BWW Review: ANNIE at Olney Theatre Center - A Treat for Young Theatergoers
It was forty years ago (in April 1977) that the musical ANNIE took over Broadway starring the amazing Andrea McArdle (at age 13) who I saw with the Original Broadway Cast. The book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Martin Charnin (who also directed) won seven Tony Awards.
ANNIE is certainly a "cash cow". It played at Olney around the same time back in 2010. Can one think of a better holiday musical to bring in families with its universal optimistic theme?
So if you are looking for a musical to introduce theater for the young (or young at heart), this could be the vehicle for you. Why?? It's filled with great music, interesting story, some history, much humor but does deal with treachery, illegal activity, poverty (do they understand what a "Hooverville" is and why did it exist) and like the Dickens' story and musical OLIVER, deals with the plight of orphans. I do wonder how many young theatergoers understand who orphans are, do they exist today, why do they have to work so hard, share small beds, and why is their food so horrible.
Yes, I do believe there is much to discuss with your children before you see it. Thank you Olney Theatre Center for showing photos of an historical nature about the era of 1933 during the overture. An important touch.
You will fall in love with the children, known as the "RED" cast which includes the terrific Annie (Noelle Robinson), an adorable Molly (Kylee Hope Geraci), and rest of the orphans played by Anais Killian, Sofia A. Cruz, Ella Coulson, Emily Scholl, Avery Daniel, and Katharine Ford. They are all so talented but to quibble, (isn't that what critics do?) some seemed too old for their part. It was easy to spot some of the orphans who were as tall as the person who runs the orphanage Ms. Hannigan (played by the talented Rachel Zampelli). Wait till you see her sing "Little Girls"!
The story surrounds the plight of "Annie" who wishes to be reunited with her parents who left her at an orphanage with a note and one half of a locket. She survives at the orphanage and becomes the leader of the orphans and leads them in the famous song "It's a Hard Knock Life" which they nail. There are lovely solos "Annie" sings like the iconic "Tomorrow", and "Maybe" (she sings both twice).
The story centers on the wealthy single, childless, and politically connected Oliver Warbucks (played by the amazing Kevin McAllister) who decides to adopt an orphan for a couple of weeks during the holiday season. He envisioned a male orphan but when his lovely assistant Grace Farrell (the lovely Patricia Hurley) visits the orphanage (why there are no boys is not explained) chooses "Annie" for the experience of living the high life for two weeks. I loved "I think I'm Gonna Like It Here" sung by Annie, Grace, and the terrific ensemble who thanks to choreographer Rachel Leigh Dolan get a chance to strut their stuff.
A great number excluded from the film version is "N.Y.C.", an homage to the city.
Like any Disney movie, there must be villains and Hannigan's brother "Rooster" and his friend "Lily" fit the bill as they pose as Annie's real parents after they hear about Warbucks' award money offered to the public to find Annie's true family.
I was quite surprised that Olney brought an authentic Tony Award winning actor to town to play "Rooster" and that is Wilson Jermaine Heredia who stunned Broadway in his role as "Angel" in the original Broadway cast of RENT and did the film as well. He takes over the stage (for what seemed as a very short time) dancing his heart out performing the duet "Easy Street" along with "Lily" played by Dani Stoller. I recall watching Heredia perform at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in QUARK VICTORY many years ago.
Playing the pivotal role of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is Rob McQuay and he nails the part.
Scenic Designer/Projection Designer Daniel Ettinger, Costume Designer Seth M. Gilbert, Lighting Designer Sarah Tundermann, Sound Designer Roc Lee all do credible work except I found the musicians sounded like they were in another room.
That orchestra was under the baton of Christopher Youstra (Associate Artistic Director/Director of Music Theatre) who was substituting for Walter Bobby McCoy. Jay Crowder is the music director. The nine member orchestra was superb.
How could I not mention the dog "Petey" who played "Sandy" with the "Red" cast. At times he gave "Annie" a difficult time.
I was surprised there seemed to be no hint of chemistry between Warbucks and Grace. I do not blame this on the actors but the Director Jason King Jones who for some reason neglected to add this. Jones is the Senior Associate Artistic Director at Olney. I've loved his work with MARY POPPINS, DIAL "M" FOR MURDER, and GODSPELL. But here, I found his work lacked panache, spirit, and gusto. Sometimes, the musical seemed flat. Maybe it will improve with time.
But even with these quibbles of mine, take the family and see this family fun production.
Do not leave the theater immediately after the show. Members of the cast meet the audience for autographs and photos after the show. Another nice touch.
Next up at Olney is AUBERGINE, a co-production with the EverymanTheatre and directed by Everyman's Artistic Director Vincent M. Lancisi which runs February 7 to March 4.
Put on your calendars that on June 2, 2018 Olney will be presenting its Annual Benefit celebrating its 80th season.
ANNIE plays until New Year's Eve Day, December 31. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
THIS AND THAT
Set your DVR's for Friday nights as "Great Performances" on PBS will be presenting some great theatre broadcasts.
On Nov. 24 at 9 p.m. you can watch "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn - The Broadway Musical".
And in December, look for "Hamilton's America" about the making of the hit musical.
And don't forget the Broadway shows to be seen on NBC and CBS during their coverage of the New York Thanksgiving Day Parade. On NBC there will be DEAR EVAN HANSEN, ANASTASIA , SPONGEBOB SQUARE PANTS, and the revival of ONCE ON THIS ISLAND. On the CBS telecast will be COME FROM AWAY and WAITRESS.
Why isn't THE BAND'S VISIT on? Why isn't A CHRISTMAS STORY which will be live on NBC in December? I do wish COME FROM AWAY was on NBC which has a much bigger audience. There must be a story regarding who selects and how these shows end up on which network.
Finally, it is sad news that I report the passing of my friend and mentor Joel Markowitz who recently passed away from the effects of ALS. I met Joel many years ago when he was conducting trips to New York with his organization "The Ushers". When I first began writing for Broadwayworld.com over ten years ago, Joel was always there assisting me, making suggestions, and referring my reviews to his vast audience at DC Metro Theater Arts which he founded in 2012. I also loved his podcasts.
I will miss Joel greatly as will the entire Washington theater community.
I dedicate this article to my dear friend Joel.
Memorial contributions may be made to the ALS Association, 7507 Standish Place, Derwood, MD or to JSSA Hospice, 6123 Montrose Rd. Rockville, MD.