Rob Yoho was pleased. “The orphans do a pretty darn good job of corralling themselves,” he said with a smile, as the 11 girls pranced about on the stage at Vive Les Arts Theatre. “They’ve all been really spectacular to work with.”
Which is a good thing, since Yoho, director of “Annie,” had 32 actors, seven technical backstage workers, a nine-piece orchestra and a live dog to wrangle. At the first technical costume rehearsal earlier this week, he had his deadlines in mind.
“We’re leading up to our Thursday military appreciation night, and then opening night Friday. It’s about getting all the elements to coalesce and join together to make our full-length musical.”
Yoho is the second Baylor graduate student to helm one of this season’s VLA productions. He was recommended by classmate John Sefel, director of VLA’s “Mousetrap,” according to veteran stage manager Lizzie Covert. “One notable feature of this production of ‘Annie’ is that we have no blackouts — the actors or backstage workers move props on and off stage,” she said. “And Rob is really emphasizing the old-time radio-show vibe.”
“Annie” opened on Broadway in 1977, ran for nearly six years, won a Tony Award for best musical and been performed all over the world. Best known for the songs “Tomorrow” and “Hard Knock Life,” a film version starring Albert Finney, Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters was released in 1982. It was remade as a TV movie in 1999.
The musical is based upon the long-running Little Orphan Annie comic strip by Harold Gray, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Matin Canin and the book by Thomas Meehan. Set in the 1930s, Annie eventually charms everyone in the story, rising from her squalid existence in a New York City orphanage with equal measures of luck and optimism in an attempt to find her parents. Heart-warming incidents ensue, remarkable characters abound, including the notorious Miss Hannigan, billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks and the lovable mutt Sandy.
Maddie Spear is cast in the title role, with James Kline portraying Daddy Warbucks and Patty Rowell as the scene-stealing Miss Hannigan. Regular VLA theater-goers will notice Jonathan Spear, father to Maddie, cast in multiple roles, speedily changing costumes for radio’s Wacky, Drake and Louis Brandeis. Hayley Dugger, a longtime VLA veteran, has four separate roles, including a maid and a Hooverville resident.
The orchestral score is conducted by Jim Wrex.
Covert, the eternally chipper backstage problem-fixer, is a graphic artist at Central Texas College. Fielding requests from the newbies, altering an actor’s costume on the fly and reviewing listings on her ever-present clipboard, she found time to reassure a first-timer. “You’ll be great,” she said with a smile. “And you look terrific.”