Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Casting Quandaries I: The Most Difficult Role to Cast

Casting a play is a little like Christmas as a kid. Growing up, we’d always get the Christmas catalogue from JCPenney and Sears, then page through it, dreaming of all the wonderful toys within our grasp. Casting is the same way. Just replace the toys with talented actors, and you get the picture.

I made a big snafu my first time casting. I was being very practical about it, and after auditions, I knew who I wanted to be my Dolly Levi and Horace Vandergelder. So I didn’t add them to my call back list. It seemed pointless.

There was no greater disappointment than when my two very talented leads saw the callback list. I also have a feeling there was no greater joy then when my two very talented leads saw the final casting notice.

As I write my musicals, I’ll admit to having fun contemplating what beloved Broadway stars might get cast on the day my shows hit the Great White Way. It is, granted, a long shot, but, as the Andrew Sisters would say, I can dream, can’t I?

Casting isn’t always easy, though. I would imagine that in casting big productions of classic shows, you’re always fighting the expectations of the audience (perhaps from prior actors or, worse yet, film versions) while trying to find the actor who will best bring to life a character in a unique but faithful interpretation.

My theory is that one of the most difficult roles to cast in musical theatre has to be Annie. Yes, the plucky little orphan. Because of this, it doesn’t surprise me that the casting problem that plagued the original Broadway production reared its ugly ahead during the last revival. As detailed in the book It Happened on Broadway, the original creators cast a very talented girl in the lead, but they realized that Annie needed to be a tough kid. Out went saccharine Annie, and in came chorus girl Andrea McArdle. In the most recent Broadway revival, the understudy Peggy Sawyered her way to the top as well.

Because of “Tomorrow,” we associate Annie with chipper, cheerful-til-you-puke, pluckiness. As a result, the temptation is to cast the biggest voice or the most expressive kid in the part, which is why so many community theatres get it wrong. There are shades of Annie’s personality that can’t be painted in bright red colors. The song “Tomorrow” is so effective because it is expressed from a place of deep pain. It can’t be oversimplified and be effective, and the one-note chipper Annie simply can’t do justice to the song.

the Broadway Mouth
April 30, 2008

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