Annie is so well-known that when a production of it has some surprises, it should be acknowledged and lauded. The St. Jean’s Players production had all of the usual elements in place -- a stolid Daddy Warbucks (Charles Mobbs), a comically evil Miss Hannigan (Sharon O’Neal), an Annie (Erin Moriarty) who could not only deliver a song but hold the stage like a trouper. And production-wise, the show outshone the humble theater-cum-school-auditorium where it was presented -- excellent costumes (by Jennifer Hoddinott), effective lighting (by M.C. Waldrep), an evocative, Broadway-quality New York backdrop (sets by Greg Guiteras). But almost counter-intuitively, what this production showcased best was its ensemble. Yes, those hardworking, usually underappreciated proteans were the glory of this Annie, singing and dancing in collective symbiosis, each member glowing but none outranking, and shining the pleasure of some of Strouse and Charnin’s songs to a high gloss.
And oh, yes, the orphans. Sonia Brozak, Hannah Ryan, Polina Stavroski, Emily Chunsheng Mobbs, Goldy Daniela Tenreiro-Brashi, Kimber Monroe, Molly Hirshik, Emma Park-Hazel, Anna Bores and Cheyenne Ciré Paulson varied in age and talent, but all were professional, hard-working, and, frankly, irresistible. At their best they were radiant, and their obvious pleasure at being on stage and performing was contagious. So they were the perfect way to start off the show -- after Annie’s “Maybe” set the theme, the orphans’ “It’s a Hard Knock Life” set a high enjoyment level. That song was also, for its subject matter, surprisingly sweet. There are few more over-worked songs in the world than “Tomorrow,” but it was followed by a spunky, heartfelt “We’d Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover” whereby the singing ensemble of Street People moved the show out of the comic pages and into the real (well, musical-comedy-real) world.
This Annie also had contenders for the usually underappreciated supporting/featured roles -- Jennifer Hoddinott as the overworked, underappreciated Warbucks’ assistant Grace was genuine and real and a terrific singer to boot. Amanda Butcher was a great Lily St. Regis, not showing off as ostentatiously as Dean Polites did as Rooster, having fun but not overdoing the easy-to-overdo platinum floozy character shtick. (If you look up “scene stealer” in the dictionary, her picture ought to be there.)
And so with the terrific ensemble, songs like “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” and “N.Y.C” and “You Won’t Be An Orphan For Long” registered strongly and vibrantly, and “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” with its tap-dancing orphans (choreography by Diane Collins) was -- here it comes -- tap-tastic. By this point, resistance was futile. Ditto for “I Don’t Need Anything But You,” and when the whole cast was on stage for “New Deal for Christmas” the sound was resounding and glorious.
With a cast this large and varied, it takes more than a traffic cop to keep a show moving, and Sharon Lowe pretty much kept the old warhorse fresh. Annie is one of the pantheon musicals that is so well-constructed and that even a bare-bones production is likely to succeed. The St. Jean’s Players production was icing on the cake.
Also with (deep breath): Larry Hirshik, Bill Blackard, Dustin Tyler Moore, Nicholas “Shane” Camp, Stephen Ackerman, Brianna Tyson, Jay Fink, Linda Meris, Joann Breslin, Rosalie Harman, Pamela Robbins, Arthur Gruen, Xisco “Coco” Monroe, Kai Monroe, Bailey Mason, Charissa Perdon, Amanda-Adair Brown, Alicia Ann Minninger, Luis Benitez, Cathy Carrey-Aquino, Alex Arruda, with Bella Minninger and Pippa Collins as scene stealers of the four-legged variety. The orchestra (which deserved better acoustics) was Razy Jordan, the multi-talented Amanda Butcher, Betsy Kavaler, Harriet Levine, Carrie Thorson, Linda Blacken and Evans Charles.
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Copyright 2006 David Mackler