Civic’s ‘Annie’ is a good ‘Deal’ for the holiday season

November 22, 2018

Somehow, despite a long career in theater and having lived in New York City for several years, Lee Gundersheimer has never seen a full production of “Annie.”

But he’s living the “Annie” dream now, as director of the Rochester Civic Theatre’s holiday production of the show, which is one of the most popular musicals of recent decades.

So far, it’s been a journey of discovery:

“I had forgotten it talks about the formation of the New Deal, coming out of the Depression,” Gundersheimer said. In the play, a plutocrat (Daddy Warbucks) tries to become a warm-hearted person. “All of these are messages that resonate today,” Gundersheimer said.

“It’s actually a much better score than I realized,” he said. Everyone knows the songs “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life.” But, said Gundersheimer, “I think ‘Maybe’ is a better song. Everyone can relate to that wanting-to-be-loved factor.”

People might forget that Christmas has a major role in ”Annie.” Gundersheimer said that’s why the show was chosen for this time frame.

The script calls for a huge cast, and Gundersheimer has gone beyond that. “We have 34 in the show,” he said. “We have more orphans than normal, and our adult chorus has two or three more. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible.”

There are some parent/child pairings in the show, starting with Annie, played by Shea Morrey, and Warbucks, played by her father, Mark Morrey.

In reality, though, the entire cast has become one big family, Gundersheimer said. “There’s a community being created around this show,” he said.

“Annie” opened on Broadway in 1977, ran for six years, and won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. There have been several revivals – most recently in 2013 – as well as national tours, and the show is popular with community and school theaters.

The original script includes a role for a dog, but Gundersheimer has opted to go with a puppet instead. “With a puppet, you can have it join in on a song or two,” he said.

Kevin Dobbe, who developed the digital backgrounds for the Civic’s “Shrek,” has designed projections as part of the set for “Annie.”

For someone who never went out of his way to see the show, Gundersheimer has come to view “Annie” favorably. “We’ve been given good source material,” he said.

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