By PAM HARBAUGH
You can’t have Christmas without the musical “Annie” being performed somewhere. In fact, it’s turned into the theater’s “Nutcracker!” Currently, the musical is enjoying a thunderously well-received production at the Henegar Center. It’s directed by Beth Shestak and features 20 adults and 20 children bringing to life the story of a little orphan who finds a family (and a fortune) in the home of Daddy Warbucks.
With enduring songs like “Tomorrow,” “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and “Easy Street,” it’s pretty hard to believe that this year, “Annie” turns 40. Indeed. Before you know it, Annie will receive an invitation to join AARP.
But it abides. And sets the stage for young talent and gives the opportunity to introduce little ones to the theater.
After having its pre-Broadway tryout in 1976 at Connecticut’s storied Goodspeed Opera House, “Annie” the musical opened on Broadway in 1977 and garnered seven Tonys, which was very remarkable at the time. Among the awards, it won Best Musical, Best Book (Thomas Meehan) and Best Original Score (Charles Strouse and Martin Chamin). Interestingly, the Annie in the tryout became the understudy for Andrea McArdle, who was nominated for a Tony.At the Henegar, Annie is played by Katie Hjortsberg of Melbourne Beach. Based on Harold Gray’s comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” the musical is set against the Great Depression. It begins in 1933 at a girls’ orphanage run by the brassy Miss Hannigan, played by Karen Monks of Cocoa Beach. An army of little girls help Annie “escape” the orphanage so she can find her parents. She eventually falls into the graces of kindly billionaire Oliver Warbucks, played by Rob Kenna of Vero Beach.
A plot twist or two later, she’s singing “Tomorrow” for Franklin D. Roosevelt, played by Terrence Girard of Palm Bay. We won’t go further for fear that there must be some reader out there has never seen the musical.
Indeed, even 11-year old Katie has seen the movie and the stage musical. Her father, Kenneth, who is also in the show, has not only seen the show, but was in a production of it about 25 years ago, ironically playing the same roles as he’s playing at the Henegar.
The cast of 20 orphans have been rehearsing since September. The cast of 20 adults started rehearsing mid-October. As with any musical, the rehearsals include not only learning lines and blocking, but also singing and dancing. Direction there came from music director/conductor Ryan Kasten and vocal director Sarah Germain. Leading them in the dancing was choreographer Amanda Cheyenne Manis.
“I love it because it is a story of hope filled with real emotion,” she said. “I think people will like this production. Everyone has worked so hard to tell the story. Plus, everyone loves a cute dog.”
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Annie” runs through Sunday at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $26 general, $23 adults and military and $16 students. There is a $3 service fee per ticket. Call 321-723-8698, visit Henegar.org or click on their ad.