Annie might just be the second most famous “tale as old as time”. Admittedly, I had never seen the stage version of the 1924 comic strip, book by Thomas Meehan with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin, which is why I was so eager to see and review this show. I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Bay City Players opened a sold out run on Thursday night to a full house full of enthusiastic patrons. It was refreshing to see a community show such support to their arts organization. Although sold out, there were quite a few tickets left at the will call booth, so if you’re still hoping to catch the musical which runs through May 6th, it can’t hurt to try and snag some right as the curtain goes up!
Annie tells the story of the precocious red-headed orphan who wants nothing more than to have her birth parents return and free her from the clutches of Ms. Hannigan. After an impressive introduction to the adult ensemble (whose trials and tribulations establish the mood and theme of the time period) and a failed escape, Annie returns to the orphanage only to be whisked away for two weeks to the mansion of Oliver Warbucks. Annie, with the help of Warbucks’ charming assistant, makes quick work of the grouchy billionaire and soon has him wrapped in her charm. At the end of Act One, Warbucks learns that all Annie wants is to find her birth parents and live a normal life, which leaves the man crestfallen. In an attempt to fulfill Annie’s dreams, Warbucks concocts a plan, utilizing his resources to ensure that Annie’s parents are found. Act Two moves rapidly through an evil plot between Ms. Hannigan, her estranged brother and his stranger “friend”. Without giving too much away, as if we don’t already know, we get our time-tested happy ending and a personal trip into a Fireside Chat with Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself.
Serving as the eldest orphan, Anastasia Breen (Annie) displays an impressive amount of emotional availability and connection with each of her fellow orphans. Breen has developed an endearing little orphan Annie that is both engaging as she bops through her iconic songs but also thoughtful in the moments throughout the play that require more depth.
Larry Jacobs portrays Warbucks with aplomb, doing a commendable job moving from grump to grandpa with a twinkle in his eye. It was extremely believable (although somewhat abrupt, which is not the performer’s fault) that Warbucks had strong paternal feelings for Annie and Jacobs’ rendition of “Something Was Missing” rang true.
Justine Miller (Grace Farrell), Jake Monroe (Rooster), and Natalie Slawnyk (Lily St. Regis) all gave performances worth the price of admission, although I had trouble hearing their singing voices clearly over the volume of the pit and the inconsistencies with the microphones. Kristie Moe, who took on the iconic role of Miss Hannigan, continued to straddle the line between surly and scary. Much kudos also goes to the adult ensemble, who kept the play together and accomplished their duties well. I never saw an ensemble member out of character, which, as many of us know, is not always an attainable feat.
Overall, I believe that the direction of the piece focused too often on small moments throughout the play, rather than on the storytelling of the piece as a whole. Several of these moments were quite successful and demonstrated a high level of finesse indicative of hard work and an understanding of comedic timing by director Michael Wisniewski and his cast. That being said, I was confused and distracted by several moments that seemed to linger, and several other moments that seemed to be missed. Meehan and Charnin do a remarkable job of grounding the play in the reality of the Great Depression, and some of the design and direction choices took the play out of that world. I was confused by the choice to use contemporary, cartoonish projections for a story rooted in 1933. I was enamored with the way the space transformed into the Warbucks mansion, especially at Christmas time, but was continually perplexed by the style and tone of the projections. The lighting design by David Newsham was efficient but left something to be desired, as it was a continual light up and lights down, missing some opportunities to enhance the story. The costumes, on the other hand, coordinated by Doris Perry were delightful and impressive based on the sheer size, scope, and style of the time period.
Annie runs now through May 6. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students. Run time is approximately two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission. According to the information provided by the box office, all performances are sold out. However, the box office urges you to call an hour before show time of each performance to check on availability of any tickets that may have been turned in. Visit www.baycityplayers.org for more information.