Greg Malone stars as Miss Hannigan in Theatre St. John’s “Annie.” — Submitted photo
“Cats.” “Phantom of the Opera.” “Grease.” There are dozens of Broadway shows you don’t have to have seen to be familiar with the music. Only one musical, however, has a song that has become the international symbol of optimism, whether in context or not.
Theatre St. John’s is presenting “Annie” — with its entire orchestra-accompanied score, including the ever-hopeful song “Tomorrow” — at Holy Heart Theatre next week.
Opening on Broadway in 1977, the multi-Tony award winning musical was also developed into an Oscar-nominated film in 1982. Set during the Depression, the show tells the story of “Annie,” a curly-haired youngster living in an orphanage under the miserable Miss Hannigan.
Annie’s situation takes a change for the better once she’s invited to spend Christmas at the home of billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, who decides to try and help her find her parents by offering a $50,000 reward.
“The sun will come out tomorrow, that’s what the song says, right? I wanted to do this show because it has so much heart and is such a great story about overcoming any sadness and finding positivity in anything,” explained Keith Pike, Theatre St. John’s artistic director, adding the theatre company wanted to produce a show suitable for families.
There’s also a bit of a nostalgia factor, he said.
“I remember watching the movie when I was a kid and falling in love with the music. I think that’s going to be a big appeal for people my age — it’ll bring them back to their childhood.”
Pike held an audition call back in May for girls between the ages of 7-14 of a certain bubbly personality who could sing and dance. Eleven girls were cast as orphans in the show, the oldest being 12, and the title role going to Jane Hutchings.
“When she came to the audition and sang for us, it was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s Annie,” Pike said. “She has played leads in shows all her life, and she’s only 12.”
When it came to the role of Miss Hannigan, someone else was also a natural; so much so, Pike didn’t even hold an audition. He offered the part to CODCO alumnus Greg Malone, who accepted it almost on the spot.
“I was shocked, but after the first few minutes I got used to the idea,” Malone said. “I’ve seen ‘Annie’ a lot with my own kids when they were growing up, so I knew the role. I thought it would be fun; thought it would be a good gig.”
Malone admitted he couldn’t help but be influenced by the film version of Miss Hannigan, played by Carol Burnett. She’s a fun character to play, he said.
“She’s so bad, isn’t she? She’s so terribly selfish and she’s like a little kid, too, in a way; she’s like the biggest kid in the orphanage. She’s very Bronxy and I’m making her very New York, and it’s a lot of fun.”
While it might seem daunting directing a celebrated actor like Malone on stage, Pike, who also acts in the show, said it wasn’t at all.
“We have a lot of fun in rehearsals and we try new things and that’s what Greg loves to do,” Pike said.
“He’s great with the kids. He’s pretty awesome.”
There are some minor challenges working with a cast so young — it takes longer to review scenes and learn lines — but it’s a learning process for everyone, Pike explained.
There may, however, be some other unique challenges that come when one of your castmembers is a dog. Local pet Fisher plays Sandy, a stray dog befriended by Annie in the show.
Accompanied by a full orchestra, castmembers sing songs like “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard-Knock Life” with choreography by Victoria Wells-Smith that fits the 1930s era, including tap dancing and moves like The Charleston.
Theatre St. John’s’ production of “Annie” is one of two to happen in the city this fall: in November, Peter MacDonald Productions will produce its version of the same musical. The two shows are bound to be completely different and there’s no animosity between the two theatre companies, Pike said.
“The companies have different mandates and we’re both doing wonderful shows,” he said.
“I look forward to seeing what he’s doing with it, and I’ll be there to see their production.”
Also starring Melanie Jardine, Wells-Smith and Peter Halley as Daddy Warbucks and with musical direction by Grant Etchegary, Theatre St. John’s’ version of “Annie” runs Sept. 29- Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee Oct. 1. Tickets are $30-$35 and are available at the Holy Heart Theatre box office, by calling 579-4424, or online at www.holyhearttheatre.com.