The ever-popular musical about the most optimistic orphan in the world, "Annie," is the Springer Opera House's holiday offering this year.
Paul Pierce, the Springer's artistic director, is the first to admit he put "Annie" on the 2012-13 season because he knew it would sell well. And in today's flagging economy, that is always a good reason to have "Annie" on stage, he said.
Besides, it's his favrite musical of all time. It's the third time the Springer has presented the musical since 1985.
"It really fits the economic condition of the country right now," Pierce said. He said the musical reflects the nation's desire to "turn the corner" for better times.
Although set in the 1930s, he said "Annie" is not an outdated musical at all.
"It's about hope, enthusiasm and healing," Pierce said. "I have a special place in my heart for a little girl who needs a daddy."
Rylee Bunton, a sophomore theater major at Columbus State University is taking on the iconic role of the little red-headed orphan.
She's been cast as small children in shows like "Caroline, or Change" and "Dora the Explorer" at CSU. Now, she's playing an 11-year-old girl.
"I like it," she said. "It's enjoyable," she said of playing younger characters.
Bunton says she observes children whenever she's cast as one and makes sure she has the right posture and gait when walking.
Shane Hall is playing Rooster, Miss Hannigan's ne'er-do-well brother. Miss Hannigan runs the orphanage where Annie lives. Hall is also the choreographer for the show.
"It's been a challenge for me," he admitted. When he found out the show was part of the season, "I definitely set my sights on this show."
He's working with 23 young actors who play the orphans. Because these girls are in elementary or middle school, Pierce cast two teams so they wouldn't miss too much school for the daytime performances.
Pierce said the young orphans are "fantastic."
"I have the greatest respect for the cast," Hall said. "I have been blessed with a huge amount of patience. This is a great cast to work with."
As for playing the sleezy Rooster, Hall is reveling in playing the character. It shows that he's not just a song-and-dance man, he said.
Helen Varner, who plays Miss Hannigan, knew as a young girl that she was born to play the role. She first saw the movie in 1982 when it was released.
Jenness Klein is playing Grace, Daddy Warbucks' secretary. It's her second time playing the role. The first time, the theater producing it used a canned tape for the music. The Springer has a live orchestra.
"It's a whole new ballgame," Klein said. "I loved this show for so long.When she was a little girl, she wanted to play the title role, like all the other little girls, she said.
For the audition, she bought a blond wig and used a vegetable dye to dye it red because she couldn't find a red wig. She was mortified when it turned out pink, she said. She can laugh now, but as a child, it was traumatic.
"I was the pink-haired Annie," Klein said.
But she's happy playing Grace because she always "had the prettiest shoes."
And then there's Sandy, Annie's dog.
Varner jokes that her dog, Hazel, was cast in the show before she was. Because Varner is in many Springer productions, Hazel often accompanies her. Pierce and other Springer staffers noticed how well Hazel responds to Varner's hand signals. She showed them the tricks Hazel can do and before she knew it, she was Sandy.
The hard part for the Labrador/Boykin spaniel mix is that she's ignored by the cast and crew (on Pierce's orders). She's supposed to respond to only Bunton and Varner.
"This is the closest I've been to Hazel," Steve Valentini said. Valentini, who is playing Warbucks for the second time, is a dog lover who has been itching to play with Hazel but as been forbidden to interact with the dog.
So at the end of the show, does Warbuck marry Grace and adopt Annie?
"That's the one thing I love about the show," Pierce said of the "romance." "The audience fills in that part. It's never spoken about."