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Stage North Theatre Co. presents ‘Annie JR.’ at Franklin Arts Center

Based on the popular comic strip by Harold Gray, “Annie” is a worldwide phenomenon and was the winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Performances are Dec. 15-18 at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd.

Emily Smith, as the redheaded orphan Annie, sits next to Olivia Notch, who plays Grace Farrell, during a dress rehearsal Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, of Stage North Theatre Co.'s production of "Annie JR." at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd.
Emily Smith, as the redheaded orphan Annie, sits next to Olivia Notch, who plays Grace Farrell, during a dress rehearsal Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, of Stage North Theatre Co.'s production of "Annie JR." at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Little orphan Annie will sing her heart out next month in Stage North Theatre Co.’s production of the popular musical at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd.

Based on the popular comic strip and adapted from the Tony Award-winning Best Musical, with a beloved book by Thomas Meehan, and score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, “Annie JR.” features everyone’s favorite little redhead in her very first adventure.

“Prior to the pandemic, we had applied for and received the rights to produce the full version of ‘Annie.’ We chose it because it fits in with our Christmas theme. The final scene takes place on Christmas Day,” said Gary Hirsch, the director of the community theater’s production.

The songs "Hooverville," "Something Was Missing," "I Don't Need Anything but You," "A New Deal for Christmas" and "Why Should I Change a Thing?" and the characters the Boylan Sisters and cabinet members were cut from the abbreviated "Annie JR."

According to “Annie JR.” licensee Music Theatre International: “With plenty of parts to go around, including featured roles as well as ensemble parts for orphans, servants and tourists, ‘Annie JR.’ is ideal for productions involving different grade levels.”

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“During the COVID break, a Broadway tour was planned so they took 'Annie' off the shelf,” Hirsch said. “Because we had announced earlier and the fact that we love the show, our only option was to do a production of “Annie JR.'

“A Hard Knock Life,” “Easy Street,” “Maybe,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” and, of course, “Tomorrow,” are among the many familiar songs in the Broadway musical, which was based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.”

“'Annie JR.' is a little shorter and does not have either the Hooverville scene or the scene at the White House, but most of the dialogue is intact,” Hirsch said of the differences between the stage musicals “Annie JR.” and “Annie.”

The cast of Stage North Theatre Co.'s production of "Annie JR." rehearses a scene in costume Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd.
The cast of Stage North Theatre Co.'s production of "Annie JR." rehearses a scene in costume Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd. From left to right: Ireland Heap, Ava Notch, Weston Thiesse, Emily Smith, Olivia Notch, Emily Binsfeld, Isabel Pence, Teagan Stout and Esme Malloy.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

According to a synopsis of “Annie JR.” by Music Theatre International: “With equal measures of pluck and positivity, little orphan Annie charms everyone's hearts despite a next-to-nothing start in 1930s New York City. Annie is determined to find the parents who abandoned her years ago on the doorstep of an orphanage run by the cruel Miss Hannigan.”

The original Broadway production opened at the Alvin Theatre on April 21, 1977, and starred Andrea McArdle as Annie, Reid Shelton as Warbucks, Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan and Sandy Faison as Grace Farrell.

“In rehearsals, we get to experiment with line delivery and movement to find ways to bring out the characters in the show,” Hirsch said. “I've directed 'Annie' twice in the past, but now I'm in a different space with different actors so the challenge is still the same.”

The cast of "Annie JR." takes their places on stage Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, during a dress rehearsal at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd in Stage North Theatre Co.'s last production of the season.
The cast of "Annie JR." takes their places on stage Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022, during a dress rehearsal at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd in Stage North Theatre Co.'s last production of the season.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The Broadway show closed on Jan. 2, 1983, after a total of 2,377 performances, setting a record for the longest-running show at the Alvin Theatre until it was surpassed by "Hairspray" in 2009.

“As a retired high school teacher, I find the process (of teaching) to be very rewarding. Directing young and/or inexperienced actors requires the same patience and guidance as teaching,” Hirsch said.

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Columbia Pictures acquired the film rights in 1977 for $9.5 million, the most expensive at the time for a stage musical, according to the American Film Institute.

“First, the music is wonderful. There are many great, memorable tunes in the show,” Hirsch said of the source material’s timeless appeal “Second, it's an underdog-conquers-the-world-type of story.”

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The feature film adaption of “Annie” was released in 1982 and was directed by John Huston and featured Albert Finney as Warbucks, Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan, Ann Reinking as Grace Farrell, Tim Curry as Rooster, Bernadette Peters as Lily, and Aileen Quinn as Annie.

“Annie's had some bad luck, but she takes on the world and, with her optimism, eventually conquers it,” Hirsch said.

Another feature film adaption of "Annie" was released in 2014. Will Gluck was the director, and the movie starred Jamie Foxx as New York City mayoral candidate Will Stacks, Rose Byrne as Grace Farrell, Cameron Diaz as Miss Hannigan and Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie.

A children’s choir, directed by Kennedy Niska, will entertain audiences before Stage North Theatre Co.’s production of “Annie JR.” and at intermission. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 15-17 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18 at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd.

"'Annie, JR.' is the perfect way to begin your Christmas celebration,” Hirsch said. “Great story, great music, great dancing — you couldn't ask for anything more. … And, third, the final scene is Christmas Day”

Tickets are $10 and are available online at www.stagenorththeater.com and www.bbay.bigdealsmedia.net , and in person at A Needle Pulling Thread at the Franklin Arts Center, 1001 Kingwood St. Tickets are also available at the door on the day of the performance.

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Cast and crew

“Annie JR.” is directed by Gary Hirsch, with choreography by Wendy DeGeest and Jennifer Person as musical director, Mark Oehrlein as technical director, Mark Ford as costumer and Tim Leagjeld as set designer and builder.
The cast includes:

  • Emily Smith as Annie.
  • Vincent Johnson-Ding as Daddy Warbucks.
  • Maureen Paulus as Miss Hannigan.
  • Olivia Notch as Grace.
  • Abraham Benson as Rooster.
  • Natalie Topete as Lily.
  • Harlo Robertson as Molly.
  • Jillian McCardle as Duffy.
  • Aliza Jacobson as Tessie.
  • Jennifer Dicksen as July.
  • Grace Guderian as Kate.
  • William Delaney as President Roosevelt.
  • Megan Hanson as apple seller.
  • Ethan Johnson as Officer Ward.
  • Lydia Kallinen as usherette.
  • Chai King as sound effects man.
  • Jude Kronstedt as dogcatcher/Howe.
  • Lillian Lies as Cecille.
  • Esme Malloy as Mrs. Greer.
  • Ira Notch as Bundles.
  • William Schmitz as chauffeur.
  • Teagan Stout as Mrs. Pugh.
  • Lauren Yeager as Annette.
  • Weston Thiesse as Drake.
  • Brady Westhalter as Bert Healy.
  • Emily Binsfeld, Ireland Heap, Ava Notch and Isabel Pence as servants.
  • Aubree Flowers, Ashlyn Foy, Kylin Cain, Irie Kronstedt, Lauren Larsen, Ellie Mills, Allison Moore, Kate Orton, Taryn Rosenberg, Elli Salo, Emerald Scearcy, Anna Slaughter and Serena Slaughter as orphans.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

Related Topics: BRAINERDSTAGE NORTH THEATERTHEATERTHINGS TO DOEVENTSEVERYDAY PEOPLE
I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write articles for the Wadena Pioneer Journal weekly newspaper owned by Forum Communications Co.
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