Local theater group casts pols as FDR’s Cabinet in Annie, opening this weekend

Talk about playing politics.

A group of southern Brooklyn politicians, past and present, will take the stage starting this weekend in a local production of Annie presented by Jeff Samaha Theater Productions and the Ridge Chorale.

The group – made up of State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Councilmember Justin Brannan, Assemblymembers Mathylde Frontus and Nicole Malliotakis, and former Councilmember Vincent Gentile — will star as members of FDR’s Cabinet in select showings starting Friday.

The theater company’s founder Jeff Samaha will play President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the production, which he said the group puts on “every eight years — Annie on the 8’s.”

The casting of the Cabinet this time came easy, according to the group’s founding father.

“That was Karen Tadross,” Samaha said, crediting his producer and friend, who he also called the “nuts and bolts” of the show, for her idea to cast the pols. “We just thought it would be an interesting way to portray that particular scene.”

Samaha will serve as executive producer of the production, though – thanks to an excellent team – he’s been able to focus heavily on his role as FDR.

“Annie is coming together really well,” he said. “The kids learn faster than the adults – and there’s no drama. Most of the time, when you have 50 to 60 people in a room, there’s always some kind of issue, but this cast has been so cooperative and communicative. They have been a treasure.”

Samaha also lent his thanks to Director and Choreographer Kathy Valentine, Musical Director Anne Rebold, Steve Jacobs (sound design), Martin Melgarejo (lighting design), and Stage Managers Mary-Alexis Cushing and Eric Braunstein.

Though, the starring politicians are thankful to the Ridge Chorale as a whole.

“I’ve never been in a play before,” said Malliotakis. “I think it’s fun. It’ll be nice to do for the community and it adds something different to it. I’m just happy they asked me to be a part of it.”

Malliotakis will play Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet. “That’s perhaps the most exciting part,” the assemblymember told the Brooklyn Reporter, adding that Perkins was the secretary of labor under FDR. She served from 1933 to 1945, making her the longest to hold that position.

Brannan will play Harold Ickes, the second longest-serving Cabinet member in U.S. history after James Wilson. Ickes also served as the United States Secretary of the Interior for 13 years, the longest tenure of anyone to hold the office.

“The role of an anti-establishment curmudgeon responsible for implementing much of FDR’s New Deal was basically the role I was born to play,” he said. “This is going to be fun.”

Frontus and Gounardes said they didn’t skip a beat when asked to star in the show.

“When asked by Karen Tadross to participate in Jeff’s upcoming production of Annie, I didn’t hesitate to say yes,” Frontus said. “I knew this would be a great way to do something fun with my colleagues while also being part of the vibrant performing arts scene in Bay Ridge.”

“I’m excited to play a small role in Ridge Chorale’s production of Annie,” Gounardes said. “Politics may be a ‘Hard Knock Life’, but making my acting debut on stage certainly isn’t a stroll down ‘Easy Street.’ Although my Tony award nomination may not be ‘only a day away,’ I think everyone should buy their tickets for Annie ‘Tomorrow!’”

Gentile shared similar sentiments.

“Our local theater is very good and very enjoyable year after year,” said Gentile, who, in his tenure as councilmember, allocated money, fiscal budget after fiscal budget for arts groups like Samaha’s. “So I’m pleased the play Annie provides a scene where we politicos can jump in and have some fun with the cast and with the audience! It adds a nice twist for the local crowd.”

Brannan, who took over Gentile’s seat in November, 2017, has followed in his predecessor’s footsteps and has, too, helped fund Samaha’s group.

After last year’s production of “Beauty and the Beast,” Brannan awarded the performing arts group $10,000. He will do the same this year.

It is still unclear, given the group’s busy schedules, which productions each politician will be able to make. Though, Samaha hopes, there will be at least one that features FDR’s full Cabinet.

Annie opens Friday, March 22 at the Our Lady of Angels auditorium (74th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues) in Bay Ridge with additional showings on March 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31. For more information or to buy a ticket, visit www.ridgechorale.com.

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