Little Ousted Annie Files Suit

News   Little Ousted Annie Files Suit
 
Annie is a sweet family musical, yet for weeks the Broadway-bound revival show made headlines over the decision to replace the young actress playing the title character. Now, the little ousted Annie, 12-year-old Joanna Pacitti, has filed a lawsuit, not against the producers of the musical, but against Macy's department store.

Annie is a sweet family musical, yet for weeks the Broadway-bound revival show made headlines over the decision to replace the young actress playing the title character. Now, the little ousted Annie, 12-year-old Joanna Pacitti, has filed a lawsuit, not against the producers of the musical, but against Macy's department store.

The show, which stars Brittny Kissinger as Annie, Nell Carter as Miss Hannigan and Conrad John Schuck as Daddy Warbucks, is scheduled to open March 26.

An 11-page brief filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, PA, by Pacitti's lawyer, Albert C. Oehrle, alleges that Macy's conducted a contest to find the new Broadway Annie, which made the summer 1996 audition for young actresses different from a typical producers' casting call. The lawuit doesn't specify a figure for compensation but does ask for more than the standard compensation that might be gotten from arbitration.

Macy's spokesperson, Ronnie Taffet, faxed Playbill On-Line the organization's one-paragraph official response to the suit: "Macy's had and continues to have no involvement in the production of the show Annie and no involvement in the decision to terminate Joanna. We can confirm that we have received a summons and complaint. We don't believe there is a factual or legal basis for the causes of actuion. We will vigorously defend this action, and we cannot comment further because the case is in litigation."

The Complaint, filed by Pacitti's parents on her behalf, reads: "The Official Application invited girls between the ages of 7 and 12 to compete at one day auditions in June at Macy's stores...for the right to become the regional "finalist" for the "Annie-Off Final Callback" on August 8, 1996." Girls at these five regional auditions were asked to sing either "Happy Birthday" or "Tomorrow." (A copy of the Application has been marked "Exhibit A;" the Official Rules are now "Exhibit B.") Pacitti auditioned in King of Prussia, PA (the Macy's outlet specifically mentioned in the suit) and made the semi-finals, Aug. 7, 1996, held in NYC. She made the finals and was adviced Aug. 8 that she would be "Broadway's New Annie'."

As winner of the alleged "contest," Pacitti was told she would star in "the 20th Anniversary Broadawy production and national tour of the 20th Anniversary Annie" -- an announcement that received international press coverage and media attention.

Pacitti then played the role on tour from Nov. 1996 through Feb. 23, 1997 logging some 100 performances in Houston, St. Paul, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston and Hershey, PA. The lawsuit alleges that despite "receiving favorable reviews wherever she appeared," Pacitti received a letter from general manager Marvin A. Krauss reading that "your services will no longer be needed."

On March 7, Pacitti's lawyer demanded, in writing, that Macy's honor its "contract"; to date they have not responded. "Notwithstanding that there were producers of Annie making decisions concerning the production," reads the lawsuit, "Macy's itself was an entity of such power and influence...it had the power and control to have the winner of the competition star as Annie on Broadway." The lawsuit faults Macy's for stepping out of the Annie process once the auditions were over and not letting the contest winner know they would do so. Because of Macy's "fraudulent misrepresentations" in this matter, Pacitti is asking for all the "benefits" she would have gotten were she still in the show.

The lawsuit also asserts that Pacitti "sustained substantial injury and loss, including loss of her good name and reputation...professional prestige and renown and future earnings," which caused the young actress "emotional distress" marked by "headaches, sleeplessness" and other like disorders caused by "the intentional influction of emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment." Pacitti expects to incur "significant expenditures" for medically treating these ailments.

Gail Parenteau, spokesperson for Pacitti, told Playbill On-Line, "I applaud this little girl and her family for standing up for themselves. It's a major good lesson for American daughters."

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As for the 20th anniversary revival, previews began March 14 for its Broadway opening March 26.

Production spokesperson Alice Herrick praised the cast of young "orphans" for following director Martin Charnin's advice so closely. "He warned them to protect their voices and larynxes because of the cold weather, so they're all going around town wearing scarves. They're really obeying the rules."

This revival of Annie opened at Houston's Theatre Under The Stars Nov. 29, 1996. Set in New York City, 1933, Annie tells of an 11-year-old foundling left in the care of villainous Miss Hannigan. When rich Daddy Warbucks decides to entertain a child for the holidays, he grows to love Annie and wants to adopt her permanently -- but Annie still believes her parents will come back for her one day.

Songs, with lyrics by Charnin and music by Strouse, include "Tomorrow," "It's The Hard-Knock Life," "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile," "I Don't Need Anything But You," "Little Girls," and the title number. Thomas Meehan wrote the book, Peter Gennaro supplies the choreography.

The revival also stars Nell Carter as Miss Hannigan and Conrad John Schuck as Warbucks. Other cast members include Colleen Dunn (Grace), Jim Ryan (Rooster), Karen Byers-Blackwell (Lily) and Raymond Thorne (FDR). Thorne played Roosevelt in Annie's original Broadway production.

Annie is now being played by 8-year-old Brittny [sic] Kissinger, replacing Pacitti. Kissinger had been playing a character named "July."

Other cast members include Christiana Anbri (Molly), Cassidy Ladden (Pepper), Mekenzie Rosen-Stone (Duffy), Lyndsey Watkins (Tessie), Melissa O'Malley (Kate), Michael E. Gold (Bundles), Brad Wills, Tom Treadwell, Sutton Foster, Drew Taylor, Barbara Tirrell, MichaelJohn [sic] McGann, Elizabeth Richmond, Kelley Swaim and Jennifer L. Neuland.

Spokesperson Peter Cromarty told Playbill On-Line that Sandy, the dog, is now played by Cyndi Lou, with original pooch Zappa demoted to understudy. "The change [of Sandys] happened weeks ago," Cromarty said. Asked if Zappa had a statement, Cromarty replied, "Arf."

Charnin began his Broadway career playing Big Deal in West Side Story; Strouse composed for Bye Bye Birdie, Applause, Dance A Little Closer, Rags and Nick And Nora. Meehan's first show was, in fact, Annie.

For tickets ($55-$75) and information on the Broadway Annie revival, call (212) 239-6200. You can also order tickets on Playbill On-Line.

Evening curtain times will be 7:30 PM to make the show more "family-friendly."

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Here's the backstory of "Little Ousted Annie" --
Pacitti went on network TV Feb. 27 and 28 threatening to sue the production for up to $50 million because she'd been dismissed and replaced by her understudy.

"It split my heart in two," Pacitti told the hosts of ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" Feb. 28. She said the nationwide search in 1996 amounted to a contest, and she either wants her prize -- the lead in Annie -- or compensation. She said her parents are planning to sue for between $10 million and $50 million.

The producers say Pacitti was cast through a "search", and as such can be replaced like any other performer who is not working out.

Broadway's original Annie, Andrea McArdle, sided with Pacitti, and told "Good Morning America" that she will boycott the opening night in protest.

A Feb. 27 broadcast of ABC-TV's "Turning Point" program, which aired an hour-long documentary on Annie's Annie search, updated their story with these comments from Pacitti: "I just don't want this to happen to anybody else, to any other little girl. Becase I know it is hard to get through, and it breaks your heart, and mine's split in half right now. It's not gonna be me coming down the stairs in my Annie dress and my red wig."

Pacitti starts to cry, and then continues, "I'm a lot like Annie `cause I keep my chin up... Out of a hundred shows or more, I've got a standing ovation every single time, and if you went to the six cities that I went to, I think that they'll remember me as the real Annie."

Pacitti cries again, and then says, "It's just hard to think that it's not going to be me, and it's really heartbreaking. I just gotta try and remember that I'm the real Annie, and [the] sun will come out tomorrow."

For his part, Pacitti family lawyer Albert Oehrle said, "They can't do this to a 12-year-old kid and exploit her...by promising her that she would be Broadway's new Annie, and then taking that prize out from under her just like that. I am outraged by it. How anybody would have the heart to take a kid who's so great as this girl is and tell her that she couldn't have the prize that she has won is incomprehensible..."

Of the suit, Oherle said, "The premise of the litigation will be that Joanna participated in a contest...run in a way to achieve publicity for the production. She won the contest, and the prize for the contest was that she was going to be Broadway's new Annie, and that prize has been snatched away from her by the decision of the producers..."

In a statement released to Playbill On-Line by the producers, Timothy Childs wrote, "It turned out the actress and the part never came together the way we felt they needed to." Fellow producer Rodger Hess said, "This has to be the hardest decision I have made in 20 years of theatre producing."

A source told the New York Post that Pacitti, at age 12, may also have grown out of the role.

Ironically, the original Annie of the original 1976 production at Goodspeed Opera House was fired as well. The Goodspeed Annie, Kristen Vigard, was replaced for Broadway by McArdle, who originally was cast as Pepper, one of the supporting orphans. McArdle went on to be nominated for the Tony Award in the role. Vigard was later hired by Charnin for his musical I Remember Mama -- but then released from that production as well.

Dorothy Loudon, the original -- and Tony-winning -- villainess of the show, Miss Hannigan, lived through the similar Annie crisis at the Goodspeed 20 years ago but told Playbill On-Line, "That wasn't quite the same because it was done in rehearsals; we hadn't gone anywhere yet. The little girl was wonderful but she really grew up. And the Pacitti thing wouldn't have been so bad if they'd made the switch earlier, when the show was really on the road. Why did it take so long for them (the producers) to find out they weren't pleased? They've been doing this for months."

Loudon, just coming off 11 months in the Chicago Show Boat and a weeklong stint in Encores!' Sweet Adeline, said she felt "terrible" for Pacitti: "When someone's let go, it's every actor's nightmare. It's never happened to me, thank God, but she [Pacitti] must be shattered. It's a terrible age to have that happen to her."

Despite the brickbats now being hurled at Director Martin Charnin, Loudon's memories are glowing: "He was wonderful, marvelous with those children. I remember one time Andrea [McArdle] was upset and crying. He put her on his lap, talked to her, soothed her and calmed her down."

See how other Playbill On-Line readers reacted to the firing? Read Playbill Poll: Your Views on the Annie Firing in Theatre News.

The casting change is especially ironic in light of the Turning Point documentary about the casting of Annie, with Pacitti beating more than 2000 hopefuls chosen in a nationwide search. One can look for clues to author/director Martin Charnin's dissatisfaction with the applicants from the ABC-TV transcript. With one day left to announce the new Annie to the press, Charnin spoke with his colleagues, including composer, Charles Strouse. At first he seems against those who have auditioned, then abruptly seems to change his mind:

CHARNIN: Gentlemen, it has to be today.
STROUSE: We have to decide now.
ROGER: We've spent 2 1/2 months, we've seen hundreds and hundreds of girls.
STROUSE: The Annie lookalike does everything.
CHARNIN: The Annie lookalike is great but -- she's a mimic, not an actor.
WOMAN: She's done it before.
CHARNIN: She's done it, but...she gives you back nothing.
STEVE: This is not because I'm the musical director, but they've been shrieking at me, I've been shrieked at. I think their acting was atrocious, I think there were better girls on the street.
CHARNIN: On the street, yes. I'm fine with there being another girl, but where is she? She's not here today. No, that's wrong. That's quitting, and I refuse to quit. This girl is great.

It has been a winter for firings and leave-takings on and off Broadway, from Jon Lovitz leaving Psychopathia Sexualis to Mercedes Ruehl bowing out of Good As New. Scott Wise was let go from Dream, Michael McGrath rolled out of Once Upon A Mattress, Caroline Seymour left Present Laughter, Julie Andrews took a month vacation from Victor/Victoria, then her sub, Liza Minnelli, missed most of her last week in the show due to illness, and Rob Becker left his own solo show, Defending The Caveman.

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