That loveable orphan ‘Annie’

Len Hedges-Goettls’ gets his head shaved by Patrick Rosko of Geneva Hairlines in preparation for his role as Daddy Warbucks in Lakeland Players up-coming production of the musical “Annie.” Mia Grace Barnett (left), a fourth grader from Lake Geneva, is portraying Annie.

Lakeland Players to bring classic to stage

By Kellen Olshefski

Staff Writer

The Lakeland Players are putting the finishing touches on their production of the award-winning Broadway musical “Annie,” set to debut this weekend.

Director Linda Kouzes said the Lakeland Players have been trying to get the traveling show based on Harold Gray’s comic, “Little Orphan Annie,” for five years.

However, Kouzes said the timing was nearly perfect.

“It’s Christmas-time, it’s a Christmas themed show, and it’s opening on Broadway,” she said.

“Annie,” which originally debuted on Broadway in 1977, follows the story of the loveable orphan Annie who with her dog Sandy ends up in the lap of luxury as part of a publicity campaign for billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks.

However, as Annie works her way into everyone’s hearts, her adventure is only beginning.

Set in New York in the depression stricken 1930’s, the show features a mix of fictional and historical characters and memorable sing-a-longs such as “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”

Kouzes said she had a total of 51 children audition for this particular production.  Of those auditions, she took 12 to play orphans, and Mia Grace Barnett, 9 of Lake Geneva, to play the lead role of Annie.

In addition, 35 adults auditioned for roles in the play, of which 26 were selected, including Len Hedges-Goettl as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks.

Cast members range from 7, the littlest orphan, to 84 and even include Lucy, a golden-doodle from Williams Bay, cast to play Annie’s four-legged, furbearing companion, Sandy.

According to Kouzes, cast members, for this production ranged in acting experience when cast.

“One quarter of the people on the stage have never performed before or been on stage in 30 years,” she said.

Kouzes also said those cast for lead roles are incredibly talented.

“Most of them have had a lot of experience,” she said.  “[Barnett] is 9, and in the show she is actually 11, and she has just worked her little butt off.”

The 39-member cast, which has been rehearsing four to five times a week since early October, is a bit of a family affair, according to Kouzes.

“We have a number of parents and kids who auditioned for the show, so we have a few families in it.”

Kouzes added that Barnett’s family shares an especially interesting role in the play.

“Our little lead, [Barnett], her grandfather played ‘Daddy’ Warbucks 29-years-ago,” she said.

Kouzes, who directed that production of “Annie,” alongside Dixie Siegel, said Barnett’s mother, grandmother, and two aunts also performed in that show.  Barnett’s grandfather is returning for a role in this year’s production.

Kouzes said rehearsals have been going well, with a few minor trip-ups.

“Rehearsals did just fine until last night when the dog got loose on stage and ran down the aisle,” she said with a laugh.

She added that the cast, especially the newbies, has grown a lot since rehearsals began.

“I think they’ve learned a lot and some of them are in awe, just saying their having a good time,” she said.

“We have a lot of people working lights and sound, spotlight, backstage … the cast has to pitch in and help move sets. They’re doing multiple jobs and I couldn’t do it without their help.”

She said the most exciting aspect of the production will be when it’s finally on stage for spectators and everything goes well.

“It’s a good show and people are familiar with it,” she said.  “’Tomorrow’s’ number is really well known and they’ll go out humming the songs because they’re familiar.

“Hopefully they go out with a really good feeling and get in the mood for Christmas.”

She said spectators should expect the orphans to be one of the most entertaining aspects of the production.

“Kids and dogs on stage always sell,” she said.  “Our orphans are really talented … they really do a good job and I’m proud of them.

“I always have a quote, ‘There are no orphans in heaven, they’re all on our stage.’”

Kouzes said a small, four-piece orchestra will provide music for the production.

Ticket prices have been reduced this year to account for the current state people are in, according to Kouzes.

“We’re trying to accommodate families because this time of year, Christmas, is about families,” she said.  “Hopefully they can afford to come.”

According to Kouzes, the Lakeland Players ticket manager said tickets have been selling well.

Kouzes added she is incredibly grateful of all who have worked with her to get this production together.

“I’d like to give a special thanks to Jenna Palmer, who’s directing with me, David Whitney, our choreographer, and our producer Beth Sukala.  I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Performances of “Annie” will be held on Nov. 30, Dec. 1-2, and Dec. 7-9 at the Walworth County Performing Arts Center, 15 W. Walworth St., Elkhorn.

Friday and Saturday performances being at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees begin at 3 p.m.

All tickets cost $12 and can be reserved by calling (262) 723-4848 or (262) 728-3853.  Tickets can also be purchased online at


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