The beloved Broadway musical Annie is coming to Baton Rouge in a way you’ve never seen before.
This March, New Venture Theatre will be staging its rendition of the popular musical for the first time. After learning some of his regular young actors wanted to perform Annie, New Venture Theatre artistic director Greg Williams Jr. brainstormed a fresh, more diverse and inclusive way to bring the musical to life.
“We were wrapping up a show one night, and one of the little girls ran up to me and said, ‘I wish we could do Annie.’ And I hear another one of the girls say, ‘We can’t do Annie because she’s not black,’” Williams says. “I went home that night, and it just kind of bothered me. [Annie] is very New York, and the time period is on the cusp of the Harlem Renaissance. So I thought, wouldn’t that be the coolest thing to give it this brand-new life that’s never been done?”
And so, New Venture’s version is set in 1930s Harlem and will feature local actors of all ages. The lead role of Annie is played by 11-year-old Christine Jean-Baptiste. She was chosen out of 35 children who auditioned for the part. Although this will be the Westdale Middle School student’s first time performing in a production like this, she beams with confidence. She’s sung at talent shows and church, and Williams says she has the “it factor.”
To create the feel of 19th century Harlem, New Venture is putting a jazzy and soulful spin on the original music and making a Harlem-inspired storybook set. The costumes include zoot suits and fringe dresses, borrowing inspiration from Harlem icons like Billie Holiday and Langston Hughes.
“What a joy this is to just focus on telling the story the most vibrant and beautiful way you can,” Williams says.
His mission with the show is to make the audience laugh, enjoy the present and give everyone a shared sense of humanity, he says.
“Every show is a family,” Williams says. “We’re all an ensemble making this thing happen together.”
SEE THE SHOW
Performances are March 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. and March 29 at 3 p.m. at the LSU Shaver Theatre in the Music and Dramatic Arts Building. Find info and tickets at newventuretheatre.org.
This article was originally published in the March 2020 issue of 225 Magazine.