Arts & Events

No Sugar-Coating for This Realistic ANNIE at Berkeley Playhouse

By John A. McMullen II
Tuesday October 25, 2011 - 11:20:00 AM
Ralph Granich

Berkeley Playhouse, the professional Children’s Musical Theatre at the Julia Morgan on College Ave., opens with ANNIE on October 29.  

It’s not your typical candy-coated Annie.  

Director Mina Morita follows the given circumstances in a realistic, naturalistic take on the play.  

“The writers put in a lot of political issues, child labor issues, and Hoovervilles where people gathered who’d lost their homes,” Ms. Morita said. “It’s about orphanages and a little girl’s search for her lost parents. At the heart it is her relationship with Daddy Warbucks, an industrialist and war-profiteer, who is all-business and has not tended to his humanity till he takes Annie in as a ‘press gimmick.’” 

Director Morita has never seen the play. Or the movie. “There’s a lot of cultural baggage related to the show that I haven’t been influenced by,” she shared in a phone interview. 

“From what I understand, the human issues are often covered up with ‘jokiness.’ The dirty, homeless people are presented as ironic rather than desperate. It seems like surface, shellacked, entitled people doing the show and glossing over the heart of it, when what it’s about is that out of the desperation one girl holds on to hope and that feeling spreads—all the way to the White House where she meets with FDR and gives him the idea for the New Deal.” 

Annie is double-cast and a main character is the famous comic mutt Sandy, who is played by a real canine named Goldie (pictured above). The Playhouse also casts Equity actors. 

“It’s a challenge to work with a dog, but it adds a layer as nothing else possibly could. But, for instance, when we were rehearsing sound cues the other night and introduced the police siren for the first time--Goldie started to howl!” 

To add to the challenges, the play is double-cast. Nandi Drayton and Samantha Martin alternate playing the title role. “Both casts are really talented, and each group has different strengths, so it was my job to get them on the same page. Each show will feel different since they bring their own styles.” 

Ms. Morita lately directed Alan Ayckbourn’s “Round and Round the Garden” at Shotgun Players, the last of the trilogy of “The Norman Conquests.” 

During the day, Ms. Morita is the new artistic associate at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, and is involved in planning for future seasons and supporting the artists there, as well as new play creation and development. She grew up in Long Island and Yonkers, graduated from Tisch School of the Arts, studied directing at Playwrights’ Horizons, and came to Berkeley about a decade ago. Ms. Morita is married to writer Adam Tolbert who is a curriculum developer at the Academy of Art 

Annie is based on the Harold Gray comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and the book by Thomas Meehan. It was the first starring role for Sarah Jessica Parker who followed Andrea McArdle. 

ANNIE plays at the Julia Morgan Center for the Performing Arts, 2640 College Ave., in Berkeley through December 4, with musical direction by Jonathan Fadner and choreography by Dane Andres. 

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