphan, believes she will one day find her parents.
“I love this role,” Bryn Purvis said.
She’s 12, meaning she’s still within the age range to play the 11-year-old, red-headed orphan abandoned 10 years earlier on the steps of New York’s Municipal Orphanage.
The year was 1933, and the world was in the midst of the Great Depression. Not a time when blessings are plentiful.
Still, Annie counts hers. And she’s been counting them since April 21, 1977, when the musical opened in Broadway’s Alvin Theatre, now the Neil Simon Theatre.
“The girl we have playing our Annie is fantastic,” Lorna Culmone Bourgeois said.
She’s director of this production. She refers to Purvis, who previously starred in the lead role in Central Community Theatre’s production of Annie and was the understudy for the lead in Playmakers of Baton Rouge’s 2003 production.
“This is my favorite role,” Purvis said.
She’ll enter the eighth grade at St. John Vianney Catholic School in the fall, but she’s already looking beyond that.
So far, everything about this show has fallen into place.
“Everything about this production has been great,” she said. “It’s a big musical for us.”
She’s right. There are almost 40 in the cast, and that’s not including the live orchestra that will play on the bandstand behind the backdrop. Add the artistic crew to those numbers, and there’s probably more than 70 people involved in this production.
That’s a lot for a small community theater.
“But we’ve been able to come in under budget,” Bourgeois said. “We found all of these costumes in storage upstairs. Some of the dresses are 1980s dresses, but some of the styles in the ‘80s were copied from the ‘30s.”
With the right accessories, 1980s dresses suddenly become Depression era fashion.
“And Baton Rouge Little Theater loaned us the orphans’ beds,” Bourgeois said. “So everything is falling into place for us.”
Annie is based on the Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie, which ran in newspapers from Aug. 5, 1924, to June 10, 2010.
Charles Strouse wrote the music and Martin Chamin the music for this show. Thomas Meehan wrote the book, all of which were adapted to a 1982 film version directed by John Huston.
Still, the stage version continues to captivate audiences, where Annie sets out to find her parents and ends up living in millionaire Oliver Warbucks’ home when his assistant, Grace Farrell, seeks out an orphan to spend Christmas in his house. Warbucks immediately connects with Annie.
Meanwhile, the Municipal Orphanage’s matron, Miss Hannigan, schemes with her brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis to bilk Warbucks out of reward money he’s offering in hopes of finding Annie’s real parents.
And though she’s the bad guy, Hannigan is a popular character in this story.
“I wanted to be Hannigan,” Jamie Leonard said.
She plays Grace Farrell.
“I never play the ing?nue,” Leonard said.
“I didn’t think I liked her at first. But then I started studying her, and I really did like her. She’s all business when she goes to the orphanage, and she has a way of putting it in Hannigan’s face that Annie is happy.”
Leonard was last seen in the theater’s spring production of the musical Nunsense. John Sallinger, meantime, was last seen in Baton Rouge Little Theater’s season finale It Runs in the Family. Now he’s Daddy Warbucks.
“There are several roles I’ve wanted to play, and Daddy Warbucks is one of those roles,” he said.
“Daddy Warbucks is one of those few billionaires who kept his money during the Great Depression. He’s a hard person at the beginning, and he doesn’t care about anything but succeeding. It take Annie to show him what love is.”
He runs his hand over his short-clipped hair. Warbucks’ signature is his bald scalp. Sallinger isn’t bald, but his hair is cut nearly to the scalp.
“I cut it this short, anticipating that I would have to shave it to be Daddy Warbucks,” he said. “But Lorna said she liked it as it is. So, we’re going with this.”
Still, in the midst of all the goodwill, Sonya Blanchard is applauding her chance to play one of the bad guys. She’s Lily St. Regis.
And in real life, she’s mom to Molly Beth Blanchard, who plays Annie’s friend and fellow orphan Molly.
“This is my first time back since having Molly, and it gives us a chance to work together,” Blanchard said. “This is very special for me.”
Blanchard also is the assistant choreographer. Head choreographer for Annie, meantime, is Hayley Westphal who choreographed Nunsense in the spring.
“But that was a small cast, and this is a big production,” Westphal said. “The guy who originally was scheduled to choreograph this show had to drop out, so I told Lorna that I could do it. Then afterwards, I started to panic. I started thinking, ?This is going to be so big, you can’t do it.’ Then I started thinking, ?Yes, you can do this.’”
Westphal already had experience working with children through teaching classes at Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s Dancers’ Workshop. This was just another kind of dancing.
And no story about Annie could be complete without mention of the orphan’s dog Sandy.
“We cast a child in the part,” said Ashton Akridge, assistant director and stage manager. That child is Savannah Claire Parks, whose expression says it all.
She follows Annie, stays by Annie’s side and looks into Annie’s eyes.
Because even Sandy the stray needs hope.
And she’ll find it in Annie.
CAST: Bryn Purvis, Annie; John Sallinger, Daddy Warbucks; Kristy Coast, Miss Hannigan; Jamie Leonard, Grace Farrell; Cody Ikerd, Rooster; Sonya Blanchard, Lily St. Regis; Molly Beth Blanchard, Molly; Savannah Marchiafava, Pepper; Kaitlin Taylor, Duffy; Hope Hollis Bourgeois, July; Maggie Kate Coast, Tessie; Kendall Claire Lamont, Kate; Philippe Radelet, Mister Bundles, Newspaper Man, Manservant; Michaelynn Parks, Apple Seller, Star-to-Be; Savannah Claire Parks, Sandy; Aaron Bourgeois, Dog Catcher; Mark Lambert, Lieutenant Ward, FBI; Erin Perdue, Sophie; Travis Daigle, Tanner LaCour, Phillip Moran, Ben Moran, Boys’ Gang; Jean LaCour, Emma Une; Katie Burleigh, Mavis Deux; Carey Long, Betty Trois, Cecille; Mitchel Courville, Man 1, Manservant; Aaron Bourgeois, Man 4, Punjab the Driver; Daniel Bourgeois, Drake; Lane Moran, Manservant; Beth Giordano, Mrs. Greer; Shanon Collins, Mrs. Pugh; Emily Miller, Annette; Mason Westbrook, Babette; Amanda Guedry, Usherette; Casey Bundick,Lead Dancer, Bert Healy; Emily Crowe, Connie Boylan; Laura Turner, Connie Boylan; Charlston Bourgeois, Ronnie Boylan; Erin Perdue, Radio Foley Artiste; Michael Ruffin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Christian Watts, Eleanor Roosevelt; Lane Moran, Harold Ikes; Bryan Songy, Voice Over/Announcer; Coy Moran, Judge Brandeis; Molly Coast, Alayna Jaeger, Carla Westbrook, Charla Moran, Beth Giordano, extras; Samantha Rock, Carly Gautreau, Sophia Marchiafava, Jordan Simoneaux, Katie Burleigh, Katie Collins, Olivia Francois, Isabella Francois, extra orphans
ARTISTIC STAFF: Lorna Culmone Bourgeois, director, props; Ashton Akridge, assistant director, stage manager, props; Mitchel Courville, directing intern, props, prop crew; Mason Griffin, musical director; Derrian Tolden, assistant music director; Hayley Westphal, choreographer; Sonya Blanchard, assistant choreographer; Ben Moran, assistant stage manager, props, prop crew; Philip Moran, props, prop crew; Jean LaCour, lead child monitor; Carla Westbrook, costume manager; Charla Moran and Beth Giordano, costume mistresses; Lance Jaeger, production manager; Jason Bourgeois, scenic designer; Jack Wilson, techical director; Jack Nealy, lighting designer; Shawn Nealy, lighting crew; Brady Moran, sound; Heidi Alford Frederic, house manager