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Friday, November 24, 2017

Leapin’ lizards! See “Annie” everywhere in Valley theaters

J.R. Momeyer (Oliver Warbucks), Ellie Kunnari (Annie) and Morgan Goldberg (Miss Hannigan) star in Theater Works “Annie Jr.,” at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts Nov. 10-19. Photo by Josiah Duka, courtesy of Theater Works.

Who doesn’t love the little red-headed orphan and her endearing mutt, Sandy? Annie, with her grit, pluck and optimistic spirit, has been winning the hearts of audiences everywhere since the musical first appeared on Broadway in 1977.

Four decades later, this show is popping up everywhere in Valley theaters — including at four venues this weekend. Fans can choose from a star-studded, full-length version to a shortened form filled with talented young local actors in the next few months.

For those looking for star power, Scottsdale Musical Theater Company’s January production of “Annie” can’t be beat. “Our guest stars will bring their own unique talents to their roles, which will make this production something not to miss,” says director David Hock.

Bronson Pinchot from TV’s “Perfect Strangers” is Daddy Warbucks in Scottsdale Musical Theater Company’s star-studded “Annie” at Tempe Center for the Arts on Jan. 3-7.

Bronson Pinchot, best known as Balki on TV’s “Perfect Strangers” will be Daddy Warbucks, Heather Morris from the hit TV show ‘Glee’ will be Lily St. Regis, and Broadway award-winning actress Kaitlin Hopkins will be Miss Hannigan.

The show, which runs Jan. 3-7 at the 600-seat Tempe Center for the Arts, features national tour sets and costumes and a live orchestra. Currently in its seventh year in the Valley, SMTC presents large-scale productions of Broadway musicals in their original versions.

Why has “Annie” become such an enduring favorite? “Annie just has that lovable, family-friendly appeal,” says Hock. “And with Annie’s nothing-can-get-me-down attitude and personality, who can’t relate?”

In Gilbert, Actor’s Youth Theatre presents a shorter version of the musical “Annie Jr.” Nov. 9-18 with a cast made up entirely of kids ages 8-13. “Their youthful enthusiasm is refreshing to watch, and audiences will be blown away by the power of their performance,” says Director Katie Allen. “This is definitely not ‘children’s theatre’ in the sense that most people are used to.”

Allen believes that “Annie” endures “because it speaks to us in a real way. We all struggle with disappointments and realities that don’t quite live up to our expectations, and the idea that we can rise above those challenges and choose to be happy in spite of our current circumstances is an inspiring one.”

All the way across town in Peoria, Theater Works will also present “Annie Jr.” The YouthWorks production runs Nov. 10-19 at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts.

Directing an “uber-talented cast of 55 kids” from all over the Valley, Brenda Goodenberger notes that “there is dancing and singing, and tears and laughter, and at the end of the show we are again reminded that the sun will come out tomorrow, and we can have a fresh start, no matter what ugliness today brings.”

When the cast first came together, she sat down with them to discuss the message of the show, which takes place during the Depression. “What did it look like in the world for kids who had lost both of their parents during that time?” she asked. “How have things changed today?” Goodenberger believes “it was an eye-opening conversation about how lucky we all are to have parents and theater families who love us.”

Goodenberger has some ideas regarding the popularity of “Annie.” “I believe that ‘Annie’ has stayed popular over the last 40 years because it has a message of hope, the songs are catchy, and the good guys win,” she says. “We see in the story of Annie so many good lessons for our kids, but most importantly we see that love and acceptance given freely can create a family, even when there’s no DNA involved.”

Back in Scottsdale, director Andrea McFeely and her production team and cast are “working hard to capture the magic of experiencing a well-sung, well-danced musical that tugs at the heartstrings and gives everyone a bunch of belly laughs.” Nov. 10-19, they’ll bring “Annie” to the Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center courtesy of Desert Foothills Theater.

The team includes both children and adults. “We cast exceptional singers and the cutest kids in the Valley, flung our net out wide to bring new performers into the Desert Foothills Theater fold, and got to work,” she says. She soon realized it was turning into something of a family affair.

Taylor Peel stars as Annie in the Actor’s Youth Theatre production Nov. 9-18 in Gilbert.

“We had parents of kids (both little kids and not so little kids) who decided to dive in and share this experience with their kids. Offhand, I can think of seven different families working together in this show.” Many are already trained performers, including the choreographer, who is sharing the stage with her daughter.

McFeely’s favorite person in the cast is “that brave soul who put a big smile on their face, tried out on a whim, and just charmed us all. They come to rehearsal with equal parts jangly nerves and excitement, and they work so hard.”

She adds that when they start performing and it all comes together, they fall in love with it all.

McFeely believes that “‘Annie’ resonates in good times and bad, because the good guys win, the bad guys get their comeuppance,” and “Annie is a more relatable, pintsize version of Cinderella.”

Beside that, she says, “The music is so catchy!” Notable examples are “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Easy Street” and “Tomorrow.” “Big, belty Broadway music sung by adorable and talented kids and larger-than-life adults.”

You can find Annie shows on the east side, west side, and the north side of the Valley, too. On June 14-17, Musical Theatre of Anthem will present its no-cut version of “Annie, Jr.”

Directing the show is Laura O’Meara. The theater will produce the show entirely within a two-week period. She says that children will meet from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, and will begin performing for an audience on the eighth day. “Although the time is short, focus is intense, and the cast truly becomes a family. What a wonderful format for such an endearing show!”

O’Meara adds that “every little girl whose passion is ‘the stage’ dreams of being Annie. I think it’s in their blood. It is most certainly what makes this show such an enduring favorite.”

And finally, “Annie” comes right to the center of town. Valley Youth Theatre ends its 2017-2018 season June 15-July 1 with “Annie,” the full musical. Featuring local young actors, the show will be presented on Center Stage at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. VYT is known for its famous alumni, including Emma Stone, Jordin Sparks, Kimiko Glenn, Chelsea Kane, Charity Dawson, Krystina Alabado and many others.

Here’s a roundup by date of Valley theaters offering different versions of “Annie.” There’s something for everyone, be it celebrity talent or local, children or adults, the full musical or the junior version. Take your pick!

“Annie” performances in greater Phoenix

Nov. 3-19. Mesa Encore Theatre presents “Annie the Musical” at Mesa Arts Center.

Nov. 9-18. Actor’s Youth Theatre presents “Annie Jr.” at Gilbert’s Tuscany Theatre.

Nov. 10-19. Theater Works presents “Annie Jr.” at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts.

Nov. 10-19. Desert Foothills Theater presents “Annie” at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center Main Stage in Scottsdale.

Jan. 3-7, 2018. Scottsdale Musical Theater Company presents “Annie.” 7:30 p.m. Wed.–Fri., Jan. 3–5; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway, Tempe. $32–$58, including senior and student discounts. 602-909-4215 or scottsdalemusicaltheater.com.

June 14-17, 2018. Musical Theatre of Anthem presents “Annie Jr.” Call for times. Musical Theatre of Anthem, 42323 N. Vision Way, Anthem. $19 general admission; $16 students, seniors and children 12 & under. 623-336-6001 or musicaltheatreofanthem.org.

June 15-July 1. Valley Youth Theatre presents “Annie.” Herberger Theater Center, Center Stage, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix. Tickets on sale to the public April 2, 2018. Check back for times and ticket prices. 602-253-8188 (VYT) or vyt.com; 602-252-8497 (Herberger) or herbergertheater.org.

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Doris Nehrbass

Doris Nehrbass, of Peoria, is a freelance writer, editor and proofreader.

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