The winning dog was Parker, a 2-year-old golden retriever who gave Lake Worth Playhouse artistic director Dan Eilola a sniff during his audition for the role of Sandy. At right is Reese Lores, 11, one of two actresses who will play Annie in the musical. Seated are stage manager Lara Palmer and Andrea Gershbein, Reese’s mother. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Larry Keller
This was no cattle call, but a canine casting search at the Lake Worth Playhouse.
The March 8 audition was for the role of Sandy, Little Orphan Annie’s dog in the musical Annie. Only four animal aspirants vied for the job.
The play’s timing is notable. The Lake Worth Playhouse opened in 1924 as a movie theater — the same year that the comic strip Little Orphan Annie debuted. The first performance of Annie on Broadway wasn’t until 1977.
Now Annie is in local theater limbo with events at the playhouse suspended indefinitely because of the coronavirus. These are gloomy days coping with a pandemic, but Annie would have understood. She sang:
The sun’ll come out
So ya gotta hang on
Director Cathy Randazzo-Olsen and artistic director Daniel Eilola were seeking a midsize dog, preferably sandy-colored — to match the character’s name. And — in keeping with Sandy’s personality — a loner, yet friendly.
Randazzo-Olsen had the dogs’ owners demonstrate their pups’ aptitude to respond to a few hand signals that could be given offstage. And she tested them on their ability to respond to a voice command — “Come, Sandy” — because the dog needs to respond correctly when told by Annie to come to her.
Reese Lores, 11, of Palm Beach Gardens, one of two youngsters slated to play Annie, tried out the verbal command with each dog.
The first hopeful hound to audition went to Reese when called, then flopped at her feet for a belly rub. “She’s a people person and loves little girls,” her owner said. Clearly.
Next, a Bedlington terrier named Cha Cha responded to Reese’s command to come to her but walked past her — twice. And while Cha Cha was cute as a lamb and resembled one, the 3-year-old had neither the size nor coloring of Sandy.
The youngest candidate was Bailey, a 4½-month-old golden retriever owned by Randazzo-Olsen’s sister. Bailey was remarkably good at such a tender age, but would she be overwhelmed in a production with 20 adults and 17 children?
Then there was Parker, a 2-year-old golden retriever. With his tail wagging like a high-speed windshield wiper, he was already demanding star treatment, parading around the rehearsal room expecting and receiving a pat from each person there. His Lake Worth agent — um, owner — Mike Gantner watched.
After a couple of false starts, as well as brief foray out an open door to Lake Avenue — perhaps to sniff out paparazzi — Parker returned and came to Reese when she called him.
“I think Parker probably had the most personality,” Randazzo-Olsen said afterward. “We’d really have to work with him. I think he is our best bet.”
And so, Parker got the job.
The original theatrical Sandy missed only 14 of 2,377 performances on Broadway in a nearly six-year run that ended in 1983, his owner and trainer told The New York Times. He was hours away from being euthanized at an animal shelter when he was rescued and found his calling as a performing pooch. He lived to age 16.
Parker will have a far less arduous schedule if and when Annie is presented. Still it will be no walk in the dog park. With rehearsals and 15 actual performances during the play’s run — which had been planned for April 9-26 — he will be practicing and performing at the theater around 50 times, Randazzo-Olsen said.
That’s fine with Reese, who seemed to like all the dogs and approved of Parker as a co-star. “He’s not too crazy,” she said. “And he’s not lazy.”
As for those critters and their owners who didn’t make the cut: Well, there’s always Tomorrow.