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‘Annie’ to open Thursday, with Eagan native as FDR

It’s pretty easy – and facile – to say something about the relevance of “Annie,” the bus-and-truck touring show that opens Thursday at the Minneapolis Orpheum Theatre for four performances.
I mean “Annie” is set in 1933, in the darkest hours of the G

It’s pretty easy – and facile – to say something about the relevance of “Annie,” the bus-and-truck touring show that opens Thursday at the Minneapolis Orpheum Theatre for four performances.

I mean “Annie” is set in 1933, in the darkest hours of the Great Depression. How’s that for relevant?

“That’s been mentioned a lot,” said Jeffrey Duncan, an Eagan native who has given more than 900 performances in the role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in four national tours with the musical. Put another way, Duncan has spent nearly half of the last decade on the road singing a reprise of “Tomorrow.”

“A new president coming in – FDR was in the same situation,” Duncan said. “Lately, a lot of reviews have mentioned this.”

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As classic musicals go, “Annie” is pretty young – not as old, say, as “South Pacific,” “Guys and Dolls,” “The Sound of Music,” “A Chorus Line,” and many other shows. And people still seem to want to see the musical about the plucky little girl who believes that tomorrow will be a better day. That includes local audiences.

The four performances at the Orpheum, which include a nearly sold-out matinee on Saturday, are selling well, said Karen Nelson, public relations manager for Hennepin Theatre Trust. “It’s a show that people know and feel comfortable with,” she said.

This particular tour was staged by Martin Charnin, who wrote the lyrics for Charles Strouse’s songs when the show was put together back in the mid-1970s.  The book by Thomas Meehan was based, as most of us know, on Harold Gray’s comic strip and the old radio serial. It’s hard to knock songs like “Easy Street,” “N.Y.C.,” “Maybe,” and, of course, “It’s a Hard-Knock Life.”

“We get such a wide range of audiences,” Duncan said. “It’s an adult show about kids, so it’s not necessarily a kid show. But people bring their families to see it, because kids love to see someone their size become a champion. And the senior citizens come out and get all the jokes about Harold Ickes and Louis Howe and the others in the FDR administration.”

Duncan, who admits he gives a somewhat cartoonish impersonation of FDR (but what do you expect from a plot that claims Annie inspired the New Deal?), says he never tires of the show’s appeal.

“I don’t get paid to act and sing,” Duncan said. “I get paid to travel. That’s the hardest part of it.”

To read more about the current tour, go here.

Information about the Orpheum performances – Thursday’s show is billed as “kid’s night” – can be found here