Lighting up the stage with her fiery red hair and captivating demeanor, the star of “Annie” has a way of touching the lives of all those who encounter her — especially Oliver Warbucks, a self-obsessed businessman. Together, in their own ways, they teach us a thing or two about love and persistence.
With original director Martin Charnin once again at the helm, “Annie” comes back to her roots. Gilgamesh Taggett, who plays Oliver Warbucks, describes the show’s core values: optimism, love, persistence and the power of the love of a child.
“The story is so simple, yet so dead-on in terms of the messages, especially in today’s economic, social and political structure,” Taggett said. “There are a lot of bad things going on in this world, but there is hope. There is always another tomorrow, you just need to make it through, endure and never give up.”
Performing live Tuesday through Feb. 8 at the Saenger Theatre, “Annie” features 9-year-old Issie Swickle as Annie and Lynn Andrews as Miss Hannigan. Alongside a full ensemble, they tell the story of an orphan girl who goes in search of her parents, but instead finds a savvy businessman who needs her childlike sassiness.
“Oliver is one of the last people we meet in the show. I get to storm on stage and immediately establish a commanding presence,” Taggett said. “We meet him in the height of the Great Depression, and this man who is an unstoppable force meets this precocious little redhead.”
Driven by the way he was raised, Warbucks is determined never to be in a situation where he could be vulnerable and poor again.
“Martin really wanted to explore Oliver Warbucks as more visually human,” Taggett said. “He is a completely driven, obsessed individual who only thinks about business — without giving too much away on stage too early; there is still a person under there, he really is just any man who put his nose to the grindstone and who is determined to move forward.”
It’s a trait that Taggett can relate to. Raised in a small farming town in Michigan where his father worked as a farmer and at General Motors and his mother worked as a bus driver, there was very limited opportunity for him to explore his passion for the arts.
“I always wanted to perform, but I didn’t know it could be a career, so no matter what other job I had I was always doing theater on the side. When you really know what it is that you really want, you find yourself just gravitating towards it,” Taggett said.
Now on his first national tour as Oliver Warbucks in “Annie,” Taggett refers to himself as a 45-year-old overnight success.
Fueling the cast member’s performances, night after night, are the little Annies in the audience.
“There is always at least one little girl in the audience with a curly red wig on wearing a red dress,” Taggett said.
Swickle portrays Annie with vibrant enthusiasm. She’s a little fireball with a lot of energy, Taggett said fondly — and an amazing voice.
Swickle and the cast’s other six children create a family-like atmosphere offstage, he added.
“Life is so transient and nomadic, fortunately we have these adorable girls with amazing work ethics who aren’t nearly as jaded and cynical as we get. They cheer us up, and the whole cast works to create a sense of community, a sense of home for the girls,” Taggett said.
When performing, night after night, for months at a time, the cast keeps it fresh, enjoying the audiences’ excitement and anticipation — especially those who are experiencing “Annie” for the first time.
“We find new ways to keep the energy up for the audience,” Taggett said. “It doesn’t matter how many times we perform it. Every night is somebody’s opening night.”