BWW Review: SPUNKY OPTIMISTIC ORPHAN STEALS YOUR HEART IN NEW TAMPA PLAYERS' ANNIE at University Area CDC
When starring in a production like Annie, you'd better be a powerhouse. Last night at the opening of New Tampa Players' production of Annie, twelve-year-old Annie Sardouk proved why she was the lead. This young actress sang with vocal power of someone twice her age. To say I was impressed was putting it lightly.
The ensemble of orphans was perfectly cast, from the bullying Madison Levine whose facial expressions were priceless down to the adorable littlest twins. And you can't talk about the talented orphans without a discussing the costumes and beautiful seamlessly-changing set. Despite minor technical mic issues, the show ran like a well-oiled machine.
This multigenerational family-friendly musical complemented by live music under the masterful direction of G. Frank Meekin, was absolutely-needed, pure feel-good escapism.
If you don't already know the storyline, Annie is about an always-optimistic orphan Annie, who dreamed of being reunited with the parents who gave her up at birth. After running away and encountering the homeless poor showcased in "Hooverville," she found herself returned to the orphanage and selected for an initially two-week Christmas time visit to the palatial home of the billionaire workaholic Oliver Warbucks, artfully portrayed by Rick Faurote. She won "Daddy" Warbucks heart and he quickly became the father figure who wanted to adopt this plucky little girl. Wrapped around her finger, he used his influence to have president Franklin D Roosevelt (James Cass) devote FBI resources to find her birth parents. Roosevelt was so inspired by Annie's optimism and "Tomorrow," he designed The New Deal to create emergency support for the homeless and jobless of the depression era.
Despite the unrealistic tongue firmly-planted-in-cheek-ness, director KariAnn Stamatoplos succeeded in her goal to treat all the characters like this story truly happened. It felt like Annie could be the impetus for all the good that happened. Annie Sardouk was effervescent, likeable, and completely believable as her character.
In "Little Girls," Kelly Nowicki was hilarious as the overwhelmed Miss Hannigan, the alcoholic who ran the city orphanage overrun by little girls of all ages. Later, she seemed almost too nice to be embroiled in a potential kidnapping murder scheme.
Cameron Levine and Alexis Jones, as Rooster Hannigan and his gal Lily were perfectly matched, bringing precise comedic timing, dance moves and commiseration to "Easy Street" and a kidnapping plot. Alexis' high-pitched squeak of a voice brought so much fun to her character. I loved hearing her speak.
Brianna Filippelli was black-satin glove sophistication as Daddy Warbuck's secretary Grace Farrell, with a voice that absolutely knocked your socks off every time she opened her mouth and an unforgettable note belted out.
Despite wishing the musical itself showed the relationship build between Annie and Daddy Warbucks, the song "Why Should I Change A Thing" was sung with beautiful emotional uncertainty by Rick. KariAnn made an excellent decision adding in the optional song to fill in the storyline. Annie and Rick had a unique father daughter chemistry. When he sang "Something Was Missing," you believed he'd been unknowingly looking for Annie as much as Annie was looking for her parents. They both found a chance to love and be loved.
Throughout the production, the choreography was effortlessly executed and at the right pace, and the children's acrobatics impressive. Adding to the cuteness was the well-behaved and equally well-trained dog Sandy, played by Jackson.
By the time Annie, Grace and Daddy Warbucks performed "I Don't Need Anything But You" with the ensemble and closed with "A New Deal for Christmas," you couldn't help smiling optimistically, feeling like the sun just might come out tomorrow.
It was, as I said before, a feel-good show, simply a sweet performance that I recommend adding to your calendar of "Things To Do."