Friday, July 01, 2011

'Annie' director offers first-hand Broadway insight

The Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company has done "Annie" before, but this time the company has the rare opportunity of working with a director who was part of the original Broadway cast.
"Annie" opened on Broadway in 1977. Richard Sabellico was brought in to take over the role of Rooster, the conniving con artist brother of alcoholic orphanage matron Miss Hannigan, in February 1981 and held the role until September 1982.
Sabellico, who turned 60 Wednesday, has directed "Annie" numerous times since his time on Broadway and is following the same blueprint that made the show such a success on Broadway with the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company production which opened Thursday,  June 30, at the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse and is running through July 9.
"I thought it [the Broadway production] was extremely well done," Sabellico said. "I thought it was very smart, very streamlined. I thought it told a beautiful story very simply and quickly and one scene melded into another very cinematically and that's what we are going to do here even on limited resources and limited budget. We are still doing it the same way. Exactly the same way."
Sabellico keeps returning the show even after 30 years because of its simple message of hope and optimism.
"I think it is a terrific show," Sabellico said. "I love the message it tells. I like the variance in the cast members from old to young. The animals — I love dogs. But basically it is its message of hope and seeing the glass as half full instead of half empty and always looking forward to the next wonderful thing that could happen instead of being sunk and mired in the past."
Sabellico wanted to put on the best show, and he requested that Linda Pinkham, matron of the Mount Washington Valley Theatre Company, get professional actors for the principal roles.
"This cast is very good," Sabellico said. "The principals are excellent. The kids are, surprisingly, very adept at learning quickly. Their attention leaves a bit to be desired, but their abilities are quite good."
Raquel Leifer, the 10-year-old actress from New York who is starring as Annie, has appeared in role before, but this is her first experience in a professional production.
"This is a lot more intense and real," Leifer said. "In the other one we didn't use a real dog. This just makes me feel more like I really am Annie."
Sabellico is also very pleased with the adults in the cast, noting, "They learn it. They do it. They give back to me what I ask and they bring their own stuff to it."
Michele Foor, who plays Miss Hannigan, feels privileged to have the opportunity to work with a director that was in the original Broadway production of "Annie."
"You just get a whole different insight into it and plus he puts his own personal stamp on it," Foor said. "He's very invested in the characters and keeping them real and keeping the story very real. It raises the stakes a lot and it makes it more interesting as an actor to work on it that way."
Foor first appeared in "Annie" 27 years ago and has appeared in the show numerous times since and various roles. Much like Sabellico, she keeps returning to the show because of its simple, beautiful message.
"I just love it," Foor said. "It gives me a warm fuzzy feeling even though I shouldn't be having that as Miss Hannigan. It is just one of my favorites and this has been a great experience so far."
Grant Golson, who is returning for a fifth season with the Mount Washington Valley Theatre, is taking on the role of Daddy Warbucks and said that Sabellico helped him find the character.
"I came here having just done the show two months ago playing Daddy Warbucks and had a lot of gobbledygook in my head, a lot of preconceived notions of who Daddy Warbucks was," Golson said. "Richard really helped me rediscover who Daddy Warbucks truly was and kind of bring a lot more of myself into it."
Golson keeps returning to the Eastern Slope Inn Playhouse stage because "he fell in love with the area and fell in love with the little playhouse" when he first came here in 2004 for what was his first professional lead.
"I just had a wonderful opportunity to play some really wonderful and challenging roles over the years," Golson said. "I just love it here."
For tickets visit www.mwvtheatre.org or call the box office at 356-5776.

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