'Tis the season for a production of that perennial pleaser, Annie.
By Kay Kipling
As a theater critic who’s seen the Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin-Thomas Meehan musical Annie more times than I like to recall, I admit I wasn’t especially looking forward to seeing it again in its current production at the Manatee Players Riverfront Theatre. But maybe I was in the proper holiday spirit; I found myself feeling fond of this familiar but still fun show about that little orphan and her Daddy Warbucks.
That’s not to say the production is flawless. But let’s talk about the good stuff first. Good stuff, of course, includes that lineup of sure-fire songs, from It’s the Hard-Knock Life to Tomorrow to Easy Street and beyond. Good stuff also includes some strong performers in the cast. Annie herself is played by two different girls (all the orphans alternate on different days); the one I saw was Savannah Clair, and she had a natural Annie voice and seemed comfortable onstage (except perhaps at times when having to hold on tightly to dog Sandy). There’s also lively and entertaining work from Berry Ayers and Caitlin Longstreet as the “villains” of the piece, Rooster and Lily, and from Mark Netherly as the butler, Drake.
Steve Dragon has surprising authority as Warbucks; he makes you believe he could be a billionaire magnate used to getting his way. Megan Cox sings sweetly as his Girl Friday, Grace Farrell. And although Tamara Solum as orphanage mistress Miss Hannigan came on too strongly in the first scene (no need to shout quite that loudly), she made the most of her songs and comic opportunities later in the show.
Overall, the production definitely shows its roots in the cartoon-comic-strip world, both in the broadness of the performances (under the direction of Dewayne Barrett) and in the kind of off-kilter set design of Marc Lalosh. Where this Annie struggles to keep up with other Annies is in the production numbers; given the size of the stage and, perhaps, the dancing abilities of the ensemble cast, those who have seen the show in other venues are bound to be disappointed with what should be big rousers like N.Y.C. or I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here. And some may miss having live musicians in the pit; musical director Buzz Herron is in charge of an orchestrion machine instead.
But Annie still has charm, and it is the holidays, after all. The show continues through Dec. 23; call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.