Review: ANNIE at Straz Center for The Performing Arts

Now through June 11th.

By: Jun. 09, 2023
Review: ANNIE at Straz Center for The Performing Arts

“You don’t have to be nice to people on the way up...if you don’t plan on coming back down...”- Oliver Warbucks

Annie, is a musical based off of the 1924 comic book Little Orphan Annie written by Harold Gray. The musical features music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and features a book written by Thomas Meehan.

The original Broadway production opened in 1977 and ran for almost 6 years, which at the time was record-setting for the Alvin Theatre, which we now know today as The Neil Simon.

Since its inception, Annie has won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, spawned numerous regional productions and many productions in other countries as well as National Tours.

Martin Charnin began talks with Meehan about writing a musical based on the comic  Little Orphan Annie. In doing research Meehan found little material to build off of except the story of Oliver Warbucks, of course Annie, and Sandy the dog. So he took it upon himself to write his own story.

Meehan decided to set the musical’s story in New York around the Great Depression. He built the character of Annie around inspiration stemming from the orphan characters found in the works of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield.

With a rousing 16 musical numbers in Act 1, and 12 musical numbers in Act 2, Annie was a musical that would prove to stand the test of time, and spawn numerous productions all over the world. There is not a single moment in time where I am sure you haven’t heard Tomorrow, and It’s a Hard Knock Life somewhere along the line.

The new tour features a wonderful cast, Directed by Jenn Thompson, who starred as Pepper in the original Broadway production at the age of 10.

Ellie Pulsifer, originally from South Florida, and at the age of 12, will assume the title role of Annie. Featuring Christopher Swan as Oliver Warbucks, Stefanie Londino as Miss Hannigan, Julia Nicole Hunter as Grace, Nick Bernardi as Rooster, Krista Curry as Lily, and Mark Woodard as FDR.The Orphans will be portrayed by Skylar Matthews, Izzie Pike, Bronte Harrison, Vivianne Neely, Kenzie Rees, and Valeria Velasco. Finally our Ensemble is as follows, Nick Abbott, Bradley Ford Betros, Kaitie Buckert, Hana Culbreath, Jaelle Laguerre, Laura Elizabeth Flanagan, Joel Oliver, Carly Ann Moore, Kevin Ivey Morrison, Kaylie Mae Wallace, Andrew Scoggin, Mark Woodard, Aidan Ziegler-Hansen, and Cheyenne Omani.

Last but not least, Sandy the dog will be played by Addison, a stray that was rescued in 2017 by William Berloni. Over the last 45 years, Bill has trained nearly 400 dogs for stage and screen roles. He rescued Addison from a high kill shelter in 2017. She made her acting debut that year as well, playing “stray mutt” in Annie, before graduating to the role she plays today which she began playing in 2018. Bill has a farm in Connecticut where the animals retire once they no longer can perform, and there they live amongst other former stage/screen performance animals.

From top to bottom this cast is full of energy, and it burst at the seams of this classic story.

Our Orphans respectively Bronte Harrison (Molly), Skylar Matthews (Pepper), Kenzie Rees (Duffy), Vivianne Neely (July), Valeria Velasc0 (Tessie), and Izzy Pike (Kate) are full of energy from the start. “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” explodes off of the stage and the choreography is wonderful to watch. Each “Little Girl,” brings something unique to the table, and each has their own individual moment to shine.

As Miss Hannigan, Stefanie Londino is exceptional here. From stage presence, to vocal power, you hate to love her and love to hate her. She is the perfect villain in this instance and her rendition of “Little Girls,” is great fun.

Nick Bernardi as Rooster Hannigan is as slick, and sleazy as they come. Making this a wonderful portrayal. His interactions with Miss Hannigan is off the charts. “Easy Street” is a highlight of the evening.

As Lily, Krista Curry is the perfect accomplice to Nick’s Rooster. Her character is spot on, and you love to hate her. Their portrayal of Ralph and Shirley Mudge is a great moment, and they create the perfect unlikeable pair.

Julia Nicole Hunter as Grace Farrell is the perfect assistant to Warbucks. She’s poised and in the moment the entire time and her vocals are unmatched here. Her connection with Annie and more importantly Warbucks is wonderful to watch. “NYC,” “You won’t be an Orphan for Long,” and “I don’t need anything but you,” are standout moments for Jessica.

Christopher Swan as Oliver Warbucks carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and does so masterfully. His vocals are impressive, but its his relationship with Annie that would warm even the coldest of hearts. Spotlight moments for Christopher are “NYC,” “You won’t be an Orphan for long,” “I don’t need anything but you,” and “Tomorrow (Reprise).”

As Annie, Ellie Rose Pulsifer is outstanding. From stage presence to vocals, this young performer is one to watch. She bursts with so much energy from the very start, but has a lot of grounded moments as well. Her performance is full of heart, and she holds her own amongst some really strong performances. Favorite moments include, “Tomorrow,” “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” and “I think I’m gonna like it here.”

Our ensemble respectively pulls out all the stops and keep the show moving at a rapid pace. There is something that each of them bring to the table that allows the audience to watch every inch of the stage.  They should be commended for their performances here.

Jenn Thompson’s tight-knit direction and smooth hand make this Annie a standout amongst a lot of other performances seen over the years. This show moves at a rapid pace yet never feels rushed. You’d be hardened to not find a smiling face in the entire theatre. Annie may be looked at as being overdone, but there is something fresh and new, that breathes new air under what some may consider dated material.  One thing is for certain Annie sells seats and families from all around will enjoy the happiness which a show like this brings. There is so much going on in the world that once in awhile we need some light, and this production of Annie brings the joy we have been looking for, and a great time to be had by all who experience it. With beautiful scenic design by Wilson Chin, Costume Design by Alejo Vietti, Lighting Design by Phillip Rosenberg, Sound Design by Ken Travis, Hair and Wig Design by Ashley Rae Callahan, and stunning Choreography by Patricia Wilcox, this Annie will go down as the best, most polished, and wonderful version I have seen to date.

If you’re searching for a little joy, even an escape from the day to day, head on over to The Straz Center for the Performing Arts to experience Annie, in a new/refreshing way.

You know as Annie always says, “The sun will come out tomorrow...” and with Annie in town Im sure glad it did. Tickets are available through June 11, at Click Here. It’s a joyous occasion, and incredible performance the whole family will love.


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