BWW Review: Alhambra Dinner Theatre presents ANNIE
ANNIE opened at The Alhambra Dinner Theatre last week to a house full of excited young ladies, local theatre lovers, and even those who aren't as familiar with the Jacksonville theatre scene, as the timelessly successful musical tends to draw large crowds who know every song from childhood. With iconic characters, familiar scenery, and a Tony Award winning score, a fellow directing friend from my past once said, "It's really hard to mess this one up," and I tend to agree. There are several elements of this production that left me disappointed, however, the overarching themes and values, along with several outstanding performances, are endearing and inspiring.
ANNIE tells the story of an 11-year-old orphan, named Annie, and her search to find her birth parents. Fostered by billionaire Oliver Warbucks for the Christmas holiday, Annie experiences New York as she never has before, making friends along the way. It is a beautiful story of family and perseverance, hope for tomorrow. The Alhambra has wisely implemented two casts of orphans for this production, giving the young ladies in the cast opportunities for rest and rejuvenation, while simultaneously showcasing 14 of Jacksonville's (and beyond!) impeccably talented youth.
Lisa Valdini is a perfectly precise Ms. Hannigan. Valdini commits every muscle to the flawless performance she gives, and it pays off in droves. After her stunning moments as M'Lynn in STEEL MAGNOLIAS last month, Valdini again proves she is more than a force to be reckoned with: she's an absolute professional, a consistent backbone for each production she plays in. I look forward to every role she takes on, as she delivers repeatedly well.
Other standouts in the cast are Brian Beach, who takes on the role of Rooster Hannigan, the swindling, sometimes scary, always hilarious brother of Ms. Hannigan. His movement is fluid and exciting - he embodies his character and is a delight to watch on stage. Similarly, ensemble member Pierre Tannous kept my eye every moment he was on stage. His strong facial expressions, communicative body language, and perfectly hit choreography is engaging and not over the top. But the absolute unequivocal show stealer is 7-year-old Lucy Feagins, who plays the youngest orphan, Molly. This incredible little girl not only never misses a beat, she completely owns and manages the stage. Some people have star power...this young lady doesn't just have it, she defines it. I will look for her again, and so should you.
Jacksonville's own Carly Barnes is a fantastic little actress at only 10 years old. Her interpretation of Annie's character is a slightly scrappy, genuine, bright-eyed little girl. Carly is an engaging actress, invested in those around her on stage. It is clear her acting coaches have already developed a skillset in her with lasting effects. She has a soaring belt, and conquered some of the show's iconic numbers, like "Tomorrow," with ease. However, she wasn't directed to employ her head voice at any point in the show, and yelled through some of the softer moments. Her voice will suffer in the long run should she not be instructed in proper technique. It is very uncommon for me to address this error in technique, but because she is a brilliant actress with incredible potential, the concern for her future without proper training in vocal control overrides my common practices. While she sang strongly on Friday, she will inevitably lose her voice. Her performance is lovely, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to see such bright, young, local talent.
David Dionne and Ian Black, ANNIE's set designers, have created a fitting and fun multi-piece set for this show. They brilliantly transition the audience from the dingy, dark, seemingly damp orphanage to the squeaky clean, fully decorated halls of a billionaire's mansion. What the show lacks in properties is aided by the costuming of Camala Pitts and Dorinda Quiles, whose detailed work, specifically in the dresses of Grace Farrell, Warbucks' personal secretary (played flawlessly by Jennifer Medure), brought imagination and innovation to the production. I desired more from the choreography, as these iconic songs carry strong images from childhood, and numbers like NYC and I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here beg for excessive dancing, or flashier props, or both. However, the infamous Hard Knock Life was delightfully staged, and the young orphans remained convincing in their complex steps.
ANNIE runs through August 13th at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre. Tickets are available here, where you may also browse the specially tailored dinner menu. The show runs a little long, but the children seated around me didn't seem bothered one bit. Every little girl can find a connection with this loveable story, and it brings many wonderful themes and values to light. You can bet your bottom dollar you'll leave humming along!