Little Orphan Annie Comes to Texarkana

When someone hears the word “Annie,” especially in a musical setting, our minds remember the little orphan with red hair and the ever so famous red dress. She was a child icon who went from a cartoon comic character to live theatre, Hollywood movie stardom and television fame. We think of Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan, the lovable dog Sandy and the musical numbers that kept us humming for days from the 1982 hit movie.

On Broadway, this musical is legendary. In fact, before the movie hit theatres in 1982, it had already been established as one of the best musicals on Broadway. It opened in 1977 and has won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The musical for live theatre was written based on the comic strip by Harold Gray. But even his ideas weren’t completely original, because they were based on the 1885 poem by James Whitcomb Riley titled “Little Orphan Annie,” that eventually made its debut on August 5, 1924, in the New York Daily News.

Annie has a long history. Of course, we know the theme of the play to be set in 1933 during the Great Depression with a spunky red-haired orphan who lives at the New York City Orphanage, run by the sneaky Miss Hannigan who has a less than friendly attitude towards the children she cares for. Annie believes her parents are still alive and will one day come to claim her. Meanwhile, Mr. Oliver Warbucks, a billionaire businessman, wants to adopt Annie and take care of her. There are twists and turns and lies and schemes, and absolutely wonderful songs that make this a family friendly musical not to be missed.

The musical has been revived over and over throughout the years and this November 4-8; the Texas High Theatre Company will perform this timeless musical for its 100th anniversary at the John Thomas Theatre/Sullivan Performing Arts Center.

With a double cast show, Alexis Mayo and Sadie Harp will portray Annie, and in a cast of more than 45, children of all ages have taken this show to heart and prepared to showcase it to the community. A seasoned pro, senior Jeremy Creek, will take on the role of Oliver Warbucks, while Beth Dietze and Tyler Unger will play the con artists, Lily St. Regis and Rooster Hannigan. The role of Grace will be played by Mary Warren and Maddie Frost will take on the role of Miss Hannigan.

Bonnie Flieder, Director of the Tiger Theatre Company (TTC) at Texas High, hopes this show will bring the community together for an enjoyable family friendly night of theatre. Mrs. Flieder comes straight from Texas Middle School’s theatre department and Annie will be her first directing debut at the high school. “Annie has always had a special place in my heart, as it is the soundtrack to many memories with my grandmother. When it was announced that we would be doing Annie for the musical, I could not wait to bring the characters that I had loved so much growing up to life. To have this be my first show as a director has made it even better. Taking the position as head of the department is always a challenging task, but I have had incredible support from all sides. From parents, co-workers, administration, mentors and theater teachers across the state, many have come together to create the magic of our production. Without these behind-the-scenes people, Anniewould have never gotten on its feet. One of the greatest things is that I get to direct students who I have taught before in the middle school program. Few teachers get the opportunity to grow with their students and to watch them come into their own. The kids have been the best part of this, as Annie has played a part in everyone’s childhood. This show doesn’t belong to just the high school or Tiger Theatre Company, but to the community. When we mention that TTC is doing Annie, people immediately start sharing their love of it. Theater has always had a way of bringing people together and when you mix that with this show, the cast and crew, there isn’t anything else a director could ask for.”

Michael Folse, Biology teacher at the High School, is the Theatre Department’s Administrative Coordinator, and plays President Roosevelt in the stage production. Trent Hannah is the Technical Director for the Drama Department, and he and his students build and create the set for the stage.

Stacy Mayo, a graduate of Texas High and avid theater performer and event planner, has assisted in the show's production as well. “This has been such a fun experience getting to see my own daughter take the title role of Annie and work with the other amazing cast members to create a beloved show that all will enjoy.”

A fun twist and a special treat for the community and district is the attendance of a special guest flying in from New York to see the musical on Friday night. Shelley Bruce opened the original Annie on Broadway playing an orphan named “Kate” and understudy to Annie. A year later, she took over the title role of Annie when her best friend, Andrea McArdle, left to open the show in London. 

Shelley began acting at six years old. Her first introduction to live theater was at the age of eight in the off-Broadway show, The Children’s Mass which was directed by Sal Mineo. Ms. Bruce appeared in many commercials and radio spots before meeting Martin Charnin and being chosen to create the role of Kate in the original Annie.

She performed as Annie on Broadway for 13 months before leaving the show in 1979. Sarah Jessica Parker took her place as little orphan Annie.

After a successful battle with leukemia in the early 80s, Shelley focused on music and building a family. She currently runs AmethystSoteria.com, selling her crocheted and handmade items. A portion of the proceeds go to Sloane Kettering to honor their dedication to cancer research and the treatment that has allowed her to survive and thrive.

She also consults with theatre programs in the country and gives guidance to up-and-coming actors. Ms. Bruce believes in the many benefits of theatre education. Strong communication skills, learning empathy and relieving stress are just a few. “Theater is a portal to unlimited possibilities you never dreamed existed within you. Every young person who enters this arena will find something different. The theater brings everyone a sense of wonder and if you’re lucky enough to work in it, you will learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible.”

It is an honor that Ms. Bruce will be in Texarkana, Friday, November 5 at 1:00 to teach a Master Class to the theater students at Texas High. She will then be introduced on stage before the show Friday evening and be at a meet and greet in the lobby after the show to mingle with the cast and crew of Annie and their families.

Show times are November 4 and 5 at 7:00 pm, Sunday, November 7 at 2:00 pm, and Monday, November 8 at 7:00 pm. Tickets are available through the Box Office and ttcths.booktix.com.


 

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