2010 Annie

Blizzard of Activity as Final Performance of Annie Arrives

When you produce a show at Christmas time in Iowa, you take risks. We’ve been blessed with great weather the past two weekends, but it looks like that is about to change. A blizzard warning covers the state of Iowa as the cast and crew of  Annie prepare for our final performance.

The show will go on.

People are still calling asking for tickets. We have been keeping a waiting list and encourage those people to come to the Pella Community Center 15 minutes before curtain can wait on line for any unclaimed seats. If we have patrons who can’t make it because of weather, those seats may become available to purchase. On Friday night, there were several people who were able to get seats at the last minute.

Theatre is Like a Box of Chocolates

It was a lively and energetic crowd who packed the seats last night. The sold out crowd enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

I was sitting with Jim Emmert (who plays Cop/Foley Man) during “the half” last night. He was talking about the fact that someday actors in Hollywood will become obsolete as computer graphics will be able to create perfect looking people and can manipulate the pixels into perfect performances.

I thought about that as the evening wore on. There is something unique and special about live theatre. It is a “live” performance and almost anything can happen at any moment. The sheer possibility of the unexpected which happens when humans perform creates a healthy anticipation. You never know what you’re going to get. Every performance is different.

So it was last night. In the final climactic moment of the show, as the strains of “Getting a New Deal for Christmas” ring out, Annie (Rachel Peter) hugs her found stray dog and then runs into Daddy Warbucks’ (that would be me) arms. In that final moment of the show I pick Annie up and spin her around. I grabbed Rachel, picked her up and spun her around.

That’s when her wig flew off.

Fortunately, it held to the back of her head by a bobby pin. So as it flopped loosely behind her, I picked it up and put it back on top of her head. I felt awful that this was Rachel’s last moment on stage, but at least it was a very memorable one!

Live theatre is (to quote Forrest Gump) like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get!

Final performance today! Hannah Emmert will play Annie for the final curtain.

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2010 Annie

It’s Show Week!! Full Speed Ahead!

 Thanksgiving weekend is over. Hopefully we all ate, shopped and rested to our heart’s content. Now, it’s time to get the party started. It’s show week and Annie opens in five days! I hope this video gives you a laugh and gets you ready to roll.

Monday night is a full curtain-to-curtain run through. Every cast member should review lines and songs before rehearsal to make sure you’ve got the cob webs cleaned out after a five day reprise.

Walk of Fame Members Still Walking

A few years ago Union Street Players instituted a Walk of Fame to honor key members who have contributed to the success of USP and have gone above and beyond the call of duty. The Board of Directors chose the term “Walk of Fame” specifically because inductees have not retired, they are still a huge part of our group and USP appreciates their on-going artistic journey.

Annie provides a great example. Five of the six Walk of Fame members play roles both on stage and off:

 Walk of Fame Members (L to R) Pat Moriarity, Peggy Moriarity, Shelley Buhrow, Bev Graves, Arvin Van Zante

Shelley Buhrow: Hooverville & NYC Chorus, Props
Bev Graves: Hooverville & NYC Chorus
Pat Moriarity: Producer and Factotum (do-it-all)
Peggy Moriarity: Perkins, Costumes and Make-up
Arvin Van Zante: FDR, Lighting Design

And, while the sixth Walk of Fame member, Dottie McGee, does not have an official role in the production, she is always working behind the scenes at the Costume Shop and plays an integral part in supporting the costuming of the show.

Who’s Who?

While Annie is a fictional story, the writers filled the script with historical references of very real people. In doing some investigation about the characters mentioned, I learned a few things.

Bernard (Barney) Baruch was known as the “Lone Wolf of Wall Street” who made his fortune in the stock market.  He was a financier, speculator and statesman. Baruch was an advisor to Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. Baruch was also known as “the park bench statesman” who would regularly walk in Central Park, sit on a park bench and discuss government issues with those who stopped by. Since Warbucks lived across the street from the park, it would have been a natural place for them to meet and discuss issues. Baruch would have been the ideal link to introduce Warbucks to FDR.

Warbucks tells Grace to “call Al Smith and find out what Democrats eat.” Al Smith was Governor of New York state and had run for President as a Democrat in 1928.

Justice Brandeis, who arrives to sign the adoption papers in the end of the show is Justice Louis Brandeis who was the first Jew appointed to the Supreme Court. Brandeis was not from New York, but his wife was and they spent a lot of time at her parents residence (which is why they would be there for the holidays).

Warbucks also sings “What other town has the Empire State and a mayor five foot two.” He is singing about New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia who is regarded by many as the greatest mayor of all time. And, five foot two may have stretched the truth a few inches to help with the lyrics. He’s is known to have only been five feet tall.

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2010 Annie

You’re NOT Seeing Double; We have TWO Annies

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.

Bullets

  • 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.

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2010 Annie

“Annie” Resonates with Today’s Headlines

With less than two weeks until the curtain goes up on Union Street Players’ production of Annie, it might be interesting to provide some daily news and insight about the show for audience members, cast, and crew alike.

Tech Rehearsal Today

Today is a long day for cast and crew known as Tech Rehearsal. That’s when all of the sound and light cues are set and scene transitions are worked. Actors go over and over the lines in the play that contain a sound or light cue while the Sound Designer (Cody Kooi) and lighting crew (Light Designer Arvin Van Zante and Light Board Operator Megan Atkins) make sure they are pushing the right buttons at the right time.

Annie is Still Relevant Today

One of the fascinating things about being in Annie at this moment in time is the way the themes of the storyline resonate with our our own times. The play is set at Christmas in 1933. It was the depths of the Great Depression. There was high unemployment, families struggling to make ends meet, and a lot of debate about how to get America out of its economic woes. Sound familiar?!

Annie touches on real history that is still part of the discussion in today’s political and economic debates. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s (a.k.a FDR, played by Arvin Van Zante in the show) economic recovery program, known as the “New Deal” centered on making the Federal Government the engine of economic recovery. The government launched countless projects that employed out of work citizens. Next time you’re in the Pella Post Office and see the mural of Dominie Scholte or drive on Interstate 80, you can hum “New Deal for Christmas” to yourself; both are examples of FDR’s New Deal projects.

Of course, the result of the New Deal isn’t all good news.  The government had to pay for all of these projects. The result was higher taxes to help pay for all of the New Deal programs. So, you should also hum “New Deal for Christmas” when you look at your pay stub and see how much income tax the government took out of your pay check!

The New Deal did put Americans back to work and launched the economic recovery that pulled the U.S. out of Depression. It also launched the growth of the Federal Government which got larger and larger as it took on more and more responsibility to provide for the welfare of citizens, which placed an increased tax burden on workers.

The debate is still raging on editorial pages and blog posts today as we try to figure out how to climb out of our current economic woes. You’ll even hear FDR and his New Deal commonly referenced if you listen long enough.

One piece of interesting trivia: Harold Gray, creator of the comic strip L’il Orphan Annie, was a staunch believer in a free market economy (low taxes, small government, private business creating jobs and wealth). He despised FDR and the economics of the New Deal. In fact, Gray briefly killed Warbucks off in the comic strip in 1944 claiming that FDR’s policies made industrialists like Warbucks “obsolete.” Gray was long dead when the musical Annie was written. He would roll over in his grave if he knew that Warbucks sings the praises of FDR’s New Deal in the shows finale. It’s interesting to note that you won’t find Harold Gray mentioned or credited anywhere in your copy of the script. The comic strip is owned by Tribune Media Services.

Ticket Update

Tickets are still available for all shows, but only a few single seats are left on the auditorium floor for Dec 5th. We started selling general admission balcony seats for the Dec 5th matinee this week. The center section of the auditorium is almost completely sold out for the entire run (though seats in the front row and back two or three rows remain for many shows). Audience members should not let that deter them, there’s not a bad seat in the house of the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium. Nevertheless, the best seats available seem to be during the 2nd weekend (Dec 9, 10, 11). To order tickets by phone with a credit card call Tom or Wendy (641-620-9107) or pick up tickets at the Pella Community Services office in the Pella Community Center (M-F 7:30 -11:30 a.m. or 12:30-4:30 p.m.).

Daddy’s Dailies is written by Tom Vander Well who plays Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks in USP’s production of Annie. Tom is currently President of USP, though his views are not necessarily those of Union Street Players, it’s Board of Directors or members.

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