The New Hard-Knock Life

Putting a new spin on Annie, a show from the 1970s—which in turn was based on a comic strip from the ’20s—is no easy feat. After all, it’s hard to think of little orphan Annie without her signature red hair and old-timey catchphrases. When the latest film version of Annie hits theaters this month, though, it’ll be a totally fresh (but equally loveable) take on the iconic musical, with the lead role played by Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis. (Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz also star in the movie, which was produced in part by Jay-Z and Will Smith.) Choreographer Zach Woodlee, whom you know from “Glee,” revamped the classic dance numbers. Dance Spirit caught up with Woodlee and Wallis to get the inside scoop.

Quvenzhané Wallis (far right) and the cast of Annie (photo by Barry Wechter, courtesy Sony Entertainment

Dance Spirit: What’s your favorite scene in the new film?

Zach Woodlee: Definitely “Hard-Knock Life.” Director Will Gluck wanted it to be very athletic, so there’s a lot of tumbling and throwing mops and brooms around. The hardest part was getting the girls to toss and catch the props while singing—and without flinching. I wish I had worn earplugs for rehearsals. There was so much clattering and banging!

Quvenzhané Wallis: That part was hard—we all kept hitting each other! Luckily, we figured it out. But my favorite part is “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here,” when I go to see where Jamie Foxx’s character lives, and I sing and dance while exploring the house.

DS: What were rehearsals like?

ZW: A lot of movement came out of the girls themselves. The rehearsal space looked like someone had put a kitchen and janitor’s closet inside a dance studio—it was filled with everything you could imagine, from feather dusters to hula hoops to pogo sticks. When we’d take a 10-minute break, the girls would play with all the props, and then I’d incorporate that into the choreography.

DS: Quvenzhané, what was most challenging about playing Annie?

QW: Remembering all the choreography. But I really like dancing, so it was fun. I’d love to do another role with dancing.

DS: Zach, did Quvenzhané have a lot of dance training coming in?

ZW: She didn’t, though her older sister dances, and sometimes they’d practice together. Her mom also helped out: In one of Cameron Diaz’s songs, the script dictated that the girls were to play double Dutch—but I didn’t know how to do it. The next day on set, Quvenzhané’s mom ended up teaching all of us!

DS: What do you love most about this Annie?

QW: It takes place in the present, and it’s really upbeat. And I love the music—this version has hip hop and R&B. And there are new songs, too.

Save the Date!

You won’t want to miss the other musical making its way to the silver screen. Into the Woods—the Tony-winning classic that weaves all of the best fairy tales into one adventure—hits theaters Christmas day. The film’s cast includes the legendary Meryl Streep, Broadway baby (and former Annie!) Lilla Crawford and Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick. And it’s directed by Rob Marshall, who’s no stranger to bringing Broadway to Hollywood: He directed the Oscar-winning film version of Chicago. Visit movies.disney.com for more info.

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