'Annie' brings a horrible Hannigan happily home

Denver native Lynn Andrews is having the time of her life playing Miss Hannigan (here singing “Little Girls”) in 'Annie.' Photo by Joan Marcus.
Denver native Lynn Andrews is having the time of her life playing Miss Hannigan (here singing “Little Girls”) in “Annie.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

For Denver native Lynn Andrews, playing the nefarious and boozy child endangerer Miss Hannigan is pretty much her dream role. And why not?

“She’s drunk all the time, and she yells at little kids,” said Andrews, who graduated from Denver East High School in 2004. “And they pretty much let me do whatever I please – as long as I don’t hurt anybody.” 

Andrews is playfully playing the iconic villain in the 30th anniversary national touring production of Annie, which opens in Denver tonight (Wednesday, April 29) and plays at the Buell Theatre through May 10.

You know the story of the red-headed foster child whose sunny optimism singlehandedly lifts America out of the Great Depression. It’s based on the popular Harold Gray comic strip that began in 1924. It was made into a Broadway musical in 1977 that ran for six years. The songs Tomorrow and It’s the Hard Knock Life are among the most popular numbers in musical-theatre history.

Lynn Andrews quoteAnd at a time when pop culture is scrambling to modernize and contemporize, you will recognize the story that is coming to Denver.

The latest touring production arrives just four months after the latest cinematic spin on the Annie franchise was released in movie theatres. That film traded in the 1930s red-headed moppet for a contemporary young black girl who is taken in by a politician (Jamie Foxx) intent on using her for political gain.

But the Annie you have known is the Annie you are going to get in Denver, Andrews said. This production is helmed by original lyricist and director Martin Charnin.

“This Annie is a time capsule,” Andrews said. “It’s set in the 1930s. You’re going to see the little girl in the red dress and wig. You’re going to see the costumes you expect to see. You going to get the original choreography. There is a dog. You are basically getting the original staging.”

But at the same time, she added, the performances are different because the actors are different. 

“I am not Dorothy Loudon or Carol Burnett – not by a long shot,” Andrews said of famous actors who have preceded her as Miss Hannigan on stage and in film. “We all have different voices and different physicalities. Our Rooster is different. Our Grace is different … and nuts … and so much fun.”

And audiences young and old have never seen a scenic design like the visual world  created by Beowulf Boritt (who just designed On the Town for Broadway).

“It is gorgeous,” she said. “It should be incredibly interesting to any kid who has never seen what the 1930s looks like.”

Lynn Andrews dadAndrews grew up in the City Park West neighborhood the daughter of legendary civil-rights attorney lawyer Irving Piper Andrews, whom U.S. District Judge John Kane called “unquestionably the finest African-American lawyer this state ever saw.” He died when Lynn was just 12.

(In the photo above right, Irving Andrews is just to the left of Martin Luther King.)

“He had the first integrated law firm in Colorado,” she said. “He worked selflessly his entire life for social justice, and he made sure we knew what that was about. What fairness and unfairness was about. He impacted a lot of people’s lives for the better, while sacrificing a lot of things in his own.”

Irving Andrews also had a lovely baritone voice, Lynn said. “Under different circumstances, we probably could have gone down that road together.”

Instead, she took classes at Rocky Mountain Vocal Jazz Camp and the DCPA Academy during her high-school years. She even celebrated her senior prom at the DCPA.

Andrews is also one-third of a self-described girl group called the Shirtwaist Sisters, which she describes as, “What would happen if Hank Williams, The Andrews Sisters and Beyonce had a sleepover.” She will spend part of her short return trip home visiting East High School, where she had two seminal teachers – Choir leader William Taylor and retiring theatre legend Melody Duggan. She’s the mother of founding Buntport Theater ensemble member Hannah Duggan.

“How do you begin to talk about Melody Duggan?” she said. “She’s the kindest director you will ever have. The lessons we learned from her also apply to professional theatre, and they also apply to life. She went deeper with everything than you’d think would be necessary in a high-school play. She really cared.”

She also gave students of minority ethnicities the chance to play roles they might not be considered for at other schools. Andrews’ favorite role at East was playing the German innkeeper Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret. She was cast opposite a black student as Herr Schultz.

He might not look like any other actor you have seen play Herr Schultz, “but he was perfect for the part because of his personality and because of his singing voice,” Andrews said. “I think high school is one of the last opportunities you have to play whatever role you can based on your abilities and not on your look, too. In the professional world, they look at you first – and then hear what you sound like later.”

Andrews was named all-state in choir, and she credits Taylor for his exacting standards.

“One of the greatest things about East is that you never felt good enough because there is always such a wealth of talent there,” she said. “And that’s a god thing. There were amazing dancers, singers and musicians and so you were always constantly competing with someone who was a slightly better jazz improviser than you, or someone who has a slightly better classical voice than you. So you were constantly on your toes.”

She’s more staggering – intentionally – than en pointe as the deliciously drunk Miss Hannigan. She loves the show and its sweetly naïve and yet ever-relevant message about keeping a positive attitude during times of personal and national strife – like now. Although with the lingering stagnation and polarization in Congress these past many years, it’s hard to imagine positivity ever emerging from the shallowed halls of Congress.

“No, I don’t think a little orphan girl in a red dress is going to walk into Congress and stand on the podium and say, ‘Guys, come on. Let’s work together!’ ” she said. “But the larger point is this: You have a choice between accepting misery or being optimistic. You, as an individual, can choose to be optimistic. You can fix your own circumstances.”

Annie may be a blindly optimistic musical, but when you look at the news today, it’s hard not to hope for someone to stand up and suggest maybe we should give cooperation a try. Even a 10-year-old orphan girl.

“Has anyone tried that yet?” Andrews said with a laugh. “It’s hard because being cynical is not only cool to people today, cynicism is a way of life for a lot of people. But we don’t have to be fighting each other all the time.

“You know what? Maybe we should send that kid in to talk to Congress. The point is optimism. Love is everywhere. Open your heart. That’s all you have to do.”

That sounds cheesy, Andrews readily admits. But sometimes cheese is not so bad.

“Are you kidding? I live for cheese,” she said. “In every sense of that word.”

April 29 through May 10
Buell Theatre
ASL interpreted, Audio described & Open Captioned performance: May 10, 2pm
Tickets: Call 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
800-641-1222 | Groups (10+): 303-446-4829

Photos from the national touring production of ‘Annie’, coming to the Buell Theatre from April 29 through May 10. Photos by Joan Marcus.