Annie is an important musical to Valley Youth Theatre’s producing artistic director Bobb Cooper.
This is Cooper’s 22nd year with the theater company and, for him, the June 15 to July 1 performances of Annie at The Herberger Theater Center are fitting ways to celebrate the milestone. It was the first production the company performed on its current home stage of the Herberger on October 31, 1997.
“I’m not just a director and artistic director doing a production,” Cooper says. “Annie was the first musical I saw in legitimate theater in about 1977.
“I remember I bought the soundtrack and, as a latchkey kid, I would sit in my room, put the album on and conduct the entire overture. I would sing all the songs and relate it to the story. I really wish Daddy Warbucks would have adopted me.”
He has become an expert on the musical, as he has read nearly every book about the production. One performance of Annie was especially remarkable to him.
“I walked out of the theater and ran right into Andrea McArdle, the original Annie, who was an adult by that time,” Cooper says. “Then, one night, I was out at a restaurant and I ran into Reid Shelton, who was the original Daddy Warbucks.
As fate would have it, some years later when Cooper moved to California, he had the same barber as Shelton.
“We met in the barber shop and we became fast friends,” Cooper says. “I was friends with him until the day he died. He was a mentor to me as an actor in Los Angeles and he was a good friend.”
Along the way, Cooper has met other cast members from Annie and the production is special to him. He conveys the fun stories to the children he acts with and directs at Valley Youth Theatre, including alumna Emma Stone.
Cooper will reprise his role of Daddy Warbucks in this month’s production, while his wife, Carol, will play Miss Hannigan.
“It is an absolute honor to be onstage with these kids,” Cooper says.
“It also means so much to the children. It’s a learning experience for them because Carol and I are professionals. How we conduct ourselves is different than being a director, a leader and mentor. Now I’m side-by-side with them and there is a trust factor that happens each and every performance where we count on each other.”
Finding the right actress to play the adorable title character brought forth worthy talent.
“We had 130 girls audition for the show,” Cooper says. “Of those 130, a good majority were little girls who probably had their heart set on being Annie.”
Mia McFarland will join the cast as Annie, with more than 40 other actors and 20 orchestra musicians.
“Our biggest challenge has been with casting the guys,” he says. “We cast all of the girls, but we had to put out several extra calls to get guys.” The production is comprised of more than 40 cast members and 20 orchestra members.
The story of Annie is universal, he says, which is why it’s become a hit.
“It’s a story of hope, love and overcoming adversity,” Cooper says.
“Daddy Warbucks is a hard, staunch business man who cared about money and power. Then suddenly a girl who has nothing comes into his life and shows him there is so much more. She softens his heart and teaches him to care about something more than money.”
Annie, Herberger Theater Center, Center Stage, 222 E. Monroe Street, Phoenix, herbergertheater.org, vyt.com, various times Friday, June 15, to Sunday, July 1, $20.50-$39.50.