11-year-old unveiled as Broadway's newest 'Annie'

NEW YORK (AP) — Broadway's newest Annie is an 11-year-old from Los Angeles with long, black curly hair who is already a Broadway veteran.

Lilla Crawford was unveiled Friday as the girl slated to play the title role in a fall revival of the Tony Award-winning musical "Annie."

"I'm not nervous, but I am definitely so excited to start the whole process," Crawford said in an interview. "It's going to be so fun."

Crawford, who has performed in more than a dozen shows with the Youth Academy of Dramatic Arts in her native Los Angeles, made her Broadway debut in 2011 playing Debbie in the closing cast of "Billy Elliot." That experience will help as she adjusts to the star's dressing room.

"I kind of know what's coming but it's going to be exciting and new because I'm going to be part of the original cast," she said. "It's definitely going to be exciting. That's one thing I know for sure."

The musical is the heartwarming tale of the Depression-era orphan girl who finds happiness with a grouchy millionaire and a lovable dog.

Crawford, who has been in a community theater production of "Annie," beat out over 5,000 other little girls to play Annie during a coast-to-coast search that spanned nine months. After her initial audition in New York she had five or six callbacks, the final one with a dozen girls.

"I'm incredibly proud of her," said Crawford's mother, AnneMerie Donoghue. "I'm in awe of her. She comes from a different planet from me. It's the Talented and Gifted Planet."

The musical, which features music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, will be directed by three-time Tony winner James Lapine and choreographed by Tony winner Andy Blankenbuehler.

Based on the beloved comic strip that debuted in 1924, "Annie" first opened on Broadway in 1977 and ran for almost six years, fueled by songs including "It's the Hard-Knock Life" and "Tomorrow." A film version was released in 1982 with Aileen Quinn playing the star and a TV version came out in 1999 starring Alicia Morton.

For the 20th-anniversary Broadway production in 1997, a nationwide search for Annie netted Joanna Pacitti. But she was later replaced by her understudy, Brittny Kissinger. Other actresses who have had their start in "Annie" include Sarah Jessica Parker, Molly Ringwald and Sutton Foster.

Crawford's manager broke the news of her casting during an elaborate ruse in which he lured her and her mother to his office under the pretense of signing a contract, a story that changed to doing promotional work for a company that included a mock interview about dogs. One of the last questions was: How does it feel to play "Annie" on Broadway?

"It was a very creative idea," she said.

Crawford said all she wanted was to be part of the revival — not necessarily the star — when she first heard about it. "I just wanted to be someone, maybe even a swing," she said. "And then I just started to constantly read for 'Annie.'"

All she knows for certain is she's exactly where she should be.

"For as long as I can remember, I just knew that I was going to be on the stage. I don't know how that happened but I just always knew that," she said. "I would love to do more theater. I would love to do TV, I would love to do movies, I would love to do commercials. As long as I stay in the performing arts zone I'm happy."




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