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Stage Door Stepmom

Cast members (front, l.-r.) Georgi James, Emily Rosenfeld and Madi Rae DiPietro and (back, l.-r.) Lilla Crawford, Junah Jang, Taylor Richarson and Tyrah Skye Odoms take the stage in "Annie" at the Palace Theatre. Photo courtesy Joan Marcus
TimesLedger Newspapers

It would be difficult to think of a more recognizable and beloved character than Annie. With her radiant smile, curly red locks and even rosier disposition, the precocious comic book character manages to charm a president, billionaire and hundreds of theater-goers each night on Broadway.

Annie’s presence is so bright that it may be easy to ignore the other six orphans in the production.

Not so for Jill Valentine, a Forest Hills resident and one of two child guardians who takes care of the young actors in the production, who play the roles of Pepper, July, Kate, Duffy, Tessie and the diminutive but feisty Molly.

“From the time they walk in the stage door to the time they get dropped back to their parents, they are treated as professional actors,” said Valentine, about the young actors.

She went to school to study fine arts in Philadelphia, but decided that acting wasn’t her calling.

After working part time as a child guardian, she discovered she really liked the job. “It’s kind of like being a stage manager,” said Valentine. “A little bit like a coach and like a cool aunt.”

Valentine has been a child guardian for five years. “Annie” is her fifth Broadway show, including a stint as one of seven guardians for the 23 young actors in a national tour of “Billy Elliot.” She has also worked on several Off-Broadway productions.

Equity rules require that any child actor under the age of 16 have a guardian.

While their main duty is to ensure the safety and comfort of the fledgling actors, a child guardian’s tasks range from making sure the kids don’t miss a queue to tying a shoe lace or fixing their hair.

Since her thespian flock is so young, Valentine has often had to deal with her kids’ losing a tooth during a show.

“I just give them a tissue and send them on stage,” she said.

With eight shows a week as well as rehearsal time, Valentine often forms a bond with the youngsters.

“They talk to me about school, who they are getting along with, if a teacher doesn’t like them or if someone picking on them,” said Valentine, who said she also helps them study for a test or looks at their term papers.

Mainly, though, the musings of the young actors are no different than those of any other child, or child at heart. “For girls, it’s about boys they think are cute and for boys, it’s about girls,” said Valentine. “Kids don’t want advice, they just want to be heard.”

In a production like “Annie,” in which joyous and serious themes mix, the child guardians make a point of helping sensitize the girls to their roles.

“We talk to the kids about what it means to be an orphan,” Valentine said. “What it would be like not to celebrate a birthday or wear the same clothes every day. It’s not to upset them, it’s just to help them give a better performance.”

Valentine said that she loves the little girls in the show and mostly just encourages them to enjoy the experience. “They should really have fun doing the show. Otherwise, why are they here?

Lots of locals

The current, highly popular production of “Annie” actually has several cast or crew members who live in Queens, including Amanda Grundy, the production’s other child guardian, who lives in Astoria.

Ashley Blanchet is a member of the ensemble. Her Broadway credits include “Memphis,” in which she understudied the role of Felicia. She has also done regional productions of “Little Shop of Horrors,” “A Chorus Line” and “West Side Story.”

David Rossetti is making his Broadway debut, understudying the role of Rooster. He has done national tours of “Hairspray” and “Fame” and regional productions of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “A Chorus Line,” and “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

Jane Blass, is also making her Broadway debut, understudying the role of Miss Hannigan and as a member of Annie’s ensemble. She has been in national tours of 9 to 5, “Hairspray,” “Gypsy,” “Chicago,” and other productions.

Her roles in Annie make for an interesting contradiction for the actor. Understudying the boozed-up and bossy Miss Hannigan, Blass has the opportunity to explore a character “going through the Great Depression and not managing it very well,” she said.

As an ensemble member, however, she spends much of the production doting on Annie, as one of Daddy Warbucks’ housekeepers, or admiring the orphan’s optimism, while playing a member of President Roosevelt’s cabinet.

“Everywhere Annie goes, the people she meets are happier after meeting her,” Blass.” She inspires everyone to have hope. If an orphan can have hope, why can’t you?”

Annie is playing at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway. For tickets, call 800-745-3000 or 877-250-2929 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

Worth the trip

Bird in flight: One doesn’t usually associate stringed instruments with the singular brilliance of Charlie “Bird” Parker. But the 1950’s session, “Charlie Parker with Strings,” remains Parker’s most popular recording. Cuban musician and composer Paquito D’Rivera will put a Latin spin on Parker’s classic with 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. shows in Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Allen Room, on Friday, March 8, and Saturday, March 9.

The Allen Room will also host soulful songstress Madeleine Peyroux for early and late shows on Friday, March 22, and Saturday, March 23. Often compared in musical phrasing to Billie Holiday, Peyroux combines both original recordings and reinterpreted classics from such artists as Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.

JACL is at Broadway and 60th Street. Tickets for both shows are available at the box office, by calling 212-721-6500, or at www.jacl.org.

Railroad Earth: The band from Stillwater, N.J. is a wonderful mix of America-based, rock, jazz, bluegrass and more. Its name is taken from Jack Kerouac’s short story, “October in the Railroad Earth.” With an array of instruments, including acoustic guitars, violin, banjo, mandolin, flute, pennywhistle and upright bass, they are sure to be as entertaining and complex as Kerouac’s prose.

Railroad Earth will perform at the Best Buy Theater on Saturday, March 9, at 8 p.m. The theater is at 1515 Broadway. For tickets, go to www.railroadearth.com.

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