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Beck Center prolonges Christmas celebration with “Annie”

There’s still time to see a local production of the most jolly musical ever written to celebrate the Great Depression. That show is “Annie,” on stage at the Beck Center through Sunday. The production is quality, with a lots of shining moments, but not without significant faults.

It’s hard to believe that this show is a third of a century old. “Annie” was a product of the late 1970s. The book “Annie: An Old-Fashioned Story,” by Thomas Meehan, is chock full of references to the 1930s. You’ll hear about Babe Ruth, the New Deal and “Hooverville.” These are touchstones to the era in which the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” first appeared. The spirit of the original is reflected in Martin Charnin’s lyrics. It’s Charles Strouse’s score, however, that is the show’s strong point. Bouncy cakewalks are the show’s core, but some effective ballads are suitable counterpoint.

“Annie” strongest appeal is to young girls, who will identify with the half dozen orphans, who start the show with “Hard Knock Life,” living under the roof of Miss Hannigan’s New York City orphanage. Lenne Snively, always a solid performer, gets to chew through the scenery as the whiskey-guzzling, scheming Miss Hannigan.

The plot of “Annie” revolves around the title character’s hope of meeting her parents, who left her with a promise to return. “I’m not an orphan!” Annie proudly declares. When billionaire Oliver Warbucks makes an offer to take in one orphan for the Christmas holidays, his secretary selects Annie. After a few hours at his palatial home, Annie declares “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here.” Warbucks is equally taken with Annie and decides to adopt her. This is almost thwarted by Hannigan’s brother “Rooster” and his partner in crime, Lily.

Beck’s production has a wonderful Annie in local performer Anna Barrett. She’s engaging, entertaining and completely sells the character. Brava! Gilgamesh Taggett as “Daddy” Warbucks is another pro, and his Act II ballad “Something Was Missing” could be a textbook example of how to structure a musical performance for maximum impact. Best of all in this production is the duo of Matthew Thompson and Milly Huey as Rooster and Lily. When they join with Hannigan in “Easy Street,” they create a showstopper. It’s actually their plan to pretend to be Annie’s long-lost parents, and once they get the reward money, to “kill the kid.” With the money, they’ll be on “Easy Street.” Thompson fills the stage with his physical and vocal gyrations, Snively tosses her frightful hairstyle and Huey twirls her purse while the males in the audience watch her jiggle. Their Act II appearance as the bogus parents is equally hysterical.

Director Scott Spence has come up with another winner in “Annie.” I especially enjoyed the Act II opening sequences, which show a “live” radio broadcast to find Annie’s parents. A scene in Washington, D.C., with Leslie Feagan vaguely suggesting FDR is a bit more antiseptic. Martin Cespedes’ choreography works so well in most of the numbers, but is thin and unappealing in the two “big numbers” in Warbuck’s house: “I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here” and “I Don’t Need Anything But You.” At the performance I saw, Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly as secretary Grace Farrell was more screechy than a half dozen orphans.

Despite its shortcomings, this “Annie” is about as good as any you’ll see. Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra is a plus, and many of the unnamed ensemble members have shining moments and “bits.” Heck, even Sandy the dog gets moments in the spotlight.

 

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