We all remember the story of “Annie” — a little fiery redhead that made us all hope for tomorrow through her charm, charisma, and her can-do-it attitude. However, the show’s director, Dallas Henry, had a special memory of “Annie,” which is why he jumped at the chance to have this play on Missouri Western’s campus.
“My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about a year and a half ago, and this was a show where when I was a young kid my mom used to wake me up and come in singing ‘tomorrow, tomorrow,’” Henry said. “That was kind of always her theme song.”
The “Tomorrow” song stuck with Henry for years as he performed it at his third grade talent show, played in the production in college and now is directing the whole musical.
Henry also got the idea to use this show to spread awareness about Alzheimer’s disease to increase knowledge on the campus and community.
“I thought for the students it’d be a fun challenge to dance and to have a fun, nice bright musical,” Henry said. “I figured we can tie in my mom as far as Alzheimer’s awareness … and kind of bring everyone together. It’s kind of like doing this one for my mom.”
The cast will include many young new faces, yet some familiar faces as well. The show will star two Annies, 9-year-old Ashton Griffin and 13-year-old Annaka Kellogg. Some returning actors include Risa Johnston, who will play Miss Hannigan, Kyle Minx, who plays President Roosevelt and Bert Healey and a servant and Erik Burns-Sprung, who plays Oliver Warbucks, an uptight, bald-headed billionaire who, over time, finds joy through spending time with Annie. For Burns-Sprung, preparing for this role involved giving something very unexpected.
“I had to shave off all my hair and my beard,” Burns-Sprung said. “I’ve never had hair this short. I had hoped they were going to get me a bald cap, but that didn’t end up coming through. I definitely feel a lot colder outside,” he said jokingly.
Another returning actor, Sebastian Smith, who plays three roles in the show – a hobo, a cabinet member and Drake, Warbucks’ butler, also had an interesting time getting in touch with his many parts.
“It makes my life very busy but I really enjoy it –being able to play three different characters on stage,” Smith said. “I’m in every chorus number in the show because of it. I have to learn every song.”
Henry noted that he wanted this play to be very big and really give the audience a great “wow-factor.” The play includes a number of new stage techniques such as roll-on-roll-out sets, back drops, big dance and singing numbers and costumes that reflect the era of the Great Depression. The show will also include commercials that are spin-offs of some of the old commercials of the 1930s.
Lead costume designer Kelly Vogel, who has been involved in nine Western play productions and the head costume designer for eight of them, explained some of the work that is involved behind the scenes during a production, as many people don’t realize what all goes on, she said.
“It gets really crazy because people come in and out and we don’t have a full time costume staff because I don’t live here,” said Vogel, who commutes from Lawrence, Kan. “It’s fun otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I read the script, I meet with the director and I have to understand who they are as people once I know the director’s vision and find out who they look like. A lot of times a actor may not be sure of what direction to take until they see their costume.”
“Annie” opens Thursday, Nov. 29 at 7:30 p.m. and the show will run for two weekends concluding on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. in the Potter Hall Theatre. Both matinee and evening shows are available for purchase online at www.mwsutix.com, in person at the Potter Hall Box Office or by phone at 816-271-4452. For more information about the play visit http://www.missouriwestern.edu/theatrecinema/annie.asp.
Donations will be accepted with proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Association. For every $10 donated, the donor will receive a small stuffed Sandy dog, Annie’s best friend.
Both Henry and the cast and crew are truly hoping this play will leave the audience with joy, motivation and a glimpse into a “hard knock life” of a tough little girl.
“People are down and out and need that whole inspiration,” Henry said. “That’s what “Annie” does — every scene you see that she brings life to that scene. She’s the optimism.”