Colonial Players’ Annie
Leapin’ lizards, Annie, how do you still break hearts after 35 years, even when we know what’s coming? It’s not just your heart-warming premise or sweet songs, your adorable mutt or Vaudevillian villains. It’s the magic of a cast so sincere and invested that two hankies are not enough for Colonial Players’ family holiday classic.
Under experienced children’s director Joe Thompson, this dynamic cast, half under age 15, milks Annie’s optimism for all it’s worth. Their play is educational to boot, from the lobby film loop of classic cartoons to the playbill’s historic notes and original Depression Era newsreel that serves as prologue. Thompson paints hard times in gritty shades, providing context for young viewers who might not understand the powerful rags-to-riches tale of two orphans, who build familial love from crushed hopes.
For the dozen or so Americans unfamiliar with the 1977 Tony Award winner or the classic Harold Gray comic strip where Annie began, this is a Cinderella story with a twist. It’s about an orphan (Daphne Eckman) whose indomitable cheer wins the heart of Daddy Warbucks (Timothy Sayles), an aging tycoon coming to terms with his tender side.
Warbucks’ secretary, Grace Farrell (Kaelynn Miller) finds his requisite “orphan for the holidays” at a shabby orphanage run by drunken spinster Miss Hannigan (Rebecca Feibel). Insane with jealousy, Hannigan, aided by her felonious brother Rooster (Stevie Mangum) and floozy Lily St. Regis (Maddie Poole), uses her knowledge of Annie’s foundling history to cash in on a reward Warbucks offers in a nationwide search for Annie’s parents, thus placing the girl’s happiness and life in peril.
Annie and her orphan buddies had me laughing and sobbing with slapstick bed-crowding and Annie’s mothering of cherubic Molly (Vivien Kaplan). She recounts her abandonment in the heart-breaking “Maybe.” The orphans’ “Hard-Knock Life “is powerful with whimsical touches like percussive chamber pots. Annie’s signature song, “Tomorrow,” displays surprising range and emotion. Then comes Sandy (Watson the rescue dog) to a chorus of “Awwws.”
Barely 20 minutes into Act I, it seems the show can’t possibly keep up such momentum. Yet it does. There are big ensemble numbers like “Hooverville” and “NYC,” featuring a stunning Sarah Wade. There’s Warbucks’ soliloquy “Why Should I Change a Thing” and a sing-along with FDR’s (Eric Small) cabinet. There’s the villains’ campy “Easy Street” with shimmying Poole. “Fully Dressed” recreates the days of the big broadcast with the singing Boylan Sister (Tami Howie, Lisa Rodvien and Natalie Nankervis) and a lively orphans’ reprise led by Camille White as Pepper.
This show is nearly sold out, but with such quality entertainment, it’s worth the wait for stand-by tickets.