As the opening of Upper Darby Summer Stage’s 42nd season with “Annie Jr.” approaches we can’t help but to think about the powerful impact this show has had on Summer Stage over the years. Annie has graced the stage in 1984, 1994, 1999, 2005, 2012, and now we present the 2017 production this week at Summer Stage!
It’s the summer of 1984. Upper Darby Summer Stage is celebrating its eighth birthday and is set to do a story that has never been done in the area. It’s the all-American musical starring a spunky little redhead. It’s “Annie!” Terrence J. Nolen is the director accompanied by Ed Robins as assistant director. Starring as Annie is Krissy Fraelich and Monica Horan plays Miss Hannigan.
Though over three decades have passed, Summer Stage’s first production of “Annie” still resonates with the actors and staff members involved. It is truly amazing how many people have met their best friends and spouses performing in shows together at Summer Stage and with this show in particular. Director of the 1984 “Annie” Terry Nolen met his wife, Amy Murphy in this production. They are the co-founders of the very successful Arden Theatre in Philadelphia. The story comes full circle because their son plays Bundles McCloskey, the laundry man who aids in Annie’s orphanage escape in this week’s production.
Starring as America’s favorite little redhead in the ‘84 production was Krissy Fraelich. She speaks about her experience in Annie forging her future as a performing artist. Krissy stated, “I developed lifelong friendships through my experiences at Summer stage. I met my husband, Nick Hunchak, who ironically was also in “Annie.” Now I get to watch my children making their way through the same program where Nick and I met. It’s exhilarating to watch them perform on the same stage we did and to feel the magic that is Summer Stage.”
Also involved in the 1984 production was assistant director Ed Robins. Ed also directed the 1994 production. Today Ed works behind the scenes at Summer Stage as the head carpenter, bringing magic onstage through intricate sets each week. When speaking about “Annie” he remembers how much of a family the cast and crew were and how this sense of family connects to the message of the show. When asked why “Annie” is still popular today, Ed talked about the story matching the message of Summer Stage: Accepting, loving one another, and filling the world with love.
The 1984 Mainstage production of “Annie” was a huge success holding the Summer Stage record for total attendance during its run – 6,000. Fun fact: The dog from the Broadway “Annie” was hired to play the part of Sandy. Part of his/her contract stated that Sandy must have his/her own dressing room!
Let’s jump ahead to the 2012 Children’s Theater production of “Annie Jr.” Though a lot has changed at Summer Stage, the power of the story of “Annie” still remains strong. This production starred Anna Rudegeair, who interestingly enough is the assistant stage manager for the 2017 production. Anna speaks about her love of the story and enjoys seeing the cast’s different character interpretations. Many of the 2012 cast members have grown up in the program and are now on staff working at Summer Stage this season.
“Annie Jr.” opens this week at Upper Darby Summer Stage. Performances are July 5, 6 and 7 at 10:30 am and on July 6 at 7:30 pm. “Annie, Jr.” director Bonnie Baldini of Drexel Hill speaks about the power of the story and why it keeps returning to Summer Stage. “The story is very translatable. The show itself asks the question: Can positivity and a sunny disposition take you through hard times?” said Baldini. “A lot of people will really resonate with that message and Annie’s enduring spirit, connecting with others to support the underdog.”