THE LITTLE RED ORPHAN STILL BRINGS ALL THE LOVE AND HEART OF HAROLD GREY COMIC STRIP ‘ANNIE’
This review of ANNIE THE MUSICAL - continues my whirlwind of four Hoovervilles I will visit this Holiday season at Bay Area theatres - This version of the Red Haired orphan is in Woodside Ca through Oct 29th at the Woodside community stage. This is an impressive large cast of 50 talented actors under the direction of Gary Stanford Jr.
Director Stanford brings joy to this production adding a huge dose of dance and splash to some of the classic production numbers including “New York City.” Stanford said “The book calls for an ensemble cast that can sing and act but we have added an element of dance not usually seen in the production. Grand Waltz, Broadway Jazz, Tap dancing, jump roping, roller skates and more have been installed in various scenes - that play upon the romance and fantasy - with a cast of 50, a staff of nearly as many this is a show for all ages to enjoy.” Stanford also shared with me that he cast this show with as much diversity as he could encourage, “I reached out to the theatre community to bring as much variety to this cast.” I was very impressed with the dance production numbers, they are as classy as any Broadway production of ANNIE.
Stanford is supported in his vision with an accomplished craft team, including a canine cast that has its own entourage for this company -- four dogs appear in the cast and all the dogs make an appearance for each performance. The score, which is hummable and moves the plot along includes such classics as, "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here," "Annie," and "I Don't Need Anything But You." And icon show stoppers "Easy Street," "We'd Like to Thank You," and "A New Deal for Christmas." The orphans are cute; their major song and dance number, "It's a Hard Knock Life," is a show stopper, including a large cast of 20 girls as young as six years old.
ANNIE is played by the young actor, Brynn Ayoob, who is terrific as the 11-year-old icon orphan. Ayoob nicely balances her vulnerability, wide-eyed excitement and wonderful cuteness. There's nothing little about her voice which soars on the show's hopeful signature ballad, "Tomorrow.” Ayoob has a lot of heart and an impressive amount of spunk, she is a pro on stage, my only issue was her red hair, a distracting mop. The wigs for some of girls are a bit much and I was disappointed by Ayoobs opening wig but they improve later in the show. Ayoob has a solid career on stage ahead of her and she belts out the classic “I Don’t Need Anyone but You.”
The marvelous Steve Wilner is the imposing Daddy Warbucks who starts out gruff and all business, but then he meets Annie and his heart melts along with everybody else at the Warbucks’ compound. He and Ayoob have terrific chemistry together in the song “N.Y.C” along with Kim Harvath's and Stanford's over the top sizzling choreography including the entire fifty member company who fill the Woodside stage with a long parade of eye catching fun.
The slinky, compelling Jessica Lafever is the enthusiastically cruel orphanage manager, Miss Hannigan. Lafever has a gift for physical comedy and a hilarious rubber face that she uses to great effect, especially when expressing her seething hatred of orphans in the song "Little Girls." It's fun watching Lafever scowl at her orphans, stumble around in her bathrobe and take sips from a bottle of booze with a whistle around her neck. The girls keep up with her and the number is vibrant fun.
The snappy Torrey Rothstein as Hannigan's conniving, crowing brother, Rooster, shines in “Easy Street” with Lafever. Don Coluzzi’s lighting design is noted as the mood is very green on stage. Six incredibly cute young girls as Annie's BFF posse and orphans include; Ava Ricci, Megan Bransad, Kate Cornyn, Rebecca Louderback, Kate Nightengale and adorable younger sister of the lead Samantha Ayoob as the youngest waif, Molly. The youngster cast seem to have a lot of fun and they create a real presence with thirteen other waifs that back up the dorm of homeless girls; Gianna Beltramo, Sasha Giron, Willow Kuenster, Sofia Larranaga, Claire Lenden, Maria Marhefka, Chloe Montgomery, Via Nickel, Gabriella Rosendin, Grace Sikorski, Molly Sikorski, Keana Velasco and AJ Yedidia. Molly asks the dreaded Miss Hannigan what she is doing as she has another swig and she says, “I am taking my medicine.”
The youth cast is always a scene stealer until “Sandy” the dog enters, then the musical stops as she is upfront taking her cues almost like a pro. Stanford brings four dogs to this company under the direction of animal handler Alistair Lindawson. Her mutts Masie, Candy, Bodhi and Monty steal the show each time they enter, whether they are just street dogs or sit in for Sandy. The night I saw “Hooverville” Masie, a six month old German Indian dog, played Sandy, and Masie did not want to be on stage no matter how many treats Brynn fed her, but as the pro the young actress is, she managed Masie especially during the charming icon song “Tomorrow”. Later in the story Bodhi a five year old Golden Doodle filled in and won the sold out audience hearts.
ANNIE takes a real turn from the dingy world of the orphanage to something very beautiful when Grace Farrell, played by the lovely Minna Rogers, the secretary of the very rich Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, shows up at the orphanage to select a child to come to Warbucks’ mansion for a two-week Christmas visit. In a very clever scene, she chooses Annie to come with her. Wilner as Warbucks is a natural, and seems to be a man who could easily have a billion dollars he sings “You Won’t Be An Orphan” along with Rogers and the adult servant cast who all have vibrant voices. Annie wears a beautiful two layered coat for the first time and we see her in a real sharp outfit. Ayoob’s costume designer Issac Booth created all of Annie's clothes and says “I had to put my stamp on the show somehow, so what better way than to reimagine the iconic Annie dress, adding a modern “flair.” I wanted the audience to feel a connection to the original as she stood in place, but as she danced and moved, I wanted to add that extra something to make it special.” Booth has excellent back up with hair designers Paige Register and Carmen Ayon.
The show's best moments include homeless people cursing Herbert Hoover's name in the sarcastic "We'd Like to Thank You"; and Warbucks waltzing with Annie in the tender "Something Was Missing." Also the humorous spectacle of president, FDR, played by the terrific John Tondino and his staff belting out a reprise of "Tomorrow" with Kristin Pfeifer’s stunning music direction and her full size ten member on cue orchestra. Vocal director Angela Harrington kept the girls in perfect pitch along with her Hooverville company. The multitasking Coluzzi also designed the set and is stage manager and guided a huge cast with the four dogs and work them on and off stage and made sure all 50 company members hit their marks. Coluzzi and his creative team include; Brett Ayoob, Fletcher Johnson, Bobby Losey, Dan Morrow, Akio Patrick, Tina Patrick and master builder Steve Patrick, transformed the Woodside stage from a homeless camp to a billionaire’s living room with ease. Prop master Kevin Stanford added to Miss Hannigan's Depression era orphanage with the perfect booze flask, shabby mops and buckets. Daddy Warbucks' plush office complete with classy decor and the wonderful holiday glamor of Warbucks grand ballroom.
Coluzzi’s’ lighting design is exceptional from the girls bunk bed dormitory to the streets of New York with a neon lighted backdrop to the Christmas wonderland needed for the second act finale. Stanford and his choreography team Harvath, Gary Ferguson and Carrie Perna created a pop glam and jazz hands on roller skates and a dynamite jump rope session for “I Don’t Need Anyone But You”. The vintage costumes were designed by Booth and his team Jessica Luchetta, Karen Patrick and Liz Matchett who all made sure the girls were in the perfect rags and created some sparking dresses for Annie’s new life at the Warbucks’ manor. Booth’s dress design is swank on perfect for Hannigan’s dirt glam look, and her wig was just right for Hannigan.
With a cast of 50 it is not easy to mention the whole company but I do want to shout out to the high split turns of Gary Ferguson’s solo dance moves. “Star to Be”, Tara Roberts solo in NYC is shining, the eye catching Allie Townsend as Roosters girl Lily steals “Easy Street” as she keeps up with the Hannigans. The full throttle Damian Marhefka as radio host, Bert Healy, opens the second act with “Fully Dressed” along with Fiona Ryan, Catherine Dietrich and Erika Strandberg as the pitch perfect Boylan sisters. The flexible Carrie Perna flops around on stage as “Wacky” the hand puppet managed by the dapper Nick Dale. Pamela Rosen, Ali Pasha Croes, Richard Vaughan, Darlene Batchelder, and Amnon Levy play a number of roles all charismatic in the NBC radio show for Annie. The adult ensemble also includes the snappy talents of Darrell Batchelder, Brian Lindawson, Eileen Resnick, Ruth Sieber, Taylor Helene Smith, Pasha Stanford and Audry Weber.
Gary Stanford Jr’s ANNIE is winning, delightful, big fun with huge Broadway quality production numbers that will put a smile on your face. I have seen the red head so many times but Stanford keeps this stand out production surprising right up to the end. How can one not like a story about an orphan kid who finds herself being adopted by a billionaire, a stray dog who is saved from the pound, dancing orphans, and a slimy brother and sister villains who get their due. Add the iconic line “Leapin' Lizards, even if it's a little tired, you'll like seeing "ANNIE”. I am off to see three more Hooverville’s next at Berkeley Playhouse and later this fall at the Hillbarn in Foster City, where I hope to see a more diverse cast - maybe an Asian or Latina Annie and a black Warbucks. Woodside Community Theatre WCT has been entertaining audiences in the mid-peninsula of the San Francisco Bay Area for over 50 years. They currently perform one major Broadway musical each year in the Fall at the Woodside Performing Arts Center. Join this company of ANNIE to start out your Holiday season “A New Deal for Christmas.”
WOODSIDE COMMUNITY THEATRE PRESENTS
Book by Thomas Meehan
Lyrics by Martin Charin
Music by Charles Strouse
Based on “Little Orphan Annie”
Directed and Choreographed by
Gary Stanford Jr.
Music Director Kristin Pfeifer
Must Close Oct 29th 2017
Woodside Performing Arts Center
199 Churchill Ave, Woodside, California
Running Time 2 hours 15 min one intermission
Photo's by Stephanie Maysoave, Mark Bowles, Tina Patrick and Raissa Marchetti Kozlov