Daddy Warbucks and his curly red-headed orphan will have nothing on the real star of Music Theatre of Wichita's "Annie."
The actor likely to bow-wow-wow the crowd (sorry) is a 5-year-old Labradoodle named Dudley, chosen during an intense canine audition to perform the role of Annie's scruffy dog, Sandy.
Dudley, one of four pet dogs belonging to local dog trainer Kelly Spencer, won the part over two talented golden retrievers and a fab Lab that also auditioned.
For the past week, Dudley's been putting in long hours, bonding with Alyssa Danley, the 14-year-old actress who plays Annie, and perfecting his part — three separate scenes that keep him on stage for about 15 minutes total.
Dudley's owner has been busy, too, grooming her star, shuttling him to and from rehearsals and deciding how many blocks of tickets to buy for his many family members and fans.
"He's taking to it well," said Spencer, who trains dogs professionally at the Family Dog Training and Behavioral Center at Wag'en Tail Ranch, a local boarding and training facility. "He's always excited to go. It's gotten to the point that when I do have to leave the house without him, he doesn't like that at all."
Casting animals is not something that Wayne Bryan, Music Theatre's producing director, does very often. But he's done it before.
Back in 1992, a police horse named Whistler had a part in "The Desert Song." He didn't make too much of a mess, Bryan remembers, and he wasn't fazed by rifle fire on stage. (That show also starred a local donkey.)
Bryan's also cast a few Totos in his day, and Dudley isn't his first Sandy. He also hired a live lamb for a 1992 production of "Gypsy," something he tried to repeat with this year's production. But it didn't work out this time because the lamb was scared. Baaaaaaaa-d. (Sorry.)
Dudley's three parts have varying degrees of difficulty. Early in Act 1, when Annie sees him for the first time, he must come on stage by himself and stand still while Annie calls him by a variety of names.
Later in Act 1, in a Times Square scene, Dudley must make another entrance, then he and Annie are reunited in Act 2.
So far, Dudley's showing serious star potential, Bryan said.
"Here's a dog who comes into a room with 40 actors, 32 technicians, two musicians and 19 little girls, and he's fine," he said. "The only challenge really for us is that Dudley is adorable and everyone wants to pet him."
Dudley, whose nickname is "Surfer Dude" because of his long, wavy blond locks, is a sweet doggie with an easygoing personality, Spencer said.
He's a part-time therapy dog who works with children, and he's a full-time ham, Spencer said.
So far, he's obeyed his commands perfectly, which she delivers from the side of the stage.
But a part of her worries is that when he's on stage with a full audience, he'll yap and dance when the applause starts.
"I worry about silly little things that could happen," Spencer said with a laugh, "like that he'll decide to see what's going on in the orchestra pit."