After 34 years, Modesto Performing Arts brings back musical classic to open its season

Erin Rieger, (Annie) smiles as she gets her make up applied by Vance Whitaker. The two prepare for the Modesto Performing Arts production of Annie on Tuesday afternoon June 11, 2019.
Erin Rieger, (Annie) smiles as she gets her make up applied by Vance Whitaker. The two prepare for the Modesto Performing Arts production of Annie on Tuesday afternoon June 11, 2019. jlee@modbee.com

An orphan with a rose-colored look on life, a stray dog and a billionaire with a heart of gold take to the stage in Modesto.

Modesto Performing Arts brings the Broadway musical extravaganza “Annie” to the Gallo Center, opening its 52nd season with the story based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.” The production runs weekends from June 22-30 at the downtown Modesto venue.

The other production set for the summer MPA season is “Newsies,” Aug. 10-18, also at the Gallo Center.

Paul Tischer, general director of MPA, said this marks the first time in more than three decades that his company has staged “Annie.”

“The last time was 1984! It’s a popular show and it was time to do it again,” he said in an email interview.

The original Broadway production opened April 21, 1977, and starred Andrea McArdle as Annie, Reid Shelton as Daddy Warbucks, Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan, and Sandy Faison as Grace Farrell. The show won seven Tony Awards that year including best musical and best original score.

The musical tells the story of Annie, deserted during the Great Depression in an orphanage run by a mean and not-just-a-little-bit-criminal Miss Hannigan, who makes Annie’s life and the lives of her friends a chore. But Annie escapes, meets a new furry companion and feels hope for a brighter future.

But she’s ultimately returned to the orphanage, only to escape again and be welcomed by a billionaire, Daddy Warbucks, who’s looking to entertain an orphan at Christmas. While there, the effervescent Annie charms just about everyone, and — finding her happy ending — is adopted by her host.

Tischer said the musical continues to charm audiences. “The Annie comic strip was popular for many years. Many older people will remember the strip fondly,” he said. “Little Orphan Annie is practically an iconic American character. And, of course, younger children who see the show can certainly empathize with Annie. They surely want to be on her side and can applaud when she is finally adopted by Daddy Warbucks.”

The MPA cast is led by Erin Rieger as Annie and Ron Smith as Oliver Warbucks.

At 11 years old, Rieger may be young, but packs talent, Tischer said. “At that age she doesn’t come with lots of acting experience. But she is very talented, has a great singing voice, and a natural acting ability. “

Among the others in the cast are “six adorable girls ... who play the orphans,” he said. “They range in age from 8 to 11. They are very talented and are having a great time rehearsing the show.”

And, yes, there will be a dog on stage to stay by Annie’s side.

Others in the cast include Farris Larsen as Miss Hannigan with Carma Mize and Michaeil Massone as her cohorts in crime, Lily and Rooster. Natalie Woodfield plays Grace, Warbucks’ secretary.

Expect all the songs from original Broadway show to be part of the MPA version, Tischer said, “although some songs and even some dialog have been updated.” The best-known songs from the musical are “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” and “It’s A Hard Knock Life.”

Tischer expects audiences to be charmed by the show.

“ ‘Annie’ is, without a doubt, one of Broadway’s most popular shows,” he said. “It is completely American! Audiences love this show and it has been popular ever since it opened on Broadway.”


WHEN: 7:30 p.m. June 22, 28-29; 2 p.m. June 23, and June 30

WHERE: Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

TICKETS: $21-$38

ONLINE: www.galloarts.org

Pat Clark covers entertainment and other stories for The Modesto Bee. She attended California State University, Stanislaus, and grew up in Modesto.
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