When the newest revival of “Annie” on Broadway opens this fall at the Palace Theatre, Sherry Henderson of Anthem will know just how its youngest cast members feel. Henderson and her twin sister were cast in the original “Annie,” which opened in 1977 at the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre). Henderson recalls being in the show for 17 months of its six year run.
Seems their mom, a dancer, thought that auditioning for “Annie” would be a good experience for her twin daughters. Henderson says about 1,000 girls auditioned, and both she and her sister got a callback. “The director, Martin Charnin, wanted to take us on tour,” recalls Henderson.
Henderson notes that their mom declined, thinking it’d be too tough to manage the logistics with her third child, just four years old at the time. So the director, recalls Henderson, asked their mom whether she’d be willing to take them to Broadway. Soon they were headed to the Alvin Theatre, where one was cast as Molly and the other cast as Duffy (two of several young orphans in the show).
Two weeks later, says Henderson, they were performing in the show. Henderson and her sister were just eight years old, and in the third grade, at the time. She remembers driving two hours each way between Philadelphia and NYC every day, but says they still managed to miss 52 days of school. On weekends, they’d stay with their grandmother in Brooklyn.
Henderson is choreographing a Musical Theatre of Anthem production of “Annie” opening May 31 at Boulder Creek Performing Arts Center. Three years ago, she choreographed “Annie Jr.” for Anthem’s Starlight Community Theater. It’s clear the orphan tale holds a special place in Henderson’s heart.
“Annie is one of the best written and musically written shows ever done,” says Henderson. “It’s one of the first shows where little girls dreamed of being on Broadway.” The upcoming revival begins previews on Oct. 3, and opening night is Nov. 8. It’s directed by James Lapine, and stars Lilla Crawford (part of the closing cast of “Billy Elliot” on Broadway) as “Annie.”
“Annie” features music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan. The original production earned a Tony Award for best musical. The Musical Theatre of Anthem production is co-directed by Jackie Hammond and Henderson. It’s a “no-cut” production — so everyone ages 6 to 19 who tried out will be rocking their “Annie” vibe.
Nowadays Henderson keeps busy acting, dancing, choreographing and teaching at Dynamic Dance Motion Academy in Anthem — but says her greatest joy comes from “being in theater as a parent.” Her 6-year-old daughter Molly and 10-year-old son Jaden recently performed in the Musical Theatre of Anthem production of “Willy Wonka.”
“Everybody should try theater once,” says Henderson. “It’s so much more than song and dance.” Henderson notes that participating in theater boosts children’s confidence and self-motivation, and equips them for future life experiences like speaking in front of crowds. And those performing in “Annie” learn something more — the value of being optimistic during times good and bad.
Coming up: Once upon a blue star, Comicon meets creativity.