Joanna Pacitti, the young girl chosen to play the title role in Annie in a 1996 Macy's-sponsored contest, got some hard-knock news Aug. 20. As reported by the New York Post (Aug. 21), Philadelphia federal court judge James Giles ruled that Pacitti doesn't deserve recompense from Macy's, even though she was fired on the road and replaced by Brittny Kissinger when Martin Charnin's Annie revival came to Broadway in 1997.
"It is not like winning the `prize' of a new car for shooting a `hole in one' in golf," the judge was reported saying. "A Broadway role is not comparable to other contest awards."
Pacitti's manager, Patti Claffy, told Playbill On-Line (Aug. 21) that Pacitti's lawyers (Albert Oehrle and Joseph Claffy) are "studying the judge's opinion and attempting to understand his reasoning. The legal team, which includes the two lawyers plus volunteers from Yale University and University of Pennsylvania, feel the case has merit and will appeal within 30 days."
Claffy also said, "The questions in this case are: 1) was it a contest? 2) what was promised through the advertising and publicity that Macy's carried out to attract young girls to the audition? I believe Joanna has the right to be heard by a jury on these issues."
Pacitti's own statement included the following: "I don't really understand the legal matters...I want to continue to fight so that no other child has to go through this..." Though Pacitti, now 13, hasn't had a high-profile New York role since Annie, she did appear in the Off-Broadway revue, The Broadway Kids Sing Broadway. She also starred as Annie in a production at the North Carolina Theatre, where she'll star in The Secret Garden Sept. 11-20 opposite Craig Schulman (taking a leave from playing Jean Valjean in Broadway's Les Miserables).
Also, Pacitti will appear Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Las Vegas as the international spokesperson for Dupont Lycra.
Here's the Annie/ Pacitti backstory:
Back in 1996, Macy's and the producers of a Broadway-bound Annie tour held a 50-city search for a young lady to play the lead. Philadelphia native Pacitti won but was replaced after 106 performances on the road by understudy Brittny Kissinger, who went on to do the redheaded role in New York.
Pacitti -- dubbed "Little Ousted Annie" in the tabloids -- and her family filed a lawsuit against the sponsoring department store, charging them with reneging on the contest prize: starring in Annie on Broadway. The production asserted that the competition was not a contest, and that producers retain the right to fire cast members if they don't work out. A motion to dismiss the case had been denied by the court.
To capitalize on interest in the trial, Pacitti released a cassette and CD single of Annie's signature tune, "Tomorrow."
Asked at the time how friends treated her during the weeks following her dismissal, Pacitti said they told her they were sorry about what happened. "They gave me a lot of sympathy and support. But they also said, `one door closes and another door opens.' And now I really believe things happen for a reason."