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Humanizing Miss Hannigan

In `Annie 2,' Dorothy Loudon modifies her nasty-nanny image. THEATER: INTERVIEW

THE watery winter sun pours through the rehearsal studio at 19th and Broadway where two dozen dancers are hoofing away in front of a triple mirror that fills on wall. The dancers watch the mirror. Three men sitting in front of the mirror at schoolroom tables watch the dancers. Over in the corner a guy at an upright piano is pounding out a number like a refugee from a Gershwin movie. Star Dorothy Loudon, her blond hair pulled back at her neck, is tap-dancing her heart out to the music from a number called ``Beautiful'' in the new musical ``Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge.'' She swirls and turns and struts in her rehearsal clothes: an off-white sweater, black pants, and black heels, as the men in the chorus twirl and tap. A gold turkey feather boa hangs from a screen across the room, a prop to hint at the silver lam'e gown and boa she will slither around in when the number is staged.

In a minute the three men who have been watching the dancers so intently - director-lyricist Martin Charnin, book writer Thomas Meehan, and choreographer Danny Daniels - call a lunch break. The dancers, who have worked up a sweat, wander out. The hall is full of mothers and the children who play the orphans in ``Annie 2,'' the further adventures of ``Little Orphan Annie.'' As the kids mill about, asking where they are going for lunch, one blonde groans ``Hamburger Hopeless.'' Tall, bald Daddy Warbucks (Harve Presnell) strides by. Ms. Loudon, slipping into character as Miss Hannigan, the nasty nanny of the orphanage, does a double take at the kids and purrs ``Well, we adore the mothers, and the chil-l-dren.''

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She is obviously back in fine fettle as Miss Agatha Hannigan, who stopped the show in Annie I with her number ``Little Girls'' as she belted out ``Some women are dripping with diamonds/ Some women are dripping with pearls/ Lucky me, lucky me, look at what I'm dripping with/ little girls'' and then ``Some day I'll step on their freckles/ Some night I'll straighten their curls....'' The same songwriters, composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Charnin, have teamed up for ``Annie 2.''

In the original Annie, the score was invariably Orphans 20: Miss Hannigan 0. Is it possible that in the sequel we'll be rooting for Miss Hannigan?

Loudon says she thinks so. This time, she says with a dark smile, Miss Hannigan has a life. ``Annie 2'' begins previews today at the Kennedy Center, opens Dec. 28, and then goes to Broadway after Jan. 20.

As the original ``Annie'' ended, the spunky little red-headed orphan had been rescued from the Municipal Orphanage and adopted by millionaire Daddy Warbucks to live happily ever after.

Not if Miss Hannigan has her way, ``Annie 2'' suggests. When Annie went to the Warbucks mansion, Miss Hannigan went to jail. Her plot to collect a $50,000 reward by impersonating Annie's family sent her not to the ``Easy Street'' of the hit song, but to the Women's House of Detention, where she vows to get even with Annie.

In ``Annie 2,'' she escapes from jail, has a makeover worthy of a Ziegfeld girl, and acquires a boyfriend and a plot to upset the applecart for Annie.

And how does Miss Hannigan get her revenge? ``I'm sorry, we're sworn not to give away the ending.''

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Loudon won a Tony Award for her Miss Hannigan in ``Annie.'' ``I think the reason that she really worked is that I treated her [Miss Hannigan] not as a cartoon, but I really treated her as a human being. I guess that's the secret of her believability.''

You may remember Miss Hannigan coming into a room at the orphanage and snarling at the little girls ``Do I hear happiness?'' But Loudon says, ``She was all talk, really. She never actually did anything. She was constantly ranting and raving and threatening, but she was all bark and very little bite. And sad in a way. I loved her.''

LOUDON literally strolled into the role of Miss Hannigan when she bumped into producer Mike Nichols, a friend from the days when they both performed at the Blue Angel, a club in Manhattan. He was casting for ``Annie'' and told her about it. The original role was only two pages of dialogue. ``It wasn't a big part,'' she say, ``and it wasn't really a good part. I didn't really want to do it.'' But her late husband, pianist/composer/arranger Norman Paris, encouraged her to go for it.

And she had a lot of input. ``The whistle was my idea,'' she adds dulcetly, speaking of the police sargent whistle she blew to terrorize the little girls. Does an actress usually get such input? ``Well, these people are very generous, very unusual. Most creative people think that actors aren't very bright,'' she laughs. ``Of course there are a lot of creative people who aren't very bright. But they're very generous in that they'll listen to me, and even if they disagree, they'll listen and tell you why it isn't going to work....''

Loudon had already had a successful career as a cabaret singer and nightclub comedian when that first break in the theater came. She had a stint in TV doing the Garry Moore show, where the musical conductor recommended her for ``Nowhere To Go But Up.'' It was directed by Sidney Lumet and Mel Brooks, and even though it ran just a week, it pole-vaulted her into Broadway. ``I've worked ever since then.''

When Clives Barnes was drama critic of The New York Times, he wrote of Dorothy Loudon in ``Fig Leaves'': ``The important thing about her is that she is lovable and vulnerable.'' Was that something she learned at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, or did she reach in and pull it up out of her own life?

``No. neither. I think I developed that in clubs. Because when I was working in nightclubs, it was not the thing to do, women were not supposed to be funny. And I think I developed a vulnerability in my performing simply to make sure that no one would throw things at me or yell at me or belittle me. So I developed an act in which I was an extremely vulnerable individual. Now maybe I am in real life, I don't know. ''

AFTER her career on Broadway took off with ``Nowhere to Go But Up,'' she starred in two plays directed by the legendary George Abbott, ``Fig Leaves Are Falling'' for which she won a Tony nomination and Drama Desk Award, then his revival of ``Three Men on a Horse,'' which netted her a second Drama Desk Award. ``One thing I remember about George is that he's like Martin [Charnin]. They cut right through the fat and get to the meat over everything....''

With ``Annie'' Loudon walked off not only with a Tony but the Outer Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award. She picked up her fourth Drama Desk Award for ``Ballroom,'' followed Angela Lansbury on Broadway in ``Sweeney Todd,'' and starred with Katharine Hepburn in ``The West Side Waltz'' as well as starring in ``Noises Off'' and ``Jerry's Girls.''

Of her roles she says, ``I've played wonderful women, starting with Wilma Risque. I've never played anyone that I didn't have a fondness for.''

In addition to her work in the theater, she's also done a TV series (``Dorothy''), a film directed by Sidney Lumet (``'Garbo Talks''), and an album (``Broadway Baby.'')

``I love [acting]. I'm only unhappy in my life when I'm not working. I'm absolutely at sea. I spend my days in the supermarket and the hardware store.''

``So,'' says the star of ``Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge,'' ``I'm very happy at the moment.''

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