Molly Beth Blanchard nails lead in Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of ‘Annie’

"Sunshine attitude' won lead role

It was Molly Beth Blanchard’s sunshine attitude that snagged her the lead role in Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of “Annie.”

“We chose Molly Beth partly because she’s already a wonderful triple threat — she’s a great singer, dancer and actor,” says director Jenny Ballard.

The competition was tough. More than 100 girls wanted the role.

“But we also chose her because she’s so nice. She’s not a diva. She’s always trying to help the other actors on stage, and no matter how tired she is, you will always see a smile on her face. She leaves here, goes home and works hard and comes back here ready to work again, always with a smile,” Ballard says.

The 12-year-old’s role has a lot of challenges. There are lines, songs and dances, and a cast of 18 youngsters and 10 adults to work with.

Then there’s Khayenne, the dog that plays Sandy. So add dog training signals and commands to Blanchard’s to-do list.

“But it’s been fun,” says Blanchard. “We don’t have a dog at home, but now we’re talking seriously about it.”

“Annie,” with musical direction by Jason Bayle and choreography by Mary Bayle, opens on Friday on the theater’s Main Stage.

“Khayenne has taken direction like a pro,” director Ballard says.

That’s because Khayenne is a pro.

Anyone who has attended Runnels’ community theater productions will recognize Khayenne and her owner, John Runnels, from their roles in “Hello Dolly” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“John will be playing Lt. Ward in ‘Annie,’” Ballard says.

For Blanchard, “Annie” is a dream role.

She’s been in the play before, as the smallest of the story’s orphans, Molly, in Ascension Community Theatre’s 2011 production. She learned all the songs in that show, along with some of Annie’s lines.

“I still remembered Annie’s lines when I came to this play,” Blanchard says. “When I learned last summer that they were going to do ‘Annie’ here, I started making plans to try out.”

Chip Davis plays Annie’s benefactor, the wealthy Daddy Warbucks, and Dana Lux is Annie’s nemesis, Miss Hannigan, who runs the orphanage.

“I’ve been very fortunate through the years in that I’ve been able to play all the ingenue roles,” Lux says. “But Miss Hannigan is the bad guy, and there’s something liberating about playing the bad guy. We staged a full production of ‘Annie’ when I was teaching at Parkview Baptist years ago, and I wanted to play Miss Hannigan then. But I was too young for the role. Now I get to play her.”

Lux gets to be as scheming and over-the-top as she likes. But the Warbucks role is different for Davis, because his is the story’s transitional character.

“He starts out strict and hard, then he transitions into a softie,” Davis says. “His whole world is money at the beginning, but Annie changes that.”

  • CAST: Molly Beth Blanchard, Annie; Kennedy Benjamin, Duffy; Gwen Roland, Pepper; Kerrington Griffin, July; Susie Lucas, Tessie; Ginny Moore, Kate; Addie Prochaska, Molly; Orphan Chorus — Katherine Andreeff, Grace Scoggins, Trystan Seeling, Hannah Bourgeois, Sadie Fontenot, Ella Dupre, Kolby Griffin, Anna Deshotels, Abigail Kennedy; Dana Lux, Miss Hannigan; Lauren Regner, Lily St. Regis; Chip Davis; Oliver Warbucks; Jennifer Gomez, Grace Farrell; Cole Roland, Drake; Mathilde Bergeron, Mrs Pugh; Gabrielle Eaves, Ms. Greer; Steve Lalande, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bundles McCloskey; Haley Schroeck, Perkins, Connie; Melissa Seidule, Hull, Ronnie; Linden Utey, Morganthau, Bonnie; Tony Collins, Bert Healy; Katherine Andreeff, Star to Be; John Runnels, Lt. Ward; Khayenne, Sandy; Boys’ Chorus — Grace Scoggins, Trystan Seeling, Hannah Bourgeois, Sadie Fontenot, Ella Dupre, Kolby Griffin, Abigail Kennedy; Adult Chorus — Tony Collins. Cole Roland, Steve Lalande, Haley Schroeck, Linden Utey, Katharine Andreeff, Anna Deshotels, Melissa Seidule.
  • ARTISTIC STAFF: Jenny Ballard, director; Jason Bayle, music director; Mary Bayle, choreographer.