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Petersen Plays FDR in ‘Annie’

City of Fairfax Theatre Company produces “Annie,” the popular “rags-to-riches” Broadway musical, with surprising ties to Fairfax County.

From left—Megan Steele, Gwendolyn Evans, Marin Bronaugh, Amy Chang and Paige Cole played orphans in City of Fairfax Theater Company’s sold-out production of “Annie” this weekend at Lanier Middle School.

From left—Megan Steele, Gwendolyn Evans, Marin Bronaugh, Amy Chang and Paige Cole played orphans in City of Fairfax Theater Company’s sold-out production of “Annie” this weekend at Lanier Middle School. Photo by Todd Parola Photography

“No, Annie didn’t go to Fairfax High School … but the musical uses the story of Annie as a metaphor for an America, which had few material goods, but knew that ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.’”

—State Senator Chap Petersen, who portrayed FDR in the musical.

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From left—David Smith, State Senator Chap Petersen (D-34) and Greg Conrad perform “A New Deal for Christmas” in the City of Fairfax Theater Company’s sold-out production of “Annie” this weekend at Lanier Middle School.

Middle School was packed this weekend as nearly 400 people turned out to see local families, a state senator—and even a mayor—in The City of Fairfax Theatre Company’s production and performance of “Annie.”

State Senator Chap Petersen (D-34) brought down the house as he danced and sang in the role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and City of Fairfax Mayor Scott Silverthorne was on stage briefly to applaud the cast.

The popular Broadway musical was co-sponsored by Truro Anglican Church. Performances were accompanied by a live orchestra, conducted by Truro Anglican Church’s Kirsten Boyd, and directed by Wendy Knight, the long-time director of CFTC and a former drama teacher at Fairfax High School.

“Annie was a blast,” said Shannon Duffy, a City of Fairfax resident. “FDR was a natural, and many of his old friends were in attendance. It was a wonderful show.”

The amateur cast, which was broken into two platoons, featured local actors of all ages and abilities. Sharon Petersen, Sen. Petersen’s wife, portrayed “Miss Hannigan,” and Petersen was FDR in both casts.

The story of “Annie,” a young orphan during the nation’s Great Depression in the 1930s, is not just a Broadway show, Petersen said. “It’s a story which goes right to the heart of our local history in Fairfax County.”

In 1933, America was in the grip of the Great Depression. Unemployment was at 25 percent. Virginia had little, if any, money for its public schools. Fairfax County was still a largely rural county of about 40,000 people, which was best known for its dairy industry. The building of the Pentagon was still a decade away.

In its first few months, the Roosevelt administration exploded with a set of initiatives, known as “The New Deal,” which sought to put America back to work.

“One of the most prominent new agencies was the Public Works Administration, headed by Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, which employed millions of Americans in building up the country’s infrastructure,” Petersen said.

One of the first PWA projects in Virginia? A new high school for Fairfax County, on land selected by the County School Board at the “Old Country Fairgrounds” on Lee Highway in the Town of Fairfax.

In 1934, Fairfax High School opened as a new public high school. It was the county’s first modern high school, with an imposing brick facade, a cafeteria and athletic fields. Over the next 40 years, more than 10,000 graduates would pass through its doors. Today, the property is owned by the Archdiocese of Arlington and serves a “Paul VI High School.”

“No, Annie didn’t go to Fairfax High School,” Petersen said. “But the musical, which celebrates the New Deal, speaks directly to the hopes and dreams of that generation of Americans. It uses the story of Annie as a metaphor for an America, which had few material goods, but knew that ‘You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile,’” Petersen said.

The City of Fairfax Theatre Company is a non-profit organization that offers workshops and master classes by professional artists, in addition to putting on live theatrical performances for the community throughout the year. The company also hosts a summer drama camp for kids aged 5 to 14 and is home to the youth ensemble, a group of young actors ages 8 to 18.