The third show of Theatre by the Sea's 80th season is the 1977 hit musical "Annie". The show is based on Harold Gray's comic strip "Little Orphan Annie", it won seven Tony Awards and ran for 2,377 performances. This high energy show is a hit with this audience. This heart warming musical is the rags-to-riches story of plucky young Annie's journey from the hard-knock New York orphanage to the luxurious home of billionaire businessman Oliver Warbucks. It has excellent and insightful direction and choreography by Richard Sabellico who directed "Annie" at TBTS thirty years ago and terrific musical direction by Nick DeGregorio. This optimistic show is what we need in today's society, a brighter future and the positivity of its title character. This talented cast turns it into one of the must see shows of the summer season.
Richard blocks this show beautifully, creating picture postcard moments that the audience can savor. His dance numbers are terrific especially the kick line in "Smile" by the orphans, the servants dances, "Easy Street" and "Hard Knock Life". Nick leads an excellent 6 piece orchestra with a marvelous harmony in "Hooverville" song and "You Won't be An Orphan for Long". Bill Hanney spares no expense in bringing marvelous set and costumes to his beautiful theatre. The terrific sets are by Bert Scott and the gorgeous costumes are by David Costa Cabral. There is a "42nd Street" story to who is playing Annie. The original girl took ill at the final preview on Thursday night and Lauren Weintraub showed up at noon on opening night and learned the whole show in 6 hours. She played the title role last year at NSMT and I also reviewed her as Molly in 2008 for Reagle Players. Lauren is 14 years old and is one of the best Annie's I have ever seen. She is phenomenal as Annie. She displays a fabulous voice and fantastic acting ability as the title character. Her strong belting voice is heard in "Maybe","Hard Knock Life", "Tomorrow", "NYC", the two servant songs and in the duet "I Don't Need Anything". Lauren handles the comic moments excellently and makes you choke up in her poignant ones. She definitely tugs on your heartstrings when Warbucks tries to take her locket, when she hugs him after "Something is Missing", when she thinks she has to leave him and when she finally jumps into his arms. Lauren has a bright future in show business. She received a spontaneous standing ovation at her multitalented performance. The biggest scene stealer in this show is Jan Neuberger as Miss Hannigan. She is fantastic as the harridan who mistreats the orphans and Annie, constantly swilling down her "medicine" and puts the move on every man she meets. Her "Little Girls" number stops the show with hilarity. She twists off a doll's head and swigs the booze hidden inside it. Her antics in "Easy Street" are priceless, too. I first saw Jan as a Hollywood Blonde in "Gypsy" with Angela Lansbury in 1974 and I last reviewed her as Miss Electra in "Gypsy" at NSMT in 2010.
Todd Fenstermaker plays Daddy Warbucks. Todd's comic scenes are topnotch but his dramatic turn when he realizes he needs to adopt Annie is poignant. His transition from hard-boiled businessman to adoptive parent is marvelous to behold. His strong voice is heard in "NYC" where he and Grace show Annie the sights of the Big Apple, and the touching, emotionally draining ballad "Something Is Missing" when he realizes Annie is a wonderful addition to his life and the exuberant duet with Lauren called "I Don't Need Anything" with their terrific cakewalk dance steps in it. This scene stops the show with the expert rendition by the cast. Margaret Robinson is topnotch as Grace. She is a pretty blonde and does a terrific job as this tender hearted, compassionate woman. Her marvelous soprano voice soars in "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here", "NYC", "You Won't Be an Orphan for Long", "Annie"and "New Deal for Christmas" with Todd and Lauren. Playing the villains in this show are Nathaniel Shaw as Rooster and Becca Gottlieb as Lily.His portrayal as this sleazy and slimy guy and her portrayal as the not too bright bimbo are spot on. They are hilarious as the Mudge's, Annie's phony parents. Nathaniel and Becca display their amazing voices and superb dancing skills in "Easy Street" with Jan. Nathaniel also is assistant director and co-choreographer of the show.
The singing and dancing orphans in the show are marvelous, too. They show off their talents in "Hard Knock Life", "Never Fully Dressed", "New Deal for Christmas" and "Tomorrow" finale. These talented girls are Eva Senerchia who also moved into this role opening night as the youngest orphan, Molly, Taylor Rose Donovan as Tessie, Emma Senerchia as July, Jennifer Pamula as Duffy, Nina A. Pezzello as Pepper and Lily McMahon as Kate. A couple of other stand out performers are Tom Roberts as FDR and Michael John Lewis as Bert Healy. This show brings back memories for me, having directed it in 1995. I also saw Richard's splendid 1983 TBTS production of "Annie". Opening night isn't complete without the delicious buffet made by Duane Crowe and his lovely wife, Karleen at the Bistro by the Sea. The marvelous treats included baked macaroni, carrot cake, chicken and pizza to name a few. So for a splendid show stopping rendition of this classic show, be sure to catch "Annie" at Theatre by the Sea. Tell them Tony sent you. Run before the tickets are all sold out.