"The most talented animals are right there under your nose," said Berloni, who makes it a point of using shelter dogs in all his projects. "The message is: Animals in shelters are not damaged, just unfortunate."Love.
Sunny was only 24 hours away from being euthanized four months ago when Berloni spotted her photo online while conducting a nationwide search for Sandy. She had been mislabeled as male and given the name Bruno. Touched, he forwarded her photo to one of the show's producers, Arielle Tepper Madover, who wrote back, "Save her. I don't care what it costs."
"So I adopted her sight-unseen," said Berloni. "I didn't think she was a candidate for Sandy. Her description was so sweet and she looked very much like the original Sandy that we were just saving her to find her a home."
Sunny was shipped to New York and came muzzle-to-face with Berloni. "I met her and went, 'Wow, she could really be a candidate,'" he said. "She's going to be fantastic."
...Berloni, whose extensive Broadway credits include training animals for "Legally Blonde," ''Joe Turner's Come and Gone," ''Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," ''Awake and Sing" and "The Wizard of Oz," began working as an animal trainer when he plucked the original Sandy in "Annie" from a shelter in 1976 for $7 the day before it was to be euthanized.
He chuckles that his career has come full circle with the new "Annie" revival. "You hear of people ... being remembered for having a signature song?" he asks. "Well, I think I'm the only guy who has a signature dog."
The original Sandy, also a terrier mix, went on to play almost all 2,377 performances of "Annie" and Berloni supplied shelter dogs for all four national tours of the show, as well as the 10th, 20th and 30th anniversary productions. Sunny's understudy, Casey, was rescued from a shelter in Nashville, Tenn.
..."I always say anybody could have gone into a shelter and adopted any one of the animals that I've turned into Broadway stars the day before I did," he said. "And they would have been great dogs in someone's home. I just get the opportunity to show that they're great dogs onstage."
From left, Tony Award winning animal trainer William Berloni, Sunny, who will play the role of Sandy, and Lilla Crawford, who will play the role of Annie, in the new Broadway production of "Annie." Previews begin October 3 and opening night is November 8 at the Palace Theatre. [AP Photo/Boneau/Bryan-Brown][H/T to Shaker AC.]