From spunky “Little Miss Sunshine” to an even more heroic young girl.
Abigail Breslin will play Helen Keller in the first Broadway revival of William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” scheduled to open on March 3, producer David Richenthal announced Wednesday. Previews begin Feb. 12 at Circle in the Square Theatre.
Alison Pill will portray Annie Sullivan, the determined instructor who teaches the deaf and blind Helen how to communicate.
“I am so honored,” the 13-year-old Breslin said in an interview. “It’s like the biggest thing in the world. … I have read the biography of Helen Keller. So I’ve always known the story, and it’s always been something I wanted to play.
“Helen is a hero of mine — for so many reasons. She never gave up on herself and she had so many people who believed in her like her teacher Annie Sullivan.”
The production will be directed by Kate Whoriskey, who has extensive regional theater credits and recently was named artistic director of the Intiman Theatre in Seattle.
Richenthal, producer of acclaimed revivals of such classics as “Death of a Salesman” and “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” has long been a fan of the play, particularly since he was good friends with Gibson, who died in 2008.
“But I think one always needs to find ways to reintroduce it,” Richenthal said. “I have been waiting for the right director and the right cast.”
And he feels he has found them in his director and two stars.
About Breslin, Richenthal said: “I have never met a young girl her age who is so clear-eyed and unstarry. Helen Keller was brilliant — an IQ of 150-something — and obviously a courageous person to overcome what she did. I see in Abigail those qualities.”
The producer said he thought “The Miracle Worker” also needed a great woman director.
“This is a play that should not be part of the old boys’ club,” he said. “And I loved Kate’s take on it, which is that it’s really about everybody’s family. Now this (story) is a little more extreme but there’s hardly a family that doesn’t have a child or a relative that has some real issues.”
Whoriskey also told the producer “The Miracle Worker” was about three women — Helen, Annie and Helen’s mother (a role still be to cast), a woman who insisted against her husband’s advice of reaching out to this young teacher for her daughter.
“Then the question is ‘Who can play Annie Sullivan?’,” Richenthal added.
“I must say when I first started working on the production, the obvious thought was ‘You get a star to play that role.’ … But it’s an incredibly difficult part and a movie star might or might not be able to have the stage chops.
“I think Kate was delightfully pleased that I was in favor of Alison Pill because she is not exactly a household word — not yet. She will be,” Richenthal said of Pill, who has appeared in several Broadway productions, HBO’s “In Treatment” and the film “Milk.”
Gibson wrote “The Miracle Worker” for television’s “Playhouse 90” in 1957, with Teresa Wright as Annie Sullivan and Patty (billed as Patricia) McCormack as Helen Keller. His Broadway adaptation opened two years later with Anne Bancroft as Annie and Patty Duke as Helen. The stage production ran for more than 700 performances. Both actresses won Academy Awards for their performances in the 1962 film version.
There have been several subsequent television versions, including one in 1979 in which Duke played the teacher and Melissa Gilbert her pupil.
Rehearsals for this new “Miracle Worker” begin Jan. 11.