So many young aspiring actresses — 28 in all — tried out for the part of Annie in the musical “Annie” that director Michael Hartsfield cast two girls, Julia Laje and Samantha Bloom Yakaitis, in the role.
The two young actresses alternate performances, and there are also “A” and “B” casts for the more than 20 other orphans in the show, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 22 at the Laurel Mill Playhouse in Laurel.
“Because it’s a holiday show and a fun show, we tried to let everybody be involved, so we double cast and enlarged the orphanage with about 12 in each cast,” Hartsfield says.
Hartsfield also double cast Annie’s orphan friend Molly, played by Shaylee Chubin and Sophia Riazi-Sekowski.
“I think singing is very fun, and I like to get the high notes,” says Sophia, 8, of Capitol Heights. “I like to bring things to life on stage.”
In “Annie,” Sophia gets a chance as Molly to make fun of the cruel orphanage supervisor, Miss Hannigan (Jennifer Hollett).
“I like to imitate people,” says Sophia, who fell in love with musicals after watching “Peter Pan” and “Les Miserables.”
Hartsfield also cast a real live dog in the part of Annie’s canine sidekick, Sandy.
“It’s his stage debut,” he says about Graham, a poodle mix who lives with the Bell family not far from the theater on Main Street.
“He has a great sandy color and a curly coat,” says Hartsfield. “I just tell the kids that if he runs off stage to just roll with the punches.”
Set in 1933, the musical revolves around Annie, who tries to escape from an orphanage in New York City to search for her parents.
Along the way she meets a mutt she names Sandy and sings “Tomorrow” to him about what she hopes will be happier, sunnier days ahead.
But a policeman brings her back to the orphanage just as Grace Farrell (Emma Jensen), personal secretary to billionaire Oliver Warbucks (Patrick Pase), visits and asks if she can invite one of the orphans to spend the week before Christmas at her boss’ mansion.
Annie is chosen and Warbucks takes a liking to her, offering money to any couple that can prove to him they are her parents.
Out of the woodwork come Hannigan’s brother Rooster (David Hale) and his girlfriend, Lily St. Regis (Melanie Pino-Elliott) to make their claim.
“I’ve played sweet, dumb characters ... and Lily is dumb, but also kind of evil,” says Pino-Elliott of Laurel, who sings “Easy Street” with Rooster and Miss Hannigan.
The duplicitous duo fail to convince Warbucks, who learns about the fate of her parents.
“That’s the day when everything is wrapped up like a Christmas present,” says Pase about the finale.
But Pase, of Rockville, says the essential message of the show isn’t really about the Christmas season but about something else.
“Home is where the heart is,” he says about “people who love you, whether they’re your biological parents or not.”
A Houston native and a baritone, Pase majored in music in college and sang classical music before taking a long break from theater while his children were growing up.
Recently, he began performing again for several area companies, including his first Laurel Mills role in March as the husband Paul Bratter in “Barefoot in the Park.”
Pase says he had never seen a production of “Annie” before taking on the part of Daddy Warbucks, and that he likes the show.
“It’s just a fun story,” he says. “I love that intimate, 50-seat theater, I think it’s great. ... The audience is right there — 50 people in a full house.”
“It’s cozy,” he says. “It’s nice to work there.”