REVIEW — It’s the height of the Great Depression, shanty towns called “Hoovervilles” have sprouted up all across the nation, millions of people are out of work and the New York Municipal Orphanage is full to the brim of “little girls.”
That is the historical backdrop to “Annie,” the classic musical tale based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” created by Harold Gray. Gray created the comic strip based on a poem of the same name which was written in 1885 by James Whitcomb Riley.
Now, St. George Musical Theater has brought the spunky, famously red-headed orphan to the St. George Opera House with its own musical rendition of “Annie.”
The story of “Little Orphan Annie” has been a favorite of mine ever since the 1982 film version that prominently featured Carol Burnett as the antagonistic Miss Hannigan, the orphanage director. I have also been involved behind the scenes in two separate stage productions of “Annie,” once as a member of the pit orchestra and once as a choreographer.
I went to the production fully expecting to be taken back to my childhood and the youthful thrill I always felt for Annie as she journeys from unfortunate orphan to the daughter of Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, the wealthy business magnate with a soft heart (sorry if that is a spoiler). But I ended up having a completely different experience.
Not bad. Just different.
Where I was once only concerned with the plight of Annie and the other orphans, I now saw the entire production on a different level. Annie is not just a story of a little girl who finds incredible love but a complex historical fiction rife with political tensions and stark contrasts between wealth and poverty.
It should be noted here that director Kelly Olsen and the stage crew do a magnificent job of showing the disparity of both the poverty stricken world of the orphans and “Hooverville” residents and the wealthy world of Warbucks and the glittering streets of his beloved “NYC.”
Of course it is all wrapped up in catchy tunes like “Tomorrow,” which the show cheekily credits for the creation of The New Deal — defined as a “series of domestic programs enacted in the United States between 1933 and 1938 … They included both laws passed by Congress as well as presidential executive orders during the first term (1933–37) of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
Maybe it is today’s divided political climate but the jokes comparing Roosevelt the Democrat with Warbucks the capitalist seemed slightly sharper and even more laugh-out-loud funny.
Make no mistake though, St. George Musical Theater’s production is not heavy-handed. It is, after all, still Annie.
Sloane Griffith absolutely shined as Annie — the production has two casts of children and I saw the red cast. Griffith deftly navigated Annie’s two worlds with equal parts courage and wonder. Her personality and curly red hair bounced across the stage.
The antithesis to Annie’s optimistic charm comes in the form of Miss Hannigan played by Barb Christensen. Christensen is a dynamo on the stage as Hannigan. Every entrance Hannigan makes is an opportunity to witness art in the making as Christensen fully inhabits the character. From Hannigan’s drunken wobbly walk to how she pulls up her stockings, no detail is missed.
What is most refreshing about Christensen’s portrayal is that she doesn’t even try to emulate Burnett’s version of Hannigan — which would be intimidating to say the least — but instead creates her own version of an orphanage director who is simultaneously terrifying and comical. Christensen is Hannigan and Hannigan is Christensen.
The two most prominent characters are supported by a talented cast of actors who fill the stage with music and dancing and really capture the feeling of the era. Notable among them are Kristina Harding as Grace Ferrell, full of grace (as her name implies) and boasting some serious singing chops. Brad Christensen also does a wonderful portrayal, playing Oliver Warbucks with a commanding and lovable presence.
There are a couple absolute scene stealers and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about them.
First, Dale Hoopes as Rooster, Hannigan’s newly-out-of-jail brother, and Alexa Garcia as Lilly, Rooster’s new “friend.” The pair join Christensen in a show-stopping version of “Easy Street” that is sure to delight. That scene was my hands-down favorite.
Second, the dog! Any fan of Annie will immediately recognize her furry friend Sandy and this production is no exception. Sandy is played by Toby the dog. Having a real dog as part of the production makes the show slightly unpredictable and extremely enjoyable.
I took my almost-5-year-old daughter with me and she just loved Sandy. At one point she even tried calling the dog to her side (apologies to my seating companions, it was her first musical theater experience).
My daughter’s love for Sandy was matched only by her fascination with Annie. Whenever Annie was not on stage she would ask me, “when is that girl coming back?”
The show runs pretty long, a little too long for my young daughter who by the end just could not sit in her chair any longer (apologies again) but she liked the entire show and even asked to go again. For someone like me who loves musical theater, I was thrilled to introduce her to one of my favorite shows and see that she enjoyed it.
I may not have seen it with the same youthful eyes I once had but my little girl did and … that is just as powerful.
“Annie” runs Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday nights at 7:30 p.m. until Feb. 25. There will be a special Saturday matinee performance Feb. 18 at 2 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased in advance online or at the door on the night of the performance.
- What: St. George Musical Theater’s “Annie The Musical.”
- When: Thurdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays through Feb. 25, 7:30 p.m. | Saturday matinee Feb. 18, 2 p.m.
- Where: St. George Opera House, 212 N. Main St., St. George.
- Cost: $17-$21.
- Purchase tickets: Online | At the door on the night of the performance.
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