Spunky orphans and an upbeat score will set toes tapping and faces smiling as the Downriver Actors Guild presents “Annie” Dec. 2 to 17 at the Theater on the Avenue.
Show times are 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2, 8, 9, 15 and 16 and 3 p.m. Dec. 3, 10 and 17 at the Catherine A. Daly Theater on the Avenue, 2656 Biddle, Wyandotte.
Director Paul Bruce of Dearborn, a recently retired teacher from Dearborn Salina Middle School, said he always likes to bring his students to the final dress rehearsal of shows in which he either directs or performs at the Players Guild of Dearborn.
However, PGD’s current season has adult themes that are not the best fit for middle school students, so when DAG asked him to direct “Annie” as its Christmas show, the DAG board was happy to let his students attend the final dress rehearsal.
“So it was an easy no-brainer for me,” Bruce said. “I’ll take that job.”
Bruce, who retired last June, said he is glad to be working with children again, as their director.
“The difference is huge because I would always leave rehearsal knowing I had to be up at 5 a.m. the next day in order to be ready for work, and I don’t have to worry about that any more,” he said.
In addition to Annie and the six orphans, there are teens in the ensemble.
“In this particular production two of the ladies in our ensemble are only 13 years old, which is amazing because they are holding their own with the adults and they look like the other adults that are in those sequences,” Bruce said.
Bruce said he has a few surprises in store for the audience, including the set design.
“The show’s set design looks like a comic strip,” he said. “Whatever sequence you are in, new panels come in and out for that particular sequence, but they also look like they are a comic strip. So it gives a slightly different look to people who have seen the show a million times.”
He said he had 64 children audition for the show, which made casting difficult.
“How do you whittle that down to the seven you need for the show?” Bruce said. “I could have cast the show two times, three times easily with all of the talent that was there.”
Leah Paige Cooley of Lincoln Park, who plays Lily St. Regis, who sings in the trio, “Easy Street,” said each role in the show is a strong one.
“Every character in the show is very iconic,” she said.
Cooley said people can relate to the time period of “Annie,” the Great Depression, the way they did 40 years ago when the musical debuted.
“That was the time of the gas shortages, and people can really identify with that,” Cooley said. “Even if there is a happy ending and it is someone else’s, that’s better than nothing.
“It’s escapism. It’s like what movies used to be for people in the 1920s. It’s a way to step out, identify with some character.”
Chris Gawel of Detroit, who plays Drake and ensemble roles, said people are surprised to hear the show is 40 years old, but then they start to reminisce about where they first saw “Annie.”
Christina Bertucci, 13, of Dearborn, who plays the title role, said she has grown up in community theater, and likes giving her portrayal of Annie a lot of attitude.
“It’s a lot of fun to kind of explore the character,” she said.
For Kenny Konaszewski, exploring his character, Oliver Warbucks, has required shaving his beard, and soon he will shave his head to play the tycoon who takes Annie under his wings.
“I knew during the audition process that it was more than likely going to be a requirement,” he said, “and with the intimacy of the theater, I didn’t think a bald cap would work, so I made the commitment, early on, that was going to happen.”
Konaszewski said Warbucks is a very multi-facted character.
“He is very stern, very quick-talking; he’s a billionaire,” he said. “But Annie really gets to him and really cracks that outer shell. There’s lots of layers to him, which is really fun to play.”
Konaszewski said “Annie” is a classic for a reason.
“It’s a fun family experience,” he said. “It is a wonderful production from start to finish, top to bottom.”
He said he likes all of the musical numbers.
“They each have a beautiful component to them,” he said. “The number ‘NYC’ is just this big, beautiful number where the entire cast is onstage singing and dancing.
“However, there is the number ‘Something was Missing’ where it is just Warbucks and Annie on stage. It’s just very intimate, and it is just a beautiful moment.”
Konaszewski said he’s never worked with an actor as young as Bertucci who was so professional.
“She definitely is a pro,” he said. “She generally keeps me in line.”
Bruce said the entire cast is extraordinary.
“Every last person in the show is wonderful,” Bruce said. “I have never worked with all except two of the people that are in this cast, who are working so hard and they’re so good-natured.
“The show has all kinds of energy because they are such enthusiastic people. I think it will be a treat for anyone whether you have seen it or not.”
Others in the cast include Meg Berger of Huntington Woods as Grace Ferrell, Michele Devins of Southgate as Miss Hannigan, Thomas Downey of Livonia as Rooster Hannigan and Tom Veritek of Dexter as FDR.
The orphans are played by Elaina Primeau, 12, of Brownstown Township as Duffy; Audrey Hernandez, 10, of Dearborn as Molly; Kate Varitek, 11, of Dexter as July; Isabella Owens, 12, of Riverview as Tessa; and Southgate residents Abby Hinzmann, 13, as Pepper and Erin Hansen, 12, as Kate.
The lovely Boylan Sisters are played by Madison Ganzak of Dearborn Heights, Tamara Marla Laflin of Southgate and Emily Bruce of Trenton. Laflin also plays a cameo future starlet.
Other ensemble members include Nathan Vasquez of Flat Rock, who also plays Bert Healy; Sherry Irving of Riverview, who also plays Sophie; and James Aguila of Taylor.
Tickets are $16, with a $3 discount for students and seniors. To order tickets or for more information call 734-407-7020 or go to downriveractorsguild.net.