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How Annie’s Original Sandy Went From Shelter Dog to Show Dog

I’m in Cincinnati today! I first have a master class in the afternoon where I help people get their audition technique up to snuff. Here’s a quick overview of how I teach!

Then I’m doing Deconstructing Broadway… twice! The 7 PM show is sold out and there are around 20 tickets left for the 9 PM, so get thee to EnsembleCincinnati.org for tickets!

Bill Berloni and Sandy at the Outer Critics Circle Awards
Bill Berloni and Sandy at the Outer Critics Circle Awards

Anyhoo, I began last week with the fantastic Best In Shows, which is the annual event for The Humane Society. The whole thing is helmed by Bill and Dorothy Berloni. If you don’t know Bill’s story, here it is in a nutshell: He was a teenaged intern at the Goodspeed Opera House in 1976. Randomly, he was asked to find a dog and train it to be Sandy for their musical, Annie, which was being done for the first time. Well, Bill went into town to an animal shelter and found a very scared doggie, but one who seemed sweet and looked like Sandy in the “Annie” comic strips. He asked them if he could take the doggie back to Goodspeed, and they told him the adoption cost would be $8. Bill only had $2. He promised them he’d come back the next day and they told him he better hurry because the dog was scheduled to be “put to sleep.” Bill was from a farm and didn’t know that animal shelters routinely put down dogs to make room for new doggies. He was horrified.

He ran back to Goodspeed, borrowed money from his roommate, and went back to the shelter way before it opened. Finally, someone arrived, Bill gave them the money and took this big, scared doggie back to the theatre. With food and love, he figured out how to train Sandy and soon this dog who had been at death’s door was starring in a musical, opposite Andrea McArdle eight times a week!

One trick Bill did was clapping when Sandy did something good. That way, Sandy liked applause! If not, he would have been terrified when he eventually made his Broadway debut in Annie and 1,200 people loudly applauded him.

Since then, Bill has trained the animals you’ve seen in Broadway shows…dogs, cats, rats (in The Woman in White), and lately he’s been doing a lot of film work. And all of the animals he trains are rescues! He and the Humane Society were so wonderful to Chrissy whom we adopted from Aruba after one of our cruises. Chrissy had to be de-wormed and Bill handled all of her medical issues at The Humane Society. Then, James and I had to be out-of-town for a little and Bill thought it was better if Chrissy stayed at the shelter, rather than come to our house and not have us around for a while. All in all, Chrissy stayed at the Humane Society for three weeks and got such great care and love! And now she’s a happy member of the family (see photo).

The benefit itself was amazing! So many highlights! We had songs that related to animals like: I thought the lyrics to “What Would I Do” from Falsettoland was so appropriate for those who had lost a pet (“What would I do if I had not loved you? How would I know what love is?”). Max Von Essen and Nick Adams, who just starred on the Falsettos tour, did a beautiful job.

Beth Leavel used her Mama Rose pushiness to build up the confidence of Myrtle the bulldog. Let’s just say Myrtle is not a looker, but Beth convinced us all that she could be a star!

Then I had recent Michigan graduate Griffin Binnicker (who was in the Connecticut Repertory Theater production of Disaster!) talk about his childhood and his vigilante mother. Turns out, after a greyhound does a good amount of dog races and doesn’t run as fast, they are often put down. Well, his mother was not having it. She would drive to dog tracks, little Griffin would wait in the car, and his Mom would “take” the dogs and save them from their unfair fate. His family would foster until the dog was adopted and Griffin thinks they rescued around 300 dogs! Brava Mama Binniker! He and Justin Showell (who also graduated Michigan and just got cast in Hamilton) duetted next to Maria, who is up for adoption from The Humane Society.

The fabulous Lillias White did my favorite “Those Hands,” which I’ve retitled, “Those Riffs.” I love it!

And one of the hugest ovations was for Evan Ruggiero. I wrote about him last year when I did the benefit for “Shane’s Inspiration,” the organization that makes playgrounds accessible for all children. Evan sang and tap danced up a storm in the Humane Society benefit…even though he lost his leg to cancer! Watch!

Last week, I had Eden Espinosa on Seth Speaks talking about her upcoming concert of Brooklyn, which is happening tonight to benefit Covenant House.

So many great people are performing like Will Swenson (he made his Broadway debut in the original!), Romona Keller, and Karen Olivo.

Here’s Eden talking about the concert and then ending the segment by singing “I Will Never Leave You” from Sideshow with Bonnie Milligan, which they both sang at the Humane Society Benefit!

I also had Natalie Walker on the show. She’s doing two shows with Bonnie Milligan at 54 Below on Oct 30–31. Natalie is really smart and hilarious. I’m obsessed with how she deconstructs hacky Hollywood screenwriting.

Natalie told us all the hilarious/devastating story about how she went to the theatre camp, Stage Door Manor, and when she began NYU, she found out there was a book about Stage Door Manor called, Theater Geek, and she was the villain! I asked what name she was given in the book and she said, “Natalie Walker!”

That’s right, there was no changing of the name to protect the b*tchy! She flat out admits she was a nightmare, but explains that she was drunk with the deliciousness of being a “star” in the camp during the summer after being the opposite while at school during the year. As she explains it, when you go to school in the south and you’re deemed super-weird for loving theatre, but suddenly, in the summer, your ability to know all the various “Bobby’s” in the opening number to Company changes your status to “sexy,” it’s understandable that you might go a little crazy. Go see Natalie and Bonnie!

And finally, I just saw the new Forbidden Broadway. I love that show so much! Ever since I first started listening to the original while in high school. Go see it at The Triad with this super-talented cast, and here’s a little deconstruction of mine featuring one of the previous casts and brilliant lyrics of Forbidden Broadway.

Peace out!

Author: Webmaster