The musical “Annie” is brimming with enough optimism to help FDR fight the Great Depression. The show’s message is the same one Churchill turned into a three-word university commencement speech just after World War II: “Never give up!” And that is very much the message of the newly optimistic Bijou Theater Center, where “Annie” opens March 28 for performances through April 27.
This show about hope for tomorrow is the final season ticket selection of the Bijou’s new 2002-2003 Music Theater Series. As Bijou management prepares to announce its 2003-2004 season, the musical about hope, tenacity and the importance of family underlines the Bijou’s own continuing challenge, and optimistic pursuit of success.
“When we came to the Bijou, it was 6 months and $40,000 behind on its mortgage, and faced nearly $100,000 in back bills from 2000 and 2001,” recalls Associate Producer Lar’Juanette Williams, who is directing “Annie.” “Customer and supporter lists were small and fragmented, and our business and ticketing computers were dying. We’re still digging out of debt, but we had the incredible, previously underused asset of a magnificent, world-class theater. And we’ve been blessed with a versatile, dedicated new staff, optimistic and supportive Board Members, loyal corporate sponsors, creative co-producing companies, plus a strong and growing Bijou family of volunteers, season ticket and contributing members, and talented East Tennessee professionals.”
The Bijou staff’s versatility is on display in the cast of “Annie,” which features Autry Davis as lonely billionaire Daddy Warbucks, following up on his success in “Dreamgirls” as Marty, and portrayal of George Washington Carver in the Bijou’s youth touring project, “Peanutman.” Davis also supervises the Bijou ushers and customer service as House and Schedule Manager.
Mean Miss Hannigan, the arch-villainess, is played by KATC award nominee Drey Herron, who was featured in the Bijou production of “Joseph,” and freelanced as assistant choreographer for “Dreamgirls.” “Joseph” villainess LeeAnn Dixon, who played Potophar’s evil wife, is now Warbucks’ wise and loving assistant (and Annie’s surrogate mom), Grace Farrell. Other area professionals on the project include choreographer Gwendolyn Johnson-Delaney, and Musical Director Travetta Johnson.
The “Annie” villains, con-man and con-moll Rooster and Lily, are played by leading Knoxville performance poet/actor Stephen “Seed” Lynn and staff Education Director Leigh Alison Price. By day, “Seed”oversees Bijou data and computers, while Leigh Alison supervises, staffs, and teaches for the Bijou Theater Academy’s diverse classes. They are joined by staff bookkeeper (and tenor) Michael Brown, as golden-voiced radio host Bert Healy of the “Hour of Smiles.”
The role of “Annie,” herself is shared by three, talented, young actresses, Kara Sizemore, Abby Wegman, and Alaina Woodall. Leading orphans include Katie Bland, Stacia Carter, Hillary Dziminski, Christian Frith, Lucy Hall, Carly Hammonds, Ashley Howard, Blake Humphrey, Caitlin Kennedy, Lora Platner, Marcy Weber, and Gracie Weber. Sandy, Annie’s furry fun-loving companion, will be played by Cody, a special Golden retriever that cares for a little girl with Spina Bifida that the family adopted from the Heartland Golden Rescue Society. Two companies of over 20 ensemble orphans are on hand to cheer on Annie and Sandy, and celebrate Miss Hannigan’s eventual comeuppance. Schools represented include Webb School, Christian Academy of Knoxville, Clinton High School, West Hills Elementary, Bearden Middle School, Beaumont Elementary, Bearden High School, Woodland Elementary in Oak Ridge and from Seymour Intermediate School 3rd grader Salina Haynes and 4th grader Isaac Haynes. The Bijou’s run of “Annie” is divided into two sections, from March 28 through April 5, and it reopens April 23 through 27. “We try to work our own programming around that of other companies, and like Knoxville Symphony and Knoxville Opera, which call the Bijou home for select events,” notes Bijou Executive Jim Crabtree. “We’re pleased to host the Opera’s Rossini Festival production of Lucia di Lammermoor in between the two legs of ‘Annie.’”
Special low-priced school matinee performances of “Annie” are available. Tickets and information are available at the Bijou at (865) 522-0832, or toll-free at 1-877-868-8710 via Cumberland Playhouse Ticketing.

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