"We decided on the play because 'Annie' is coming back to Broadway, and we thought it would be cute to bring Annie Warbucks to Jersey," said John Fiorenza, director, last week. The Park Players perform several plays per year around Hudson County.
"Annie Warbucks" will run from Dec. 1 through 10 at the Weehawken Elks Lodge No. 2, 50th Street and Boulevard East, and will feature "Dessert Theater," or goodies before the show.
The cast of "Annie Warbucks" brings new faces into the mix, as well as many familiar faces from the Park Players' past productions, including their last play, "Clue."
"I love working with the cast of Clue; they have become not only my cast members, but my friends," said Fiorenza. "They all just enjoy working together, and it's a great feeling to have such wonderful people to work with."
Day after 'Tomorrow'
"Annie Warbucks" first opened off-Broadway in 1993 and ran for 200 performances and 38 preview performances. Based on the book by Thomas Meehan, and once again featuring music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, Annie Warbucks picks up with the anticipated adoption of the story's red-headed heroine by New York business tycoon Oliver Warbucks during the Great Depression.
Unfortunately, celebrations for Annie's adoption come to a halt when Child Welfare Commissioner Harriet Doyle declares the adoption illegal because Warbucks is unmarried.
"I am having a grand old time; I've never played the villain before, and I'm the total opposite," said Evelyn Rue, who plays Doyle. "I get to play with the kids, and it's funny because they are all my height."
Annie Warbucks marks Rue's return to the Park Players after over two years. She last directed their production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," in 2004 at the Park Performing Arts Center in Union City.
"I am so happy to be back with the Park Players," said Rue. "I have missed them all and now I am back home." Rue's character Doyle and a few others hash out a plot to strip Daddy Warbucks of his fortune.
Meanwhile, Warbucks is given a timetable of 60 days to find a wife in order to keep Annie, who tries to point out that maybe his happiness lies right in front of him with long-time loyal secretary Grace Farrell.
Playing Annie and Daddy Warbucks
Making her starring role debut as little orphan Annie is Angelica Chabeli, 10.
"I got really nervous [the day of the audition] and I thought I wouldn't get the part, but then I got a call and they said I was Annie," said Chabeli. "I was really excited that day."
Chabeli has been acting for as long as she can remember, and has worked in smaller roles with the Park Players on "The Wizard of Oz" and "Suessical the Musical."
"I worked with Angelica in Suessical the Musical, where she was one of the Whos," said Fiorenza. "There were so many wonderful girls, and she gave a fabulous audition and had a charming smile. I had no other choice but to pick her."
"It's fun because you get to act, and when you make mistakes they help you, and when you do something correct, they compliment you," said Chabeli, who is awaiting opening night with both some nerves and excitement.
"When the curtain goes up, I don't know what I'm going to do, but like they say, it'll be the bomb."
Starring opposite Chabeli will be Joseph Conklin in his fourth time playing rich tycoon Oliver Warbucks, whose heart was melted by little orphan Annie.
"Joe has done it so many times, he actually becomes Daddy Warbucks," said Fiorenza.
"The first time I did Annie was 26 years ago, and I played Drake for a theatre group in Jersey City. Then about 18 years ago I first played Warbucks for the Spoc Theatre Group."
Conklin then went on to reprise the character two more times for the Park Players, and will be acting alongside some of this former castmates from the first productions.
"Nicole was my Annie," said Conklin of Nicole Exposito, who is choreographing the show and has taken on one of the supporting roles. "It's wonderful because you have this respect for them when they're young as their teacher and mentor, and now respect for them equally as an actor."
Conklin also gets to work with some of his former students from Woodrow Wilson School. He retired as a teacher two years ago.
"It's great to be involved with the kids again, and we have all ages in this," said Conklin. "It has been a real tight cast under John's direction, and with Cosmo Cirillo as the stage manager; the two of them are dynamic."
On with the show
Rounding out the key players in Annie Warbucks is Milly Gonzalez, who plays Grace Farrell, Warbucks' love interest.
Gonzalez has been working with the Park Players since she was little girl, and performed as one of the orphans in both their previous productions of Annie.
"I'm 21 now and I auditioned for the part of Ms Farrell," said Gonzalez. "[The Park Players] are the ones who got me started in theatre, and they are a great group to work with."
Gonzalez, who studies music education at New Jersey City University, has also continued to work with other community theatre groups including Lead Performing Arts this past summer for their production Into the Woods.
"I knew immediately I wanted to work with [the Park Players again] because the people are professional, but they keep it fun," said Gonzalez.
The show also features Annie's favorite little orphan sidekick Molly, who is played by 6-year-old Alexandria Suarez.
"I like it because I am the baby of the play," she said.
With its fabulous score featuring songs such as "All Dolled Up" and "Leave it To the Girls," and surprise twists, the adventures of Annie Warbucks brings the original story full circle delivering the same appeal that made the original and instant classic.
"It's a wonderful, glorious, fun time to enjoy with the family," said Fiorenza.
Annie Warbucks will run from Dec. 1 through 10 at the Weehawken Elks Lodge No. 2, 50th Street and Boulevard.
For tickets, prices and show times, call (201) 941-6030.