Annie, Book by Thomas Meehan, Lyrics by Martin Charnin, Music by Charles Strouse. Directed by Claudia DeMartino and Brooke Hutchins. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
The Cast of Annie
"Annie won't be coming back here. . .ever."
The comic strip musical, Annie, based on the Tribune Media Services 84 year old newspaper characters of "Little Orphan Annie" has been a mega-hit since it opened on Broadway in 1977. Annie, an eleven year old abandoned child whose life depends on the "charity" of the orphanage's manager, evil Miss Hannigan, gets an unbelievable opportunity to live with America's only multi-billionaire, Oliver Warbucks - a Republican power magnate during the liberal Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first administration - for two weeks leading up to Christmas. In those fourteen days a lot happens to her and for her and she winds up, literally, on the much coveted Easy Street.
This is one of the most produced shows in stock, dinner theatre, high school and grammer school venues. It has been filmed twice, been seen on television and been recorded multiple times. It's theme song "Tomorrow" has held out the promise of a better life to millions of people. It is so popular that at the small theater in Sand Lake, NY, a community theater production of the show has been selling out, much of the audience hiking through snowstorms to see it. That is a good thing for theater in general. But this particular production has many things to recommend it and few things it should note for future work.
Set in 1932 the costumes - particularly skirt lengths - place it squarely around 1940. Note to costumer Barbara Neu: it is your responsibility to give the show its dominant look so in the future, check it out. If you are also overseeing hair and makeup the same note applies. Grace Farrell needs to present an image of unmistakeable attractiveness, if not beauty, for the audience to realize how shallow and self-involved Warbucks has been in not really noticing her before Annie's influence on him changes everything.
As for Katie K. Snyder who plays Grace, she has charm, a lovely voice and a wonderful way of reacting to things in the storyline. Some makeup and a better way of arranging her hair would have made her performance "practically perfect in every way" to steal a thought from Mary Poppins. As for Miss Hannigan, Suzanne Baker was almost too pretty to make her real, but her acting was just great and her physical movements were paralyzing - just the ticket for this character.
I saw Carly Hunter as Annie (there are two) and she was endearing. Her singing was a bit tremulous, but very engaging and her interaction with others on stage was terrific. Once again, a note to the costumer - her hair should be a revelation in the final scene, not from the first moment out. Hunter had a moment with her alternate, Kelsey Dodd - a totally different type, that was sweetly engaging.
My favorite of the orphans was Mallory Bougault who played Molly, the littlest orphan - a role that began the career of Sarah Jessica Parker. She was a total delight and seemed to be having the best time of anyone on stage. Brava!! All of the girls were good, but she was a dynamo.
Warbucks was played by Matthew Perret whose lovely tenor voice gave him a charm that the lines deny him. While his singing was a highlight of the production his acting tended to stiffness and I never found his interest in the little orphan to be genuine, not even at the curtain call. I would love to see him in a different sort of role some time, for there is a wonderful talent lurking there. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw put it best - "never appear onstage with children or a dog" and there is a dog and lots of kids in Annie - and expect any personal glory.
The actors in the show acquit themselves nicely and the entire two and a half hours is filled with delicious little character bits.
The two young directors take roles in this production and handle them nicely. They kept a fine flow to the show and brought their young actresses along beautifully. It would take a more mature hand to bring to the adult characters some of the finesse that is needed here. However, the show is so worthwhile in this excellent, simple, community production. If there were tickets, I'd say go buy them now. You can still try, of course.
ANNIE, in its Circle Theatre Players production at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts, on Route 43 in Averill Park, NY, plays through this weekend only. For information and tickets go to their website at slca-ctp.org or call 518-674-2007.