A cynic might say the musical Annie is family theatre cooked up by recipe. Start with a plucky young girl looking for love and family, add orphans, mix in cartoonish villains, stir with a rich businessman, marinate repeatedly with a memorable song, sprinkle in just enough historical humor for the parents, and serve with a cute dog on top. But doggone it, this new production at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia really works, thanks to its cast of talented children and an excellent performance by David Bosley-Reynolds as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks.
Few theatres are as dependable at finding and showcasing talented children as Toby’s. Whether it is Annie, The Sound of Music, The King and I, or any other theatre classic, count on Toby’s to assemble a terrific juvenile cast, a feat made doubly impressive by the fact that the shows rotate dual casts of children.
Caitlin Deerin starred as Annie in the reviewed show and gave a memorable performance. Her Annie is a believable young gamine who is simultaneously both strong and sweet. She has the courage to stand up to the orphanage’s monstrous Miss Hannigan (Tina DeSimone) and handle herself on the mean streets of Depression-era New York City following an escape attempt, yet she has a winning grin that’s as broad as Manhattan. Deerin has a powerful and clear singing voice that can be a tad sharp at times, but she can hold a note better than many adult performers.
Annie is first introduced at the orphanage surrounded by a half dozen other talented girls. Their performance with cleaning tools to “A Hard Knock Life” (probably the second most famous song in the show) is utterly charming. While this entire youth cast (including Kylie Cooley, Lily Discepolo, Bailey Gabrish, Harlie Heiserman, and Jazzy Williams), performs with skill and maturity beyond their years, the standout is Megan Taveres as Molly, perhaps the most endearing moppet ever to grace the stage.
Before long, Annie is earnestly longing for a better “Tomorrow” with her long lost parents. She is temporarily lodged with the famous billionaire bachelor Warbucks, who is charmed by the young girl and promises to help her find her parents, even though he would like to adopt her himself. Needless to say, the show delivers a happy ending for both Annie and Warbucks.
David Bosley-Reynolds is outstanding as Warbucks. While he is a regular both at Toby’s and at playing the role (for the fifth time), he gives a focused and nuanced performance. He has the powerful presence of a business magnate who commands the attention of President Franklin Roosevelt (Alan Hoffman), but melts convincingly in the hands of the lovable young orphan. He has a smooth and full voice that adeptly handles songs such as “N.Y.C.” and “Something Was Missing.”
Director Shawn Kettering and choreographer Mark Minnick do a fine job showcasing the entire cast, especially given the challenges of performing in the round. The group numbers are all entertaining, whether it involves the group of orphans, the multitude of servants at the Warbucks’ mansion, or FDR and his cabinet who receive a dose of optimism from Annie.
Music Director Douglas Lawler helps the cast achieve a nicely balanced sound in the group numbers. Among the solo performers, A.K. Brink is both sweet in singing voice and personality as Warbucks’ secretary Grace Farrell.
The best comic performances are delivered by Jeffrey Shankle as radio personality Bert Healy and by Hoffman as an indomitable FDR. DeSimone is more successful at showing the darker side of Miss Hannigan than realizing the role’s full comic potential, but her criminal conspirators (David Frankenberger and Debra Buonaccorsi) help boost the energy.
Annie’s warm spirit so overtakes everyone that you won’t even cringe during the repeated reprises of “Tomorrow”. In fact, I’ll bet you will like it. Annie is a triumph of cuteness, from the top of the famous orphan’s frizzy hair to the bark of her dog, Sandy. I’m betting that when Belle Sunday performs as Sandy, it won’t only be the children going “Aww.”
Music by Charles Strouse . Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Book by Thomas Meehan
Directed by Shawn Kettering
Presented by Toby’s Dinner Theatre, Columbia
Reviewed by Steven McKnight