Stories & Cast Interviews
The Director and ANNIE: Mary Jane Houdina
I was born & raised in Tonawanda, NY. My dad was a plumber and my mom was a homemaker. She made all of my costumes. I went to Tonawanda High School and I choreographed the school musicals before coming to NYC.
I studied Tap, jazz, ballet, acro, and baton with Miss Gloria Jean and then went to Miss Bev for jazz and tap. When I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer, they both ganged up on me and said I needed to take ballet lessons. I went to Kaloff School of Ballet in Buffalo where I studied with Miss Helen. Her father had been with Ballets Russes. Danielian would come and teach a class. So I had very good training from the beginning! I did a lot of performing in the Buffalo area. I'm just old enough to have worked in super clubs as a teen. I also danced for a woman who had been a vaudevillian in her younger years. The group was called Mrs. Dunn's Stars of Tomorrow! We were a bunch of teenagers from different dance schools in the Buffalo area, some singers, and there was a trio, 2 sisters, and their cousin. The girls played accordians, and he played a bass. We performed every 3rd Sunday of the month at the Veteran's Hospital in Buffalo, and at different functions in the Buffalo area. She would introduce me as Buffalo's own Eleanor Powell! I loved that because she was my favorite dancer of all of the movie ladies!
My family was very supportive of my show biz aspirations, although, when I graduated High School, my father offered me a car if stayed home. and a wrist watch if I choose to leave!
I was working on different projects with Choreographer Peter Gennaro and one day he asked if I'd like to assist him on ANNIE, The Musical. I did and was his assistant and Dance Captain and a swing performer in the Original production of ANNIE. I went on to assist on 4 other companies with Peter, and I have done directed/choreographed several versions of my own!
ANNIE is a wonderful show, not just for kids, but adults too!
Some of my favorite shows are Follies, Showboat, The Pajama Game, Irma LaDouce, 42nd Street, and Sugar Babies. I enjoyed performing Aunt Sue in No, No Nanette, Gladys in The Pajama Game and Irma in Irma LaDouce. The one role I didn't get to do was Miss Adelaide in GUYS and DOLLS. She's a real doll of a character!
When I'm not choreographing/directing. I teach dance. I love working with children and adults! Someone asked me the other day how many children's lives have you touched!? When I thought about it, It was awesome to think of all the"orphans " I've worked with! also the children at the school where I teach, the master classes! I'd like to think I left them with positive experiences, and given them helpful information to carry on in their careers!
When not working on a show, I play in a steel drum band! I also like looking for Antiques and I collect depression glass.
Meet Ella & Bill Stanley
Bill & Ella Stanley are a fab Father-Daughter team in ANNIE! Bill is our Musical Director and Ella plays the orphan, Kate! We caught up with them between shows!
Bill at the Keyboard
Bill: I was raised in Logan, Utah. My parents always encouraged arts & music. I studied classical piano in college, but I also enjoyed playing rock & Jazz on the side. So I was very attracted to musical theatre because of the wide variety of styles in the repertoire.
The Annie movie was very popular when I was a kid. In my school, it wasn't cool for boys to like Annie, so I don't think I saw the movie, although I remember many of the songs were played regularly on AM radio. I didn't encounter the show again until 1995 when I was hired as music director at the Surflight Theatre.
Ella: My Mom is a professional singer and actress, my Daddy is a piano player, and my stepdad Roger is a drummer. Daddy plays piano for Shuffles Tap School, and so I started taking tap and musical theatre classes there when I was four.
I watched Annie before I auditioned, to refresh my memory of what happens in the show. The movie was good, but doing the show is more fun!
Bill: I haven't seen the movie recently - I generally make it a point not to, so we can come up with our own version, based on the script & score. I'm generally fine with musicals made into movies, but I find that the live theatre is much more engaging.
Ella: My favorite part of the show is to do is “It’s A Hard Knock Life”, because of all the props. My favorite part to listen to is the song "I Don't Need Anything But You", because of the harmony that Annie & Daddy Warbucks sing together.
Bill: I did many shows here at WBT in the late 90s, and then, after a 17-year hiatus, returned to do Wizard of Oz. I thought it would be a kick to do, particularly if my daughter was cast as a munchkin (which she was). It was such a thrill to bring Ella to work with me, and see her on stage! I did Godspell the following summer, and now I'm back again for Annie - and I hope to come back for next summers show, too!
Ella: Some of my favorite shows are: School of Rock, Peter Pan, Matilda, Legally Blonde.
Bill: Mine are West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, The Full Monty, On the Town
Bill: When not on stage, we love playing with Legos, reading (Harry Potter 5 currently), and slime making (slime making is the unanimous favorite of our cast of orphans, but it is not allowed backstage to protect the costumes).
Ella likes playing music - saxophone is her current favorite instrument.
Bill: On my iPod? I have A lot of classical music, especially Beethoven and Stravinsky, but also Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beatles, Parliament, and James Brown.
Ella: The Allegretto from Beethoven's 7th Symphony.
Ella as Kate.
Meet Gabriella & Brian Uhl ... A Family Affair!
A very talented Father- daughter duo work together here at WBT. Brian Uhl is the Trumpet player in the ANNIE Orchestra and Gabriella plays Kate in the show. What fun to share this experience!
Brian Uhl (c) with his trumpet
Brian: I grew up on a pig and corn farm in Northwest Iowa. I was the youngest of 6 children. My high school band director, Mr. Perry, was a great trumpet player and he inspired me to pursue a career as a trumpet player. I remember knowing about “Annie” when I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s. I actually had the opportunity to work with Charles Strouse, the composer, and play music from the show several years ago as a member of the West Point Band.
Gabriella: My first acting experience was at a summer theatre camp in my town, Cornwall, by Riverside Theatre Arts. I was in the youngest group, and we played the orphans in “Little Girls” while a high schooler played Miss Hannigan! The first role I got by audition was Molly in Annie, Jr. at Random Farms Kids’ Theater.
I started dancing at Dance Design School in Cornwall when I was 3 years old and in preschool. I still study there – ballet, tap, jazz, and this year I’m taking pre-pointe and modern, too. I started taking voice lessons with my older sister’s voice teacher, Ilene Reid, when I was 5.
Brian: I’ve worked on several shows at the theatre, starting back in 1998. I love that, even 20 later, I still feel like part of a family here.
Brian: My kids have the movie version of Annie with Carol Burnett and Bernadette Peters. Movie musicals have been a big part of our family life – we started showing them to our kids when they were very young and they are still favorites to watch together. They are are a great way to expose more people, who might not get to see quality live performances, to the art form.
Gabriella: My grandma got us the old version of the movie Annie, the one with Bernadette Peters and Carol Burnett in it, so I’ve seen that. I got to be Molly in the show at Random Farms in 2015. I love doing the dance in “Never Fully Dressed.” When the adults joined us in rehearsal, I couldn’t believe how amazing the show was! I watched them and felt like I was watching a movie or something – I couldn’t believe I was part of that, too. The best part of being in this production has been making new friends, who I hope to have forever.
Brian: My favorite shows that I’ve played for are “Newsies” and “Hello Dolly.” We enjoyed the recent revival of “On the Town,” and “Wicked” was one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve seen a Broadway show that I haven’t liked!
Gabriella: Some of My favorite shows are “Wicked,” “Newsies,” “Matilda,” and “Singin’ in the Rain” are my favorites.
Brian: I’m an award-winning apple pie baker! I love to bake. I like traveling with my family and being active outside.
Gabriella: When not on stage, I like being with my friends, reading, going to dance class, vacation with my family, and playing with my brother and sister.
Brian: I don’t have any music on my phone, but right now in my car, I have classic rock (Boston, Journey, Steve Miller Band), and the soundtracks to “Hamilton,” “Newsies,” “Wicked,” “Matilda,” and “Something Rotten.” When my wife’s in the car, it’s all 80s, all the time and I don’t mind that!
Gabriella (c) as Kate in Annie
Meet Kaylin Hedges as ANNIE!!
Kaylin, who plays ANNIE in the Sunday Performances, is nine years old, one of the youngest members of the cast!!
Kaylin was born in San Antonio, Texas and since has been moving around due to her father being in the army. "We just recently moved to Valley cottage New York to be close to NYC to pursue Broadway."
As far as the family in the industry, no one has ever pursued the same dream, but her mom, Hailey, is a singer. Her younger sister Emalyn is also just beginning to follow in her big sister's footsteps performing in her first production in August along side Kaylin in Annie Warbucks the sequel to Annie.
Kaylin With Michael DeVries (Daddy Warbucks)
Kaylin started performing when she was really young, always singing and dancing, then the musical Matilda was performing in the Thanksgiving day parade and she was hooked. She auditioned for her first show at age 6 and portrayed a sheep in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. The following year, she re-auditioned and landed a lead role in the show.
She aspires to be like Sutton Foster, Kristen Chenoweth, and her mom. She has danced since she was 2 years old in classes.
She first heard of Annie when, last summer, she auditioned for the national tour, got to the finals for the role of Molly, but did not receive the part. She also auditioned for the Flat Rock, NC production and had no luck till, finally, Westchester Broadway Theatre gave her the best opportunity!
Kaylin has never watched the show or the movie before being cast so it was all new to her and she has enjoyed more than anything finding her own Annie! "Being able to make this character come to life, within me, has been a true gift! I love every single moment!"
Her favorite part of the show is, "Hard Knock Life, because, I get to dance and share the stage with the orphans and just have fun!" Her 2nd favorite is, " I Don't Need Anything But You, because, it's just pure joy both in the show and in real life to be with Michael/Daddy Warbucks and the happiness we share for that song is awesome!"
At home, she dances and sings to Easy Street and her goal is to know it by the end of the run and, hopefully, when she's older, that she'll get to play the role of Lily St. Regis or Grace!!
"Omg, I love Sunny!!!" She doesn't have a pet and with all the moving, the family has never had a chance to get a pet, so it is amazing for her to come to the theatre and bond with Sunny! She loves it, "Working with the dog teaches you to really roll with it because sometimes she doesn't always do the same thing and you can't freak the show has to keep going and do your best always no matter what happens around you!"
"My Favorite Shows? Matilda, Wicked, Dear Evan Hanson, School Of Rock, Legally Blonde, Annie, of course :) and anything really on Broadway bahaha!!
When I'm not on stage, I mostly spend time with my family! And prepare for what's next :) "
Kaylin & her sister with their dad before his last deployment May 2016
Kaylin as Gladys at Cape Fear Regional's production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.