by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The Bolles School annual musical was presented on the San Jose Campus from November 21-24, 2013. The musical is an all-school event, and this year, almost 100 members of the Bolles community of all ages participated. The year’s selection was the delightful Annie, considered by many to be the greatest family musical to come from Broadway. It was revived in New York in 2013 and was once again a great success.
The 1977 Tony Award-winning musical has songs that are now so familiar you can sing along with the cast. Songs like “Hard Knock Life,” “Tomorrow” “We’d Like to thank You Herbert Hoover,” “Little Girls,” “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here,” “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile,” and “Easy Street” are all favorites.
The Plot? Based on the gritty Depression-era comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” it tells the story of a spunky 11-year-old redhead who is determined to find the parents who left her on the doorstep of a New York orphanage years ago. Annie escapes the mean-spirited head of the orphanage Miss Hannigan and has the good fortune to run into Billionaire Oliver Warbucks who decides to adopt her but first must deal with the opportunistic schemes of Miss Hannigan and her brother Rooster.
In 1924, Harold Gray created a comic strip called “Little Orphan Otto,” but there were so many strips featuring boys and none about girls that he decided to change his character to a girl, and “Little Orphan Annie” was born. Keeping true to the roots of Gray’s character and illustration, Art Director and Scenic Designer Herman McEachin made the sets like comic strips. Indeed bold colors carried home the feeling of watching a living comic strip. We loved the clever tall rolling orphanage bunk beds that were used very creatively by Choreographer Angela Blackledge.
The costumes by Kelly Messer ranged from elegant clothing for Warbucks and his staff and friends, to simple poor people’s attire for the orphans.
The demanding leading role of Annie was played by Natalie Rudzinksi who was a delight to watch on stage. She was a very spunky Annie and an orphan everyone in the audience wanted to adopt before the show was over.
As Daddy Warbucks, Travis Johns filled all the requirements, being a big powerful looking man. Johns even shaved his head to have the classic bald look that Warbucks was known for. Kaitlyn Bonfield was quite lovely and dressed very fashionably as Grace Farrell, the private secretary of Warbucks who is deeply in love with him.
May Lee as the hard hearted Miss Hannigan was outstanding and could she belt out a song. We especially liked that although she did take a nip of whiskey from a flask, she did not play the role as a drunk. She joined her brother, slick conman Rooster (Mitchell Gravelle), and his sexy girl friend Lily (Morgan Smith)in a rendition of “ Easy Street” that was a real show stopper.
One of our favorite scenes was the Hour of Smiles Radio show with energetic host Bert Healy (Garrett Bennett) and his co-host Wacky (Cameron Gratz), as they used the airwaves to try to find Annie’s parents. The lovely Boylan Sisters, Isy Milne, Swetha Davuluri and Sara Kate Levin, sang as a trio in excellent harmony to sell toothpaste.
The opening scene features the orphans, singing, dancing, and supporting Annie as she plans her escape from the dreadful orphanage. The fabulous orphans who managed to upstage everyone included: Molly (Laura Gelman), Kate (Sophia Mantegari), Pepper (Kendall Dix), July (Shelby Flanigan), Tessie, (Grace Ann Hudson), and Duffy (Naomi Herman). Unnamed orphans included Elizabeth Arceneaux, Jillian Candelino, Hope Cruse, Aynslee Hopkins, Vivien Mortiz, Kathryn Orr, and Jessie Pearson. Diarra Samb appeared as Assistant Dog Catcher.
Another touching scene was Annie addressing President Roosevelt and his staff, offering her sage advice on how to run the country by singing “Tomorrow.” Roosevelt was expertly played by Co-Director of the show Michael Fritton, whom we have seen several times in comic roles at Theatre Jacksonville. His presidential cabinet included Van Lucas, John Norcross, Zach Orender, and Julian Vega.
Daddy Warbucks did not do anything half way. His House Staff, large in number and fine singers and dancers as well, included Mrs. Drake(Helen Hicks) Mrs. Pugh (Leah McNeil) Ms. Greer (Lilly Bateh) and Cecile (Sara Lorbeer). The charming and efficient maids included Darden Alexander, Asha Anderson, Katie Carr, Hannah Kobrin, Sarah Duffy, Kareena Sharma and the three Boylan Sisters who doubled back as maids.
We think the amazing Director Laura Anne Ripple now holds the record for the largest number of actors on stage at the same time in a Jacksonville production. For the bums and residents of Hooverville, Ms. Ripple cast 44 young students, mostly elementary school age, dressed them in their very best old clothes (the older the better), put hats on most of them, and brought them all on stage for the Hooverville scene. They even got to sing a song. What a marvelous way to introduce young people to the wonderful world of the stage with these cameo roles! They performed to perfection and even appeared in the choreographed curtain call!!!
Special Kudos go to Stage Manager Ria Joglekar. Handling such a large cast in such an efficient manner had to be a monumental task.
You say what about the dog? Everybody always wants to know about Sandy, Annie’s dog. A dog named Seth, who in real life is a member of the Blackledge family, played this role. Seth was adorable but apparently this was his first time as a dog actor and he wanted to stay out of the spotlight. Congratulations to Miss Rudzinski as Annie, who, when Sandy would not follow her, just picked him up and carried him away. It was worth a good laugh.
The Pit Orchestra was led by Musical Director Rachel Clifton, on the piano. The musicians were excellent. We had seats near the orchestra and were afraid they would overpower the singers but such was not the case.
This play has remained popular for three decades, because it is an enduring ode to optimism. With catchy and fun songs, a young girl in a leading role, and a dog, it will be around for another three decades and more. Thank you Bolles and Director Ripple. Leaping Lizards! Did we have fun!
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM