ALHAMBRA THEATRE & DINING REVIEW
“Annie,” which is considered the most successful Broadway family musical ever, is back on stage at the Alhambra. It opened on June 28, 2017 and will remain through August 13. Tickets are going fast so call (904) 641-1212 or visit alhambrajax.com to reserve your seats.
Lyricist and Director Martin Charnin began writing the play in 1971. His intent was imparting hope in troubled times; the country was facing the Vietnam War, unemployment was increasing, and the city of New York was going bankrupt. Thomas Meehan and Charles Strouse collaborated on the script. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1977, and ran for almost six years, with over 2,300 performances. The production received seven Tony Awards, which included Best Musical.
Charnin based the musical on a popular comic strip launched in 1924 by cartoonist Harold Gray. Gray’s original title was “Little Orphan Otto,” but he changed it to “Little Orphan Annie” when he realized there were many comics featuring boys but none with girls.
Plot recap: It’s 1933. Annie, who is eleven years old, escapes from a New York orphanage and Miss Hannigan, its mean-spirited manager. She finds an appealing stray dog that she names Sandy, then wanders into Hooverville, where she lifts the inhabitants’ spirits with a message of a better tomorrow. After a police visit, she is escorted back to Miss Hannigan and Sandy runs away. Fortune intervenes when she is invited for a brief stay at the mansion of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, a New York businessman, who offers a large reward for help in finding her parents. Annie and Warbucks provide the inspiration and strategy for President Roosevelt (Kurt McCall) and his cabinet to reverse the Great Depression. After a plot devised by Miss Hannigan’s brother and his lady friend to collect the reward money fails, Annie is adopted by Warbucks, her orphan friends are liberated from drudgery, and Sandy returns.
“Annie” appeals to young audiences for obvious reasons — a spunky pint-sized heroine, a loveable dog, and a larger-than-life villainess. But the play, with its theme of triumph over adverse circumstances, has universal appeal that extends to all ages. The rousing score in filled with familiar songs, which include “Tomorrow,” “Hard Knock Life,” ‘Little Girls,” “NYC,” and “Easy Street.” Additionally, the production has excellent choreography.
Outstanding talent and production values were evident throughout. Annie and the orphans were all double cast by Director/Producer Tod Booth. Carly Barnes, who portrayed Annie on gala night, was making her stage debut. Jenna Simmons, from Jupiter, Florida will be appearing in the role in alternate productions. Both look perfect for the role and can really belt out the many songs.
The girls cast as orphans can belt it out too. “It’s a Hard Knock Life” leaves the audience wondering how such young performers can master such demanding roles. The young actors portraying the orphans on gala night were Dakota Burton, Lucy Feagins, Sophia Feagins, Autumn Henry, Grace Medure, and Isabella Torres. Cast members in alternate productions will be Gabriela Elise Parker, Chole Gilboy, Aleah Grayce Gibbs, Charity Hunt, Tatum Matthews and Addison Slater.
Lisa Valdini is fantastic in the role of Miss Hannigan and a real crowd favorite. Ms.Valdini’s resume of Alhambra shows goes back to her role some years ago as the teenager in “I Ought To Be In Pictures,” with Claude Akins. The “Easy Street” number with fellow conspirators Rooster Hannigan (Brian Beach) and Lily St. Regis (Becca Gottlieb) was a show stopper.
The capitalist Warbucks is portrayed by Mark Poppleton who brings the crusty comic strip character to life. Jennifer Medure is perfect in the role of the elegant, soft-spoken Grace, Warbucks secretary.
Eight of the hardest-working members of this superb cast were listed in the program as the “Adult Ensemble,” and were constantly changing costumes to portray maids, butlers, homeless people, radio personalities, presidential cabinet members, and policemen. They are Travis Gerald Young, Regina Torres, Michael Scott Ross, Lauren Robinson, Samuel Brown, Alexia Adcock and Pierre Tannous and Megan Victoria Stillson. Miss Stillson is familiar with “Annie,” as she previously appeared as one of the orphans in the Alhambra’s 2002 production.
Sandy, Annie’s companion, is portrayed by Dexter, owned by orphan actress Tatum Matthews. Dexter is a fine actor for a dog, who moved in all the right directions and did not bark at all. He apparently likes show business as he wagged his tail vigorously while leaving the stage after his final appearance.
The set designs by David Dionne and Ian Black were impressive, with just the right detailed touches. Misty Desmit, lighting designer, created unique effects for the stroll down Broadway by Annie, Grace, and Warbucks.
The costumes by The Costume Crew were notable, especially the period dresses worn by the ladies, and those worn by Warbucks’ staff. The costumes for the denizens of Hooverville fit the period, but needed to be shabbier to convey their poverty.
And Leaping Lizards!!!! While Annie’s hair style is quite subdued during most of the play, her “gussied up” appearance and very curly, very red hair at the end of the second act brought a big round of applause.
Director Tod Booth auditioned 110 young people for this show and has cast some of the best voices we have ever heard on the Alhambra stage. As a side note, the production of “Annie” marks the 429th Equity show Mr. Booth has directed during his outstanding career. Congratulations and we look forward the next 400 shows!!
The Production Staff included: Tod Booth (Producer, Director); Shain Stroff and Brian Beach (Choreographers); Cathy Murphy Giddens (Musical Director); Lisa Valdini (Assistant Stage Manager); Brian Beach (Dance Captain); Camala Pitts and Dorinda Quiles (Costume Designers); David Dionne and Ian Black (Set Designers); Linnay Bennett (Sound Designer); Patti Eyler (Properties); Pattie Pitts (Wig Design); Julia Fallon and Olivia Chernyshev (Wardrobe Crew).
Twenty years from now, theatres will still be doing “Annie” and all the children who see this show will take their children and grandchildren. The story is great family entertainment.