Broadway’s Annie Revival Takes Easy Street When Casting Title Role

Will the sun come out tomorrow? Theres a great question for the Broadway community. As we all begin to look ahead to the new Fall 2012 season that is slowly creeping torwards Broadway, a bump in the road has been hit on that journey. The upcoming revival of Annie, the Broadway musical about an incredible orphan, has seemed to have taken the ‘Easy Street’ when casting its title role.

Annie is a musical that features music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and a book by Thomas Meehan. The musical is based after the hit comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, and opened on Broadway in 1977 to rave reviews. The musical follows one little girl (Annie) who lives in an orphanage as she works to find out who her real parents are. She does this with the help of a man who adopts her, Oliver ‘Daddy’ Warbucks, and his assistant Grace Farrell. Together, they work through triumph and tragedy to find out the truth behind Annie’s parents and discover love along the way. The original Broadway production opened on April 21st, 1977 and went on to run for six years at the Neil Simon Theatre (Known then as the Alvin Theatre). It received 7 Tony Awards including the triple crown, Best Original Score, Best Book and Best Musical.

The announcement of an Annie revival on Broadway came as a shock to many and left others simply wondering “Why?”. Planned for its 35th anniversary, Annie will return to Broadway as a “New” production with a revised book by Thomas Meehan and will be under new direction with James Lapine at the helm. The production will be put on at a Nederlander Theatre to be announced. However, it is expected the production will take up home in the legendary Palace Theatre come Fall 2012. After all this news had surfaced surrounding this new revival, many people were excited for what would become of Broadway’s new Annie. But one huge question remained, who would play the title role?

A coast to coast search was launched spanning multiple cities to find out who would be Broadway’s next Annie. However, after 5,000 auditions were seen, the announcement came that floored the theatre community. Broadway’s next Annie had been chosen…and she was already a Broadway kid.

Say hello to Lilla Crawford, Broadway’s New Annie. She is an eleven year old who made her Broadway debut in 2011 playing the role of Debbie in the closing cast of Billy Elliot on Broadway. She is a Los Angeles native where she has been involved with over 14 productions with the Youth Academy of Dramatic Arts. Upon hearing the news, Crawford has been quoted as saying, “Oh, my gosh, it happened! My heart just stopped. I thought it would be so cool just to be a part of Annie, but to actually be playing Annie is a dream come true!”

With the notion of a “New” Annie on Broadway and a nation wide search for the girl to play the title role, many people believed one childs dream would end up coming true from this long process. Many young girls dream of the chance to play the title role of Annie. The chance to do so on a new Broadway production is a once in a lifetime opportunity. That is why many people, including us here at Luner on Theatre, were upset to find out someone who has already been on Broadway was selected to play the title role. It seems as though not only Broadway but a nation has not only been scammed but gipped of some little girls dreams coming true as well as a chance for Broadway of epic propotions.

While many factors have to go in to the casting of such a large role for a new Broadway production, we still stand behind our notion of this somewhat scam. Yes, a child in the title role of such a large production on Broadway must have the guts to do it in the first place. Talent is obviously key and of course there is always the route of just picking a name. Broadway’s Annie could have easily just picked a well known child star to play the role. This would have been an easy way to not worry about a major casting process and avoid much drama in the end. Since Broadway’s Annie did not go this route, many expected the notion of an underdog coming out on top to help usher in the new Annie to Broadway. This is not only why but how many people became upset at the decision that ended up being made.

If producers of this show had planned on casting a Broadway kid all along, why did they go through the long process of a nation wide search for a little girl they knew they could easily access? The politics behind this are unknown but the alarm sounding that it is simply producton politics is ringing louder then ever. I think Broadway’s Annie has hurt itself making such a  decision in many ways. Not only have they offended the people who took the time to audition for this long process, many of us outsider theatre community people saw the red flags on this upon its announcement. One wonders “Really? A Broadway kid?”.

And while in the end, someone will obviously always end up getting hurt in casting, I find this a little different. Yes, not everyone will always be happy with your final casting choice. But when you manage to offend a large community, there is something that should be noted. And yes, while it would have been amazing to have some little girls dream come true, one can understand why it didn’t. That tends to happen for many people with many Broadway productions casting. However, for Broadway’s “New” Annie, it sure did seem like it was going to happen and the world was waiting.

Annie will return to Broadway come Fall 2012 in a new production never seen before. Luner on Theatre will be sure to keep you up to date on the latest Annie news surrounding casting, production news and a home for this Broadway orphan. Let us hope that the casting of its title role will not make it a ‘Hard Knock Life’ for its producers as they work today to create the Annie of ‘Tomorrow’. Check out the rest of Luner on Theatre for all your theatre news you don’t only need but want to know and more!

5 comments

  • Anonymous observer

    I really have to agree with you. The whole process of casting this role appeared to be a huge marketing campaign…getting “wanna be Annies” on facebook and twitter and building a subscription base for the show, not a true search for the real Annie. How can it be in a city like Chicago with a huge talent pool of professional and non-professional child actors, that not ONE single girl was taped for the audition or called back? James Lapine is seen at auditions of only a very select number of girls. I guess that’s the nature of the business and it’s full of rejection, but it really seems somwhat cruel to go around getting little girls hopes up that never actually had a heart beat of a chance of being seriously considered for the role. Have they cast a single orphan (or will they cast a single orphan) from anywhere other than LA or NYC?

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  • Lilla Crawford was in only one Broadway show; she played Debbie in the CLOSING cast of Billy Elliot. She is not a seasoned veteran of Broadway by any means. She happened to be living in NY because of her role as Debbie. Other than that, she was only in amateur productions. This was a dream come true for her, and she has not only singing talent, but wisdom and depth of character. The replacement Annie is an unknown from Virginia, cast from an open call, and while she may be able to sustain the “ohhh” in Tomorrow longer than Lilla Crawford, she lacks Lilla’s depth of thinking, and while talented, doesn’t move me at all, when I watch her in videos. James Lapine made a brilliant choice. It pains those of us who saw her as Annie to see her go, and no one knows why she left. Now that I’ve seen this article I question whether it was for political reasons, and that would be sad.

  • It said there were three responses to the article, and I only see one; where are the other two? Will my comment above share their fate, and will readers end up believing that Lilla Crawford was a “Broadway Kid” when in fact she never played a title role, and was only hoping to be any role, even a swing, in Annie? She is not a “precious” darling spoiled kid; she’s down to earth, and extremely unpretentious. I hope there is at least one person on your staff who knew Lilla and knows what I am saying is worth publishing.

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