Orphan tale finds way home to Shawano

‘Annie’ hitting stage 2 years later than planned
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Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Annie, played by Grace Stuewer, tries to comfort fellow orphan Molly, played by Caroline Bergmann, in a rehearsal for the first act of “Annie.” The musical, which officials with the Box in the Wood Theatre Guild have been trying to secure for two years, is coming to the Mielke Arts Center next week.

Leader Photo by Lee Pulaski Some of the residents of Hooverville, a homeless community, are surprised to see a little red-haired girl arrive in a scene from Annie. Playing the roles are, front row, from left, Sabrina Demaskie, Brad Williams and Marie Kluge; back row, Michael Brunner, Bailey Harkey and Hunter Krolow.

There’s a song in the musical “Annie” where the little orphan girl sings about the sun coming out tomorrow.

For Shawano, it’s taken two years for the sunshine from the acclaimed musical to shine its light on the community, but the wait is over as the Box in the Wood Theatre Guild plans to bring “Annie” to the stage next week.

The musical harkens back to 1933, when the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression, and starts with the title character and a bunch of other girls cooped up in an orphanage with the loathsome Miss Hannigan. Unlike the other girls, who know their parents are gone forever, Annie holds out hope that she will find her parents and eventually stages an escape from the orphanage.

Annie is eventually caught and brought back, but while she is in Miss Hannigan’s office, Grace, the assistant to the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, comes seeking an orphan to spend the Christmas holiday at the mansion. At first, Oliver is not happy about Grace’s actions, in spite of the fact that Annie has already won the hearts of his servants, but his cold exterior eventually melts in the face of Annie’s charms.

First, Oliver and his staff try to track down Annie’s parents, but then the billionaire decides he wants to adopt the girl. Those plans are derailed when Rooster, Miss Hannigan’s brother, and his girlfriend, Lily, interrupt the adoption ceremony and claim to be Annie’s parents in the hopes of securing the $50,000 reward Oliver had offered.

The musical was originally going to be Box in the Wood’s 2016 summer production, but when the musical went on a national tour, the guild was unable to secure the performance rights and had to hastily put “Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland” in its place. Box in the Wood had planned to perform the musical the following year, but a number of nearby theater groups beat them to the punch, according to director Char Stuewer.

“That was interesting, so now at long last we have it,” Stuewer said.

The show has universal appeal, she noted, and it was one that the guild could use to tap into Shawano’s young actor pool.

“I think everybody loves the show,” Stuewer said. “Everybody’s heard of it, and it’s a great show. We wanted to get a show to get more young people in. We do the (summer) theater workshops, but we wanted to get the kids more stage time with the community.”

The musical also has a number of important adult roles, according to Stuewer, so it’s not a show where only the children shine, nor one where the children are relegated to behind the scenes as the adults ham it up.

“Then there’s the songs,” Stuewer said. “Everyone loves the catchy songs, and there’s some fun dances. It offers a lot.”

The musical first hit Broadway in 1977, but it has endured for more than 40 years because of its positive message, Stuewer said.

“You have the orphan, and then you have the classic bad guys that are over the top and funny,” Stuewer said. “You feel for the orphans, and Annie just clutches at your heart. You like to see the happy ending.”