Written by Alina Mae Wilson
In 1977 Broadway was in the mood for enthusiasm, optimism, and a hearty pat on the back regarding the might of America. The cheer so obviously sought was delivered to the people in the form of the musical Annie, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan. The story of the little girl with red hair and sprightly personality won the hearts of audiences (as well as the Tony Award for Best Musical) and made songs like “Tomorrow” and “Hard Knock Life” well-known classics. Countless
performances of the show have been done all over the world. The songs have translated into several different languages.
If you need one more reason to see it, the director of Segerstrom’s Annie is Martin Charnin, which immediately says “PERFECTION!” After all Charnin is the original director and lyricist, so if anyone can do this story right, he can.
Despite of the show’s overall financial success and impressive director, I maintain that it is extremely difficult to perform this piece and make it not annoying. While the Segerstrom does not turn in an overall victory in accomplishing this task, it does manage to put on a show that can be considered worthwhile of your time and your money.
We first meet Annie while she is living a life of drudgery under the thumb of drunken orphanage matron Miss Hannigan. While searching for her family, she finds a new best friend in the equally weary but no less lovable dog, Sandy. New friends and fortune abound in Annie’s life as she meets secretary Grace Farrell and her employer, the famed billionaire Oliver Warbucks.
Annie looks great. Right from the start it’s clear a lot of effort went into the show’s appearance. Every detail is displayed flawlessly, and every scene transition is smooth and beautiful. A few sound issues spring up here and there but nothing too major. The lighting is fine; the costumes are good, but the set deserves its very own curtain call.
As is the case with many child stage actors, the children cast in Annie appear to have been taught that pulling faces and emphasizing certain words is more important than actual acting. This is disappointing but not unexpected. Equally disappointing is that aside from Annie, the orphans are virtually indistinguishable from one another, and I speak as someone who always found the orphan’s differences one of the most enjoyable aspects of the show. This lumping of Annie’s friends into one unit takes away some major potential for the audience to feel some affection. However, the mere presence of these vivacious little starlets is guaranteed to enthrall any children you bring.
The acting from the adults is convincing enough to foster some emotion in the heart of the harshest cynic. Although she isn’t particularly frightening, Annie veteran Lynn Andrews gets many laughs as Miss Hannigan. Her desperation for a man combined with her drunken confidence fills the stage. Every moment we see her, Andrews staggers, bounces, and slogs from here to there –always ensuring the audience’s amusement whenever she is present. Gilgamesh Taggett is simultaneously gruff and lovable as Oliver Warbucks. But for some reason the direction bypassed any significant development of his feelings towards Grace Farrell. Of course his interactions with the title character is and always has been more important, but as long as it’s in the script, why not appropriately acknowledge their developing relationship? I digress. Taggett’s acting is as solid as one could possibly expect.
This brings us to what we received and got from Annie herself. The leading lady here is played by Issie Swickle, who delivers classics like “Maybe”and “Tomorrow” in a clear and lovely voice. She recites all of her lines clearly and confidently but seems to have some trouble sounding sincere in some of her more emotional scenes with Daddy Warbucks. Issie makes for a sweet, as everyone would expect, but not a very tough Annie, even when saying lines like “Do you want to sleep with your teeth inside your mouth or not?” Will this matter to the younger members of the audience. I don’t think so. The kids are going to love her based on her presence alone. Oh, and she looks good with the dog. If you go, go for the dog alone.
Annie is sappy. Annie is sweet. Annie is little girls singing in high pitched voices, great stage changes, dogs barking, and every child’s dream of both independence and familial luxury realized. Grab a ticket, grab a child, and go see it.
May 13 – 24
Courtesy: Annie & Segerstrom Center Arts Center