Rachel (left) and Hannah (right) share the lead role of Annie
Annie’s Director, Cyndi Atkins, made the decision early on to cast two girls in the lead of Union Street Players’ (USP) production of Annie. Through the history of USP there have been several roles that have used two different actors, but the practice is generally employed in smaller roles and bit parts when one actor can’t make all of the performances. To have two actors share the lead is something of a novelty.
The reasons Cyndi gave for wanting two Annie’s were simple and practical. The role of Annie is a heavy load for a young actor and the songs are demanding on a young voice. By having two Annies to share the role, the demand on either of them would be less. It also ensured that, God forbid, one of them goes down with sickness or injury you’ve got the most important role in the show covered. When one of them is playing Annie, the other is still on stage, but playing one of the orphans.
The role of Annie went to two exceptionally capable young ladies in Hannah Emmert and Rachel Peter. Both of them have booming voices, contagious smiles, and charisma to spare. No matter which one of the young actors is on stage, you can rest assured the show is in capable young hands.
Personally, I’ve found the experience of working with two different actors in the same role to be an interesting experience. During the rehearsal process, most scenes were done twice when blocked (Blocking is the stage term for the process of figuring out where the actors are supposed to move on stage). We’d block the scene with one of the Annies, then switch and let the other one run through it. As opening night draws nearer, Director Atkins has alternated Annies. This past week, Rachel played Annie for the Act I run through on Monday, then Hannah took the role for our Act II run through on Tuesday.
People have asked me if it’s different on stage when one or the other is playing the role. Actually, the biggest surprise for me has been how amazingly similar it is. There may be subtle differences, but both of these talented young ladies have worked hard in the role, harder than many adults I’ve worked with in similar lead roles. Both Rachel and Hannah have conducted themselves professionally, have maintained enthusiastic attitudes (which on more than one occasion has quietly reminded me to cheer up), and have approached the leading role with humility and class.
A personal observation: The untold story of these two fine young ladies are their exceptional parents. Rachel and Hannah’s mothers have made quite a backstage team themselves, and have made the production team’s load much lighter. Hannah’s dad is also in the show (one of many parent/child teams in the cast).
A quiet Sunday in Prairie City: By the way, Rachel’s dad is a pastor in Prairie City. Since my wife, Wendy, and I take the phone orders for tickets, I can tell you on good authority that things are going to be mighty quiet on the streets of that town on December 5th. About half of Prairie City’s residents will be in Pella watching Rachel!
Tech Rehearsal Update
Tech Rehearsal started at 8:30 a.m. yesterday and finished at almost 1:00 p.m. Thanks to our tremendous crew for all of their hard work and kudos to cast members who had to do a lot of standing around. A special shout out to Stage Managers, James and Jamie Punke, who are managing a huge cast and several major scene changes back stage. Backstage is in capable hands, James has been USP’s most prolific Stage Manager. He’s managed at least six shows dating back to Love, Sex, and the I.R.S. in 2002.
- Keep cast and crew in your thoughts and prayers. There’s a tremendous amount of crud going around and we’ve had several actors and crew members out with illness. Even our Director, Cyndi, was struggling yesterday.
- Everyone gets a much needed day of rest today. Sleep well, eat well, and get plenty of rest. We’ve only got 12 days to opening night.
- Warbucks’ address, 987 5th Avenue in New York, overlooks Central Park in Manhattan and is right across from the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I guess if he doesn’t like the Mona Lisa, he just sends it across the street and takes the tax deduction.
Tom Vander Well plays Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks in USP’s production of Annie. He is the current President of USP, though his views are not necessarily those of USP, it’s Board of Directors, or members.