National star joins ‘Annie’ cast


By Patricia Ann Speelman - AIM Media



VERSAILLES — When the popular Versailles community theater troupe, Towne & Country Players, presents the musical, “Annie,” in July, the cast will include a guest artist who has played her role in more than 300 theaters all across the country.

Macy is a furry, four-legged actor who will portray the dog, Sandy, in Versailles following her performances in a three-year national tour of the beloved show.

A seven-year-old, all-American mutt, Macy will stop in Versailles just before she takes on a new role in an upcoming off-Broadway play, “Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday,” at the famed Playwrights Horizons in New York City.

It was “Annie’s” assistant director, Ken DeMange, who decided that Towne & Country should hire a “professional” to play Sandy.

“Even your best pets can be unpredictable, especially when it’s onstage in bright lights with a loud orchestra and 450 people in the audience clapping,” he said. “There’s a fear that it wouldn’t go where you want it to go, and we’re concerned about the safety of our cast and the safety of the audience.”

So DeMange went to the Internet to look for experienced Sandies. What he found was Theatrical Animals and its Tony Award-winning owner and trainer, William Berloni.

Berloni readied the original Sandy 40 years ago for the production of “Annie” that got its start at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut and moved to Broadway in 1977. She was a rescue dog and Berloni has used rescue dogs exclusively ever since for appearances in dozens of plays and musicals on Broadway and off-Broadway and in regional theaters, little theaters, movies, television programs and ads.

“I was 19 when I was at Goodspeed. When I went looking for Sandy, I had no idea what shelters looked like. I always said, when I rescued Sandy, if I needed another dog, I’d rescue another one. When (“Annie”) went to Broadway, I needed an understudy. It was a rescue dog. I made a promise to Sandy. I’m keeping that promise,” he said.

Macy will be in Versailles for 13 days, including five performances, July 13-16, in the Versailles Performing Arts Center.

To raise funds to cover the dog’s fee and travel expenses, DeMange has been looking for five daily sponsors who will each donate $700 to advertise at individual performances.

“We want people to be aware of what rescue dogs can do,” he said. The Darke County Humane Society will be in the lobby to distribute information about pet adoptions.

Berloni finds his dogs all over, acquires them and keeps them on his farm in Haddam, Connecticut.

“It takes so long to train,” he said, in explaining why he owns the animals. Currently, he has 34 dogs — four are working right now — and cats, pigs, sheep, birds and others. Handlers travel with the animals and train the two-legged actors to bond with the four-legged ones. Some of them come from shelters near the farm. Others don’t.

He searches for animals on the Internet and visits them in their shelters to assess their temperaments.

“It’s nice when they’re close and not so nice when they’re an expensive plane ride away,” he said. He’s pleased that Macy, a native of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and one of just three dogs playing Sandy professionally in the U.S. today, will join the company in Versailles.

“It will be wonderful. It will bring attention to animal welfare,” Berloni said.

In Versailles, Macy will perform with one of the largest “Annie” casts ever. There are 77 people in the show, including 41 children.

“It’s our largest cast in the last four years,” DeMange said.

Macy and her handler, Mel Rocco, will meet with Brynn Briscoe, 12, who plays Annie, twice a day for a week.

“We have to bond the dog and the girl,” Berloni said. Brynn, daughter of Jackie and Jared Briscoe, of Versailles, must become Macy’s trainer in order to give her the right cues onstage.

“You can’t have a trainer in the wings and a dog looking there (for cues),” Berloni added. The cast also has to adapt its movements onstage, known as blocking, to fit what Macy already knows. Even though the arrangement of the scenery and the shape of the stage may be different from what Macy has been used to on the national tour, Berloni said the physical space won’t affect her.

“The place won’t throw her off, but an Annie who doesn’t give the right cues will,” he said.

Between performances, Macy will take it easy. She’ll “chill,” Berloni noted, in order to preserve energy and minimize the risk of injury.

Information about tickets to “Annie” is available at www.towneandcountryplayers.com; however, at press time, there were very few tickets still available.

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By Patricia Ann Speelman

AIM Media