From the 1930s comic strip to the 1977 Broadway musical to productions throughout the world as well as multiple film adaptations, the story of Annie has developed into an immensely popular tale of a tireless orphan determined to find her parents.
Add befriending President Franklin D. Roosevelt, her scruffy sidekick pooch Sandy, and the anthemic tune “Tomorrow,” the title character is one of the most treasured roles of young, musical theater actresses. So you can imagine why 13-year-old Tahlia Ellie has her hands full.
But the Millburn resident couldn’t happier. Ellie is performing the role at the Walnut Street Theatre, a 209-year-old regional theater treasure considered by many historians to be the oldest operating theater in the United States.
“I love Annie,” said Ellie. “I have performed the role of Tessie, July, Kate, Pepper and now the ultimate role of Annie! Every child character in this show is so different and I do believe having played all these different roles solidified the Annie role for me. Being an optimistic, spunky, loving go-getter is truly a blast to play and working with Sunny [the canine who plays the role of Sandy] — who was in the previous Annie production I worked on — is a dream come true.”
Ellie plays the title role during all weeknight performances of the musical. Actress Jenna Seasholtz performs the role in the other performances. While this is Ellie’s Walnut Street debut, she has been performing since age five, including “The Gray Man,” an off-Broadway production by Pipeline Theatre.
When we asked her how she balances performing, school, and family life, she quickly pointed out the life lessons she receives from the theater. “I do believe that performing gives me an added education,” said Ellie. “I learn how to deal with adults, pets, public speaking, problem-solving, create more friendships, and of course learn how to balance.”
The actress is being tutored by her teacher, Mr. Richard Serra from Millburn Middle School. “You can be so busy that you have to temporarily leave school and miss family occasions or you can do both,” she said. “Previously during the run of the off-Broadway show The Gray Man, I would attend school, leave early, do homework in the car, do my performance and head home to start school again the next morning.”
And if her performing and education don’t keep her busy enough, Ellie founded a social outreach program called “Singing for a Smile.” “I am getting a group of my super talented theater friends to go to nursing homes, children’s hospitals, and other locations to keep performing and to bring a smile to people’s faces,” she explained. “I want to do a fundraiser for animal shelters to help raise money and awareness for homeless pets and find them homes. We are setting up a website and will start locally and hope to spread some smiles!”
In the meantime, you can catch Ellie on the stage through January 7.
Performances of “Annie” run until January 7, 2018. Visit the Walnut Street Theatre website for tickets and information.