For Arielle Tepper Madover, producing Annie was a labor of love and a great philanthropic opportunity. “Annie is my favorite show in the world – it was the first Broadway show I ever saw,” says the Tony Award-winning producer. She was eight years old when her grandmother took her to see the original production, and she got hooked on the theater immediately. Then, somewhere between her freshman and sophomore year in college, she decided that she was going to pursue a career in the producing end of the business. She resolved at that time, Madover recalls, that one day she would bring the beloved musical about the little orphan girl and her dog back to Broadway. When she eventually made the commitment to produce the show two and a half years ago, she decided to also make it a philanthropic mission as well. “I didn’t want it to be just a revival,” she explains. “It was very important to me that we worked with the themes of the show – foster care, adoption and rescue dogs. It was such a great opportunity because 35 years ago people didn’t talk about these things the way they do now, so I thought we should really take advantage and put it out there.”
Annie’s association with rescue dogs dates back to 1976, one year before the musical became a hit on Broadway. William Berloni, at the time a 19-year-old technical apprentice at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House where Annie had its world premiere, was tasked with finding and training a sandy-colored dog to play the role of Annie’s faithful companion. With no budget to spend and no previous experience, Berloni found his first Sandy at a local animal shelter. “I had never been to a shelter before and I was profoundly moved,” he reports. “That day I made a promise to myself that when I grow up and if I ever get a dog, I’m going to rescue one.” That promise would become Berloni’s life mission. Today he is one of the best-known animal trainers in show business; he received a Tony Honor for Excellence two years ago for humanely giving animals the spotlight on the Broadway stage. Nearly all Berloni’s four-legged actors are rescued, and that holds true for the numerous Sandys he has trained over the years, including the canine star and understudy for the 35th anniversary production of Annie. “He ended up finding two dogs that were in kill shelters,” Madover reports. “They would have been killed within 24 hours had we not found them. We literally saved their lives.” Honoring the long-time commitment to using only rescue animals for Annie, the current revival has an arrangement with the Pedigree Brand which, through the Pedigree Foundation, will donate $2 dollars from every ticket sold, up to $1 million, towards helping rescue shelters. “Every dog deserves to be a star,” proclaims the organization, which is dedicated to providing loving homes for animals.
Madover explains that Annie ticket buyers will receive an email before the performance to thank them for their support for the show and to inform them of the various charitable causes promoted by the production. In addition to Pedigree, Annie also has a partnership with Pajama Program, a not-for-profit organization that donates new pajamas and new books to homeless children. “We felt it was something that kids could connect to when they came to the show,” says Madover. “It is something very tangible – a kid not having pajamas or books. Every kid loves their pajamas, and it is something a parent could explain to their child.” A collection box will be maintained at the Palace Theatre so audience members may bring in their own contributions of new pajamas and books when they come to see the show. Donors will get their names added to Pajama Program’s “Better Bedtimes, Brighter Tomorrows,” honor roll. Furthermore, as a counter to Lil’ Orphan Annie and her friends’ traumatic experience in the orphanage under the evil Miss Hannigan, Annie also is partnering with The New York Foundling, an extensive network of community-based services that provide havens for children whose safety is at risk, loving foster and group facilities to protect children, and support for families to strengthen them.
“It’s also been important for me to assist in education,” says Madover, describing yet another project linked to her production of Annie. Together with New York City’s Public television outlet WNET, Madover has set up the “Annie on Broadway Education Initiative”, which will provide a new study guide for the musical as well as free games and interactive content for young audiences. “So even 30 years from now if you are doing Annie in your school, which I imagine people will continue to do, you can use this content and the guide,” she explains. Additionally, WNET is producing a behind-the-scenes documentary, slated for airing on public television stations early next year, about the making of the musical number “It’s a Hard Knock Life.”
“I thought it was really important to give something back, especially since our production is about a little girl looking to find a home,” Madover asserts passionately. “As a parent of three kids, I can’t even imagine this not being part of what we should be doing.”
By Gerard Raymond