ANNIE lights up Beck Center for the holidays
(Member, American Theatre Critics Association. Cleveland Critics Circle)
This is the time of year that theatres are looking for productions to attract large audiences in order to bring some extra money into the coffers. BECK, for a number of years did BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for their holiday show. This year they opened the classic ANNIE.
The show gives us cute orphans, a dog, a hysterical orphanage director, con-men, a billionaire, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Christmas. And, yes, lots of memorable songs including Tomorrow, Hard Knock Life, Little Girls, I Think I’m Going to Like it Here, N.Y.C., Fully Dressed, and I Don’t Need Anything Else But You.
ANNIE, with book by Thomas Meehan and lyrics by Martin Charnin, is based on Harold Gray’s LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE comic strip. The strip debuted in 1924, became a radio show in 1930, films in 1932 and 1938, and a Broadway musical in 1997. It was reprised this year and is running parallel to the Beck production. The comic strip was cancelled in June of 2010. During its run, Annie, her dog Sandy, and Daddy Warbucks, her adopted father, targeted organized labor, the New Deal and communism.
ANNIE, the musical, centers on eleven year-old Annie who was left at the Municipal Girls Orphanage in New York by her depression-poor parents. The orphanage is run by the alcoholic Mrs. Hannigan. Annie longs for the return of her parents. She runs away, saves a dog (Sandy) from the animal warden, is caught by the police, is returned to the orphanage, is taken to the home of billionaire Oliver Warbucks for a Christmas visit, the two develop a loving relationship, she has a scare when her “real” parents show up, but, as happens in all good musicals about kids, a dog and billionaires, live happily ever after.
For the show to work requires an adorable Annie who can sing, dance and act, a cast who can play comic strip characters with realism so they become caricatures the audience can identify, love and laugh with. Fortunately, the Beck production, under the guidance of Scott Spence, is blessed with the performers who can pull it off.
Anna Barrett has a nice singing voice, dances and moves well and is totally natural as Annie. Giovannna Layne is adorable as Molly, one of the orphans. Elisee Pakiela, Jade McGee, Maggie Devine, Erin Eisner, and Natalie Welch all are cute as the other orphans.
Lenne Snively has a wonderful time playing Mrs. Hannigan, as does the audience watching her. Matthew Ryan Thompson is overly farcical as, but his dancing and showmanship compensates for it. Molly Huey is fine as the airheaded Lily St. Regis, Rooster’s sidekick.
Cilgamesh Taggett is picture perfect as Daddy Warbucks. Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly sings well and gives the right air to Grace, Warbucks’ assistant. Leslie Feagan does a nice FDR imitation.
It’s hard to determine who got more “ewes’ and “ahs”, the orphans or Buckley Collier, the well trained dog portraying Sandy.
The highlight of the show is the dancing. Choreographer Martin Céspedes integrates tap, probation era steps, stylized hand moves and air punches to accent Charles Strouse’s jazzy music. The well conceived Easy Street and Hard Knock Life each stop the show and demand reprises.
Larry Goodpaster’s band well interprets the music.
The only flaw in the proceedings is the problematic Mackey Theatre sound system. The squeals and pops, along with the unbalanced microphones, was extremely distracting. The theatre should either invest in a new sound system if that’s the issue or teach the sound technicians how to use the equipment.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: As corny and overdone as ANNIE is, with a good performance it delights. With its tuneful music, strong cast and super choreography, Beck’s production makes for a fine night at the theatre.
ANNIE is scheduled to run through January 6, 2012 at Beck Center for the Arts. For tickets and information call 216-521-2540 or go to http://www.beckcenter.org