Forty years ago, I was introduced to the world of musical theater with my first visit to Broadway, where I was lucky enough to see Andrea McArdle play the title role in the original production of Annie. I’ve seen the show countless times since, and am always pleased that audiences are filled with young ones discovering Annie for the first time.
That’s important, and the Olney Theatre Center’s new production of the musical does a great job in making sure that those experiencing theater for the first time stay focused and interested. They included a handy primer in its Playbill that parents can read to their children before the show starts, explaining what the Great Depression era was really like. The show opens with a great multi-media presentation of photos of the era running across a screen while the overture plays, getting kids interested from the very first note.
Not that Annie is for the youngsters only. The beauty of Thomas Meehan’s book and Charles Strouse’s score is that it’s a musical full of such joy and optimism that brings out the child in all of us. It’s hard not to leave the theater without having one of its signature songs—“Tomorrow” or “Hard Knock Life”—dancing around in your head.
A big part of that is thanks to the charming Noelle Robinson playing the title character. With a powerhouse voice and a smile that lights the room, Robinson is a delight. Her chemistry with Kevin McAllister’s Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks is wonderful and has the audience’s heart melting when we see their bond grow into father and daughter, especially powerful with their duet, “I Don’t Need Anything But You.”
Daddy Warbucks doesn’t take as long to warm up to Annie as some other productions I’ve seen, and that’s a story point that I think works really well in this show. Patricia Hurley is lovely as Grace, Warbucks’ kind secretary who becomes a maternal influence on Annie, and the trio resonate a palpable family worth rooting for.
Of course, it’s the kids who bring out the most enjoyment in the show and Olney has assembled a talented cast of little rug-rats who can sing and dance with the best of them. Sissy Sheridan was especially memorable as Pepper, the tough orphan who deep down cares about Annie and her friends.
Rachel Zampelli brings plenty of laughs as Miss Hannigan, the orphans’ drunken keeper, and her responses when anything good happens to Annie or when face to face with a new man are a hoot. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Broadway’s original Angel from Rent, is positively electric as Rooster. Teaming with Dani Stoller as Lily, his partner in crime, and Zampelli on the tune “Easy Street,” the threesome make being criminal fun. The choreography for the song is top-notch.
closes December 31, 2017
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Speaking of choreography, Rachel Leigh Dolan has the entire cast dancing up a storm, and even simple movements such as a walk through the streets of Manhattan, or cleaning the orphanage are done with aplomb. Seth M. Gilbert’s costumes are colorful and represent the time period well, while Daniel Ettinger’s scenery is bright and eye-catching.
The ensemble in Annie is one of the better ones I have seen recently, especially the scene-stealing Karl Kippola, who has laugh-provoking moments as both Drake and Ickes. Rob McQuay delivered a strong, comical President Franklin D. Roosevelt as well.
Director Jason King Jones has put together a show that pays homage to the original but still has elements that are more in line for a 21st century audience. It’s the perfect escape for the holidays and a show the whole family can enjoy.
Annie . Book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, musical direction by Jay Crowder, choreographed by Rachel Leigh Dolan, directed by Jason King Jones.
Annie: Noelle Robinson, Vivian Poe* (select performances); Molly Kylee Hope Geraci, Olivia McMahon; Pepper: Anaïs Killian, Sissy Sheridan; Duffy: Sofia A. Cruz, Simone Straub-Clark; July: Ella Coulson, Dulcie Pham; Tessie: Emily Scholl, Simone Warren; Kate: Avery Daniel, Brooke Webster; Jane: Katharine Ford, Audrey Kilgore; Miss Hannigan: Rachel Zampelli; Bundles: Nurney; Apple Seller: Rob McQuay; Dog Catcher: Kenneth Derby; Asst. Dog Catcher: Jay Frisby; Sandy: Petey, Rusty; Lt. Ward: Alan Naylor; Eddie: Karl Kippola; Sophie the Kettle: Emily Madden; Grace Farrell: Patricia Hurley; Drake: Karl Kippola; Mrs. Greer: Julia Lancione; Mrs. Pugh: Ashleigh King; Cecile: Dani Stoller; Annette: Emily Madden; Oliver Warbucks: Kevin McAllister; A Star to Be: Ashleigh King; Rooster Hannigan: Wilson Jermaine Heredia; Lily St. Regis: Dani Stoller; Bert Healy: Alan Naylor; Fred McCracken: Karl Kippola; Jimmy Johnson: Jay Frisby; Sound Effects Man: Nurney; Bonnie Boylan: Emily Madden; Connie Boylan: Julia Lancione; Ronnie Boylan: Ashleigh King; FDR: Rob McQuay; Ickes: Karl Kippola; Perkins: Ashleigh King; Howe: Nurney; Morganthau: Alan Naylor; Hull: Kenneth Derby; Honor Guard: Jay Frisby; Justice Brandeis: Kenneth Derby. Scenic design by Daniel Ettinger, lighting design by Sarah Tundermann, costume design by Seth M. Gilbert, sound design by Roc Lee, wig and hair by Alexandra Pohanka. Produced by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Keith Loria.