A! Magazine for the Arts

The Orphans in "Annie" help Annie's dreams come true. From left to right they are Ella Combs, Riley Lowe, Ava White, Lucy Tester, Sandy Mae Wright, Raina Moody and Mary Hitch. (photo by Ann McAllister)

The Orphans in "Annie" help Annie's dreams come true. From left to right they are Ella Combs, Riley Lowe, Ava White, Lucy Tester, Sandy Mae Wright, Raina Moody and Mary Hitch. (photo by Ann McAllister)

Annie' is a heartwarming story for the holidays

October 26, 2017

Theatre Bristol has been applying for the license to present "Annie" for several years. This year they discovered that it was no longer restricted.

"We knew we wanted to do it right away. It's the first time in several years we are doing two shows at the Paramount, and we're very excited to offer this show for the holidays," says Samantha Gray, artistic director. The show opens Nov. 17 and runs through Nov. 26.

This heartwarming family comedy is a perfect way to celebrate the holiday together. It's filled with favorite songs including: "Maybe," "It's a Hard Knock Life," "Easy Street," "N.Y.C.," "Little Girls," "I Don't Need Anything But You" and "Tomorrow."

"Annie" has a cast of 51 dedicated actors, plus a dog, who come from Abingdon, Lebanon, Kingsport, Piney Flats, Bluff City, Bristol and Johnson City. The cast is divided about evenly into veterans and newcomers to the Theatre Bristol stage.

The cast features Lucy Tester as Annie, Riley Lowe as Molly, Mary Hitch as Pepper, Ella Combs as Tessie, Raina Moody as Kate, Ava White as July, Sandy Mae Wright as Duffy, and an orphan ensemble which include Taylor Boyle, Tessa Camper, Chloe Campbell, Charli Carpenter, Abigail Combs, Kherington Hillis, Kielyn Hillis, Kelly Patrick and Ryleigh Tolbert.

Mike Musick plays Daddy Warbucks, with Makenna Arnold as Grace Farrell, Dan Gray as Drake, Lee Anne Hitch as Mrs. Pugh, Hannah Harrington as Mrs. Greer, Rebecca Catalano as Cecille, and Mansion Staff players, Luke Gray, Tessa Harmon, Cameron Roberts and Colton Salyer.

The Cabinet includes Robert McCrary as President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Michael Shearin as Cordell Hull, Jim Hale as Louis Howe and Daniel Tester as Henry Morgenthau Jr.

Laura O'Bryan plays Miss Hannigan, with James Francis as Rooster, Carson Musick as Lily St. Regis, Ryan Gray as Bert Healy, Steve Baskett as Bundles McCloskey, Alayna Walker as Bonnie Boylan, Haleigh Tilley as Connie Boylan, Parker Dugger as Ronnie Boylan and Jacklyn Halpin as the Star-To-Be.

The rest of the cast includes Michael Payne as Lt. Ward, Mason White as assistant Dog Catcher, Zaiah Gray as assistant Dog Catcher, and Hooverville Citizens Randy Broyles, Matthew Coonley, Daniel Freeman, Sarge McFalls, Melissa Minton, Aleigha Spurlock, Hunter Tilley, Maliah Tilley and Anthony Underwood.

Making their stage debuts are Willow Campbell as Sandy, Taffy Combs and Duncan Dutton-Cunningham as stray dogs.

These volunteer actors make a significant time commitment to being in the production. They rehearse three hours, five days a week for eight weeks; plus six performances. The director and crew spend even more time on the show, preparing, planning the stage, choreography, set design, music and more. Gray estimates that more than 3,000 hours have gone into this production.

Kenn Naegele is directing the show. "'Annie' is the perfect opportunity for me to work again with Theatre Bristol and in the beautiful Paramount Theatre. It's a great big fun musical with a cast that ranges in age from 10 years old to 80, and every one of them is a bundle of talent, energy and enthusiasm. I can't think of a more exciting gift to Bristol and the Tri-Cities for the holidays," he says. Naegele has performed in and directed more than 60 productions in his career in New York State and Tennessee. He most recently directed "Oklahoma."

"When I moved to this area from New York, my experience as an actor and singer brought me in touch with two well-known talented community members: David Browning and Rick McVey. When they learned of my experience as a director of educational theatre, they put me in touch with the wonderful Cathy DeCaterina and Theatre Bristol. As much as I have always loved performing, I have discovered through the years that it is a magical experience to direct: to select and work with amazingly talented people to bring to life a vision from my head to the stage.

"Sandy will be portrayed by Willow (Campbell), a most remarkable dog. Her audition was flawless, showing her training and her patience. There are a few moves she will have to make in the show that she doesn't know yet, but her family is fully confident that she can learn them, and I am, too. I was especially impressed when she attended the first read-through of the play and met our wonderful cast. She was friendly and warm and showed remarkable self-control as she sat through the whole rehearsal. This will be a first for me, and, being a lover of dogs myself, I can't wait to work with Willow and for our audiences to see what a wonderful dog she is," Naegele says.

The music is recorded. "It's what we used for "Little Women: The Musical" and Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," Samantha Gray, artistic director, says. "I would love for us to be able to get back to live music soon though, when we can include instrumentalists, like we did with "Music Man.'"

Steve Davis is the music director. "I love this show ... the music, the story. I love the picture it portrays of the innocent warm heart of that little girl Annie melting the cold hard heart of Daddy Warbucks. It's beautiful. I have been involved in music my whole life: producing, conducting, directing, singing, dancing, etc. I am an instructor of music and daily I enjoy training performers to develop top quality in their singing, piano playing, and acting. I am thankful for being recommended for the job," he says.

Davis is a retired church music minister and former executive director of Steve Davis Productions. He is best known for his productions of the "Bristol Passion Play (The Day He Wore My Crown)," "The Sound of Music" and "Four Tickets to Christmas," in which he has also played leading roles or conducted orchestras.

Camille Gray is the costumer. Some of the costumes are made, some purchased, some borrowed, and some they've had, such as the iconic Annie dress used in the publicity photos, which was made years ago and is now being used again.

Camille is Samantha's daughter. For the artistic director, Theatre Bristol is a family affair.

"My daughter still costumes and performs in shows, both sons perform and Luke helps with dance captaining. It's fun that my husband Dan has started auditioning and does so well and enjoys it. It keeps our family together as this is a lot of hard work. I think of Cathy DeCaterina and her family and stories of her husband Frank getting sponsors and her children participating. We know for people to be involved it's a big time commitment, and we want it to support all families," she says.

"Annie," the story of an orphan looking for family, produced by families, entertains families Nov. 17-26 at the Paramount Center for the Arts, Bristol, Tenn. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 for adults and $12 for seniors and students, plus processing fees, and are available at www.ParamountBristol.org.

Samantha Gray