By Marianne Salza
Spunky, little orphan, Annie, and her friends endure a “hard knock life” at a neglectful orphanage in 1933 New York. Although times can be burdensome, she believes there is hope for sunshine. “Annie,” directed by Jenn Thompson, and featuring scores by Tony Award winners, Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin, will be presented in Boston’s Boch Center Wang Theatre February 6-11 for its 2023-2024 North American Tour.
“It’s an important message any time, especially during tumultuous times in the world,” explained Jeff T. Kelly, who plays Rooster Hannigan in the musical. “Clinging onto optimism when situations seem to be bad and getting worse is an important outlook to walk away from after watching the show.”
Annie warms the heart of billionaire, Oliver Warbucks, and his staff when she spends the holidays at his mansion. Together, they set out to reunite Annie with her parents; but Rooster — the brother of the orphanage’s caretaker, Miss Hannigan — has his own conniving scheme.
Kelly, who considers Rooster to be a comic relief villain, feels that audiences of all ages can enjoy the play. It incorporates political references, social movements, and an inquisitive dog.
“As someone who enjoys learning about different periods, the historical element resonated with me,” revealed Kelly. “The political conflicts that were going on during the Depression and Prohibition, and the music of that era tickle my fancy.”
Kelly began his career in musical theater nine years ago, in his early 20s. His background in martial arts, hockey, and fencing have been useful skills on stage. Kelly is a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, New York City. His recent theater credits include playing Fluke in “Million Dollar Quartet,” and Tommy Devito in “Jersey Boys.”
“The road has been fun and enlightening. I’m enjoying being on tour,” described Kelly. “A goal of mine is to stay on tour for a while.”
Kelly’s acting career has allowed him to explore different cities like Denver, San Antonio, and Galveston. When traveling, Kelly asks locals about their recommendations for the best Buffalo wings in the area. Besides a shack that he discovered off a beaten path in the Bahamas, Kelly has concluded that the Buffalo wings from his hometown restaurant, DJ’s Famous Wings, are superior.
“This last year has been such a good step because I did a cruise contract, played the lead in a regional, and I’m playing a principal on a national tour. They’re three, massive milestones in a performer’s career,” said Kelly. “I’ve been very fortunate. To successfully achieve them has been a really good feeling.”
Kelly is excited to return to his Boston, and stop in Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, where he would eat after marching band rehearsals when he was a member of the Boston University drumline. The Barnstable native plans to bring his friends to Cape Cod so they can revel in his favorite Buffalo wings together.