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The universal promise of tomorrow

It may be a hard knock life for most of us but Annie will cheer you up

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  • Daddy Warbucks (Michael de Mesa) and Annie (Isabeli Araneta Elizalde)
  • the orphans singing ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life.’
  • Miss Hannigan (Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo) gives the orphans a hard time inside the orphanage

Once there was a little orphan girl named Annie, and all she ever wanted was to have her parents back with her and know what it was like to have a complete family. But instead, she was stuck with Miss Hannigan and the other orphans at an orphanage. One day, she had a chance to get out and had the opportunity to finally meet a parent.

Tough, adorable, and sometimes a bit cheeky, Annie stole the hearts of everybody, across generations, who saw her and listened to her sing “Tomorrow,” “Maybe,” “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” and more. From its 1982 film adaptation directed by John Huston, to the 1999 version directed by Rob Marshall, to the 2014 revival directed by Will Gluck, Annie’s cheerfulness that has been played by actors such as Aileen Quinn (1982), Alicia Morton (1999), Quvenzhané Wallis (2014) will remind you that “you’re never really fully dressed without a smile.”

Based on the 1924 comic strip by Harold Gray, the film has been re-adapted into a musical, directed by Michael Stuart Williams with talented young artists 10-year-old Isabeli Araneta Elizalde and nine-year-old Krystal Brimner alternating as Annie, originally played by Lea Salonga in a Repertory Philippines musical in 1980.

“Annie taught us to be optimistic and hopeful. I’m like her in a way. I’m also very playful.” says Isabeli, one of two Annies at Resorts World Manila’s (RWM) production. She and Krystal bested hundreds of Annie hopefuls who auditioned for the role last year.

Krystal, on the other hand, admits that Annie’s tough personality resonates most with her. “Annie loves being tough. To be honest, in real life, I’m very tough. In school, if somebody bullies me, I don’t care. I will not listen to them,” says the nine-year-old.

The musical promises to rekindle the iconic Broadway musical’s love affair with older Filipino audiences and charm new generations with its inspirational story about a charismatic orphan’s optimistic outlook in life against all odds.

“It’s a story born out of a cartoon strip that came to its popularity when the US economy crashed. The story is told against the backdrop of the Great Depression in America. Against that bleak backdrop, you have a child who is the most optimistic and the most hopeful and she spreads that message everywhere she goes. That is so universal,” says show director Williams, also the creative director of RWM’s production outfit Full House                                        Theater Company.

Joining the kids for the main roles are award-winning actor Michael De Mesa who plays the wealthy Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the first lady of Philippine theater Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Ms. Agatha Hannigan, Jill Peña as Secretary Grace Farrell, and Mako Alonso and Red Concepcion alternating as the conniving Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan.

“The character of Ms. Hannigan is someone who needs love and affection but she’s almost unlovable. She’s fragile that way and that’s interesting. Meanwhile, Daddy Warbucks is this hardcore, coldhearted businessman who then discovers a soft spot in himself for this poor orphan child who turns his world around,” says Williams.

Also included in the cast in the roles of orphans are Maria Francesca Rojas and Precious Lainey Galvez as Annie’s best friend Molly; Chrysse Jilliane Jover and Maria Ericka Peralejo as the shy Kate; Shanti Leialoha Gleason and Gwyneth Jearei Dorado as the quiet July; Natalia Victoria Escaño and Alba Berenguer-Testa as the crybaby Tessie; Cydel Virie Gabutero and Atascha Chloe Mercado as the bossy Pepper; and Stephanie Ginger Karganilla and Sofia Jade Wong as oldest orphan Duffy.

“On a broad perspective, the challenge is how do we take Annie’s story and make it relevant to our audience locally. There is something quite universal about it, which is why Annie is fast becoming a modern-day classic. It’s got that universal message of hope and optimism from a child. When you’re in that story and watching it, it really hits you deep. It’s so fundamental to a person’s life, to have hope and want a better future or a better life,” ends Williams.


Annie runs until Dec. 4 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater in Resorts World Manila.; 02 908 8833