‘Annie’ means a lot to young star
“Oh my goodness!” and “Leapin’ Lizards!” The beloved classic musical “Annie” arrives at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 at the State Theatre Center for the Arts, Easton.
The Tony Award-winning musical, with music by Charles Strouse and book by Thomas Meehan, is based on the newspaper comic strip by Harold Gray. The show is choreographed by Liza Gennaro and the set is designed by Beowulf Boritt.
Eleven-year-old Tori Bates of Sarasota, Fla., stars as the redhead living in an orphanage run by the abusive, alcoholic Miss Hannigan (Erin Fish). Her fellow orphan friends include Molly (Bunny Baldwin), July (Jaqueline Galvano), Kate (Ava Slater), Pepper (Amanda Swickle), Tessie (Amanda Wylie) and Duffy (Katie Wylie).
Annie warms the hearts of billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Gilgamesh Taggett) and his kindly secretary Grace Farrell (Casey Prins). Their happiness is threatened when Miss Hannigan’s brother Rooster Hannigan (Michael Santora) and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Mallory King) scheme to pose as Annie’s long-lost parents. Macy and Sunny share the role of Sandy, Annie’s four-legged friend.
Bates appeared as the young Josephine Baker in “Josephine” at the Asolo Repertory Theatre, Sarasota, alongside Grammy nominee Deborah Cox. She was attending a summer theater intensive workshop while vacationing with her family in New York City when she decided to audition for “Annie.”
“We were asked to sing and taught a dance routine, then they would make cuts. At the end of day two, they gave many girls lines to memorize overnight,” says Bates in a phone interview.
“On day three, we did more singing, dancing and some of us got to meet and work with Sandy. That was fun. At the end of the day, they told us if we were picked we would receive a call.
“Later that night, we were packing to go home to Florida and my mom got a phone call saying that I was chosen as Annie. My Dad, Mom, brother and me all jumped up and down and started crying. We were so excited.” says Bates.
Martin Charnin, original director and lyricist, directs the “Annie” tour and selected Bates to portray the title character. Bates is the first bi-racial actress to play Annie in a Broadway or touring production.
“I was so happy that Martin Charnin chose me. I’m glad he saw me for me and not the color of my skin and gave me a chance to play Annie. It means a lot to me.” says Bates.
“I am similar to Annie in a lot of ways. Annie is optimistic and determined and I am, too. I always look for the best in things, try my best and never give up.
”If someone has a dream or goal, they should always work hard to get it and not let anyone stop them from getting there.”
Bates, the entire cast and team worked long and hard to get the show ready for the road.
“Rehearsals began three months [after auditions] in New York City. We rehearsed every day for about six to eight hours for three weeks before leaving to begin tech rehearsals and the tour,” says Bates. “It is fun to be able to see the United States and travel, but sometimes we are only in a city or state for one night so it goes by quickly.”
Memorable songs include “Hard Knock Life,” “Maybe” and “Tomorrow.” Bates loves to perform “I Don’t Need Anything But You” opposite Gilgamesh Tagget’s Daddy Warbucks. “On and off stage, Gilgamesh and I are friends, so doing that scene together reminds me of our friendship.” says Bates.
The cast includes Jeffrey B. Duncan (FDR), Timothy Allen (Ickes, Ensemble), Todd Berkich (Bert, Ensemble), Katie Davis (Star to Be, Ensemble), Adam Du Plessis (Drake, Ensemble), Mia Fitzgibbon (Ensemble), Caroline Lellouche (Ensemble), Conor McGiffin (Bundles, Ensemble), Mackenzie Perpich (Swing), Connor Simpson (Lt. Ward, Ensemble), David Vogel (Swing), Anastasia Wolfe (Swing) and Roxy York (Mrs. Pugh, Ensemble).
“Annie” has delighted audiences for 40 years and has been adapted into three major films. It has starred the likes of Sara Jessica Parker, Bernadette Peters, Carol Burnett, Victor Garber and Jane Lynch, among others. Annie’s positive outlook and cheerful spunk have endeared the show to many.
“There is a message of hope, love and optimism,” says Bates. “I think everyone should see and hear that message especially now because America is not sure what our future will be. But if we all can love each other and be hopeful then something good will happen. Just believe.”
Tickets: State Theatre Box Office, 453 Northampton St., Easton; statetheatre.org, 1-800-999-STATE, 610-252-3132