Ashleigh Prince spoke with Mark Woodard from Annie about his roles, the Annie production, his career and more! Read on for highlights from the interview, or listen to the full interview below. Tune in to Talk of the Commonwealth with Hank Stolz on WCRN 830AM Fridays at 9 AM and Saturdays at 1 PM for more behind-the-scenes interviews.
Ashleigh: Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to Behind the Scenes at The Hanover Theatre. Today, we are so excited to be connecting with Mark Woodard from the Annie tour that’s coming to the Hanover theatre this February. Good morning, Mark!
Mark: Good morning, Ashleigh.
Ashleigh: It’s a pleasure speaking with you. I know that everyone is really excited about this best loved musical returning to Worcester, but with an all-new production. So, if you caught it a couple of years back, this is different. It is rejuvenated, yet still the same classic story that you’ve always known and loved. Right, Mark?
Mark: Correct. Our director Jen, who had been in the original production back in the 70s, she was very much a proponent of “What’s not broken, we’re not going to fix.” So, not shying away from some of the darker elements that are part of the plot points. This takes place during the Depression, Annie is an orphan and it deals with the issues of homelessness. We really did not shy away from pinpointing those darker elements so that the more hopeful elements can shine brighter.
Ashleigh: If I remember correctly, Jen played Pepper in the original, right?
Mark: She sure did. She and Sarah Jessica Parker both went into the show as orphans at the same time.
Ashleigh: Yeah, I think that’s really incredible. I saw a series of people that have been in Annie in their lifetime. Obviously Sarah Jessica Parker, and Sadie sink played Annie a very long time ago, way pre-Stranger Things.
Mark: Alyssa Milano was an orphan in there, as well.
Ashleigh: Yeah, there’s a very long history of that Annie family. It keeps evolving every year.
Mark: I’m happy to be part of it now, myself. This is very exciting, to just be indoctrinated into the cultural phenomenon that is this show. It is sort of a touchstone for so many people and it’s really cool to see young kids showing up and in the costumes. We have so many little girls coming in their Annie outfits. I cover Warbucks, so I went on a few performances in LA and met a couple of little boys who came in three-piece suits and tuxedos, and Warbucks was their guy to come see. It’s been fun to really watch the younger kids get really turned on and excited about the show, too. With our orphans, as well, it’s a whole new generation. With TikTok and social media, the reach has just gone viral, as they say.
Ashleigh: Annie is the introduction to Broadway for so many people. It’s that gateway story.
Mark: I would 100% agree.
Ashleigh: It opens up so many doors for people. I mean, Annie was my introduction to musical theatre. It was my very first show in drama class in fourth grade. I was Grace Farrell, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Mark: Fourth grade Grace, I love that.
Ashleigh: I had a little pantsuit and everything. But, that was my introduction and I didn’t leave the drama club from fourth grade to senior year. I’ve seen so many people on our social media saying, “I’m bringing my granddaughter, it’s her first Broadway musical! I’m bringing my grandson, I’m bringing my kids.” They’re all just so excited to introduce these young souls to this beautiful story.
Mark: Like you said, this is such a wonderful introduction to kids who’ve never been to the theatre. Also, my best friend came to see us in San Diego and brought his niece and it was her very first time seeing a show.
We may spoil theatre for a lot of people because I think this show is so wonderful that it sets a high bar. If this is people’s first taste of theatre, it’s a really delicious taste, I would say.Mark Woodard
Ashleigh: Annie has lived so many lives, right? There was the live version that came out a couple of years ago, it’s been remade quite a few times, it’s been on tour forever. Now, we have this brand new tour to look forward to, which is fantastic. You’re playing FDR in this production of Annie. Tell us a little bit about what it’s like to step into that role!
Mark: Iconic is the first word that pops into mind. This play is so interesting in the way it was written, because it takes place, obviously, in a real period of our American history. So, there’s a lot of little Easter eggs of real people’s names that get dropped in, here and there politically throughout, like Herbert Hoover and Al Smith. It’s rare that the President of the United States gets put into a musical, first of all, and second of all, it’s interesting to play an actual historical person. We had a great dramaturg who worked with us when we first started rehearsals, and they gave us a packet that was very informative about what was going on in terms of general people’s lives and political history back then. It has been cool for me to take a peek into who he was as a person. I would say that he’s in the top four or five Presidents that people can rattle off the top of their heads. He’s very well known, outside of, say, JFK or Abraham Lincoln. I think President Roosevelt is right there at the top, because he’s so iconic with turning around the country at that time. Within the context of this play, we sort of give Annie the credit for that.
Mark: Her visit to the Cabinet is sort of what inspires FDR to come up with the New Deal and institute all of the programs that he did that were such key things to giving the US their big boost out of the Depression. He also was inspirational in that he struggled physically. He had polio and was in the wheelchair. I’m in the wheelchair for all of my scenes. I think that gives a lot of representation to overcoming adversity. It’s one more highlight to the theme of the show; Annie overcoming adversity, the country overcoming adversity, the President himself overcoming adversity with his physical limitations. It’s been very interesting for me to get his backstory, as well. He had such an interesting way of speaking, I guess everyone did sort of back then. Public speakers, people on the radio and the movie stars had that sort of mid-Atlantic dialect thing that I really tried to hook into, just to sound a little bit like him. I’m bald in real life because I have to play Warbucks. I have to keep my head shaved, so I wear wigs in the show. I wear this beautiful salt and pepper wig that they gave me that was specifically designed to mimic his specific hairline. They spent $5,000 on this gorgeous wig and this beautiful suit. When I get into the costume, get into the chair and get that cigarette holder in my hand, it’s very transformational to become him.
Ashleigh: I think that scene with FDR and Annie is very special. There’s a lot going on at that point in the musical, and I don’t want to give everything away, but it’s a lot. They’re both going through a lot in their lives at that moment. With Annie, she’s so full of hope and determination, and no one can knock her down. No one can take that away from her and I think that that rubs off on everyone that she interacts with. I think it’s very apparent in that scene of that that has ripple effects. Her energy and in the way that she speaks to people, really was turning tides.
Mark: Jen, our Director, says that, a lot of times, that cabinet scene will get cut when they do various productions, community theaters, regional theaters or Annie Juniors that get done. It takes place midway through the second act, which is when people start to get antsy for the bathroom or a snack or, kids’ attention spans maybe start to turn a little. But, she said that she really worked hard on that scene to give that jolt of energy back into the second act. We joke about how Annie saves the country, but that’s kind of what she does. She happens to come along because she’s so interested to meet the President, and then her positive, optimistic attitude literally inspires him to come up with legislation that puts the country back on track. So, Annie literally saves the country in act two.
Ashleigh: Thank you, Annie!
Mark: There is a bond that is formed between Annie and FDR, which is really interesting. Later, there is a scene that is sad, sentimental and a little emotional when he delivers information about her parentage and he’s sort of a uncle/father figure.
I really enjoy getting to play those sentimental moments. It’s rare to have those real, human and emotional moments in a musical comedy.Mark Woodard
Mark: Ellie, our star, is such a wonderful actress. She’s just so present and staring into her eyes every night and getting to do that little scene with her late act two to is so, so wonderful.
Ashleigh: Yeah! For those who are just tuning in right now, Annie is coming to The Hanover Theatre February 23-26. Now, that might be school vacation week for some of you and I think that this would be an excellent event to throw into your break in the middle of February. As we were saying, this is a classic for so many people, so many families and it’s so uplifting. It’s a feel-good show. It just can’t be beat. No one has a dry eye in the theatre when you’re seeing Annie, Sandy and Daddy Warbucks together. I can’t recommend it enough. Mark, do you remember what your introduction to Annie was?
Mark: I do! I am of a certain age where I recall being a kid when the Broadway show was out. My sister had the album, the big record album with the big red cover. We would play and listen to that. Then, when the movie came out in the early 80s, I saw that in the movie theater. I was into theatre and wanted to be a performer and an actor. Now there’s Newsies for the boys, but we didn’t have that around when I was a kid. Annie was sort of my closest entryway as a, “Oh, there’s kids that are performing.” I remember going to see the movie with my sisters and that was my first introduction to it. I think this is my third time now doing the stage show.
Ashleigh: Fantastic. So, have you played the same roles in all three shows or have you changed a little bit?
Mark: I’ve played Daddy Warbucks twice. This is my first time playing Franklin Roosevelt, which I’m finding super fun and fulfilling. And, I cover Daddy Warbucks in this production.
Ashleigh: Very cool. So, let’s talk a little bit about you and your background. I know you touched on it a little bit, but what has brought you to the stage? What’s brought you to this tour of Annie?
Mark: Like you said, it’s such a well-known piece of material. As an actor, you have a Rolodex in your head of certain shows that you like, and shows that you like and know that you could probably fit into as a performer. So, getting older into a certain age, I was like, Well, I think I’m a Daddy Warbucks type, and I already had the bald thing built-in physically. So, I go to a few auditions and see what the response is. I was lucky enough in 2017, my first time getting cast in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in a theatre called Jean’s Playhouse. I did Annie for the first time there, and found out that I was a good fit for the show, and the show was a good fit for me. I just enjoyed telling that story so much. When this casting announcement came around last year that they were doing the tour, I obviously got excited and threw my hat in the ring to see what would happen. I got lucky enough that it worked out, they liked me and got along with everybody. So, here I am.
Ashleigh: Looking at your bio, it seems like you really like classic musical theatre. I’m seeing Newsies, I’m seeing Oklahoma!, I’m seeing The Producers, A Christmas Carol. Very nice!
Mark: I have a track record of, oddly enough, playing grumpy curmudgeons that have a heart of gold. Like I said, Scrooge and Daddy Warbucks. There’s a familiarity in my casting and my characters that I have a tendency to play, and go through a metamorphosis. Jenny’s even said this about this show, that Daddy Warbucks is probably the character that changes the most throughout the course of the story. Annie stays that sort of bright, shining light and changes other people’s lives, including his, and he kind of goes through the most transformation of being the closed off, closed-minded and curmudgeonly grumpy character type that has blinders on. Annie takes those blinders off, opens him up, opens his heart and turns him into a more warm, loving person that we see at the end of the show. I think that’s a bit of a track record for me, as far as my casting goes. I’m a warm, fuzzy person in general so I generally have an easier time playing the end-of-the-show Daddy Warbucks than I would the beginning. Going back to FDR, Jen says my casting in this show was the first time that she was reminded of and saw FDR as a father figure. She said just watching my interactions with Ellie, our bond on stage and how our characters relate, it really was interesting for her to see FDR as a father and a paternal type figure.
Ashleigh: Yeah, of course. Now, this show is marketed as the ultimate cure for all the hard knocks that life throws your way. So, I’m curious, do you have a piece of advice or words of inspiration for our audience that will make their day a little more sunshiny?
Mark: That little bit that she sings in “Tomorrow” during the Cabinet scene. I love that. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the show, when I get to say “Solo for the President.” He says, “When I’m stuck with a day that’s gray and lonely, I just stick up my chin and grin and say ‘tomorrow.’” That is, I think, very true. You’ve just got to hang on and things will get better. Bad times are transitory, they’re not permanent. Annie offers the hope that tides will shift.
Just tie a knot and hang on, tomorrow is going to come. The sun will come up and you’ll have a different perspective, which is hopefully more positive.Mark Woodard
Ashleigh: With the show falling on February 23-26, we’re all a little dreary with this winter weather. Especially in New England, we’re looking forward to some warm, sunny days here.
Mark: Come get a good dose of Vitamin D and Annie sunshine!
Ashleigh: Of course! Now, what would you say to audience members that haven’t taken that leap to purchase tickets yet?
Mark: I’d say, Leaping Lizards! What are you waiting for? Get online, get on the phone and come see us. There’s cute kids, there’s animals, there’s singing, there’s dancing. There’s a lot of heart and love and joy that we’re spreading around. Come get a dose of it!
Ashleigh: Absolutely. This is a great opportunity to take your family out and enjoy an evening or matinee of theatre. If you’re ready to get your tickets, head to TheHanoverTheatre.org and we’ll be waiting here with open arms for this beloved family classic. Mark, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been a pleasure speaking with you. We’re going to say goodbye for now, but we’ll see you very, very soon.
Mark: I can’t wait to be there in Worcester at The Hanover Theatre!
Ashleigh: We’ll see you very soon. Thank you all for listening to Behind the Scenes with The Hanover Theatre. We’ll see you next week!