'Annie' kicking off 2011 Super Summer Theatre season

Is there any song from a Broadway musical that's more parodied, more mocked, more targeted for hipster scorn than "Tomorrow," the chestnut from the Tony Award-winning musical "Annie"?

And, then, is there any song from a Broadway musical that, despite all of that, never fails to create a lump in the throat and a drop of moisture in the eye whenever you hear it?

Didn't think so.

Fact is, there's a reason why classics become classic, and Southern Nevada theatergoers once again can explore the power of "Annie" when the 1977 musical kicks off the 2011 Super Summer Theatre season at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.

The production, by Stage Door Entertainment, opened Wednesday and continues its Wednesday-through-Saturday evening run through June 25.

The musical, based on the "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip, won seven 1977 Tony awards, including the award for best musical, and was adapted into a 1982 film starring Albert Finney and Carol Burnett.

However, Terrence R. Williams, director of the Spring Mountain Ranch production, plans to incorporate into the play a few atypical twists that will make it just a tad different for avid "Annie" fans who already have seen it a few (or a few dozen) times.

For instance, the production will feature, besides Annie, a total of 21 orphans, versus the usual half-dozen or so.

Sure, the move will give more young actors a chance to perform. But, Williams says, "it's really for the story because, in an orphanage, how desperate are you to be adopted when there are only six girls there, whereas, if you have a room full of girls, the chances of getting out of there are so much more desperate."

The cast also will feature 22 adults, making it, Williams suspects, "one of the larger casts they've had out there."

"Annie" is set in 1933, during the Great Depression and before Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. That might make it relatable to today's economically battered audiences because, Williams says, "it's a story about giving people hope, having hope in your life."

Interesting, too, he adds, is that FDR "was a president who took over and got blamed for everything, sort of like today. There was a threat of war, sort of like today. The economy started being bad before he took office, but he needed to fix it, sort of like today.

"That's not to say (President) Obama and FDR are the same person. But, certainly, when people see what's going on, it's something that they can say, 'Wow, that's kind of today.' "

To help his young cast understand the time period and the dialogue -- which name-checks such figures as Jack Dempsey, Louis Brandeis and even a member or two of FDR's cabinet -- Williams sent out a series of emails containing links to stories, videos and other material about the Depression.

But, sometimes, even that wasn't enough. While demonstrating how one of the props, an old-fashioned rotary phone, worked, "one of the girls said, 'But how do I type my name?' "

"You don't think about these things," Williams says. "You don't even realize how recent some of the things in their lives are."

Playing the part of Annie will be Jessica Ruettiger. More than 100 young actresses auditioned, Williams says, "but Jessica was kind of head and shoulders above the rest the entire way."

"When she auditioned, the note I wrote on my form was, 'a young Ethel Merman.' Just incredible. She came in singing, 'Don't Rain on My Parade,' and this is a 12-year-old. How many 12-year-olds know that song? And she blew it away," Williams says.

"In the video of her audition, you can see (other kids') moms in the background looking at each other with a glare. A lot of other kids are, like, 'Can you believe this?' It's just so telling."

Jessica's credits include roles in productions of "Cinderella" and "Oklahoma." In April, she sang the national anthem before a Los Angeles Lakers-Sacramento Kings game.

Jessica says she's been acting since the age of 6 and first saw the movie version of "Annie" when "I was real little. I still just love it. I watch the movie all the time."

Jessica hasn't performed in "Annie" before but has sung songs from the play in various dance shows. "I really like to do 'Tomorrow,' and 'I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here' was, actually, one of my favorite songs."

In the Spring Mountain Ranch audience, no doubt, will be kids and adults singing along with Jessica as she performs such signature songs. Williams even will admit that he once wasn't quite as kind to "Annie" as he might have been.

He liked "Annie" as a kid. "Then, I think like a lot of teenaged males, you can't acknowledge it: 'Oh, who would want to do "Annie"?' Coming out of my teens into my 20s, it was a joke I used to tell people: One day I'll do 'Annie' and I had all these wild things I'd do to mess with people.

"But as I came back around to it when I was looking for things to do for Super Summer Theatre, I came across it and thought, 'I haven't listened to this for a long time. I should listen to it.' And as I listened to it, the childhood part of me looked back, and I had so much fun listening to it, I thought, 'This is what I want to do.' ''

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.