THE LITTLE RED HEAD COMES ALIVE FROM THE COMIC STRIP ON THE JULIA MORGAN STAGE
This review of ANNIE THE MUSICAL - continues my whirlwind of Six Hoovervilles I will visit this Holiday season at Bay Area theatres - This version of the Red Haired orphan is in Berkeley through Dec 23rd at the Berkeley Playhouse stage. This is an impressive large cast of 34 talented actors (double cast girls and three dogs) under the direction of Scottie Woodard. The Tony honored musical is based on the long running Harold Gray comic strip, "Little Orphan Annie," that premiered in the 1920s, and became one of the most widely read comics. The story is based on the short story "The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie." The book was written by Thomas Meehan, the music by Charles Strouse and the lyrics by Martin Charnin.
Director Woodard brings a classic comic strip look to this production adding a huge dose of dance and splash to some of the classic production numbers including “New York City.” Woodard said “When I began working on this production I considered the question; what makes Annie so special, it isn’t what comes to mind when you hear the phrase “feminist icon” but the Little Orphan Annie cartoons actually had a huge impact on how female characters are approached today.” Woodard stress’ the creativity of the comic book look of this production “We hope our production will help keep the comic books come to life before your eyes.”
Woodard’s craft team completes that look of this Berkeley show, with Brian Watson clever folding set of comic pages - that steals the show. At times I found myself enjoying the set and production value of this ANNIE more than the musical (I have seen this six times just this theatre season). Bethany Deal’s costumes also fills the bill of the comic page look, in one scene she dresses all the actors in black and white. Annie is dotting red in her many red dresses, as Lexie Lazear’s wigs for once do not distract from the pre teens performance. The awesome Sarina Renteria light design brings all the characters off the comic book pages with ease. Keeping the light centered around the radio announcer Bert Healy played by the marvelous Ted Zoldan.
Woodard supported in his vision with this ANNIE by adding some lines to the story - bringing Bert the radio actor downstage to host the evening, dressed as dapper as Deal’s costume add to this 1930’s look. The polished Zoldan brings the classic radio look to this production. His role is usually not discovered til the top of the second act in “Fully Dressed”.
With an accomplished craft team, including a canine cast that has its own entourage for this company -- three dogs cover rotate for Sandy. ANNIE lives out an urban fairytale with recognizable moments of hard knock life and a huge dose of dreamland. The score, which is memorable 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 girls as young as six years old. The team of pre teens are double cast and all kick it high with rousing energy and have the Red Heads back at all times.
ANNIE is played by three young aspiring actors, Sophia Gilbert, Miranda Long and Josie Dooley, who are all terrific as the 11-year-old icon orphan. Yes you read that right - there is a Dooley as a lead in this show, from the famed Dooley family, dad Patrick who runs the theatre down the street at Shotgun Players, and mom who is the current AD of Berkeley Playhouse. The triple threat Josie Dooley kept her pace with the other Annies and they all sparkle in the icon song “Tomorrow”.
The three ANNIE’S all have a lot of heart and an impressive amount of spunk, they are pro’s on stage. The wigs for some of other girls are a bit much, designed by Lazer. Later in the story Annie and girls appears in better looking hair styles. Two casts of girls one the 5th ave, and the other the Park ave cast include; Amanda Curtis, Kailamae Sands, Charlotte Curtin, Charlotte Kearns, Evie Mitchell, Marisol Rojas Cheatham, Kaitlyn Chew, Lily Black, Tej Wong, Simone J Gilbert, Ava Jacuzzi, and Alaiyah Gray. A diverse cast of preteens, yet I would still love to see a latin, black or asian ANNIE in the lead. Maybe ANNIE 7 will bring that on, actually my 7th ANNIE will be an all Drag cast, I can’t wait!
All the girls are excellent in “I Don’t Need Anyone but You” as they team with the marvelous Michael RJ Campbell 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 the girls have terrific chemistry together in the song “N.Y.C” along with Allison Paraiso sizzling choreography including the entire 26 member company who fill the Julia Morgan stage with a long parade of eye catching fun.
The fun, compelling Cat Yates is the enthusiastically cruel orphanage manager, Miss Hannigan. Yates is the best villain especially when expressing her seething hatred of orphans in the song "Little Girls." It's fun watching Yates 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 swaggering fun.
The conniving David Schiller as Hannigan's conniving, crowing brother, Rooster, shines in “Easy Street” with Yates. Renteria lighting design is noted as the mood is very green on stage and with the white comic book pages of walls her lighting is highlighted on the fun setting. The supporting cast of adults are all splendid and in various parts of the homeless camp and wait staff enclude; Joel Green, Tim Holt Jones, Donna Turner, Andrea Dennison-Laufer, Megan McGrath, Ashley Garlick, M. Javi Harnley, Alyssa Fredzess and local favorite Billy Rapheal.
The kid cast is always a scene stealer until “Sandy” the dog enters, then the musical stops the dogs that switch out as Sandy they include; Ian, Hammy, and Gaston, they follow their cues well including the big spot when Sandy needs to come to Annie whe she calls him. On that topic this is a huge show to make sure very actor and four legged personality hits their mark, and stage manager Jane Troja and her staff Elizabeth Johnson and Natalia Kazimi are point perfect making this show work. Lyle Barrere and Josh Price kept the cast sound a keen mix with the band in the pit, the sound design also included some first rate radio sound effects. Also a shout to the dog wrangler Uma Channer, who also wranglers all the youth in the cast.
ANNIE takes a real turn from the dingy world of the orphanage to something very beautiful when Grace Farrell, played by the capable Melinda Meeng, the secretary of the Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, shows up at the orphanage to select a child to come to Warbucks’ mansion for a two-week Christmas visit. Campbell 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 Annie and the adult servant cast who all have vibrant voices as they end the first act.
The show's best moments always include the homeless camp 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 Don Hardwick and his staff belting out "Tomorrow" with Eric Walton’s stunning music direction and his full size seven member stunning orchestra. Vocal director Michael Patrick Wiles and Marissa Rudd kept adult cast and the girls in perfect pitch.
Woodard’s creative team is stunning including scenic painter Kristen Augustyn, transformed the Julia Morgan stage from a homeless camp to a billionaire’s living room with ease. Prop master Noah Kramer 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.
The song “Star to Be”, Andrea Laufer’s solo in NYC is shining, the eye catching Angel Adedokun as Roosters girl Lily steals “Easy Street” as she keeps up with the Hannigans. The full throttle Zoldan as radio host, Bert Healy, opens the second act with “Fully Dressed” along with Laufer, McGrath and Garlick as the pitch perfect Boylan sisters.
Director Scottie Woodard’s ANNIE is a comic strip come to life, and Waston’s clever set make this works at 100% minus the camp. 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 two more Hooverville’s next at Hillbarn Theatre and later this winter at the famed Oasis Stage with an all male cast, where I hope to see a more diverse cast - maybe an Asian or Latina Annie and a black Warbucks. Next up at the Berkeley Playhouse is the huge musical RAGTIME than opens February 16th and this spring JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH April 6th. In the meantime join this company of ANNIE to complete your Holiday season leapin lizards it's “A New Deal for Christmas.”
BERKELEY PLAYSHOUSE PRESENTS
Book by Thomas Meehan, Lyrics by Martin Charin
Music by Charles Strouse
Based on “Little Orphan Annie”
Directed by Scottie Woodward
Choreographed by Allison Paraiso
Music Director Eric Watson
Set Design Brian Watson
Must Close Dec 23th 2017
The Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave.,
Berkeley, CA 94704.
Running Time 2 hours 30 min one intermission
Tickets (510) 845-8542 x351 or visit berkeleyplayhouse.org
Photo's by Ben Krantz
Performances: Due to the unique performance schedule, please check the website for specific dates and times. All performances at Berkeley Playhouse at The Julia Morgan Theater, 2640 College Ave., Berkeley, CA 94704.
TICKETS: For tickets ($22 for previews, $22-$40 for regular performances) or more information, the public may call (510) 845-8542 x351 or visit berkeleyplayhouse.org. Group rates available for 10 or more people.
PAY WHAT YOU CAN: There will be two "Pay What You Can" performances, Thursday November 30 at 7pm and Thursday December 7 at 7pm.
The promotion is CASH ONLY at the door one-hour prior to performance time. We request a donation of $20 per ticket but are able to accept a minimum of $5 per ticket.
FAMILY GUIDE: Education is central to the mission at Berkeley Playhouse. Guide created by Berkeley Playhouse staff for each production have been created to enrich the learning experience of all patrons both young and seasoned. Links to the free Family Guides can be found online at BerkeleyPlayhouse.org.
Berkeley Playhouse gratefully acknowledges support from: Show Sponsor - Extreme Pizza; Season Sponsors - Madonna Estates, Peet's Coffee, Beneficial State Bank; Student Matinee Sponsor - American Eagle Outfitters; and individual donors.