note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Janine de Souza
ANNIE. Both adults and children have connected with America’s famous orphan for over 86 years. This musical is based on Harold Gray’s beloved comic strip about the adventures of a mischievous red-head who wins the heart of Oliver Warbucks. It’s the 1930’s and the Great Depression is in full swing. Sound familiar? This ANNIE, produced by the Wheelock Family Theatre, really “tells it like it is” and makes dramatic comparisons to today’s disastrous economic climate.
Under the insightful direction of Jane Staab, this production begins as a live radio show. Radio reached nearly every household in America, way before television. This is an innovative and refreshing approach as most ANNIEs that I’ve seen start in the orphanage and work their way out. What makes it more fun is the audience participation, with “Applause” signs and actors in the aisles. The stage scaffolding by set designer, Anita Fuchs, easily multitasks as the windows and backdrop for the radio station, orphanage, and Oliver Warbuck’s opulent mansion. Annie (Grace Brakeman) shines as the determined orphan trying to reconnect with her mother and father and escape from the miserable Miss Hannigan (Cheryl McMahon). Ah, Miss Hannigan…part sleaze, con artist, functional alcoholic and every social worker’s nightmare. She’s is devilishly played to the hilt. Enter some adorably “eat ‘em up with a spoon” kids singing “Hard Knock Life,” wielding buckets and mops, along with a cute mutt named “Sandy” and the die is cast for a great show.
Grace (Aimee K. Doherty), Oliver Warbuck’s (Timothy John Smith) faithful secretary gives Annie the Christmas vacation of a lifetime. It’s a dream come true…well, almost. Desperate to find Annie’s real parents, Warbucks takes to the airwaves offering a $50,000 reward. He moonlights as a consultant to FDR (Dale Place) and together forges the famed “New Deal.”
Meanwhile, strutting his stuff is Rooster (John F. King), Hannigan’s jailbird brother. Velcroed to his side is his sleazy girlfriend, Lily (Claire D. Kolheim). Together, the pair ropes in his willing sister to con Warbucks and soon con us with a crowd-pleasing rendition of “Easy Street”. Luckily, their plan is quickly thwarted and Annie is officially adopted by “Daddy” Warbucks. The billionaire even bags Grace for an instant wife.
What I absolutely love about this production is the skillful interaction between the actors and the audience throughout the show, from apple sellers, NYC’s fashion elite, to the down-trodden “Hooverville” homeless. It’s a bittersweet slice of real life.
Yes, I’ve seen my share of ANNIEs, but never one like Wheelock Family Theatre’s interpretation. There really IS something about this ANNIE.
ANNIE is currently playing until November 21.