Fuse Productions’ ‘Annie’ warms hearts, encourages optimism

Amid the bitter cold that has swept through Happy Valley this winter, the State College community is in for a classic story that is sure to warm the hearts of all ages with Fuse Productions’ “Annie.”

The show is directed by Richard Biever and choreographed by Jill A. Brighton, and features a cast of local talent, including 11-year-old Keri Carroll in the title role of little orphan Annie. Broadway and national tour veteran Todd Thurston is cast in the role of billionaire Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks.

The original Broadway production of “Annie” opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, spawning numerous productions in many countries, as well as national tours, and won the Tony Award for best musical. The story is set in 1930s New York City, and Annie is determined to find her parents, who abandoned her years before on the doorstep of an orphanage.

“Annie’s very optimistic, positive and friendly, she never gives up and she’s funny,” Carroll said. “No matter how tough things are, she knows to keep holding on for a better tomorrow.”

Warbucks’ assistant comes to the orphanage asking for an orphan to come to the his mansion for a Christmas holiday. Warbucks eventually forms a bond with Annie and decides he wants to adopt her.

Carroll attends Marion Walker Elementary School in Bellefonte and has taken acting classes in New York. She has appeared in “Scrooge” at the State Theatre, “The Little Mermaid Jr.,” “Flat Stanley” and “Mulan Jr.” with Singing Onstage Studios in State College, and “South Pacific” at Bellefonte Area High School.

Carroll said she believes it’s just as much fun to practice as it is to perform and considers herself very lucky to be in shows with so many fun, talented people.

“It takes lots of rehearsals and warming up my voice to get ready,” she said. “But I like the feeling of performing for other people; it makes me feel good to make people happy.”

Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern California, Thurston went to school at the University of Washington in Seattle, graduating in 1979 with a BFA in acting. After college, Thurston spent the summer at a stock theater in Massachusetts, where he met many performers from New York. Eventually, he moved to New York, a place he has called home now for more than 34 years.

Warbucks is a conservative, single, childless, multibillionaire who has seen the Depression decimate the industrial capacity of his many factories across the country. His work is his life, and he has time for little else. When it comes to his character, Thurston said he doesn’t find too much of Warbucks in himself, but he admits he certainly can relate to the parental quality in the role.

“That’s what’s fun about acting — getting to imagine yourself in another person’s life,” he said. “On the other hand, I am the father of a 16-year-old daughter, so the experience of raising an only female child certainly helps inform the eventual relationship that I form with Annie.”

If there’s one lesson to be learned in this charming story, it is how one small, abandoned child’s optimism and faith in the future can change a group of adults with hardened outlooks on life.

“In her relationship with Warbucks, we see a reflection of the safety and security that being part of a family can bring,” Thurston said.