Opening in the Adventure Theater at Cumberland County Playhouse is the inspiring biography, The Miracle Worker, starring Lindy Pendzick as Annie Sullivan, the gifted young teacher who brought light, words, and the world to a blind, deaf child. Emma Rhea Sells portrays Helen Keller (understudied by Cally Bliss Copeland). Donald Fann, who recently directed Steel Magnolias for the Playhouse, will be the show’s director.
The play shares the story of young Helen Keller, born in Alabama, who became blind and deaf during infancy due to a severe case of scarlet fever. By the time we are introduced to her in the play, as a seven-year-old child, she is frustrated by her inability to communicate and subject to violent and uncontrollable behavior. Unable to deal with the child, her terrified and helpless parents contact the Perkins School for the Blind for assistance. In response they send Annie Sullivan, a former student, to the Keller home to tutor her. What ensues is a battle of wills as Anne breaks down Helen's walls of silence and darkness through persistence, love, and sheer determination.
The original Broadway production won 5 Tony awards, for Best Play, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Scenic Design and Best Theatre Technician. It starred Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, and later was made into a brilliant film starring the same two actresses.
Two young ladies share the role of Helen Keller in this production. Emma Rhea Sells has had a passion for acting for as long as she can remember. Coming from an artistic family, her father being a renowned sculptor, Emma was encouraged to pursue her passion. Emma began performing in summer children’s theater productions at age five. Her previous roles include Young Mary in It’s a Wonderful Life, Tessie in Annie, and Gretel in The Sound of Music. Emma feels that playing Helen Keller will be her most challenging role because she must suppress her senses and imagine life mute of sound and in the dark. Emma Rhea hopes to someday be an actor on Broadway and she believes that hard work, courage, and optimism are the keys to success.
The second is Cally Bliss Copeland, an 11-year-old, fifth grade honor roll student at Martin Elementary. Cally has been taking dance at CCP for 7 years and has performed in The Sound of Music, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Footloose, and various spring dance performances. Cally also enjoys cheerleading (Martin Elementary Junior Varsity Cheerleader for the past two years), tumbling, and playing fiddle.
Lindy Pendzick takes on the role of Annie Sullivan here at the Playhouse. When asked about this challenge, Lindy explained, “Whenever you play an historical figure as an actor, you are faced with the task of accurately and truthfully representing that person and telling her story to the best of your ability. In preparation for this role, I have spent much time researching Annie Sullivan, reading accounts of her life, and studying her relationship with Helen Keller and the entire Keller family. My goal is to embody the essence and spirit of Annie, while bringing my own personality to the character as well. I hope that my interpretation of her will be both historically truthful and creatively interesting for this project. I am also very excited to work with our talented Helen. The relationship between Helen and Annie is so complicated and beautiful. It will be a challenge for all of us, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and I am looking forward to taking this journey together.”
Understudying the role of Annie Sullivan is company member Anna Baker, who will be paired with Cally Copeland for three performances. When asked about rehearsing this role Anna stated: “I'd say that this is one of the most challenging roles I've ever been cast in, and I'm honored to get the chance to study it and perform it three times. Annie Sullivan is a ball of fire, with one of the most focused personalities I've ever seen, and I hope that I can learn from her and grow as an actress. Again, so honored and excited to work on this role that is going to be so physically and emotionally challenging.”
Also featured in the cast of The Miracle Worker are Britt Hancock, Meg McWhorter, Daniel Black, Chaz Sanders, Carol Irvin, Michael Ruff, and Dee Hill.
The Miracle Worker is sponsored by Crossville Inc/Lauren & Mason Fox and is Rated G. Call 931-484-5000 for reservations and information or visit www.ccplayhouse.com.
While many enjoyed the recent film, nothing beats the thrill of seeing it live. Currently on the Mainstage is Les Misérables through May 3, rated PG-13 and is co-sponsored by Tennessee Plateau Oncology/Dr. Dirk C. Davidson, MD and by Dr. Vianney E. Villaruz, MD, Cardiology CMG-CMM. Tickets and information are also available for the Southern Stars Symphonic Brass Band, and other events.
All CCP productions are made possible through sponsor support, with additional support provided by the Tennessee Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.