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Newton dons wig for ‘Annie’ at DHT
BY STEVEN MARK / firstname.lastname@example.org
Leapin’ Lizards! Romping back to Diamond Head Theatre this week is “Annie,” the hit musical about the irrepressible orphan whose optimism is enough to melt the coldest heart, foil all foes and even lift the nation from depression. Could ensuring world peace be next?
Maybe that has to wait until “Tomorrow,” but members of the company think there’s enough in the original musical to provide plenty of good, old-time family fun.
“It’s the original script and music, all the songs that you know and love, the kids, the dog. … It’s all there,” said director Rob Duval. “You don’t want to change a classic too much, because it’s a classic for a reason.”
Where: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Ave.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays (except 7 p.m. Dec. 27-28), 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays (8 p.m. only Dec. 8), 4 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 30
Info: diamondheadtheatre.com or 733-0277
“Annie,” based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” tells the story of an 11-year-old girl living in a Depression-era orphanage who aches to escape its cruel, alcoholic matron. Hoping to find her parents, she escapes for a moment, meeting up with a dog and experiencing life in a “Hooverville” slum, but then gets taken back to the orphanage. As a publicity stunt, she meets up with a grumpy billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, with whom she gets a taste of the better things in life, and manages to resolve a number of personal and political problems as well.
“She sees everything that she’s never been able to see and do living in this orphanage,” Duval said. “A lot of the musical is actually watching it through her eyes and how much she’s exposed to outside the orphanage — the shopping, the Roxy … all the little things we take for granted.
“It’s about her appreciation of these small things and her optimism that everything will get better.”
At the same time, “Annie” is “really a love story,” he said. “It’s about how Annie finds love … with this man who falls in love with her and wants to adopt her. We’re really trying to bring that out.”
Riley Newton, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Manoa Elementary School, will play Annie for most shows. It’s a huge role, requiring her to be onstage for all but a couple of scenes — Kira Stone is scheduled to fill in about once or twice a week — and though auditions were just a few weeks ago, she’s had a much longer attachment to the character.
About two years ago her family got the filmed version of the musical, and it stuck with her, said Riley, who since getting the role has also been studying the Depression era. “I was really excited to become Annie.”
Riley also has been taking singing lessons for about two years, since appearing in DHT’s production of “The Sound of Music.” She’s been practicing “Tomorrow” a lot and already shows an awareness of the challenges that the song poses. “Pushing (for the high notes) is probably my main problem,” she said.
At a recent rehearsal, she sang the song flawlessly while also struggling to control one of the two dogs that will portray Sandy, the stray that Annie rescues.
Newton said she’s looking forward to “how amazing it will be, with all the costumes, the hair spray and everything.”
Ah yes, the hair. Annie is known for her distinctive mop of curly red hair, which complements her bright red dress. Riley will wear a wig and would go so far as to say, “I think it’s a really nice wig and the wigmaster did a really nice job,” but asked whether she might want to dye her naturally auburn hair red, she said, “I like my natural color hair.”
Chris Gritti, who plays Warbucks, has similar feelings about this stage hairdo. He usually sports rather long hair, but is having his wife shave it — and shave it, and shave it — for the run of the show.
“My hair grows really fast,” said Gritti, who said he’s often mistaken for a military man now. “She’ll have to shave my head about an hour before every performance. … When the show’s over, the hair’s coming back.”
Working with Riley has been enlightening, Gritti said. Worried that a child actor might not accept criticism easily, he instead found her to be adaptable and bright. “She hears it, and she listens to what (Duval) has to say and she asks very intelligent questions,” he said. “It’s impressive. It’s not an easy role.”
He sees Warbucks as an “extraordinarily stern individual” in the beginning. “It’s business, business, business,” said Gritti, who appeared in DHT’s “Hairspray” last year. “He seems to exist almost two-dimensionally, as this single rich guy with little emotion.”
Gritti said he found it challenging to shut himself down emotionally, then reveal his more human side.
“Annie awakens that extra part of a person that you don’t get to see in Warbucks” at first, he said. “That’s the beauty of it.”