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Glendale production features 11-year-old Broadway finalist

May 19, 2012|By Laura Tate
  • Heather Dudenbostel, as Grace, shows Annie, played by Emma Howard, her new home at a final dress rehearsal of 'Annie' at the Glendale Centre Theatre.
Heather Dudenbostel, as Grace, shows Annie, played by… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

This year marks the 35th anniversary of “Annie,” which tells the story of Little Orphan Annie, a child who runs away from an orphanage and finds a family with rough but sensitive billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks. This week, the musical opened at the Glendale Centre Theatre starring 11-year-old Emma Howard, who was one of seven finalists for a new Broadway production of the show, which opens in New York this fall.

Howard, a native of Santa Clarita, was part of a nine-month-long nationwide search that involved auditioning more than 5,000 Annie hopefuls who showed up for an open casting call for the Broadway musical version. The Broadway version is directed by Tony Award-winning director James Lapine, and choreographed by Tony Award-winning Andy Blankenbuehler.

Howard didn't make the final cut, but said, “I feel really appreciative [of the experience]. It's just amazing to have an opportunity like that.”

Glendale Centre Theatre Director Michael Sterling, who also serves as the theater's public relations director, said he knew Emma was the one “instantly” when she auditioned for the Glendale theater production. “You know instantly when someone walks in the door, 30 seconds before they open their mouth [if they have what you're looking for],” Sterling said. “She clearly did in New York.”

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The middle schooler is no stranger to the role of Annie, having played the Depression-era orphan girl more than a handful of times in local and regional theater. Based on the popular Harold Gray comic strip, the musical first opened on Broadway in 1977, pitting the title character against the orphanage's mean Miss Hannigan while finding comfort with “Daddy” Warbucks and his personal secretary, Grace Farrell, as well as a mutt called Sandy.

“I have yet to see her with a script. She doesn't need it,” said theater veteran Peter Husmann, who plays the role of Warbucks, of working with Howard. “She's obviously familiar with it, which makes it easier; she's right there with lines, she knows the part, she knows her stuff. I said to myself, ‘OK, I better up my game here, this kid's on the ball.'”

Dynell Leigh, who plays the mean, drunken Miss Hannigan, concurred with Husmann's assessment. “She's great, an awesome kid,” Leigh said. “She's not some serious diva, she's a nice normal kid, and her parents are nice and great to work with.”

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