BWW Interviews: DEBUT(S) OF THE MONTH - The Orphans of ANNIE!
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by Caryn Robbins
At the tender ages of seven to twelve years old, the multi-talented, high energy orphans of the new Broadway production of Annie are giving seasoned pros a run for their money. On stage at the Palace Theatre, Tyrah Skye Odoms, Junah Jang, Jaidyn Young, Taylor Richardson, Emily Rosenfeld and Madi Rae DiPietro bring down the house as they wreak havoc on Miss Hannigan, perform their own version of Bert Healy and the Boylon Sisters and tug at our heart strings as they long for a family to call their own.
Below, meet the orphan girls of Annie, all making their Broadway debuts, and find out why they believe you're never fully dressed without a smile!
On when she first knew she wanted to be an actress: "My brother did some acting in a couple of shows and I watched some of his shows and I was like, 'Hey I want to be an actor one day.' So then I did like auditions and stuff and now I'm on Broadway."
On finding out she got the role: "At first I was just like, 'uhhh' and then I was like, 'Oh My God!!' and it was so cool."
On her favorite song from 'Annie': "I like 'Never Fully Dressed' and I also like 'Hard Knock Life.' Those two are really fun. It's really fun to do 'Hard Knock Life' but you have to act like you're really mad...so I think about how we have to clean everyday and so it makes my face show that I'm really mad, and I think about why we have to stay up till midnight and clean and make dresses and everything. So that's easy."
On what she likes to do in her free time: "Sometimes I go to the Marriott Hotel with some of my friends from the cast and we go on these elevators and we ride all the way up to the 45th floor and that's the last floor and then it goes straight down with no stops and that's really fun!"
On why everyone loves 'Annie': I don't really know. There's been a lot of productions and whenever you think about Annie it's like, 'Oh my God I love Annie!' And everybody knows about Annie and it's just a really fun and exciting show.
On making her Broadway debut: "That was really exciting. That was the first time I was kind of nervous before the show. I'm never really nervous except for Opening Night and there was a really big crowd and everything and it was just really exciting."
On whether she's like her character 'Tessie' - "Well Tessie is really a cry baby and a whiner, so I don't think I'm really a whiner or a cry baby in life. But I think I'm similar to her because she has a point when she says everything. She's not just complaining and whining, she actually has some sort of reason behind it. She's actually being reasonable."
On when she first knew she wanted to be an actress: "Well I started in a local theater when I was four, and I've always loved singing and acting. I never knew I was going to be an actress. I never was like, 'I'm going to be on Broadway or a in a movie." Every single local theater production I was in I was always like, 'is it time yet? Is it time yet?' Singing's so fun. I've always loved it."
On what she likes to do in her free time: "I really like reading. I really love the series 'Harry Potter' especially, so whenever I get a chance I always read. I have to catch up on school work of course so I do that too, but in my free time I want to read."
On her favorite song from 'Annie': "I think 'Never Fully Dressed' is by far my favorite because it's the first time when I don't have to hide my smile. I can actually just smile and it's really fun because even in the story, the orphans are finally having their one moment when they can actually smile instead of keeping it all back and working. They can actually have a lot of fun."
On why everyone loves 'Annie': "Annie has been going on for a long time and it's so optimistic and even though it's not the Depression anymore, and the Depression was a long time ago, it's still the perfect time for Annie to come back... everyone still needs to remind themselves that it's a great life and I think that everybody knows Annie. It's just a wonderful show and it's a classic."
On making her Broadway debut: "It was really special and when I first found out that I got the role, it was a mixture of shock and surprise and amazement. I partly wasn't even believing my mom and dad when they told me, so making my Broadway debut is pretty amazing, I've got to say. I still feel like it's a dream. Sometimes I'm just like, 'one moment, I'm here, in this apartment in New York, and I'm about to go to my show.' It still seems like a dream, but when I first found out, it defintely was like a dream."
On her first impressions of New York City when she arrived for her audition: "It was kind of crazy. There were so many cars. In Virginia it's like the country, so it's a lot different."
On whether she's like her character 'Duffy': "Well Duffy doesn't really have much of a description so during rehearsals our associate director had all the orphans make up back stories so I made up one. My back story for Duffy was, since she wears a green hat in the show, my idea was that her parents gave her the hat."
On why everyone loves 'Annie': "I would have to say cause Annie is a light of hope for everyone. Like to the orphans, she sings 'Maybe' to give them hope and she gives Daddy Warbucks hope and everybody in Hooverville. So she's like a ray of sunshine."
On making her Broadway debut: It was exciting, and also I was a little bit nervous. And I've come all this way from local theater in Virginia, it's really amazing. On the first preview, that was exciting as well because it was our first show with a real audience. But when it was Opening Night, it was even more exciting."
On preparing for so many different roles: "It's not so much hard as fun. I do it on the side mostly. When they run the show once, I'm one person and then when they run it again, I'm someone else, but I watch and I just kind of save it in my brain."
On when she first knew she wanted to be an actress: "Well, my whole family is pretty much in acting and dancing. So I was pretty much born into it. Like my mom did Miss Hannigan when I was in her stomach, and when her water broke she was doing 'Mary Poppins.' So I guess you would say I kind of had a feel for it!"
On her favorite song from 'Annie': "That's a hard one cause I love all the songs, but my favorite would probably be, 'I Don't Need Anything But You.' You're in a new outfit, a new hairstyle and it's just kind of magical, especially the first time you do it and especially with Anthony Warlow who is amazing."
On working with Sunny (the dog who plays 'Sandy'): "Sunny is, I guess you would say, mature for her age, so is Casey her understudy, and she's just so cute and she always loves all the girls and she comes up and licks our faces. It's so cute!"
On why everyone loves 'Annie': "Well Annie is very much a family friendly show. It's optimistic and everyone can come to it, people of all ages. Everyone knows the songs, especially songs like 'Tomorrow', and if they don't, they'll remember it after they see the show."
On making her Broadway debut?: "It was unlike anything else. We didn't really realize it cause my Broadway debut wasn't with everyone else's. So when it was, it just felt like another performance until everyone started saying, 'Oh it's your Broadway debut!' But I didn't realize it till people were telling me it."
Emily Rosenfeld (Molly) - Off-Broadway Benefit: Miracle on 34th Street, the Musical (Hendrika). Regional credits include The Sound of Music (Gretl), The Secret Garden (Dickon), Guys & Dolls (Big Jule), Peter Pan (Michael).
On working with the other cast members: "It's so wonderful to work with all these wonderful actors on Broadway. It's a wonderful experience, they're so nice and talented."
On finding out she got the role: "I got a phone call from my agent and I was actually in Florida. We were going to Disneyworld that day. So it was like a fabulous day and I got a call from my agent and I said, 'I'm going to freak out'! And I was gonna faint - seriously!"
On her favorite scene from 'Annie': "I think I like either, 'Never Fully Dressed' cause it makes people smile and I like to see people smile in the audience. I like to make people happy and stuff like that. And I wear a bra in 'Never Fully Dressed' so it's really fun. I also like the beginning scene when I'm in a drawer. It's really fun to be in a drawer, and it's comfy!"
On whether she's similar to her character 'Molly': "I am. Of course she's cute. And she likes to get in a lot of trouble. Well not exactly trouble but she's mischievous. And also, she likes to have fun too."
On why everyone loves 'Annie': "It's optimistic. And the songs are so fabulous. It's an amazing show and it makes me smile and it's happy. So it's optimistic and also it has a dog in it, so... you know.
On making her Broadway debut: "I felt amazing. I just felt so happy and excited that I was on Broadway. Sometimes I can't believe it, that I'm on Broadway. I remember when I saw 'The Little Mermaid' when I was four years old and I thought to myself that Broadway's such a big theater and now I just can't believe that I'm performing in front of all the audience and it's such a big theater!"
Madi Rae DiPietro (July) - Credits include The La Jolla Playhouse in Little Miss Sunshine and San Diego's Old Globe Theater. She has appeared on "Days of our Lives" and has been featured in numerous national TV commercials.
On what she likes to do in her free time: "I really like art and I like to paint cause my dad says it's something different that you can do. I really like creative stuff, like the performing arts and art, so I like to paint and I like to draw and I like to find different ways to use art. And I like to paint with my sister, so that's really fun cause it's another way to express artistic talents, so I think that's really fun."
On whether she's 'motherly' like her character 'July': ... [July] tries to defend the younger orphans and help them so that they can become tough in the orphange like against the other orphans and Miss Hannigan. Like when Pepper is yelling at night cause Molly's keeping her up, I'll be like, 'Well you're the one who's keeping everyone up now. It's not her fault!' So July kind of has, in a way, tried to be the one who has the responsibilities. She doesn't want the responsibilities, but she has to take them because she's growing up now and has to help the younger ones become tougher. Most times she's nice, but if you get her mad like Pepper does, then she's not happy. I guess she tries to teach the younger orphans how to be, well, orphans!
...But I don't think I'd describe myself as 'motherly', I'm really like, still a kid. I don't really act like I'm older than my age. I'm like twelve now, but it's not like I act like thirteen. Sometimes I act like nine or ten because I do work with kids who are younger than me. I like to be around kids that are younger than me cause it makes me feel like I'm a little kid again."
On making her Broadway debut: That was a really fun night. It was really intense. Everyone was so excited and you couldn't help but feel excited because there was such a vibe of energy going around and everyone just caught a little piece of the energy and everyone was so happy and so excited and everyone was screaming and clapping.
Our dressing rooms were full of stuff so of course, Emily and Tyrah, once they walked in there they started counting how many flowers they had and they were screaming, everyone was having so much fun. And Emily came running up to me and said, "Madi Rae, I got six flowers!' and I said, 'Oh that's great,' because she was just so happy and the smile on her face, I mean they were just flowers, it's not like they were six gold bars or something, but the flowers were from people who love her and who were proud of her. And that's how I felt when I got flowers from my uncles and my sisters and my parents and my grandma...Just the smile on everyone's face, especially Emily. Emily's smile was as big as her face, she was so happy.
It was just so exciting. And once we got on stage it was so hard to stop smiling. But we're actors so we figure out a way to do it. When we took the last bow, it was just a great experience. And for us, for some of the orphans, it was our first Opening Night. It's a moment never to relive and it couldn't have been a more perfect moment!"
ANNIE, the new production of the Tony Award-winning musical, is currently playing at the Palace Theatre (Broadway at 47th Street). The show features a book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, with all three authors receiving 1977 Tony Awards for their work. Annie is directed by Pulitzer Prize and three-time Tony Award-winner James Lapine and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Andy Blankenbuehler.
For tickets and further information, please visit: http://www.anniethemusical.com
Top photo credit: Joan Marcus