BWW Review: ANNIE at Theatre In The Park
Johnson County Park and Recreation Department's "Theatre In The Park" kicked off its second half century of production service with 1977's "Annie," an all-time, audience pleasing musical based on the depression era American cartoon strip "Little Orphan Annie." This "Annie" is a solid, Tim Bair directed, community theater version of a show that has inspired thousands of little girls to get up on a stage for the first time and belt "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow."
"Annie" is traditional, family entertainment played in a lovely, outdoor, grassy amphitheater with space for upwards of 4500 audience members. They sit comfortably mostly on lawn chairs and beach blankets. On each side of the audience area is ample space for a pre-show game of tennis-ball catch, ample modern rest rooms, and a fully equipped concession area. The covered stage area complete with orchestra pit is fully tricked out to provide the lighting, set shop, dressing rooms, and sound resources that allow for a great outdoor experience.
Starring in the title role of "Annie" is cute little Holly Lichtenauer. "Annie" features a Thomas Meehan libretto with hit music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin. Young Miss Holly does a fine job of conjuring up the eleven-year-old orphan from the dusty pages of the 1924 New York Daily News.
"Annie" tells of the story of a little girl in search of her lost parents. Annie was found as an infant on a doorstep with a note that promised to one day return for her. She is now a resident of a depression era New York City municipal orphanage for girls. She is the brightest of her fellow orphans and the one who seems most determined to escape the institution.
Annie and her buddies are under the care of the mean and nasty Miss Hannigan here comically played by a drunken man- chasing Kay Noonan. At the risk of coming off like an early to mid-twentieth century version of "Oliver Twist," it should be pointed out that "Annie" is a fun re-interpretation of a comic strip.
Annie has got to be the luckiest orphan who ever lived in the opening years of the long Franklin Roosevelt administration. She is apprehended by the cops after running off. She is waiting to be disciplined only to be swept up into the household of Billionaire Oliver Warbucks. Annie is spotted by Grace Ferrell (Celia Thompson) first assistant to Mr. Warbucks (Ron Meyer).
Meyer does a fine job as the rich, stiff, Mr. Moneybags. Annie speedily melts Oliver's hard heart. He decides that all his money is no good to him if he has no one to share it with. He asks Annie if he may turn their temporary relationship into something more permanent, but she refuses still hoping to find her real parents.
Oliver Warbucks is crushed, but he pledges to help Annie in her quest. He puts up a reward, and enlists the FBI, J. Edward Hoover, FDR and the entire U.S. Government.
Warbucks' reward offer draws lots of fake parents to his Fifth Avenue mansion including Miss Hannigan's jailbird brother Rooster (Weston Thomas) and his sleazy girlfriend Lilly St. Regis (Whitney Armstrong). Rooster and Lilly are among the strongest of the supporting actors. With the redoubtable Miss Hannigan, the trio perform a show stopping song and dance called "Easy Street." The fakers are eventually caught and Annie happily ends up living on the real "Easy Street."
While not quite up to Broadway quality, "Annie" at TTIP is directed, choreographed, and performed very credibly. Voices are very good. The ensemble singing and dance numbers come off exactly as intended. An eighteen-piece pit orchestra (directed by Marsha Canaday) is very good.
This is a show that knows itself and its audience. Sets and direction are an homage to its Sunday comic section roots. "Annie" hits the mark for moderately priced entertainment in a really nice atmosphere. It is a great family introduction to musical theatre and surely one of the roots that makes Kansas City Theater a great theater town. TTIP auditions draw more than 500 eager applicants annually.
"Annie" continues at TTIP through June 15. Tickets are available online at https://www.theatreinthepark.org and by telephone at 913.826.3012. Next up "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" beginning on June 21.
Photos courtesy of Theatre In The Park