‘Annie’ puts on a big show

07/14/2014 8:14 PM

07/14/2014 8:15 PM

Eighty-five cast members, 180 costumes, 18 orchestra members, 33 kids and one large dog -- everything is bigger in Mainstage Classic Theatre’s production of “Annie.”

“It’s the best ‘Annie’ you’ve ever seen,” says Marty Fredrick, who is directing the play. “It’s a fun show to watch, a happy show.”

Eleven-year-old Alyson Kessinger, who plays the title role, may not be very big, but she’s learning fast. The soprano is accustomed to a different style of singing.

“Scott (Ferrell, music director) is giving me tricks to belt so I don’t rip out my vocal chords,” said Kessinger, who will be a sixth-grader at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts this fall. “I don’t usually belt a lot. Most of the songs I sing, you’re supposed to sound pretty.”

But she has adapted.

“I can blow you out from the other side of the room,” she said with a grin.

The spunky little orphan with the curly red mop top debuted in the comic strips 90 years ago during the Depression. Her many adventures with millionaire Daddy Warbucks made her one of the most popular comics in America. In 1977, she made the leap to Broadway and earned seven Tony Awards. The first “Annie” film came out in 1932, but the one familiar to most audiences -- with Albert Finney, Carol Burnett and Aileen Queen -- premiered in 1982.

Besides belting out two solos -- “Maybe” and “Tomorrow” -- Kessinger also to act and dance, which includes her favorite scenes “Hard Knock Life” with 24 other girls.

“We clean, scrub, then it’s chaos,” she said. “We run all over the stage, there’s kids riding piggy back, two crawl through my legs.”

And then there’s Sandy, the mutt Annie adopts. Mainstage’s Sandy is played by Bishop Bryan, 105-pound Otter Hound owned by Marsha Bryan. The 4-year-old pooch “loves people and is obedient when he wants to be,” Bryan said. She only has one worry.

“When I was playing the CD at home, he was singing along,” she said. “If he breaks out singing, the audience will have to sing along.”

W.C. Fields warned against sharing a stage with kids and animals, but John McLain, who plays Daddy Warbucks, is relishing the role. McLain discovered acting with Fredrick and Ferrell, singing in “Music Man,” “The Sound of Music” and “My Fair Lady,” then moved to Arizona in 2010. There he became a professional voice actor, recording commercials and audiobooks.

He and his wife returned this week so that he could play the famous tycoon.

“I love these people and I’m grateful to them for giving me a shot and encouraging me,” he said.

Playing the richest man in the world during the Depression is kind of touchy, McLain admits.

“You see Hooverville and Annie and the orphans in rags, then you see the exact opposite when the curtain goes up on my house,” he said. “Am I a villain?”

His biggest challenge, McLain said, is making Daddy Warbucks differ from Captain Von Trapp, who he portrayed in “The Sound of Music.”

“Both are stern and experiencing change,” he said. “It’s easy for me to play a stern character. I just have to remember not to have a German accent.”

McLain says he knows the kid actors, mostly girls, are going to steal the show.

“I want the audience to come away changed,” he said. “It’s about a little girl who has a heck of a spirit. It’s a beautiful show, and I think people will cry.

“I hope the girls will steal the show,” McLain said. “The good guys win and that is timeless.”

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