The young cast of Annie (first cast). Photo: CenterStage.
Book by Thomas Meehan
Music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Directed by Frank Goodloe III
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2019 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved
There aren’t many nearly 100-year old comic strips that still retain their power as a popular icon, but Annie certainly has shown herself to be resilient and timeless, in a way. I’ll clean up that statement later on.
Ever the optimist, Little Orphan Annie pulls out the best in those that she meets and always looks at the world with a positive, “everything will be okay” attitude. The character’s longevity owes something to this positivity, but perhaps more to the emotional and memorable music and lyrics contained within the smash hit stage version.
Housed at a New York City orphanage, Annie (Emmie Siegel) does her best to keep the peace amongst her fellow orphans, acting as both a mediator and a mother to those that are scared of their surroundings. Being the resourceful person that she is, Annie devises a plan to escape the watchful eye of the orphanage’s director, Ms. Aggie Hannigan (Melissa Shepherd). While she is successful in her escape, she is quickly caught and returned. While Annie sits in Ms. Hannigan’s office awaiting her punishment, Grace Farrell (Susan Hahn), the personal secretary of billionaire Oliver Warbucks (J. Barrett Cooper), comes to offer a chance for one of Ms. Hannigan’s orphans to enjoy Christmastime at the Warbucks residence. In a clever bit of silent conversation, Annie is chosen to experience the once in a lifetime opportunity, much to Ms. Hannigan’s chagrin.
Upon Annie’s arrival to the posh Manhattan mansion, she is introduced to the staff, including Mr. Warbucks’ butler Drake (Patrick Vaughn) who oversees all of the mansion’s personnel. As the house is busy fussing over Annie’s arrival, Mr. Warbucks returns from a business trip. A bit surprised by having a girl orphan as his guest, he assures her of a fun time while she is there. Before long, a new friendship develops between the lonely billionaire and the orphan, and adoption papers are drawn up. But Annie is still hopeful that her parents will return for her and holds on to the pendant that her parents gave her and she has worn every day since being left at the orphanage. Mr. Warbucks vows to find her parents, using his considerable clout, including speaking with the President himself (Jim Craig).
Meanwhile, Ms. Hannigan’s sleazy, fresh-out-of-jail brother Rooster (David Galloway) and his friend Lily St. Regis (Molly Kays) show up at the orphanage to scrounge around for the next moneymaking scheme. When they learn that Mr. Warbucks has a $50,000 check for anyone who finds Annie’s parents, a plan is hatched to be the orphan’s parents and claim the reward.
The score contains several songs that have become standards: Maybe, It’s a Hard Knock Life, and Tomorrow are just a few of the numbers whose harmonies have become so familiar. These songs don’t shake from your mind too quickly. You are likely to be humming them for days to come.
The production is certainly a bit of fun, and with such a large cast (many of them children) it seems like things could get a little hairy. Lucky for the opening night audience, I didn’t see too many problems. While the choreography by Sandra Rivera was full of energy and bounce, there were many times that the actors just couldn’t figure out which way to sway or swoop. The acrobatics from the young orphans was exciting. As for the acting, I noticed that a few actors, adult, and child alike, were still searching for lines and there were often times that dialogue was stepped on.
Frank Goodloe III not only directed but also was also responsible for the costume and scenic design. I believe the costumes were very appropriate for the era, but it was odd to see some paneling that in the mansion also be used at the orphanage, and I couldn’t help but wonder if there had been some difficulty in the scene changes. Nick Dent’s lighting design was just right, especially for the dismal feel of Hooverville. Cal Reed’s sound was good as well, save for some of the lavalier microphones being a bit temperamental.
As I mentioned Annie has a large cast and I can highlight a few of the performances. The ladies who portrayed the Boylan sisters (Madi Shipman, Olivia Manning, and Elizabeth Scheen) did quite well and the alto in their SSA arrangement was very sure of her voice. On the opposite end, Ms. Manning, as the Star-to-Be, was a bit off key upon her entrance to NYC. Fortunately, she was able to center herself after a time.
Patrick Vaughn’s Drake had just the right amount of fussiness about himself, but I would have loved to see some more cockiness as Bert Healy. Molly Kays’ Lily St. Regis was delightful. She had just enough sass and no class. The same can be said for David Galloway’s Rooster. His oily persona was on the stage before his body was. Listening to Melissa Shepherd perform Little Girls had me wondering if she was channeling comedy great Carol Burnett, who portrayed Ms. Hannigan in the first film adaptation. Her mannerisms were very similar and she oozed her distaste for the hand that life had dealt her.
I’ve enjoyed Susan Hahn on other occasions and she certainly showed her vocal prowess as Grace Farrell, but I longed for a little more…umph, more womanpower. An actor who I have enjoyed for many years in non-singing roles is J. Barrett Cooper as Daddy Warbucks. While he seems very different from other notable actors who have portrayed the billionaire, Mr. Cooper’s take was a kinder and gentler industrialist. While the acting was what I would expect from Mr. Cooper I wondered how he would do in his first musical. For someone whose resume is not built on song, he didn’t do too badly. Despite a bit of speak/singing in NYC and rushing Something Was Missing, he handled the music quite well.
Perhaps one of the biggest stars of the evening, Olly Scheer, who played Sandy the dog, did everything that he was supposed to do. I do wish he had had more time in the show, but maybe Mr. Goodloe was heeding the advice of W.C. Fields about working with children and animals.
Because of the need for a large cast of “little girls”, CenterStage has two different sets of orphans: a Warbucks cast and a Grace cast. Opening night we were treated to the Warbucks cast. Of course, there were standouts, such as Hadley Bauer as adorable Molly and the older Pepper, played by Raquel Vaught. Emmie Siegel was every bit the Annie that you would expect. She was bubbly and charismatic and had the cast and audience enamored of her. While she is quite good, I noticed that her singing could get a little too nasal, but perhaps that is the direction that her vocal coach and/or musical director Emily Fields chose.
Speaking of Ms. Fields, brava ma’am. She had a lot of voices to tame within this show, and most of the time all went rather well, despite a false start or two and a few cast members who didn’t blend well in Coro. But while the band was every bit of what was needed, there were times that errant and wrong notes crept up, particularly in the brass. Also, I don’t know if anyone was mic’d but there were times that percussion was a bit loud. I think a better sound balance would help everyone out.
It is evident from this performance why Annie is still performed, as it provides all of us with a more positive outlook on life, but it is outdated. While the show is centered on the Great Depression, many audiences today really have no frame of reference for songs like New Deal for Christmas, which falls flat. Maybe Annie needs a 21st-century revision.
March 14-31 @ 7:30 pm
Tickets $20/ weeknight, $22 weekend performances
Jewish Community Center
3600 Dutchman’s Lane
Louisville, Kentucky 40205
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.
2019 Arts-Louisville/Broadway World Theatre Award Sponsorship provided by