Q&A: Julia Nicole Hunter and the Hope-filled World of “Annie”

Actress of North American Tour of Tony Award-winning Musical Gives Us a Behind the Scenes View at the Iconic Show and What She Cherishes About It
Actress Julia Nicole Hunter, who plays Grace Farrell in Annie, playing at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts from January 10-15, 2023. Photo Credit: Julia Nicole Hunter / Annie

Arturo Hilario
El Observador

The timeless lyrics to “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie proclaim that hope and a better future are just a day away.

“The sun’ll come out Tomorrow / So ya gotta hang on / ‘Til tomorrow / Come what may”

The story of Annie, much like the music, is also a timeless tale which reminds audiences that even in rough times there is hope. The new North American tour of the beloved musical is set to arrive to San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts from January 10-15, 2023.

Recently we had the opportunity to speak to one of the actors in the show, Julia Nicole Hunter, about her experiences with the show and her character, Grace Farrell. Her previous credits include: The title role of Nina for In the Heights at the Walnut Street Theatre, Nettie in The Color Purple, and  Principal Vocalist for Burn the Floor.

Find out more below on how Hunter portrays this updated version of Grace, what her most memorable stage memories are, and why the show continues to delight audiences generation after generation.

Hello Julia, to start off, I wanted to ask you if you could walk us through a little bit in terms of how you got your start in the arts and what led you on to that career path.

Definitely. So I started since the age of three. I was doing Christmas plays at my grandma’s church, and that’s where I found my love for singing and Christmas, as well as my favorite holiday. It started at a very young age, but I did mostly classical music up until about halfway through my high school year. And then I kind of started getting into musical theater, and I realized that I had a passion for musical theater in probably my junior year of high school. And then that’s when I decided to go to college in New York, and I went to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and I studied musical theater there, and yeah. Then the rest is all history. That’s when I started In the Heights and Color Purple and cruise ships, and now I’m here.

Can you talk a little bit about your character, Grace for all, and how you ended up, like, interpreting the role and how you brought that character to life on your way?

So, honestly, Grace Ferrell was not really a role that I had on my radar as, like, a must play role. But then our choreographer, Patti Wilcox, reached out and she was like, “I think you would be perfect for this role. Audition, submit.” And so I did. And then initially, I feel like I connect to Grace. She’s got this nurturing, loving side to her, a very soft side, and that part was easy to find throughout the rehearsal process and bringing that part out because it’s so much a part of me that was easy to find.

But then our director, Jenn Thompson, she wanted to bring this grittier side to Grace. She’s the gatekeeper for Warbucks. She kind of helps keep everybody in line when Warbucks isn’t around and she does have this tougher side that I think most people don’t realize. So that was fun to kind of dive into and bring out a little bit more, with the help of Jenn Thompson.

“Annie brings this, she brings out the best in people, and she really is just so hopeful and optimistic. And honestly, I think that that is just something that everybody needs right now more than ever.”

-Julia Nicole Hunter

Throughout the show, [Grace] progresses and she kind of lets her guard down as Warbucks falls in love with Annie and she gets to watch him kind of open up, and she realizes it’s okay for her to open up and let her guard down.

She kind of becomes this quirkier, funnier, light hearted woman towards the end of the show as well. She can let that side come out, too. So she’s got all these beautiful layers, and it’s been really fun finding those.

So what would you say is one of your favorite parts about working on the show, whether it be on stage, backstage or watching it?

That’s a good question. I think I’d have to say, well, for starters, I love working with children. It’s always been one of my passions outside of musical theater. I taught preschool briefly before performing, and so kids are a passion. And so when working with these beautiful and talented children is exciting and wonderful. I also love animals, so working with the two dogs is a huge highlight. And then throw Christmas in there. Getting to sing about Christmas every night all year round is wonderful.

But I think probably a little backstage gem, I’d have to say, is throughout the process, you get to see this beautiful relationship that Warbucks and Annie have on stage. And obviously they’re acting up there, but watching them offstage, they have all these moments in this relationship that they’ve developed that are so genuine because they really love each other offstage that they can bring that to the stage.

So they have, like, these little handshakes that they do on the side stage, and I’ll be waiting in the wings getting ready to go on, and I’ll just glare out of the corner of my eye and I’ll see them doing a silly dance together. Their pre scene rituals and stuff. I love watching that because I think it’s really heartwarming and I love that.

And what is your favorite song or performance in Annie?

I think my favorite performance is probably we do this beautiful transition into Christmas where the house gets all decorated and the curtain comes up and there’s the Christmas tree and the big grand staircase and everything. And I think I love that number, and that’s what it’s the start of “I Don’t Need Anything But You”, so that song is probably my favorite.

For folks that I have not seen the show yet, could you talk about what may be the difference from what people have seen with the film adaptations?

Yeah, I think the one thing that Jenn really wanted to make sure that we brought to this production was just the truthfulness of the characters, because they are obviously fictional characters, but they’re all characters that people can relate to.

As you watch experiences that they’ve had, people in the audience will be able to relate to and kind of feel. And I think right now more than ever, we just need this message of hope and optimism for people. Annie brings this, she brings out the best in people, and she really is just so hopeful and optimistic. And honestly, I think that that is just something that everybody needs right now more than ever.

And I think that people walk away from this show feeling. They’ll have laughed, they’ll have cried, they’ll feel joy, and at least I hope so by the end. And so I just really think that through Jenn just wanting us to be so truthful in the characters and speaking that truth, that’s what makes us different, and that’s what makes this show so special.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

I think Annie is such a loved show. It’s always been a beloved show for people, and a lot of people think it’s a kids show, and it absolutely is. It’s for the kids, but it’s just as much for the adults. And I think that a lot of people who know Annie from their childhood get to walk down memory lane and have this beautiful, nostalgic experience. And yeah, I think it’s just as much for the adults as it is for the kids. There’s something for everybody, and I hope that everybody comes to see it.

Annie is at San Jose’s Center for the Performing Arts from January 10–15, 2023. Tickets and info are available at broadwaysanjose.com.

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