When I was six years old, tragedy struck. Tantrum-throwing, heart-wailing, tragedy. My beloved VHS copy of Annie had been “accidentally destroyed,” (the circumstances of which are still suspect) and I was instructed to move on to greener pastures and less obsessive pastimes. So when the opening notes of “Someday” floated through Toby’s Dinner Theatre Sunday evening, the six year old inside of me began to kick, and the six year olds surrounding me began to giggle with delight – a delight which resounded throughout the rest of the night.
Annie, directed by Shawn Kettering, is the tale of a young orphan, played in this performance by the enormously talented Maya Brettell. Annie is stuck in the clutches of an embittered and alcoholic orphanage owner, Mrs. Hannigan (Tina Marie DeSimone) as she dreams of a better life with her orphan friends (Lily Discepolo, Sadie Herman, Susanna Hoffman, Caitlin McDermott, Cammy McDermott, Madelyn Rendelman Schloss*). As Annie waits for the tentative return of her parents, she is taken in by billionaire Oliver Warbucks, (David Bosley-Reynolds) his assistant Grace Ferrell, (Heather Marie Beck) and the scores of Warbucks Mansion staff who are as enchanted and moved by Annie as the financial giant himself.
The tune changes when local swindlers Rooster and Lilly St. Regis (Matthew Schleigh and Debra Buonaccorsi) shimmy into town, adding to the Warbucks’ duress as the country attempts to pull itself out of the Great Depression.
Toby’s Annie seeks to pull no punches, and delivers exactly what the premise promises, and what has made the musical so successful: a clean and easy evening with a dozen more-than-hummable melodies. Familiar and lovable tunes such as “Hard Knock Life,” “Tomorrow,” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” all hit their marks with grace, and songs such as the lesser known “Hooverville” give the adults catchy but less pleasant sentiments to consider. (“We’d like to thank you, Herbert Hoover /For really showing us the way/You dirty rat, you Bureaucrat, you/ Made us what we are today!) “Easy Street” sizzles with a villainous flame (choreography: Tina Desimone) and as Mr. Warbucks, Bosley-Reynolds triumphs as a golden voiced titan who really just needs a hug.
The vocal force behind the cast is huge and consistent, and filters deep into the ensemble. “Smile,” is crooned to perfection by Dan Sontag, and “N.Y.C.”, featuring a surprisingly show-stopping solo by Katie Grace Heidbreder, excites and solidifies the talent that populates the rest of the ensemble and makes Annie’s world come to life. The production is classically staged with a beautiful and seamlessly transitioned set (David A. Hopkins) and beautiful costumes that shine (Samn Huffer), whether they’re adorning the homeless or the President.
Though Annie is now over 30 years old – it was 1977 when the original Broadway show – adapted from the Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie – tapped its way into America’s hearts – it still has the ability to thrill the scores of audience members that want nothing more than for Annie to find a home.
The children beside me could barely stand to stop squealing with excitement between numbers. (“Is it over, mommy? Because if it is, I really do not want it to be! Really not!”) Annie is kind, and Annie works hard, and Annie finds her way across a daunting landscape (she even makes a strong statement about tomorrow — you may have heard of it, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise). Annie is a night of simple joys – one the parents can’t tape over, and one the kids won’t forget.
Annie runs thru Jan 8, 2012 at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore, 5625 Odonnell Street Baltimore, MD.
*Annie is alternately played by Adalia Jimenez; the Orphans are alternately played by Grace Dillon, Natalya Jimenez, Hunter Elizabeth Snow Lubawki, Maddie Ulman, Lilly Ulman
Lyrics by Martin Charnin, Book by Thomas Meehan, Music by Charles Strouse
Directed by Shawn Kettering
Musical Direction by Douglas Lawler
Produced by Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Baltimore
Reviewed by Sarah Ameigh
Run Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes including 1 intermission