Twelve-year-old Joanna Pacitti has been fired as the title character in Annie less than three weeks before the show was scheduled to start previews on Broadway.
Pacitti, who has been performing the role on tour, says that she won the role in a contest over 2000 other young actresses, and has the right to play it. The producers say she wasn't working out, and replaced her with her understudy. Please share your opinion of the situation. Does she have a right to the role? Did the producers have the right to fire her so close to the Broadway opening? Should she have special consideration because she is a child? How should the producers have handled the cast change?
Please e-mail your views to Playbill On-Line managing editor Robert Viagas at email@example.com. Answers will be posted as they come in.
Here is a selection of the results so far. Playbill On-Line thanks all who took the time to write.
From Ina Burwasser, Elkins Park, PA:
I was appalled at the firing of Joanna Pacitti as the "Annie' star for the following reasons:
1) After a great deal of national publicity, Joanna won the search to be the the "Annie" in the revival. Both she and her understudy who replaced her tried out for this part. If the producers didn't like Joanna, they had opportunity to make that known BEFORE the winner of the search was announced.
2) According to news reports, when Joanna was fired, she heard it by fax to her and her agent. How callous! Couldn't the producers have had the moxie to at least face her in person?
3) If Joanna were so good to win a search over 2000 other people, couldn't she still be used in the cast in some other capacity in the show (understudy or one of the orphans or use both Joanna and Brittny as interchangeable Annies)? What a waste of time, energy and effort all around to train Joanna and use her in 100 performances and then cast her out without a backward glance!
4) If she wasn't "working out", as the producers say, was she given a chance to improve or was she given feedback by the director? It seems that Joanna and the show were well-received by the critics and audiences.
5) I saw both Joanna and Brittny perform on ABC Turning Point and I believe that Joanna has the greater talent in both singing and acting. I thought Brittny's voice was reedy and not as strong and vibrant as Joanna's.
6) The timing was particularly cruel: it came just after the publicity of "Turning Point" featuring Joanna. (2/28/97)
I think Pacitti is acting like a spoiled brat. The producer says she wasn't working out, end of story. Now she's throwing a temper tantrum because SHE isn't going to be the next Annie. GET OVER IT!! move one with your life. If she's only 12 there will be plenty more opportunities for her to star on Broadway. Plus I don't think a 12 year old should portray Annie wasn't our red-haired friend supposed to be 8 or 9? I think Pacitti should move on and even if she gets compensation it shouldn't be overwhelming amounts of money. C'mon -- $50 million for not getting to wear the wig? (2/28/97)
I saw her [Joanna Pacitti's] last performance in Hershey, PA - (I also saw the understudy, who is now playing the title role, the Friday before) Joanna Pacitti is the definite choice for the title role. Her voice absolutely filled the theatre and Hershey Theatre is a huge house. Pacitti had an edge that the role of Annie necesitates, the understudy was almost too much much of an "actress". There was definite chemistry between the other cast members and Pacitti, there was an obvious change (for the better) when Pacitti took the stage. She was a great little performer the producers are most likely hurting themselves in the box office with all of this bad press. No bad wishes to the understudy, she has unfortunately been thrown in the midst of this ordeal. Thumbs down to those who ousted Ms. Pacitti - kudos to Andrea McArdle for taking a stand for the little girl. I guess ANNIE is an orphan after all. (2/28/97)
From Craig Byrd:
Re: LITTLE DUMPED ANNIE: Ms. Pacitti has now learned that [working in] the entertainment industry takes a tremendously strong ego. All decisions are based on completely emotional responses as opposed to practical responses. If she wasn't meeting the producers' expectations in the role, she should be replaced. After all, this isn't the first time an actor has been replaced in a play. Her only grounds for a lawsuit would be if she could prove that they fired her merely to reap the rewards of the publicity. I hope Pacitti grows up and her parents find another way to makes themselves rich that doesn't involve frivolous lawsuits. (2/28/97)
From Shala Donnelly:
I think that the whole situation is heartbreaking. I personally watched the broadcast of Turning Point last night (Feb. 27) and I was in tears just watching this poor little girl pouring her heart and soul into the role that she won and deserved. I think that she has been the victim to a cruel injustice and that she should be reinstated into the role that she won. (2/28/97)
Having been a director and directing "Annie" 3 times and "Annie Warbucks" myself and also having provided trained Sandy dogs to 50 productions of the show over the years, both local and professional, I can certainly understand the producers side. This is a business, especially when 7 million dollars is on the line. She was playing in the big leagues not local school shows. As for the standing ovations, I have seen the worst productions get ovations. "Annie" is a show that ends with happiness and is an upbeat show. The show itself will most times give a positive audience reaction.
My big complaint is how this was handled. The producers and directors are by no means amateur or new to their craft. This girl has ben doing the role since November. If she was'nt cutting it that should have been obvious months ago. Could it be that if they did replace her the whole "Turning Point" (free press) piece would have been not usable?? Also, the producers created this circus by the publicity stunt they pulled by getting MAcy's involved and turning into a contest and media point. It should have just been cast through the normal process without all the hype!!! (2/28/97)
From Jimmy Babcock (JABabcock@aol.com):
Pacitti's sun won't come out tomorrow...nor should it.
I have been following the revival production of ANNIE since I found out that Nell Carter was to play Miss Hannigan. (I was upset by that casting choice, but that isn't the point of this letter.)
Now I have a reason to be even more upset. My reason is not because Joanna Pacitti was fired, but because the Pacitti family is going to sue the producers.
I brought this subject up in one of the chatrooms on America On-Line last night and was horrified by how many people got mad at me because I thought that it was alright for her to get fired. I had some people get very angry at me, saying, "she is only a little girl, she didn't deserve to get fired."
If Pacitti (or anyone for this matter) can't act, or is starting to look too old for the part, obviously the producers need to make a decision in regards of what the best thing to do is. It is their show, not Joanna Pacitti's or even Andrea McArdle's. In this case the producers made a decision that was all for the best.
Which brings me to another point. Why in the world is Andrea McArdle boycotting the opening night performance in protest? To quote the article by david Lefkowitz and Peter Filichia, "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 Andrea McArdle, who originally was cast as Pepper, one of the supporting orphans." Had Vigard not been fired, then McArdle would not have been given the chance to play the lead role and thus would not have been nominated for a Tony. McArdle has no reason to be upset, except for the fact that she thought that Pacitti was the best person for the role.
And what is up with this crazy amount that the Pacitti family wants. They either want "her prize--the lead in ANNIE--or compensation." Is the compensation between $10 and $50 million!? Is that how much she would have been getting paid for her role? I don't think so. My words of advice to the Pacitti family, and their lawyer: Don't sue. You are not going to win...especially thinking you are going to get up to $50 million. (2/28/97)
From J.R. Smithwick (firstname.lastname@example.org):
This is a very intense situation, however, there are two sides to every story. From a producer's point, he did what he felt had to be done, but how can you put a price on a young girls "life."
It is not just the standing ovations, or how cute she is... Pacitti has won and then earned the right to play Annie on Broadway.
I saw this version, starring Pacitti three times when the tour stopped in St. Paul, Minnesota. I would give anything to see Miss Pacitti do it all over again on the big Broadway stage. Having never been given the opportunity to travel to New York, I can only immagine what the other stars are like, but I would be willing to lay down money that Pacitti could match their outstanding quality. I still cannot believe that their is this cold hearted of people in the show biz world. It is one thing to tell an adult that they aren't cutting it- but why ruin the life of a twelve-year old, who has been telling everyone she knows, that she is going to be on Broadway!!
I hope my idol, Rosie O'Donnell takes this story and runs with it!! (2/28/97)
From Darren Hales, Canada - New York:
Personally, I don't believe that there should be any consideration in regards to this girl being fired from "Annie". First of all, if I am not mistaken, the producers have the final say in EVERYTHING that is done in a production, considering that it is their money on that stage. I would much rather see a kid who can "act her way out of a paper bag" than seeing someone who won the role back because she is young and has a right to the role ("...because she won it in a Nationwide search").
I believe that the producers were much wiser to "fire" her completely, because I don't know of any one actor or actress who would take the back seat to their understudy and enjoy it, just because they weren't good enough. I think that if she had stayed on as understudy, we would have entered World War 3.
Directing shows myself, some small and some large, gives me a great perspective on this situation. As difficult as it is for all involved, there is no point in doing Broadway theatre in the style of a high school spring musical. If someone can't live up to the needs of the role (no matter how that person got the role), they shouldn't be there.
This may sound heartless, and I do believe that the producers made a big mistake in casting someone who "looked" like Annie, just because they were tired of seeing thousands of little girls; but I am sure that any smart producer has a clause that stipulates that the actors must be able to play the role, or be released from the contract.
This child, although broken-hearted, is a "Child" and at her age should be more concerned about growing up and learning to live in the "real world" than being the star of a Broadway musical. I am sure that it is in many kid's dreams, to be the star of a Broadway show, but what is the point if you miss the most important part of your life. Consider that most adults (after the age of about 30) spend the remainder of their lives trying to be young again. (2/28/97)
From D. Parker (Easton, PA):
I have been following this production from the moment it started its search and I find what the producers are doing absolutely appalling!! Ms. Pacitti has been cast as the new Annie and I believe she should perform this role until her contract expires. Yet, there are other complications. The producers say that Ms. Pacitti was hired through a Talent Search and may be replaced like any other performer. While Pacitti's attorney states that Ms. Pacitti won a Contest and that her prize granted to her is to be the new Broadway Annie. These are the legal aspects which the court will have to come to a conclusion with. I side with the the Pacitti's. I believe that the producers had no right to take the role away from her at all. Although she is getting paid her full contract, money is not the issue!!!!! The girl has gone from being discovered from over 2000 girls to touring and getting standing ovations and then being dumped with a snap of the fingers. I am sorry, but how cruel can someone be. They give a girl a dream, which is about to come true, and snatch it from her like it was nothing. I understand that the producers have a job to do and their trying to do it to the best of their abilities, but this is uncalled for. I think that Ms. Pacitti should be able to perform as the starring role in the new Broadway production. As like Ms. Andrea McArdle, I am boycotting this production. (2/28/97)
From Matthew Brantley:
Life is often beset with disappointments and it's tough to take such hard knocks at only 12 years old, but they don't call it show BUSINESS for nothing. If she wants to be part of the big time then she may as well accept the consequences. Adults get fired from shows all the time but they don't take their disappointments to court. This seems more like a disappointed $tage mother who is trying to milk the situation for all it is worth - and $50 million? Come on mom, get real. Yes, the producers could certainly have handled the situation better. Their questionable judgment undoubtedly made the disappointment even more difficult, but it is their money and they have the right to make these decisions. And boycotting the show because of this? Talk about cutting off your nose... Where are all the boycotters when adults get fired? The sad part is that rather than taking this disappointment and learning from it, the "poor little girl" has now effectively ended her own (her mom's?) career because what producer is going to want to hire her now? This is a ridiculous tempest in a teapot. (2/28/97)
Joanna is a far better singer than that other girl. Not to mention the fact that she's closer to Annie's age. If something wasn't right with her performance then the director should have told her about that when the show opened. Annie is my favorite musical and part of the reason I wanted to see the show was because of that little girl. She reminded me of Andrea McArdle who I love. I don't understand what is up with Andrea right now. Why is she going to boycott when she would never have been Annie if they hadn't of fired the first girl. I think she just wants her production of Annie to be remembered. And as far as I'm concerened the only real Annie is Andrea McArdle. But for this production I was so hyped to see Joanna. They should have let her open the show on Broadway and then released her from the show after a month or two. That would have been more fair. (2/28/97)
From Adam S. Bialow, Esq.:
What did her contract say? I would find it hard to believe that her contract did not have a provision which reserved the right of the Producer to replace the actress due to a good faith belief that she was not suited for the role. (2/28/97)
From Nicole Miller, Seattle:
It seems as if the producers are playing games with the public. The "Turning Point" story told of a show in desperate need for money. They charged for Turning Point's access to the story and generated publicity in the Annie search. By doing so, they created a passion within the public for the chosen little girl. She became Annie to everyone who saw the program, and generated a sympathy for her character without even seing the musical.
Now they are ripping her out, generating more sympathy. They let Joanna do all of the work in the pre-broadway tour - Did they just now figure out that she wasn't going to work? If she doesn't work, then they should have the right to give the other girl a chance at it. But this new little girl is going to have to work harder that she might have imagined to overcome the sympathy for Joanna, and thus may be less successful than Joanna. (2/28/97)
From Milton Demel:
I will be boycotting this show. This has the heartless smell of a publicity stunt by the producers. If they were having any kind of trouble with the little girl's performance- maybe it was due to the fact that the creative staff has done this show thousands and thousands of times. This leaving no room for a freshness to the role. Did you see the rehearsal snippets on Turning Point? They were teaching this girl to do a carbon copy of someone elses performance. No wonder when the understudy stepped in her performance seemed fresh. She didn't have all that nonsense the director was hammering into the other girl hanging over her head. (2/28/97)
That's showbiz kid. Might as well learn that now... (2/28/97)
Little Joanna has WON the title character. The producers decided that Joanna was the BEST actress for that role. How then, can the producers change their minds and take the award away from Joanna and give it to another girl who Joanna won the title character over in the first place? Did they just suddenly realize that someone else was better? So, after a few shows, are they going to fire this new girl because they again decided that someone else is better?
Just like any other contests - such as Miss America or Miss Universe - after the judges decides on a winner, it would be unethical to announce that they will be taking the crown away from the winner because they've suddenly realized that the 2nd runner up has the better talent. (2/28/97)
From Gary Dooley:
This is the cruelist thing I've ever heard of. . . from what I saw on the Turning Point broadcast the creative team seemed rushed to find a new Annie.... they had a deadline and in order to meet that deadline they picked a little girl who they obviously weren't too sure about. She should not have been fired. She was cast and she deserves to open the show on Broadway.
And if this is some kind of cheap publicity stunt to stir interest in the show and boost ticket sales (i.e. 'History Repeats Itself...Annie replaced Before Opening') I hope it backfires. (2/28/97)
I am really confused by what the producers did. I happen to fully support the idea of replacing the original Annie with the understudy if the understudy does a better job. Not only do I feel that the producers have a right to make this change, they indeed have an obligation to the paying public to provide the best "Annie" possible.
What I cannot understand is why the producers didn't simply swap roles for the two actresses. To outright fire Joanna Pacitti seems unusually harsh and the resulting negative publicity can do nothing except provide sympathy for her situation. With all the media coverage of the auditions to find the "perfect" Annie, the producers must have had their heads in the sand if they didn't know what kind of an uproar this firing would cause. (2/28/97)
From Ed Rose (email@example.com):
Oh well....that's show biz!! (2/28/97)
From John P. Williams (firstname.lastname@example.org) Tunkhannock, PA:
It's a hard knock life, indeed!
Concerning Joanna Pacitti being fired from Annie, have they lost their minds? Their actions have made Miss Hannigan look like Mother Theresa. I ordered 4 orchestra tickets two weeks ago. After seeing the story on "Primetime" last night, my wife and daughter declared they will NOT go to the show and told me to get a refund. Every parent will see their daughter in those tearful eyes of Joanna Pacitti on Primetime. The show is doomed.
I called Telecharge and cancelled the tickets this morning. They gave me a full refund and did not seem at all surprised by my request.
Does anyone have Joanna Pacitti's address so that we can write and inform her of our support? (2/28/97)
From: Cristobal Modesto:
I saw Annie in Baltimore and said I didn't understand the big deal over the girl playing Annie. All the big press about how she was chosen after a nationwide search etc. - I said she was ok, but nothing spectacular. It was like watching any other little girl from any grammar school play the role. No sparks.
Well, it turns out they fired her and replaced her with her understudy. Poor thing, that's gotta hurt when you're 12 and scheduled to go to Broadway to make all your dreams come true. It's a rough business and that's why many people criticize parents who "push" their children to do this kinda thing. Afterall, contrary to popular belief, it's all about business, not dreams. But that's another story. (2/27/97)
Because of the unusual number of responses to this poll, the results continue in a separate file: Playbill Poll: Your Views of the "Annie" Firing -- Part 2" in Theatre News