Musical ‘Annie’ returns to Hancher directed by member of original Broadway cast

Musical ‘Annie’ returns to Hancher directed by member of original Broadway cast


Photos by MurphyMade

Vaishnavi Kolluru, Arts Reporter

The engaging, melodious, family-oriented musical “Annie” will be presented at Hancher Auditorium by Broadway on Nov. 14-16.

“Annie” originated in the 1970s to help Americans cope with the tribulations of the era. It was based on a satirical cartoon strip called “Little Orphan Annie.” However, the musical softens the satire, and aims to be fun family entertainment.

Rob Cline and Zoë Woodworth are among the chief organizers of the presentation. Cline is the director of marketing and communications at Hancher, while Woodworth is the brand and design director.

“We selected the show to be part of our 50th anniversary season in part because it is a classic family musical that continues to delight audiences with a fun story and wonderful songs,” Cline said. “That makes it a good representative for the full range of Broadway shows we have presented over the years.”

This is the fourth time Hancher will perform the musical, with previous tours of Annie in 1981, 1983, and 1998. However, it’s been over two decades since the production has seen Hancher’s stage.

One of the most exciting components of this year’s musical is that it is directed by Jen Thompson, a cast member of the original Broadway production in 1977. She played the orphan Pepper when she was 10 years old.

“The job of having to coordinate a bunch of little girls and actors and two dogs — one understudy and one regular dog — and to take a show on the road — it’s a lot to coordinate,” Woodworth said.

Woodworth describes the musical as the perfect piece of entertainment for a wide range of audiences.

“It’s like a perfect little box of chocolates,” Woodworth said. “It’s a comforting musical. And I think, for anyone who maybe grew up watching the movie, it’s just great to see the story play out on stage. The songs are amazing. The songs are classic.”

Megan Gogerty is a professor of Musical History in the Theatre Department at the University of Iowa. She has taught the musical “Annie” to her classes for several years. She explained the historical significance of the play.

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“‘Annie’ speaks to the nostalgia and the dissatisfaction of the people in the 1970s,” Gogerty said. “It is very telling about the 1970s that when people wanted to escape their troubles, they imagined themselves in the Great Depression. That tells you how bad things were in the 70s.”

Woodworth noted how the world has been through similar tribulations in the past couple of years.

“We’ve been through a really rough couple of years with COVID,” Woodworth said. “With all of the unrest and injustice and upheaval going on in this country and around the world, people are tired and kind of jaded. They think that maybe there’s nothing good out there. It’s just everyone is after something, and everyone’s just vying for power.

She said watching “Annie” might help revive people’s spirits. The musical is also designed to remind people that there are good people in the world like “Annie,” and that a happy ending is possible.

Woodworth also sees “Annie” as a musical that can facilitate communication across social and economic disparities in today’s world.

“There are a lot of class differences in Iowa City,” Woodworth said. “There are people who live in poverty here — people who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from and don’t have a place to sleep at night — and there are people who are on the other end of the spectrum, who have a lot of resources and maybe are out of touch with what’s going on. [‘Annie’] is a good reminder that we’re all people, and we all deserve a shot, and we all need to take care of each other.”

Gogerty says that the rags-to-riches narrative of “Annie” is a means not only to create awareness about economic inequity but also to motivate oneself to improve one’s life.

Gogerty alludes to this quote to reason that perhaps what makes Annie so dear to Americans is the idea that we can rise above our circumstances and make our way in the world.

“I think the appeal of Annie is there’s an optimism inherent in the play,” Gogerty said. “‘The sun will come out tomorrow’ was the big, big song from that show. There’s a sort of a gentle revision of history of thinking about America during its dark times, and gently suggesting that we can rise out of it. I mean, that’s why it was popular in the 70s, and I imagine there’s a nostalgic factor for today.”

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