CUTC selects top dogs for upcoming production of 'Annie'

CUTC selects top dogs for upcoming production of 'Annie'

CHAMPAIGN — The decision between the three actors was quick after Monday's audition at the Virginia Theatre.

Two actors showed they were well-controlled. They didn't make noise or distract from the stars of the show.

Although they both wandered off-stage aimlessly a few times during the audition, they calmed down quickly and didn't react adversely to cheering.

Luckily, none of the three had an accident on stage, which can be a problem for actors who play the role of Sandy, the blonde-colored dog in the play "Annie," which the Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company will put on in August.

"We decided that rather than choose one, we'll choose two and see how they respond," producer Todd Salen said just after the third and final finalist left.

Jodie Varner, a local dog trainer, put three golden-colored dogs through the paces on Monday, allowing them to walk on stage without a leash as the two actors who will play Annie, Noreen Adoni and understudy Kellyn Morber, called them, pet them and gave commands.

Nala, a curly-haired 5-year-old Golden Doodle who made the cut, calmly wandered around the stage before lying down next to the two actors.

Parasol, a 2-year-old Labrador and the other dog chosen, bounded onto the stage but calmed down quickly despite a few backstage jaunts. They also reacted well to the dozen or so people in the seats who cheered loudly on cue.

"The big thing is, did they warm up after a short amount of time?" Varner said. "Were they able to settle down? Were they able to listen to the girls and take some direction, or did they just stay amped up the whole time? There's a lot going on, so they have to be able to focus."

The most important criteria for choosing dogs, other than their sandy color, was their ability to stay calm and listen under pressure.

"A lot of people will do community theater, and they'll have animals be a part of it, and as they do it, it's kind of a joke, like 'Ha ha ha, that's a little dog, or that's a cat,'" Salen said. "We wanted this to be a real experience, like a Broadway experience, where the dogs are trained, where they act and they do what they're supposed to do and everyone enjoys it.

"The dogs are very important to the show, but the kids are still the stars. Annie's still got to sing, 'Tomorrow,' and not have the dog steal the show."

That goal may be hopeless, co-director Stephen Fiol knows, but if they're going to take the spotlight, they want them to do it for the right reasons.

"We just want them to be really cute," Fiol said. "Because dogs are going to steal the show — we all know that — but they will also make the show in a certain way."

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (2):Theater, Pets