The Empire Theatre Company’s musical production of “Annie” opens this week at the Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers Ave. The sold-out show is scheduled to run Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 7-10 and 14-17. All performances begin at 7 p.m., except Sundays, when curtain time is 2 p.m. Seating is limited to 50% due to public health concerns.
Mounting a show like “Annie,” especially during a pandemic, is an extraordinary challenge, said Kathleen Coudle-King, the ETC managing artistic director.
“In ordinary times, a large musical involving adults, children, a dog, and multiple set changes -- including a New York City skyline -- would be a fierce undertaking for any theatre company, but to mount such a show during COVID times is like climbing the ‘Mount Everest of productions,’” Coudle-King said. “I am repeatedly reaching for the oxygen tank.”
She describes the theatre company’s motto for the 2021-22 season as “cautiously optimistic,” noting that, back in March with the emergence of the vaccine to fight the novel coronavirus, the staff did not think that, come fall, they would be dealing with COVID, Coudle-King said.
As the pandemic continues to grip the populace, the decision to produce “Annie” is particularly timely, she said. “Well, hello, October. We are in dire need of little orphan Annie’s advice: when you’re stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely, you just stick out your chin and grin and say, ‘Tomorrow …. you’re only a day away.’ ”
Even though "much in life is touch and go these days, one thing we can count on is the sunrise tomorrow,” Coudle-King said. “In the darkest days of the Great Depression, Annie reminds everyone” that the future will be brighter.
“This feel-good musical tickles the funny bone with the shenanigans of Miss Hannigan and her brother, Rooster, but it also inspires us with the spunkiness of little orphan Annie and her motley group of friends,” she said. “We are all reminded to look to tomorrow when we’re stuck with ‘a day that’s gray and lonely.’ ”
Such wisdom “from the mouths of babes, right?” Coudle-King said. “You should have no trouble smiling during and after this show. We hope the warm glow of ‘Annie’ stays with you in the days and weeks ahead.”
Tickets are available but are “going fast,” she said. “It seems a lot of people need to hear this optimistic message.”
“Annie” is based on the popular Harold Gray comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie.” The original musical production of “Annie” opened on Broadway in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, setting a record for the Alvin Theatre, later named the Neil Simon Theatre. It won seven Tony Awards, including a Tony Award for Best Musical.
Pete Foss is directing the ETC show; Emily Bibow is musical director; and Leigha Stevenson is choreographer. The book is by Thomas Meehan and the music is by Charles Strouse, with lyrics by Martin Charnin.
Cast members in leading roles are: Jamie Travers as Oliver Warbucks; Ginny Hutton, Annie; Misti Koop, Miss Hannigan; Gretchen Kindseth, Grace; Tyler Folkedahl, Rooster; and Veronica Folkedahl, Lily St. Regis.
Other actors are: Addison Foley, Koby Kaiser, Eliza Dodds, Kenai Auch, Wren Kindseth, Saylor Curran, Caitlin Becks, Jennifer Dodds, Katie Kleven, Mark Ellingson, Patrick Frost Pearson, Russ Schonmeier, Paul Tandberg, Jason McCarthy, Kelland Klefstad, Lillie Johnson, Alyssa Donacki, Tatum Mosley, Kelland Klefstad, Oakley Oss, Sophia LeMire, Caitlin Becks, Josh Widmer and Nadia Donacki.
Ensemble members are: Sophia LeMire, Annie Eberhardt, Alena Kolodka, Stella White, Andrew Foerster, Brynn Estad and Leah Kennelly.
Other crew members are: Autumn Horton and Alyssa Donacki, stage manager and assistant stage manager, respectively; Ian MacKenzie, light board operator; Abby Plumley and Otto Lieder, sound board operators; Otto Lieder, musical tracks operator; Amy Lyste, costumer; Brigitte Frosslee, prop master; Todd Aleshire, Mike Jackson, Russ Schonmeier, John and Bruce Keifenheim, and Pete Foss, set construction; Tommy Hoffarth, Dawn Moe, Debra Pflughoeft-Hassett, Lauren Schoenfelder, Emily Bibow, Josie Dodds, K.C. King and Pete Foss, set painting; Todd Aleshire and Amy Lystic, scenic painting; Josie Dodds, dog wrangler; and Shayla O’Leary, graphic artist for promotional materials.
The production of “Annie” is supported in part by the J.R. Simplot Company Foundation; the Bob and Sally Clayburgh Family Foundation; McFarlane, Inc.; and East Grand Forks Lumber Mart, as well as grants from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, made possible through funding from the North Dakota Legislature; the City of Grand Forks Re-grant program; and the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks and Region.
For more information, go to www.empireartscenter.com or call 701-746-5500.