Sept. 7 2011 12:00 AM

Riverwalk Theatre's 'Annie' features more orphans than ever

Being an actor is tough at any age. But when you’re a kid, losing out on a role can sometimes cost you a lot of self-confidence.

Jeff Croff understands that, which is one of the reasons
the version of “Annie” that he’s directing at Riverwalk Theatre includes
an “orphan chorus.” That means there are now two dozen young girls in
the show.

“As you know, theater can be kind of cruel,” Croff said.
“Especially if it’s your first time auditioning.” And he was fond of
director John Huston’s 1982 screen version of “Annie” with what he
called “that cast of thousands.”

So he augmented the usual lineup of Annie, Kate, Pepper,
Molly and company with extra parts, which allows several more young
performers to take the stage, many of them for the first time.

“It’s been great,” Croff said. “Hopefully, some of them
are having such a great time getting their feet wet that they will want
to be involved in theater in the community.”

As for that intolerant orphanage matron, Miss Hannigan,
who proclaims her distain for “Little Girls” in her big showstopper —
well, she’s surprisingly cool with the idea, too.

“I’m very fortunate to have one of the funniest and most
physically controlled actors around playing Miss Hannigan: Angela Dill,”
Croff said. “She has this great, elongated form, and she’s really been
putting her body into it. It’s hilarious watching the kids vacillate
between wanting to laugh and wanting to run away from her.”

The cast includes Robin Harris, as Oliver “Daddy”
Warbucks, Annies benefactor; Rachel Mender as the kindly Grace, who is
quickly won over by Annies optimism; Joe Quick as con man Rooster, who
engineers a scheme to bilk Warbucks; and Veronica Diebold as Lily,
Rooster’s ditzy partner in both love and crime.

Croff cast Brianna Rucinski in the title role; she’s the daughter of WLNS news anchor Sheri Jones.

“Sheri’s been a great theater mom — very supportive,”
Croff said, although he said Riverwalk hasn’t played up the family
connection to avoid putting “extra pressure” on his star.

Rucinski’s understudy, Kaleel Van Voorhees, goes on in the
lead for the Sept. 15 show and for the matinee on Sept. 17; for the
rest of the run, Kaleel plays Annie’s cohort, Kate.

“If you want to see dedicated actors, you should see these
kids,” Croff said of his young performers. “Sometimes during
rehearsals, the orphans would disappear, and we’d be thinking, ‘Oh no,
what kind of trouble are they getting into?’ Then we’d find them out in
the lobby, practicing their songs and dances. Not because anybody told
them to, but just because they wanted to.”

That’s the kind of commitment that might even warm Miss Hannigan’s heart.


Riverwalk Theatre

228 Museum Drive, Lansing

Through Sept. 18

7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; extra matinee at 2 p.m. Sept. 17

$20 adults; $18 seniors, students and military

(517) 482-5700