Entertainment » Theatre

Annie

by Erin Dahlgren
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Mar 4, 2017
Annie

Every once in a while I am lucky enough to witness a musical that reminds me of all the reasons why I love musicals. Usually for me, that occurs when I see new and innovative works that push the boundaries of a theater experience. However in this instance, it was the revival of a classic, Troika Entertainment's touring Broadway production of "Annie" that had me clapping and dancing in my seat with childlike delight.

Perhaps it was enhanced by the fact that my preschooler's much anticipated first trip to the theater had finally arrived, and the look of wonderment and absorption on her face as the young stars of "Annie" left their impression on her reminded me of my own first magical theater experience. Or perhaps it was just that I needed reminding that the essence of a great musical can simply be a handful of catchy show tunes, a ridiculously talented cast, and a hopeful message such as that of the eternally optimistic orphan Annie, who teaches us to count our blessings every day.

With music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan, the musical "Annie" first opened on Broadway in 1977 to critical acclaim. The story of Little Orphan Annie, based on the comic strip by Harold Gray, is as timeless as it is heartwarming as we follow eleven-year-old Annie and her orphan friends as she searches for her parents in a wintery, 1933 New York.

She's plucked from her grim reality and placed in a world of opulence and opportunity when she is selected to stay with billionaire industrialist Oliver Warbucks over the Christmas holidays. The story's popularity only increased with the 1983 film production of the same name, starring Carol Burnett, Albert Finney and Bernadette Peters, creating millions of little "Annie" fans around the world. I should know; I was one of them.

With an estimated 700-900 production runs of "Annie" each year within the United States alone, (many, I'm guessing, due to its suitability for school productions) Troika Entertainment was at risk of drenching an already saturated market with another tired revival. However, what the audience received was a wholesome and energetic performance, the stars of which were undoubtedly its youngest cast members.

At the helm was the captivating Annie, played effortlessly by Tori Bates, who displayed a rare, winning combination of musicality and charisma, imbuing every line, every lyric with emotion and commitment as she wowed with numbers "Maybe" and the well-known "Tomorrow." Joining Annie onstage throughout was the very clever mutt, Sandy, who inevitably became an audience favorite despite doing little more than crossing the stage and getting his belly scratched.

Bates' castmates, the orphans -- made up of Molly (Bunny Baldwin), July (Jacqueline Galvano), Kate (Ava Slater), Pepper (Amanda Swickle), Tessie (Amanda Wylie) and Duffy (Katie Wylie) -- displayed energy and ability as they easily navigated the spirited choreography and vocals of favorite songs "It's the Hard Knock Life" and the hilarious "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile (Reprise)."

A testament to direction by Martin Charnin and simple yet effective choreography by Liza Gennaro, the orphans stuck every move and line with clarity and conviction, perfect diction and comic timing. Baldwin in particular with her sweet, high-pitched youthful vocals, gave us a Molly with attitude and stamina well beyond her years, a preview of what is surely going to be an impressive stage career in years to come.

The adult characters in "Annie" were cast beautifully with strong leads, a necessity in order to maintain balance amongst such talented children. Oliver Warbucks, performed expertly by Gilgamesh Taggett, took us on a journey from gruff, out of touch businessman to doting, kindhearted father figure, and impressed with his velvety vocals and genuine emotion in "Something Was Missing," a show highlight that did not make it into the film.

Warbuck's assistant Grace Farrell, portrayed rather stiffly by Casey Prins, gave us all the elegance required of the role, her beautiful classical voice offering a contrast to the raw belt belonging to the show's star character, the bitter and drunken orphanage caretaker Miss Hannigan, played by Erin Fish. Fish gave us a Hannigan to be reckoned with, terrifying yet comical, nuanced and honest, with numbers such as "Little Girls" and the usually lackluster "Easy Street" coming alive with her inimitable vocal talents and entertaining physicality.

The cherry on the top of this entire production was the set design by Beowulf Boritt which, what it lacked in innovation, it made up for in detail and splendor, giving the audience impeccable depictions of each scenario and leaving nothing to the imagination as it glided with ease from one scene to another, displaying the stark contrast between the rundown orphanage, a New York slum, a crystalline, wintery Central Park, and the lavishness of the Fifth Avenue Warbuck mansion, the White House and the spectacular Christmas-themed finale.

As I departed the theater, ceaselessly humming the catchy melody from "Tomorrow," I truly felt humbled by what I had seen, not only because of the talent I had witnessed, but also because I had experienced the unexpected sensation of being schooled by a fictional eleven-year-old orphan on how to see the bigger picture and truly appreciate life for what it is: a gift, a journey, and the simple hope that one day you might get adopted by a billionaire.

So if you can, go and catch "Annie," because in times like these, I think we could all use a reminder that the sun will come out tomorrow.

"Annie" runs through March 5 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami. For information or tickets, call 305-949-6722 or visit http://www.arshtcenter.org

Having spent her childhood in Australia pretending to be Olivia Newton-John in Grease, it was inevitable that Erin would eventually run away from home and end up working in Entertainment. After completing studies at the Victorian College of the Arts in Musical Theater, Erin enjoyed working in Film, Television and Theater in London's West End before relocating to South Florida where she juggles motherhood, working in Real Estate, pregnancy hormones and being a trophy wife.


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