Auditioning for Broadway Revival of ‘Annie’ Is a Hard-Knock Life

Auditioning for Broadway Revival of ‘Annie’ Is a Hard-Knock Life

Brynne Norquist isn’t taking any chances with her audition for a new Broadway revival of “Annie.” The eight-year-old with a moon face and blond pigtails got rid of her friendship bracelet so she won’t fiddle with it during her tryout. She worked on her performance style with a private coach (Jessica Rofé of A Class Act NY.) She attended a workshop to perfect her song, “Born to Entertain,” under the steady gaze of other wannabe orphans.

“She wants to be a Broadway icon,” said her mother, Lauren Norquist of Irvington, N.Y.

Hundreds of children with similar ambitions are expected to line up Sunday outside an audition space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. It’s an open call, so anyone can come: no agent necessary, no experience, either. The girls, 6 to 12 years old, will hand over a photo, sing without instrumental accompaniment and hope for a call-back for the late 2012 production.

The opportunity has prompted parents to seek out Annie boot camps around New York to get their daughters ready. Workshops—many led by former Annie cast and creative-team members—are helping little girls figure out what to sing (no age-inappropriate love songs), what to wear (no prissy dresses) and how to enter the audition room (fearlessly).

At another youth acting studio, A Class Act NY, 24 kids recently took the $150, three-and-a-half hour workshop with Caroline Daly Antonelli, an orphan in Annie on Broadway in 1980 and ’81.

The new production will coincide with the 35th anniversary of the original Annie, which opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years. Arielle Tepper Madover, who is producing the prospective 2012 revival, said she isn’t looking for a particular type for the starring role, which was played first on Broadway by Andrea McArdle and later by Sarah Jessica Parker, among others. “You’ll know it when you see her,” Ms. Madover said.

The casting team, led by Broadway veteran Bernard Telsey, is also looking for the show’s six lesser orphans and is keeping the audition rules simple: Don’t sing music from Annie and don’t come in costume.

Next to her, Bebe Wood (our student whom we helped get representation!), a Manhattan 9-year-old with purple-framed glasses who is performing this summer in an 8,000-seat theater in Kansas, was thinking strategy. She hoped for a private audition, with the help of her agent.

Ms. Madover, the Annie producer, plans to attend this weekend’s auditions, where a team of 20 will see potential orphans. Later, staff will run private auditions, visit summer camps and hold open calls in Los Angeles and in Florida. Kids can also submit videos online.

For the open call, Ms. Madover has sought the help of a child psychiatrist to create a “self-esteem program” that includes six volunteers to help girls who may struggle at the audition.

“You forgot the words? Everyone freezes up from time to time,” reads a pamphlet that staff will give each child. The leaflets also offer advice to parents: “Try not to say, ‘You were better than everyone else’ or ‘You deserved it.’”

A 2006 documentary, “Life After Tomorrow,” examined the often-difficult lives of young women who have appeared in various productions of the show. (Jessica Rofé’s ex-husband co-directed the movie with orphan, Julie Stevens.)

Kids with the best chances this year may be the ones who look younger than they actually are, said Ms. McArdle, the original Annie. “If they’re 10 and they look 7, it’s like ‘Wow, those kids are fantastic.’ It’s smoke and mirrors,” said Ms. McArdle, who was a short 13-year-old when she played the part. Ms. McArdle, now 47, gives private lessons to little girls going out for parts like Annie.

The glow of a former Annie orphan still shines bright for many young girls. At the end of the workshop at A Class Act NY, Ms. Antonelli, who played the orphan Pepper on Broadway, sang “Tomorrow” to the kids. The girls jumped to their feet applauding. Lily Discepolo, 10, was in awe. “You could see the song,” she said, “through her eyeballs.”

Watch the Video