by Dennis Dalman – firstname.lastname@example.org
During a rehearsal, when theatrical newcomer Katie Radeke started dancing on stage, her two young daughters squirmed with embarrassment and later told her she was acting “silly.” But Radeke explained she had to act a bit silly because the character she is playing is a bit silly.
The girls understood, and since that time they’ve had lots of fun during the many rehearsals for “Annie,” the musical comedy that opens Jan. 11 for seven public performances at Escher Auditorium at the College of St. Benedict. A GREAT Theatre production, “Annie” features 52 actors from central Minnesota – eight actors from Sartell, including Radeke and her two daughters, Grace and Ava. Another Sartell family (the mother-daughter duo of Judy and Kara Wolters) also have roles in the play. Unlike the Radekes, who have never acted together in plays before, the Wolters have performed together in many local plays since Kara, now 17, was only 9 years old. For the Wolters, acting has become an annual tradition, not to mention a fun-filled vehicle for mother-daughter bonding.
The other Sartell actors in “Annie” are St. Cloud State University student Megan Johnson, who plays the role of Lilly; ninth-grader Jillian Lawson, who plays Connie Boylan; and Heidi Lenarz, who performs as one of the orphans in the play.
The Radekes (mother and two daughters) are happy to be in “Annie” together. It’s the first venture into theatrics for Katie and Ava, who is a first-grader at Pine Meadow Elementary School. Grace, a Pine Meadow fourth-grader, had a role in “Beauty and the Beast,” a GREAT Theatre production of three years ago.
Her daughters had to nudge Katie into trying out for the play.
“I’d never been in a play before,” Katie said, “but I just turned 40 so I thought being in a play would be a good start on my bucket list,” Julie said, laughing. “The girls and I must have seen the movie version of ‘Annie’ a million times.”
Mother and daughters were thrilled when they learned they passed the audition and all have parts in the play.
Katie plays a servant to Daddy Warbucks. She also plays a homeless apple seller and has a part in the big rousing scene in the “Hooverville” hobo camp. Daughter Ava is also in that scene. Grace plays an orphan, a friend to orphan Annie, in the mean-spirited Miss Hannigan’s orphanage. Ava has three plum roles: a Hooverville street urchin, a rich ice-skating girl and (her favorite part a ventriloquist’s dummy named Wacky), a role that allows her to act like a wooden puppet. All of the Radekes sing and dance as part of the choruses throughout the play.
Katie admits she’s nervous about being in a play.
“This is really a stretch for me,” she said. “I had to sing a solo to make sure the microphones were working during a rehearsal the other night, and – oh – was I scared! Yes, I’m nervous, but it’s been so much fun, and I think we’ll all have fun when the play opens. We’re very excited about it.”
Katie is a special education teacher in Avon. Her husband, Paul, is a financial advisor.
“We tried to convince him to shave his head and try out for the role of the bald Daddy Warbucks,” Katie said, laughing. “Well, we didn’t convince him.”
It took Katie a period of adjustment to get used to being in a play with her two daughters.
“I’m their mother so it was hard for me to not want to tell them what to do,” she said. “I had to learn to let the directors tell them what to do.”
Katie would definitely consider trying out for another play.
“It was so much fun, and the director and choreographer and everybody else were so supportive,” she said. “They are all so talented. It was a great experience to work with them.”
Judy Wolters and daughter Kara feel the same way about the pleasures of bonding during theatrical rehearsals and performances. And they should know. They’ve been in play productions together for about 10 years – eight plays, to be exact. The latest one was “Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“Annie” may be their last production together, as Kara, who is a senior at Sartell High School, will leave for college after this school year. She plans to study medicine, perhaps at Loyola University in Chicago.
Like her daughter, Judy has had a passion for theater as long as she can remember. While growing up in Whittier, Calif., as a girl she played the role of Scrooge in a youth production of “A Christmas Carol,” and she still has an audio tape of that production.
In “Annie,” Judy plays two roles – the main one being Frances Perkins, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She also appears in the “Hooverville” crowd scene, as does Kara. Kara’s chief role is that of a servant to Daddy Warbucks.
When she learned she nabbed the role of Frances Perkins, Judy did some research about the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, which led the country during the gloomy, dark days of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the era in which “Annie” takes place. Judy was impressed to learn Mrs. Perkins, appointed as Secretary of Labor in 1933, was the first woman to be named to such a high cabinet post in the government. In the play, Judy (as Perkins) performs in a cabinet scene with the president and other officials. Annie comes to visit the president and sings the famous song “Tomorrow.”
The Wolters, mother and daughter, have rehearsed “Annie” for the past six nights, a couple of nights each week. Both are confident about opening night and their string of performances.
“I have a bit of a case of butterflies,” Judy said. “But it’s a sense of excitement more than anything else.”
There may be a tinge of sadness, too, because Judy and Kara know that “Annie” just might be their last play together.
“It’s really been so much fun to work with my daughter throughout the years,” Judy said. “It was fun to do something with my child as a peer rather than a parent. We were both equals in those plays, working together toward a common goal.”
“It’s been a good experience being in plays with mom,” she said. “It was a good bonding experience. Someday, when I have kids of my own, it would be fun for us to act in plays together.”
Based on the once-popular comic strip, “Little Orphan Annie,” “Annie” was first performed in 1977 on Broadway and went on to become a smash hit worldwide. It was also made into a popular movie. “Annie” features music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Its best known numbers are probably “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard-Knock Life.”
The GREAT Theatre production of the play stars Katie Amdahl of St. Cloud in the title role.
The musical, set during the economically desperate 1930s, is the story of a spunky, resourceful girl named Annie, who is dropped off as a newborn baby at an orphanage run by the mean, boozing Miss Hannigan. Annie escapes and befriends a lovable stray dog named Sandy. A series of intrigues follows involving a scene in Hooverville (a camp for the homeless named after President Hoover) and a scene with President Roosevelt. One of the main characters is a billionaire named Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks who helps bring about a happy deliverance for Annie.
The GREAT Theatre production of “Annie” is unique in that it will be using the actual props, stage set and costumes used in a Broadway touring production of the play. The rented items were all delivered by a semi-truck a couple of weeks ago. Cast members describe the set and paraphernalia as “phenomenal” and “gorgeous.”
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Play times, tickets
The show times for “Annie” are 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11; 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12; 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13; 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 18; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 20.
Tickets are $14 for children 12 and under; $18 for students, seniors, educators and military personnel; and $22 for adults.
Tickets can be ordered online at GreatTheatre.org or by phone at 320-363-5777.