BWW Review: ANNIE at Omaha Community Playhouse: You're Going to Like It Here
ANNIE, the musical based on a cartoon strip by Harold Gray, has been around for more than 40 years and is still going strong. It won nearly every award possible when it opened on Broadway in 1977, including Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards for book by Thomas Meehan, original score by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin, and Best Musical. It also won a Grammy in 1978 for Best Cast Album.
Everyone loves the story of the little orphan girl who lands in the lap of luxury, and the billionaire who finds what he's been missing...a heart.
This well known story follows eleven year old Annie who has been left on the doorstep of the Municipal Girls Orphanage along with a note promising that her parents will be back to get her. It's a hard life in the orphanage under the rough hand of Miss Hannigan who is fond of her drink. The orphans dream of escape, and Annie succeeds by hiding in a laundry cart. She rescues a stray dog and names him Sandy, but is soon caught and returned to the orphanage.
Grace Farrell, assistant to the billionaire Oliver Warbucks, arrives at the orphanage to borrow an orphan for over the Christmas holiday as a publicity stunt. Warbucks develops a strong attachment to the red haired child and offers to adopt her. Annie wants to find her real parents. So the search is on. The offer of a $50,000 reward draws out the scammers, including the most successful pair of them all, Rooster and Lily St. Regis.
Never fear. ANNIE reads like a fairy tale. There must be a happy ending.
Kimberly Faith Hickman directs a sizable cast which includes a dozen adorable kids. Leading the pack is Stella Clark-Kaczmarek as Annie. Her vocals are clear and strong, doing justice to favorites such as "Maybe" and "Tomorrow." Her very patient canine friend Sandy (Toby Howell) steals the heart of the audience.
Brinlee Roeder as the precocious Molly plays the imp in such a way that you couldn't be mad at her. She's too cute. The orphans' vocals are pleasing and even more so in the group number, "It's a Hard Knock Life." Another fun ensemble piece is "Hooverville," a satiric commentary on the Great Depression by a group of homeless people.
Allison Wissman is a softer Miss Hannigan than the iconic Carol Burnett. I don't really believe that she's a drunk or a conniving woman. I do believe she can sing! Her power vocals are her calling card.
"Easy Street" is always my favorite part of the musical. It's delightfully campy. Christopher Violett (Rooster) and Cathy Hirsch (Lily St Regis) fit the bill. With over-the-top shenanigans and boisterous showmanship, they are just right. Adding Wissman on vocals, they sound great.
Angela Jenson Frey fleshes out Grace Farrell with her usual grace on stage. Her polished soprano and excellent technique never disappoint.
Jay Srygley couldn't be a finer Daddy Warbucks. Not only are his vocals spot on, he exemplifies a man who can show his heart despite his cold ambition ("you don't need to be nice to the people on the way up.") He visibly softens toward Annie, which is gratifying.
Scenic and lighting designer Jim Othuse had his work cut out for him in this show. I stopped counting the set changes: the orphanage with its six sets of bunk beds, Warbucks' opulent home, Bert Healey's radio station, the magnificent New York skyline with brilliant city lights, and the back streets where the homeless survive. It is entertaining and mystifying to watch how the pieces move in and out so smoothly.
Jim Boggess' orchestra is truly fine. The overture in particular is beautiful.
A few of the mics on ensemble members sounded muffled the night I attended. But the big voices of the major characters had no problem filling the house. It was clear the audience enjoyed themselves. It's nice having another family friendly show that introduces the young to the wondrous world of musical theatre. And a stage filled with cute kids and dogs is always a win.
ANNIE runs through October 13, so there are plenty of chances to catch it. I think you're going to like it here.
Photo Credit: Robertson Photography