National tour of 'Annie' to bring together multiple generations at Gammage

Bet your bottom dollar that Gammage's next production will appeal to everyone. 

The national production of "Annie" will stop at ASU Gammage May 4-8, bringing to Tempe the classic story of a spunky redheaded orphan who dreams of a better life. The show features notable songs including "It's a Hard Knock Life," "Tomorrow" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile."

The musical is set in 1933 and follows the story of Annie, an 11-year-old orphan whose life goal is to leave the confines of a New York City orphanage and reunite with her lost parents. Instead, she finds a home with Oliver Warbucks, a billionaire who initially cares for her as a public relations stunt, but slowly learns to love the headstrong girl as a daughter. Hijinks ensue as the mean-spirited orphanage owner Miss Hannigan teams up with her brother and his girlfriend to exploit the situation for their own benefit.

Actor Garrett Deagon plays the scheming antagonist Rooster Hannigan in the current national tour. He's been a part of the cast of "Annie" since the tour kicked off in August 2014.

Deagon said the show appeals to every age group, and there isn't really a specific intended audience.

"I think the coolest thing is that ('Annie') is so multi-generational now," he said. "You have a grandma who saw it on Broadway 30 years ago, plus her daughter and then her (daughter's) kids. That's three to four generations coming to watch the show. ... It really is for everyone."

Deagon said the challenge of playing an evil character like Rooster Hannigan is finding the right mix of antagonism and humor.

"Trying to balance being both a villain and a comedian was tricky for me, because I'm kind of the funny guy — a tap dancing comedian — and here's Rooster, who's trying to kidnap Annie and he has a switchblade threatening to cut her throat," he said. "Trying to balance the humor while still making him a real person has been a tough thing to achieve."

The touring production of "Annie" recently celebrated its 500th performance, but Deagon said he hasn't grown tired of doing the show because every performance is unique.

"The cool thing is, there's an audience out there every night," Deagon said. "You can think of the 1,500 people out there — all the kids seeing the show for the first time in their lives and being exposed to theater. No matter how tired I am or how much drama's going on, before I get on that stage and I hear people out there, I turn it on. That's the magic of it. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes I'm like, 'I'm too tired,' but the magic is that whenever you step onstage you come to life again. It's really special."

The director of the current touring production is Martin Charnin, who directed and wrote the lyrics of the original Broadway production of "Annie" when it opened in 1977.

Deagon called Charnin a "mastermind" and said as an actor, the opportunity to work with the original director and writer is an honor.

"The coolest thing is getting to work under his wing and learn from him about what the show means and how it should be played," Deagon said.

Kari Amarosso, media relations manager for ASU Gammage, said the best part of the musical is its ageless theme of hope.

"'Annie' is a beloved musical," she said. "What makes 'Annie' special, aside from the anthem of optimism, is hope. That hope that you can find love, you can find family, friends and that the future can be bright. It's an incredible story about trust and friendship."

Amarosso said that the show holds a special multi-generational connection between her, her mother and her daughter. She said she's confident that Gammage audiences will appreciate the show, whether or not they've seen previous productions.

"If you haven't seen it, it's an incredible opportunity to share it, maybe with your mom or someone special," Amarosso said. "If you have already seen it, it's going to bring back some incredible memories. ... It's a real feel-good show that gives you a lot of hope and makes you feel like the sun will come out tomorrow."

Audiences seem to be responding to that hopeful message with enthusiasm.

Kara Hyvarinen is the author of "Phoenix Mom Blog," a popular website that features recommendations on "where to shop, eat, stay and play" in Phoenix. She recently posted an interview with Heather Coughenour, whose daughter Heidi Gray plays Annie in the touring production.

Hyvarinen said she's planning to take her kids to see the show at Gammage. She has never been to a play before, so "Annie" will be her first time in the audience of a live production. She said she's looking forward to seeing how the actors bring the story to life.

"I've seen the movie version of 'Annie' many times with my kids, and they love it," she said. "I love the movie, and seeing it live onstage will be a new experience. I'll get to see how the actors work together. ... It will be interesting to see how well they've practiced, and to see their chemistry together onstage."

The current national production began in 2014, but the show itself has been around for decades. The original Broadway production of "Annie" opened in 1977, winning several Tony Awards and spawning over a dozen productions across the world. The musical is based on the comic strip "Little Orphan Annie" created by Harold Gray, which ran from 1924 to 2010.

The musical will run at Gammage from May 4-8. Tickets range from $25 to $100 and can be purchased on the Gammage website.

Related links:

An abridged history of Mill Avenue: The grandiose and worldly ASU Gammage

'Book of Mormon' actress Alexandra Ncube talks opportunity, challenges with ASU students

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