StageStruck Youth Theater Program has taken the classic tale of the little orphan Annie and updated it for the 21st century.

The play is called “Annie’s America,” and it’s very much about America, said Nancy Tribush Hillman, director of the show. “You know America is on everybody’s mind now — where are we going, what’s going on, who is who, what’s happening to children. The notion of ‘what’s happening to children’ got me thinking that we needed to update this play.”

So Hillman and a group of others at StageStruck got together and worked on what an updated “Annie” would look like. 

“Instead of doing it in the 20s or the 30s, which when it was originally [set] — it was during Roosevelt’s era — we are going to bring it up to date, and it will be about not just children who are in an orphanage, but about children who are separated from their parents,” Hillman said, eluding to the fact that such things have made some headlines this year.

However, when updating the play, the company paid close attention to not forcing a certain political agenda on the audience, outside of a few vague jokes, she said. 

“But we still wanted to keep it about Annie… about young people who are trying to find their parents,” Hillman said. “It is still the beautiful Annie that we have so much fun with, but it’s also a little a part of our lives today. It still has the humor, all the jumping up and down and it still has the adorable orphans.”

Hillman said that each of the orphans come off as distinct individuals and can stand out on their own acting.

“We added a thing where each child has their own way of expressing themselves,” she said. “We made them have real personalities that have to do with the present situation, and what it’s like to be living in a place without a parent. Annie, of course is the main one that insists she is going to find her parents, so it’s all working out quite nicely.”

In the play, Annie swears she will be reunited with her parents, whom she’s certain will come find her someday, but then something happens that turns Annie’s world upside down.

“Annie is chosen to stay at a billionaire’s house for the holidays,” said Kaylee Heinz, who plays Annie in the play. “The billionaire and Annie get so attached to each other that the billionaire adopts Annie in the end.”

But it’s not that simple.

Villains, as they often do, get in the way.

Wanting to help Annie find her parents, the billionaire, Oliver Starbucks, puts out a reward of $500,000 to find her real parents.

“Miss Hannigan runs the orphanage,” Wendy Cavan said, who plays the character. “She’s a mean, nasty lady. And her brother is sleazy, and his girlfriend is a little nuts too. The three of them put together a scheme to get $500,000 from Oliver Starbucks.”

They decide that Rooster — Miss Hannigan’s brother — and his girlfriend will impersonate Annie’s parents to get the money.

“Rooster is a total con artist,” said Jesse Geray, who plays the character. “He’s sort of a sleaze ball, a greasy individual. He really jumps at this opportunity to get $500,000 for an orphan. She’s totally a means to an end for him. He’s just a amazed that a bratty kid could be so useful.”

For Heinz, playing the leading role in a show like this has been a challenge. 

“It’s kind of stressful, because you have to be at every rehearsal and you have to memorize the most lines,” she said. “It’s really stressful especially because I was doing two shows on top of this and had other lines to memorize.”

But those challenges didn’t stop her from falling in love with the production. 

“My favorite part about the show is how happy it becomes, because at the beginning is it kind of sad how Annie is an orphan and has no parents,” Heinz said. “But at the end she gets parents and it’s just really happy.”

Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 4-5 and 3 p.m. Jan. 6. All tickets cost $10. Visit the Triad's website for tickets and more information.  

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