'Annie' Audition Brings Out the Dogs

Auditions at Madison Square Garden focus on a walk-on role in a revival of Annie. The character? A stray dog. And no, it's not for the alpha male role of Sandy.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This past week auditions were held for a part in the recently revived musical Annie. A crowd gathered at New York's Madison Square Garden to vie for a small walk-on role, the stray dog. NPR's Diantha Parker sent this audio postcard.

(Soundbite of crowd)

DIANTHA PARKER: Many more humans than dogs are milling in the lobby here, where a giant cardboard bone that reads Annie confirms we're in the right place. As does the fact that everyone holding a leash wants some press. Beth Newtson(ph) has brought Riff, a dishwasher blonde Terrier.

Ms. BETH NEWTSON (Dog Owner): She's done a film for doga, which is dog yoga. And she's also modeled for a cashmere clothing line for dogs.

PARKER: Newtson has three dogs and three cats in showbiz. But today she and other owners are heading for disappointment. This audition is only open to dogs from shelters, because of their kinship with Annie the orphan. And just to be clear, they are not up for the leading dog role of Sandy, Annie's famous sidekick. Dog trainer and cast member Brian Hoffman explains.

Mr. BRIAN HOFFMAN (Dog Trainer, Cast Member, Annie): There is a dog catcher and he says something like, hey, I nabbed this mutt over by 14th Street, and the dog comes out in the dog cart. Everyone in the audience goes, awww; the dog catcher's cart goes offstage and then three seconds later Sandy comes on.

PARKER: In other words, this dog isn't wily enough to escape the dog catcher. Hoffman says it needs to be really mellow for the gig.

Mr. HOFFMAN: It's a backstage environment, so you've got set pieces flying, we've got children running off stage, running on stage, people changing costumes.

PARKER: M.C. Jane Hoffman coaxes the auditioning dogs onto a little platform.

Ms. JANE HOFFMAN (Audition M.C.): This is...

Unidentified Woman: Brownie.

Ms. HOFFMAN: ...Brownie. Brownie is, as you can tell, a beagle.

PARKER: Into the dog catcher cage.

Ms. HOFFMAN: Oh, and we're eating while we're moving.

PARKER: And poses them with a beaming Marissa O'Donnell, who plays Annie, suited up in the character's curly red wig, red dress and Mary Janes. Here is where several dogs suddenly ham it up, usually by licking her face.

Ms. HOFFMAN: Aw, there we go. See that, the star power; it brings it out in him.

PARKER: Finally, Annie and the trainers make their decision.

Ms. MARISSA O'DONNELL (Actress): I think we're going go with our walk-on role with Whiskey.

PARKER: Photographers descend on the new star, a blonde and white cocker spaniel from the Humane Society of New York.

Unidentified Man: (Whistles) Mr. Whiskey.

PARKER: The trainers say Whiskey's calm, just like they wanted, and his coat will show up nicely on a dark stage. They were tempted by a white puppy with a black ear, named Artichoke. But here Whiskey's advanced age of 10 was the clincher. He won't double in size by opening night, two months away. Diantha Parker, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

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