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Dog stars, little girls and leapin’ lizards take the stage for Penobscot Theatre’s ‘Annie’

Posted Nov. 26, 2012, at 2:35 p.m.
Kate Fogg (left) and Lana Sabbagh post with English bulldog ZuZu, who plays Sandy with Fogg and Sabbagh's Annie, in Penobscot Theatre's production of &quotAnnie."
Magnus Stark
Kate Fogg (left) and Lana Sabbagh post with English bulldog ZuZu, who plays Sandy with Fogg and Sabbagh's Annie, in Penobscot Theatre's production of "Annie."

There are certain things in the life of a young, theatrically inclined girl that are landmarks. That first-ever part in a play or musical. That first speaking role. The first song ever sung on stage. The first — gasp! — stage kiss. But there’s one role so juicy, so big, so iconic that there’s an elite force of preteen girls that have been welcomed into its club. That’s the role of Annie, in “Annie.” In musical theater, that’s considered one of the biggest fish for a young female performer.

Penobscot Theatre Company’s holiday production of the beloved 1970s musical about the spunky Depression-era orphan has cast two local Annies — 12-year-old Kate Fogg of Holden and 11-year-old Lana Sabbagh of Brewer. Next week, they’ll don curly red wigs and red dresses and alternate performances of the title character, when the show opens in previews on Tuesday, Dec. 4 at the Bangor Opera House.

“I told my mom I wanted to try out for Annie, and we were both like, ‘OK, let’s do it!’” said Fogg, last seen in PTC’s “A Christmas Story.” “I was so, so excited when I found out I got the part.”

“It’s a really big deal,” agreed Sabbagh, most recently seen in PTC’s “The Blueberry Balladeer,” last spring. “Like, a huge deal.”

At PTC, however, there’s another member of the elite Annie squad who was inducted into the force in the late 1980s — and it’s none other than PTC artistic director Bari Newport, who also happens to direct this production.

“Well, it was a long time ago, but yes, I was an Annie,” said Newport. “I don’t remember all that much about it, but I do have really fond memories of the show. And I know I’m bringing that to the table with this show. It’s a big, happy, holiday extravaganza. What could be more fun?”

“Annie” is a slice of bubbly, song-and-dance Broadway fun — with the songs in PTC’s production led by musical director John Haskell, and the dance part created by longtime PTC collaborator Nathan Halvorson. The rest of the orphans — including Kate Adam, Amanda Bustard, Emma Campbell, Molly Haggerty, Maia Loeb, Abigail Thompson and Raiya Vikberg — have spent the past few weeks taming their excitement into stage magic under the watchful eye and careful direction of Newport, Haskell and Halvorson.

“There’s a lot of moving parts to this show,” said Newport. “Slowly but surely, they’re all coming together. Getting the girls in shape isn’t even the hardest part.”

In addition to a complex set and myriad costumes, designed by Shannon Zura and Rebecca Wright, respectively, there’s another cast member who gets his own rules, his own dressing room, even his own director: that’s ZuZu, the English bulldog playing Sandy, Annie’s dog. ZuZu was picked from a huge selection of dogs that auditioned early in the fall. Don Hanson of Green Acres Kennels is ZuZu’s trainer.

“She’s got a lot of personality,” said Hanson. “Everybody thinks of Sandy as a scruffy kind of dog, but she could be anything. And ZuZu’s definitely got stage presence.”

PTC powerhouse A.J. Mooney plays Miss Hannigan, the cruel mistress of the orphanage, and New York actor Brendan Powers plays Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. Powers has not played Daddy Warbucks before, but has enjoyed getting to know a character that most people think of as a rich, old, bald guy.

“There’s more to him than that, I think. Annie really warms his heart up,” said Powers, who has been seen in countless productions nationwide. “I think that’s the heart of the show, the way that she opens his eyes and changes him.”

Rounding out the cast is an array of longtime PTC favorites, including Dominick Varney as Rooster, Christie Robinson as Lily, Brianne Beck as Grace, and Jasmine Ireland, Ben Layman, Bob Potts, Stephanie Colovito, Joshua Schmersal and New York’s Lauren Brickman in smaller, adult roles. And as many theater fans forget, “Annie” ends with a big Christmas scene — so as a holiday show, “Annie” fits right in.

Tickets for “Annie” are $15 for youth and $30 for adults; there is a pay-what-you-will preview night on Tuesday, Dec. 4, and regular performances start at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5 at the Bangor Opera House. The show runs through Dec. 29. For tickets, call 942-3333 or visit penobscottheatre.org.

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