“Annie” is based on a comic strip, but Jennie May Donnell has a real-life inspiration for the character of orphanage supervisor Miss Hannigan.
“She reminds me of my dad a lot,” said Donnell, a regular on stage at Capital Playhouse, where the beloved Broadway musical is in its opening weekend. “He was easy to anger and a good yeller. It was that Archie Bunker influence and the sensibility of the time.
“You have to find some ground underneath that you can hook things to,” she said. “I want to know what’s underneath, so that I can make some reality out of even cartoon business.”
For her late father, she said, there was harsh reality underlying the gruff exterior. His parents died when he was young. “He didn’t really have that kind of love,” she said. “He had an ‘Annie’ life, when you think about it.”
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While Miss Hannigan might not seem a very nuanced character, Donnell, who lives near Ashland, Ore., feels sympathy for the orphanage supervisor too.
“She’s more bark than bite, really,” the actress said. “She’s not that far off from a lot of people during the Depression. What would you do for money? That’s what everybody in this play is up against.”
Indeed, the show might have particular resonance in today’s economic climate.
“When I come back to Olympia, I think the homelessness is maybe increased,” Donnell said. “I asked myself, ‘Are there more people on the corners than last time I was here?’ and I thought, ‘Yes.’ The other day, I saw a young girl with a dog. I’m wondering if there’s more than we know.”
The character of Annie can serve now, as she did in the original comic strip, as a symbol of hope. “Annie is the voice of optimism for that depressed time,” Donnell said.
Twelve-year-old McKenna Orme of Poulsbo, who is playing Annie, seems to have the same luck as the character who finds a home with millionaire Daddy Warbucks, played by playhouse artistic director Jeff Kingsbury.
“This was the first production I’d ever auditioned for,” said McKenna, who is home-schooled and has been studying voice and dance. “I’m so lucky to have been cast in this for my first role.”
McKenna, who plans to audition for Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre next, doesn’t have the red hair, though. It’s been dyed red for the part.
“I’m a blonde, so I go to red pretty easily,” she said. “It’s a really cool experience having a different hair color.”