THE ‘CURSE’ OF ANNIE
In the original Broadway production tryout at the Goodspeed Opera House in August 1976, producers replaced Kristen Vigard in favor of Andrea McArdle during the second week of the pre-Broadway run. When ANNIE opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on April 21, 1977, McArdle was in the lead role and Vigard was her understudy.
But regarding the 20th Anniversary production I was involved in….
The ANNIE documentary Life After Tomorrow (https://vimeo.com/327565052), touches on the controversy surrounding the casting and eventual replacement of Joanna Pacitti with Brittny Kissinger. The documentary doesn’t go into much depth about the calamitous issue, so here, courtesy of ‘broadwayguy2’ at BroadwayWorld is a general synopsis of what happened:
At some point during the out of town try-out / tour for Annie (Boston), Bill Berloni (wonderful animal hander) was instructed to teach Kissinger how to handle the dogs in the show. She was *not* an understudy for the role and he was told to not discuss the matter with anyone.
Pacitti became ill and was commanded by doctors to take several days off, under threat of reporting her parents and the show to authorities if they pressed her to perform. At that time, the understudy first went on, then Kissinger – not the designated understudy – was put on it the show, much to the confusion of the cast and the ire of the understudy and her family.
The producers then decided to split the role between Pacitti and Kissinger, with Kissinger performing at critics’ previews and opening night and New York. Pacitti’s agents and family became upset and pointed out the contest, as advertised, and signed contract stated that the contest winner would hold the role of Annie, not share it.
At that time, the producers quite literally slid a note under the door of the Pacitti hotel room very late in the night informing them that Pacitti was being released from the show and a car would be waiting in the morning to return the family to their home in Philadelphia.
Pacitti’s mother called Berloni and they snuck her out of the hotel at 2am to a nearby hotel where Berloni secured a room and she was able to play with her Sandys. In the morning, Berloni arranged for a child psychologist to be there with her and for a list of cast members that she wanted to say goodbye to to be shuttled to where she was staying and later that day, the Pacitti family returned to Philadelphia.
No one else in the company knew of the firing until that night when the producers called a meeting at half hour and informed the company that Pacitti left the show, was doing well and sent her regards and well wishes and that Kissinger would be the new Annie. According to Berloni it was obviously a very upsetting and emotional meeting and half the company knew very well that what the producer stated about Pacitti to be blatantly false.
Several company members approached the producers and union asking about what happened and were told to let the incident go. Rumor in the company was that the producers had hoped to generate the buzz from the original production when McArdle assumed the role (though THAT was slightly less dramatic). Soon after, seven people, including Berloni, who were vocal about their dislike for what has transpired were threatened with firing if they didn’t drop the matter. ABC also came down hard on the producers as they had been filming a documentary special about the show and casting of Annie.
Berloni also pulled his lead dog, Zappa, from the show and gave him to Pacitti. CindyLou, the understudy Sandy, then assumed that role as well.
Many members of the original cast boycotted the show, the press was not friendly..
For more information about this,