The national tour of one of America’s most beloved theater classics, “Annie,” is making its way to Penn State on April 18. Although most theater-goers know the story of the lovable and spunky orphan, this is nevertheless a reprisal that longtime fans and theater novices alike won’t want to miss.
The 25-member company is led by Tori Bates, an 11-year-old actress making her tour debut in the title role, as well as Gilgamesh Taggett, a seasoned actor who’s spent his fair share in Oliver Warbucks’ shoes. In fact, he just recently celebrated his 700th performance as the iconic character.
Taggett’s acting history began long before his first encounter with Warbucks, however.
“Even before I really knew what an actor was, I knew I wanted to be one,” he said.
Growing up in the small town of Caro, Mich., there weren’t an abundant number of acting opportunities for students at the time, but thanks to some careful guidance in his preteen years, Taggett was able to continue honing his love for the art.
“I just continued doing it, no matter what other job I tried to do, because, where I grew up, you don’t become an actor. You go to a factory or you work on a farm,” Taggett said. “After I graduated and started traveling for school, I was already doing a lot of amateur productions in my hometown and the surrounding small villages. I was hooked; I couldn’t stop.”
Taggett never took theater classes during this period of his life.
“I’d just been doing it so much that I picked it up, had a natural talent for it, and I really liked learning from my fellow collaborators,” he said.
It was during 2014 that he was brought in to play Warbucks within the 2014-2015 Broadway national tour, and he’s been doing it ever since.
“Oliver Warbucks is an incredibly well-known, iconic, American theatrical character,” he said. “I’m honored and excited to be playing him. He’s a driven businessman, who was an orphan himself, who had to grow up on the streets and then get himself together. He thinks he’s fine and everything’s great. ... Annie comes to stay at the mansion for a couple of weeks, and he likes her attitude, likes her spunk ... (and) she’s the only thing that’s ever stopped him dead in his tracks before. He admires her strength and her gumption and, after spending time with her, realizes, wow, there was a part of his life he didn’t even know was missing.”
The family-centric show often draws multiple generations to one production, something Taggett always loves to see.
“In New Orleans ... we had five generations of women waiting at the stage for when we came out once, and it was so incredible to see them all, and they all had this connection through this show,” he said. “They could always sing the songs together, they could always talk about the show. ... It’s something that’s always going to keep that family together.”
It’s these ties and connections, Taggett said, that really make the performance, above and beyond any of the great music or addictive tunes.
“It really is just a story of two lost orphans that find each other,” he said. “It’s not about any of the bells and whistles or craziness that you could put in. It’s amazing to see how everybody, young and old, connects with the story and really lets it get inside them.”
Despite more than 700 shows, Taggett said his goal is to keep it “fresh, honest and truthful.”
“That’s the job. ... You have to give the best show every time, because it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve done it,” he said. “Every night is someone’s opening night.”
IF YOU GO
- What: “Annie”
- When: 7:30 p.m. April 18
- Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park
- Info: www.cpa.psu.edu