BWW Interview: Meagan Michelson of ANNIE at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre
With songs like "Maybe", "Tomorrow", and "It's a Hard Knock Life", the Strouse, Charnin, and Meehan's musical Annie has been entertaining audiences since its premier at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 1976. The award-winning musical is based on the main character from the Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie. The 1982 film version of Annie starred Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Ann Reinking, Tim Curry, Burnadette Peters, and Aileen Quinn. Both the stage and film versions have enjoyed great popularity, standing the test of time, and now you can find Annie on stage at the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre June 27-August 10. Meagan Michelson, who will be portraying Miss Hannigan, took some time to tell us about herself, Miss Hannigan, and her experience with Annie.
BWW: I grew up seeing the movie version of Annie on the television around Christmastime every year and seeing it performed by the local high schools and community theatres. Do you remember the first time you saw Annie? How did it make you feel?
Michelson: I first saw the 1982 Annie film when I was about 7. I can't pinpoint the first time I saw it because I went through a phase of watching the film every Friday night with my best friend Nicole. We had a choreographed duet to "Little Girls," which we performed in my living room as if it were the Neil Simon Theatre. Annie was the very first musical I fell in love with, and even when I was little, I remember being excited by the idea that songs could be used to tell stories. I was never interested in playing Annie. Even when I was 7, I identified with Hannigan-that classic, brassy leading lady.
BWW: Have you performed at Dutch Apple before? If so, what show/role?
Michelson: This is my debut at the Dutch Apple, but I performed at its sister theatre, The Broadway Palm in Fort Meyers, last fall and winter. I was Maggie Jones in 42nd Street and Deb in Elf.
BWW: If you had to pick just one, what is your favorite role to date?
Michelson: To be honest, Hannigan takes the cake. She's so iconic. Also, I love kids-I have lots of little cousins-and it's always fun to tap into a character that's fundamentally so different from me. A close second favorite role I've played is Rosie in Mamma Mia! Getting paid to perform an Abba concert, crawl across the stage, and make a fool of myself? Don't mind if I do!
BWW: Is there a dream role that you haven't had a chance to play yet?
Michelson: Oy, there are so many I can't even count them. In terms of a jukebox musical, I'd love to play Patsy Cline in Always, Patsy Cline. Thinking of contemporary pop musicals, I would love a chance to portray Paulette in Legally Blonde. My ultimate dream, though, is to play Rose in Gypsy when I'm older.
BWW: Why do you think Annie is still so popular after all these years?
Michelson: Charnin, Strouse, and Meehan hit upon a magical formula-the music is memorable, the story is heartfelt, and even though most of the characters are archetypes, they're still human and relatable. The show is a classic fairytale that appeals to children and adults alike.
BWW: Annie is set in a very particular time-1933 (during the Great Depression)-and includes people and cultural references specific to that time. What elements of Annie do you think people still relate to today?
Michelson: Sure, many of the references and idioms in Annie are a bit outdated. How many young people watching today are going to know what an "automat" is or who "Don Budge" is? But that's not the point. Annie is about hope. It's a show that makes room for dreamers, and that's a theme that transcends eras. I think one of the most poignant scenes is the Oval Office scene in which FDR, his cabinet, and billionaire Republican Warbucks are inspired to sing an anthem about hope by Annie, an 11-year-old who comes from nothing. Especially in today's political landscape, that image is really beautiful.
BWW: There are so many memorable songs in Annie. What is your favorite song to perform in the show? What is your favorite song overall in the show?
My favorite number to perform is probably "Easy Street". Whenever the song kicks in and I shake my booty alongside Rooster and Lily, I feel like that 7-year-old dancing around my living room again. My favorite song in the show is "Hard Knock Life" because these kids create such a surge of energy, belting and dancing across the stage. Now that I've seen the kids bring that number to life, I feel joy whenever I hear that song.
BWW: Talk to us about Miss Hannigan. What is your favorite thing about Miss Hannigan?
Michelson: I don't think Hannigan is inherently evil. You might say her bedside manner needs work and, of course, it's despicable that she sometimes lays a hand on the kids. When it comes down to it, though, I think she'd be lost without them. They give her a purpose. And when Rooster suggests enacting serious violence on Annie, Hannigan is really upset. My favorite thing about Miss Hannigan is that she is just a big orphan herself, and I love exploring that experience. She's more than just a meanie. She's a deeply damaged individual who grew up in a dysfunctional family situation. (Just listen to "Easy Street"; her mother taught Rooster and her how to be criminals from an early age.) You can have empathy for her when you look at her like a deprived kid who never quite grew up. Throughout the show, she and the orphans engage in a pattern of dysfunctional bullying: she yells, they put dead mice in her face. In a way, she's the oldest orphan in the orphanage-an orphan with an affinity for adult beverages. The great irony in playing Miss Hannigan is that I watch the children from the wings and start to cry with joy, and then I have to enter a scene and angrily bark at them. I have to separate the fictional meanness from the laughs I have with the kids backstage. They're a riot.
BWW: For our readers who have seen Annie so many times that they are tired of it, why should they come see this production at Dutch Apple?
Michelson: For one thing-the kids. Wow! These children are incredible. Not only Piper ("Annie") and her understudy Ariana, but also every member of the child ensemble inspires me daily. I don't care how "overdone" a show is. When performers breathe new life into it, watching it is a pure and engaging experience. Beyond that, at a time when so much tragedy and contention exist in the world, we need theatre as escapism. This story of hope and new beginnings is the perfect recipe for escape. And the music is just really good.
BWW: If you had a chance to live the life of a billionaire what is the first thing you would do?
Michelson: First, I'd probably tackle my crippling graduate school loans. No, wait, I'd buy two or three puppies, and THEN tackle the loans. I'm a crazy dog lady. I can't tell you how much joy our Finnegan ("Sandy") has brought me during this rehearsal process.