book by Thomas Meehan; music by Charles Strouse & lyrics by Martin Charnin
directed by Steven Glaudini
Musical Theatre West (MTW) @ The Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Long Beach
through November 14
The phenomenally successful 1977 Broadway musical Annie took America by storm and has been filmed twice. After 33 years, and especially now during our country's long bout of economic recession, its Depression era optimism holds up better than ever, and in MTW's current glowing production everything is in place to savor.
This production features Andrea McArdle, Broadway's original orphan Annie playing the role of Miss Hannigan. So in 2010 she comes full circle with this show.
The great thing about McArdle as Hannigan is that she does not try to steal from Dorothy Loudon, Carol Burnett or Kathy Bates, previous star turns; she creates the middle-aged, boozing, disillusioned 'Aggie' Hannigan from scratch, unleashing those ragingly mean insecurities in small doses, keeping her fully grounded. Musically she is in top form; dramatically, with this a stretch, she will probably hit her peak in a couple of years. As is, hers is a technically skilled and theatrically driven look at the amusingly pathetic popular villainess.
The main success of Annie is in its star; if you don't have an Annie that can act and sing, you don't have a show. Luckily, MTW's Annie - Melody Hollis - is dynamically dependable.
Like McArdle - who was a sensation - Hollis has a belting voice and a sweet, caring demeanor which puts her Annie toward the top of the list.
Also effective is Jeff Austin as Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. Cold and indifferent upon first meeting Annie, Warbucks eventually warms to her, opening a brand new chapter in his life. As played by Austin, the warmth is real and engaging.
Shannon Warne rather underplays Grace Farrell. We see her loyalty but little affection for Warbucks or Annie. Michael Paternostro and Bets Malone as con artists Rooster and Lily St. Regis are exceptional.
Malone is particularly remarkable in her switch from Regis to the motherly Shirley Mudge. Mark Capri makes a splendid FDR and proving that there is no such animal as a tiny part, Todd Nielsen makes Drake the butler a richly supportive and memorable soul. And who can forget Mikey as Sandy, so well trained and loveable. Kudos to the entire ensemble who dance and sing magnificently under the guidance of choreographer Roger Castellano and director Glaudini who keeps this Annie faithful to the original.
Summing up, Annie's cheery outlook is so welcomed in our troubled era, making it a favorite for the holidays, and MTW may be exceedingly proud of their thoroughly delectable representation.
5 out of 5 stars