Leapin’ Lizards! Broadway Las Vegas’ Annie Looks Back to 1977

A famous catchphrase will have extra resonance next week when Annie opens at The Smith Center as the final production in the 2014-2015 Broadway Las Vegas season sponsored by Southern Nevada Ford Stores. The beloved musical – which runs May 26-31 in Reynolds Hall – ‘leaps’ back to 1977, when it premiered on Broadway. From creative staff to artistic style, Annie harkens to its original stage incarnation and promises audiences a real “gee whiskers” experience.

In fact, Annie actually goes back even further to 1970. That’s when Martin Charnin, lyricist and director, paged through a coffee table book titled Arf! The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie. The tome compiled comic strips featuring an irrepressible, redheaded heroine written by Harold Gray from 1935 to 1945. Hooked on the series, Charnin spent the next six years developing Annie with writer Thomas Meehan and composer Charles Strouse. The trio saw the curtain go up in what is now the Neil Simon Theatre on April 21, 1977.

The Great White Way proved perfect for the main character Annie, her dog Sandy, the benevolent billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the mean Miss Hannigan and the rest of the lineup – the show ran for 2,377 performances, stretching to January 2, 1983. Along the way, Annie garnered seven Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Choreography.

One of the many connections between this new version of Annie and 1977 is Charnin himself, who is returning for his 19th time as director. Another link is choreographer Liza Gennaro. Her father, the late Peter Gennaro, was the original choreographer of the musical. Set designer Beowulf Boritt is drawing upon the visual aesthetics of the original musical for inspiration, such as creating hand-painted backdrops based on designs from the first run. Also, costume designer Suzy Benziger was an assistant to the late Theoni V. Aldredge, the original 1977 Annie costume designer.

Also returning to Annie is animal trainer William Berloni. He was a part of the 1977 production and still watches over the intelligent pooches that portray Sandy. For this show, Berloni is working with Sunny and Macy, two adorable rescue dogs.

Charnin and his team have created a perfect world for today’s actors, including the adorable Issie Swickle as Annie herself. Swickle is the heart of the show, especially when she sings famous numbers like “Maybe,” “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow.” She is joined by Lynn Andrews (Miss Hannigan), Gilgamesh Tagget (Oliver Warbucks), Ashley Edler (Grace Farrell), Garrett Deagon (Rooster Hannigan), Lucy Werner (Lily) and a host of other talented actors.

It’s also interesting to note that some of the leads from Annie’s 1977 to 1983 run have had significant Las Vegas ties in the years since. Tony Award-nominated Andrea McArdle, the first Annie, later performed at the former Las Vegas Hilton. Plus, McArdle recently shared the stage with Seth Rudetsky – a great friend of The Smith Center – in the Poconos. A later namesake, Allison Smith, had guest roles in the Vegas-centric CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. And Sarah Jessica Parker, yet another Annie, starred in the classic Honeymoon in Vegas and recently had a pop-up fashion show in collaboration with locally headquartered Zappos.

With a fantastic history combined with amazing contemporary talent, Annie will surely shine at The Smith Center!

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