You can bet your bottom dollar Brookville Community Theatre is feeling good about ushering in summer with Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin and Thomas Meehan’s popular, family-friendly 1977 Tony Award-winning musical “Annie,” which begins performances Thursday.
Set in New York City during the Great Depression and loosely based on the comic strip of the same name, “Annie” tells the funny, touching story of the perky red-headed orphan who clings to the hope of being reunited with her parents while loathed by ruthless overseer Miss Hannigan. Along the way, her sincere charm and optimistic outlook helps her win the heart of wealthy tycoon Oliver Warbucks and humorously inspire Franklin D. Roosevelt to create his New Deal.
Strouse and Charnin’s terrific score, overflowing with tuneful melodies and warm vibes, includes “Maybe,” “It’s The Hard-Knock Life,” “Little Girls,” “Easy Street,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” “I Don’t Need Anything But You” and the iconic anthem “Tomorrow.”
“At its core, ‘Annie’ has a rags to riches theme that gives it an enduring, universal appeal,” said Susan Robert, who recently appeared in the Human Race Theatre Company’s excellent workshop of “Gingerbread Children” and will portray the mean and ruthless Hannigan. “Good versus evil is another (important) theme. Good triumphs over evil, wrongs are made right, the good guys win, the bad guys lose and, in the end, all is right with the world. Plus there are orphans and a dog. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
“This show has endured for generations simply because of the fact that people can relate to Annie,” added James Nelson, who co-directs with Debbi Robbins. “Everyone wants to have the feeling of belonging to something. All Annie wants is to belong to a family and she gets her wish in the end. People love to root for her. This show also has such a strong theme of family. In this day and age with the world in turmoil, people need to cling to their family. Whether it’s your church family or your actual family, more emphasis needs to be put back on the family.”
Nelson and Robbins’ cast of 35 particularly contains multiple family connections. The roles of Oliver Warbucks and Annie will be portrayed by the father/daughter team of Philip and Jasmine Cherry. Philip’s son/Jasmine’s brother is also a chorus member. The aforementioned Robert will appear opposite her daughter Sydney, who plays the orphan July. Elainah Skaroupka, who portrays the orphan Kate, has two sisters in the orphan chorus and her mother is in the adult chorus. All of these connections reiterate the creative team’s desire to bring family to the forefront.
“We were really hoping for a father/daughter duo to turn up for auditions and we got our wish,” said Nelson. “The chemistry between (Jasmine and Philip) is dynamic and has definitely enhanced the material because their relationship is pure and real.”
The principal cast includes Sarah Clark as Grace Farrell, Adonis Lemke as Rooster Hannigan, Betsy Jones as Lily St. Regis, Grant Phillips as Drake, Kathy DeVorak as Mrs. Pugh, Teresa Blakeley as Mrs. Greer, Andrew Shamblin as Bert Healy, Kevin O’Boyle as Roosevelt, Abby Caskey as Tessie, Katie Holp as Pepper, Laura Robbins as Molly and Abby Jessn as Duffy. Caitlin Kundtz provides choreography. Amanda Newhart serves as musical director.
BCT’s production notably arrives at a time when “Annie” is resurging on Broadway and in Hollywood. The musical’s Tony-nominated Broadway revival, a grittier, topical interpretation which opened last fall, has received a boost at the box office due to the inspired presence of Emmy winner Jane Lynch (“Glee”) as Hannigan through July 14. Next year, a hip-hop-infused remake of the 1982 film version, co-produced by Will Smith and Jay-Z, will be released starring Academy Award nominee Quvenzhane Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”). Nelson is confident BCT’s approach will connect with audiences in a relatable and hopeful fashion.
“My vision is to bring the characters and the 1930s alive for our audience,” he said. “I also want audiences to leave happy and fulfilled. I want them to forget all the stuff that goes on in their daily lives. Tomorrow is always a new day and can be a new beginning.”
How to go
Where: Brookville Community Theatre, 770 Arlington Road, Brookville
When: July 4-21; Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets/more info: Call Brookville Flower Shop at (937) 833-3531 or visit www.brookvillecommunitytheatre.com