By Lynn Geyer
Leapin’ lizards! Annie is almost 90-years-old! But she sure stands the test of time! If you don’t believe it, drop in to Tacoma Musical Playhouse and catch the theatre’s delightful production of “Annie.”
This story, based on the Harold Gray comic strip which started in 1924, was brought to the stage by Thomas Meehan, who wrote the book and Charles Strouse, who did the music with Martin Charnin’s lyrics.
There are some numbers from this charming musical you’ll be whistling from now on; they make such an impression on you – like “Tomorrow” and “Hard Knock Life.”
This is the story of a waif who was left on the doorstep of an orphanage at birth with a half of a broken locket around her neck and a letter from her parents stating they were unable to care for her at the time; however, they would be back for her!
Move ahead 11 years. They still haven’t returned for the red-haired, curly-topped, foundling but in the true spirit of a cocked-eyed optimist, our little Annie knows they will return – some day.
In the meantime, being the eldest of the orphans in the lackadaisical care of the sadistic, abusive, money-grubbing Miss Hannigan, Annie is the closest thing to a mother most of the girls have ever known. She takes care of the younger waifs, tends to the laundry and keeps trying to escape the tyrannical rule of the evil Hannigan. Don’t worry, it’s all in fun – even Hannigan’s abusive ways turn into comedy when the girls pull off some unpractical jokes at her expense.
Annie finally makes her escape, evades the police and finds a scruffy yellow dog she names Sandy, only to be unceremoniously returned by a kindly but misdirected policeman.
All is not lost! Just after her return, Hannigan is visited by the private secretary of Oliver Warbucks – the richest man in the world! Each year the philanthropist takes in an orphan for the Christmas holidays – Grace Farrell has come to claim one for the season. Even though her boss has asked for a boy, Grace is undaunted when she finds that Hannigan has only girls in her charge – especially when Annie mimes her way into Grace’s heart. Grace coerces Hannigan to give her Annie and the two return to the Warbucks’ mansion where the child takes up residence and worms her way into Warbucks’ head and heart.
After hearing the story of Annie’s missing parents, who swore to return, Warbucks runs a nation-wide campaign to find them, offering a $50,000 reward – all this while advising FDR how to fix the problems with the government – figuring out the troubles of the world and other more minor things like that.
In the meantime, back at the orphanage, Hannigan is joined by her brother “Rooster” and his girlfriend who have the idea of posing as Annie’s parents in order to claim the reward – all to the tune of another show-stopper, “Easy Street.”
Will Annie get her heart’s desire? Will Daddy Warbucks get his – adopting Annie? Will Grace get hers – Daddy Warbucks? Will the Hannigan sister and brother plus girlfriend get their comeuppances?
Just like any good comic strip – read it in tomorrow’s newspaper! Or – go to Tacoma Musical Playhouse and see Director/Choreographer Jon Douglas Rake’s production of “Annie!”
Rake mounts the delightful antics on a terrific fragmented set designed by Bruce Haasl. Haasl’s movable sets consist of the silhouetted outline of the New York skyline with various interiors moved on and off stage depicting the orphanage, street scenes and the Warbuck mansion, to name just a few. John Chenault does the lighting design.
Jeffrey Stvrtecky is musical director; he leads Jody Lantz, Diz Carroll, Rick Loucks and Jessica Jarvis all on reeds; Lee Olds, Rick Leffler and Frank Riggs on trumpet; Mick Crosby and Ashish Melootu both on trombone; John Kelleher on Keyboard; and Iris McBride on Percussion.
Once more, as is the wont of Director Rake, his ensemble actors are a sturdy crew who perform various minor parts with the drop of a costume or wig. This set is comprised of Kathy Anne Baumgarter, Cameron Brown, Natalie Hanson, Mary Chloe Lee, Chiquita Levy, Michael McClaren, Steven Walker (who also plays Bert Healy) and Brittany Henderson. All do an admirable job. However, it is Henderson who stands out in this production; her singing voice belts out brilliantly during the ”Hooverville” number.
Other minor roles are played by Megan Hicks as Star-to-Be, Cait Martonik as Bonnie Boylan, Jill Heineck as Connie Sister and Deshanna Brown as Ronnie Sister. Again these performers all do good work and help move the show along nicely.
Of course, there are the orphans – all of whom are adorable and do such good work, it’s hard to believe they are of such tender years. Abigail Watcher is Molly, Ariyanna Fernandez is Pepper, Emily Johnson plays Duffy, Summer Mays is July, Kate Burney plays Tessie, Chalia Wendland is Ruthie and Amelia Stiles is Kate. Stiles is excellent as Kate. The vivacious 9-year-old is exactly what her program bio professes: she “stands out in a crowd with her fabulous fiery red hair and beautiful personality.”
And, of course, Annie – who is double cast. On opening night, the star of the show was charmingly played by Madison Watkins. This seventh-grader has already amassed an impressive list of roles for one so young and it’s easy to see why she deserves each part she’s played.
Julia Wyman plays Annie on alternate performances with an equally impressive bio. Each “Annie” plays an orphan on their off nights.
One actor to keep your eye on is Nigel B. Forsythe as Drake the Butler. Forsythe has a familiar look to him – it’s almost like he was someone you’ve know for a long time but can’t quite place him. He does very well as this pivotal character.
Darrel Shephard is Franklin D. Roosevelt. Shephard does a truly fine job in the role of the beloved and hated United States president of the depression and war years. This is an actor who grows with each role he does and his singing just gets better.
Kathy Kluska plays Lily St. Regis, Rooster’s girlfriend, just like a typical moll of the era; nice work.
Eric Clausell plays the conning, conniving, cut-throat Daniel Rooster Hannigan to the hilt! This man is so tall and so lean he’s almost like a stick-figure and he does the impossible – he glibly tosses his long legs into high kicks – over his head! And his singing is outstanding, as well.
Mark Rake-Marona is the epitome of Oliver Daddy Warbucks. He’s impressive of statue and voice, has an iron jaw with a soft heart and is, after sacrificing his locks, perfect for the role.
Sharry O’Hare is a hoot as the evil, scheming Miss Hannigan. O’Hare banters the orphans with a horse whip wrapped in velvet making each tyrannical move charming and laughable. Her singing voice is on a par with the best in the business, as is her acting ability.
Leischen Moore is graceful as Grace Farrell, Warbucks’ private secretary, who wishes to make things more private than secretary. Moore’s operatic voice is lyrical, clear and beautiful. Her acting is quite good and believable.
Oh, yes, Sophia Loren plays the tousled- haired, yellow dog Sandy – at least that’s what the program says – and he/she is quite obedient.
“Annie” continues at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue, just east of Jackson, through December 22, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or go online to www.tmp.org.
What a great family gift – a trip to the theatre!
It may be the beginning of winter but once you see the little 11-year-old red-haired girl at Tacoma Musical Playhouse, you’ll bet your bottom dollar the sun will come out tomorrow.